It does, you know. You just have to get it hot enough.

Monday, April 21, 2008

“While I’m Out”

Still doing the moderation thing over at the well, but here’s something worth watching if you haven’t yet:

Why Design?, Philippe Starck at TED.

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posted by jet at 16:23  

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In Discussion with Ann Thorpe

No posts here for the next week or so, as I’ll be moderating a discussion with Ann Thorpe, author of “The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability”

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posted by jet at 15:57  

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hugh Graham Essay on Aspirational Consumerism

Hugh Graham has an excellent essay on design and aspirational consumer culture. I think he’s on to something and that his idea of artisanal design — convincing people to buy ugly, flavorful heirloom tomatoes instead of perfect, bland grocery store tomatoes — is going to be quite important in the future. Well, if we want to survive as a species and all that. If we just want to consume ourselves to death, we’re already on the right track for that.

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posted by jet at 11:56  

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Back when we used to care about the form of computers…

Way back in the day I had an AT&T 3b1 UNIX(tm) workstation. It wasn’t just an amazingly useful desktop unix workstation, it was this wedge-shaped piece of white plastic that was quite pleasing to look at. Supercomputer companies like Cray and Thinking Machines also understood the importance of visual design and color selection on their behemoths, Thinking Machines went so far as to hire Maya Lin to design the CM-5.

Poking around the InterWebs today, I found an amazing collection of photographs of vintage computers. Interesting not because of their power or age, but because they show the importance of visual design during the days of supercomputers.

Mark Richards’ Core Memory is a collection of his photographs of some of the most visual interesting computers in history. Skip past the big bundles of wires and tubes and take a long look at things like the control panel for the PDP-8 or the button layout and typography on vintage IBM mainframes. The photos are collected in a book — “Core Memory: A Visual Survey of Vintage Comptuers” — soon to be published by Chronicle Books.

Where is that level of design in today’s high-end computers? Sure, Apple has a few nice products, but why are the vast majority of computers so damn hard on the eyes? Does it really cost so much extra to have a clean layout on the console of a rack-mounted blade or a desk-side case? My PC’s cd-eject and reset buttons are almost identical in shape and size, are located only an inch or two apart, and as are all the buttons on my PC, all the same color. Does it really add too much to the COG to hire a designer or even an intern and have them clean things up and fix major flaws?

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posted by jet at 16:01  

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Philippe Starck Gives Two Years Notice

Phillipe Starck, for reasons unclear, has thrown in the towel. He’s not just quitting, he’s describing all of his past work as, “Everything I designed was unnecessary.” The original interview is in German, which I can’t read; but there are a couple of English summaries, this is the one I’m referencing.

To be honest, I kinda sorta agree with him on unnecessary design when it comes to design in general in the US. I like our Alessi Diobolix bottle opener, and it makes me smile when I use it. But if it didn’t work properly, I’d either throw it out or hang it on the wall. The same goes for Starck’s $80 juicer that is more sculpture than function, even Starck admits it’s not a very good juicer.

How many decades have we spent with product design used to make things redundant before their natural life is over or difficult to use just for the sake of visual style? How many years did Detroit do nothing with their cars other than change the shape, unless forced by some government agency? Sure, you can make things function better with design — and that’s why I’m studying design — but how many designers out there are creating things knowing they will have a short life span then be discarded? How many clothes go to an early grave simply because the trendsetters say the clothes are out? How much cheap IKEA-like furniture have I bought in my life, only to toss it in the dumpster after it fails to survive a couple of moves?

The other quote that caught my eye was this:
“I will definitely give up in two years’ time. I want to do something else, but I don’t know what yet. I want to find a new way of expressing myself …design is a dreadful form of expression.”

Which got me to thinking — maybe Starck is an example of what happens when sculptors and visual artists start working in the product design world instead of being artisans. When I here someone say they want to express themselves or communicate some greater truths, I usually assume they are an artist. I know people who love to write software (a valid means of expression) but who loathe working in the software development industry. Personally, I like cooking and like to think I’m a pretty good cook, but probably I’d slit my wrists after a few days on the line. I’d really like to know what set Starck off in this new direction.

When I started this journey, I was worried that after only a few months someone was going to pull me aside and say, “Hey, just so you know. Design isn’t for you. Sculpture’s over in the next building and we’ll arrange a transfer and get you all set up.” That hasn’t happened (and I don’t think it will), but in the past couple of years I’ve learned a lot about myself and the world as I try to seriously study this whole design thing.

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posted by jet at 20:02  

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