Designing distinctive Raspberry Pi products

If you have one of our official cases, keyboards or mice, or if you’ve visited the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge, UK, then you know the work of Kinneir Dufort. Their design has become a part of our brand that’s recognised the world over. Here’s an account from the Kinneir Dufort Chief Design Officer, Craig Wightman, of their team’s work with us.

Over the last six years, our team at Kinneir Dufort have been privileged to support Raspberry Pi in the design and development of many of their products and accessories. 2019 has been another landmark year in the incredible Raspberry Pi story, with the opening of the Raspberry Pi store in February, the launch of the official keyboard and mouse in April, followed by the launch of Raspberry Pi 4 in June.

We first met Eben, Gordon and James in 2013 when we were invited to propose design concepts for an official case for Raspberry Pi Model B. For the KD team, this represented a tremendously exciting opportunity: here was an organisation with a clear purpose, who had already started making waves in the computing and education market, and who saw how design could be a potent ingredient in the presentation and communication of the Raspberry Pi proposition.

Alongside specific design requirements for the Model B case, the early design work also considered the more holistic view of what the 3D design language of Raspberry Pi should be. Working closely with the team, we started to define some key design principles which have remained as foundations for all the products since:

  • Visibility of the board as the “hero” of the product
  • Accessibility to the board, quickly and simply, without tools
  • Adaptability for different uses, including encouragement to “hack” the case
  • Value expressed through low cost and high quality
  • Simplicity of form and detailing
  • Boldness to be unique and distinctively “Raspberry Pi”

Whilst maintaining a core of consistency in the product look and feel, these principles have been applied with different emphases to suit each product’s needs and functions. The Zero case, which started as a provocative “shall we do this?” sketch visual sent to the team by our Senior Designer John Cowan-Hughes after the original case had started to deliver a return on investment, was all about maximum simplicity combined with adaptability via its interchangeable lids.

Photo of three Raspberry Pi Zero cases from three different angles, showing the lid of a closed case, the base of a closed case, and an open case with an apparently floating lid and a Raspberry Pi Zero visible inside.

The ‘levitating lid’ version of the Zero case is not yet publically available

Later, with the 3A+ case, we started with the two-part case simplicity of the Zero case and applied careful detailing to ensure that we could accommodate access to all the connectors without overcomplicating the injection mould tooling. On Raspberry Pi 4, we retained the two-part simplicity in the case, but introduced new details, such as the gloss chamfer around the edge of the case, and additional material thickness and weight to enhance the quality and value for use with Raspberry Pi’s flagship product.

After the success of the KD design work on Raspberry Pi cases, the KD team were asked to develop the official keyboard and mouse. Working closely with the Raspberry Pi team, we explored the potential for adding unique features but, rightly, chose to do the simple things well and to use design to help deliver the quality, value and distinctiveness now integrally associated with Raspberry Pi products. This consistency of visual language, when combined with the Raspberry Pi 4 and its case, has seen the creation of a Raspberry Pi as a new type of deconstructed desktop computer which, in line with Raspberry Pi’s mission, changes the way we think about, and engage with, computers.

The launch of the Cambridge store in February – another bold Raspberry Pi move which we were also delighted to support in the early planning and design stages – provides a comprehensive view of how all the design elements work together to support the communication of the Raspberry Pi message. Great credit should go to the in-house Raspberry Pi design team for their work in the development and implementation of the visual language of the brand, so beautifully evident in the store.

Small tabletop model of the side walls, rear walls, front windows, and floor of the Raspberry Pi Store. The model is annotated with handwritten Post-It notes in a variety of colours.

An early sketch model of the Raspberry Pi Store

In terms of process, at KD we start with a brief – typically discussed verbally with the Raspberry Pi team – which we translate into key objectives and required features. From there, we generally start to explore ideas with sketches and basic mock-ups, progressively reviewing, testing and iterating the concepts.

Top-down photo of a desk covered with white paper on which are a couple of Raspberry Pis and several cases. The hands of someone sketching red and white cases on the paper are visible. Also visible are the hands of someone measuring something with digital calipers, beside a laptop on the screen of which is a CAD model of a Raspberry Pi case.

Sketching and modelling and reviewing

For evaluating designs for products such as the cases, keyboard and mouse, we make considerable use of our in-house 3D printing resources and prototyping team. These often provide a great opportunity for the Raspberry Pi team to get hands on with the design – most notably when Eben took a hacksaw to one of our lovingly prepared 3D-printed prototypes!

Phone photo of Eben sitting at a desk and hacksawing a white 3D-printed prototype Raspberry Pi case

EBEN YOUR FINGERS

Sometimes, despite hours of reviewing sketches and drawings, and decades of experience, it’s not until you get hands-on with the design that you can see further improvements, or you suddenly spot a new approach – what if we do this? And that’s the great thing about how our two teams work together: always seeking to share and exchange ideas, ultimately to produce better products.

Photo of three people sitting at a table in an office handling and discussing 3D-printed Raspberry Pi case prototypes

There’s no substitute for getting hands-on

Back to the prototype! Once the prototype design is agreed, we work with 3D CAD tools and progress the design towards a manufacturable solution, collaborating closely with injection moulding manufacturing partners T-Zero to optimise the design for production efficiency and quality of detailing.

One important aspect that underpins all our design work is that we always start with consideration for the people we are designing for – whether that’s a home user setting up a media centre, an IT professional using Raspberry Pi as a web server, a group of schoolchildren building a weather station, or a parent looking to encourage their kid to code.

Engagement with the informed, proactive and enthusiastic online Raspberry Pi community is a tremendous asset. The instant feedback, comments, ideas and scrutiny posted on Raspberry Pi forums is powerful and healthy; we listen and learn from this, taking the insight we gain into each new product that we develop. Of course, with such a wide and diverse community, it’s not easy to please everyone all of the time, but that won’t stop us trying – keep your thoughts and feedback coming to RPifeedback@kinneirdufort.com!

If you’d like to know more about KD, or the projects we work on, check out our blog posts and podcasts at www.kinneirdufort.com.

20 comments

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The email is wrong.

Your message to PRifeedback@kinneirdufort.com couldn’t be delivered.
PRifeedback wasn’t found at kinneirdufort.com

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Ah, oops – try RPifeedback@kinneirdufort.com (now corrected in the post).

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The case with the corner hacked off is actually in the store, plus many different versions of the original Pi B+ case prototypes.

Shame we never got around to the cassette tape case, I really wanted to do that one!

Gordon

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Gordon, when are there going to be giant orange post-it notes on the walls of the Raspberry Pi Store? ;-)

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Some Pis get moved around a lot. How about a small mouse? Or–even better–a small optical trackball?

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Trackballs are definitely the superior pointing device. You get to keep your arm and hand in a comfortable position that you choose, and you don’t lose unnecessary desk real estate to space to move it around in.

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> The case with the corner hacked off is actually in the store…

Picture or it didn’t happen ;-)

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It would be nice if the official RPi case for the RPi4 would be redesigned with provision for a case fan. Better still, also put a fan header on the RPi4 itself.

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optically i like the design of the current offical case for the RPi4b.
i like the look and how it snaps together.

but “thermally” this case for the RPi4b is a disaster. as the case for the RPi3b/b+ already was.
as soon the cpu leaves ible mode it just throttles down because of “overheating”.

i whished the top part of the case would be from massive passive alu heatsink, instead of a thin plastic cap…
same principle like here:
https://www.joy-it.net/en/products/RB-AlucaseP4+07

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Ascetically the official RPi case looks wonderful, but thermals meant that I could only use the case with the lid off. And as William Morris once said, “Nothing useless can be truly beautiful.”

I replaced the case altogether with a Pastall Raspberry Pi 4 Aluminum Case which has a case fan to blow cold air over the CPU heatsink.

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Yes, I have the official case and I have to run with the lid off, and then it gathers dust on the SOC and other hot chips. I would like passive cooling because I don’t like fan sound.

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Indeed, the official PoE board is unusable with the top cover on because of the heat. However, a few minutes with a drill to add a few vent holes and the temperature remains stable at only a degree or two above where it is with the lid off.

It blows my mind that the top cover has not been updated to add venting. You could even do something quite aesthetic by relocating the logo and incorporating the vents as the spots on the raspberry.

Anyway, off to find my drill…

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Likewise. Even with no lid the Pi4 overheats on idle, and without the lid there is nothing to hold the Pi in.

I now have a Dual Fan Aluminium Heatsink Case.

My official case has joined my Pi3 official case in the junkbox.
It might look OK, but is totally non-functional.

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Couldn’t agree more. The fact that the pi runs warm isnt the issue, its that the official way of handling this seems to be to pretend it doesnt exist, and that goes down to cases as well.

I’ve found the pibow with fan shim to be the best option, but even thats not great giveni t leaves you with an exposed fan and gpio (no, leaving the gpio exposed is not at all a good idea, unless you’re actively hacking away at something.

The official cases are a total non-starter until they support active cooling (passive has proven to be nowhere near enough to stop throttling). Even if it doesn’t come with a fan, but has space for one it would be better.

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If I love something on a Raspberry Pi, it’s the fact that it’s silent. The last case for RPI3 I bought wasn’t really used, I have the RPI3 still on my desk naked, integrating dust.

With Raspberry Pi 4, I knew just from the manufacturing process (28nm) and it’s performance projections including I/O, that it’d be even worse. So I’ve designed my own passive cooling. It can cool my RPI4B passively even under the worst load. And the GPIO port doesn’t block airflow.

If you want to see how the Raspberry Pi 4 model B behaves under an increasing load, see

https://www.coolipi.com/Performance.html

I think this methodology of gradually loading more cores and graphing temperature while colouring it with frequency is more clear than drawing a dual graph.

Please note that the RPI4 was used without a case for a reference, and with a CooliPi 4B heatsink with and without a fan.

At the time of taking the thermal images of it, no bridge between a PCIC chip and a heatsink was present. After this test, I’ve put a small copper plate between them and found out, that it’s necessary to cool the PMIC too, because at higher currents it becomes the limiting factor under multicore load.

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I have the RPi3 version and agree its beautiful. I was worried about the RPi4 overheating issue so elected for the ‘open’ transparent Clear 2-layer acrylic cases. These keep the cpu at a steady 60c. Plus – it reveals that one thing more beautiful than the case – is what’s inside!

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I have the Raspberry Pi Keyboard, EN-GB/UK model. Is it possible to remove the keys? I have one key (arrow left/Home) that doesn’t work when I press it in the left end. I might be able to investigate this if the key caps could be removed.

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The current official Pi 4 case is absolutely a thing of beauty…but I’m afraid the functionality is sorely lacking. There’s no access to the GPIO pins, for heaven’s sake!! And like many many others have noted, there are heat issues — for all but the absolute simplest scenarios, the Pi 4 will overheat (and throttle) when enclosed in the official case.

It needs to be redesigned. I love the removable side panels in the Pi 3 case, and I love the multiple cover designs with the Pi Zero case. What the Pi 4 case needs is access to the GPIO pins (ideally via a side or removable panel), and support for installing a cooling fan (perhaps via an alternate top panel). This was accomplished soooo elegantly with the Pi Zero case camera top, I’m certain you guys could accomplish something similar with fan option. Even better might be some clever passive cooling option (right now I use the FLIRC case, which keeps my Pi 4 at 50 deg C or lower).

But my opinion is that the official case in its current form is not workable.

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I totally agree! It does need a redesign.

I really liked the removable panels on the Pi 3 case. Access to ALL the connectors and the option to keep panels off to help with passive cooling or airflow with the Pimoroni Fan SHIM.

I understand the 2 piece case is down to simplicity for the user and ultimately, cost. But surely functionality should have been taken into consideration too?
I would have been more than happy with a Pi 3 style case to fit the Pi 4.

The Pi 3 also doesn’t fall out of the case when mounted upside down and the lid removed… The Pi 4 relies on 0.5 mm of tab between the 2 HDMI ports and the SD card!

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The very polite way in which all the posters express their opinion about the RaspberryPi 4 Case delights me. Sometimes the tone in forums get’s a little too rough for my taste.

I did cut in a whole in the case and placed a fan on top (FAT). Looks ugly, works, but I definetly expect the foundation to come up with something better. A variant with stackable 2,5 ” SATA cases would be nice now that we have USB3.

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