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Michael DiTullo

The Core77 Design Blog

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Posted by Michael DiTullo  |  17 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

hampden_01_ProductView.jpg

Michael DiTullo is the Chief Design Officer at Sound United, Polk's parent company.

There is an old story about Picasso that goes something like this: A young woman recognizes old Pablo on the street and exclaims "OMG! You're Picasso! Would you draw me?" He replies "but of course!" and quickly scribbles something on a piece of scrap paper. Offering the sketch to her he simply states "That will be $25,000 madam." Shocked, she responds "What?! It only took you 30 seconds!" To which Picasso explains, "On the contrary, it took my entire life to make that drawing."

That simple notion—to encompass everything we have learned in over 40 years of making great audio in a single product—is the concept behind the Hampden. Polk got its start in Baltimore by a small group engineering majors from Johns Hopkins who loved music so much they started making speakers by hand. Beautiful, wooden cabinet speakers. The brand spent decades perfecting the art of making great home audio for those who shared their love for music.

This project began like most projects in our studio: as a simple user insight. While people love music just as much as they did in 1972, they now enjoy it very differently. We wanted to create something that brought our sound to the desktop with USB and Bluetooth connectivity and built off of our recently launched Polk Heritage Collection of speakers and headphones. We stated with an open competition amongst our designers. Our studio is set up similar to an auto studio where multiple designers participate in the research, ideation and design phases of a program. As the concepts are winnowed down through the design phase, the creator of the winning design becomes the lead designer of the project. I prefer running things like this because it becomes a very democratic way to assign projects. Designers being naturally a touch competitive typically ensures a relatively even distribution of projects.

Polk-Hampden-Concepts.jpgSome of the initial concept directions

Polk-Hampden-Sketch.jpgCameron Nielsen's selected thumbnail sketch

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Posted by Michael DiTullo  |  15 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Early in my career I was introduced to the phrase "real designers ship," which I took to mean "until you get something in production, you don't know nothing kid." To a point, it is correct. The actual up-front design process of research, insight identification, concept generation, iteration and refinement is relatively small compared to the full journey of product development. Until you go on that journey several times, it is difficult to understand how many opportunities there are for the original intent to get watered down or lost all together. Conversely, those moments are also opportunities to reevaluate and make the design better. Design doesn't stop until the product is on its way to retail. Which is why real designers ship.

To honor that journey and those who have shepherded their products through to production, there is an awesome topic over in the Core77 discussion forums called simply "Newly Released Work," where designers have been posting their latest production pieces. Check it out, and give your comrades a pat on the back or two. If you have gone through it, you know it isn't easy.

Products clockwise from top left: Skora Running Shoes by Richard Kuchinsky, Thule iPhone case by Ryan Mather, Motorola DS4800 Series 2D Scanner by Mike Kaminsky, Roku 3 by Anson Cheung, Turnstone Buoy by Ricky Biddle, and Shur-line Deck Pad by Jim Kershaw

Posted by Michael DiTullo  |  14 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

DiTullo-CES2014-BMWi3.jpgThe BMW i3 [Ed. Note: We spoke to Head of Design Adrian van Hooydonk on the occasion of the launch]

It was just a few short years ago that Audi showed up to CES with a small booth highlighting their infotainment HMI advances. This year, it seemed like the auto industry defended en masse on CES from BMW i3s lapping the area to Audi's massive booth. In addition, Qualcomm and GoPro had multiple cars in their booths. The focus was on four main themes: autonomous driving, alternative fuels, connectivity and lighting.

Both Audi and BMW were giving rides in their autonomous A7 and 2 Series respectively. BMW programmed their system to drift the car to show how precisely it can be controlled.

DiTullo-CES2014-FormulaE.jpg

In the alternative fuel category, BMW was allowing people to get rides in their new i3, Ford showed off a C-Max with a solar roof, Qualcomm showed off their sponsorship of Formula E electric racing which has been recruiting Formula 1 drivers away from petrol racing, and Toyota brought the FCV hydrogen powered car it says will go on sale in California next year.

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Posted by Michael DiTullo  |  13 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

pebble-steel-smartwatch-01.jpg

There were no shortage of smart watches at CES this year, but PEBBLE seemed to be the only maker who evolved the industrial design of the smart watch beyond a mini smartphone stuck on your wrist. It was only a matter of time before these devices moved from the literal semantic play of a mini smartphone with a strap to a mass adoption state that aligned with fashion trend. Cheers to PEBBLE for getting there first.

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Posted by Michael DiTullo  |   7 Jan 2014  |  Comments (14)

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Like a lot of designers, I have struggled with the term industrial design over the years. The term seems a little vague. Sometimes people ask us if we design factories. A look at conversations over in the Core77 discussions forums shows I'm not alone. Check out this 80 reply thread on the forum that was started back in 2007. The term doesn't seem have the weight of history that Architecture has. It doesn't have the contemporary feel of the term Interaction Design. It does't have the specificity that some of our sub disciplines have like furniture design and footwear design, and it doesn't have the sexiness of transportation design or entertainment concept design.

In reaction we have flirted with other terms like product design, which has it's own set of issues. It seems a bit clinical to me and doesn't touch on the breadth of what we do beyond the product. Adding to the confusion, the term product design has been co-opted in some cases by mechanical engineers and app designers.

Over the last 15 years, as I've grown from a staff designer to a design director, creative director, and now chief design officer at Sound United, I've now started to come full circle. What I do now as a CDO of course involves identifying user segments, defining brand parameters, conceptualizing product opportunities, designing physical and digital products, packaging, web-experiences, physical retail and event spaces. It also involves designing interdisciplinary work flows, concept development processes, and organizational structures. Suddenly the term Industrial design seems to fit. Our education in user-centered design, problem identification, creative solution finding, implementation strategy mixed with our desire to often find the most aesthetic and clean solution makes us just as suited to designing the perfect ergonomic task chair as it does designing the company that makes the chair.

Industrial designers can in fact be designers of industry. So after 15 years of trying to dodge the term, I've actually come to embrace it. I am an industrial designer.