The Cerno Team Talks Art and Science
December 5, 2011 - 9:58pm
Cerno Group’s designer and engineer explain the important roles both play in designing for an LED era.
For Cerno's popular Silva lamp, engineer Dan Wacholder tried to come up with a heat sinking solution that would enable a powerful LED package in a small space, while designer Nick Sheridan designed aesthetically cohesive locations to place the dimmer and driver.


Nick Sheridan, designer: We start with a function — lighting a desk, filling a space. And immediately, we think of the lighting packages we’ve researched. It starts with the LEDs, the heat sinks, the dimmers. I have images of these components on my computer and can drag them to create initial design concepts.

Dan Wacholder, engineer: I’m constantly scouring the world for components. I read all of the LED newsletters and go to the trade shows. I’ll educate Nick on what I think might suit the concept. I’ll say, “I think this is best for this package,” and give him a drawing. “Let’s dim it this way” and “This material is going to be the most cost-effective.” 

Sheridan: The form is informed by the function of what we’re trying to achieve.

Wacholder: You rarely find a component or design gesture that doesn’t need to be there. Everything usually has a functional requirement. For Silva, one of our more popular designs, I tried to come up with heat sinking solutions that allowed us to get a powerful LED package in a small space.
I identified the LED array, matched it to a heat sink and said to Nick, “I need a place for this dimmer and this little driver.”

Sheridan: In part, Silva was about the wood body. We needed materials and thicknesses appropriate for the [production] scale of the build. That was a big consideration. But it was also about little things — the head articulation, where the neck passes, how to include the heat sink. It was a back and forth with Dan.

Wacholder: Nick’s tendency is to make things thin, small and simple. That meant [on Silva] few fasteners and really thin materials. This pushed the materials and component capabilities to the limit. I was constantly giving Nick reality checks. However, great design happens as you approach the limits of what’s possible. Many designers don’t know where those limits are and tend to overshoot them. Then, the engineer has to come in and correct the design and a lot is lost in the process. So, we work closely together. Nick refines the design. I turn it into a 3-D model using software. Then we make one. 

Sheridan: We’ll do some empirical testing. We also make sure we like the aesthetics. 

Wacholder: Aesthetics, function and technology are all closely related. To work in one area without knowledge of the others compromises results. I don’t think I could ever look at a design project the same again, now that I’ve worked with a designer. I don’t consider myself to be an industrial designer; pure aesthetic or the creative inspiration is not my specialty. But I now speak the language.

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