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Robert Blinn

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Posted by Robert Blinn  |  17 Jun 2014  |  Comments (0)


Look down from the basking light of your LCD screen, down there at the lower left of your menu bar to that icon, maybe a blue "e" for Iexplorer, or a fiery fox encircling a blue marble, perhaps a tiny compass to guide you on your safari, and realize that the scope of human knowledge flows so thick through the Internet that we now require a multitude of tools to view it. In the same way that the art of spelling was lost to autocorrect, and our digit span has been diminished by our cell phone's flash memory, the Internet stands to augment our brain's capacity with easy access to the noosphere. Every day the distance between questions and answers shortens by milliseconds, and, while no teacher stands ready to rap our collective knuckles with a ruler in the modern school system, the gulf between the unexamined life and TL;DR gets ever narrower.

So while Messrs. Brin and Page have made a business out of getting us those answers faster, their business plan couldn't be found through the simple call and response of the query field. Their questions had to dig deeper, owing more to the endless tedium of a child's "Why?" than to correlative databases. The central contention behind Warren Berger's A More Beautiful Question, that questions offer more opportunity than facts, should be familiar to any designer who has discovered that loose and sketchy prototypes drive more fruitful conversations than polished finished products. In part, in a world structured to provide the immediate gratification of "answers," the questions often become more meaningful.


Posted by Robert Blinn  |   5 May 2014  |  Comments (0)


Any book that opens with photos of "Michael Bolton" leering over the corpse of an office printer, bat in hand, in a still from the 2005 movie Office Space is a winner in our eyes. While the "PC load letter" error that led to that act of printercide could be a study in failed user experience in itself, Nikil Saval focuses not on devices, but on their surroundings. While the incomprehensible UX of that printer may have been the proverbial straw, both the film and the book focus on the soul-crushing nature of the office itself, by way of its smallest unit of organization, the fabric-walled cube divider.

Of the major design manufacturers, both Steelcase and Knoll have a history that stems from office design, and while standalone chairs like the Aeron get their due, Cubed tracks the history of the office from turn of the century counting houses to the modern telecommuting non-office. Before opening the book, we'd expected more focus on the history of the cubical design, but Saval recognizes that the cube is emblematic of the larger organizational and political structure of the modern work environment, and it's quite a tour. Like any good (book) designer, Saval spends as much time contextualizing the problem as he does addressing it. We don't even meet the ostensible subject of the book, Robert Propst's Action Office, which birthed the "cube," until the halfway point of the book. While much has been written about the failure of Le Corbusier's Garden Cities of To-morrow as an organizational force for a community, the story of the similarly optimistic and equally ineffectual Action Office is more appropriate for industrial design readership, and equally informative.


Posted by Robert Blinn  |   2 May 2014  |  Comments (0)


Brandon Washington's Martino Hamper may look like a fugitive from Dr. Frankenstein's menagerie of forgotten K-Mart furniture, but it belies a playful human behavioral dynamic. He pitches it as a reward system for laundry procrastinators, and perhaps the sort of person who would tolerate its aesthetic flaws is exactly the constituency who would benefit from having the object in their home, because it's not much of a chair (laundry chair?) unless you've been slacking on your cleaning duties. That's because the "cushion" doesn't appear until its owner has been remiss in their washing for at least a week, but once you've accumulated a week's worth of smelly socks and crusty jeans, what was previously a void where the seat would be becomes a plush accumulation of layered fabric.



Posted by Robert Blinn  |   7 Dec 2012  |  Comments (0)


Early iterations of LED-based task lamps welded the bulky armature of a spring loaded swing arm with an airy plane of illuminating diodes. Compared to the fragile bulk of an incandescent, the form factor of the arm rarely did the new technology justice.

Consequently when we first saw the loose and spindly form of the Harvey lamp by David Oxley, we were intrigued. The product specifications state that the featherweight arm comes it at just 0.3 kilos. (that's about 10 ounces to a Yank), making the five pound base seem like a ton, though I'm sure he's done the maths on the balance.


More interesting to us is the promise of a novel joint technology allowing full freedom of movement using magnets. Perhaps when supporting that little weight, you no longer need springs. Unfortunately, the schematics didn't show a cross section of the joint, so those details weren't illuminated. At 99 quid ($159), we were happy to Kickstart the project, just to receive a lamp and find out.



Posted by Robert Blinn  |  17 Jul 2012  |  Comments (5)


In this digital age, an encyclopedia seems downright archaic. Especially in the context of modern manufacturing techniques like EBM ("Electron Beam Machining"), where a beam of electrons bores holes denominated in tens of microns through thin materials—in a vacuum no less, because the electrons could be thrown off by air molecules (!). Into this neo-futurist world, Chris Lefteri has provided the second edition of Making It: Manufacturing Technologies for Product Design to catalogue all of the manufacturing tools modern designers have at their disposal. While it may be possible to find more detailed or technical information on the processes he describes, Making It stands as a robust resource for a product designer looking into a new manufacturing technique, an eye-popping compendium for a scientifically minded student, or, perhaps most valuably, as a vehicle for increasing designer awareness of new innovation in manufacturing.


Designers live in a mildly cloistered world where they can concentrate on form factors with a vague awareness of parting lines and minimum thicknesses, but really leave it to the engineers to complete their visions. Making It reads like a layman's engineering primer, not a product design book. Each manufacturing technology gets its own 2–4 page spread with a glossy product shot, accompanying text, our favorite buzzword "process shots," and a highlighted info box of the characteristics of the technology.