Losing Another Legend

It’s always sad to hear that someone you respect has died. The feeling of loss is much worse when that person dies young. The likes of Jim Henson and Steve Jobs had contributed so much to the world before they passed, it’s gut-wrenching to imagine what we have been deprived as a result of their early departure. Bill Moggridge was not so much the celebrity as they, but he was the Industrial Designer of the first laptop and the man who coined the term “Interaction Design”. Bill was one of the founders of IDEO, one of the most influential firms of our time, and a great proponent of both multidisciplinary teams and designing for people. He has been head of the Cooper Hewitt for the past few years.

Bill stopped designing Saturday when he succumbed to cancer. He was 69. Fortunately, his contributions to the profession will last for generations.

The New York Times has a fitting tribute.

I know it’s been a good night when…

Tonight was the first class of the Fall semester. One of the indicators of a good class session is that during my drive home, I only half-hear the podcast I’m listening to. My mind is too occupied with the evening’s events. I critique my performance, consider the responses of my students, mull over all the possibilities the semester holds, and begin making plans for the next week.

We kicked things off by watching Objectified. Then I introduced the class to Kickstarter and Quirky, completely new to many of them. From the responses I observed, I’m betting there is a lot of digestion happening tonight. I’m going to be shining a light on design entrepreneurship, and I’m hoping that some of the students will go as far as to initiate Kickstarter campaigns.

Here’s the description of the course from my syllabus:

“Innovation” is currently one of the biggest buzz words in business, and where there is discussion of innovation, there is typically mention of design or “Design Thinking”. Articles have appeared in business oriented publications making declarations such as “The MFA is the New MBA” (Harvard Business Review), or describing “the emergence of the design economy” (Fast Company). BusinessWeek and Fast Company both have sections devoted to design. Major universities have begun integrating their design and business programs with participation from major design firms—Stanford’s d.school for example. And while this “movement” is several years old, the most recent trend is the rise of the designer entrepreneur. Organizations like Kickstarter are giving designers the opportunity to realize their ideas without having to sell out to a large corporation to get them funded. Designers are now cited as key components of successful startups, as well as a competitive edge for established companies.

But what kind of design are they referring to? What training must a designer possess to participate in the field’s current popularity? What qualities of design lend it to innovation?

This course will provide you the opportunity to explore the design process as it applies to innovation. We’ll learn from the successes of firms like IDEO, one of the most notable design firms operating today, and study the writing of Don Norman, one of the world’s foremost thinkers on the subject. We will apply what we learn, taking a product from conception and research to a final design and prototype, and potentially a campaign to fund further work.

At the end of the semester, you will have a broader understanding of the potential of design to affect change in the world, a deeper understanding of proven, problem-solving methods, and an appreciation of the current climate for design entrepreneurship.

Why I Love the Web

Many years ago, when my wife and I purchased our first set of furniture for the first apartment we would share as a couple, we spent days driving to every furniture store we could find around Pittsburgh. In one store, we found a sofa that we liked. In another store, we found a coffee table. Here we would find a lamp, and there we found a bookcase. I was satisfied, knowing that I got the pieces that I liked the most of what was available.

Several weeks ago, I decided to do something special for our anniversary. We haven’t had a bed since we moved into our house, almost nine years ago. Oh, we have a mattress and box spring, but they are just sitting on a frame. We don’t even have a headboard. I decided I wanted a canopy bed constructed of bamboo. So, I did a Google search, and sure enough, I found Bali Bamboo Creations. They have a really nice selection of bamboo beds with a variety of finishes. Each one is handmade to order for a reasonable price, including shipping to anywhere in the world.

I ordered the Ubud bed with two Belaga nightstands. After a couple weeks, I was emailed photographs of the finished furniture for my approval. It was all delivered today. I haven’t assembled the bed yet, but the pieces I’ve seen are beautiful, and the nightstands are well crafted.

You don’t have to settle for the commonplace items found in the showrooms anymore. I only buy what I love.

Voice Mail Fail

My company outfitted our new office with Cisco VOIP phones. They seem to work as well as any other office phone, but the voice mail indicator is woefully inadequate.

You see that little red line above the display? That’s the light that comes on when you have unheard voice mail. It doesn’t blink. It’s just on or off. I didn’t even realize that’s what it was until one of my coworkers pointed out that I had a message. It had been there several days. I don’t often get phone calls, so it is rare that I have a message. I don’t tend to look at the phone much. Unfortunately, it isn’t doing a good job of getting my attention.


Tony Fadell left Apple about three years ago. Monday, his new company, Nest, announced their first product, the Nest Learning Thermostat.

“So what are you working on lately?” a friend asks over lunch. “I started a new company. We make thermostats.” They chuckle, take a bite of their salad, “No, seriously. What are you doing?” “I’m serious. Thermostats.” 

Given the description on their site, the Nest is a beautifully conceived and executed product. It programs itself, learning what your desired temperatures are at different times of the day, week, and season. It also helps you conserve energy. What’s more, it isn’t an eye-sore. If Apple made a thermostat, this is what it would be like. In a way, you could say that Apple did make a thermostat. More and more, we’ll be seeing Apple’s influence in other products as more companies get it. Steve’s legacy will be much larger than phones and tablets. 

Sifteo Cubes

I’ve been interested in the work of the faculty and students of MIT’s Media Lab ever since I started grad school. However, I was often critical of projects, considering them to be technological solutions looking for problems. Not so with David Merrill’s Siftables, debuted during a TED talk in February of 2009. I have to believe they were originally inspired by a project called Triangles that was carried out by the Tangible Media Group under Professor Hiroshi Ishii in 1998. Regardless, the concept has come a long way. David and his partner, Jeevan Kalanithi, formed a company to produce and market Siftables as a consumer product. Now called Sifteo Cubes, they are available for pre-order. There are quite a few educational games that can be played with the little devices, but more importantly, they come with the Sifteo Creativity Kit, allowing anyone to create their own games and share them with others.

These have a lot of potential for education and pure entertainment. They may just make Santa’s list this year. I’m really interested to see whether or not they will catch on and where Sifteo will take things from here.

Clever Little Bag

My favorite IDEA 2011 winner has to be Puma’s Clever Little Bag, which won a gold award in the Packaging category. Once again, I recommend pointing your browser at Fuseproject’s own website to learn about it. Like so many great, contemporary designs, this is the result of taking an object that hasn’t changed in decades—the shoebox—and finding a better solution.

The challenge was to look at one of the most difficult and stagnant issues facing the retail industry in regards to sustainability and environmental harm: packaging, and more specifically shoeboxes. Boxes contribute to millions of tons of waste a year and even with proposed second uses, they are eventually thrown out.

The cleverness of the solution is told by the numbers:

  • 65% less cardboard used
  • 8,500 tons of paper saved
  • 20 million megajoules of electricity saved
  • 1 million liters of water saved
  • 10,000 tons of CO2 saved
  • 500,000 tons of diesel saved
  • 275 tons of plastic avoided

This is design at its best, creating work that serves the client, their customers, and the environment.

IDEA 2011

IDSA announced the winners of IDEA 2011 at the end of June. I’m finally getting around to perusing the gallery. There are a lot of great designs, of course, but one in particular immediately caught my eye due to it’s similarity in concept to one of my student’s projects.

Pure is a water bottle designed for adventure tourists and world travelers that filters and sterilizes water from any source within two minutes. Pure contains two chambers. Dirty water is scooped up from a lake, stream or dirty puddle by the outer chamber. The inner chamber is then plunged through it, filtering water particles as small as four microns. Once filtered, the water is sterilized by a wind-up ultraviolet bulb.

Having used finicky water pumps on backpacking trips, I love this design. My student had a similar idea, but unfortunately didn’t take the time to research the science and technology behind water filtration. The end result was a concept and form study with nothing real to back it up. Timothy Whitehead of Loughborough University, on the other hand, has a working prototype that is proven to filter out 99.9% of impurities. It was also the recipient of a 2010 James Dyson Award. A more detailed write-up can be found on Inhabitat.

Let’s see some I.D.

I.D. was America’s premier magazine about contemporary product design and material culture from 1954 through 2009.

To be honest, I didn’t realize the magazine had closed shop, but this is the introduction to the new I.D… not-a-magazine. Yes, the URL is www.id-mag.com, and the page title is “ID Magazine Served”, but there is no magazine here, or at least, not what I consider to be one. It’s a gallery displaying industrial design projects from the Behance Network. Now, I’m not too familiar with Behance—it hasn’t been on my radar—but it seems to me it is lacking curation. There at first appears to be no categorization, so it is a random jumble of projects ranging from fantastical concept explorations to actual, name-brand products. Once you view a particular project, however, you will find keywords that can be clicked to view a filtered gallery. It’s mostly images with very little description. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d say it’s just a showcase for people’s portfolios. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s misleading to give it the “I.D.” moniker and call it a magazine. I’ll stick with the likes of Core77, Design Observer, and Johnny Holland.

The one thing I am pleased about is the continuation of the I.D. Magazine Annual Design Review. It has an esteemed panel of judges and looks to be a class act.

The One Thing

I participated in a survey Apple is conducting. It asked a single question: What is the one thing you would like Apple to improve upon and why?

That’s very like Apple—simple and direct. I really had to think about it. I decided that the one thing I would like to see Apple improve upon is support in their products for a family unit. Historically, computer software has been designed for a user. Yes, operating systems have added the ability to host multiple user accounts, but it is currently not all that easy to manage the calendars, address books, photos, music, movies, books, apps, and similar media that are shared by a family. I began a media library for myself and expanded it to include my wife. My daughters are growing up, and it won’t be long before they will be wanting to purchase their own digital media and have their own photo collections. I need to put a plan in place that will allow us to do this in a sensible way. Apple has made a start of it with shared music libraries, but I don’t believe it has been a focussed effort. My address book should understand that many of the people it includes are related to each other. Music purchased by one of my daughters should be merged into the family collection where it is available to be played on any of our various devices. This has ramifications for security and copyright laws. Eventually, my children will inherit my collection.

Our digital lives are becoming tightly integrated with our analog lives, and they need to better reflect our interpersonal relationships.