Design


Design&Futurism10 Feb 2006 11:00 am

I just was reading the recent issue of the trendwatching newsletter. I find tracking new trends to provide very useful insights into the markets, new businesses and emerging geopolitical and economic forces.

Some of the more relevant trends as listed by TrendWatching include:
Minipreneurs – this is the trend of consumers becoming entrepreneurs, this is heavily aided by online services like eBay and Paypal.

Hygienia – this is the trend of the mature global consumer being able to instantly and expertly rate the various factors for each and every good, service and experience on offer in the marketplace. These hyper consumers trained by years of consumerism and access to up to the minute detailed information for all the products and services are the future consumer.

No-Frills-Chic – exemplified by products from Muji or Ikea, these are low cost products that have a high degree of design and quality yet are still low in price. Often coupling superior customer service to deliver an overall positive customer experience, examples of this include Jet Blue or Song.

Design&Web02 Dec 2005 11:41 am

See I still use del.icio.us and here is why. Now my compatriot has been telling me how cool simpy is, but I have so much already invested in del.icio.us and frankly now that it has even tigher integration into firefox I am less likely to change. I mean its got handy buttons (See Fig 1)
and lets you take notes (See Fig 2) by highlighting portions of the current viewed page.

del.icio.us buttons
Fig 1

del.icio.us notes
Fig 2

I will be using it for the next week or so and write a more formal review then, in the meantime if you use del.icio.us check it out.

Design17 May 2005 05:27 pm

I have been mulling over the concept of design patterns as applied to life and societal problems. These would be patterns that humans use over and over again to solve problems, most any sort of problem. The first, perhaps most basic pattern that I have been contemplating is the concept of “Make the invisible visible”. This concept will form the nucleus to the solutions we arrive at for our most serious interpersonal and societal problems. Bold words I hear you say, well yes, but think about it. If you except the idea that most people when presented with the actual information about a given situation will make a choice in keeping with the ethics of reciprocity then you can’t help but conclude that presenting the actual information to the relevant people will net a solution. Now this grossly simplifies most problems and therefore their solutions, however it is also true that most of societies and peoples interpersonal problems come down to the choices they make regarding their actions in their sphere of influence.

Design&Futurism12 May 2005 02:16 pm

I have been saying for a long time that the solution to humanities energy needs is not going to be one single technology. Rather a constellation of technologies that all complement each other, solar, wind, tidal, thermal, nuclear, etc. Well a version of solar power I have been watching for some time is looking as if its going to come to the commercial market soon. It works very differently than traditional photovoltaics. It uses a Stirling engine and a solar collector to pump heat into the engine and from there a generator is turned producing electricity. Based upon a 1000 MW power plant the cost per kWh would be about 6 cents.

Given that the average cost of power so far in 2005 for residential users is 8.49 cents per kWh I think we are now ready for solar power.

Additionally technology like this must become our mainstay for power generation for a variety of reasons

Design&Tech10 May 2005 08:49 am

The Smithsonian is currently showing an exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum that showcases some textiles designed for extreme conditions and properties. What is of particular interest (as I am not going to DC until perhaps this winter) is that they have a flash version of the exhibit. To view this version go to their current exhibition listing and click on the Extreme Textiles link. Some of the highlights of the exhibit include Marlow Superline with a breaking strength of 4,416,000 pounds or the Airbeam inflatable bullet resistant arch used by the US Army to quickly create hangers for aircraft maintenance or the Rotor Blisk a rocket engine turbopump made of carbon fiber that is capable of functioning at up to 2,732F.

Design09 May 2005 08:27 am

I was poking around on one of my new favorite blogs titled “Creating Passionate Users” when I came across a reference to something really neat. Apparently Airstream hired Christopher Deam to design the interior of one of their trailers. To quote MoCoLoco “The summum of modern form and function – on wheels. ” I could not agree more. Apparently I am coming late to the party here with this trailer as it was introduced on 2003, but it sure is pretty and I sure do want one. Hmm perhaps I can add this to my Amazon wishlist…

This trailer is a wonderful example of design being used to transform the mundane into something elegant and that is actually a joy to use. This trailer reminds me of a concept I have been reading and thinking about for some time, namely that objects that are attractive actually seem to work better. Don Norman has written an informative piece about this, he points out what I think many people intuitively understand, attractive things work better. From a purely rational viewpoint this does not seem to logically follow, one would think that an object designed for pure functionality would always work better. In practice we find that this is not always the case.

There is a dynamic tension inherent between attractiveness and functionality and sometimes this results in attractive items that, given a specific environment, seem to work better. The example that Norman uses that most hits home for me is the idea of using a monochrome or grey scale computer monitor for my day to day computing needs. Rationally there is very little actual advantage to using a color monitor for most computer uses. But I am not giving up my color display, and likely neither will anybody else. This is simply because we like color, it is more attractive. In some instances color can be used to convey additional information, but for most computing tasks, programming, reading email, word processing, etc, color is nothing more than decoration. However our subjective experience of using color vs. grey scale is that color works better. Norman’s explanation for this is very cogent and relies upon the introduction of the concept of “affect”. To quote his essay – “Affect and cognition can both be considered information processing systems, but with different functions and operating parameters. The affective system is judgmental, assigning positive and negative valence to the environment rapidly and efficiently. The cognitive system interprets and makes sense of the world. Each system impacts the other: some emotions — affective states — are driven by cognition, and cognition is impacted by affect.”

Affect is our instantaneous reaction to the people, things and events around us. This response is emotional and colors our views and actions in the light of our emotional rather than rational experiences. From a brain chemistry POV we find that different emotional states alter our brain chemistry, and this in turn alters our perceptions and cognitive functions. Depending on a given situation and its resulting affect our cognition or reason will occur in either a depth first or breadth first manner. This results in thinking that is either very focused and not easily distractible or thinking that is very broad and more prone to very creative, easily distractible thinking. The easiest example for either type of thinking I can think of involves driving. So imagine you are driving to work listening to good music, the road is clear and your mind is relaxed and unfocused. This environment is one that would cause positive affect in most people. You are thinking of many different things, all at once. Basically mentally you are playing with concepts such as: designing houses, coding problems at work, dog training, etc. All of a sudden you see flashing lights ahead and in the distance an accident that is crawling with police and emergency services appears. Immediately your mind shifts gears and becomes intensely focused on driving and the immediate environment. All other thoughts disappear and suddenly you are applying your breaks, changing lanes, and more to the point, you are now paying “the fuck” attention. This shift in thinking and behavior results from the instantaneous negative affect caused in response to the situation. In my experience logic and reason follow after the oh shit response has already occurred.

Negative affect focuses the mind, making it less distractible and positive affect broadens the thought processes, making it more distractible. This has broad yet simple consequences for design. Things used in stressful, negative affect situations, must accommodate people who may have a high level of focus, perhaps even tunnel vision. Therefore they must be well designed so that they are both simple to use and understand. Whereas things designed for positive affect situations should reinforce the positive affect, by making the person experience more positive affect. This change in information processing then allows the person to be more creative and makes their work easier. Hence items that create a positive affect, and most attractive items do enhance positive affect, encourage creative activities. Hence attractive tools do actually work better.

And what does this have to do with trailers… well what is going to be the more comfortable therefore easier to use trailer, this one or this one.


Coffee&Design25 Apr 2005 08:35 am

Last week my former, clog and leak brown staining liquid on the floor, coffee maker had a quick trip to coffee maker hell by way of the kitchen waste bin. Later that day I purchased a new coffee maker, err coffee lifestyle. I had seen this brew “system” at a Peaberry coffee shop nearby my office and it seemed like a reasonable (crazy) way to make coffee. Essentially you brew the coffee cold for 16 hours and make a super coffee concentrate, that according to the makers and my own experience makes for a less acidic and I think less bitter cup of coffee. Using this concentrate and hot water (1 part concentrate to 3 parts water or to your taste for stronger coffee) you can make decent coffee, one cup at a time. This super concentrate sits in the refrigerator until you have the need for caffeine.

The convience and improved taste are great. Until you go and drink coffee out anywhere else, this is when you truly realize that it is both a system and a lifestyle. Cruddy coffee at Denny’s, never gonna drink that again, bitter coffee at work, never gonna drink that again. Damn. At least I can put some coffee concentrate in a thermos and take it with me to work.

Design21 Apr 2005 08:29 am

Don Norman author of numerous design books has a savory website where he shares many of his erudite and insightful essays on the science and philosophy of design. In a particularly charming essay he writes about several well designed objects. After reading this essay I am going to have to go out and purchase the best fountain pen I have ever seen
they are retractable non-leaking fountain pens. Mmmm fountain pen.
namiki pens

Design20 Apr 2005 08:33 am

As I begin to think about what a house should look like I am struck by the nature of the beast. My family and I will actually have to live there, probably for years and perhaps decades. I could easily vapor lock on this kind of problem (I have been known to spend 20 minutes picking out the perfect hammer, and don’t take me to a grocery store unless you have a LOT of time) and find that I have spent days grinding on issues/options without making any choices. The basic issue here is that sometimes too many choices make me question my decision making and then lead to expectations that are unrealistic. Essentially a terrible case of choice-overload ensues. Sometimes less is more.

Usually when faced with decisions that require this kind of insight to solve I remember one of my favorite Mamet lines from the movie Heist, “I … imagine a fella smarter than myself. Then I tried to think, “what would he do?”"

Put another way, I google, looking for the smarts I don’t have, but can copy. I am a huge fan of serendipity, Dirk Gently style, so I often hit google in an almost random way. First thing I found was a few references to the aforementioned smarter fellas, guys who have though a lot about the design patterns inherent in building structures for people. And I thought that was only a software thing… nope turns out the Bricks and Mortar people have been thinking this way for years. And they are also thinking about the concept of refactoring buildings too. If you dig a little further into this you find that people use pattern language to describe the patterns inherent in the successful design of most everything. Now that is damn cool. The books are on order from Amazon, should be good reading and help me make progress on the march to a new house.

Design19 Apr 2005 10:51 am

I have been infatuated with modern design for some time now and I am in the market for a new house. The fusion of these two topics is leading to some interesting options, namely prefab. Did I say trailer, did you read that word. No. Put it out of your mind.

This is modern designer housing, lets call it Modern Modular. See isn’t that better. Anyway, what I am finding is that you can get an architect designed house for $130 to $145 a square foot, more if you suffer in the housing markets on the coasts. Generally this does not include land or other site prep. That is a really good price for a custom home. I am excited, I don’t want a house that is cookie cutter suburban drek, I want a house more like this. So far the winner in my book for cost and sheer badass design is the flatpak house it combines green building concepts with high design in a way that is very appealing.

Now I am off to think about floor plans and layout, I am going to use graph theory to find an optimal layout. Should be interesting to explain this to the SO.

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