Most useful session of the week so far: Gray Holland's "Industrial Design 101," a talk aimed at explaining the design process to engineers and managers who work with ID.
We were expecting a simple explanation of the iterative creative process, and an introduction to the designer's tool box--what we got was perhaps the most elegant, thoughtful analysis we've yet seen of the relationship between surface geometry and user perception.
It's a grave disservice to try and summarize a meticulous hour and a half presentation in a few grainy screenshots, but we asked Gray, and he said it's all right. So here it is, abbreviated unto absurdity:
1. Surface transitions: G0 (positional, sharp), G1 (tangent), G2 (curvature continuous)--anyone who's ever done surface modeling knows these...and probably defaults to tangency. It's a simple way to keep from cutting yourself on a sharp edge, and most modeling software makes it easy.
2. But G1 transitions, it turns out, almost never occur in nature. Sharp edges are sharp (lizard scales, fingernails), and curved transitions are continuous (nearly everything else). This gives an inherent emotional association with each type of transition: G0 is aggressive and menacing, G2 is sensual and elegant, both aspects of nature. G1 by contrast is clearly man-made, and thus associates with a precise, utilitarian aspect.
This reads pretty clearly in car designs:
and in product design as well:
Gray quickly points out, though, that especially in product, G1 transitions are the norm, with sharp edges reserved for objects that speak of accuracy, and continuous curvature for sports cars and expensive furniture.
Well and good, but here's where it gets truly useful. Print this out (or wait for the higher res version Gray will be supplying shortly) and hang it on the wall:
What we've got is a clear and simple depiction of how the same fundamental form can feel completely different depending on the combination of surface transitions used. The three central models represent pure G0, G1 and G2 continuity; the three at the corners represent their hybrids; the top of the pyramid, for example, is a G2 form with G0 "bone lines" added to incorporate hard breaks--sensuality plus precision, a geometric strategy employed in countless successful sports cars of late.
Want further example? Consider the Apple PowerBook of 2001:
And it's most recent counterpart:
So the next time you get into an engineering argument about why it needs to look exactly this way, or a client tells you they want to be like Apple, you can give them some math.
With thanks and apologies to Gray Holland of Alchemy Labs, and Autodesk University.
>>View all AU 2008 coverage here.