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Designing the Wireless Charging Pad
When Apple announced that their newest phones would be compatible with Qi wireless charging, we started thinking about designing a charging pad for them. We felt that the new iPhones deserved a well designed, high quality wireless charging pad.
From our research, it seemed the technology would be around for several years, so it would be worth designing our own product. We were inspired to create something that fits into multiple spots in the home—from your desk to your living room. Something that you wouldn’t mind looking at when the phone wasn’t there. Something that was not a typical consumer electronic accessory.
Most of our products don’t have any electronics, so the wireless charging pad gave us a great opportunity to learn, and to flex our technical design muscles! We started by dismantling—we pulled apart a variety of charging pads, to get at (and understand) all the required inner workings.
After getting a rough idea of what the charging pad needed in order to work, we went straight to cutting and gluing and building physical prototypes out of cardboard and paper. Sean, our product designer, and Elise, our college intern at the time, teamed up to create and model a number of prototypes. Pretty quickly, we settled on a circular shape—it felt totally natural as a target to aim for when placing your phone down. Squares and rectangles were problematic, because the visual lines get jumbled if the phone isn’t placed in the correct orientation. It can easily feel crooked, whereas with a circle, it will never feel that way. So, a circle it was!
Dialing in the Diameter
We took the circle, and created a whole range of diameters to test with cardboard cutout phones of the iPhone 8, 8 plus, and X.
The size is a crucial part of the design. We created a charging pad that’s substantially larger in diameter than anything on the market. Why? The reasoning was twofold: we liked the overall visual appearance, and we liked how the larger size made for a more stable resting place for your phone.
SEAN KELLY (Lead Product Designer): We worked with the prototypes until we found a circle that felt like the right size. Our response to seeing many of the other charging pads on the market was that the phone could easily fall off. We wanted ours to be a really stable accessory, that feels substantial and permanent.
With some of the overall details dialed in, we moved on to considering and studying which materials to use. We looked to the dock for the material balance and weight and we looked to the desk shelf for our new cork material. You needed a soft place to put your phone, and a strong base to keep it in place.
KEN TOMITA (Co-Founder): One thing we wanted from the get-go was weight. On the original iPhone dock, we really stressed true one-handed operation, because it’s so annoying if the dock moves when you pick up the phone. Likewise, we wanted the wireless charging pad to be rock solid.
We started stacking materials—felt and metal, wood and metal, cork and metal, cork and leather, felt and wood—to see what looked and felt right. Cork and metal ended up being the winning material combo—the cork is naturally soft and the stainless steel or brass base is satisfyingly hefty. And using natural materials made for a nice departure from plastic tech accessories!
Typically, junctions between layered materials are designed to have slight gaps, to allow for imprecise construction—this allows them to be manufactured separately and assembled later. But we wanted the cork and metal to be flush, even if it was harder! Going flush emphasizes the differences between the materials and gives the product cleaner lines. To do it this way, we have to assemble the electronics before super gluing the cork and metal together, and then run it all together on an edge sander. It’s much harder to produce, but the product is better for it.
Ken built a couple of phototypes (a word we made up ourselves—phototypes are prototypes that are good enough to photograph), and we handed them off to Max, our photographer, to get ready to launch! Mission accomplished.
A Twist and Turn
But, the story of the charging pad wasn’t going to wrap up quite so easily. In the days leading up to the launch, we had a customer stop by the shop for a tour. Ken showed her around, and then brought her over to the design space to show her the soon-to-be-released wireless charging pad, which Max was in the middle of photographing. She really liked them, and wanted to buy two on the spot—until she saw the long red cord hanging behind the pad.

“What am I going to do with that cord?” she said. “I want everything to be clean … why don’t you wind it up inside the pad?”

She was a surgeon, and she needed to make sure that she felt ‘right’ at her workstation, so she noticed something we hadn’t fully appreciated. It was a fantastic insight. We designed the charge pad to work anywhere in the house, so the cord had to be long enough to work in a variety of spaces… but leaving the cord dangling, even if it’s wound in a little leather wrap, wouldn’t cut it. The details matter. We had to modify the design to incorporate some kind of internal cord wrap.
We were in the process of engineering the charging pad for production, and our engineer Mike took on the challenge of taking a hard pivot and reconfiguring the guts of the charging pad to accommodate 6’ of cord. We had no idea if there would be enough space in the charge pad to hold all that cord, but Mike got to work drafting it in our drafting software, and, lo and behold, there was just enough space! Good thing we had designed the pad to be bigger.

Having a place to wrap the cord makes the product better, even if it won’t make or break a sale. We had to do it.

With the cord wrap design integrated into the charging pad, we were all set. A charging pad with the right technology on the inside, and the right materials on the outside, something warm and inviting that we wouldn’t mind on our kitchen table or nightstand.

The design was finalized… now we just had to figure out how to build them all! But, that’s another story.
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Further Reading

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