28 April 2011

double dose of technology

as i was walking out of my daughter's school this morning, i noticed the 'tech-age mailbox'... there were so many things about this box that caught my attention: the hard-to-describe color; the strongly utilitarian shape; the choice of assembly and hardware; the semi-hanging label that revealed it's previous purpose; the strong presence of the lockpad which seemed so intimidating yet so easy to violate if someone really wanted to. but i guess what stroke me the most was the contrast of the name 'tech-age' with a product that didn't convey a high level of technology. but still, when you think about it every single component of that box is a product of technology.
later in the day i had the pleasure of meeting alan heller and spending a couple of hours listening to him talking to design students. heller is a great design facilitator, mastermind of many iconic chairs such as the bellini chair. i say mastermind because although heller does not design any chairs, he finds technologies that can lead to interesting new chairs, then thinks of a great designer that could design such piece and then brings together all the components necessary in making the chair a reality. i was really intrigued by how his approach is completely technology-based. he does not begin with a cool chair in mind... he begins with a manufacturing technology that excites him and ends with a seating device meticulously crafted by a high-profile designer.
these two encounters were refreshing doses of technology... a word than is nowadays often linked to things like interfaces, hot-spots, HD and wi-fi.

20 April 2011

symmetry and balance

i fell in love with radiolab in 2006. every one of their episodes is so inspiring and really makes you think... and inspired people that think tend to do interesting things. one of their latest shows is on symmetry. along with their usual podcast they also have a cool video (embedded above). well, today i loaded the podcast to my ipod and decided to listen to it during my run. i was hoping for something inspiring and radiolab never disappoints. one minute into the video it clicked to me: symmetry is about halves... symmetry is about balance... symmetry is about order. symmetry is good in design because it makes evident the need for the other half. just as we look for someone that is our other half, our soulmate, we look for products that are our other halves. products with good soul-matting potential (symmetry, balance, order) are easier to assimilate and to engage with.
but what about layouts that are not symmetrical but are still engaging? well, it all comes down to balance. the more i think about it the more i think that balance is the main attribute here and symmetry is just a type of balance. symmetry can be a more linear, static type of balance... asymmetry, focal points and other groupings are dynamic types of balance. whenever i think about relationships between products and users i realize that it's all about balance. [good] designs are effective extensions of ourselves. they provide us balance in situations where we would feel unbalanced otherwise.

16 April 2011

just good enough

there's something magical about muji... the simplicity of their designs... the harmony of their collections... the environmentally-responsible practices... the minimalist packaging. above all, there is their philosophy: just good enough. so simple, so effective, so good.

i still remember the first time that i heard about muji's 'just-good-enough' design approach. it surprised me that people were talking about it in positive notes. my experience with this notion had been a little bit different: many corporations also use the 'just-good-enough' approach, but more in terms of creating products cheap enough so that people want to buy them... reliable enough so that they barely pass certification tests... innovative enough so that marketing can sell them. it's really nice to see how a company can look at the glass half full and embrace such concept to elevate design and to make many people drool over clever products.

music & design

i have this theory that people's values remain the same in most aspects of their lives. for example, the clothing style that you like will be consistent with the music you listen to, the type of products that you buy, sites that you visit online, food that you eat, etc. they are all connected by you... your taste... your values.

whenever i think of music, it strikes me how well defined it is. music is intangible yet there's a very clear way of describing it, writing it and reading it that transcends languages and cultures. a lot of times i wished that design had a similar way of describing it. just as a musician or composer can write down and communicate harmonies, scales, orchestrations, a designer could communicate flow, balance, function, experience.  yes, designers can specify materials, geometry, assembly methods... but design is so much more than that... there's a big component of design (perhaps the most important) that does with meaning and experience that is not quantitative but qualitative... musicians are able to combine quantitative musical notation with qualitative expression but i don't think designers are as effective at this.

i've often imagined a system where you can connect design values to music values... you would know that materials in a product tend to reflect harmonies; types of surfaces and parting lines connect with melody; scale and flow reflect rhythm and lyrics. so if someone tells you that they like johnny cash, for example, you could take that music and use it to create products that would integrate the same values and therefore be popular with country-rock music fans. i think this idea can work... yet i've never been able to develop this concept... other projects always get in the way. a few years ago i read an article in new yorker magazine that described a similar concept. it described how this company called "mediapredict" would analyze trend patterns from one area/industry and use them to predict the potential success of a product in another category. for example, the potential success of an upcoming book could be predicted by comparing it to the current trends seen in top 40 hits... i wonder what type of decisions made the designers of 'monster beats' say: yeah, these headphones look like dr. dre.

11 April 2011

what makes timeless design

first off... this is not a blog about cars. it just happens that the first topics covered here have found great examples in the auto industry.

i've been thinking a lot about planned obsolescence lately. the more i think about it the more it makes sense that products need to be as timeless as possible. what a great feeling to have a product that gets better with time! while driving i've noticed a lot of cars and how they reflect their planned obsolescence... here are a few of my insights:

-price has little to do with timelessness. i've seen timeless cars in all price ranges. the idea of something more expensive lasting for longer is actually a myth, at least in terms of cars... take a look at audi: expensive cars... cool cars... cars that have face-lifts way too often. i have to admit* that bmw does a better job at designing cars that don't look old after three years. [*=i'm not a big fan of bmw and i prefer audi's clean lines]

-most (current) timeless cars are niche cars: new bettle, element, prius, mini, jeep, mercedes g-glass... all niche cars that show little changes as they evolve. does that mean that timeless design needs to be bold and unique?

-timeless/niche cars have a hard time surviving: i always wanted a new beettle... too bad because they have been discontinued. i'm glad that i had an element at some point because they will stop making them this year. it sort of makes me wonder which are the new contenders for timeless cars...

-mainstream cars are not good candidates for timelessness... camry, civic, santa fe, c-class... they have been around for long (some more than others) but they have to play the "why be you when you can be new" game in order to survive.

this last insight drove me to a scary thought... does that mean that mainstream design cannot be timeless design? i mean, take a look at target*: new cool products for every season, which means clearance bins filled with christmas products because valentine's products need the shelves now, followed by easter products, summer products, fall products, halloween products and then christmas products again (not the same products from last year... that would be so last year). i will keep thinking more about this because i don't want to accept that timeless design and mainstream design do not go hand in hand. that would a scary, scary reality. [*i tend to go off tangents frequently, but i like to think that it makes for more interesting narratives]

10 April 2011

professional grade

gmc finds pride in being professional grade... basically saying: we're big, bold, massive, over the top... and we don't care. too bad they don't get it. that philosophy is what got them in trouble and instead of redefining themselves as a global company that is more sensitive to broader needs and trends they stay with their narrow, ill-founded, excessive approach... it is good to be proud of who you are... but it's even better to acknowledge when you need to evolve.