In design school in the '90s, they taught us that products about to become obsolete change their form factor to imitate their successors shortly before dying out. In other words, the lesson went, landline telephones would start to look like cell phones in a desperate attempt to stay relevant, and then they would disappear.
Twenty years later, we see an almost opposite phenomenon with LED bulbs, which have oddly tried to mimic the physical appearance, in broad strokes, of the incandescent bulb. But finally Philips has realized this is silly—and expensive, as LEDs occupying a lightbulb-sized volume require pricey heat sinks. Thus they've designed these cool, new SlimStyle LED bulbs.
They've got the efficiency you've come to expect from LEDs—a 60-watt equivalency wrung from just 10.5 watts—and because they're so skinny, and made from plastic rather than glass, the bulky heat sink can go away. That's good news for consumers' wallets, as the price-per-bulb has finally dropped below the $10 threshold. And yep, they're dimmable.
Posted by Kat Bauman
| 10 Jan 2014
To some, an art form. To others, common sense. To the messy outsider, pointless de-jumbling. As a savvy designer or design enthusiast, you're most certainly familiar with the principles and outcomes of knolling, even if you had no idea it deserved its own word. As the story goes, knolling got verbed by the fastidious janitor at Frank Gehry's furniture shop, who would make sure all tools and materials were 90-degreed at the end of the day, mirroring rigid angles and clean lines of Knoll furniture they produced. It was picked up by the artist Tom Sachs while he worked there. Sachs institutionalized the principle in his own work and defined in his virally adored "10 Bullets":
But knolling means more than just tidying a space by aligning tools to each other or their creative confines. Through neatness, it suggests an improvement to functionality, accessibility and efficiency. In a way it's like making your workspace into a 3D exploded diagram. Which is awesome.
Although well-organized spaces and prettily arranged items are in no way new, the hyper tidy appeal of knolling is definitely on the rise. It's seeped into every visual form you can imagine. Infographics, advertising, fashion blogs, cookbooks, whole dedicated tumblrs, merchandising, photography collections. And Pinterest... Pinterest everywhere.
So much easier to use!
"Form Follows Function" is how you design a wrench, or a toboggan, or a kitchen mixer. But as we move into this increasingly dematerialized era, the keyboard and mouse are the only parts of our computers that seem to hew to this rule. For a little while the cables we used to plug into our computers at least had little plastic ridges on them, the barest concession that human fingers were meant to grasp them, but now even that's been replaced by designer whimsy; in 2011, for instance, Parisian luxury brand Christofle designed this silver-plated USB key for LaCie that seemed like something out of a jewelry box.
The Christofle-LaCie team-up is at it again, this time with a hard drive seemingly designed by a gypsy (or Jeff Koons). The USB 3.0 Christofle Sphere is a one-terabyte number intended to sit on your desk and look purty, "hand-crafted and silvered in France" as it is.
Then again, maybe the reflective form does have a function, one more in step with our modern times: It'll let you take a selfie at your desk without having to stretch your arm out and aim.
De rigueur, classic-instrument-scored "the majesty of craft" video after the jump.
The Canadiano is freaking awesome. It's a single-serving coffee brewing device, for those of us who live alone, or those of you who live with other people but enjoy being selfish, and it's made out of wood.
Or one of three woods, specifically. You can order the Canadiano in Cherry, Walnut or Maple, and while we're not sure if this part is true or just hooey, the manufacturer claims that "the wooden piece will remember each cup of coffee you make."
Overtime the coffee oils of your specific beans and roast will be absorbed into the wood and be a part of your morning coffee experience... Each type of wood is matched with different beans and roasts from around the world. We encourage brewing single origin beans in the Canadianos. The Walnut edition is crafted and designed for use with darker roasts and earthier flavors such as beans from South East Asia. Maple and Cherry is designed for beans with slight citrus hints and nutty taste.
Is this 2014's first Photoshop hoax? That was the sentiment as the photo above was brought to the blogosphere's attention earlier this week. "What's the largest item you can have shipped from Amazon?" queried Reddit user listrophy. "Because I think my neighbor just got it."
More photographs of the mysterious box popped up on Twitter...
There are certain items that don't lend themselves to being hung on hooks, like towels, scarves and winter hats; mine like to stay on the hook for the first 30 seconds, but later I'll return to find them on the floor--which led to my dogs destroying my favorite rabbit-fur head-heater, which I purchased in Sweden. Sigh.
Ironically, the solution to this also comes from Sweden. Homeware manufacturer Linden Sweden sells the Clever Hook you see pictured above. It's tough to understand how it works by looking at a still photo, so watch this short vid:
Posted by Kat Bauman
| 7 Jan 2014
It's the dawn of a new year, a time that we often think about the future. For Cameron Smith, a professor of Anthropology at Portland State University, that future looks like something from a 1950s B-movie: He's building his own space suit by hand. When I say by hand, I mean by hand—he doesn't even own a sewing machine. Recently featured on the podcasts Destination DIY and 99% Invisible, Cameron's work is an impressive example of the weird world of DIY aeronautics. Motivated by the challenge of engineering his own answers to the technical difficulties of keeping a human body alive in the extreme pressures of space (officially bounded by the Karman line, for those interested), rather than design prize money or grants from an entity like NASA, he is definitely on the outer reaches of space engineering and DIY in general. To date, the only key component he hasn't fabricated himself is a Soviet space helmet. When stumped he often turns to Soviet designs, because their smaller space budget forced them to use more creative problem-solving.
Though it's still a work in process (the wearer can currently breathe in but not out—"It's a minor problem, we will fix it"), the pressurized suit is already stable and airtight enough to function at length underwater. Once the design is trustworthy, he intends to take the suit up to space-like conditions at 50,000 feet in a balloon-supported gondola - also made by hand. In the meantime, Cameron has teamed up with Copenhagen Suborbitals, a non-profit rocket building project operated out of an abandoned shipyard in Denmark. It may sound sketchy, but they are prolific and dedicated and making headway towards manned space flight.
I hate lifting a coffee cup and finding the coaster has stuck to the bottom of it. It's minor and merely annoying, yes, but on some level that's a design fail. Similarly, I find it absurd that I have to use two hands to de-dock my iPhone, to prevent the dock from coming up off the table with the phone.
That's why this next product sounds crazy but actually makes sense, or at least highlights the central flaw in the iPhone dock's design. Hanover-based Mac accessories manufacturer Hardwrk's Massive Dock is made out of concrete.
While we looked at Better Packages, Inc.'s cool automatic tape-dispensing machine, a pair of Cooper Union engineering students are hoping to get rid of packing tape almost entirely—by redesigning the box. Henry Wang and Chris Curro have developed the Rapid Packing Container, a re-think of the cardboard box that aims to make it easier to open, easier to seal, and easier to re-use. Have a look:
The two friends of mine who were raised by germ-freak, super-clean parents are the two who get sick the most often. My theory is that their immune systems were hobbled by them not being allowed to play in filthy sandboxes as kids. And while I'm not one of those anti-vaccination nuts, I'm fine with encountering a certain amount of dirt; hell, I'd better be, as I live in New York City.
Where do you draw the line with personal cleanliness? A company called PhoneSoap claims that your phone is filthy, filthy, filthy, and suggests you buy their $50 ultraviolet phone cleaner/charger to regularly disinfect it. Their website claims, in alarmist tones, that your phone is dirtier than your toilet seat; I've got news for you, I bet most things in most peoples' houses are dirtier than their toilet seats, because we clean toilets with harsh chemicals on a regular basis.
The hyperbole is laid on pretty thick, with the company citing Fox News to point out that "A cell phone has 18 times more bacteria than a public restroom" and claiming that "The way we use our phones makes us... sick" and then dropping this gem:
Not only are the extra bacteria on our phones bombarding our immune systems, they can also cause some serious facial effects. Some types of acne come directly from talking on the phone! Pressing your cheek and chin against your phone can exacerbate acne by allowing bacteria to get into those pores, causing chaos.
I'm not buying it. Are you?
It's been a while since I've seen any good urazawa, that being a Japanese word that loosely translates to a secret trick or shortcut to doing something, and commonly means something like "household tips" or life hacks. Urazawa are kind of a counterpoint to product design in that they're about solving problems, but through the user's behavior rather than refining the form of something. As we saw in Lisa Katayama's book on the subject, they can be something as simple as using newspapers to clean windows (to leave them streak-free) or as involved as boiling spinach to get coffee stains out of a carpet.
Those of you who've participated in Secret Santa gift circles know that the presents can be less than stellar. Anonymity coupled with a low percentage of creativity in the population can yield some boring tie clips, awful handmade tree ornaments and suspiciously dog-eared books.
It stands to reason, however, that the larger the Santa circle, the higher the chance that someone will receive a knockout gift. So it went with this year's Reddit Gifts Secret Santa, which signed up a staggering 121,916 participants from 161 countries. Reddit user and graphic designer "sickgnasty" received an innocuous box from "crespokid," and after photographically documenting an unboxing like any you've seen before, posted the results, which swiftly went viral.
The initial opening didn't appear too auspicious, yielding a mere stuffed shark.
However, the attendant card hinted at more:
His suspicious aroused, Sickgnasty then anaesthetized the shark (presumably in case it was still alive), and prepared to investigate.
Posted by Kat Bauman
| 16 Dec 2013
Gardening is known as a soothing, therapeutic pastime. Guns have a bit of a reputation for causing consternation, unsightly holes and bodily harm. To mix up these old world assumptions, ad firm Studio Total has unveiled a new product: the Flower Shell. Rather than pain and strife, these shells spread life. Load up with the standard 12 gauge shells (available in a dozen different flower types) and prepare to blast new growth into your yard. Beyond the addition of seeds, the amount of gunpowder has been reduced in proportion to the type of seeds used. But don't be concerned by the attenuated firepower—apparently this is a good thing in a product meant to be used at short-range near the home. Ideal for violently reseeding large empty fields and boring (hopefully unpopulated) garden beds.
Tired of both senseless gun violence and quiet, slow tinkering in the garden? Take replanting by storm and force the yielding soil into bountiful submission.
Note: This concept product is 100% questionable. To aid users, Studio Total has released this series of informative test videos on their Dr. Bronner's-like website.
As we saw last week, shipping containers carry our manufactured goods all around the world. There are some 17 million of them in existence, and that number will never shrink; no one can make a profit recycling shipping containers, because it takes a lot of energy to melt 8,000 pounds of steel down. So once brought into existence, these sturdy, hulking boxes are here to stay.
A portion of you are undoubtedly curious as to how they transform raw rolls of sheet metal into shipping containers. Well, here's how, as documented by Canadian company Big Box Steel. Pretty cool to see all of the jigs, rigs and fixtures, like the horizontally and vertically sliding chairs the welders sit in:
Image by Dale Purves (see info below)
One of the things I loved about seeing Scott Robertson's presentation on rendering tricks at Autodesk's CAVE Conference: The man still renders in Photoshop. I cut my ID teeth rendering bottles in Adobe's flagship product, and it's nice to see that not everyone has completely gone the 3D route.
When you're manually (albeit digitally) laying down gradations and layers, you quickly learn how much black you have to put into something to make it look white, and how much white you have to put into something to make it look black. The optical illusion up above, which has recently gone viral and is shocking to anyone who's never done an ID rendering, is an excellent example. The top chiclet is black and the bottom is white, right? Well, not if we look at it after masking off most of the drawing:
In 2010 we put out a call for entries seeking ID renderings of a cell phone airbag concept. Exactly zero of you responded (though six people left comments; most folks like to critique more than they like to do). In 2011 we discovered Apple had actually patented an airbag-like cell phone protection system. And this week, I became excited upon seeing links popping up to an airbag cell phone case supposedly developed by Honda.
This year's Autodesk University was the largest we'd attended, with around 10,000 bodies swarming through the enormous Exhibition Hall. But unlike in previous years, where we saw tons of neat physical gizmos—like Zebra Imaging's crazy holographic prints, the affordable but powerful ShopBot Desktop CNC mill or unusual interface devices like Leonar3Do's "Bird" 3D mouse—this year the bulk of the Hall was either things we'd previously covered, or software. Better content management software and rendering plug-ins do not a sexy blog post make, so we combed the floor seeking things that we could touch and feel.
Our criteria for finding physically-designed objects meant the pickings in the vast Hall were slim, but we did find the very unusual RollerMouse from Contour Design. Designed specifically for traders and CAD users with multiple-monitor set-ups, the RollerMouse is intended to increase efficiency and speed while reducing or preventing repetitive stress injuries. Have a look:
As I've said before, it doesn't make sense to me that the iPhone and iPad are such beautiful devices when naked, and yet we must swaddle them in protective covers in order to use them in our everyday lives. I use a cheapie silicone case for my iPhone, not because I like it, but because it's easier than most cases to remove the phone so I can place it in the dock. But now I've seen a better solution.
UK-based designers Jack Spencer and Alex Boswell (collectively known as Nodus) feel the same way as I do about the iDevices, and resolved to design handsome cases for them that could be quickly removed from each device. "We think that protecting your phone or tablet from everyday bumps and scratches is important," the duo writes, "[but feel that] a case should never impair your devices' functionality, tactile experience and amazing design." They turned to "micro-suction technology"—a kind of film that has millions of tiny suction cups embedded within its surface—and bonded it to the inside of a simple leather case of their own design. Check out the resultant adhesive power and attachment and removal procedures:
Posted by Ray
| 6 Dec 2013
The first result of a Google Image Search for "Technique"
"Is technique an example of overcoming 'bad' design, or is technique itself a form of design?"
So begins Sanjy009's inquiry into "Technique vs. Design," proceeding to illustrate the topic with a couple of examples, which have driven much of the discussion thus far. He starts with an anecdote about driver's ed in Scandinavia: "Sweden teaches drivers to open their car doors with the opposite arm, so their bodies are facing backwards and the driver is better able to check their blindspot before opening the door" (it turns out it might be Amsterdam; no confirmation as of press time), followed by a discussion of the ergonomics on musical instruments.
The latter serves as the primary talking point; to Michael DiTullo's point that "we are due for something new, but even most of the purely digital tools mimic analog inputs," I would note that:
1.) I think the Ondes Martenot is a good example of how an avant-garde instrument still requires an intuitive UI: It's essentially a theremin (i.e. a sine-wave generator) that has a graphic interface, as seen in this video overview (it starts a little slow, but gets pretty cool at 3:55; by the end, the interviewer notes that "It's definitely the most 'alive'-sounding electronic instrument... It has a very human quality to it.") Radiohead fans might recognize the coveted synthesizer, which multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood has played on every one of their albums since Kid A; it also features heavily in his solo side projects.
2.) The Tenori-On also comes to mind—the short write-up on MoMA's Inside/Out blog (they've acquired it in their permanent collection) offers a nice summary of how the 16×16 grid actually works.
Clockwise from top left: Ondes Martenot via Wikimedia Commons; Jonny Greenwood via Wikimedia Commons; Tenori-Onvia Wikimedia commons; Theremin player
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.
As I mentioned in this post on travel methodologies, I never travel with anything larger than a rolling carry-on. So if I'm flying someplace that has inclement weather and I think I might need to bring boots, I have a simple space-saving trick: I wear them onto the flight. Even filled with rolled-up socks and power cables, boots take up far too much space packed into luggage, whereas the sneakers I pack are easy to crush and stow.
The problem with the boots-wearing is, it's a pain unlacing and re-lacing them at the airport security line. But I think I've just found a solution: A company called LEMs, for Live Easy & Minimal, sells a collapsible, packable boot that I could easily squeeze into packed luggage.
If only there were, for every kid glued to an XBox, another kid like Wesley Souza. After observing how an escavadeira (excavator) works, the Brazilian teen replicated the hydraulic mechanisms using syringes and plastic tubing; with a little help from family member Lidio, he even carved up some wood scraps to create a working scale model.
See it in action:
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.
Posted by Kat Bauman
| 25 Nov 2013
Here's lookin' at you, kid
Never actually watched the black and white films everyone claims to love? No sweat. If you've got a mil' to kil' today you can massage your movie cred by buying THE Maltese Falcon. Or the getaway car from Casablanca. Or a gauzy garment from Gone with the Wind... the, ah stuff dreams are made of. Who could question you with that regal raptor on your mantle? Nobody, kiddo.
Winning bidder may or may not be required to reenact this scene.
If this video was just about a guy who makes things using only pre-1949 shop tools, it would be awesome (check out the wicked picket-cutting machine at 1:47). If it was just about a guy who can turn 1,200 cornerblocks by hand with machine-like accuracy, it would be awesome. And if it was just about a guy who teaches kids who have been thrown out of multiple reform schools how to make things, it would also be awesome. But it's all of those things and a fourth, much more important thing. Like inventor Ralph Baer, craftsman Eric Hollenbeck explains with brutal honesty why he continues to do what he's done for so long, and while his reason is wholly different from Baer's, it touches on a truth a portion of us will well recognize. It's no surprise this video is a Vimeo Staff Pick:
The beautifully-shot video was done by filmmaker Ben Proudfoot (who at 23, is perhaps too tender to immediately grasp why Hollenbeck didn't want to go to town for supplies). As for Hollenbeck, he runs Blue Ox Millworks and Blue Ox Community High School out of Eureka, California. For those of you living in the region, on the 29th and 30th of this month they'll be hosting their biannual Craftsman's Days local showcase event.
Before XBox, before Playstation, before Sega, even before Atari, there was the Magnavox Odyssey, the world's first game console. It was the work of Ralph Baer, an inventor who developed it in 1966 for a defense industry company that developed electronics, and by 1971 Magnavox had licensed it. Some of you weren't even born then, but that was the first brick laid in the road towards your white-knuckled Call of Duty sessions.
Back then the concept of an electronic game console was so new that the company had to print "Works on any television set, black and white or color" on the box, because people figured it would only work if connected to a Magnavox television. And while Atari later came out and familiarized more consumers with console gaming, it was Baer's Odyssey and the 350,000 units it moved that were undeniably first.
Amazingly, Baer—now 90 years old and still sharp as a whip—is still inventing! In this short video from PBS Digital Studios' "Inventors" series, Baer tells the sobering story of why he continues to work.