A Semester of Creativity


Having the pleasure of fully immersing myself into the MakerLab this semester with the BADM 395: Digital Making Things class, I can now confidently say that 3D printing has the potential to uproot the basics of how we use and purchase products. The ability to think about something, and then model it on some softwares and then print a physical piece within a few hours means that there are endless possibilities when it comes to what one can create.

Coming into the class, I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that it would be unlike any other class I have previously taken on campus. The knowledge and skills that I have accumulated within the short 16 weeks will last for years to come. I believe that this has been one of the most enjoyable classes I have taken and I would like to thank Vishal for that.

The journey that the class has taken me on started with Design Thinking, specifically human-centered design thinking, where one starts with a problem, a need, for a product and develop it that way. This allows for consistent user feedback and to give the product a purpose rather than being a potential paperweight. Design for America, a student organization on campus, held a design workshop to allow the students to visualize this new idea in action.

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The next step in the course was the introduction to 3D modeling softwares and websites that would be useful for us. This included Fusion 360, Cura and TinkerCad. This process was very crucial as it allowed my team to be able to manipulate our object in a virtual 3D space and it has very advanced skills that gave it a bit of a learning curve but I was soon able to master it.


The FabLab portion of the class taught me more skills that I had anticipated. From soldering to laser cutting, to coding Arduino, these skills are immensely useful, not only for this course but any future project that could require some fine tuning. This portion we made a press box that had an Arduino inside of it with LEDs and a light sensor to trigger specific lights at different light intensities. This was a really interesting and cool way for us to know and become familiar with the tools and services offered at the FabLab.


The final portion of the semester was centered around the ability to create our project with the tools and materials that we have had at our disposal for the past few weeks. This was the most time consuming and challenging part but most rewarding as well. The idea we were tackling was to create an aquaponics system for a college student to be able to have plants and a pet. The challenge was big as we were trying to emulate nature within a confined system. We encountered many roadblocks, such as failed prints, delays in shipping for acrylic and leakages. However, with my team’s hard work and determination, we were able to overcome the obstacles and build a product we were proud of.


Looking back at the beginning of the semester, I had no idea I would be learning so much, and at the same time being so hands on and developing a working product within 16 short weeks. I believe that my expectations of this class were supremely surpassed. It was different because of the way the class as laid out, it allowed us to learn at a gradual rate all the resources at our disposal and how to fully benefit from them. I learned that I was able to tackle problems as they come and being able to be flexible and having a backup plan is crucial. I learned how important it is to constantly change and adapt, whether its designs in a product or user feedback on functionality. Being able to adapt and change with any issues gave me an edge to think on my feet. I learned a lot about softwares, tools, machines and facilities, all of which I will continue to refine for years to come, in my professional life as well as personal endeavors. If anyone that is reading this and is teetering on whether to take this course or anything similar, do it, it breaks conventional classroom politics and provides a fun and creative atmosphere where students different backgrounds can interact with each other. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact me at khnguyn2@illinois.edu.

Rome wasn’t built in one day

The curation of our idea from concept to prototypes to fulfilling the design requirements has been a journey. With that being said, our product contains a lot of parts and materials to come together, from acrylic from the Fab Lab to 3D printing at the Makerlab, to clay pebbles and then lastly a fish. Our project combines technology and biology to form a symbiotic balance and that is where some issues may arise.

We received some great constructive feedback this week with a design audit partnered with another group and from there we determined that an increased in depth to the modules will allow for healthier plants overall.

This week we were finally able to use the 1/4″ x 12 x 24 sheets of clear acrylic that we will be making our fish tank from scratch with silicone sealants as well. After some trials and errors with the laser cutter, we were finally able to cut everything to size but fear it will not be cured in time for the prototype review with Vishal on Monday. With that being said, our next hiccup came from the 3D printers failing to complete our prints in a timely manner. This week we encountered our 2nd failed print and each of our prints take 10 hours and so time is of the essence when it comes to creating the aquaponics modules. Our team has been working tirelessly when it comes to designing and putting together this product. With the help from the Fab Lab and the Makerlab, we are slowly able to achieve our vision.


There are hiccups along the way but we know we will be able to complete this in due time, but we constantly remind ourselves that Rome was not built in one day and for us to deliver our product we have to realize that an attention to detail is essential.

Our next phase of achieving our vision is putting the fish tank together with the use of the 1/4″ clear acrylic sheets and aquarium approved silicone sealant to ensure that the tank is waterproof. Due to scheduling conflicts and the allowable time for the tank to cure we were not able to complete the tank on time due for the class for Vishal’s review of our model. However, we were able to use a simple plastic bin to simulate our tank until we have it finished during the final presentations. This week proved to be a difficult week for us due to the complicated nature of the project and how many pieces are coming together. But we were able to reprint our modules to ensure that it is of the top most quality. Our project has been a test of many moving parts and the culmination of it coming together is very exciting but also nerve racking as our goal is to have our product 100% ready within the week.



A reiterative process of trial and error

The progression of our ideas came to fruition this week as we heavily began idealizing and seeing how all of the parts of our design come together. The first half of this week’s class was allotted to learning 3D scanning from Ariel utilizing a handheld model. We then proceeded to scan our heads as well however, we learned that the scanner does not like dark surfaces and so we had to scan black hair with a phone light.


The next half of class we were heavily involved in redefining our project’s components with an initial rough print. This taught us that we need to prototype fast and quickly due to the nature of how 3D printing is not perfect and it is a reiterative process in order to perfect a design. We continuously developed our design and got an idea of how to make these modules separate in the case if we want to add more or less at any given time. The Fusion 360 model below shows how we visualized our final product.


However, once we started printing, the holes did not line up correctly and sometimes the printer was having trouble with misalignment or if the filament ran out mid print as that happened to our initial prints.


Then after another run through the printer we were able to narrow down the problems, address it and throw in another print. This one proved to be a much more successful model but it still did not stand up on its own which was cause for concern for us since we need it to be able to not only support its own weight but it needs to support, clay rocks, plants and moving water.


Upon doing further research we found a great resource named “The Aquaponics Source” and it helped narrow down what type of plants, planting media as well as the conditions that are needed to keep our plants happy and healthy.

The next stages that I determined to be instrumental for the project is constructing the actual tank from 1/4″ acrylic sheets from the FabLab but they only had 1 clear one left and that was not enough since they were only 12″ x 24″ and so they are in the process of ordering more and it will come in about 10 days, which will hopefully give us time to cure and test our product. But I was able to use that one sheet and start dimensioning and designing the tank.



Our next step is to wait for all of the components we ordered to get here on time, which is the fish pump, tubing, finish printing the modules, as well as waiting for the acrylic to arrive and slowly put it together.


More than meets the eye

Design. A word that may be daunting to some and may be invigorating to others. Every aspect of our daily lives, from the food we eat to the products we use every day, have been thoroughly thought about and crafted to fulfill the epitome of its purpose. The stages in which a product comes to fruition are very extensive and is comprised of thousands of hours, dollars and a lot of people coming together for the common goal of solving a problem. The design process that I will talk about today will be focused on problems, from identifying them all the way to testing with users. It is extremely important to address a NEED first before coming up with a solution because if there is no one that needs to use it, then no one would want it.

This is where I have seen people in BADM 395 fail quick and then have to start from scratch, it is creating a solution before thinking of the problem you are trying to solve. Human-centered design thinking is exactly as it sounds, by thinking of the humans that the product is intended for, then can you truly create something that is worth other people’s time, money and effort in utilizing the product. The design thinking process will help you be able to approach a problem you see in the community and create a product that will enable you to make it meaningful and to fully fulfill its purpose through iterations and critiques. The idea of this is to start thinking outside the box and sometimes take a few steps back in order to create the best of the best. The following steps outline how the Design for America human-centered design thinking process has been helpful for students all over the country.

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Step 1. Identify
Goal: Defining targeted problem spaces you will tackle to focus future research. This is a crucial step in creating something that will create the largest impact in the community. In order to build something, there has to be a need and identifying it is the first step. You want to be able to take large challenges and break them into smaller parts that are easier to manage and tackle. The issue of campus safety, for example, is very large, but you can examine it by looking at safety in classrooms, on the sidewalks or even in dorms. By analyzing assumptions and initial knowledge, you can see what knowledge you are lacking and where to find it. Think of the local organizations and mentors that are available to help you with this challenging area as well. For the example above, the police department and campus security may be helpful resources.

Step 2: Immerse
The next step is to be able to immerse yourself into your targeted audience. To empathize with stakeholders and uncover insights to deeply understand your problem spaces. The idea is to fully wrap your head around the problem space from every aspect and every party involved. For the example above, the idea is to talk to students, police, and people in the community that are potentially at risk from criminals or even feel unsafe in their areas. This will give you a much more well-rounded idea of identifying common themes, stories, and existing solutions. The UIUC Makerlab, for example, has the extremely expensive equipment and so talking to people in their and how they keep it safe would be helpful too.

Step 3: Reframe
The goal of reframing is to define the change you want to make in the world and determine what your solution needs to accomplish to get there. This is to define desired qualities as well as narrow down your focus. This also allows you to take a step back and gauge how you define a successful impact. As it pertains to BADM 395, the idea of reframing means that the product you create will ultimately solve your problem in an efficient manner.

Step 4: Ideate
This is another important step, brainstorming and generating a variety of ways that make  an impact and exploring alternative solutions is extremely important. Some students jump directly to this step and that is where they falter since they do not know what existing solutions may be out there. Thinking of any idea, no matter how big or small means that there is room for innovative ones as well as the possibility of ideas colliding and collaborating together.

Step 5: Build
Making a variety of tangible prototypes to communicate and test your ideas will allow you to see where your design falters and where it can be heavily improved. Without many iterations and samples, one can never perfect a product. Take the David Kelley example of the Apple mouse, for example, he tested and built hundreds of mouses in order to find what was wrong with each version and how to make it better. Getting started with low fidelity prototypes lets you envision your product and lets you fix potential problems quickly before they arise and cause more problems down the line.

Step 6: Test
Getting feeback to uncover insights and develop the nextsteps to improve a solution and product is extremely important. Being able to take this product into the homes and talk to the potential users is important since it allows your target audience to actually see a tangible product and envision if they can see themselves using it. This also allows you to obtain expert input and quotes about the solution to give you a much deeper and well-rounded way to go about the product. Testing a product in the BADM 395 course before it comes to fruition is important since we have to present it at the end of the year to our fellow classmates. This means that ensuring the product works for its intended purpose is extremely important.

To wrap up the design process, you have to keep in mind that these steps are not a one-way road, it is extremely important to constantly go back and forth to make corrections and improve designs with reiterations and consulting the users constnatly. By involving experts and professors in your process of creating the BADM 395 product, you will gain a deeper understanding and identify where and how you can fix it, so your initial idea becomes alive and ready to change the world.

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The Start of Something New

The FabLab sessions prior to spring break were very informative and so this week begins the start of our project after being exposed to numerous resources that would be of use for our projects. We began this week’s class session by watching videos from David Kelley and how design is an iterative process. This means that creating a product takes patience and requires input from each level of production, from the designers to engineers to the target consumer. Feedback and reiteration are important to ensuring that a project comes to fruition and so following the David Kelley videos, we were set loose to begin thinking of the design and thinking and visualizing the product.

The teams broke up and we were given two hours to being to work and talk more in-depth about our individual projects. Vishal’s goals for this session was to begin for us to start a low fidelity prototype, to work out the kinks and decide how to design it towards the path of least resistance. Team IJK this week began utilizing paper and start to design our project with computer paper and tape for us to visualize the design schematics and what not. We went through different concepts and methods to come with our design that drew inspiration from a spiral staircase.


From there we decided that we need to start building a super low-fidelity prototype to envision our bill of material and how to envision any possible future problems we may run into. Building a model out of paper gave us the freedom to work and rework the design.


We have concluded some of the resources we need to use and a majority of it is located in the FabLab which is very nice since there are people there like Brian that can help us further our design with aquaponics since his graduate studies sort of align with our project.

Our next stage is to build a low fidelity prototype out of cardboard to have it be firmer and structurally stable since paper is very flimsy. Simultaneously with the cardboard model, we will begin experimenting with Fusion 360 to design the modules that will sit on top of our aquaponics system, we want it to be removable and customizable for easier usability for our target demographic of college students.



This aquaponics system will be a symbiotic relationship between the fish and plants and thus the plants will ideally lower stress and purify the air in college students dorm rooms to add a pop of life and serenity to the hectic atmosphere of a college student’s life.

Week 8: Putting it all together

The third and final week at the FabLab has taught us that the culmination of hard work and learning useful skills was well worth the wait.  This week my group focused on being able to code the Arduino with the correct codes that will trigger the lights with the correct readings from the light sensors. 

This was the end goal however, we had to learn how to walk before we could run. This involved using example codes from Arduino in order to understand the fundamentals involved in coding and how to think about how things worked in a different way.  This involved us be able to think conceptually about what, how and when things happen in their respective orders.  We started with the breadboards and made a LED blink with a sample code then we were told to mess around with the code and make it blink in SOS in Morse code and then used a combination of codes to do different things with the lights.  This part was challenging but rewarding once we were able to see our hard work come to life. 


Upon learning the basics we were then told to start coding out Arduino and this part was also fun as we had a basic code that was developed for us but had to tweak it to our specifications.  The next steps were to upload and do trial and error analysis to see which parameters worked best for our sensors.


The last stage of our Light Box project was to be able to put everything we have done together in the past three sessions at the FabLab.  This process got a little frustrating because there were a lot of components that were coming together and a lot of room for error.  What I started out doing was to put the lights and sensors to the holes of the boxes first, then taping the edges together to hold the shape until it was time to glue it all together.  Utilizing the hot glue gun was a harmless process, or so I thought.  As I found it fairly easy because of my taping method, other students had a really hard time identifying which pieces went where and how they don’t retain their shapes easily.  I told them about my tape method and that made it easier for many students.


These past three weeks at the FabLab has taught me how valuable this resource is for us to be able to utilize for our project.  I believe that the extremely smart and creative people there are all there to help us thrive and become very accepting of what our choices and projects are.  I think this will come incredibly handy once we get deeper into our project.  As a student that wasn’t very involved in the FabLab, I now know where I can turn when it comes to seeking help and guidance from brilliant people in our community.


Inkscape and Laser Cutting

The second session at the FabLab this week meant that we were at a new stage for our light receptor boxes. Last week we had the pleasure of soldering the circuits together and testing it on the Arduino units. This week our group went to the laser cutter to create the box in which our project will be encapsulated in. We utilized a free software called Inkscape which is similar to Adobe Illustrator but I found it a little easier to use. We started off by learning the basics of taking an image from the internet and then vectoring it to be able to get the black lines out through the Image Trace option and that allowed us to make basic images into vectors that we can work natively on the software.


This made it very intuitive to be able to take any image with defined black and white borders and make it into a vector so we are easily able to manipulate the points and add or subtract portions of the image. We obtained the box layout from a website that the FabLab provided us and then added our own designs. This was the outcome of me scouring the internet for my favorite graphic designer from the Philippines, Kerby Rosanes.


Upon finishing the files and layout, you transferred the document as a PDF file to the printer and I was using the EpiLogue printer which is a very strong one that can cut a variety of materials as well as thicknesses. You had to make sure that the colors and sizes of the cuts were 0.001 in and that the color was in RGB mode with 255 for Red and 0 for everything else. The raster aka engraving could be black and any size. The laser cutter was very precarious and we had to make sure that the settings were 100% accurate.


Here you can see a time lapse I had made through the rastering process.


It was very rewarding to be able to see something you design on a computer come to life in a matter of minutes. There was something satisfying from watching it go back and for until your vision comes true. After the printer is able to raster everything, it begins the cutting process which I also speed up the cutting time.


Here you can see the final cuts and it is all done for me to assemble.


The picture below shows me assembling the box without the electronic components in it yet and so I thought it looked very cool and can not wait to combine everything together next week after we learn to code the Arduino.


A helpful article I found while using the laser printer was found on Instructables with 10 helpful tips and tricks. Going forward I am excited to be able to use the laser cutter for our final project as it is less intimating as I thought it was. I will also probably use this tool for other projects too since it is fairly easy being able to use this tool.

Tinkering and Soldering

The Champaign-Urbana community fabrication laboratory otherwise known as the CU FabLab led our class throw 3 different stages of building a small box that has a light sensor and powered by Arduino. The class split into 3 groups, one laser cutting the box, one soldering the wires and builds together and another group worked on coding the firmware. Splitting this into groups and stages made creating this project to be much more manageable and help show how much work truly goes into the design of an item from its conception to its creation.



I have never soldered before nor worked with Arduino and so it was exciting to be able to learn from professionals and people who knew what to do. Going into the FabLab I did not know what to expect and so to know that there are so many resources at our disposal really gave me hope about how our project can be created here. The soldering material was lead based and so it was instrumental that we do not touch our faces or body with our hands and that was surprising to me that we utilized lead. However, we were explained at how the smoke that rises, aka, flux, is very toxic and so soldering with other materials makes the flux much worse. We were then given our Arduino units as well as LEDs, resistors, sensors and wires.


Each student in the group had a soldering iron in front of them and we were given a tool that is referred to as the ‘helping hand’ which helps hold wires for you to solder. There were some frustrating moments as solders operate at roughly 800 degrees Fahrenheit and so it was very dangerous as one can easily burn yourself.


Our outcome after soldering the pieces all together was 5 LEDs each connected to a resistor and then attached to the light sensor. The way the object operated was triggering specific lights when there is a certain amount of light being received by the sensor. So as you can see, the bulbs each flicker as a number of light decreases, then all of them flicker when it is pitch black.


After learning about Arduino, I became very curious as to what items can be made with it and how it operated. The website Make Use Of highlighted the many potential projects that it can be used for. Through that, I found a personal project I might work on now since I am learning the basics of Arduino. The Fablab sessions are not only very informative but it is allowing me to think outside of the box and reinforces the notion that I can build and make anything I want as long as I put my mind towards it.

Necessity is the mother of invention

The process of creating a product is a long and tedious process of trial and error. One can not simply think of something and then assume that the product will change the world. There has to be a need for the product to become successful, there has to be demand for a solution to an inherently big problem. This week we are at the ideating stage of the course. Our teams brainstormed problems that need to be addressed in various demographics. Team IJK, focused on 3 problems in our everyday lives and came up with a few How Can We… questions.


  • Problem 1: College students have limited options when it comes to urban farming and we are targeting consumers trying to grow plants indoors in, areas. Examples include dorm rooms or small studio apartments.
    • HCW introduce college students to more urban farming methods on a college campus?
  • Problem 2: Amateur filmmakers utilize cameras that may be shaky and have distorted views. We are trying to increase the quality of handheld videos with an analog but portable solution. Potential exists for using digital technologies integrated into 3D printed hardware.
    • HCW help amateur filmmakers reduce shaky videos from their phones or GoPros?
  • Problem 3: College students tend to procrastinate and are not able to focus. We are trying to decrease the amount of time people spend procrastinating and trying to get people to work more efficiently.
    • HCW solve time management issues when trying to focus on a task for college students at home?

Upon developing these ideas, our team analyzed each idea through the 10 questions posed in this weeks reading “10 Ways to Evaluate a New Business Idea”. We have not narrowed down our ideas but it put the projects in a new perspective and allowed us to visualize if it is a viable opportunity or not. Creative sparks come from all shapes and forms and so the notion highlighted in Science Mag suggested that in order to reach creative ideas, one needs to be able to be free of guidance, constraints, and criticism.  In other words, for our projects to be successful, we have to think outside of the box and allow for our minds to explore every possible solution to the problem. Upon identifying a problem space, you need to analyze the assumptions attached, define the opportunity, picture the target audience and then prepare for the worse case scenario. The Innovation Management article highlights all these methods and gives us more ways to ideate efficiently.

Another article I found to be helpful was published by the Harvard Business Review. The article states that ideating and generating ideas is great but it is quintessential to be able to narrow down the focus and to develop the main ideas thoroughly. Refining existing products and analyzing their strengths and weaknesses may give insight into how we can reiterate it into a new idea. Mike Bohlmann spoke this week about his hobby of making and tinkering and it allowed me to appreciate how much preparation and consideration went into developing an idea and then executing it.

Designing in the Digital Realm

This week we had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Smith, an AutoDesk representative, as he taught us how to utilize the Fusion 360 Software. This intuitive software allowed us to create complex geometries and objects in a digital space. This also allowed us to easily manipulate the object and even allow us to test for the integrity of the object and much more. Prior to utilizing the software, we had to watch a Fusion 360 tutorial on youtube by Lars Christensen, which was nice as we could go at our own pace and rewind when necessary. This model was to create a conduit box for electrical equipment that will be used in house remodels or construction.

Our next assignment was to create anything and everything you can think of during the presentation that Mr. Smith gave us and so it was reassuring that we had an expert in the room in case there was any difficulty with the software.  We first started by learning the fundamentals of the software, such as lines and then shapes and then 3D shapes.  We then proceeded to utilize the create form tool and that was very interesting since it allowed for complex shapes of all sizes.


The next stage was to build our own model of something that we use on a daily basis with 2 or more components. The object I created was my Hydro Flask water bottle. I was able to shell it for the double walled aluminum construction as well as create the necessary threads for the cap to fit in the mouth. The images below reflect my actual bottle and the rendering.




Link to the A360 Model http://bit.ly/2lxACnS

This exercise made me think of everyday objects as different elements that needed to be joined together and thoroughly designed. Every aspect of every object you use has been analyzed and reiterated until it was ready for consumer markets. This means that there are elements of design everywhere in everyday objects and this exercise gave me the insight to develop a product for the class. Each component of each object is as important as the one prior, this means that as we begin to design our product, we must be able to think in terms of each element of the product and how it all fits together like a puzzle.