Green Screen in Movies

We know that ‘green screens’ (or more accurately, “Chroma Key“) are commonly used in filming, be it weather or action movies so that the actor/presenter need not be physically within the context of a scene, whether for safety, costs or technical reasons. The reel from green screen specialist studio Stargate would show just how much it is used in movies and dramas:

Actors probably have gotten better over the years, as they adapt to this technique during acting to respond to non-existent cues within the movie frame. For instance, the instinctive slight shivering while walking through a particularly cold street in Russia – without the immersive visual and visceral setting, one has to imagine the hundreds of minor environmental cues that may affect a character within the environment’s context. Tough!

Car Cigarette Lighters


It’s one of those things that I’d label as ‘dormant trivia’ – curious questions that I didn’t know exist, even though on hindsight, the bigger question is “why didn’t I think of that question (and find out the answer)? Maybe it’s just me being particularly ignorant or slow – that this is general knowledge to everyone but me:

Why are car cigarette lighters so big (diameter) compared to the cigarettes they are supposed to light?

And today (finally?) I learned the answer.

Microsoft Courier Tablet

It was making the rounds around the net  – Microsoft’s (concept?) tablet titled Courier with some interesting UI features. The video shows pretty much a scrap/sketch-booking concept so there’s bit of quirky messy-ness within the UI (as how sketchbooks usually are); given the education-leaning demonstration I’d also wonder about the ‘Kindle-killerness’ – could Microsoft muscle their way into schools and convince boards of education that this is indeed going to be a real effective teaching aid (like how many iPod touches ended up as educational aid – IMHO probably more gadget-lust than actually effective tools for learning).

To bad Microsoft gave up on this.

Loanshark Marketing

Recently I’ve taken a special interest in a rather niche segment of marketing – those done by loan sharks. Johor Bahru (or JB – city in Malaysia) has a very high density of these (theoretically?) illegal money-lending businesses, catering to anybody from gamblers seeking a quick rescue to ‘proper’ businessmen needing just that bit more cash flow.

Growing up, I had the common impression of loansharks where they are generally  underground – where you need some sort of mafia-connection to get access to it. In JB this is a lot more ‘above-the-line’, where you’d see signs and phone numbers pasted all over, on practically every surface you can find.

Recently though, I get impressed yet again with their level of  ’marketing professionalism’ – just received this set of brochures (only showing the front/back):

Loan Shark AD

Loan Shark AD

Check out the amount of design and creative direction (everything from layout, typography, photography to copy-writing, consistency in theme between the 3 separate brochures) that went into promoting their services: simply impressive!

Cone Pizza


I was quite amused and inspired simultaneously when I came upon this picture of a cone pizza – it’s the first time I’ve seen it, and got me thinking about the form of pizza – is this a more optimized form for the function (pizza-enjoyment)?

I see quite a few strong points going for this design. The cone form, just like the ice cream, gives it a much more portable interface for individual servings of pizzas to go, though it becomes rather unwieldy if you’re a big-eater who needs more than a few of them.

It also concentrates the toppings (do you still call them toppings if they’re more like, well, “innings”?) in a more concentrated manner – you can certainly imagine the oozing, flowy melted-mozzarella as you bite in, and probably more fitting for the mouth as well. As a stall owner, this arrangement seems to let you get away with less ingredients to achieve the same impact too.

However, the satisfaction-curve for this form perhaps leaves something to be desired. Assuming that the ingredients are generally preferred over crusts (I see many who leave the pizza crusts behind in a pizza buffet, for instance), your experience gets worst as you chomp your way down, until you’re left with the tip of the cone – large mouthful(s) of relatively dry dough.

Interesting innovation dough though!

(Any even better/alternative forms of pizza?)

Demystifying the Design Process

In my daily work, I’m heavily involved in design research and design strategy, and creating the framework/angle in which the design team can approach a project. One of the things that I have always yearned to do is to create a series of ‘standard steps’ to take – a design strategy/framework set, if you will – the basic ‘design process’ that can lead to sound strategies that leads to creatively-directed and successful work both internally and for our clients.

This of course, is a good thing. With a more structured process, there is the effect of leverage – the same results can be replicated and amplified through more designers. Even for myself – this could be a good library of ‘known-solutions’ to fall back on – projects can get on faster and easier, without having to spend too much time re-thinking each project as they come.


But I always seem to come to a stumbling block. I can try to summarize all of the frameworks/methods that I know of, or have applied in past projects, but inevitably they boil down to a few issues.

The strategies/approaches can become simplified – but to what extent? If I boil it down so that it can be applied across different projects, it can end up somewhat like IDEO’s Method Card (which I do have in my cabinet), which is good enough as a ‘spark plug’ to remind one in the existence of a particular approach, but hardly sufficient to take it and run (it’s not a ‘play book’).

If I do not simplify – and choose to instead include all the little extra steps, the creative angles, the specific techniques, then it’d seem to revert back to a very specific and narrow method, suitable perhaps for that one particular project of that one client, but difficult to transfer across projects (it cannot be generalized).

And today, I stumbled upon this quote by Michael Beirut – an old Design Observer essay from 2006, to be sure – but I thought “Wow, that captured my dilemma!”:

When I do a design project, I begin by listening carefully to you as you talk about your problem and read whatever background material I can find that relates to the issues you face. If you’re lucky, I have also accidentally acquired some firsthand experience with your situation. Somewhere along the way an idea for the design pops into my head from out of the blue. I can’t really explain that part; it’s like magic. Sometimes it even happens before you have a chance to tell me that much about your problem! Now, if it’s a good idea, I try to figure out some strategic justification for the solution so I can explain it to you without relying on good taste you may or may not have. Along the way, I may add some other ideas, either because you made me agree to do so at the outset, or because I’m not sure of the first idea. At any rate, in the earlier phases hopefully I will have gained your trust so that by this point you’re inclined to take my advice. I don’t have any clue how you’d go about proving that my advice is any good except that other people — at least the ones I’ve told you about — have taken my advice in the past and prospered. In other words, could you just sort of, you know…trust me?

Beirut’s main struggle seem to be “how to convince clients of the worthiness of his (team’s) ideas while the process appears fuzzy, unexplainable and/or non-logically-sequential”. In my case, the struggle is the attempt to sequential-ize and formalize a process that is in itself a blend of intuition, experience, fuzziness and voodoo magic.

The temptation to create a play-book (just like how football coaches do) is still strong – and I’d probably still want to (try to) do that. But perhaps I can take a page off Beirut’s experience and acknowledge that hey, not everything is a straightforward and repeatable process – particularly not in the fuzzy front end of design.

Why are Browser Icons Round and Blue?

Voltage Creative asked an interesting question:

Every single (even moderately successful) [note: except Opera] web browser’s logo has been round… Why?

Some plausible explanations:

  • IE was a blue rounded icon and everybody just followed suit
  • The globe is the best representation of the Internet (and it’s round and blue)

I tend to concur with the blue-globe metaphor explanation – if you look at most of those icons, there are explicit globes in it and you can’t quite have a square globe, can you? Which leads me to think – is there any better metaphor apart from the globe for the Internet?

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.

Seeing Maps Everywhere

We certainly have a tendency to recognize familiar shapes from all actually-random sources: we see faces or creatures in the clouds, we imagine that there is indeed a divine intervention when Virgin Mary appeared on toasts; and now – “cartocacoethes – a mania, uncontrollable urge, compulsion or itch to see maps everywhere”:


UK, Africa and Australia? Further elaboration here.

[via infosthetics]

Car Design by Evolution

Back in school I used to have a professor who taught us about design+genetics (and called it Geno-metrics). The central thesis was for designers to move away from the role of designing the object to designing the parameters/rules in which the object can exist. In a one-semester exposure this was nothing much more than programming parametric CAD software to churn out hundreds of designs based on a series of randomly varying dimensions (within reasonable bounds).

So we were supposed to find an object, program a range for a core set of dimensions, and let it be randomized within these bounds. Due to the ‘law’ within the programming, the outcome is bound to be varied and yet have identifiable ‘genes’. For instance, here are some stool designs (not necessarily valid) that were executed by the computer:


I remember the majority of the class balked at the idea. Some of the reasons include:

“So what does that make me? I’m here to learn design – if the computer does everything, then what’s the point?” – the same was said for a lot of other things that are taken-for-granted design tools for designers nowadays too.
“How can the computer make good designs – it has no brains/intelligence?” – Well maybe not in 100 iterations – but what about in 1000? 1 million? 1 billion?

I was somewhat sceptical too, but the idea of ‘genes’ captured my imagination. The idea that you can boil a cacophonic, complex external object (or even systems), and distill it into its essence with just a few variables. However, the shortcomings of the above exercise lied in the fact that at the end of the day, the judgement for ‘good design’ is subjective and human. This readily makes the computer seem incompetent.

A contrasting case-in-point:


This was a Flash program by Matthew where a primitive car design is iterated by computer.  The (objective) aim of the car (that defines whether it’s a good design or not) is the length of treacherous terrain it can go pass before crashing. The variables are the size and initial positions of the 4 circles, the length, spring constant and damping of the 8 springs.

If you let it run, you’d see that as it crashes, it reboots and tries to refine the design again, and through time, the design gets improved without further manual input.

Here is the difference – with a quantifiable, objective feedback to the success of a design, computers can automate and rapidly refine designs (very likely) better than a human can. If the evaluation is subjective, however, the process becomes ineffective or slows down by orders of magnitude.

In a landscape where we are increasingly talking about user-generated content, democratic design and increased semantics intelligence for computers, this may become more relevant. There are already web-advertisements that modify its own designs (font size, colors, images, etc.) on-the-fly based on real time feedback on click-through-rates.

How/where else can this be applied?