Broadcasting the Things that You Own – Designing Personal Product Advertisements.

I didn’t actually look at the Instructable that this image is from as I’m not really looking to make a clutch or even carry one for that matter. What interests me is the idea behind it. A transparent carry case that allows everyone to see exactly what you are carrying. Sounds kind of crazy right? I have heard that there’s a lot of personal stuff in a purse, why would you show the contents?

The real question is why did this concept take so long to come to fruition? In today’s society there are many  people who define themselves by the items they have. It’s branding run crazy.

I just want to be clear that I am not judging anyone here, these are merely observations and regurgitations of papers I have read. Whether this sort of lifestyle is right or wrong is beyond my scope but speaking to the utility of this sort of product is interesting when framed in this regard and certainly should be digested.

That said, shouldn’t the next step be to help broadcast who you are by showing which breath mints you carry and what phone you use? With this transparency you can do just that. You can broadcast the lifestyle you have crafted without the need for excuses to put them out to demonstrate your brand allegiance, and by extension, who you wish to be.

My thought that the transparent purse is just another step in allowing for people to craft and broadcast the sort of person they see themselves to be. People define themselves increasingly with brands and products. Perhaps the opacity of how we carry our precious items will further recede. The need to show ‘ourselves’ through these brand extensions will overshadow the necessities of privacy or security. In a way, this overshadowing could be reasoned as already being played out on social networking sites, where we put up our private items and we broadcast these along with a list of all the brands and companies we feel aligned with. Yes, I like Starbucks and afterwards, use(like) Altoids. I also like my Blackberry. It helps craft how we’d like people to perceive us to be.

It would be interesting to see how this would play out for the males of the world. Would this transparency drive the so-called ‘man-purse’ into general popularity? How would men display their Axe spray and their Droid phones? Would belt holders come back? Transparent pockets?

Perhaps the whole enterprise is the new way of mating. Instead of puffing out our chests and displaying our feathers, we show off our iPods and coffee. Others would have an instant conversation starter: “Oh, you have an iPhone 4? So do I, it’s black!” as they could see all the time that you have such an item and a mutual connection, perhaps. If you’re going to advertise, wouldn’t you want to market yourself all the time? Why let opacity slow you down?

Obviously, with the ‘ups’ there are always ‘downs’ – the unfortunate aspects of Too Much Information. Imagine the club guys displaying their condom brands because they’re ‘ready to party’ or perhaps more unfortunate times when someone forgets that the case is transparent, making things worse than walking around with your zipper down. I really don’t think we need to hear actual examples as I imagine a litany of terrible thoughts just popped into everyone’s heads!

Does it go further? Do these devices then become items that are designed to show off what you are about? Do you make sure to bring exactly the right things to show off? A handy mantle for which to put your prised items? Some things to think about.

Tableware by Ilan Sinai – thinking new in tableware design

One of the services that designers provide to the client and to the world, really, is the capability of looking at things in a manner other than what is common. Some designers are able to envision new things that break from paradigms while others are more of the ‘developer’ sort, being able to take the current and refine it to something far better.

It seems to me that there are some areas where things are over-designed, with every successive designer’s stabs not able to really break the mold of the norm, merely settling for alterations in styling. There are many reasons why this happens and a lot of times, its input far beyond the designer’s control. One area that’s really hit hard with design stagnation (despite a wealth of products coming out) is in the kitchen. So much new stuff yet nothing really exciting, interesting or just plainly better.

When one drills down even further to tableware, it becomes even more evident. What was the last new interesting thing there? Square plates? Sectioned plates? Personally, when I’m just browsing through stores, I don’t really bat an eye at the segment. It’s just not a place where innovation is allowed or perhaps sought after, it seems.

Along comes Ilan Sinai (if you can hear me out there, Ilan, you need a website!) with his new collection of tableware that is really, honestly, a refreshing break from current offerings. Now I know that there are far deeper thoughts involved in the pieces – something about the senses and you can read about it at Design Milk.

While I’d like to consider the aspects of the senses portion of the concepts, I can’t get past how the designer has really worked on the interaction of person and the items that hold and deliver the entrées.  After looking at the images of the person holding the items, you can’t help but think our current forks, knives and bowls are really not designed for the human experience. My tableware seems like they were designed for aliens or something in comparison.

Moving past these to the dishes which create new ways to control and introduce differing food offerings, is really interesting. These could have a pretty big impact on the actual recipes we create. Should some of these become available, would they have recipes made for them, much like the Bundt Cake pan? It’s a nifty thought to think that perhaps tableware could drive cooking innovation, no?

All in all, a very interesting project and I hope that some of these actually make it to market and even more so, tableware designers and makers take notice of the really thoughtful execution of interaction that these items exhibit.

When Apparel and Body Become One – Designing for Direct Attachment to the Human Form

We constantly want more from our bodies. There are very large efforts to milk even more performance from ourselves and we’re increasingly turning to technology to do so. Up to this point, nearly everything we have to extend our body’s capabilities has been more or less mechanically fastened to us. Clothes are, for the most, draped upon us and sinched to fit. Items are tied, belted, buttoned or zipped to hold in place where we’d like them to be. Possibly the greatest invention recently was lycra, giving us a more or less custom and flexible fit, previously unavailable. Aside from that, we’re still essentially strapping our ‘armor’ on in the same manner as the Roman Legions have.

Along comes this concept from Frieke Severs: Footstickers

While this concept has it’s roots in the bare foot running sensation, the idea is that one would attach enhancements to the foot directly using adhesive rather than current shoe technology, providing:

“…better motion control, more feeling in your feet and direct floor contact, etc. In this way you are more grounded and more aware of your feet and movements. Its also a good training for stronger feet. But a disadvantage is the risk of injuries, you can easily twist or slip…The footsticker improves the activity and keeps the bare foot feeling!  The flexible material feels like a second skin. This footsticker gives you more grip, support and protection.”

I have to admit that I am jealous that I didn’t come up with such a great idea, but I think that this concept can be taken into any number of interesting directions. Think of all the things that use fasteners on the body that you could replace. If one could find a strong enough and perhaps reusable, bio-safe adhesive for footwear, then certainly you could adhere your watch, for example. Obviously this would lead to some pretty nifty things in the jewelry department. These are pretty easy ones to guess at, though.

If you really put on the thinking cap, you could postulate that such technology could be used to place a “belt” on your person that would adhere to you and at the same time keep your pants at the right spot all the time. Whole new undergarments could be had which would be as flexible as you are but connected at just the right spot for as long as necessary, regardless of your shape.  Going past fashion, think of the capabilities for work wear or atheletic wear.

It will be an interesting time if we adopt the technology of directly adhering things to ourselves. Plenty of design ‘doors’ open up at the thought. I think I would be safe in thinking that the very method of clothing design would change – and hopefully it won’t lead to the scary jumpsuit future of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is interesting to think of what else we might be able to use this tech for and what we might be able to affix to ourselves.

Perhaps in the future, we will be bejeweled with our items from media devices to clothing, stickered up things in a complex infrastructure that mirrors our own internal working and our psyche. Some of these things would be for our own health, like sensors to monitor body functions or perhaps even bracing to make up for failing body parts. There will be the underwiring of supports for activities that belts or bras used to perform, holding articles in place without the needs for buckles or snaps. Then there will come all of the vanity items. Shapes and devices to tuck, streamline, augment and bedazzle ourselves both under our attire and outside of it. These things will make the Bump-it look prehistoric.

All in all, we could be making ourselves into a version of the Army’s MOLLE system under our clothes.

Imagine what a person from the 1800’s would think of us? Aliens or gods to be sure.

Stepping Away from Clean Modernism in Design

For the longest time, it seems that styling has favored the clean, smooth, shiny looks. The patron saint of such a design ethos could be Apple for all their work simplifying products and generally aligning themselves with the design principles of Dieter Rams.

Everything in the Art – and by extension – the Design world works on a pendulum. The pendulum swings from extreme to extreme. I think the last few years has seen it swing to the minimalist, modernist extreme, now it’s on its way back. What’s on the other side? Something that’s the antithesis of minimalism – ornamentation.

The first place one sees the sprouts of a change is in the work of people unassociated with large corporations or movements. Large companies require huge efforts to point themselves in different directions – even a company like Apple. Just look at the sort of effort needed to change the path of a company like GM to just make even slightly more fuel-efficient vehicles.

I try to keep my fingers on the pulse of things and do my best to squint out changes in trends for the future. My thought is that ornamentation, perhaps on the back of mass customization, is its in. I have a few examples here from Floris Wubben here:

It’s interesting to see Floris use natural elements in his No. 3 Bench that have a built-in sort of ornamentation to offset the clean modernist portions of the bench – and to good effect. Nature is an excellent jumping-off point for a stylistic tour of embellishment beyond small chrome bits. The strengths of such features lies in the patterning and tinting that makes us comfortable through our continued exposure to the organic world.

Taking a step further down the path of ornamentation, leads me to work by Kiki Van Eijk:

These “Floating Frames” point to the opposite of the clean white pill-shapes of conventional offerings right now – hand-made and intricate works that reflect a certain organic craftsmanship that alludes to one-off customization.

I think in the coming future that people (but not all people) will endeavor to search out items like these, mainly to have something that is special and original. It flies in the face of the items that are stamped out in factories and will provide the groundwork to the consumer’s need to feel unique.

Eventually, large producers will begin to adopt the trend, offering things that are nearly ‘one-off’ like to gather in this business – but by then, I am sure the pendulum will be swinging for minimalism once again.

Google Books to Encourage E-Reader Design?

This week’s buzz is all about Google’s new ebook venture. There are a lot of reasons for this, like Google muscling in on Amazon or whatever but the thing that interests me is that Google’s method of delivery poises the market for perhaps an increase in e-reader competition.

Currently, most large e-reader offerings are locked in to only one system. The Kindle can really only work with Amazon, the Nook pretty much is stuck with Barnes & Noble’s plan and the iPad with Apple’s iTunes. To heap it on, these readers are pretty much the only devices you can buy for each of them (Sure you can read a book on your phone, too. but really? who does that?). If you’re an independent e-reader manufacturer, you’re pretty much out of luck getting into these things.

Why does this matter? It makes a sort of oligopolistic silo system where innovation doesn’t really have to flourish and prices don’t have to really come down. Everything can stay the same. There will only be one price point for entrance into the wonderful world of ebooks for the consumer and those same prices for the readers will remain at a level that will basically hasten the obsolecence of the e-reader at the the hands of lower-end tablets. This would really be a shame if that were to happen.

The e-reader concept is a great one: a simple device where you just read things on. The root cause of it’s death, up to this point is their price. Let’s face it: an e-reader (and especially not a color one) should be below $100. Ideally, it should be a shade over $50. What would you get with that? a basic book-reading device that has adequate storage, WI-FI  and maybe a media player. The end.  Prices of $250 or even $140 are just too high and begin to compete with cheap tablets, and while cheap tablets are not completely here right now, oh, boy! They will be! Just have a look at some Chinese companies’s sites, you can get an Android tablet right now and cheaper than a Kindle!

This is where Google comes in.

Now that nearly any device with a browser can access their collection, they’ve essentially democratized the ebook market, allowing for e-reader manufacturers to compete with each other to not only strengthen and streamline their offerings but also serve to drive down product costs.

I imagine that this incumbent battle will yield some pretty nifty desgin, like hopefully e-readers with larger displays, perhaps text-book sized or even coffee-book sized ones. There could also be markets opening for specialized versions, perhaps designed for specific tasks like an element-proof kitchen book or a ruggedized version for working in the shop or under your car. While these seem like things that would be excellently serviced by a tablet, the savings of the more simple reader could be rolled into the specializations for specific environments and uses.

In short, Google’s platform agnosticism may actually bring about a cheap accessible world of e-readers that may finally drive the coffin nail for paper – or at least get a cheap-ass like me to buy one!

New Allegorical Iconography in Rug Design.

When people think of Persian rugs, I don’t think it really comes to mind that the shapes included within the weaving is sort of telling a story. The iconography is pretty distinct as well as the choices of color in the design of the rugs – this is an aside from the signature design dialects which vary from region to region in the Middle East and adjoining producer areas.

It’s kind of like the allegory one can find in Renaissance/Romantic painting. What saddens me a bit is that I know that this carefully woven-in information is, by and large, lost on most of the viewers of such things. Perhaps it’s that we’ve moved past this sort of story telling?

Then I happened upon these new rugs from Florian Pucher & Sophia Liu Bo which are woven depictions of aerial-view geographic land features.

The color blocks are described by land usage of farmers or bisected by street patterns. My thought about these visually interesting rugs is that perhaps we’re actually seeing a change in our iconographies, in our visual story telling. It would be nice to think that there were certain weavers who live in the country who’d produce works that would reflect their locality and still others that would make rugs reflective of their cities, but obviously, these come from one source.

I think they’re still rather invigorating iconographically – perhaps these rugs then describe the owners’ interest rather than the maker’s? I suppose back in the days before mass-market carpet manufacture, a Persian rug was created for a specific person. I think I recall that they were created for special events and given to the lucky recipients (don’t quote me on that!), thus commemorating an important time their lives and the significance compounded by a visual representation of the event woven in, like an engraving.

Maybe these rugs could be read something greater than “they look pretty” and more about something about the owner, perhaps the owner is from a rural location where the farming fields are reminiscent or what would be even better is if the process could be automated where someone could send in the local that they would like and it could be made. It would be  mass customization with a bit of meaning rather than just styling. The world needs less styling (or ‘design’ as most say) and much more meaning.

What Else Will There Be Besides Tablets?

There seems to be a trend where when a new classification of consumer electronic device is released, there are calls for the item to be the ‘everything’ device. Software and hacks are done to pull as much functionality into the device, regardless if the device is the best choice for the operation. Today, it’s the tablet, and perhaps it could be the ‘everything’ device. Before that, it was the cellphone and some people haven’t begun to give up hope that the smart phone is the pinion of our lives. My thoughts are that this sort of thing happens all the time, right now the pendulum is swinging toward the tablet as the The Device You Need, Ever but I am sure that it will swing back again and open up a diaspora of new electronic gadgets.

To put a little more fuel on the fire, we have to think that there are a lot of innovative people out there that will think of challengers to the tablet and nearly just as many manufacturers who’d like to get a little taste of the action. Finally, there are plenty of people who just can’t or won’t buy a tablet but would still like a sampling of the functionality. When we think of these sorts of products we think of the paltry knock-offs that only appear as shadows of the originals and only seem to wash ashore in less than glamorous stores, but there are also a lot interesting products that breed a bit of contrarian excitement. I think now it’s interesting to start thinking of what these secondary products are going to be who co-exist in the new tablet-driven world.

This little device from Sony Ericsson seems to point in a possible direction. Granted, it’s designed to be used with cellphones, although it could probably be easily re-tasked for tablets. Its initial task for which it was designed seems a bit suspect but for what Engadget bills as “very much like a desktop widget” seems quite intriguing. I think the trick is to look past it’s primary function and to envision alternate, perhaps more interesting and useful functions.

The crux of the thought is that there will be times when you wouldn’t want to drag around all of the functionality or dimension of the devices just to have one bit of it, yet still maintain a connected gadget world. With the full pockets of todays world and the large phones at odds with small clutches, these devices may become quite valuable. I see these helper devices making one aspect more convenient, like this Bluetooth wristband that vibrates when a call is incoming. If you could remotely talk to your phone or tablet, what could you do? Maybe a more interesting question is what would you do if you had a collection of real-life desktop widgets?  Perhaps you could spread them out to use only for specific functions?

How Big Should a Tablet Computer Be?

We are standing at the edge of the tablet explosion. Sure, the iPad has been out for a while now, but bear in mind, the competition – and there will be lots of competition – is just starting to mobilize. Will Apple own the market like they do now? The iPad could be the next Newton or it could be the iPod, it all remains to be seen. Either way the high-confidence prediction is that tablet computing is going to slice into computing in a big way.

At this point, I think a lot of people are kind of thinking how this impact is going to be felt and where, really. There have been articles saying that netbooks are going to feel the pinch but then there was this graphic that shows desktops are going to take the brunt. Once the true ulitlity of the tablet gets nailed down, then we will really see where the tablet will get it’s market.

One of the things up in the air right now is size. Is seven inches really big enough of a form factor for tablets? is 10 inches too big? It all comes down to what you’re going to use it for. Afterall, what will people be these things for?

I think most folks will be using tablets for surfing the web, checking email and whatever social media stuff they’re interested in. There will be power users, of course and they will hail mostly from the business world. They will want to do everything they can do with their laptops on the tablet. This shouldn’t be that hard when you tie it the cloud but it will require more horsepower than the average user. Thus, stratification begins.

The tricky part with all this is if you get it too small, the tablet gets pretty close to the size of a cellphone – a device people already have and use for these activities. What’s the point of carrying another thing around that’s only a little bit larger? Not to mention any item larger than a phone is uncomfortable at best in the average pocket but most times will be a little too large. Conversely, the item is just too small to carry on it’s own. It’ll have to go in another bag for carrying, but first in a case to prevent damage, not unlike a PSP.

On the other side of the coin, if you get the thing too large, it becomes unwieldy, and perhaps most importantly, the user tends to lose that feeling of privacy. A screen too large invites others to peep, or so it would seem.

Otherwise, a big screen means a big battery and a lot of weight as well, or not a lot of work time. The larger size might even require more two-handed holding, as the distributed weight presents itself. While a few more ounces doesn’t seem a lot on the package, it becomes a lot when someone has to statically support it for 20min or so.

A tablet is really designed to be in the hands. In my mind, it is to replace the spiral-bound notebook. The notebook is something that was built to be written-in, read-from, and even drawn in. The size provides a big enough surface for hands and fingers to operate on and record or modify thoughts. Being that drawing on-screen will be the principle method of input, a large surface is better.

The size of the paperback is best reserved for an e-reader device. I think most seven inch tablet makers are thinking of their devices as amped-up e-readers which is where this short-sighted size comes from. Sure, it is acceptable for browsing and light web things, but is it really acceptable? Is it that much different to warrant paying twice as much as your new phone for only a little more real estate?

Perhaps a lack of vision is really the issue? Today’s applications that run on tablets are, for the most part, regurgitations of smart phone applications. There just isn’t a lot of programs that take advantage of the tablet format, yet. When these start showing up in numbers, the larger format will seem more of the proper size.

Lost in Sofa and the Actions in Between Furniture Design

One of the more interesting ( at least to me) thoughts I had recently was how there are actions in between all the major actions we have furniture designed to help us with.  This thought stemmed from thinking of furniture as a form of interaction design rather than making another chair, or something. We really have enough quality chairs so if someone is going to make another one, it had better be functionally special and I think there is quite a bit of potential there.

Back to the thought at hand, my theorem is that there are a number of things that happen between when we stop watching TV on the couch and go get a something from the fridge, for example. People don’t exist in only two conditions in the living room: standing and sitting. When you stop to think of all the other things that happen between those positions and actions, I think it opens up a lot of thinking as to how furniture-human interaction should be designed.

Take, for instance, this chair by Daisuke Motogi. Cleverly designing a seat with even more cushion seams – a trend that most of the world is running from – creates an interaction that allows for even greater utility. The chair becomes a holder of items, maybe a bookcase, maybe a table or maybe something else. Whatever it becomes, the concept of what the chair’s human interaction value has increased. The seat is no longer a place that’s slightly more comfortable than the floor, it’s a center for the user. It contains item which the user perhaps commonly uses or perhaps items that create an emotional comfort, thus the chair makes itself a personalized personal space for the user.

By allowing this storage and personalization, the chair moves past a temporary, single use item and into something much more valuable. The chair becomes a device that provides a number of functions that facilitates eases of transitions between actions. It is the place that also holds your book while you freshen up, your phone when you’re done calling, or perhaps when you’re calling on speaker, etc. Obviously, this can be done with what we usually call, a ‘table’ but the value is the diminishing of the transition between states of rest, as well as the capability to easily modify it to make it your own, which I think is what they call comfort.

New Design Directions in Furniture

A while back I was blathering about how we’re probably going to be living in smaller spaces and alluding to how our lifestyles are going to change in the near future. Low and behold, it seems that some designers are already embracing our future. I would have thought it would have taken a lot longer.

This Dia Sofa, pictured above, is an excellent example of the upcoming lifestyle changes we’re going to see manifest in furniture. The big pushes are going to be the combining of activities in smaller spaces and the begrudging acceptance of new ways of living, despite what they say is a bad idea. This sofa plays to those sentiments as it is designed with an area so a person can operate a laptop or eat while watching TV or something. This concept gels two thoughts I had: one being that the dining room – and everything in it, is pretty much extinct and the second is that we’re going to see more emphasis on the creation of personal spaces within larger areas.

The dining room is done, folks. From one side, it is done because there just is no capability to sit down and have a family dinner any more. A family’s time arrangements just don’t allow for it. The other reason is that space is quickly becoming a premium where every square foot counts and a room that’s never used is too valuable a space to leave aside.

With these smaller spaces there’ll be an enhanced need to create personal spaces. The monolithic entertainment scenario of the present is ceding to individual pursuits. People will now be ‘together’ in a room but separate in their own entertainment zones. We will each have our own media devices, envisioned now as laptops but I am sure they will eventually give way to tablets of some kind, further personalizing and streamlining the scenario.

Furniture will have to make drastic changes to accommodate this new multi-functional sense of living. Like the sofa above, they will have to take on multiple tasks in small areas. We will use our easy chairs to eat from, be entertained from and generally live in much more than today. The large multi-occupant couch will begin to see it’s demise as well, due to this pursuit of individual actions rather than the gathering for group activities.

I envision a ‘living room’ of the near future more of a collection of upholstered individual chairs where a family might gather together with their own pursuits, keenly aware of the other family members around them but also in their own virtual bubble of personal space. I know it doesn’t sound romantic or even loving, but we’re nearly there and this is all just evolution anyhow. It would be just as weird for Ward Cleaver to see how we lived in the 80’s as this is to us now.