Who We Are
Alëna is a creative director at Ecotonos. She is a professional designer and entrepreneur with nature as her muse.
Some of Alëna’s previous design solutions include creating a complete brand (from interior design to vision statement) for Avant-Garde Bar in Ottawa, improving waste management system in Lota, re-imagining polymer product manufacturing system, providing research and strategy for the development of retail at Shopify Inc. and many other holistic solutions that start with biological research (from human psychology to ecosystem resilience).
She is an expert in biologically informed design and developed multiple communication strategies between biologists and designers. Her Master of Design thesis title was: "Biologically Informed Disciplines: A comparative analysis of terminology within the fields of bionics, biomimetics, and biomimicry."
Anthony is a director of manufacturing at Ecotonos. His main interest lies in creating well thought out designs that push the boundaries of human imagination while enabling comfort and effectiveness in daily routines.
Some of his previous designs include vertical vegetable gardens, cloud connected health devices for an MIT start-up an automated indoor composter based on current and future technology, and other electronic design projects, including lighting. Anthony is confident that knowledge of auxiliary disciplines – such as physics, biology, and psychology – is crucial in order to design and produce products that are truly innovative.
As part of a Master’s program, Anthony conducted research into digital additive manufacturing techniques – specifically 3D printing – in order to gain deeper knowledge of the production process on a scale manageable by a designer without a need for mass production technologies.
Ecotonos is an interdisciplinary industrial design firm that specializes in biologically informed design and digital manufacture. It all started with a project submitted to the International Biomimicry Competition by Tianna Lewis – an environmental scientist, Mendel Skulski – an industrial designer and a mycologist, and the co-founders of Ecotonos. The project became a finalist in the competition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving energy efficiency, energy storage, and reducing energy consumption within a deﬁned system. The team reimagined the system of manufacturing polymer products to close the cycles of material and energy to reduce the carbon footprint.
We design and manufacture products, processes, and systems that stem from our research into Biologically Informed Design (BID) and Digital Additive Manufacturing (DAM) – all grounded in our expertise in industrial design. We love collaborating with both academia and industry to continually evolve our research methods and apply our discoveries to real world problems.
Biologically Informed Design:
We prefer the term ‘biologically informed design’ which overarches the fields of bionics, biomimetics, and biomimicry among others. It is the informed interpretation of biological research in order to address design challenges that may or may not result in sustainable solutions.
We as humans are constantly observing the world and remaking it according to our own bias. So do we, die-hard science enthusiasts, interpret the world of design through nature. The challenge is to experience and study nature and its patterns so that we may use this personal knowledge as a way to design objects and spaces for others to experience nature and all it has to teach us.
So what can nature teach us? We can study a leaf to invent a more efficient solar cell or an electric eel to make a better battery or we can explore the structure of a lobster tail and snake muscle cords to come up an emergency stretcher for the wounded. But we didn’t want to stop there. Anthony and I both believe that it’s not enough to learn ‘about’ nature. We must learn ‘from’ it to come up with truly powerful designs that don’t just emulate forms, but also processes and ecosystems found in nature. We want to reimagine the way humans MAKE.
Our goal is to build more capable machines, allowing larger scale manufacturing, implementing renewable energy sources in production, and eventually turning our in-house vertical urban garden into a hyper-local source for biomaterials.
Take a peek into the world of Ecotonos:
Digital Additive Manufacturing:
The technology behind 3D printing is nothing new to the world of prototyping. What is new is how cheap it has become, allowing iterative design for manufacture. Design for manufacture is a common part of design education with 3D printing largely taught within the scope of prototyping, not manufacturing.
We bet that major changes in manufacturing would occur, if designers are taught how to utilize sub $1000 printers for small scale production. Ecotonos has dedicated two years to this research, building a custom printer to run design studies, and feature experiments, while observing everything as meticulously as possible. To push the limits of the machine we designed thin parts like guitar picks. Several dozen iterations later, we have a design that you can strum a table with. Dog treat cookie cutters, Go-Pro hot-shoe mounts that use zero support material when printing – lowering not only the material usage but also time to print – pedal caps, linear bushings, 3D printer parts, earrings, tensile test strips, and many others.
Throughout all this a few spaghetti monsters were formed, along with design guidelines and tools to reduce material use, printing time and print errors to help enable local small scale production.
The process of manufacturing a 3D printed object is reliant on the form and function of the object and which printing equipment you are using. For an artistic or a “looks like prototype” typically more expensive high resolution printers that use a powder or liquid resin are used and do not have as many design limitations or steps as a “works like prototype” or functional product, which use more common plastics and must be designed for a more demanding lifestyle.
Inspiration to Sketches:
We have long been fascinated by the wonders of nature on our travels into micro and macro worlds. Some of these travels are mathematical, some are biological, and some are rooted in physics and chemistry. And each time we come back to our lab inspired. As designers informed by nature, we always bridge the beautiful – the art of design, and the good – the ethics of design, with the true – the science of design to come up with our ideas.
Our lab is filled with little rocks, twigs, lichen, insect corpses and other interesting things that we find on our mandatory nature walks that we call “business trips”. Where one would see leaves, gravel, grasses and rock, we learned to see a masterfully orchestrated mosaic of shapes, textures, and tone. We also learned that every creature, no matter how small and seemingly ordinary, and every natural setting, even the most barren, possesses a unique beauty and purpose of its own. But the real beauty of our “business trips” is that they always fuel our imagination, which leads to creative and imaginative ideas that we are constantly jotting down in our sketchbooks.
Sketch to Prototype:
When we have several paper sketches or digital sketches the next step is to start working out design details. We do this by asking design questions such as how long should this piece be? Which biological structure and shape should we embrace for highest optimization? How can we push the technology and our equipment with a new form? And many more. We answer these questions by drawing from our design and science experience, creating prototypes to test ideas – designing 3D printed products make prototyping easy as it’s quick and “cheap” to iterate – wearing and being rough on prototype earrings to find design and manufacture failures, and sharing our prototype designs with others for feedback. The key during this phase is to continually ask and answer questions while producing a near endless number of iterations – some of our prototypes have over two dozen iterations and counting.
Prototype to Product:
During this phase we continue to produce iterations of our prototype, only the focus is not as much on form development as on minimizing material use and optimizing every strand that makes up the design, so every time it’s printed we get consistent amazing results out of the equipment. We also start producing tooling to create non-printable parts of our designs and start designing packaging that includes information on the inspiration behind the design – organism and natural phenomenons are amongst our favourites. We then add the product to our Ecotonos store.
Product to Meaning:
Once we have perfected the design and manufacturing process, we release it to the world and hope that its unique design will join the collection of your most favourite things. We believe in science and art being one and think it is time to unite them through design.