There are times in life where you think up a design, so simple, so magnificent, it could change the properties OF THE UNIVERSE ITSELF… and then suck everyone into an awesome design crushing vortex. However, if one takes the power of that idea, shares it with some friends and enters it into the Staples Eco Easy Challenge, the results may still cause permanent awesomeness to the universe.

Four such design students have done just that. They have not only one, but TWO concepts designs in the finals for the Eco Easy Challenge. You can vote for them now or go on to read a little more about the designs, what inspired them and the challenges faced throughout the design process.

What is the Eco Easy Challenge and who is on the team?

We were given the task of designing office products to fit within the the Staples brand while making them eco-friendly and easy to use. Team Silver Monkeys consists of Alex Pellegrino, James Matchett, Brandon Leedy and Kyle A Koch. All of us are 5th year students at the University of Cincinnati’s school of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning known as DAAP.

What concept designs did you enter to become finalist?

We had two concepts that were chosen as finalists, and we are all traveling to Washington D.C. on April 10 for a chance to win $25,000 dollars. Our first concept, The Eco Easy Button, is a simple solution for powering mobile devices at your desk, while conserving power at the same time. We used SolidWorks the most in the development of this concept.

YouTube video

Our second concept, The Folio, is a folder that could be manufactured from a single piece of material and completely recycled once you’re finished using it.

YouTube video

What was the inspiration for the concept designs?

Our real inspiration was based in the foundation of research we did into needs of the user, their environment, and the inherent values of existing products. We really wanted to avoid just remaking an existing product out of eco-friendly materials or having to sacrifice functionality in an attempt to be “green.” There were problems in both ease and eco-friendliness that were not being addressed by existing products, so we had to try and evolve the idea of a surge protector. In this case, we wanted to really give the user an additional long term gain to both save money and increase mindfulness of their consumption.

Hopefully, that mindfulness spreads to other parts of their life as well and they can aspire to more eco-friendly actions. The somewhat sad, but real truth we found in research is that people may not go for the “green” product if they have to sacrifice functionality or ease. We realized this was a problem that needed good design solutions to better the functionality of surge protectors while solving the larger problem of wasted “vampire draw” electricity.

What were the highlights and challenges through the design process?

In terms of design process, nothing beats pen and paper at the start. We were able to clarify our goals for research and eventually the goals for our products in black and white words. Once we had those constraints, we were able to go crazy with form options. Starting with just sketches and foam models we could be nimble and varied in our approach without sacrificing too much time. Eventually, we picked 3 or 4 directions and modeled them roughly in Solidworks to get a more precise feel. Once a final direction was decided (the button approach) we were able to use Solidworks to make multiple iterations with refinements to size, scale, angles, etc. rather quickly. Thanks to a good building workflow we were able to send them all into Keyshot and turn around some great renders for review.

Solidworks specifically has been integral because it’s precise, but flexible. I can make sketch models in more freeform software like Google Sketch-up, but they never feel “real” or as precise. With the right Solidworks hotkeys, I feel I can move just as swiftly as I would in something like Sketch-up while having a realistic and precise model that can be used further down the line. I try to build my models as realistic as possible for rendering and potential production, and now that we’re moving to 3D print a prototype, I can use the same model (with a few minor adjustments). For example, I created accurate usb and outlet cuts that will house real hardware in our 3D printed prototype model. This Solidworks-centric workflow lets our team move fluidly into that next step of production.

Where can we help you dominate the other teams and win?

You can vote once per day here, for the concepts from “Team Silver Monkeys,” and any help would be greatly appreciated.


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.