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Robert Blinn

The Core77 Design Blog

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

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Here at Core77, we get our fair share of business books, in part because to design anything on an industrial level, you need to have business in mind. Perhaps you need to get financing to invest in your first injection molding press plates, to the tune of $250k, and it might be nice to have a little hand holding, someone to tell you the press is good for 500k cycles and at your margin, making $3.00/part on an 8% loan gets you a solid NPV if you can sell 50k widgets a year. And yet, if you stroll into the business aisle of a typical bookstore, you see the face of Jack Welsh telling you Elephants can Dance, and providing his experiences in making an agile multi-billion dollar company, so you might just be entitled to wondering how big the market is for billionaires looking for insight into how to improve their NASDAQ-listed stock, because it certainly doesn't help you. Likewise with the success of Malcolm Gladwell's particular brand of chapter by chapter insight using the case study method by way of aphoristic lessons about obscure ketchup companies.

Given the continual flow of newly minted industrial designers hoping to make a go at their own business with the tools to make products, rather than companies, we've certainly kept our eyes open for new books promising to teach designers how to become business people rather than craftsmen. The latest manifestation of such is The Monocle Guide to Good Business (Gestalten 2014), which is about as far afield as one can go from Malcolm Gladwell while retaining the structure of printed paper laced between two canvas covers. Rather than focus on tycoons and boardrooms, their case studies (beautifully laid out photo spreads with accompanying text) focus principally on small businesses ranging from goat farms to more predictably design-centric shops like type foundries and high street tailors. Each page of the guide has been carefully aligned with the grid and thoughtfully designed, but we confess that at the end of it, we found ourselves far more knowledgeable with how to make an already successful business prettier than understanding how to make successful company in the first place.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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