Designs on a greener planet by Eric Strebel

Energy & Sustainability
Designs on a greener planet by Eric Strebel



I am an Industrial Designer living in Southfield where I share my life with two beautiful children. I’m not originally from Michigan. I moved here after graduating from Pratt in 1990 to work as an Industrial Designer in the automotive industry.

For my first job, I interned at Ford, in the “Color and Trim” department, and then went on to work as a clay modeler for Ford for a bit before being laid off for the first time. I then started my own design studio in the Old Packard Plant in Detroit, designing and building anything I could. I built exhibits and small-run prototypes for all kinds of customers. Unfortunately, with the deterioration of the Packard Plant, the City of Detroit kicked out all occupants from the building and that pretty much killed my business. From there, I went to work for an exhibit house for a short period until I was eventually laid off for a second time. I continued to do freelance work and then went to work as a designer for a Japanese automotive supplier in Auburn Hills. In 2007, I was laid off for a third time, due to the economy and downsizing of the company.

I now have a home-based design studio and teach Industrial Design at Wayne State University. When I was laid off from my last job in 2007, I told myself: “That’s it, I will never work in the automotive industry ever again.” I started an equipment recycling business. I go into companies and remove excess equipment that’s no longer needed or that is obsolete. I research and resell the equipment. Depending on the company and the equipment they have, I either accept the goods on consignment and they receive a percentage of the sale, or I remove and dispose of the equipment for them. When I ship/package an item that I’m sending out, I use recycled materials that I shred, e.g. junk mail, envelopes, advertisements, or the kids’ old school work. I’m definitely into doing my part to save the planet. We just cannot keep on trashing it and expect our children’s children to have a nice place to live.

Since I am and always will be a product designer, I recently started working on designing a solar charger that I call the “Solar Vox.” I was inspired to design this product when I saw media coverage of the dangerous makeshift charging stations from the recent devastating earthquakes in Haiti/Chile. Solar Vox makes this world a “greener” planet by using solar power. It is your solar lifeline. This charger is very versatile as it will charge cell phones, iPods, DS’s, and other devices. It also has the capability to charge two standard “AA” rechargeable batteries and is USB-compliant. The unit is light, compact, and rugged. and will be able to be used in any area of the world. It can be set at four different angles to capture the sun in any position. Solar Vox is built for today’s global citizens with demanding mobile power needs, environmentally conscious individuals, techies. and people interested in a functional product with some character.

If you would like to contact me, please do so at or visit my website. And if you’re going to be at Maker Faire Detroit, come find me. I’ll be showing off the Solar Vox.

About My Work:
I do all kinds of design work, ranging from products, such as a recent “Power Matt” product for Homedics, to Ray-Ban sunglasses for Bauch & Lomb. I have designed monsters for Clive Barker, sets for GM Camero brochures, built dozens of full-size wire vehicles for auto shows, fabricated kiosks, and numerous displays big and small. My work has always focused on the practical and functional side of things. I love the complexity of life and enjoy it most in its simplest form. When form and function come together, the world is a wonderful place.


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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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