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  • Writer's pictureKaisern Chen

Talk of designs

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

Talk of designs - a personal blog on how I see the design on random articles!

It would probably make little sense if I started this design talk away from an object I deeply fascinated and love - the camera.

Leica M Edition 60

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." ~ Albert Einstein

Leica M Edition 60 - Audi Design

With Leica M Edition 60, Leica came very close! It is one of my favorite cameras and often use until the introduction of Leica M10-D, which is more convenient to shoot with but not a better camera design. Leica commissioned Audi Design for this 60th-anniversary edition model of the legendary Leica M camera that pays homage to the essence of photography. It raises the fundamental question of what is photography? And should photography with solid-state sensor any different from its analog age?

It is a result of a meticulous effort that the camera feels dense but not heavy, sharp edges around but holds comfortably in hand. The camera looks more beautiful without the added Titanium Thumbs Up from Match Technical, clearly not up to the craftmanship of Edition 60 camera, but I leave it on for photography purpose to have something to talk.

It is not a design for everyone. It does not need to.


Arca Swiss B1, after almost three decades of heavy use

This is the first Arca Swiss B1 I bought in the early 1990s in New York which has endured heavy use since then and still is in good service order close to three decades later. I no longer use it often and intend to keep it for the sake of good memory, but I like it so much so I have two other Arca Swiss B2 ball heads permanently sit on my FOBA stand in my studio in regular use till this day.

It is a rather ingenious design to use an aspherical ball inside a housing with spherical interior fittings to allow the aspherical ball to move more freely in an upright position but increase friction when tiled to the side while gripping tension can be further control by a locking knob on the side. The 45° dovetail clamp works so well that it never failed in almost three decades of using whether with the original Arca Swiss ball heads or the similar system from Really Right Stuff. The friction control works so well that regardless of the camera or lens mounted on the ball.

As Helmut Schmidt once said, "The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement." Arca Swiss has made varies of internal improvements, so the ball head performs more fluidly, and friendly yet the original design hardly get scratched. It is a perfect example that the design focuses on only the essential and carved out anything not necessary.

It is the mother of all ball heads today! Many manufacturers have tried to bring something different, but none ever top the Arca Swiss, most simply copy it shamelessly. Really Right Stuff comes very close, and some may say they are equal to Arca Swiss, I like both and use both. What Really Right Stuff did most meaningful was the invention of "L" brackets which found on most of the cameras I use since its availability.

Good products last forever and Arca Swiss B1 is such an example.

Alessi Ossidiana Espresso Coffee Maker

Alessi Ossidiana, still capable of making good espresso after a couple of thousand rounds

Individual preference is always subjective, and I am no exception. I like coffee since I was studying in junior high school in Taipei, Taiwan, which I have a Hario Syphon Coffee Maker on my bedside table. A Moka pot was always in my backpack when I started to climb mountains since senior high school and later with me traveling around the world. I have a small personal collection of more than 20 Moka pots, and as an industrial designer, I also designed a few.

As a coffee drinker, I appreciate the well processed and roasted beans with an intense aroma so I can hand drip it, syphon it, Aero Press it or cook with Moka pot. And I make sure a working coffee machine in the office since 2000.

Moka pot may not produce the best coffee but I love to cook espresso with Moka pot on a camping gas stove so I can experience the aroma from filling the coffee grounds in the filter basket, feel the heat from the flame, the gurgling sound of the espresso coffee and finally pouring the coffee to a demitasse - drinking it is the not the only purpose, it is to mark a perfect end of the whole experience, until the next round. It is not about just drinking coffee, it is to make coffee part of you.

The Alessi Ossidiana, design by Mario Trimarchi, is one of my favorite Moka coffee makers. The shape is unique among most Moka pots, easy to grip to separate or assemble the boiler and collector, handle is positioned higher away from flame so it won't get too hot during cooking and spout is easy to pour.

The 1-cup Ossidiana in the picture is one of my most used Moka pots brewing 3-5 espresso every day for the last 3-4 years! It is one of the designs I wish I could have designed it.

The Hasselblad 907X with CFV II 50C & Leica M10-D

It took Hasselblad several tries before they figured out to trace back to their original 1600F from 1948 and the mirrorless SWA from 1954 for a digital reintroduction of powerful nostalgic emotional connection, the Hasselblad 907X with CFV II 50C.

The same year as the Hasselblad SWA, in 1954, also saw the birth of the Leica M3, which base design carries to the latest digital model of the M system, the M10 series cameras.

Both cameras appealed to a small segment of consumers who sought after high-quality craftsmanship, design to reflect their taste and style, good performance, and the price is not much worry. Both are an excellent example of bridging digital technology to their historical roots and brand character.

Hasselblad 907X mounted with XCD 45/4P with CFV II 50C sits next to Leica M10-D with Summicron-M 35/2 ASPH

Leica M10-D is a result of tremendous efforts from Leica to have its look, way of use, and critical mechanical parts resembled as much as possible to the original M camera with the rest of being electronic components to stay closer to the state of the art technology as possible. Leica's philosophy works at its best even though the image quality-making capability is not on par with, for example, SL and SL2, or some may want to include Q2 in this conversation. The M bayonet and the charm of using the M camera are the key differentiation factors that sell the M camera.

The Hasselblad is a very different execution and one that many wish it should arrive years earlier. The classical square-ish look is maintained, although it's a 33X44mm sensor compares to the 56X56mm square format of the past it modeled. The 907X is even smaller than an Alpa 12TC, and most users shall appreciate its new compact size.

The European camera makers suffered severely market share loss to Japanese makers, but the simplicity, stylish, and stay rooted in its heritage are not challenged.

Lindberg Eyewear

As the first manufacturer to use titanium in eyewear in 1984, Lindberg Eyewear used the material itself without resorting to welding, free of using screw or rivet. Right from the start, Lindberg Eyewear realized that no one could manufacture their titanium frames and had to do it by itself. This supreme building system had never been seen before – and it still has not – in the world of mass market.

The Danish brand founded by the pioneering optician Poul-Jørn Lindberg and esteemed architect Hans Dissing launched the Lindberg Optic Design house. The brand's philosophy revolves around "discreet, classic elegance and carefully considered simplicity." The result is unparalleled comfort and effortless style. Incredibly strong and flexible, yet among the lightest in the world.

My, thin grayish frame and my wife's Lindberg eyewear - Titanium frame with Zeiss "High-index" lenses.

My custom-fitted Lindberg reading glasses, pictured left, weighs only 11.6 grams, including the Zeiss "high-index" lenses. It costs similar to pure gold by the same weight, well worth for all-day clear and comfortable vision, a better investment.

KINU M47 Precision Coffee Grinder

German products are known for their fine engineering and quality; KINU M47 is one example with the design that guarantees precision in the performance.

The double ball-bearing, auto-centering full metal mechanical construction achieves a step-less adjustment with a fine thread (M10 x 0.5) and 50 subdivisions. For each division, you adjust the grinding distance by 0.01mm. Near microscopic precision.

The original M47 comes with a proprietary 47mm conical steel burrs set (31.6mm inner cone burr + 47mm outer ring burr, hence the M47 name) with Black Fusion treatment. The original burr delivers very high performance for different coffee grinds and is particularly praised for espresso. Kinu later specially designed a burr for Pour-Over enthusiasts to answer popular demand that I bought and replace the original burr on my M47. The Pour-Over Burr, pictured left, has a less aggressive blade structure than the original burr, picture right, which results in different coffee grinds, and taste of the coffee.

left: Pour-Over Replacement burr right: original burr

The connoisseurs who would not get tired from switching the burrs will appreciate the simplicity of construction and assembly and ease of cleaning and maintenance. As many would find on typical German-made mechanical products, it looks like to last forever.

A steel burr set typically specifies about 500lb of coffee grinding equals 9,000-11,000 pour-over coffee (20-25 grams each time), and for all the coffee lovers, you owe yourself one of these. I have a few of them.


9Barista is a serious-looking coffee machine and feels serious in hand! The 9Barista consisted of three main cast-brass components, from the top down :

Portafilter with 53mm double basket and cap 326.9g

The Group head with chimney, heat exchanger coil, and boiler O-ring 782.6g

The boiler with safety valve 582.7g

(Total unit net weight 1,692.2g)

A high phosphorus electroless nickel plating on the brass part as final finish; it is an engineering grade of finishing more for its performance than aesthetics.

My 9Barista coffee machines

Indeed, upon first glance, the 9Barista appeared to be an engineering object ready for field abuse instead of some high polish design object like some Alessi Moka pots. That is not a bad thing; the 9Barista looks honesty. It is meant for heavy use, as it shall be.

The engineer designer, William Playford, a Cambridge University alumnus and a jet engineer by profession, design and develop the 9Barista to satisfy his obsession with espresso and share his invention with the world at an asking cost. It is not inexpensive when ordered, and I don't feel being cheated after receiving the 9Barista! With the careful inspection of 9Barista and some 20 shots of espresso later, I realize the machine will last for decades, and it is a bargain. It consists of no electrical parts; the only moving part is a spring-loaded valve replaceable if worn out by the user.

A heavy gauge stainless steel heat exchanger (218.8g) comes with 9Barista for placing under 9Barist when using an induction cooker or the gas stove.

"I wanted to design a small, portable machine that has the simplicity and robustness of a traditional Moka pot, but with the performance of a high-end café-style espresso machine, at a price substantially lower than the leading brands.” ~ William Playford, 9Barista founder

It is an ingenious design to use a twin-boiler system that the base boiler sets the brewing pressure (which heats water to 170 degrees C. to reach 9 bar pressure) while the group head regulates the brewing temperature to 93 degrees C for a well extracted, tasty espresso, comparable to commercial machines. Mr. Playford did not overclaim.

9Barista is a personal object because it makes one espresso a time, 4-8 minutes, depends on how fast I want to push the machine and depends on the coffee grounds. So it feels a bit exclusive! 9Barista offers a service to personalize the machine with laser engraving, which I did with mine.

My Chinese name in "Seal Script" user etched on the portafiler of 9Barista
My Chinese name in "Seal Script" user etched on the portafiler of 9Barista in my wife's tea garden

As it is built tough, the 9Barista suggests the user can water cool the machine to make another espresso run in repetition. Possible solutions include extra purchase portafilters or get multiple units, which I did.

The 9Barista serves as an excellent reference machine to test a new batch of coffee for espresso as it gives consistent control over pressure and temperature on the spot. At 1,692.2g, add the heat exchanger 218.8g, the solid-stainless steel tamper 327.0g, totaling 2,238g - this is probably not a backpack item. But travel by car? Sure, every time!

etzinger etz-I Hand Grinder

Grinding Made Simple

"Physics is the law, everything else is a recommendation."

~ Elon Musk

etzinger etz-I coffee grinder

The manual coffee grinder is akin to a pistol that works on simple mechanical principles and the law of physics that precision machining, use of material, and craftsmanship dictate how it performs. It is something that many can produce, but very few would excel.

There are already many excellent manual coffee grinders that each user has their subjective preference, or preferences, as many users do collect manual coffee grinders, me among them. The debate over what coffee grinder specifically contributed to the quality of coffee, regardless of Espresso, pour-over, hand drip, siphon, French press, and all kinds of recipes, will have no end as individual taste varies, and each is likely to defend subjectively.

However, most, if not all, portable manual coffee grinders share one principle in common: a conical burr fitted to the central axle (shaft) that connects with the crank arm to transfer the force into grinding power. The shape of the grinding housing, the use of stainless steel bearings, the crank arm and knob, the built material, and the industrial design, which integrates all the components in the final assembly, resulted in the look and character of the final product. Kinu 47, Commandante C40, Lido, and 1ZPresso are those considered high-quality grinders, which I have used over the years; they are all built around the same mechanical principle while all look different, with each having loyal users.

Then comes the etzinger etz-I - the Swiss design, Liechtenstein-manufactured grinder with a radically different approach and unique look, easily comparable to those very best and likely to influence many future grinders. etz-I implements an RRB system - Rotating Ring Burr becomes the moving parts connected to the retractable crank arm, eliminating the central axle and resulting in a much cleaner internal housing and larger capacity. The conical burr is now the stationary part; therefore, even at a relatively small burr size of 32mm, the etz-I is the most efficient grinder I have used. It is precise, and it is fast!

The ring burr and conical burr of the etz-I

etz-I is quick to disassemble, is easy to assemble, and requires no calibration. It is a beautiful and genuinely original design that works as good or better than its marketing statement, a rarity in the modern day. There are 88 precise grinder settings with the Absolute Vernier Scale: 1-23, each corresponding to a 0.02mm adjustment that should attract many Espresso lovers and is repeatable without fault. This may not outdo my Kinu 47 Classic and Traveller, both with M10 X 0.5 fine thread with 50 subdivisions to provide 0.01mm adjustment (grinding distance), which is still without dispute the best grinder for Espresso. The etz-I, however, gives a particular level of sweetness to the Espresso cooked with my 9Barista, which is unique enough for me to consider etz-I as good as Kinu 47.

etz-I is not a compact coffee grinder, but the "Trim" version I use is easy to grip, lightweight (690g), and, to me, travel-friendly. ETZINGER AG as a professional burr manufacturer and is already famous for its highly modular etzMAX and etzMAN, which may hint that the etz-I may have an alternative burr as an option.

The simplicity of etzinger etc-I

etz-I is not a perfect grinder, the overall design is hard to pick faults, and the mechanical design is Swiss class. Still, I found the excessive grinds retention somewhat frustrating. The magnetic collector cup is convenient but can be tricky during grinding and removal, and the Absolute Vernier Scale dial could be a bit tighter. I consume about 50g of coffee per day, at home or travel, the etz-I high-efficiency makes my coffee process a lot faster and easier, it is an indispensable tool.

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