Bauhaus Chess Set

I was really interested by the Bauhaus which Bill Green has talked about extensively in his class. I was especially interested by the chess set that he showed so I decided to do more research on it.

This chess set was made by Josef Hartwig in 1923 at the Bauhaus, where he was a wood shop instructor. The chess set was designed to make the game easier to learn for new players. To that goal, the shapes of the pieces represent the moves that they can make.

King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook, and Pawn.

The chess set has been reproduced several times. The original set was made of pear wood and was half stained and half natural color. I decided that I want to make my own replica chess set so I started by modeling it in Fusion 360. There are plenty of reference images but I needed to know the size. Luckily on the MoMA website, it gives the dimensions of the pieces in metric and customary.

I used the above image as a base and calibrated it so that the blocks were 2.9 cm across. I then made sketches and extruded the pieces. It was interesting figuring out the relationship between the parts of the pieces, especially on the bishop. Many times I had to figure out what Hartwig’s intention was, rather than just using what the finished piece looks like since it could have been made imperfectly. The finished models are shown below.

I may use these models to 3D print a set of pieces in the future, but my main goal is to make them out of wood. I made some blueprints for the pieces using the 3D models and Fusion’s drawing feature. It should be interesting figuring out how to make these pieces for real!


Color Blindness and Design Empathy

I read an article by Fei Ren called What My Color Blindness Taught Me About Design. Fei is a user interface designer, but I think the points he make can heavily relate to industrial design. He says that 8% of all men and 0.5% of all women suffer from some form of color blindness, the most common kind being red-green color blindness. He goes on to say that even among color blind people, the colors they see are not the same. Later in the article he points out that “we should avoid some color combinations that are commonly unfriendly to color-blind users such as green/red, purple/blue, and light green/yellow.”

Fei talks about how his color blindness taught him about design empathy. He gave the example of a bus transit system in Ann Arbor. Buses were running late because of the cold and people were complaining about it. He couldn’t solve the late bus problem, but by using design empathy, he realized that bus riders were most upset about the lack of communication. The uncertainty of not knowing if a bus was ever coming caused a lot of grief. He makes the point, which I think is very applicable to industrial designers, that designers are not the target audience of design. This is why design empathy is crucial.

Further in the article he talks about the problem of traffic lights for color blind people. Usually a color blind person can see which light is lit up, the top, middle, or bottom, and know what to do. This changes at night when you can only see one light. This is a dangerous situation for everyone on the road. Fei posted on his LinkedIn, asking for solutions for this problem. Some people suggested relying on shapes as well as colors to convey meaning.

Fei points out that out of every 100 people who visit your site (or use your product), 5 people have a vastly different visual experience. I think that the concept of design empathy is crucial for us as industrial designers and the example of color blindness is a great way to consider this. I’m wondering, have you ever considered people with disabilities in your design projects? For a more in depth discussion, check out the original article.