Too much (poorly designed) Information?


Came across this interesting design commentary by Joseph Logan, describing how a transparent window in the milk carton (ostensibly a good idea to have a quick, real time, reliable way to tell how much milk is left) degenerated into something that is a whole lot less elegant, simply by adding more and more visual elements (inappropriately too):

A designer suggested adding a little window on the carton to provide something easier for making a shopping list than a rough weight estimate.  The first round of design review probably added the volume markers, which are innocuous enough but unnecessary for the majority of milk drinkers.  Subsequent rounds probably added the wholly useless picture of the milk jugs and the placement of all this visually distracting detritus.

Is there anything beyond the little windows that substantially improves your ability to make decisions about the volume of milk?  Of course not.

What is actually happening here is that a potentially useful addition to the good old milk carton becomes something cluttered and misleading, and it smacks of committee work.  Will any harm come of it?  Probably not.  At most, it might be a little more confusing than necessary to anyone who bothers to look at it, which probably won’t be too many of us.  Imagine safety diagrams on an airplane or in a chemical plant, though;  how much distraction or confusion would be necessary to cause an accident?

Hear hear~ that is also something that I come across once in a while in my day-to-day job. It’s quite easy to slip into the chasm of  “isn’t more of something good better?”, and forget the delightful balance and restraint that must sometimes take priority instead. Or to push design concepts all the way to the extreme ends of a cross-matrix – where subtlety is erased and diminished.

Problematically, these are also typically calls that you can’t rationally make a rule of. How do you know when ‘too much’ is, in fact, too much? In these times, it simply boils down to good judgment, clarity of intent and experience.

BMW’s Hofmeister Kink


newmediacampaigns has a rather interesting article zooming in to a fine detailing on BMW’s automobile design – the Hofmeister Kink. As seen above (highlighted in blue) in the BMW 1500 launched in 1961, the kink describes the bend at the C-Pillar (rear pillar), representing a turn in the window lines that one may have expected to flow smoothly towards the rear.


The Hofmeister Kink (named after BMW’s design director at that time) persisted throughout BMWs – and according to newmediacampaign, as BMW became more established as a car marque with qualities of luxury, high-end and quality, the kink itself became a subtle element representing these qualities as well.


Other carmakers caught on, and the application of the kink helped to differentiate similar cars/platforms tweaked towards different market segment – for instance, the Taurus has the smooth lines that coincide towards a sharp angle, while the Lincoln MKS sports the kink.

Quite an interesting read – though I’m sure you will be able to find counter-examples, I thought this was an interesting back story to a design detail that most of us would never even have noticed. Head on the their full article for a more comprehensive read.

The art of Keys Arrangement

If you’ve ever wondered how they transitioned from rotary dialing to button-press on the telephone, here’s an interesting background story. Before it became a standard that every phone now follows, human factor specialists (or the equivalent in those time) actually tested 18 different possible key layouts:


The participants were asked to key in a bunch of numbers and timed for it. Other factors like aesthetics and error rates were also computed. The five finalists were as follows:


Some pretty mixed results there actually. The familiar layout of the predecessor (the 4th one – ‘Telephone’) scored the best on timing, most likely due to the inherent familiarity. To be honest though I don’t quite know how they chose the (3×3)+1 arrangement that we now have though. From the data it seems it could’ve really gone any way. Perhaps because it’s a less polarizing option?

Now, someone needs to explain why the arrangement is different on calculator numberpads.

And while we’re on the topic of key arrangements – here’s a different but similarly intriguing story about the placement of the arrow keys: how did they come to the arrangement that is standard across all keyboards today? It turns out that there were testing and studies too:


Check it out here.

[via mental floss]

MUJI Award 03

The MUJI Award 03 results have been released – 1986 entries vying for the prize within the theme of “Found”:

For the coming MUJI Award 3, we want you to find “Found MUJI” from your viewpoint. Learn from the wisdom accumulated by our predecessors all over the world, find good points in such long-established merchandise, and convert them into a design that fits our modern life. We expect to see your “yes, of course” products that are also great in the modern age.

Here’s the Gold Prize winner – Straw straw:


That’s exactly what it is – a straw made of straw. Straws have long been replaced in manufacturing by extruded plastic. Straw Straw asks the question “why emulate nature with artificial plastics when nature’s own solution has already been there all along?”, returning back to the natural simplicity of a straw Straw – a reunion of natural material and form.

As judge Masaaki Kanai points out, his reaction was “That’s it – it’s exactly what it is?!”, and probably many are thinking that there is nothing particularly new nor inventive (straw straws were used before plastic straws were used). One might be expecting a stunningly clever new contraption that does something like never before, and be disappointed/confused by the choice for the Gold Prize.

For me it’s symptomatic of the society’s (or at the very least, MUJI and MUJI’s designer-judges) march towards not creating more things. And aptly for this year’s theme of “Found” – seeking the things that have been forgotten, buried, became niche…and restoring it to the consciousness of the mainstream. In that respect, I thought this was a deserving entry.


Silver Prize winner is Trash pack for outdoors – taking advantage of the natural structural properties of a pyramid (inspired by the shape of milk packaging commonly found in Japan) for stability, eliminating the need for additional layers of structure particularly for outdoor activities like picnics or camping.

For this concept, I do wonder a bit about disposal though. As the paper bag gets filled, how does one seal it? Paper bags or plastic bags have the natural handles that turn into tying mechanisms – how about this? It doesn’t seem to show through in the award images.

The Bronze awards are: Tachia Mat (hand-weaved straw that can be used as bedsheet); Grandpa’s Nail Hook (nails that have been designed to allow you to pound at it at a specific angle for hanging); Camelia washing-up Powder (byproduct powder from oil-production used as natural washing detergent); Second Skin (double layered cloth: one side soft and the other side waterproof, for flexible usage as towels, bags, poncho, etc.) and Precise Staper (a stapler that helps you align your paper for consistently accurate stapling).


Any comments on the winning entries?

LG Japan Concept Phones


LG Japan organized a design competition for concept mobile phones – and the aesthetic mock-ups were shown at the Tokyo Design Week sometime back. The winner (pictured at the top) is called the Planet Phone:

[It is] a circular clamshell-style handset that features numerous LEDs embedded into the top half of the phone. Each of the small lights represents one of your friends. Those you keep in contact with remain near the center, but as you slowly lose touch with people they drift towards the edge and eventually off the display altogether. It’s supposed to prompt you to keep in touch with friends and remind you when you haven’t spoken to someone for a while.

At least in the concept phone arena, there does seem to be a trend towards making the phone less like a digital, consumer electronics but more poetic and metaphorical, such as those qualities displayed here by the Planet Phone.

Personally for me some of the other concepts didn’t feel too fresh – there have been concepts like these for some time now (at least from what I can see and infer from the image/descriptions. From top left, “Temperature” phone where your contacts are in the format of physical tiles that can be exchanged and used to compose your own unique phone; “Ring” with a rotary dial that doubles up as the camera viewfinder; “Tap” where you can switch between modes by flipping it like a light switch and “fbt” with Braille input/output.

[PC World has the write-up]