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Posted by core jr  |  27 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Long before the likes of Facebook and Flickr co-opted the color, the original Big Blue had established itself as a giant in a different era in tech. A perennial fixture of "most valuable brands" lists, IBM is pleased to announce that will be committing over $100 million to "globally expanding its consulting services capability to help clients with experience design and engagement." The Armonk, NY-based company is capitalizing on its strength in the Big Data with plans to open IBM Interactive Experience labs in Bangalore, Beijing, Groningen, London, Melbourne, Mexico City, New York, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo.

In short, IBM is making a major foray data-driven service design, a nod to a broader definition of product as experience or interaction (a.k.a. the shift from physical to digital, hardware to software, etc.). Shannon Miller, a Global Strategy Leader at IBM Interactive Experience, shared more details on their vision for what the future holds both for IBM, its clients and the end user.

Core77: We've witnessed the rise of service design (i.e. experience design) as a discipline in its own right, what makes this a good time for IBM to make this major investment in this area?

Shannon Miller: We have seen growing client demand in the marketplace around experience design capabilities and the front office transformation—and this market only continues to grow as consumers continuously look for the next best experience. IBM is the only company that can bring research, creative and design skills together with data experts and a traditional consultancy to solve our clients' biggest problems. We see this demand globally and wanted to expand our reach to create centers around the world where we can collaborate and co-create with clients to develop innovative solutions.

To what degree is this data-centric approach to experience design an extension of the company's long history in the computer industry, and to what degree is a new frontier for IBM's strengths?

Technology is becoming ingrained into the DNA of every business and personal interaction, especially in today's customer-centric world, and IBM is helping clients understand their customers as individuals through the use of Big Data. While this certainly is an extension of IBM's 100-plus-year history and commitment to design, IBM researchers within IBM Interactive Experience invented unique algorithms that conduct the analysis for new capabilities—Intelligent Customer Profiles, Influence Analysis and Customer Identity Resolution. These join an existing portfolio of data-driven capabilities including Life Event Detection, Behavioral Pricing and Psycholinguistic Analytics.

IBM Interactive Experience is an industry first—a management consultancy and systems integration company combined with a digital agency powered by data and research. IBM Interactive Experience drives insights from data—including information on individual decisions, choices, preferences and attitudes—to transform the customer experience.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  21 Mar 2014  |  Comments (6)

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Here's a welcome bit of attention for our field: Next week Samsung Electronics is launching Design.Samsung.Com, an "online platform presenting influential design stories and solutions to be shared around the world." The site's inaugural theme is "Make it Meaningful," presumably based on this video from last year, where the Galaxy S4 design team discussed their mandate of closely matching their smartphones' functionality with people's everyday lives.

But rather than trumpet their past accomplishments, the site is expected to provided glimpses at future technologies as well, if the teaser video is anything to go by:

The website will launch on March 27th.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  20 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Here's one of the more interesting partnerships we've seen: Local Motors has announced that they're teaming up with consumer applicance giant General Electric "to launch a new model for the manufacturing industry."

Called FirstBuild, the idea is to combine Local Motors' crowdsourcing and rapid prototyping experience with GE's market access (and presumably deep pockets) to develop the latter's next generation of products—quickly, using both crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing.

Focused on speeding the time from mind to market, the partnership will leverage advanced manufacturing processes and an open innovation approach to engineering—delivering benefits for consumers and enterprise alike.
The partnership will source collaborative ideas online from a community of engineers, scientists, fabricators, designers and enthusiasts who will focus on identifying market needs and solving deep engineering challenges to unlock breakthrough product innovations. As part of the partnership, a new microfactory—a specialized facility focused on prototyping and producing a small batch of products at a rapid pace—will be established where community ideas will be built, tested and sold.

I don't know what this new "microfactory" is, exactly, but I like the way it sounds.

Ramp-up's gonna be pretty snappy; though the partnership has just been announced, they plan on having actual appliances on the market this year, which seems pretty staggering for an old-guard company like GE. The inaugural project will start crowdsourcing this summer and it will be something cooking-based, with the FirstBuild community intended to submit, discuss and improve ideas for "select major kitchen appliances." And if you want to be part of that community, you can sign up here.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  18 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)

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This is so awesome we're surprised no one else has done this yet!

L.A.-based Corridor Digital is a tiny production company that makes full-time YouTube videos. Their latest combines a Dronefly and a GoPro, which we've seen before on the 'Tube—but they've also added the Man of Steel, which we haven't. Enough talk, behold:

The subtle attention to detail is what got me—did you notice how they got the lighting just right, in virtually all of the shots, including the barrel roll? The suspension of disbelief barrier is broken as handily as that guy's AK-47.

So given that Corridor Digital's videos are free, where does the funding come from? In two words, youse guys. CD is made up of directors Sam Gorski and Niko Pueringer and producer Jake Watson, and the trio has a kind of no-deadline Kickstarter business model: They scrape up the scratch to make awesome vids that they release for free, then accept donations to both recoup their costs and set future videos up.

To accomplish this they've partnered up with Patreon, an organization set up to back creative content producers through crowdsourced funding. Sadly I don't see much application for the service to industrial design, but for those of you curious, here's how the Patreon system works:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   6 Mar 2014  |  Comments (0)

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That crusty industrial building may not look like much, but it's special for two reasons. One, it's located in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, a city with little history of industry, meaning buildings like that are not commonplace. And two, it's going to become a creative incubation hub to the tune of some CAD $30 million in funding.

The Bayview Yards Innovation Centre, as it's called, is nearly 46,000 square feet of raw space that will house a rentable digital media and animation lab, meeting and presentation spaces, design studios and a makerspace dedicated to "industrial design, prototyping, fabricating and additive and subtractive manufacturing."

The aforementioned $30 mil in funding, half of which is from the city and half from the province, isn't a mere gesture of largesse; the bread is intended to provide "a big boost to the creative sector that has been waiting to emerge in this city for decades." The local talent-drain problem is well known, with creative types easily lured to cities like Toronto or New York; by giving, say, the industrial design grads at Ottawa's Carleton University a cool place to make stuff, the government bodies reckon they can hang on to their citizens while creating jobs and wealth.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   5 Mar 2014  |  Comments (1)

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Can something go viral when you intend it to go viral? Apparently so, particularly as we become more gullible as a society. While Jimmy Kimmel's twerking fire and hotel wolf videos at least had an element of believability to them, this latest makes me despair for people's reality filter: Since its launch yesterday, Facebookers have been eagerly promoting this video purporting that Back to the Future 2's hoverboards now exist.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   3 Mar 2014  |  Comments (1)

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Here's some exciting news: The U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is currently working on a 3D printer "that is 200 to 500 times faster and capable of printing polymer components 10 times larger than today's common additive machines—in sizes greater than one cubic meter." To do it they're partnering with Cincinnati Inc., an Ohio-based company that produces manufacturing machines. Details are sketchy, but it seems the Oak Ridge boys are adapting a gantry-based Cincinnati laser cutter (above) for the prototype, so we're assuming it'll be SLS rather than FDM.

The move is a welcome one for American jobs, and points the way towards a possible return of U.S. manufacturing might. Said Cincinnati CEO Andrew Jamison in a press statement, "As one of the oldest U.S. machine tool manufacturers, with continuous operation since 1898, we view this exciting opportunity as starting a new chapter in our history of serving U.S. manufacturing. Out of this developmental partnership with ORNL, CINCINNATI intends to lead the world in big area additive manufacturing machinery for both prototyping and production." It is not clear whether he was shouting the word "CINCINNATI" or whether they just printed it in all caps for that one paragraph.

The Oak Ridge Boys could not be reached for comment, and when pressed for a quote, their uncooperative manager hung up on me.

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Posted by Kat Bauman  |  28 Feb 2014  |  Comments (3)

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Take note: within days steampunk kids across the globe will be clapping their faux leather-gloved hands with glee and trying to invest their bitcoins in something big. Really big. The UK just unveiled the world's biggest aircraft, and it looks a hell of a lot like a dirigible. Originally developed by the US military for surveillance purposes, the hybrid-airship was dropped due to budget constraints... and possibly the fact that there is nothing subtle about being spied on by a 302 foot long aircraft. It has since been sold to savvy business minds in the UK, who renamed it the Airlander and see affordable cargo and travel in its massive future. Perhaps most importantly, its development is being backed financially and publicly by Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden who also happens to be a commercial pilot and wicked smart investor. (Be still my heart.)

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  24 Feb 2014  |  Comments (0)

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If you want to spread design in an evangelical way, what do you need? A showroom filled with objects? A distribution company to get them from the factory to the end user? A collective of artisans and designers? Workshops to educate consumers about design? In the case of Diego Paccagnella's company Design-Apart, an organization "committed to design as a living process," all four of these things.

Our team brings the process and products of Italian design out of the atelier (art catalog, industrial village, hi-tech laboratory) and directly to customers around the world online and in living showrooms. Advances in technology and methods of production allow us to offer even the most arcane and specialized craftwork at competitive prices. Bespoke, for us, goes beyond handmade and custom. It's a dynamic product of relationships between people, materials and ideas in space.

Check out their sweet video of things being made in Italy:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  11 Feb 2014  |  Comments (9)

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The urchin followed me down the street, cajoling. I was backpacking through Hanoi, and this poor kid living on the street had latched onto me with his broken English, claiming that no matter what it was I wanted, he could find it and sell it to me. In fact I'd been looking for a particular book written by Vietnamese writer Bao Ninh, and in those pre-Amazon days I asked the kid if he could find an English-language copy, as there were no bookstores I could see on Hang Bac Street. I was shocked when he returned with a faded copy of the book in an hour, and I gladly paid him the asking price: US $15.

I'd become friendly with Quang, the young Vietnamese manager of my hostel and showed him the book. Quang was surprised I wanted it and asked how much I paid for it. When I told him, he became incensed: "That book is $1.50, not $15," he said. He barked something to a cyclo driver outside and the two of them set off. Thirty minutes later they returned and pulled me out into the street, where a crowd had gathered.

Quang knew the urchin, had tracked him down, and bloodied his nose. I was horrified. Quang stood up on a box, cupped his hands to his face and began yelling an explanation in Vietnamese to the passersby, which caused more of them to stop and listen. The cyclo driver translated for me: Quang was telling everyone that this kid was a thief who had ripped off a visitor to their country. The crowd grew visibly disgusted and a small queue spontaneously formed. People—housewives, day laborers, people carrying stuff to the market—each took a turn approaching the urchin and unleashing a one-sentence verbal smackdown before departing. At the end, despite my protests, they forced the kid to apologize to me.

Coming from a then-high-crime neighborhood in Brooklyn, where my neighbor's apartment was robbed so thoroughly that they took the sheets off of her bed, this was astonishing to me. My limited experiences in Communist countries like Vietnam or Cuba has shown me that things weren't about the money there, because there was no money to be had. And when people are not motivated by profit, they instead adhere to whatever moral code they were raised under. Nowadays the economic structure is different in Vietnam than it was sixteen years ago, and you can legally earn an American buck, as young game developer Dong Nguyen has done with his Flappy Bird app. So it probably seems shocking to us Americans that after raking in US $50,000 per day with his app—this in a country where most earn just US $2,000 per year—Nguyen shut the app down.

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Posted by core jr  |  27 Jan 2014  |  Comments (4)

Sparse-TwoYearsIn-1.jpgImages courtesy of Sparse

By Colin Owen, Sparse

Two and a half years ago, three biker/designer/friends sat around a table and discussed designing "something around bikes." We took a good hard look and decided the industry had largely optimized performance around racing, so we chose to optimize and design for the daily working use of a bike. Two years ago, we incorporated that effort. One year ago, we launched a Kickstarter campaign. This month, we are delivering on Kickstarter promises. In the interim, we have been slaving away on the myriad other things that make our effort a real company and not just (the world's most infuriating) hobby.

To found a hardware company is to spend your days: need-finding, developing form, developing design, locating and vetting manufacturers, negotiating deals with manufacturers, locating and negotiating financing, setting up a fulfillment network, setting up a sales network, certifying the product, verifying taxation rates, fretting over foreign laws written in foreign tongues, networking, fundraising, project management, (endlessly) monitoring manufacturing, and marketing (whatever that means).

Compare all of that to the list of skills that we, as product designers, attain in school and in consulting: need-finding, form, various types of digital, physical and visual representation, mechanical integration, production processes, the pitch.

There are approximately three things that overlap between the two lists. We, Sparse, have accomplished or at least attempted the rest via: getting it flatly wrong the first time; imperfect iterative efforts; HUGE singular efforts; hiring the person who knows the answer; chatting with a friend who is further along the development curve; pulling favors; borrowing money; traveling to far-away places; befriending reporters; and mainlining black tar... er, coffee.

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There are others who write more cogently on startup culture in general, and productivity in specific than I can achieve (which is why I've included wonderful references at the bottom of the article). What follows is a handful of insights into the narrow turf of hardware development as a bootstrapped startup.

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Posted by erika rae  |  24 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

TomDixon-Funkapolitan.jpgThe Dixonary entry for "cool"

Monday morning brought interesting news and an even more intriguing collaboration. In a significant pivot, British designer Tom Dixon and Fab's ex-design chief Bradford Shellhammer announced that they would be combining their talents—in the form of a rock band named Rough. Shellhammer is going to take the stage as the lead vocalist and Dixon will pick up the bass. (Lady designers looking for a musical outlet: They're currently seeking for a female within the design industry to fill the third spot on Rough's roster.) And, of course, they'll be debuting the trio at Milan Design Week.

DixonBand-Comp.jpgThrow some leather jackets on them with a pair of ripped jeans and we're in business

While this might be a new industry for Shellhammer, Dixon is no stranger to the stage—he began his career playing bass guitar with Brit-funk band Funkapolitan (who toured with Rita and Ziggy Marley) and later on gave on-stage welding demos at various clubs. Check out this throwback to one of Funkapolitan's hits, "As the Time Goes By":

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  15 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

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In the '90s, David Munson was working as a volunteer English teacher in Mexico when he caught the bag bug. While searching for the perfect leather bag, he realized it didn't exist, and set out to design his own. Long story short, here in 2014 he runs Saddleback Leather, which manufactures a high-quality line of leather bags, backpacks, briefcases, wallets, luggage, accessories and more. Each product is designed to be so durable and "over-engineered" that your heirs will "fight over it when you're dead," as the company motto goes.

Munson, by the way, is pissed off. After spending years learning the trade and building out his company piece by piece, he now has to deal with unscrupulous folks knocking off his products. He came up with a rather brilliant way to address this problem head-on: He made a video to his competitors showing them how to knock his bags off, incidentally educating the consumer on where the quality and design of his products, versus the competition's, starts to diverge.

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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 erika rae  |   9 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

FF-DesignEd.jpgIf there's anything that'll defer you from teaching design, it'll be the classroom composition.

As in many creative disciplines, the first few years of a designer's career are an ongoing learning experience—with each new project comes new challenges to overcome. But what happens when those projects slow down? Workflow plateau's and something's gotta change.

Meanwhile, design education is a competitive field with opportunities all over the world. It's tempting to take a break from the design industry and step back into the classroom. This is the point that discussion board member experiMental is getting at in his inquiry into the intricacies of design work. Is it more fiscally responsible to pick up that red pen and enter the world of grading design projects?

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  18 Dec 2013  |  Comments (0)

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While landfill is generating electricity for their Fort Wayne and Orion plants, General Motors has a very different plan for their massive Renaissance Center office complex in Detroit: Stop adding to landfill altogether.

To give you an idea of what a massive undertaking this is, the GM Renaissance Center is a 5.5-million-square-foot facility (including offices, restaurants, a shopping center and a skyscraper Marriot Hotel) that literally has its own freaking zip code. Some 15,000 people traipse through it daily, and they presumably drink coffee, unwrap sandwiches and print documents like the rest of us. Furthermore 3,000 of those daily inhabitants are visitors from the general public, whose behavior cannot be rigidly enforced as it can with employees and tenants.

To get a handle on the problem, over two years ago GM began doing what we once did as art students: dumpster diving. By physically sifting through trash, GM learned what exactly was being thrown out, then began cataloguing everything and figuring out how all of it—every single last piece—could be diverted from landfill. Part of it is educating people as to what can be recycled and where they should put it; part of it is amassing and effectively distributing containers throughout the complex; not to mention collecting and emptying those containers, then processing the contents.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  18 Dec 2013  |  Comments (2)

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General Motors has quietly been making strides in greening their operations. What's most encouraging is that GM isn't doing it for the publicity; they're doing it simply because technological advances in sustainability are increasingly making good business sense.

In 1999, GM began experimenting with turning landfill gas—those otherwise worthless fumes that do nothing but stink and fill the atmosphere—into energy. By using landfill gas to heat a portion of their paint shop in Orion, Michigan, they discovered they had reduced their energy costs by half per vehicle. In 2002, GM then started using this LFGTE (LandFill Gas to Energy) technology to power parts of their Fort Wayne, Indiana, assembly facility.

Presumably having worked out the kinks, now they're taking bigger steps. This month GM invested $24 million in LFGTE machinery. The Fort Wayne facility's LFGTE percentage will quadruple from 10% to 40%, and the Orion plant will draw a whopping 54% of its juice from the stuff. This will cut 89,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year, about the equivalent of what 18,500 cars put out. The total LFGTE yield between the two plants will be 14 megawatts; if they repeat this nine times with other facilities by 2020, they will hit their self-imposed goal of using 125 renewable-energy megawatts.

Here's a local news affiliate's overview of the project:

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Posted by core jr  |  13 Dec 2013  |  Comments (0)

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Once again, our friends at Cuppow are pleased to present an enlightening (see the 2012 numbers here. We've been following their story since day one and it's always good to hear from Aaron Panone, who has diligently kept us abreast of new developments from Cuppow HQ in Boston. Here's the latest from Fringe Union:

2013 has been a great year for Cuppow! We started the year by transitioning all of our products to a 100% recycled and domestic plastic supply, we hired our first (and only) employee, released a new product (BNTO lunchbox by Cuppow), refined our wide mouth drinking lid to more readily accept straws, and continued to develop our network of charitable organizations (adding Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Cradles to Crayons), through which also releasing two new product colors! With the support of our fantastic customers and retailers, we've stayed true to our commitment to be as responsible as possible and make the most minimal impact on the environment that we can—all while growing a business committed to American-made products and working with other great American companies.

This year's installment of our annual infographic project is a single year snapshot showcasing the impact that Cuppow—through utilizing a local supply chain and totally recycled material sources—has on the environment. We used our actual manufacturing and performance data collected over the last year to calculate freight emissions and the amount of recycled material that we were able to reprocess and reuse to make our products. We consulted with shipping experts and studied up on EPA emissions factors to provide a comparison between our supply chain and a hypothetical supply chain originating from Shenzhen, China. (Although we are not sure exactly what percentage of imported consumer products originate from Shenzhen, it is noted as one of the largest manufacturing cities in the world, so it serves as a good comparison for our study.)

We hope that you enjoy our infographic below, it is a collaboration with our long-time colleague and designer Natalya Zahn. If you like it, share it with your friends! And please let us know any feedback that you might have for us—we're always happy to hear from you!

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   9 Dec 2013  |  Comments (1)

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This is the second part of Hipstomp's reporting from the inaugural Autodesk CAVE Conference, which took place in conjunction with their annual Autodesk University event last week in Las Vegas. See Part One here.

Following Tibbits' talk, the entirety of the CAVE conference attendees filed into a ballroom at The Venetian to see a rare presentation from the legendary Syd Mead. (Mead will typically not travel in December to give presentations, but he relented for CAVE, a testament to the conference's attractiveness.) At 80 years of age, Mead has the killer combination of a lifetime's worth of experience and an irreverent, devil-may-care veteran status that allows him to say whatever the hell he wants; I won't name the Hollywood stars or clients he skewered in passing asides, but I will say his stories were funny.

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More importantly, we were treated to a narrated slideshow of Syd Mead images projected onto a gi-normous screen so that we could see every detail, every dot of gouache. And of course there was Mead himself to explain the thinking behind the vehicles and sets of Blade Runner, how he's managed to "future-proof" his concepts—making futuristic sketches from the 1960s still appear futuristic today—and showing us the sketches (and exact drawing) that got him the job on Elysium.

SydMead.jpgSyd Mead artwork, courtesy of BravinLee Gallery

It was during Mead's presentation that CAVE started to come full circle for me, and I began to see the light. Mead was discussing one of his more technical renderings for Honda, and as he went in-depth, explaining the drawing's composition, content and framing, it echoed what Louis Gonzales was discussing that morning. Gonzales is a storyboard artist and Mead an industrial designer, so the terminology and context was a little different; but the principles they were discussing were precisely the same. Whether you are Gonzales, Robertson, Gaiman, Tibbits or Mead, you are creating something and attempting to convey ideas to others. The brilliance of CAVE is to get all of these creative bodies into the same space, and to allow us attendees to connect those dots.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   9 Dec 2013  |  Comments (1)

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As we reported back in August, at this year's Autodesk University they decided to try something different, kicking the conference off with a sort of pre-conference focused on "creative talent from multiple disciplines." The idea behind this new Autodesk CAVE Conference was to assemble some of the finest artists, designers and storytellers around and throw them into the same event in the hopes of yielding an entertaining and informative cross pollination.

With such a nebulous description, I didn't know what to expect. But now, having attended, I'm here to tell you the event was a rousing success—everything it was billed to be and more—and that you must check it out next year!

The speaker list was an embarrassment of riches, and the packed schedule meant I'd only get to attend three sessions. Unable to decide which to attend first, my mind was quickly made up for me: I walked past an open door and heard the distinctly rapid-fire Bronx patter—of someone passionately discussing the movie Dumbo. Before I knew it my legs had brought me into the packed room where not a single seat was available.

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The man presenting was Louis Gonzales, an animator and storyboard artist for Pixar. (If you don't know his name, you know his work: Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, et cetera.) Gonzales is both a gifted artist and a student of story, and his childlike enthusiasm for Dumbo's tale was coupled with a trenchant, technical analysis of how certain scenes were framed, and why they create particular kinds of emotional punch. Just as it began dawning on the audience that there was way more packed into Dumbo than the story of an elephant with big ears, Gonzales took us through a comprehensive slideshow of movies both classic and contemporary—his knowledge of film and film visuals is encyclopedic—showing us the insane level of construction and forethought that the creators had put into every frame. Before a single word is spoken by any of the characters, information is conveyed via lines, triangles, squares, circles, lighting, color.

After seeing script pages for Brave that Gonzales had covered in his red-ink notes, and him explaining what visual elements he knew he had to inject into particular scenes and why, I don't think I'll ever look at film or animation the same way again. I've been watching movies my entire life, and in the mere 55 minutes I saw Gonzales speak, he completely changed my perspective on visual presentation. And these were lessons anyone creating industrial design renderings could have drawn from.

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Next came the keynote presentation, where we were treated to both Angelo Sotira's story of how he started up DeviantArt followed by a chat from the wonderfully weird Neil Gaiman. Gaiman began his talk by explaining how the Chinese government had traditionally frowned upon science fiction, as that genre is often used to obliquely criticize institutional flaws, then recounted how they eventually relented and invited him to speak at their first-ever sci-fi convention. Intensely curious as to how this had happened, Gaiman tracked down the party official in charge of this action and asked him why sci-fi had suddenly been given the green light. "We [the Chinese] make everything," the Chinese official explained, referring to his country's manufacturing base, "but we don't invent anything." Science fiction, it had been decided by the party bosses, would be an effective way to stimulate the imaginations of Chinese youth, whom they hoped would subsequently provide original thought for the next generation of manufacturing.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  29 Nov 2013  |  Comments (0)

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How do you take two things most people don't like—airline travel and advertising—and combine them into a pleasing experience? That was the task online retailer Zappos set for Mullen, and the Boston ad agency came up with a client-pleasing solution. This Thankgsiving Eve, travelers through Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport found their baggage claim conveyor belt festooned with what appeared to be Zappos advertising banners, but which were in fact prize markers for clothing, appliances, accessories and gift certificates. The entire conveyor belt had effectively been transformed into a giant roulette wheel, with travelers' individual pieces of luggage serving as the ball.

"Zappos wants to intercept people in their everyday lives and bring surprise and delight," Mullen executive creative director Tim Vaccarino told Ad Age. "So right away we're always looking for something fresh in approach."

Zappos staff were on hand to verify prize winnings, with at least one of them dressed like a turkey. And unlike America's usual Black Friday shenanigans, there were no fistfights, stabbings or shootings reported.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  27 Nov 2013  |  Comments (4)

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A buddy of mine recently returned from his annual trip to Japan, lacing our female friends with omiyage (souvenirs) that are difficult or impossible to find in the 'States: Green Tea Kit Kat bars, exotic-flavored Gummi Bears, gourmet shrimp chips, et cetera. And I knew he'd have some guy gear that one could only find in Tokyo. This time he was sporting the impossibly stylish Cycling Jacket you see above—you've got to see it and touch it in person to appreciate—which is both well-tailored and functional, constructed from a proprietary blend of moleskin and Windstopper fabrics. While Japanese manufacturer Nanamica sells a few jackets Stateside through the J. Crew Menswear Store, if you want the Cycling Jacket you have to go to their shop in Daikanyama, Tokyo.

To a lover of designed objects, the words "Japanese Market Only" are three of the worst words in the English language. So much cool stuff is designed on that island and destined never to leave its shores, like this beer glass designed to evoke Mt. Fuji, this cutting board meant to put you in a good mood, or this malted milk ball dispenser that I must acquire if I am ever to become a grandparent.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  21 Nov 2013  |  Comments (25)

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The U.S. is presently one of the world's largest manufacturers, and consumers, of automobiles. What percentage of Detroit's profits, would you guess, comes from trucks as opposed to passenger cars? The Big Three aren't saying, but according to a Reuters analysis looking at the EBIT—that's Earnings Before Interest & Taxes—an astonishing 71%* comes from trucks and SUVs.

"There is no doubt that full-size trucks are still the single largest component" of pre-tax profits at General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Chrysler Group LLC, a unit of Italy's Fiat SpA, according to Sterne Agee auto analyst Michael Ward.

Even more surprising is that sales of full-size pickups grew 20% from last year.

Gas is still expensive (by American standards) and the economy is still pretty lousy, so what's going on? Why do hybrids continue to be money-losers while low-MPG truck sales are soaring? Why has Ford's F-150 been the best-selling automobile for three decades? The old stereotype of soccer moms with misconceptions of safety ensconcing themselves in SUVs doesn't explain the bump in full-size pick-up sales, nor the F-150's success.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  11 Nov 2013  |  Comments (3)

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Last week, Levi Strauss & Company announced their Wellthread initiative, "A sustainable design and production process that benefits consumers, apparel workers and the environment." Now we just have to figure out what the heck that process consists of—the press release [PDF] is filled with corpo-speak like this:

By embedding the creative constraints of sustainability into the design process from the start, the company has unlocked innovation and business value in the form of a more efficient and flexible production process. "The design mind is still delighted by these creative challenges that are put to it. But if we put these guardrails on the activity, it actually has tremendous unlock in terms of business potential," says Paul Dillinger, Senior Director of Design at Dockers Brand.

By digging through the announcement's catchphrases, this is what we think Wellthread consists of, on the design front:

Design for Durability. "Turning past experience into future promise, a journey into the Levi Strauss & Co. archives uncovered the key points of stress that demanded reinforcement—from buttonholes to pockets." That's all the detail provided on that matter, but we assume it means they'll design garments with more stitching in those areas.

Anticipating the Rise of Clothing Recycling. This part is a little more clear: Although clothing recycling isn't currently anywhere near as large an industry as plastic and metals recycling are, Levi's is betting it will be in the future, and is incorporating "an innovative new long-staple yarn designed to hold up through the recycling process without sacrificing the strength of the cloth." Presumably their designers have been educated on how to incorporate this new material into the design of new garments.

Modifying Consumer Behavior Through Design. Garments with the Wellthread stamp will apparently have laundry instructions specifying cold water, and the garments themselves will have "added touches such as locker loops on khakis and overlapped fabric at the shoulder seam of t-shirts to encourage hang drying," these things intended to make individual consumers use less energy. We're not sure those things will be enough to change consumer behavior on their own; there will likely be some education and marketing required to drive this point home.

The manufacturing changes of Wellthread are a little easier to understand:

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Posted by Ray  |   7 Nov 2013  |  Comments (1)

LonnieJohnson-Supersoaker-HERO.jpgL: Photo via AJC; R: 1983 patent drawing

You couldn't make it up: According to a 2001 Times article, aerospace engineer was Lonnie G. Johnson had been working on technology for a $1.6 billion-dollar spacecraft when he accidentally discovered a children's toy that is now his claim to fame. Tasked with "preparing an interplanetary spacecraft for its atomic battery" at his day job, he was working on a side project at home one night when he turned on a faucet hooked up to one end of a "prototype cooling device" with a metal nozzle. "'I turned and shot into the bathtub,' he recalled. The blast was so powerful that the whoosh of accompanying air set the bathroom curtains flying. 'I said to myself, Jeez, this would make a great water gun.'"

Indeed: Johnson had just created the precursor to the Super Soaker, which has since generated a over $1 billion in sales for Larami, now owned by Hasbro. He made headlines yesterday for winning 7.3% of that sum in his claim against the RI-based toy company, a handsome purse for a deserving beneficiary who would be an immensely successful engineer and inventor even without a mainstream claim to fame.

LonnieJohnson-Supersoaker-COMP.jpgVia CNBC; video below

Hailing from Mobile, Ala., Johnson (b. 1949) took to math and science at an early age, eventually taking first place in a science fair as a high school senior and earning several scholarships. Upon completing his master's degree in nuclear engineering at Atlanta's Tuskegee University, the born-and-raised Southerner spent his late 20's moving westward, young family in tow, including a stint in Albuquerque before he ended up in Pasadena, working for the Air Force and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory respectively. By day, Johnson was responsible for integrating the nuclear power plant in the Galileo; by night, his DIY experiments nearly cost him his marriage... until, of course, that fateful evening in 1982.

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Posted by Ray  |   4 Nov 2013  |  Comments (0)

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Quite a few stories about our brave new web-enabled economy made rounds last week, and together they provide an interesting survey of the culture of work in the Information Age. It starts, more or less, with James Surowiecki's appraisal of Upstart in The New Yorker. His measured confidence in the new model for personal loans, in which individuals borrow money from wealthy patrons in exchange for a percentage of future earnings based on one's projected income (typically 3–4% over 5–10 years; no more than 7%). The idea is to provide a structured horizon for opportunities that require a small amount of capital, whether it is entrepreneurial or educational—they also recently announced a kind of 'third party' scholarship program for aspiring developers who are looking for a patron to defray the costs of code school, a $12,000, 12-week program with a 90% placement rate at an average of $80 large starting salary.

New York Magazine's Kevin Roose responds a darker view of Upstart, drawing an analogy with indentured servitude, citing a rosy Bloomberg segment (above) on TaskRabbit as another example of unfounded buoyancy. Roose portrays the entire 'gig economy'—as noted in the San Francisco Chronicle—as a fallacious boon to a still-faltering workforce, an empty promise for the underemployed masses.

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