mistake of judgement or lack of experience?

So when I started this blog, I thought I would be reviewing and criticizing products. Realizing that I cant really do that without having the actual product in hand…I have to rely on the same old sources…ID annual, T3, iF selections, etc. etc.

After reading the latest ID Annual and seeing that the Herman Miller Leaf lamp was selected best of category, I though to myself, “wow, this must have impressed the jurors”. I thought this because in print and pictures, this lamp really didn’t seem all that impressive. So i promptly went to the local Design Within Reach to check this thing out. Lighting design is no easy feat, especially if you’re attempting to defy gravity without utilizing some of the traditional structural elements that go with lighting, cables, pulleys, springs, etc.

The good? There’s nice detailing around the LEDs and diffuser; the fact they used LED’s is a nice progression towards efficient lighting solutions. A small detail caught my eye at the base of the lamp. A Ying-Yang like detail was sculpted into the surface…running your fingers over the surfaces acts as a dimmer for the lamp. Nice touch. Visually, it works as its a play off the lamp arms as they fold together.

The Bad? Upon first sight, I unfortunately was underwhelmed. My thoughts hadn’t changed from pictures to in person. At first touch, the lamp shakes like an inexpensive ikea lamp…maybe the shaking is part of the “leaf” metaphor…blowing in the wind? Visually, the lamp arms look similar to some of the new, modern bicycle frame components using stamped construction, only AFTER a bad wipeout or an unfortunate encounter with a car, bent and twisted. I’m not sure how this is the “21st century sequel to the Tizio.” Interesting, if you read the ID magazine review, it states…”Priestman was reticent because he hadn’t seen the lamp in person…” well how the hell do you judge something when you haven’t had the chance to experience it first hand? (topic for another post…judging books by their covers)

Interestingly, I hired Yves Behar, the designer of this lamp while I was VP of Design at Lunar Design. Yves is extremely talented and much of his work shows this. I’m just not that happy with this latest piece, I wonder if he is?

WTF: this stinks!

Upon first sight, one might look at this say, “WTF?!” that’s what I said. Then you learn about what this does, and find out it’s a USB odor eater, then you add, NS! (No Shit). Note that Digiscent made this way done back in 2000 so this was on the leading edge of stupid USB devices, but realize that Digiscent never got this into production, for better or worse. Go to CES, or just look in the monthly Skymall and you’ll find all kinds of weird USB devices, we have beer coolers and mini fans, so is the idea of the DigiScent really that stupid? Yes it was, well the design certainly was.

Here’s how a little marketing and design might change your thinking. Check out this little device I found in a catalog. (note, the design is still pretty bad, but the new form factor may give some life to this idea) It’s a small USB device that works pretty much like one of those heated glade room fresheners. Ok, its still a little stupid especially if you’re not into weird smelling room fresheners. But this one states, “small and portable, great for any small spaces, smoky hotel rooms, offices, and cubicles. Each ScentStick lasts about 4-5 days and can be easily refilled…”. Here’s the ScentStick, it looks small, like a normal USB stick and very portable. Considering that I just back from a really smelly “non smoking” room in a hotel, hmmmm maybe.

They also describe their scents as being subtle; they claim the scent has the effect of a candle and not your standard, overpowering household sprays. And finally, they make a green claim in that there’s minimal waste. You keep the main USB Stick and recycle the refills that are aluminum CO2 like cartridges. Compared to the Digiscent, the ScentStick almost makes scents. (had to say it!) And this is mostly because of the small, portable form factor. So change your mind about a USB odor eater yet? Maybe, maybe not, but you gotta admit that this iteration does make this product a lot more palatable.

And since were on stupid USB products, lets add to the list, how about: A USB “cooling” pad to keep those hot laptops cool and prevent your thighs from burning up. Wanna look good for the meeting, get a USB nose hair trimmer combined with Apple’s mirror widget, then you can clean up your clippings with a USB vacuum, to get all the stuff out of your keyboard. Btw, the ScentStick is fake, but the DigiScent thing was real, at least in prototype form.

Steriods done right!

Here’s a classic done right. From Ducati’s website “The 750 Imola Desmo is one of the most famous bikes in the world. It is best known, and, of course named for, its victory with Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari in the 200 mile race at Imola in 1972 – one of the most spectacular in racing history.” This bike put Ducati on the map in the racing world and from there, Ducati quickly became a force to be reckoned with.

This is the new Imola. The details are impeccable and it captures the essence of the original bike. One thing that’s clear is it definitely brings modern technology into play. The new tech shows through, which makes the bike different, but doesn’t detract from original design. It’s raw AND refined. It’s a skillful execution taking a classic and creating a modern reproduction. (maybe I’m biased since I own a Ducati?!) Read my post about “life after steroids”. Let me know what you think.

Converging thoughts

The saying goes great minds think alike and designers should also know that while you’re thinking of one thing where ever you’re sitting at this moment, someone else is thinking the same thing. So I guess it’s a matter of what company can actually produce the thing first.

I just saw this interesting product from Playaway on the Gizmodo website. Basically, it’s an electronic audio book and hardware device all in one. No need for the ipod or mp3 player, just the content. Neat idea, but without actually using the product, here’s my initial thoughts. Each book costs about $30-$50. (DaVinci code $50, on Audible $20) That’s a lot of money for one book. It also looks like each package has its own ear buds. Seems wasteful if that’s the case. Let’s talk about the package, which in itself seems wasteful, open it to get to the player, throw away the PETE. This product seems like a netflix model could work here.

So back in 1999, the idea above was initiated by Tad Toulis while at Lunar Design. He called it Service as Product. The basic premise was that you buy or rent the service or content but not the hardware. The thought was that you could buy for instance, travel guides or a book at the airport, use them on your trip, then return them after you are done. Another scenario could be one where you pick the book up at Safeway, “listen” to it, and then return it later. The manufacturer could reuse the electronics and just implement graphics changes to match content changes. This was also a greener solution in that the packaging itself, was the product exterior. Just plug in headphones and press play. It’s sort of like disposable cameras in a way, buy the pictures, not the camera. (Re: the disposable cameras manufacturers do reuse many of those parts; it’s a pretty amazing process) Yes this “concept” wasn’t perfect either, look how big this thing was back in 1999!

I give the folks at Playaway kudos for actually getting something like this to market as I do believe that in the future, we will be buying more content and less hardware. We’re doing it already, prepaid cell phones, city share cars and netflix. What’s next?

Asymmetry, ooooh, polarizing!

Why is it when designers propose solutions that are asymmetrical, non designers (and some designers as well) get scared? Is it because the human body is predominately symmetrical? Is it because of da Vinci’s fascination and documentation around proportion and symmetry outlined in the Vitruvian Man? Or are people just scared of something that isn’t centered?

Here are two examples of asymmetrical designs, one good and one, not so good. The good one has great fluidity and dynamism. Despite its asymmetry, the forms and detail have a great sense of balance. The bad example, looks like it may have started off in the right place, with a nice sketch, but then someone got scared and forced some symmetry back into the design. Notice how the keypad layout just doesn’t feel right with the asymmetrical gesture of the product. The end result is just bad.

“Designers” get bad reputations for producing a “bad design” when products like this hit the market. It’s unfortunate that the designer probably lost a battle or two in the process, resulting in a mixed message of design languages. Could it have been the March Marketing battle of 02 or the Stage 4 Showdown with PM? Since I don’t really know how this all went for Kyocera, it could have been the stubborn designer holding on to his or her “design gesture” from the sketch and desperately pushing it through, just to get it to market. If so, bad call.

Check out some nice concept work from KDDI, a Japanese phone manf working with the likes of Naoto and WaterStudio. Penck has a Pebl gesture. Dont know which one came first. Neon is the newest of the concept series. Hexagon is the phone I have shown above.  While I’m not a fan of the design itself, the study is gutsy; it’s bold and attempting to be simple at the same time.

Portfolio

What does this image have in common: all are vehicles, all have 4 wheels, all can get you from A to B? The answer for this exercise is “Honda”.

I’m writing this mostly because I read some of the funniest reviews at places like CNet and Gizmodo. “…this video media player would be better if it could also take pictures and send them wirelessly to my grandma…” Wait a second, do the reviewers have a concept of what a “portfolio” is? Automotive companies usually do a pretty good job at developing this. Reviews tend to be myopic, try to look at products individually AND have consideration for the big picture. Every company should have a Strategy that takes into account people’s needs, the brand, ability to produce, market size and many, many other components. This Strategy, is usually reflected in the portfolio.

Feature Creep

Does everyone need a camera in phone?

Who would use a voice recorder in their mp3 player?

Do I really need a FM player when i have 30,000 songs my mp3 player?

Do I want to listen to music with my mp3 enabled coffee maker?

I believe “de-featured” products, like the phones from Firefly and Emporia for seniors and kids are great solutions that FOCUS on what people need.

The Swiss army design approach can work for some things, like Swiss army knifes.

to kill and ipod

The infamous Apple ipod. Here’s what we all know:
Itunes store (still the best music store)
Itunes software (still the best software interface)
Iconic AND easy to use interface on the device
Classic design that’s not very polarizing and easy to customize
Nice line of accessories, most via 3rd parties
Great overal product “feel”
but poor longevity
Poor battery life
Screen problems
Complaints of easily damaged/scratched product
Too many products intros in the flavor of small variants of the same thing.

Maybe its time to think out of the box and get passed the thought of how to “beat Apple”. Manufacturers: bring something to the market that people want. Create a great experience with the technology you KNOW and is readily available to you. If you invent something new, be sure its useful, we’ve had plenty of useless inventions over the past years. Finally, exceed expectations.