Prototype: Precursor to Project Vii Posted on 11 Jan 16:14

Prototype Kendama Design Kens
Prototype Kendama Design Stops
Prototype Kendama Design Clip-able

Prototype: Precursor to Project Vii

These are the featured original three prototype kens produced as a component of a multi-faceted and quarter-long design project at the University of Washington, Seattle. These kens almost didn't happen. If not for the guidance of professors, peers and visiting designers, these concepts would not have made it into the project scope in time for the show, let alone prototyping.

The common aspect nearly all existing kendama have is that the sarado/cups and the ken are all axially symmetric. Much like a vase, the profile contours are uniform all the way around the object, which is what standard lathe machining processes will yield for turned objects. Wood is also the most common material selected for kendama production as raw material cost, performance/durability, and ease of production are reasonable for the application of a juggling/skill item. Additionally, the distinctly separate parts of sarado and ken are another common feature in kendama as well.

The redesign goal was to advance the shape and interaction for play and portability beyond the inherent limitations of wood material and lathe machining processes. The resulting prototype open-form kens were produced using 3D printing of the FDM variety. This process, while not as fast as lathe turning, has increased durability and no inherent shape restrictions.

These prototypes have large and thick rings with cup surfaces concentric to the tama (ball) which increased surface area contact to more than just the contacting cup edge while also affording carabiner clip areas to attach the kendama to loops or straps for travel. The prototype has a fused sarado and ken design to eliminate cup-slip during play. A new re-stringing process by making the spike detachable from the ken, to conceal and secure the end knot of the string, was a bit over-the-top and would later be simplified to a diagonal string hole with a knot counter-sink as the project progressed.

Prototype Kendama Design Carrier
Prototype Kendama Design Display

The modular/growing kendama display and the hook carrier based off of the display were the second half of the project that addressed existing wood kendama in the context of home organization as well as portability. While a lot of sketching and concepts were tested, the final hooked rest concept was what moved into furthered development.

Collections start small and get big quickly whether you buy, receive as gifts, trade for, or turn your own kendama. Existing displays can be highly imaginative or nearly useless, but they almost all have set sizes for a set number of kens and only one option for display orientation. Displaying kendama at a show, event, or at home should be able to scale with the collection size and the modular approach makes the most sense.

Using a peg-hole system for joining the green ken-rests and the ash-wood modules and legs, kendama displays can grow horizontally or vertically with exactly the right number of ken affordances for any size collection. The modules can even join in straight or rotated alignment to change the display pattern.

The hook carriers, as mentioned before, are based on the hooked rests of the modular display. Standard turned kendama are held fast by sliding the carrier up from under the sarado and closing it over the cup and tama on the other side. A simple and secure concept for a minimal carrier design.

While these prototypes were completed in time for the year-end show, the project on a whole was only just beginning. These designs are great form and concept iterations, but the production models we've yet to unveil are even better in appearance and performance. More updates and new images are coming for the display and carrier revamps.