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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  21 Nov 2014  |  Comments (2)

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We've periodically covered Big Ass Fans (here and here), the Kentucky-based company that shrewdly changed their name from High Volume Low Speed Fan Company. Due to their no-nonsense marketing approach, the efficient, sturdy design of their product and periodic design refreshes, they've grown into something like the Dyson of overhead air movement systems. And now they've moved into a new product category, with another line of overhead-mounted objects: Big Ass Lights.

So here we see how selling directly to customers can help a company develop new products: Direct feedback, which would likely get lost or mangled if filtered through a distributor middleman. By interacting directly with customers and visiting their facilities, the company is in a position to overhear their needs—and gripes. "One we heard over and over again: employers' once-bright lights now glowed a dim yellow, making it difficult for workers to do their jobs and forcing maintenance teams to constantly replace bulbs," the company writes. "Those inefficient bulbs also kept energy costs high."

Seeing an opportunity, they then hired new talent, adding lighting experts to their stable of engineers. The resultant design of their LED-sporting Big Ass Light isn't actually that physically big—the smaller model's a little over three feet in length, and the larger model just under four—but the company reckons they've created "The last light you'll buy," as it's energy-efficient, well-designed and durable.

The main body of the light is an aluminum extrusion, finned to serve as a heat sink:

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Posted by core jr  |  18 Nov 2014  |  Comments (0)

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In a previous post, Paul Hatch shared the origin story and mission behind DesignHouse, LLC.: to bring the power of design to small manufacturers. We spoke to him about the "Reveal," the non-profit organization's first product, which launched last week on Kickstarter. We had a chance to talk to Hatch about the product itself.

Core77: Why did you choose to launch "Reveal" on Kickstarter?

Paul Hatch: Kickstarter is the perfect medium for us to get the word out about what DesignHouse is doing. The product itself is great, but its true worth is that it represents the backers' intent to support local industry as a whole. It's giving us a gauge on how important this is to people. The feedback we've had has been tremendous, and we are creating a network of contacts across the country of people who want to help. Seeing the groundswell from the Design Jam, I think we're launching at just the right time. I hope we can inspire others to join us and do the same in their area.

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Posted by core jr  |  18 Nov 2014  |  Comments (0)

DH-group.jpgPaul Hatch, at top right, with fellow founders Susan Estes and Pam Daniels, and the student team from Chicago Studio

By Paul Hatch, Founder/President, TEAMS Design USA; Co-Founder, DesignHouse, LLC.

Like many products of design, DesignHouse originated with a problem. I visited a small metalshop around the corner from the TEAMS Design office because I needed a metal prototype made and wondered if they would be able to help. Their response was that they only make hinges and wouldn't be able to do it. But I had a look in their shop and saw that they had all the right machinery and certainly had the talent, so I pushed some more. "But it would be expensive," they said. "It could be $100 or more," to which I replied that I would pay $500, which would already save me money. Baffled, they made the part and it was perfect in every detail.

They closed six months later. Their 60 years of hinge-making experience had not prevented their clients from sourcing cheaper products from China.



So the idea of DesignHouse was to bring the power of design to small companies like this, so that they can utilize existing talent and machinery for other purposes and diversify their product range, so if their hinge business falls away, they still have other streams of income to keep them afloat without huge investment or retraining. In February 2013, I met Susan Estes who had similar ideas, and together with Pam Daniels we formulated our mission and founded the non-profit organization DesignHouse LLC.

Usually, when someone designs a product, he or she starts with the idea and then tries to find a vendor to make it affordably. Despite all intentions to the contrary, this method often leads people to source from China. So to keep it local, we created a unique working method that starts with a vendor and then we ideate around their particular skills. This way we could even create ideas for latent capabilities, that cool old machine in the corner, thus clearly adding to their workload rather than replacing it.

DH-problem_solution.jpgThe problem, at left: From idea to sourcing and ultimately outsourcing production. Starting with a local manufacturer and designing based on its capabilities ensures that the product is made locally.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  17 Nov 2014  |  Comments (4)

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We all know what Oprah's Book Club has done for authors. Can Martha Stewart do the same for MakerBot?

Apparently that's the hope. Today MakerBot and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia announced that they've launched an exclusive partnership, whereby not only will there be co-branded PLA filaments available for sale—forget yellow, blue and green, shortly you'll be printing in "Lemon Drop," "Robin's Egg" and "Jadeite"—but Martha's team of designers will also be producing downloadable designs for consumer purchase.

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It's easy for the hardened ID'er to snicker, but this actually signifies a potentially massive shift, or at least the start of one, for 3D printing to go seriously mainstream. If Martha Stewart's gigantic audience can be wooed into paying 99 cents to download a design they can print as many times as they want, it's entirely possible MakerBot will start seeing some sales spikes.

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Posted by Sam Dunne  |  10 Nov 2014  |  Comments (2)

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The iPhone 6 and Apple Watch double launch may have put some minds at rest, but Apple is undeniably still struggling to shake off lingering pessimism regarding its future—countless column inches having been dedicated to assessments of the company's mojo and conclusions on whether it can be regained in a post-Jobs era. Time, of course, will be the judge, but the recent iOS8 update withdrawal, 'Celebgate' iCloud scandal and even the astronomical Beats buy-out, are all reminders (painful for the most fanatic) that things have not quite been the same since the untimely departure of Steve.

Recorded in 1995 and released in 2012, 'Steve Job: The Lost Interview' (full video), shows the then-ousted visionary offering a striking summation of how technology giants like IBM and Xerox lost their foothold at the height of their success. This clip from the interview is now, of course, making rounds with the suggestion that Jobs's analysis bears striking relevance regarding the current state of his former company.

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Posted by core jr  |  31 Oct 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Apropos word that industry stalwart Smart Design is closing its San Francisco studio after nearly a decade and a half in the Bay Area, our Discussion Boards are abuzz about what may well be an industry-wide shift that finds its epicenter in Silicon Valley. OP jarman65 follows up to his opener with a link to a Peter Merholz blogpost unpacking the phenomenon; forumite Cyberdemon initially chimes in with the pros and cons of in-house vs. consultancy and a general shift in the industry, later concisely summing it up: "Smart and the big guys got contracts from the mega-corporations who could afford their hefty price tag, and those are the guys who now have fairly large and mature design teams internally." Meanwhile, Surface Phil puts it bluntly:

I think it's time to face the music that if you are an agency whose core offering is industrial design alone (i.e. designing plastic) chances are this service can be found elsewhere. Whether it be in-house design resource or outsourced overseas. You better be bringing something else to the table. UX, business innovation, commercialization strategy. Something...

Commentators also note that Smart Design recently opened a London office (after quietly dissolving a Barcelona satellite) and there is no indication that the company is in anything less than ship-shape—which is precisely why some, such as Merholz, conclude that the trend is a symptom of the ascendancy of tech companies. In short, these juggernauts are increasingly investing in design, which may spell the demise of the brand-name consultancy as we know it. That, or maybe it's simply the case that Shoreditch is the new SoMa:

All told, it remains to be seen as to whether the shakeup at Smart Design is a Bay Area bellwether or an isolated incident. The second page of the discussion thread broadly addresses the facts, with more of the nitty-gritty from industry vets bepster, Yo, FluffyData and slippyfish; speculation though it may be, their comments speak to the dynamic—and sometimes outright political—nature of the relationship between consultancies and their clients.

» Join the conversation

Posted by core jr  |  14 Oct 2014  |  Comments (0)

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By Robert Grace

Business executives, designers and Chinese government officials alike received a hefty dose of knowledge and insight this past weekend about the value and importance of design not only to products and environments but also to the human condition.

A diverse mix of more than 700 attendees—of whom roughly half were non-designer, C-level business officials—attended the inaugural Design Success Summit at the Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai on Oct. 11 to listen, learn and debate the role that design can play in enhancing business and improving lives. Held in the midst of Shanghai Design Week, the day-long conference was capped by presentation of about 180 awards to the winners of the ninth annual Successful Design Awards competition.

An underlying yet high-minded theme that emerged at the DSS event, in addition to its stated goal of "amplifying the value of design," was the role that designers can and should play in the betterment of society.

In the highlight of the event, Don Norman, former Apple VP and co-founder/principal of the Fremont, Calif.-based Nielsen Norman Group (and sometime Core77 columnist), tag-teamed with Prof. Patrick Whitney, dean of the Illinois Institute of Technology's Institute of Design, on a 90-minute discussion, during which the pair challenged the aspiring designers in the audience.

Referring to design as "the intermediary between technology and people," Norman urged young designers to become generalists, not specialists. He suggested that students not major in design, but rather focus on gaining an understanding in history, literature, politics, and other such broad-based topics, because designers need to be able "to look at the entire issue." The key, he suggested, is not just solving the immediate problems that present themselves, but rather analyzing the entire situation. "Design is not about giving you answers," he said, "it's a process to determine what the real problem is."

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   9 Oct 2014  |  Comments (2)

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This week Adobe released a trailer showing what they've (hopefully) got in the pipeline, setting user forums alight with cries of both "Bravo!" and "BS!" Depending on your disposition, you will inevitably feel one or the other while watching it:

While the footage is obviously cooked (with After Effects, no doubt), most of the stuff seems possible—even that nutty part with the rotoscoped horses, given enough computing power.

That theoretical computing power is meant to be the unseen but still understood message behind this bit of advertising, as it was done in conjunction between Adobe and Microsoft. The two companies have apparently gotten into bed together, with Microsoft putting in a surprise appearance at this week's Adobe Max conference, where the boys from Redmond pulled the Oprah-like move of lacing everyone in the keynote audience with free Surface Pro 3 tablets.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   8 Oct 2014  |  Comments (2)

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Bruno Francois is a clever man. Back in 2012 he figured out how to game the vibrating function in an iPhone 5, combined with data from the gyro and compass, in order to cause the iPhone to precisely rotate in place when stood up on its edge. The resultant app he created, Cycloramic, could then shoot hands-free panoramic photos and video:

This was good enough to garner Francois some 600,000-plus downloads, and with a $0.99 retail price, he presumably recouped whatever investment of time and money he put into developing the app. But earlier this year he appeared on the competitive "Shark Tank" TV show, where entrepreneurs compete to gain financial backing from Mark-Cuban-level big dogs, to see if he could go next-level. The clip was riveting:

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  17 Sep 2014  |  Comments (1)

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The key characteristic of a Military-Industrial Complex is that armaments manufacturers want wars to keep going, so that they can keep making profits. Thankfully for the human race, not all industrialists are willing to propagate this system. France's Andre Citröen, an engineer by training, was one such enlightened individual.

See, Citröen was responsible for mass-producing armaments for France during World War I. But he realized the war wouldn't last forever, and knew that the factory he was running was going to be shut down unless there was something else to mass produce afterwards. With six years of pre-war experience working for the early French automobile manufacturer Mors, Citröen decided he'd produce a car—and he started working on it as early as 1916, two years before the war even ended.

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That's why, when Allied victory came in late 1918, Citröen was ready to roll out a car just four months later. The lightweight, relatively affordable 18-horsepower Citröen Type A was a success, and by 1920 the Parisian factory was producing 100 per day.

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They cranked out some 24,000 units before Citröen succeeded the Type A with the Type B2.

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Posted by Ray  |  15 Sep 2014  |  Comments (1)

IndustrialFacility-HermanMiller-Locale-1.jpgLocale for Herman Miller (2013). Images courtesy of Industrial Facility unless otherwise noted

Given the current vogue for local, handwrought, artisanal or otherwise bespoke goods, the tide has effectively turned against mass production as millennials forgo the efficiencies of economies of scale in favor of purportedly more meaningful modes. The appeal of these objets is ostensibly the deeper level of personal connection—the prospect of shaking the very hand that made your wallet or dress or dining table is simultaneously atavistic and avant-garde—that justifies the cost of championing local production in the face of, um, faceless overseas manufacturing. This resurgence finds its most fundamental expression not in made-to-order heirlooms but in locavorism: Food products are literally rooted in a place, yet the fact that they are perishable precludes preciousness.

It's ironic, then, that "America has this great tradition of keeping kitchen appliances on the countertop." Kim Colin, co-founder and partner of design firm Industrial Facility, brings it up in the context of the broad shift away from the materialistic mentality of yore, rattling off a few generations' worth of examples. "Mr. Coffee's been there, the Kitchenaid's been there, George Foreman's grill was there for a while, the soda machine might be there now..." That these appliances have a shelf life (with the exception, perhaps, of the stand mixer) is a testament to the consummation of a consumer culture that revels in excess, the food itself being incidental. Whether or not we use them frequently enough to justify the countertop real estate, our society has long kept these objects on display, not only as status symbols in themselves but also because we have the luxury of space.

Or at least we did, before the world's metropolises drew in the majority of its 7.2 billion people and twentysomethings found themselves with less space and fewer things anyway. More kale, perhaps, but less of the other stuff.

IndustrialFacility-Mattiazzi-BrancaStool.jpgThe Branca Stool for Mattiazzi (2014)

"We don't go out and find work, people find us."

Industrial Facility is arguably the best-kept secret in certain circles that extend far beyond its geographic locale of London. In contrast to the likes of Philippe Starck (with whom IF collaborated on TOG) or, say, friend-of-Apple Marc Newson, Kim Colin and her partner Sam Hecht opt for fly-by-night anonymity, much like one of their longtime clients. "[Muji is] not using design as a personality... if there is a personality, it would be Muji." Like kindred spirit Naoto Fukasawa, Industrial Facility's work dissolves into the client's brand—assuming, of course, that the client shares their refined, purposeful design philosophy.

When Colin notes that "there's a kind of strange public awareness about us—we have what I would characterize as a cult following," she's referring to clients—Established & Sons, LaCie and Issey Miyake, to name a few—but the statement is true of consumers as well. It's not so much a signature style (again, they're designing for the likes of non-brand Muji) but a perspective that guides with their sub rosa appeal. "We're very interested in the actual ways we're living and the ways that's changing," Colin says. "We study it through the different kinds of clients we have... we learn how they're seeing the world, and we often have a very different point of view." She continues: "Those companies then realize that we have more to offer than a specific project on its own, and that we might have something to say about their business, or growth, or direction." Naturally, these deeper relationships tend to be self-selecting, and it's telling that Industrial Facility works closely with companies like Muji and Herman Miller in a design advisory role. "Our clients are unafraid of our level of questioning."

Hence, Colin draws the distinction between their design practice and that of the 21st-Century artisan. "I think there are a lot of people working in design that are doing local products. Those are small batch, limited production or production-on-demand," she matter-of-factly declares. "Our scale is mass production, really, and that's why we named our studio Industrial Facility and not Sam Hecht and Kim Colin Studio. We want big companies not to be afraid to use design."

IndustrialFacility-HermanMiller-Formwork.jpgFormwork for Herman Miller (2014)

IndustrialFacility-HermanMiller-Formwork-prototypes.jpgPrototypes of Formwork

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  10 Sep 2014  |  Comments (6)

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Watching yesterday's Apple Live event, I oohed and aahed over the shots of the iPhone 6 with the rest of you, and when my screen turned black at the end of the Apple Watch teaser, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the monitor and saw my mouth was hanging open. But to this design lover, it wasn't any of the beauty shots, but the pull-quote below that I thought was the most significant takeaway from the entire presentation.

CEO Tim Cook was pacing the stage, rattling off facts: The credit card is fifty years old, it's no longer convenient nor secure, people have been attempting to replace them with digital wallets...

...But they've all failed. Why is this?
It's because most people that've worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that was centered around their self interest, instead of focusing on the user experience.
We love this kind of problem. This is exactly what Apple does best.

Cook proceeded to unveil Apple Pay, the NFC-based one-touch payment process that the new iPhones and the Apple Watch will all be able to perform.

I say that quote is significant because Cook essentially laid out Apple's key competitive advantage, the business secret that does not need to be secret because none of their competitors seem to be able to get those five words right.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   6 Sep 2014  |  Comments (1)

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Late yesterday Vanity Fair broke the news: Marc Newson is joining Apple's design team!

Apple's design veep Jonathan Ive is not only close friends with Newson, but the two have collaborated before, on the 43-object (Red) Auction project, and according to VF have been working together on an unspecified Apple project during the past year. Given Apple's typical development timelines, it's unlikely (if possible) that we'll see what the Newson collaboration has yielded at Apple's September 9 press event—mApple's mum on whether he was involved with their forthcoming smartwatch—but in any case, Newson is in fact getting an Apple ID card.

"Marc is without question one of the most influential designers of this generation," Ive said in a statement provided to VF Daily. "He is extraordinarily talented. We are particularly excited to formalize our collaboration as we enjoy working together so much and have found our partnership so effective."
"I'm full of admiration and respect for the extraordinary design work that has been produced by Jony and the team at Apple," Newson said. "My close friendship with Jony has not only given me a unique insight into that process, but the opportunity to work together with him and the people that have been responsible. I am enormously proud to join them."

One thing Newson won't be doing is picking up stakes; the London-based designer will remain in the UK to collaborate from afar.

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   4 Sep 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Among pet lovers it's a common, if somewhat weird, practice for them to give their animal a Facebook page or Twitter account, as if Spot and Felix had the wherewithal to operate a computer. But Portland, Oregon-based Mike and Megan Wilson, the husband-and-wife team behind CatastrophiCreations, are taking it one step further and claiming their cats can design and build.

One morning we woke up and stumbled into the living room. To our suprise, our new baby kitten had gotten into my tool box and taken apart our couch and rebuilt it into a cat bridge. After that we thought, "Bingo", we'll lock him in a room and start selling all of his creations on Etsy.
After a couple weeks we started feeling bad for the load we were putting on our new cat, so we got another cat to give him a hand and double the amount of orders we can produce. Toys for cats, by cats.

Gag aside, their Indiana Jones Cat Bridge ($150 to $180) has proven to be a hit, and the couple began designing and building more cat-based furniture. Hammocks, ramps, shelves, climbing holes, feeders, and even a Super-Mario-Bros.-inspired "complex":

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  27 Aug 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Don't let the bland name of Scottish start-up Design LED Products fool you. At last year's Lux Live 2013 lighting exhibition, DLP showed off the flexible resin-based LED tile you see above, considered to be a potential game-changer in lighting design. The tiles are flexible, modular, inexpensive, highly efficient (roughly 90%), can emit light on one or both sides, and "can be produced in any shape or size up to 1m, offering up to 20,000 lumen per square meter," according to the press release. They also do not require external "thermal management," i.e. bulky heat sinks.

Well, someone noticed, and that someone was IKEA. Today it was reported that Ikea's GreenTech venture capital division plunked down an undisclosed sum to invest in the company, giving them access to the light tiles for their presumed inclusion in future product designs. "The tiles are unique as they are extremely thin, flexible and low cost and can be seamlessly joined together in exciting new designs," IKEA said in a statement. "The partnership is a clear strategic fit for IKEA and our goal to make living sustainably affordable and attractive for millions of people."

While you can still buy halogens and CFLs at IKEA today, by the way, the company is reportedly planning to switch exclusively to LEDs by September of 2015.

Anyone want to take a guess at what they'll be designing with these? Kitchen wall cabinets with these tiles on the undersides seem like the obvious choice, but those would be flat; I'm most curious to see how they'd exploit the curvability of the technology.

Posted by core jr  |  20 Aug 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Yesterday, our friends at PSFK released a report on a movement that is within our purview much as it is in theirs: The first edition of the "Maker's Manual" "provides insights into how people can learn, program, prototype and even sell their projects." Available for free download, it goes beyond your average trend report to offer "a wealth of tools, support and services available for every project size—from the hobbyist's tinkering to the entrepreneur's hack."

The "Maker's Manual" a fluent top-level survey of the technologies, services and communities that are out there today, online and off, and while the the report is not by any means comprehensive, it's certainly an excellent place to start if you're looking for, say, a Maker Shop or Collaboration Hub. There are nods to the usual suspects—Inventables, Makerbot, IFTTT, Techshop, etc.—but also more obscure or otherwise emerging projects and companies such as GaussBricks and Craftsman Ave. Sure, there's a good chance that some of these resources may be too experimental or as-yet-inchoate to have a long-term impact, but this is precisely why the "Maker's Manual" serves as a kind of State of the Union. Indeed, the introduction includes a pithy Obama quote, from the recent White House Maker Faire: "Today's D.I.Y. is tomorrow's 'Made in America.'"

And although some of the headings and copy might read as hype, the "Maker's Manual" does well to addresses pragmatic issues such as fundraising and IP. All told, the 33 pages are chock full of solid information, presented in an appropriately skimmable format, one that invites readers to further investigate the companies and services that strike their fancy.

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Unfortunately, the PDF is encoded in a way such that the text isn't searchable; not only does this mean that there's no quick way to find a keyword but also none of the links are clickable—not even the one for Intel, which underwrote the whole thing—which, considering the inclusion of bit.ly links, seems like an egregious oversight. After all, the availability of new tools and resources is a cardinal tenet of its subject matter, and the utility of the "Maker's Manual" as a reference guide is rather diminished by the lack of search- and clickability.

Posted by core jr  |  24 Jul 2014  |  Comments (0)

OscarZhaoYvesBehar.jpgOscar Zhao & Yves Béhar: "You had me at nihao."

Late yesterday afternoon, we learned that Beijing's BlueFocus Communication Group will be taking a majority stake in fuseproject, Yves Béhar's design firm. This marks the growing agency's first foray into the States; it first dipped its toes into Western waters in April of last year, with a 20% stake in Huntsworth PR group, followed by taking a majority stake in We Are Social (both based in the UK). Now, the Financial Times reports that "BlueFocus will pay $46.7m in cash for 75 per cent of Fuseproject, to be paid out over several years depending on performance." (Figures on the agency's net worth and remarkable ascendancy are available here.)

Where fuseproject is a household name in the design world, we (like most of you) hadn't heard of BlueFocus prior to yesterday's announcement. Make no mistake, they are by all accounts a juggernaut, not just among native Chinese companies but on the world stage as well. Founded by Oscar Zhao in 1996, BlueFocus currently employs some 2,800 people—it is reportedly the biggest PR agency in the world—and Béhar's 75-person team, will join the ranks of the ~700 others at companies in which BlueFocus has a majority stake. fuseproject will continue to operate independently; while its multidisciplinary portfolio and services (i.e. rebranding Paypal) may well complement and align with BlueFocus's long-term goals, the San Francisco-based company is ostensibly the first industrial design consultancy in the Chinese company's highly diversified holdings.

BlueFocus.jpgContrary to alarming AQI reports, BlueFocus invites blue-sky thinking at their Beijing headquarters (via Baidu maps)

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Posted by Ray  |   2 Jul 2014  |  Comments (1)

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By now, it seems like the conceit of a 'home of the future' has existed for as long as we've taken residence in permanent structures—while subsistence cultures certainly didn't fret over replacing HVAC filters, our domestic life perpetually bears the promise of being easier or more comfortable. But even as sci-fi films offer tantalizing glimpses into a swipeable, location-aware near-future, the app-enabled abode has proven to be an elusive dream as we once again crank up our noisy old air conditioners, much as we did with barely adequate space heaters just four months ago.

Well that's the case here in New York City, but for those of you who live outside the endemic constraints of shady landlords and co-op boards—and,to some extent, even for those of us who do—the fabled smart home may be appreciably closer to becoming a reality with the launch of a new collection of products on Monday, July 7, thanks to a new free app called Wink and your local Home Depot.

It's not a retail partnership in the traditional sense: Wink is a software ecosystem for other networked devices and appliances. It relies on a single piece of hardware, a pointedly nondescript white box that will likely gather dust alongside your modem and router—plugged in, of course, but scarcely touched after initial setup—since the entire interface is accessed via smartphone. Several Wink-enabled products will work without the hub, which facilitates networked communications for less deeply integrated products; compatibility is clearly indicated by labels on the packaging.

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Nor is it a 'collection' so much as the launch of the app and 60 compatible products from 15 well-known brands, including literal household names such as GE—who have partnered with Wink's parent company Quirky to produce a series of networked products—and first mover Phillips to smart sprinkler startup Rachio and tech darlings Dropcam. So too does the selection run the gamut from entry-level light bulbs (GE & Quirky have developed one for $15) to more advanced products such as motorized curtains, deadbolts and garage doors. (Both the Wink Hub and the products will also be available via Amazon, though the displays at Home Depot will drive awareness and in-store sales.)

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  23 Jun 2014  |  Comments (2)

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True industrial design seeks out problems that can be solved with objects. The more common the problem, and the easier it is to produce the item you've designed to solve it, the more successful you'll be. And the Holy Grail, of course, is to find that common problem that no one's solved yet.

So here's a great example of a simple, monomaterial product design that's become a tremendous business success by addressing an unmet need in the kitchen. When it comes to storing food, we've got Ziploc bags, Tupperware, plastic wraps and aluminum foils, which are good at storing most things. But what they're lousy at preserving is a fruit or vegetable that's been cut in half; you've undoubtedly thrown away half of something because you couldn't use it all up in time.

Enter Food Huggers, which are nothing more than little silicone discs molded with a lip and an undercut.

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By making them in four sizes—which nest for storage, by the way—industrial designers Michelle Ivankovic and marketer Adrienne McNicholas have covered all of the bases, whether you're looking to save a small or large chunk of fruit or vegetable.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  20 Jun 2014  |  Comments (1)

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Last week, Jules Yap (above right), the founder of the IKEAHackers website, released a blog post with a worrying first sentence: "I am afraid I have a bit of bad news." Yap had been cease-and-desisted by IKEA, which took issue with the fact that Yap had been advertising on her site—a reasonable thing to do, I thought, as it cannot be cheap to maintain the site, and she is arguably helping to promote IKEA's products. But the furniture giant cried IP infringement, and as Yap explained, "I don't have deep enough pockets to fight a mammoth company in court. Needless to say, I am crushed."

The internet cried foul. Gizmodo called IKEA move "beyond boneheaded" and "a huge mistake." BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow pointed out that "IKEA C&D is, as a matter of law, steaming bullshit. There's no trademark violation here—the use of IKEA's name is purely factual. The fact that money changes hands on IKEAHackers (which IKEA lawyers seem most upset about) has no bearing on the trademark analysis."

And of course, commenters on Yap's blog offered support, including this one purportedly from an ex-IKEA employee:

Katherine says:
I used to work at IKEA as a coworker—so I have a different perspective. I love Ikea AND your site. and without much research, you'll just have to trust my statement - your site HELPED developers and designers create new products, and not only that, the last catalog was nearly a tribute to YOUR BLOG! Telling us how we could use our creativity with their products to make our homes our own—isn't that what IH is all about? I also recall a page on their sight (sic) that encouraged creative use of their product. They should be paying you—and this should be your full time job. I seriously doubt the Container Store would be so quick to dismantle something that has reinvented the way the world looks at it's (sic) products.

But the support went well beyond Yap's blog. IKEAHacker fans apparently deluged IKEA with tweets, e-mails and entries on IKEA's contact page, and the company has relented. As Jules explained in an update from yesterday morning:

Inter IKEA Systems BV called me! You made a difference. Thank You! Fresh talks launched!
...And it could not have happened without your support. Every email, twit, comment and message that you have sent in support of IKEAhackers has led to this moment for us - that it is possible for fans to cause a ginormous corporation to rethink its actions. THANK YOU! I am very grateful, moved and humbled by your outstanding support over the last few days. I love you guys to bits.
So, [I was contacted by] Anders of Inter IKEA Systems BV...to express that IKEA would like to dialogue with me to find a new way forward. What does that mean? I don't know yet. But I am hopeful, though my guard is still up. From our conversation, I do not have to make any changes to IKEAhackers (including the ads) till we settle on an agreement.

Details of the new solution have yet to be hammered out, but it will hopefully be an improvement over last week's situation. It would be really silly, and bad for goodwill, for the company to shut down Yap, she being a true-blue IKEA supporter. "On the whole, I am so excited," she closed the update with, "I could pee in my FRAKTA pants."

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  13 Jun 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Yes, "All Our Patent Are Belong To You" is the actual title of a Tesla press release, which went live yesterday and is causing a tremendous media stir. "Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters," Elon Musk himself wrote. "That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology."

In a nutshell, he's announcing that anyone who wants to get into the electric car game can, and in fact should, start knocking off Tesla's technologies, and they won't unleash the lawyers. We suggest you read the entire press release, but here are the relevant points:

- ...I [once] thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors.
- ...Electric car programs...at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.
- ...It is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis.
- We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.

It's pretty fascinating to see altruism, business self-interest and environmentalism all intersect in this way. Now the question is, who will pick up the gauntlet? Are the big automakers really in bed with the petroleum companies, and is it just a lack of access to technology that's prevented them from investing big in electric?

Posted by erika rae  |   5 Jun 2014  |  Comments (0)

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The one time my family decided to plan a vacation based on the place we were lodging, it turned out to be the best decision we ever made as a globetrotting clan of four. We managed to find a rented villa in a mountain community of Salobreña, Spain, not knowing anything about the area or the the must-see spots. Turns out, we had plopped ourselves right in the middle of a relatively tourist-free zone among scattered cave entrances that were more likely than not occupied by gypsies. The entire space was decorated simply to the taste of the region—wall hangings of the castle we could see from the front balcony, woven curtains with traditional patterns of the local heritage made by women in the community, kitchen tiles depicting local delicacies, the list goes on. It was the feeling we got walking into the home that really resonated with us years after the trip.

I would imagine you'd hit a similar note of welcome when visiting Fogo Island Inn—minus the gypsies, of course.

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Located on a tiny Canadian Island near the Polar Circle, Fogo Island Inn worked with Designer Chris Kabel (of Sticky Lamp and Seam Chair fame) to bring a bit of the local outdoor aesthetic indoors with two fantastic design touches. First up: key fobs. While cheap and easy to replace, key cards lack a certain je ne sais quoi. Kabel found 29 different items from the ocean shore, a fisherman's shed and the local supermarket to serve as the themed keychains for each of the Inn's rooms.

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Nautical knots, lobster claws, pieces of coral, tool bits, seashells, etc., take on totemic significance, like 'Monopoly' tokens, as symbols of the region. "Together the key tags become the chapters of a book about the present and past daily life on the island and its rough nature," Kabel says on his website. The fobs are cast in bronze, guaranteeing they'll last longer than that card that needs replacing every time you set it next to your cellphone.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  28 May 2014  |  Comments (1)

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The simple combination cutting board below features multiple plastic sheets that allow the user to cut different items—raw meat, vegetables and bread, for instance—without cross-contamination.

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We've all seen swappable plastic sheets before. But Fiskars added that nice little touch in the grippy rubberized grommet hole, providing a place to register the sheets as they're stacked on top. It also gives you a handy way to grab the cutting board and the sheets, and provides that splash of their distinctive orange for branding purposes.

It's not a game-changer or an earth-shattering design, and it won't have an impact on the company's fortunes the way their scissors did. But the designers among you will recognize this as one of those tiny triumphs that you pore over in anonymity; it's a thoughtful little touch that makes the experience of using this cutting board incrementally better. And for Fiskars, that's part of their strategy to conquer the competition-heavy kitchen space.

In a talk given at Fiskars HQ, Petri S. Toivanen, who heads up their Kitchen Business Unit, provided answers to some niggling questions that many designers have faced: How do you design a new product that can compete in an extremely saturated market? And if there are already thousands of products out there, what's the point of designing yet another one?

We recorded and transcribed Toivanen's talk, printed below. It has been edited for clarity and brevity; if there are any technical errors, the fault is ours.


Petri S. Toivanen:

When we set out to conquer the kitchen market, we started with the consumer, with the end-user. We spent a lot of time looking at how our products are used, how people cook, how they behave in the kitchen, how they go shopping, and we also looked at the social aspect of cooking. We learned a lot of interesting things, and I would like to share just a couple of them with you.

One thing you have to understand about this business: If you go to pretty much any household in Europe, all the [kitchen] drawers are full. Everybody has pretty much everything, knives, spatulas, et cetera. So our challenge was, How do you make a compelling proposition to consumers that already have everything? Well, we believe very strongly that we can improve even the simplest things, and make things that are already good even better, to bring us forward. And we are very diligent in doing so.

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Posted by core jr  |  23 May 2014  |  Comments (3)

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By Ali Morris

It was during a trip to independent furniture show BKLYN Designs last year that New Yorkers John Neamonitis and Charlie Miner came up with the concept for their new website, WorkOf. Launched in January of this year, WorkOf is an online platform that is helping New York's thriving designer-maker community to reach consumers while providing consumers with a new way of discovering hard-to-find design. "I was walking around [BKLYN Designs] and there was all of this really amazing work," says Miner. "I was asking people, 'Where would I go to buy this stuff? Is there a somewhere where I can find it all in one place?' and everyone told me it didn't exist." Surprised and frustrated by the response they were getting, Neamonitis and Miner set about creating a solution.

WorkOf functions like a collective online storefront for its community, directing traffic to the designers' websites and online stores. "We launched with 20 makers but have nearly 40 now," says Miner, reflecting on a very busy five months. While every designer brings his or her own unique style to the table, the pieces are united by a raw, industrial aesthetic that identifies them as handmade in Brooklyn. Industrial brass lighting fixtures come courtesy of Workstead and Allied Maker, while Stefan Rurak's heavy, reclaimed wood furniture and the blackened steel frames of Vidi Vixi's pieces are softened by Calico's ombre wallpapers and Fort Makers' painterly fabrics.

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Although membership of WorkOf is free, applications are carefully considered. Miner explains, "Although we're certainly open to people approaching us—I mean, that's what we want to do, to support the community—we also want to be sure that the artists we represent are commercially viable; that they can scale to meet demand and that they can handle customers in a professional way because it reflects on everybody. It's not a hobbyist platform, it's not for amateurs."

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Posted by core jr  |  22 May 2014  |  Comments (0)

Colony-Group.jpgJean Lin at center, with (from left): Kyle Garner, Sit and Read; Kellen Tucker, Sharktooth; Kai-wei Hsu, KWH Furniture; Pete Oyler, Assembly; Nora Mattingly, Assembly; Hiroko Takeda; Michael Maloney, Colony; Hillary Petrie, Egg Collective; Crystal Ellis, Egg Collective; Ryden Rizzo, Allied Maker; Will Kavesh, Token; and Emrys Berkower, Token

This article was originally published in the C77 Design Daily, Vol. 1, Issue 2, on May 17, 2014.

Launching in Manhattan next month, Jean Lin's new design showroom will bring together a dozen studios to share space and collectively raise awareness of independent American design.

By Mercedes Kraus

Jean Lin is taking a real estate gamble in Chinatown, and she's gathered a group of emerging designers to ante up with her. At 324 Canal Street, Lin has leased and rapidly renovated a 2,000-square-foot showroom that will soon be the headquarters of a new venture called Colony. Described by Lin as "a designer's cooperative," Colony will be something unique in New York's design landscape—not quite a gallery or store, and not exactly a co-op either, but an experiment in pooling resources to boost the profile of independent design.

The idea started to take shape last year, as Lin's conversations with designer friends revealed some common business struggles—especially the need for showroom space in Manhattan. Designers kept telling Lin that they lacked a central location to send potential clients to see their work in person, something that is especially crucial for doing business with the interior designers, architects and retailers who might order work in large quantities.

"Having a presence in Manhattan is huge," says Stephanie Beamer of Egg Collective, a Brooklyn-based furniture-design studio founded in 2011. "That's really where clients with purchasing power are. But for young designers, it's virtually impossible."

Egg Collective is one of 12 design businesses that have signed on for Colony's launch. The others are Allied Maker, Assembly, Meg Callahan, Flat Vernacular, KWH Furniture, Zoe Mowat, Sharktooth, Sit and Read, Hiroko Takeda, Token and UM Project. Nine of the 12 are based in New York City, with the others within a few hours by car or plane: Long Island (Allied Maker), Providence, Rhode Island (Meg Callahan), and Montreal (Zoe Mowat). Their businesses have been around for as little as two years and as long as a decade. Many of them focus on furniture, but there are also designers of lighting, textiles, wallpaper and household objects.

Starting in June, they will be using the second floor of 324 Canal Street as a joint showroom, occasional exhibition venue and community hub. But first, for Design Week, the space will play host to a pair of exhibitions—a salon-style teaser for Colony and the third edition of Reclaim NYC, an annual design exhibition and charity sale co-founded by Lin.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  21 May 2014  |  Comments (0)

0goproipo-001.jpg"Parahawking in Nepal," by Scott Mason

The industrial designer of today would have much to explain to the industrial designer from 50 years ago. Back then, if you designed a successful product, you'd be expected to regularly design subsequent updates to that product that consumers would want to continue buying, thus growing the company you were working for. It's simple math: Move More Product, Make More Money.

While that phenomenon of course exists today, what's different is that now companies can grow by moving beyond physical devices and enhancing the user's experience through technological, networked means that then emotionally tie you to the device. The hardware, the physical object, is meant to draw you into the company's larger world of diversions and thus become an indispensable gateway. Consider the iPod followed by the development of the iTunes Music Store. Or look at the X-Box, and ask yourself if it would be a success without connecting you to millions of strangers you can play Call of Duty with.

So perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised to hear that GoPro, the inventors of a bad-ass little camera, are seeking to expand beyond the physical device and into the realm of media. While you've undoubtedly read news of the company's recent IPO, you may not have read the fine print on the filing:

To date, we have generated substantially all of our revenue from the sale of our cameras and accessories and we believe that the growing adoption of our capture devices and the engaging content they enable, position GoPro to become an exciting new media company.

0goproipo-002.jpg"Trampoline Good Times," by Paolo Ferreri

0goproipo-003.jpg"Using Burst Mode to catch water balloons being popped!" by pedro grimaldi garcia

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