Throwing Light

For Christmas I bought Wen an “Etch” by Tom Dixon. It’s a tetradecahedron (14 sides; mixture of hexagons and squares) where 13 of the faces have hundreds of holes cut in them and one face is open. You’re supposed to leave the open face up and drop a candle in it.

However, our apartment is full of candles (they were my mom’s gift of choice for years; we have a great selection) so I’ve basically sworn that I’m not allowed to bring any into the house. Plus, I thought it would be more interesting if the Etch was flipped upside down and instead powered by a brighter-than-a-candle-and-more-colourful-too BlinkM (an LED that can be programmed to cycle through colours).

Here’s the result:

I built a little box to house the BlinkM and it’s battery pack; the Etch sits on top of it. The video doesn’t do it justice (I don’t really know how to do low lighting video) and definitely doesn’t capture the range of lights and shadow-or the nifty projections it makes on the ceiling.

Here are a couple of photos to give you a better idea of what it looks like when lit up:

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit 2012

Last weekend I went over to Emily Carr to check out the graduation exhibit. It’s a fount of creativity and fun to explore – the exhibit is grouped by type (e.g., sculpture vs. industrial design vs. art, etc.) so you find yourself using different parts of your brain as you wander the building.

Here are some highlights.


I’m a sucker for line art:

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

This was just so preposterous that I felt that it needed to be included. Female, West Coast Jesus; hells yeah.
Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012


Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012 Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012


I thought this attempt at rebranding Canada was an ambitious project (plus I’m a sucker for intricately drawn circles – which in this case actually were supposed to convey meaning, not just look pretty):

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

Industrial Design

The flip vase can be used in either vertical orientation:

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

This chair is designed for the elderly; the knobs in each hand rest allow them to easily toggle music on/off and fastforward/rewind.
Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

And finally, this beautiful lamp is made out of the byproduct of everyday manufacturing:

Emily Carr Graduate Exhibit Spring 2012

People Making Pretty Things

Last night Wen & I went and saw Objectified, Gary Hustwit’s new movie documenting how the best designers in the world create new, desirable objects.Objectified Hand-drawn Poster

He’s interviewed the leading luminaries in the business – Jonathan Ives, Dieter Rams, Karim Rashid, Naoto Fukasawa, everybody at Ideo, Marc Newson, the Bouroullec brothers, etc. – and they shed their thoughts on how it’s done.

It’s an illuminating story – one of the most memorable scenes is Fukasawa describing how he created a phone to have faceted faces so that you’d want to touch it.  He talks about how we subconsciously play with the phones in our pockets – and he wanted to create a phone that would encourage you to do this without thinking.  His philosophy is that great “design dissolves into behaviour.”

The movie is great, although it occasionally feels like some of the designers are great posers.  Some credibly talk about the philosophy of how they create objects (notably Fukusawa, Ives, Rams and Rashid), with an emphasis on solving people’s problems with the simplest of designs.  However, some of the other designers let slip that “we just threw the buttons on it” or something similar, undermining the attempts of their peers to demonstrate that there might be a science behind their art.

The other unnerving element of the movie comes when Paolo Antonelli suggests that she would like to see designers as the new intellectuals consulted by government whenever there is a public policy issue.  Something about this just doesn’t feel right, and it is demonstrated by a scene where a bunch of Ideo staffers try to re-imagine the toothbrush.  The team spends a few days trying to imagine the future of oral care and create a toothbrush with a lower environmental impact.  The result of the drill is a new toothbrush with a replaceable head: a product that will almost certainly never make it to market.

It won’t make it to market, not because it’s a bad product, but because it does not recognize that reducing the environmental impact of a toothbrush isn’t just about building a better product.  It’s about consumer behaviour: how do you change user’s behaviour when the current toothbrush satisfices; it’s about supply chains: how do you sell this product and get it distributed.  The overwhelming sense was that these designers don’t scale: they can create beautiful products but when it came to addressing world-changing issues, they naively assume that a perfect product will sell itself (if the history of the computer industry has taught us nothing else, it’s that better products alone do not suffice – check out the Mac and the Xerox Alto).

Despite this, I highly recommend seeing the movie as it is entertaining and engaging.  Also, if you live in NYC, a lot of the stock footage is shot here and it’s alway fun to see your city in a new light.

State of the (Design) Union

On Wednesday night I attended a meeting by the IxDA‘s New York chapter talking about the current state of interaction design.  It was an enlightening conversation.  If you know nothing about the topic, here’s a laundry list of things they talked about:

  • There was an emphasis on “bringing design back”: the need to find a balance of the art and science of design.  If you’ve no idea of what this means, Frank Gehry is the poster child for design as art; Jacob Nielsen for design as science.  Each evokes fiery passion amongst their supporters.  The iPhone is currently considered the best bridge of the two: cutting edge materials science combined with an artistic, empathetic experience.
  • As interaction designers seek to find this balance, they’re exploring the “craft” aspect of their profession.  One popular tool for this is sketching experiences: think Bill Verplank (pdf) and Bill Buxton.
  • Similar to this, interaction designers are struggling to reconcile that their profession is a combination of design and engineering – which brings a set of challenges.  Engineers tend to focus on one issue and keep iterating to a solution; each iteration gets closer.  Designers are much more nonlinear; they iterate on mulitple rounds of designs but are constantly bringing old designs back into the process.
  • An interesting concept that was bandied about talked about “great design being the embodiment of a story”.  A few examples are a Nokia nano-tech phone video and the Google Chrome comic.  The iPhone come up again here; the idea being that a user’s interaction with it is a narrative and it tells you what to expect.
  • This led to a nice discussion about product ecosystems.  From a designer’s perspective, the ecosystem enables a new set of experiences when you connect people using the products inside the ecosystem.  Examples are the Nike Plus social network for runners and a Ford concept that takes performance and geolocation data from hybrid cars and shares it with other hybrid owners.
  • Here are three more random thoughts from the session:
    • Designers don’t create ideas, they create things that embody the idea
    • Dopplr is fascinating as they created a web service that was designed to require no website; in theory, you never need to go to it – you can just use APIs instead
    • Wireframes are not a good enough tool.  They do not have enough fidelity as they lack the dimension of time

A small bonus: the session was held at Bloomberg’s amazing headquarters.  I snapped this photo before a security guard ran me down and told me “no more photos”.

    The Future Today

    Personally, I’ve never really wanted to be Tom Cruise – with the exception of two moments.  The first was when he was rocketing around in an F-14 Tomcat in Top Gun.  The second was when he got to play with that really cool interface in Minority Report (and yes, I’m aware that this makes me a total geek):

    I’ve known that if you get wealthy enough you can always buy a jet fighter (Larry Ellison and his son have mock dogfights over the Pacific), but how about that interface?

    Today I found out that it might be coming a little sooner than the jet, thanks to Oblong Industries.  Check out this video of their G-Speak “spatial operating environment”.  Then you can compare it with the original Minority Report user interface.