Pincushion cactus: Form study

Pragya Goenka
14 min readJul 13, 2020


Hi, I’m Pragya Goenka, an IInd year Industrial design from the National Institute of Design, Andhra Pradesh.

This week we are continuing our form study under the guidance of Ms. Snehal Joshi. First, let’s take a step back and have a look at the journey so far.

Humans are a creature of emotions and logic. Every form we see around us evokes a range of emotions in us, although unique in their own context these emotions evoked by a well-thought form, belong to the same broader category. This was our learning from the earlier form course, taking the learning forward we this time, studied a natural form, for which I chose a pincushion cactus.

The scientific name is mammillaria Beneckei, native to Mexico it widely cultivated for the commercial market. It is easy to maintain indoors, it is sold worldwide for decoration purposes as a showpiece.

Though not edible entirely , it’s flowers, roots and fruits are used by locals for medicinal purposes. They exist in globular bunches upto 10 inches in diameter.

The distinctive feature of the genus is the possession of an areole split into two clearly separated parts, one occurring at the apex of the tubercle, the other at its base. The apex part is spine bearing, and the base part is always spineless, but usually bears some bristles or wool. The base part of the areole bears the flowers and fruits, and is a branching point. The apex part of the areole does not carry flowers, but in certain conditions can function as a branching point as well.

I tried to study the cactus inside out , from the whole form to the details and parts that make it. But soon we escalated from 2d to ed explorations.


The attributes, I feel are dominant in my form are bulbous, rhythmic, and contrast. The next thing I did was to observe the features affecting them, and how they affect the feel of the form. The bulbous feel of the form is because of its elongated spherical shape and the texture created by the tubercles.

Each feature contributes differently to the form. Like the color and arrangement of the tubercles of different sizes, gives the form a rhythm. The placement of the crown gives the form a top, thus giving the form an angle.

Now we have to choose the prominent attributes of our form and reduce them to their minimum exaggerating or maintaining the attributes. For this, I jot down all the words that came to my mind

The explorations with lines , except the first one look bulbous but unlike the form which looks solid, the forms look fluffy and softer. Also, the crown is an identifier of the whole form.

I tried to reduce the number of lines , and then make the form with a single line and the end results lacks in rhythm and absence of thorns kills the contrast .

I tried experiment with space between the tubercles, the bulbous nature of the form is carried further , but the rhythm is reduced a little .

Also adding the boundary , the form looks broken as the outer lines doesn’t match with thick colored space.

The color explorations

The first one I tired to use a minimal color ,it looks bulbous but again lack the solidity and rhythm of the original form, I think it is because of the transparency.

So the next exploration I gave it a background , and to add rhythm I added the lighter blob to show the origin of the thorns .

Then I tired a minimal approach , thus just keeping the peculiarities and identifying features. It i still bulbous but the sense of rhythm and balance has reduced a lot.

For the next exploration , I first tried to go digital , which resulted in a form with increased rhythm (but this rhythm has some vibration to it). It is bulbous and solid. Than I tried it with hand , and the feel is very different, as I tried to reduce the contrast between the base and more bulbous top . This result in a more stable form , which doesn’t seem to topple.

For the further explorations , I explored a different view. The top view showed more radial symmetry, with previous attribute. Although , the form feels to less bulbous and contrasting.

In this exploration , I tried increasing rhythm with difference in shades of hue , and reducing sizes while trying to break the radial symmetry by placing the blobs more randomly than sequenced. Although, the form feels solidly bulbous , but the absence of radial symmetry makes it feel chaotic.

Taking the previous form further, I tried to order the blobs a little to see, where the feeling of chaos is reduced . To increase the rhythm I made the form in black and white, thus making the repeatation , more evident and it is still bulbous.

For the next exploration I smoothen out the blobs into circles , and immediately the form becomes flat , but I feel due to lack of any distraction the repeatation becomes more evident but the rhythm is reduced, also the due to angle off centering of the concentric circle are more evident

All the forms I have explored till now were bulbous in varying limits , so I tried to reduce the bulbousness to minimum while maintaining the identifying features.

The next exploration is highly geometric , still trying to break the monotony . The geometry resulted in a highly harmonious form, also the round edge triangles reduced the bulbousity of the form slightly, but still more bulbous than the hard edge square and flat circle. The rhythm is still dominantly there .

For the next set of explorations , I zoomed in the form still trying to maintain the same attributes, bulbous, and rhythmic.

I started with rounded triangles as tubercles. After the exploration on left , I felt lack of rhythm , also the triangle’s flat base gave it some stability so , I change the orientation for it to sit flat on ground and change the size to break monotony and add rhythm.

I zoomed out a little and take in the crown . The bulbousity has reduced and the rhythm is also lost a little.

Zoomed out a little more. The bulbousity increased a little, also the flat base add a little stability , also there is rhythm .

For the next I tried using rounded squares, and it causes the form to feel a little flat . Still the form feel a little bulbous and rhythmic.The square corners add a little vibration .

Zoomed out a little more, with oval . More bulbous than the previous exploration , more dimensional and the rhythm is still there. Over all the form seems less stable, compared to triangular.

Zoomed out . Highly bulbous, rhythmic and harmonious form. Very similar to the whole form .

Since , The form had some movement to it I tried to add more. The off center crown helps with it , geometric arrangement also helps with. Bulbousity reduced but rhythm has increased with harmony and balance.

The second exploration had a hexagonal structure so, I decided to tessellate it. Although , the form has movement but I feel the bulbousity has reduced , but rhythm still works well. Tessellating it has added the movement and rhythm . The color choice is playing major role here.

I tried increasing movement in the other view.Trying to lead the eye to the crown.

I realized that my explorations have drifted a little too away from the inspiration , but that gave me essence of what I need it in there.

So, in my further explorations I tried to make the form softer and younger. But tried to maintain the geometry .

Then I tried to change the proportion to make it seem younger. Which I don’t think worked to a great extend .

So, I tried to reduce the number of tubercles to see if that worked. I think it worked to an extend but I lost the geometry of the inspiration. I like the first exploration as it has an edge and mass to it while one on the right seems light and fluffy. But when comes to soft , the second one wins.

This is another exploration in the elongated proportion to see if it achieve the feel, but with filled black color. I think the form doesn’t seem younger at all, in fact, it has become more mature but has the bulbousness, rhythm, and geometry of the inspiration.IT also seems solid and fluffy. Also, the movement is working out great here.


For product explorations, I started with a teapot, for which I took two contexts. First, for a sophisticated and simplistic look, and second a weird and strange collectible.

sophisticated and simple

The first form works but is very mainstream, while the second one fails to capture the feel of the inspiration. The key elements work against the feel, while it seems fine in the pencil sketch.

For the third exploration, I went for a highly geometric metallic kettle. It just speaks proud, and space-age(although being completely opposite to the language). My inspiration was extremely soft and bulbous, so I tried another exploration with smoother edges and surfaces.

The handle is a bit icky to the feel I’m trying to achieve . I’ll work on that.

The main inspiration for these explorations other than the cactus is trypophobia. (Warning: Do not google images for it )It is a phobia of circular patterns and according to some psychologists stems from fear of skin disease. I tried to make a form inspired by how people with the phobia go through but reduced the feeling drastically, to make the product bearable to look at but still has that strangeness to it.

strange and weird

The second exploration is strange but seems to resemble cashew nut more than the cactus.

The first form is quite weird and strange and seems to belong to the inspiration. The handle is inspired by the fruit of the plant, the for still seems organic but otherworldly, which matches the feeling I got when I looked at the cactus. The bumps are made to look like blisters and tubercles.


First I tried to explore hanging lamps. But it didn’t interest me that much.

For the second lamp exploration, I looked up the Mexican Talavera pottery lamp and played with it a little. First made two small sketch model to develop the idea.

And the results were…..

Even a cube as small as 4 cm was able to project on my ceiling and the effects were beautiful. Also, the sketch model helped me to understand how 3d shapes control the effect created.

For the next exploration, I went for a form closer to the inspiration, with a pentagonal shape. And the effects were better than the previous one. Right now due to lack of resources I’m using a mobile flashlight, but the original can be used with a candle or bulb.

Here how it looked inside my room, and it just looks psychedelic. I think if it was blue with some texture I would have felt underwater.

I tried modeling the lamp but couldn’t get the same effect digitally.

As suggested in the feedback, I experimented with transparency. But unfortunately, the very next exploration revealed the threshold of the transparency required. The exploration with butter paper resulted in the texture being limited to the surface of the lamp, but that too looked fascinating.

So, I took this concept further and decided to make a color organ smart lamp. So, a color organ is an instrument that translates auditory data into visual. Therefore, the lamp is a smart lamp, a color organ, and can also function as a simple lamp. It has numerous small LED bulbs inside of various colors to create the ambiance desired.

Here are a few visuals of how it will look, when functioning as an ordinary lamp .

Even with just a white background, each color has, its own feel.

I tried to manipulate the form to increase the rhythm as it goes well with the concept, also I tried to have some sophistication to my form and the resultant was surprisingly very similar to a bulb.