Plastic bottles in landfill

Less By Design

Tapping into our social conscience

At Cobalt we believe that, as designers and engineers, we have a social responsibility to improve the world that we live in. To support this ideal, we created our socially responsible design blog, At its heart, socially responsible design is about less waste, less resources and less hardship – hence ‘less by design’.

Since we started the blog in 2012, we’ve heard a diverse range of voices deliver different perspectives on a vast array of topics, including resource-saving innovations, waste and recycling, as well as technology developed for positive social impact. Contributors have included our own in-house designers and engineers at Cobalt, as well as sustainability and healthcare experts.


Whilst talk is cheap (and writing blog posts is too), we have endeavoured to apply our beliefs around socially responsible design by engaging in projects that also support this philosophy. Great examples of this are the ASRC Food Justice Truck and the KeepCup product family. These are also excellent case studies in illustrating how socially responsible design can make good business sense.

Take a look at our latest post. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Star wars keepcups

New Star Wars KeepCups Range Keeps the Force Strong with Us.

The newest range of KeepCups includes iconic Star Wars characters BB8, R2-D2, the modern Stormtroopers and the infamous Darth Vader. Chewbacca and Rey are also set to make an appearance.

Interpretation was the key to evoking the spirit of these iconic Star Wars characters within the constraints of KeepCup’s core elements. Like all KeepCups, the brand is the primary means of expression, so we at Cobalt have incorporated key moulded-in shapes and printing onto the custom silicone bands.

One subtle change we made was to refinish the lid tool cavities to have a high-gloss finish on the Stormtrooper and Darth Vader variants, which really lift the visual punch of these models. They also help differentiate from the textured lids of standard KeepCup models.

Every industrial designer grew up absorbing the imagined worlds of Light Sabers, Star Destroyers and Jedi Heroes- so getting the chance to create these iconic characters in a new realm was every geek’s dream come true.

You can order your very own Star Wars KeepCup soon through the online KeepCup store.

May the force be with you!

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Melbourne Knowledge Week

Melbourne Knowledge Week

Cobalt recently presented at the official launch of Melbourne Knowledge Week. In his opening address, the Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle singled out the Cobalt designed Concave boots and Keepcup as examples of innovative ideas succeeding in world markets.

Melbourne Knowledge Week runs annually with more than 60 horizon-expanding events showcasing the innovation, creativity and technology shaping the city’s future.

As one of the city’s leading design groups, Cobalt is featured within BlackBOX, a collection of Melbourne design innovations that have endured over the last 150 years.  As well as the Lord Mayor, other attendees at the launch included BlackBOX’s curator Ian Wong, City of Melbourne Councillor Jackie Watts, and former RMIT Industrial Design graduate and now senior designer at Apple Corp in California Peter Russell-Clarke.

Designing locally; thinking globally

As one of Australia’s largest product development groups, Cobalt is a prime example of Melbourne’s creative industries revival and growing global impact.

Since forming in 1996, Cobalt have been developing creative, commercially-driven product designs for manufacturers long before ‘innovation’ became a buzzword, or governments began spruiking the benefits of an ‘ideas boom’. The team of industrial designers and design engineers are headed by Jack Magree, Steve Martinuzzo, and Warwick Brown who all completed their degrees together at RMIT University in the 1980s.

The group has developed many iconic everyday items like the KeepCup, Concave Boot or Maplock GPS Security Lock, and even more specialist products such as atomic absorption spectrometers or heart defibrillators. While we may not have either hidden at home under our coffee tables, they still perform at the highest level of their respective fields.

Cobalt is quick to point out the fundamental difference between design and other creative pursuits.  “Design for us is not about our own agenda. It is a 100% commercial activity where we help our clients profit by having great products to sell” notes Cobalt Principal Jack Magree, who goes onto say “we believe this is best done by developing products from the user’s perspective. The product must work exceptionally well in terms of function, quality etc.- but also delight and emotionally connect with people’s subconscious needs.”

According to Martinuzzo, Australian businesses and entrepreneurs can benefit by embracing the structural redefinition of manufacturing which has occurred over the last decade. “Technologies like CAD (computer aided design) and digital manufacturing (including 3D printing) as well as crowdfunding have

democratised product development. Any organisation, large or small, can now change the game as long as they have an idea that better meets people’s needs and the vision to do it better than anyone else”.

This trend has nullified Australia’s historical hurdle of being a long way away from global markets. Even giant multinationals have found, even though they have closed the door on traditional local manufacture, companies like Agilent, Ford and Holden have expanded their Melbourne design and engineering facilities integrating them within their global product development streams.  In fact, says Martinuzzo “Melbourne is already taking its place as a world-class design city. The combination of our multicultural society, excellent tertiary sector and efficient manufacturing base mean we can- and are producing smart products that resonate and succeed globally.  Being in Melbourne is now an asset, not a limitation”.

Keepcup is one such example. Whilst now ubiquitous, the range of reusable coffee cups was conceived to provide an answer to an unmet need; how to enjoy take away espresso coffee without consuming disposable cups.  The challenge was brought to Cobalt 8 years ago, who then designed a tangible product that addressed functional elements like sealing and tooling, as well as cultural drivers that would help people feel good (or ‘emotionally connect’) with the product. Within a year it was being locally manufactured and selling beyond expectations. And now, Keepcup have a complete range of products being exported to dozens of countries and the company’s success has spurned a whole category of competitors, all following Keepcup and Cobalt’s design lead.

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