Americans Finally Discover the Roundabout!

 Filed under: Design,Green,Transport — Colin Anderson @ Sep 2nd, 2011

The humble roundabout, the intersection of choice for all of Europe, is making an appearance in the USA. After more than a century of motoring, could it be that Americans are finally realizing that there could be a better way? Virtually all intersections in the States are controlled by either a 2-way stop sign, a 4-way stop sign, or traffic lights. Given the sprawling urbanisation of the country and the grid system formality, perhaps its easy to see why a more free-wheeling system like the roundabout has never taken off until now.

Why is the situation changing? The green movement is probably the principal driver. Since drivers aren’t obliged to stop, there is a terrific amount of petrol saved compared to a 4-way which requires all cars to waste energy coming to a full stop before starting again. When compared to traffic lights, another pro-environment aspect of roundabouts is the fact that they don’t require electricity to operate. Traffic lights not only consume a considerable wattage (although many have now been converted to LEDs), but they also have a significant maintenance component. A third environmental component might be that many European roundabouts are literally green, comprised of grass, bushes, and flowers. They can be an oasis of nature in the city.

A couple of other significant factors in favour of the roundabout…
a) they are statistically much safer than traffic lights. Why? Well, it’s almost impossible to have a head-on accident and their design forces drivers to slow down. Any accident is more likely to be tangential.
b) throughput is much higher than either 4-ways or traffic lights.

One American, the mayor of Carmel, Indiana, has become a roundabout crusader. His passion for them was sparked after an experience as an exchange student in England. Now, Carmel has more than 70 roundabouts!

 Fun with Mylar

 Filed under: Design — Colin Anderson @ Mar 27th, 2011

Tara Donovan’s new exhibition at the Pace Gallery in New York is a beautiful, mineral type structure of huge proportions (height up to 11ft). The sculpture is comprised entirely of folded mylar. Tara is known for transforming everyday objects into works of art.


 Filed under: ,Design,Transport — Colin Anderson @ Feb 27th, 2011

Why do so many products look like people? Is this just childish mimicry on the part of the Designer or is there something else going on?
Anthropomorphism is the name for this sort of thing. It doesn’t just apply to cars, like the cute new Fiat 500 shown above, either. Some Designers, like Stefano Giovanoni have made a career out of imbuing consumer products with human characteristics; just check out some of Alessi’s range. Speaking of which, Starck demonstrates with his orange juicer that you don’t even need a suggestion of a face in order to associate a product with a lifeform.

The human brain is constantly looking to identify any and all shapes as faces. Like new face-recognition cameras, it has highly specialized zones that do nothing other than find faces. For this reason, we find faces in all kind of strange places where there aren’t any. Check out FacesInPlaces for some great examples of this. Further, once we have identified the human features of a form, we can ascribe emotions to subtle deviations in form.

The nice thing here is that we all interprete expressions the same. Paul Ekman, a psychologist did the pioneering work in this field. He discovered that even in the most remote tribes tucked away in Papua New Guinea, humans all express and interpret the fundamental emotions of anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt and happiness with the same facial expressions.

Because our brains are so finely tuned to analysing surprisingly subtle changes in facial topology, Designers can use this to good effect.

Why have we developed this ability? The ability to imprint on the parents and then remember that look is important to almost all animals. We think that penguins all look the same, but every penguin chick can distinguish their parent from a thousand others. It’s the same with humans. If aliens landed today they would have trouble distinguishing one human from another. The differences between old and young, male and female, Asian or Caucasian are very subtle. Our brain picks this up and processes thousands of pieces of data to not only determine who we are looking at but also where they originate from how old what mood they are in and whether we like them.

What has this got to do with product design? We use the same part of our brain inadvertently when looking at inanimate objects. It doesn’t know when to turn off. It is this trick of amplifying the subtle clues that probably gives us a tendency to overly anthropomorphise non-living things.

We look at a car and make the same snap judgements based on the shape of the headlights etc. A Fiat 500 looks happy and cheeky; a BMW 7 series looks angry and threatening; Alessi products look joyful or gay in the old fashioned sense (and maybe in the mordern sense as well?).

 Unoriginal Chinese Copycats

 Filed under: Design,Transport — Colin Anderson @ Dec 15th, 2010

While it appears that the recent Renault/China case of intellectual theft was fictitious, we are all familiar with the Chinese penchant for copying. Patents, copyrights and trademarks are not well respected by Bejing. The Chinese Government casts a blind eye as it continues a policy of relentless commercial expansion.

They now appear to be taking copying to another level. Firstly, there’s the case of China’s high speed train. China did not have access to the advanced technology developed by the Japanese, French, and Germans. China acquired this technology by insisting on a technology transfer agreement from foreign companies bidding on development of new rail routes. China routinely requires this kind of agreement. This, along with their gift for facsimile, goes a long way to explaining their growth in the fields of automotive, telecommunications, and aerospace. With respect to high speed rail, the speed with which the Chinese have come back to bite the hand that fed them is surprising. From Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Today, Chinese rail companies that were once junior partners with the likes of Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., Siemens AG, Alstom SA and Bombardier Inc. are vying against them in the burgeoning global market for super-fast train systems. From the U.S. to Saudi Arabia to Brazil and in China itself, Chinese companies are selling trains that in most cases are faster than those offered by their foreign rivals.

Even more shocking is the experience that some Designers and Architects are having with the wholesale theft of intellectual property and identity by Chinese companies pretending to be established Western practices. The Guardian reports that…

reveals that at least two prominent British practices have been hit by a wave of identity theft at the hands of Chinese impostors, which have cloned their websites and submitted bids for building projects under their names. Broadway Malyan, a firm with offices in 13 cities worldwide including Shanghai, is one such practice.

 NY Ground Zero Station

 Filed under: Design,Transport — Colin Anderson @ Sep 11th, 2010

Another anniversary of 9/11 and Ground Zero is still not much more than a hole in the ground. There is still much to anticipate, however. The question is, will we live long enough to see New York transcend the lethargic pace of development that it is now synonymous with. The transportation hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava, and presented in January of 2004 promises to be an outstanding visual addition to the city; in Calatrava’s vocabulary, “an [enormous] bird being released by a child’s hand.”

Let’s hope that New Yorkers will soon get off their bums and start realizing some of the 9/11 reconstruction before the 10th anniversary comes around.

 Siemens C450 IP Voip

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Aug 1st, 2010

Great news for Americans! After years of stalling, Siemens is finally selling a VOIP phone for home use. What’s the big deal you may say; Philips and others have been selling phones in the States for several years. Yes, but until now, all brands were locked to an overpriced service provider; usually Skype or Yahoo Messenger.

Siemens IP handsets allow you to choose from dozens of providers and change at will. I have been using a Siemens 450IP for several years now. Using the provider, Voipstunt, I can make calls to most phones in the world, including all US fixed and mobile numbers, for less than 1c per minute. That’s less than half the cost of a Skype call.

You can get a Siemens VOIP handset from Amazon. Look for the A580IP or the S675IP. Note that these work with both landline connections and internet. Thus, you can receive through your landline connection, if you don’t want to get an incoming IP number, and make calls through the internet. This also enables you to talk on both lines simultaneously.

 Dogmatic Design

 Filed under: Design — Colin Anderson @ Jul 12th, 2010

One of the responsibilities of being an industrial designer is shepherding one’s baby through the design process.
We all know what frequently happens when engineering or marketing gets hold of a design when the designer is not available: adjustments have to be made, the design is tampered with and in the end no-one is happy. So, for that reason, Designers are frequently charged with protecting the design from Concept-Selection through Production.

However, there can be a very thin line between protecting an iconic design during development and dogmatically resisting change due to an oversized ego.

But how do you know when you have crossed that line? Here are some tips…

A) Your cat barely looks at you anymore.
B) You have recurring dreams in which you receive awards for your design.
C) You cannot imagine any changes that would not ruin the purity of your design.
D) Your vocabulary becomes interlaced with words like “trendsetting” and “iconic”
E) You begin to think that divine intervention had something to do with your product.

I won’t name any names, but I know one designer who believed that it was possible for a cellphone design to be so compellingly attractive that anyone who saw it would involuntarily have an orgasm. That’s all well and good but what happens when you believe you have achieved that level of design? Its very unlikely that you would be very open to potential improvements or subtle engineering changes that are nearly always necessary.

 Irritating Vuvuzelas Ruining World Cup

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Jun 13th, 2010

The 2010 World Cup won’t be remembered for glorious football filled with exciting goals. It will be remembered for the mindless, annoying drone of the so called “vuvuzelas” – cheap plastic monotonous horns that other footballing countries would associate with Christmas crackers rather than the beautiful game.

The French captain, Patrice Evra, blames the irritating vuvuzelas for his side’s poor game against Uruguay. He said, “We can’t sleep at night because of the vuvuzelas. People start playing them from 6am. We can’t hear one another out on the pitch because of them.”

Vuvuzelas are being blamed for single-handedly destroying the atmosphere inside every South African stadium. Football games are normally associated with singing and chanting by tens of thousands of fans; not the incessant buzzing of thousands of giant bees. We can only hope that World Cup organizers follow through on their suggestion to ban them.

 “If it’s not Scottish, it’s Crap!!!”

 Filed under: ,Design — Colin Anderson @ Jun 3rd, 2010

We all know that the Scots distill whisky, came up with the game of golf and are cheap. But not everyone knows how much of modern life we owe to Scottish ingenuity. Scotsmen invented a ton of useful things like telephones, televisions, and penicillin. Below are some links to 10 Scottish inventions.

Modern road construction – John McAdam
Bicycle – Kirkpatrick Macmillan
Television – John Logie Baird
Steam Engine – James Watt
Pneumatic Tyre – John Dunlop
Telephone – Alexander Graham Bell
Philanthropy – Andrew Carnegie
Light Bulb - James Bowman Lindsay
Penicillin – Alexander Fleming
Film Camera – William Kennedy Dickson

For countless more examples, see… Scottish inventions and discoveries

 Screwing the Buyer – Hiding the Shill

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Apr 12th, 2010

Do you have any experience with Ebay? Do you remember the good old days when Ebay was one of the nice guys on the net? You could buy and sell cute little collectibles and it didn’t cost a fortune. Ebay was one of the original “netizens”. They’ve grown enormously over the years. Today they dwarf the insignificant competition they have.

Where did it all go wrong for Ebay? When did they stop thinking about the customer? Quite likely, Ebay never stopped thinking about the customer. It’s just that their perception of the “customer” changed. He used to be the buyer (beanie babies, anyone?). Now, he is without question the seller.

At conception and for many years, during an Ebay auction, everyone could see the Ebay identities of those bidding on the auction. It was possible to see their reliability as a user and their bidding history. It was transparent to the Ebay community if unscrupulous characters were bidding on their own auction, or if fake bidders, or shills, with no history were artificially jacking up the price. The buyers protection was the transparency of the system.

Then Ebay decided to cosy up to the sellers. Ebay management realized on which side their bread was buttered. The sellers pay the commission, not the buyer. Ebay started disguising the bidders’ ID’s. Instead of “Neville3402″, a user’s ID in the bid history was disguised as n*****2. It could be Neville. It’s probably Neville. But, I can’t prove it absolutely, so it’s difficult to complain. It might be a bit unethical to support shady business deals, but as long as more sales were being made and the shareholders were happy, who cared?

More recently, Ebay decided to really get in bed with the seller (why offer just a hand-job when you can get paid to go the whole way?). They now offer to completely scramble the identification of all buyers on a particular item. What used to be transparent is now completely 100% opaque. I don’t know who I’m bidding against. It may be a legitimate buyer. It may not be. Ebay says their “protecting the buyer”!!! This is like a Republican saying they were “protecting Iraqis”.

But, then again, maybe I’m being too harsh. If the seller wanted to bid on his own items, is that really so bad? Don’t sellers have a right to buy from themselves? Maybe they decided to sell the Porsche on Saturday, regretted it on Sunday, and decided to make a bid. Yes, the price goes up. Yes, it is illegal. But Ebay makes money and that’s all that matters. What’s good for the seller (and shills) is good for Ebay.

If you are fed up with Ebay’s high prices and unethical practices there isn’t that much in the way of alternatives. Craigslist is the cheapest (it’s free!) option. Amazon has started enabling private sales. There are also some sites like that are aiming directly at Ebay but are, unfortunately still too small to make a difference.

 Amazingly Strong Ant

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Feb 20th, 2010

strong-antMost of us know that insects are strong relative to their size. This photo illustrates just how incredibly strong they are. This Asian weaver ant is hanging upside down on a smooth glass surface and lifting a weight more than 100 times it’s own body weight!

The photo was captured by Dr. Thomas Endlein from Cambridge University. He is studying the adhesive on ants’ feet that enable them to go anywhere. The pads on their feet increase in size when more holding power is needed and decrease in size when the ant needs to run.

 Speaking with Designers

 Filed under: Design — Colin Anderson @ Dec 5th, 2009

If you’re not used to working with Designers, you should know one important thing: Designers visualize everything you say. To most people words are just words, but to Designers, words are pictures.

Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but things can get uncomfortable for them if you’re not careful. For example, don’t say that you want to “beat the crap out of someone”. No-one wants to see that! Also, stay away from words like “douchebag” and “fudge-packer”, and, for heavens sake, don’t say, “fuck a duck”.

 School of Design

 Filed under: Design — Colin Anderson @ Dec 3rd, 2009

A late comment on the BBC TV series that followed the fortunes of a handful of (mostly) young British Designers vying for a place in Philippe Starck’s Paris studio.

Personally, I enjoyed the show, but this is probably the last time we see something like this (relating to the Design profession) for a long time. There weren’t the same outrageous extroverts that we’re so familiar with from the Apprentice. Clearly, that show selects candidates who are anything but camera shy. School of Design inadvertently (by relying on a single design object) chose a bunch of shrinking violets – all except one.

I thought it was a mistake to build on the same projects over the last few weeks. The ideas were unfortunately mostly quite weak. They needed another chance. Creativity can’t be turned on like a tap.

Not sure where the jury is on this show. It would be interesting to know who came up with the format and who thought it was a good idea that Starck chose all the competitors without having met them first. While the show probably didn’t do Starck’s ego eny harm, it probably won’t endear him or his studio to anyone. They came across as a dreary group of critics. But I do like his hair!

 Americans Stumped by Toilet Design Problem

 Filed under: ,Design — Colin Anderson @ Nov 27th, 2009

best minds in america stumped by toilet design problemAmericans have split the atom, sent men to the moon, and constructed the internet, but there is one design problem that has perpetually stumped the greatest minds in North America; but every american effort to build a toilet cubicle always end in tears.

No-one is sure waht is to blame. It could be the metric system, desperate attempts to cut costs, or just plain incompetence. What’s clear is that both the walls and doors of every american toilet stall amazingly fail to reach both the floor and the ceiling! In some cases the gaps are enormous – on the order of 40-60cm at the bottom and up to one metre at the top. In such improperly designed toilets, one’s only privacy during personal activities is a thin sheet of steel magically floating in space.

Successive generations of engineers have grappled with the great “toilet stall design challenge” and generations have failed. The results have been so disappointing that some organizations including the U.S. army have eliiminated the sorry looking walls toilet

 Samoans Celebrate Driving on Correct Side

 Filed under: Transport — Colin Anderson @ Sep 8th, 2009

samoaSamoans are today celebrating their hard-fought fight to drive on the left. At 6am this morning, to the sound of sirens and much jubilation, drivers were told to move over from right to left. This puts Samoa in line with the majority of countries in the Pacific region that are leftward leaning, including New Zealand, Australia, Japan, India and Thailand. Supporters say that driving on the left is just plain fun, and that it makes them feel giddy inside.

 Scotland 2 – Rest of the World 0

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Aug 14th, 2009

rugbyThe executive board of the International Olympic Committee have recommended that Golf and Rugby 7’s be added to the 2016 Olympics. American broadcasters are probably already licking their lips. After all, with the president’s support of his hometown, there is an excellent chance that the games will be held in Chicago. Anyone who has had the misfortune to watch Olympic TV coverage in the US will realize that golf will be another excuse for disproportionate attention to another American “dream team” at the expense of other less-popular sports.

Both golf and rugby sevens are sports invented in Scotland. While golf may be better known, rugby 7’s, in my opinion, is the best spectator sport in the world; is the ideal sport for American TV networks; is the perfect sport for sports widows.

Why? It is mostly due to the intensity, athleticism, and duration. A rugby 7’s game lasts for two halves of seven minutes with one minute for half-time. That’s not seven minutes with time-out that ends up lasting an hour. That’s seven minutes total. While that provides no times for advertising during the game (perfect), the games are so short that you can advertise between games. Sevens is played with essentially the same rules as the full game with 15 players. Since there are so few players covering an enormous pitch, there is lots of frequent scoring and long dramatic runs, creative passing, and there is no sense in kicking for touch.

The TV audience for women is potentiall huge. There are no helmets or body protection. You can actually see the players. They are nearly all very young, athletic men. And since a game only lasts 14 minutes, there is no chance to get bored. On the other hand, because the game is so short, it is possible to organize a whole tournament with multiple rounds that lasts for a day.

 New Scotland Rocks

 Filed under: Design,Green,Transport — Colin Anderson @ Jul 22nd, 2009

Everyone knows that Scottish people are the most creative in the world (Alexander Graham Bell, James Watt, Thomas Telford…more here). Naturally, you might assume that those in Nova Scotia are also quite creative and, judging from the students at Dalhousie University in Halifax, this would appear to be the case.

Clever students from Dalhousie invented this wheel with grass growing on the inside. It enables one to walk on grass around the city in bare feet, while simultaneously avoiding (compressing) nasty things like dog doodoo and small children. Well done guys!

 “Berlusconi is a Crook”

 Filed under: Italy — Colin Anderson @ May 20th, 2009

Italian judges confirmed yesterday what many people in Italy have been fairly sure of for some time: Silvio Berlusconi is a crook. According to the Italian court, Berlusconi bribed David Mills, his British lawyer, $600,000 in order to receive favourable and false testimony from Mills on the witness stand. Mills, the husband of UK sports minister Tessa Jowell, is currently serving a four year jail term. David Mills had set up for Berlusconi a complex web of offshore accounts in order for him to hide profits and party contributions.

Unfortunately, the prime minister will not be going to jail because he game himself personal immunity from prosecution as soon as he took office – a transparent sign of guilt. The shocking thing about living here in Italy is not that the prime minister is a criminal, it’s that everyone is aware of it and they don’t really care. They have no faith in any politicians or the criminal justice system to deal with the corruption. There are also millions of ordinary Italians that appreciate and vote for Berlusconi, despite, or because of, his criminal activities and shambolic performance; this is the third time that he has been elected to run the country. May has been quite an intersting month for him. Earlier, his wife of 19 years and mother of three of his children, had asked him for a divorce for “consorting with a minor.”

 Lavazza Design Paradiso

 Filed under: Design,Italy — Colin Anderson @ May 5th, 2009

One of the last projects that I.D.milano spearheaded was the development and coordination of a series of designs for Lavazza. All of them revolved around Lavazza’s central theme of heaven (or Paradiso in Italian). Design Paradiso was essentially an experimental design project that started off as a workshop for invited Designers. I.D.milano Product Design collaborated with these first-rate Designers and a large number of manufacturers to create products suitable for mass production.

As the leader of the effort, Fabio Moneta (now with Whirlpool) received glowing praise from Lavazza. Lavazza Design Paradiso had a popular and successful exhibit in Zona Tortona of the 2009 Milan Furniture Fair. In addition, there was a very positive write-up in the book published for the event. You can read about the show, see the concepts and download a pdf copy of the book here. There are some nice images and descriptions of some of the work we were involved in.

Especially nice is the way the writer, somewhat tenuously, tries to link up the process of product development with the road to salvation…

It is only when you try to produce a design — any type of design — that you see whether you are on the right track.

It’s the same for the faithful: their words, actions and omissions are the things that open up (or block) the path to Heaven.

 Crisis? What Crisis?

 Filed under: Design,Italy — Colin Anderson @ May 4th, 2009

The 2009 Milan Furniture Fair would appear, at street level at least, to be a huge success. There were massive crowds everywhere, both day and night. The event was helped, no doubt, by some fantastic weather. In past years, Milan has suffered from miserable, damp, drizzly Aprils.

The Tortona area was incredibly lively. Its success seems to grow year on year. There is no doubt that it is the centre of the FuoriSalone whereas several years ago it was just one of a large number of offsite design hotspots. You can now spend several days wandering around the happenings at the endless Tortona area courtyards soaking in the atmosphere, watching the international crowd, and criticising the displays.

In fact, experiencing Milan during Design week one could be forgiven for forgetting about the global economic crisis. Certainly, having made a couple of trips to the US in the last few months, it is clear that the US is suffering much more than Europe. Part of the relative economic insulation the Italians and the rest of the continent have is no doubt due to their “European Socialism”, an apparent barb that right wing American TV and radio pundits like to use at every opportunity.

If you’re interested in some of the reality of European socialism there is this nice article by Russell Shorto in the NY times about the experience of an American in Amsterdam.

If you want to catch up on some of the new work shown in Milan this year, have a look at the following links…
The Guardian – Designs for Life
LA Times – Weird Milan
Designboom – weblog
Core77 – weblog
Inhabit – weblog

 Norio Fujikawa

 Filed under: Design,Transport — Colin Anderson @ Apr 2nd, 2009

Norio Fujikawa is the creative director at Astro Studios. His sublime designs and renderings visible here are probably worth checking out. I especialy like the jetbike (above) because its got my initials on it. And if you like Norio, you’ll also love Daniel Simon at Cosmic Motors. I got the book for Christmas. Someone described it as “porn for engineers”. I hope that’s a compliment. His stuff is excellent.

 GB Olympic Panic

 Filed under: Design — Colin Anderson @ Sep 6th, 2008

Now that we’ve all had time to sit back and reflect after the success of the Beijing games, it’s tempting to jump forward four years and anticipate the London Games.

During the lavish spectacle of Beijing the nervousness of British viewers and commentators was quite palpable. The Chinese clearly threw so much time, energy, money and human resources into the games that the British quickly realized that the London games would be a few rungs down on the ladder of visual excitement. Not only are the British investing only half as much as the Chinese, but a pound also buys much less in London than China.

No doubt the biggest stars of Beijing 2008 were the sports arenas. The Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube were the central platform on which the spectacle unfolded. They provided a dramatic focus for the television cameras of the world. The Olympic games are all about content. A successful games needs an Usain Bolt. It needs a Michael Phelps. However, the content needs to be framed appropriately. The Bird’s Nest provided the edgy, visual frame for the drama of the opening and closing ceremonies and the games themselves.

What will London offer by comparison? Organizers have already created a lot of worry through their choice of logo for the games. I have already written here about the uninspired Design and choice of Olympic stadium. Let’s hope the execution is a lot better than the rendering. In my opinion, the biggest architectural star of the games will be Zaha Hadid’s aquatic centre, shown above. Its powerful, undulating, organic form is worthy of a showcase that only comes around every four years. Let’s hope Ms. Hadid’s vision partially hides British embarassment.

 Liverpool under Spider Attack!

 Filed under: Design — Colin Anderson @ Sep 4th, 2008

La Machine in Liverpool
The same Frenchies that created the brilliant Sultan’s Elephant street theatre are at it again. This time they are using a 50 foot heigh, 37 tonne, hydraulic spider to “attack” Liverpool. The show starts Friday (5th September) and runs through Sunday.

 Rotating Skyscraper Question

 Filed under: Design — Colin Anderson @ Jul 9th, 2008

Rotating Skyscraper
The last couple of weeks have seen tremendous publicity for David Fisher’s novel rotating tower concept. In case you hadn’t heard, developers are accepting deposits on residential towers to be built in Dubai and Moscow. Prefabricated (Italian) floor modules are assembled onto a stationary column. Each floor can rotate independently. Additionally there is vertical space between each floor to house energy producing wind vanes.
This is an interesting design, guaranteed to create lots of blog inches like this one. The only question I have is this: how are plumbing pipes and electrical cables routed? I’m curious to see the solution. The sealing issues created by the rotating floors are compounded by the turbines between the floors.

 Vitruvian Design

 Filed under: Design — Colin Anderson @ Jun 13th, 2008

vitruvian man
Another definition of good design. This time from a 2100 year old Roman, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. Leonardo’s sketch (above) is entitled “Vitruvian Man”. Although he wrote a stack of books, Vitruvius’ most notable quote is that…

Good architecture (or Design) has 3 conditions:

  1. solidity: must be robust (applies to the Coliseum or your new cellphone)
  2. commodity: must be useful or purposeful
  3. delight: must look great

 What is Design?

 Filed under: Design — Colin Anderson @ Jun 12th, 2008

colour chips
After reading Dieter Ram’s idea of good design yesterday, Stuart from Edinburgh suggested that we list Sir Michael Bichard‘s Five Rules of Design. A lifelong civil servant and afficionado of Design, Sir Michael became the Chairman of the Design Council in January of this year. If you have any comments, use the comment button below, or email me.

1.Great design can change the world and move people

2.If you think good design is expensive you should look at the real cost of bad design

3.Design, creativity and innovation are essential if we are to meet the global challenges of sustainable development

4.Design is not just about products and communications, it’s also increasingly in the services we receive or buy

5.To consume design is a creative act – and everyone can be creative!

 10 Principles of Good Design

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Jun 11th, 2008

Dieter Rams, the Designer famous for many groundbreaking products in the ’50’s came up with the following 10 principles of good design. I would have to say that his principles are, like number 7, enduring. How many other Designers were as concerned about minimalism, honesty, and the environment as young Dieter?

  1. Good design is innovative
  2. Good design enhances the usefulness of the product
  3. Good design is aesthetic
  4. Good design displays the logical structure of a product : its form follows its function
  5. Good design is unobtrusive
  6. Good design is honest
  7. Good design is enduring
  8. Good design is consistent right down to the details
  9. Good design is ecologically conscious
  10. Good design is minimal design.

 Marketing vs. Design

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Jun 7th, 2008

Marketing are the corporate function that everyone loves to hate. Dilbert has done a tremendous job of illustrating the friction that often develops between Engineering and Marketing. But what about Design? Surely, the close working relationship that is required between Marketing and Design is going to result in more unpleasantness? (or should that be less). Lets immagine for a minute some of the new product development programs that may have created differences of opinion. Naturally, this is pure conjecture, but why not let me know if you can come up with any more?

Gillette Fusion:
Designers created the form and the functionality,
Marketing insisted it needed 5 blades and a gross margin to fluff up the value of their stock options

Inkjet Printers:

Designers created the form and the functionality,
Marketing created teeny, tiny ink reservoirs and obscene ink prices

Smart Car:

Designers created the ultimate city car,
Marketing pushed for a powerful engine rather than an electric version – a true economy car for the city


Designers created the slick packaging and gestural interface,
Marketing locked the phone with an expensive service contract

Designers created the iconic design and intuitive interface,
Marketing created DRM and i-Tunes, choc-a-block with DRM content


 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Jun 2nd, 2008

idm passenger plane

Let me first state that I’m not a softy. I don’t watch chick-flicks and it takes something very significant to even get me to think about crying. However, get me on a commercial airplane at 30,000ft and all that quickly and mysteriously changes. I become a bit of a softy. Watching the inflight movie, I readily empathize with the main characters. The whole experience becomes more emotionally concentrated or beautiful – slightly funny scenes become hysterical; slightly sad scenes become tragic; happy scenes become so joyful, they bring me, a cold-blooded Scot, to the verge of tears.

There is little literature on this subject. I thought the “problem” was isolated to me until I listened to an episode of This American LIfe. I’m now convinced that the phenomenon is associated with “infrasound” which has been shown to elevate emotions. Infrasound is extreme low frequency (less than 20Hz) noise which we can’t hear but which some of us perceive.

I am willing to believe that there could also be a cocktail of factors that are amplified by Infrasound; for example, travelling alone, reduced pressure, recycled air with little oxygen, alcohol consumption, etc.

Infrasound may also explain other events. For example, why many rock music lovers prefer live music to the recorded variety. Unless you’ve got a killer stereo, you’re not going to produce 120 decibells of infrasound like you might with a lorryload of Marshalls at a live event. Infrasound may be the key ingredient that gets the moshpit going, gets you crowd surfing, and gets your girlfriend to flash her boobs. There again, it might just be the strong lager. Infrasound could also influence your mood when you are near crashing ocean waves or a waterfall. Both of these produce very low frequency sound.

 Environment 2008

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ May 14th, 2008

idm tuna
Listening to the radio news while sketching or modeling, there are frequent stories about the environment and sometimes it is all too easy to get a bit glum. With that in mind, I decided to put together a quick top 10 list. Firstly 10 reasons to be pessimistic about the future of the environment and then 10 reasons to be optimistic.

10 Reasons to be Pessimistic

  1. Cod on the Grand Banks was destroyed in the 50’s. Today, the Japanese and others are doing the same to tuna.
  2. Global warming has opened the Northwest passage open for the first time. Instead of worrying about what this implies for the future of the planet, the US and Canada bicker over shipping rights.
  3. The most powerful/richest nation on earth elected George W. Bush not once but twice!
  4. Frogs and other species are inexorably disappearing.
  5. Rainforests are shrinking and some tropical nations like Brazil are demanding to get paid by the West before they start to protect it.
  6. Healthier, immunized people in India and Africa continue to have ginormous families as they did when mortality rates were significantly higher.
  7. Faced with stark scenarios over global warming, industry and governments around the world continue with more of the same. Big cars, “free”-trade, and unrestrained consumerism rule.
  8. Palm oil plantations in Indonesia are relentlessly displacing native vegetation. Similarly, old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest of the US are being sold off for a few shekels.
  9. Agribusiness will always seek the highest value yield. We eat animals fed on soybean instead of eating the soybean directly. We sacrifice forest and wildlife for cattle that also contribute to global warming.
  10. People are fundamentally selfish. (“Greed is good”)

10 Reasons to be Optimistic

  1. New technology will ultimately save the day. Woohoo!
  2. Farm raised fish may give some relief to wild fish.
  3. Medicine for the frogs being consumed by fungus is being developed.
  4. Electric cars and hybrid cars will one day be ubiquitous.
  5. Dutch cycling culture will spread around the world like wildfire and inevitably save the day. Nice pics here…
  6. High oil prices will redirect our misguided lives – we’re currently at $125 per barrel and counting.
  7. When pollution is so bad, as per China, people will have to take notice. Won’t they?
  8. Fluorescent light bulbs are just the beginning. Other more efficient technologies like LED are ready to explode onto the marketplace.
  9. Global warning gets recognition when Al Gore gets Nobel peace prize for work done on environment. “Well done, Al. I don’t think you’re wooden”
  10. People are fundamentally good.

 Tata Jaguar

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ May 13th, 2008

tata car
After considering the peculiar aesthetics of the new Jaguar XF for a couple of weeks, I have a couple of theories as to what they are playing at.
The question is, why would Jaguar, with such a rich motoring and racing history, throw away their strong design language at the same time the company is being sold off? Theory A is that Jaguar Designers, realizing that Ford is trying to sell Jaguar off, deliberately sabotage the design in order to make the company less saleable. Theory B is that Tata somehow managed to modify the design at the last minute in order to contrast less harshly with the rest of the Tata lineup.
Most car companies, like Mercedes, use design cues to unify their product offerings from the smallest Smart car to the largest Maybach. Tata have a struggle on their hands if they plan to offer a cohesive product offering.

 Jeremy Clarkson is a Moron

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ May 8th, 2008

What red-blooded male doesn’t like Top Gear? How can you not be drawn in by the throbbing engines, good-natured ribbing, and childish humour?

However, let’s get serious for a moment and think about the message being delivered by the corpulent host. With his endearing grin and cocky attitude, he’s pushing big, dirty, ugly consumption. Top Gear, while offering great entertainment, is nothing more than a big lie. The show is all about speed. Whose car is the fastest. Who can drive a car the fastest. How can you make your car faster. Speed, speed, speed. In reality, in traffic-choked Britain, a beige 1978 Morris Marina will get you anywhere just as fast as a Ferrari or Bugatti Veyron. Its not in Clarkson’s interest to talk about this unfortunate reality, so he sticks to the ambience enhancing camera filters, the private racetracks and the equally out of touch personalities in order to keep the message on track: “Buy an expensive, noisy, heavily polluting car and you’ll be happy like me”.

Immagine if Jeremy Clarkson used his enormous appeal for the good of society as a whole and, of course, environment rather than just a handful of wealthy, white men? Immagine if he used his guile and wit to encourage car-sharing, to promote electric cars, or to support public transport.

 Salone Pics

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ May 6th, 2008

milano italy
For most Designers the middle of April is the highlight of the year. That’s because the “Salone” or furniture fair brings tens of thousands of people to Milan to check out thousands of new products and prototypes. Unfortunately for me, this year I was stuck in bed with a miserable flu for the week of the show. I managed to drag myself down to the Salone Satellite on the last day where mostly students and younger (<40) Designers show their crazy new collections.

Fortunately, you can find lots of Milan Salone pictures on the web. Try the following to get you started…




 Soap Nuts

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Mar 9th, 2008

soap nuts
This is the best little product that most people have never heard of. Soap Nuts are literally the shell of a nut that is a natural detergent and can totally replace your chemical laundry detergent. You get clean clothes. You can save money and, being 100% natural, its not harmful to the environment.

I’ve been using these little guys for about a month now. They work. You put the shells in a mesh bag which gets thrown in with the laundry. You can use the same shells for 3-4 washes. They don’t work well on difficult stains since they do not contain strong chemicals.

Once you realize that they work, you start to ask yourself a few questions: why doesn’t everyong know about these? Are the Marketing guys at Procter and Gamble and Unilever worried about soap nuts? Where can I get more?

There are many suppliers available online. Just Google “Soap Nuts”

 Class “A” Surfaces – part 2

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Feb 29th, 2008

The catch with quality is that there is no quick and easy solution. Checkboxes can give you a measure of success but they don’t necessarily provide the whole picture. G2 curvature can often be a good thing, but it’s not a complete solution to quality surfacing.

The image above is designed to portray how well-built surfaces can be constructed with G1 (tangency) continuity and how rubbish surfaces can be made with G2 continuity. In each case there are 2 curves created in Pro/Engineer.

A) This is G2 continuity. Where the two curves meet the length of the porcupines is identical. The inflexion in the curvature plot will show up as a distorted highlight on the surface. Each curve is decellerating up to the point where it meets the adjacent curve at which point there is a significant acceleration.

B) This is G1 continuity. The second curve was sketched with only a Tangent connection. While the continuity is not perfect, it is better than (A) because the change in acceleration at the transition point is more subtle. Compared with (A) this curve has been crafted rather than thrown together.

C) This is G1 continuity. It is the worst of the bunch. Not only is there a significant difference in curvature value at the transition point but there is the same decelleration followed by accelleration that was evident in (A).

D) This is G1 continuity. This is a very common case in Pro/E. There is a step change in curvature but the first curve flows into the second without any obvious inflexion. While there will probably be a visible seam at the transition, the overal quality will be reasonably good and probably better than (A). If this surface has a slight texture, the defect will probably not be visible. If it is a polished surface, better rebuild.

Note that these examples are all 2D curves yet I am talking about surfaces. Whether you are creating extrusions, sweeps, or boundary surfaces, you will be sketching or using existing curves. The quality of the final surface is entirely dependent on the quality of the base curves. This is especially true in the case of boundary surfaces. If you have four input curves, the quality of the final surface will be at least as bad as that of the worst curve.


 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Feb 28th, 2008

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to things or animals that aren’t.

Most people look more or less the same. The differences that make us young or old or male or female or Asian or caucasisn are tiny. There may be just a slight changes in eye shape or a subtle differences in facial profile. Our brain picks this up and processes thousands of pieces of data to not only determine who we are looking at but also where they originate from, how old they are, what mood they are in and whether or not we like them.

What has this got to do with product design? Well, we use the same part of our brain inadvertently when looking at inanimate objects. It doesn’t know when to turn off. We look at a car and make the same snap judgements based on the shape of the headlights etc. Some Designers, like Stefano Giovannoni have made a career out of imbuing consumer products with human characteristics; just check out some of Alessi’s range. Speaking of which, Starck demonstrates with his orange juicer that you don’t even need a suggestion of a face in order to associate a product with a person.

There are some curious aspects to this phenomenon. In addition to analysing faces, our brain is also constantly trying to find faces. For this reason, we find faces in all kind of strange places where there aren’t any. Check out FacesInPlaces for some great examples of this.

The opposite of finely tuned face recognition and evaluation is “face blindness” or prosopagnosia. Sufferers of this condition might be otherwise normal but have trouble recognizing their spouse or even an image of themselves in the mirror.

To get a small idea about how it might feel to be faceblind, check out the Margaret Thatcher effect. This effect demonstrates how we are unable to recognize the difference between a normal face and a totally distorted face when both images are upside down.

Illustrations and cartoons can really leverage anthropomorphism. Take a global icon like Hello Kitty. A few simple lines placed on a product multiply the perceived value of that product. The owner of this brand must be glad that we


interprete expressions the same. Paul Ekman, a psychologist did the pioneering work in this field. He discovered that even in the most remote tribes tucked away in Papua New Guinea, humans all express and interpret the fundamental emotions of anger, sadness, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt and happiness with the same facial expressions. This means that not only is Hello Kitty recognized the world over but we all ascribe the same emotions to her (love, shyness,..?)

Can you think of any products where the Designer is using Anthropomorphism to enhance it appeal?

 Class “A” Surfaces – part 1

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Feb 24th, 2008

There is a great deal of debate and confusion regarding quality surfacing and what may or may not represent a class “A” surface. Many Design studios state that they offer this kind of service. Some firms like ICEM (PTC) claim to have Class “A” software. This leads to many users wondering what they are using. Is it only a B modeller? What’s the deal? Should you be doing Class “A”?

Well, here’s the I.D.milano answer. A class “A” surface is one without physical imperfection. “A” surfaces are the ones seen immediately by the customer and can be contrasted with the less visible and therefore less important class “B” surfaces that are less critical. These highly aesthetic “A” surfaces are closely associated with the automotive industry. When you wander around a new car in the showroom, all of the large panels you see will need to be of this quality. Anything painted with a metallic basecoat and a transparent clearcoat and then polished until it is gleaming will show up the slightest defect. When you have a hundred spotlights glaring down on each panel, the slightest unintended deformation of the reflection is unacceptable. This is the reason for this designation.

By the way, you will find the “B” surfaces on non-glossy interiors, stiffening stampings for the underside of the bonnet and boot and on partially hidden areas that you might have to go out of your way to see. Smaller consumer products are no different. Something like a mobile phone or an Ipod that will be closely examined daily effectively is all “A”. The only place for defects is in the battery compartment.

That’s the easy part. Now, the hard part. How to get the “A” bit into your surfaces.

At this point the discussion turns immediately to continuity. C1? C2? C3? What is required? Well, the consensus is that you need at least second degree, C2 or G2 to achieve class “A”.

Now I’m screwed, you might be saying. I can’t create variable section sweeps with G2. I can’t create sketched curves with curvature continuity between new or existing entities. What am I to do?

(By the by, if you are using Pro/Engineer, you can talk about the “G” version. Please don’t ask me to remember the mathematical difference between C and G. Its really not that significant.)

Without the ISDX module, PTC force you to create curves between 2 points in Pro/Engineer. This allows you to force G2 and then create boundary surfaces that are also continuous. However, it is a truly horrible option. Curve between 2 points is not a strong feature in Pro/Engineer and very difficult to tweak. An even worse option is to create composite curves, either by using overlayed splines within the sketcher or by creating a seperate approximate curve feature. This will also enable you to achieve G2. You’ll just have a miserable looking transition area.

You may now realize that even if you can achieve G2, this alone does not guarantee class “A”. In fact, forcing surface continuity at every opportunity does not necessarily make your surfaces better. You may discover that after having spent considerable time achieving G2, the quality of your surfaces is worse than before!

There is another reason why this may occur. In addition to the lack of appropriate surfacing tools, there is another problem. Curves and surfaces inside Pro are only built to the third order (ie. the polynomial after quadratic). This means that it often has difficulties adapting to particularly dynamic changes in curvature. Compare this with ISDX and Alias that use much more flexible curves (up to order 8 or 9 if I remember right). By the way, if you are from PTC and reading this, please correct me if any of my statements are incorrect.

 Surfacing is Key Development Skill

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Feb 11th, 2008

idm spkr1
Surfacing is the key skill in product development that ties together the creative 2D conceptual phase with the more detailed, engineering part of the cycle. The problem you see with so many products is that the final product bears very little resemblance to the original concept sketch that the business team signed off on. Sometimes, this is simply because Design had no knowledge off or simply ignored the mechanical requirements. More frequently, it is because there is a disconnect between Industrial Design and Engineering.

The core skill of the designer is naturally sketching. We’re all accustomed to the “wow” look of the concept car sketches historically carried out with markers and now frequently done on the computer. This represents the ideal goal of the design, the look that Marketing would kill to have delivered to the showroom floor but seldom see.

Some Designers attempt to pull this “design intent” into a 3D model themselves while others create 2D isometric views for Engineering to implement in 3D.

Either way, there are risks. This is a difficult step where the design intent of the ideation sketches is frequently lost or toned down. Even if the Designer has a clear picture of the product in his or her head, insufficient mastery of 3D tools may mean that the design remains compromised.

By the way, anyone who read the previous post where I stated that 3D CAD modelling skills were not going to impress anyone these days might be a bit confused by this post. To clarify, almost anyone theese days can create 3D models. Very few people can create a model with complex surfacing that meets the original design intent, is fully manufacturable and is built in a robust parametric fashion.

 Design Student Portfolios

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Feb 4th, 2008

As you might imagine, we receive a lot of student CVs and sample portfolios. This is true for all Design firms. Unfortunately for students of Design, each year there are many times fewer vacancies than there are graduating students.

So, how do you make yourself stand out? Naturally, it helps if you’ve got talent and to some degree you have to get a bit lucky. Each design director is probably looking for something a bit different and you’ll never know exactly what that is. From our (biased) point of view, here are a few guidelines…

  1. Sketching is king. If you can sketch well, flaunt it. Most Designers unbelievably cannot sketch well. If you can’t sketch well, don’t show any sketches!
  2. The final result is far less important than the intermediate steps. Many studios are looking for the students ability to show a deveoped process. Do you have an approach to Product Design that can be used over and over again? This is far more valuable than an unpredictable stroke of genius.
  3. Showing 3D models is not going to get your foot in the door. It used to be valuable. Today no-one (apart from some very old people) will be impressed. Modeling is a requirement in the same way as using Photoshop or Powerpoint is a requirement. The only exception might be if you can use a parametric modeler like Pro/Engineer, Catia or Solidworks rather than Rhino or Alias.
  4. If possible, show a diversity of products and a diversity of design styles. Having a distinctive killer look or specializing in sunglasses or whatever is great if you are opening your own studio. But your employer will be more intersted in variation and flexibility. Frequently, the client will say, “that’s really not what I’m looking for” and your boss will come looking for alternate looks.
  5. Often, students will weight their portfolio heavily on their final year project. Even if it is very impressive this strategy may be counter-productive. It may look like you just did bits and bobs for the first few years and then started to panic when it was coming time to graduate.

By the way, we don’t have any vacancies and but we do appreciate everyone out there who has (and will) solicit a job or internship at I.D.milano. Unfortunately, we can’t reply to all your emails but we do keep them all on file for future consideration should something come up.

 Wii HT? (head tracker)

 Filed under: — Colin Anderson @ Feb 2nd, 2008

All Nintendo Wii fans no doubt love the playfulness and level of interaction that the Wii remote provides. Head tracking takes this interaction to the next level. Watch the video below (if you haven’t seen it already) and fail to be impressed! The big question is whether the current Wii hardware can handle the additional processing requirement or whether a new box or companion box would be required. You have to believe there are at least a few dozen people working on this right now. Maybe rolled out with the next version of Zelda? Something for Christmas ’08? Satoru Iwata, call us if you need help with any Product Design.