Green = Cute-sifying?


Must you cute-sify your logo if you want to show you’re green? For instance, major corporations like BP and Monsanto have ditched their stodgy and serious logos in favor of cuter and more ‘down-to-earth’ ones. Nicole Peterson (who has a very interesting research going on – the usage of cute in contemporary design) ponders in this article. Excerpt:

Environmental awareness has been around for decades, but increasing alarm about global warming has put it on the forefront of the public mind. It is no longer only in the realm of hippies and tree huggers; the average American consumer can also be an environmentalist! But since the issue of environmentalism is so vast and complicated, many newcomers to the green movement may feel unsure about where they can start. Cuteness is an effective way to make novel, complicated ideas and technology easier to understand by taking away uncertainty and allowing empathy. For example, when introducing the iMac G3 in 1998, Apple focused on the computer’s cuteness and ease of use rather than its technological capabilities. Television commercials playing the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” emphasized that the G3′s rounded, approachable design came in a variety of bright colors. Similarly, the green movement is now focusing on easy, feel-good ways consumers can help the planet.

Feminine Hard Drive?



Here’s ‘Costume‘ – a concept design for a 2.5″ hard disk drive by designer Joongoo Lee, which obviously takes inspiration from ladies accessories, specifically the compact powder case. While the Samsung mark is on the product, this is almost certainly not really from Samsung design.

Diane from Popgadget (a blog dedicated to technology from a feminine perspective) here mistook it for an official Samsung idea – but it’s interesting to see her reaction to this product:

…Samsung has designed a concept compact hard drive that looks similar to a piece of make-up – and this picture shows it surrounded by make-up, to prove the point. You know, ‘cos we women are so crazy about cosmetics, we’ll buy anything if it looks like we can paint our faces with it.

So far though, this is just a concept – and maybe it should stay that way. I think the design is sleek and all, but I don’t agree with making tech designs gender specific. (Don’t small, sleek designs appeal to men, too?)

As a (male) designer, this is often a question that I ponder too. While I think simply ‘pinkifying’ a gadget is superficial, I can’t help but wonder if it (sometimes?) works. When designing a functionally neutral object (e.g. a hard disk drive) is there really no gap between male and female’s preferences? If there are (I think there are) – what are they (or what are they likely to be)?



How do you want to die?

“Would you prefer to be old when it happens?” she then asked.

This time the response was swift and sure, given the alternative.

Then Dr. Lynn, who describes herself as an “old person in training,” offered three options to the room. Who would choose cancer as the way to go? Just a few. Chronic heart failure, or emphysema? A few more.

“So all the rest of you are up for frailty and dementia?” Dr. Lynn asked.

And then she showed the audience – health policymakers, legislative staff, advocates for the aged and for family caregivers, etc. mostly at middle ages – these graphs:


Dealing with one’s own mortality is definitely not a pleasant thing – it’s not all fun-and-games, and many of us would probably just turn a blind eye to it, avoid it and pretend it doesn’t exist, so much so that death is in many ways still a conversational taboo. You may ask someone about his family, his career, his life in general, but never about his death. When conversation hits a recently-deceased family member, the standard is just to say “Oh I’m sorry” and to just fudge on from there.

Handling (on-behalf) a sick loved-one’s can prove to be an even more difficult dilemma. Family members with sick elderly often find themselves staring down extremely tough decisions, tangled amongst the vines of exorbitant medical costs, guilt, dignities, care-responsibilities, quality-of-life, etc.

As medical treatment advances we are seeing ways of intervention that can put more time into our lives – but it doesn’t necessarily put more life into our time. At some point we would need to ask ourselves how do we want to age – and die?

[via NYTimes – The New Old Age]

75th birthday for Phillips (the screw)


On July 7th 1936 (almost 75 years ago) Mr. Henry F Phillips received a patent for a type of screw and the accompanying screwdriver – the Phillips screw. The Phillips screw has been around for so long, and have been taken for granted for so long that I’ve never pondered about its birth – why did someone come up with a “+” shaped head to go along with the “-” shape. The only thing that went off in my mind was probably, “+” shape has four arms and somehow that makes it easier to turn and less likely to slip.

It was of course that, and more:

The Phillips-head screw and Phillips screwdriver were designed for power tools, especially power tools on assembly lines. The shallow, cruciform slot in the screw allows the tapering cruciform shape of the screwdriver to seat itself automatically when contact and rotation are achieved. That saves a second or two, and if you’ve got hundreds of screws in thousands of units (say, cars), you’re talking big time here.

And not only does a power Phillips driver get engaged fast, it stays engaged and doesn’t tend to slide out of the screw from centrifugal force. Another advantage: It’s hard to overscrew with a power tool. The screwdriver will likely just pop out when the screw is completely fastened.

Ah! That additional bit of engineering, design and thoughtfulness that almost everyone have taken for granted – and I suppose, that’s why it became such a popular fastener.

That said, consumer electronics do seem to increasingly treat screws with disdain – it is now seen more as a blot in the aesthetics, if you will. Could the screw ever one day disappear from manufactured products altogether?

[via WIRED]

Bypassing Chinese Censor

It is well known that the Chinese government proactively clamp down on any media that it deems to run contrary to its own interest. Besides keeping a tight lid on official press such as newspapers and TV reports, popular online forums are also actively patrolled to keep a tight patrol on dissidents that run contrary to their appetites.

Chinese netizens, of course, aren’t simply willing to lie low and submit to that. Apart from technical solutions such as proxy surfing, they’ve also been quite creative in forum posts. Chinese forums are commonly littered with different-but-phonetically-similar words in place of more sensitive terms. But that too, gets caught by the officials pretty quickly.

The latest round in this cat-and-mice game is rather ingenious – rearranging words to read from a different orientation to fool the (very likely computerized) scanning. For instance, instead of writing from left to right, the posts are authored from right to left, or even scrambled to a top-bottom arrangement. This, in fact, heralds back to the traditional Chinese script back when the times where it was written on bamboo strips vertically from right-to-left. Thus, it makes perfect sense for human readers, but State computers may have a tougher time combing.

An example of the scrambling software:


Which made me ponder – captchas have come to become an integral part of the Internet landscape to verify if one is a human or not. This could mean having to recognize jumbled-up digits or alphabets, or recognizing cats from dogs. These are tasks deemed easy for the average human being, but tough for computers to crack.

Could there be other similar hacks around censored forums that are easy for humans to decipher, but difficult for computers to crack? What are some of the methods that defies simple computing power? And tools to achieve this in a forum setting? Scrambling orientation is one of them – could there be more (and more interesting ones too)?

[via WSJ]

Discussion: Design Competitions worth it?


Regular reader Scott asks:

We designers and innovators struggle all the time to get our name “out there” so we can more quickly push our designs into reality.  Entering (and winning) such contests as Muji can certainly help, but at what cost?

If you sit back and look at the bigger picture of what is happening, it is really quite sad.  Let’s say a huge company needs to develop a new fun dispenser for their soap product.  They can spend millions hiring a prestigious design firm to get a filtered short list of a few new ideas put together by a team of perhaps 5 designers, or they can sponsor a design competition – disguise their motive in the form of a “challenge” to the designers of the world.

As in most design competitions, it would not be surprising to see 5000 designers enter from around the world.  Each designer would carefully follow the rules, in many cases pay a FEE of up to perhaps $100 or so and then spend hours carefully and vividly illustrating their novel work, presenting it in the exact form required by the rules of the competition (and the sponsoring company).  They would then submit their invention, their design, their intellectual property to so-called “judges” who work with the sponsor to determine select winners.  During this process, the sponsoring company has the privilege of inspecting the outcome of perhaps the biggest brainstorm session in the world.

The cost to the company is minimal (pay the judges and award $10,000/ $5,000/$1,000 to the winners).  For this small cost, the company gets to see incredibly diverse and innovative concepts from great minds of many parts of the world (ideas that have not be shown before) AND they get the rights to the designs they want AND they don’t have to pay royalties or give the struggling designer any design credit to HIS or HER design, AND they also get free advertisement as a result of being the sponsoring company (it looks like great PR – a win win win for the company).

Are we fools here?  I’m surprised all companies don’t tap into this wealth of eager brains.  We need to form a union to protect our innovations from the corporate world.

If we don’t win, which is often the case, we don’t even get any constructive criticism from the judges for our fee.  So we don’t really learn from the experience (design wise) and honestly, we can’t be certain that the judges even looked at our designs.  We often don’t even get a courtesy email to let us know that we didn’t make the next round.  I wish there was a better way.

What are your thoughts?


Back in the 1960s especially, Braun was among the very cutting edge in industrial design – they were the pioneer and the leaders that played a major role in defining and shaping conversations on aesthetics and design. Even today, modern design icons from Apple are still arguably very much inspired by the Braun aesthetics of the bygone era.

The Braun Prize is still very much a coveted prize for any design students in the world, though you’d have to admit, Braun itself as a corporation has faded somewhat significantly in its influence on the design world.

Industrial designer Joe Doucet noticed this issue, and took the initiative to start the speculative design efforts designed to reignite what made Braun great:

Doucet hopes the self-funded prototypes (presented to the manufacturer earlier this year) will help initiate a change in the Braun aesthetic, which, since Dieter Rams’ days as head of design, has “lacked distinction”. “It’s been 40 years since Braun was in the design museum,” says Doucet. “The products are still engineered very well, but there is no ethos. If you remove the Braun branding they could be by any other manufacturer.”

Here are his three speculative designs for a toaster, mobile phone and music player:


For me, I’d agree with the assessment that Braun has faded from design leadership in many (most?) of its consumer product segments. Perhaps they’ve decided that one-style-can’t-fit-all-demographics; perhaps no one could take on Dieter Ram’s hats. In any case, as I glance across the home appliances aisle now, it is difficult to pick out a Braun apart from its (imho) still very iconic BRAUN logo.

What do you think of Doucet’s proposals? Do they work for you?

1969 vs 2008



The Apollo 11 landed on the moon, marking one of the most significant milestone in mankind’s conquest into space. It was one of the defining moments in mankind’s history – the sense of awe, hope, humility, and a basket of other indescribable emotions can still be felt through as one takes a walk back through the event transcript:

Then Armstrong said the famous words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Shortly after landing, before preparations began for the EVA, Aldrin broadcast that: “This is the LM pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.

He then took Communion privately.

At 2:56 UTC on July 21, Armstrong made his descent to the Moon’s surface and spoke his famous line “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind” exactly six and a half hours after landing.Aldrin joined him, describing the view as “Magnificent desolation.”


Fast forward to 2008 – the Phoenix lands, and locates one of the critical factors for possibility of life in space – water on Mars. And here’s the defining moment – a tweet:


Superheroes on their Off Days

With The Incredible Hulk out, I suppose Mr. Green Giant would be more busy with promotions and screening galas. But what does he do on the rest of the years? Well, it turns out that he’s putting his talents to work loading/unloading greengrocer trucks:


Here are some of his fellow superhero buddies putting their talents to good use when they’re off-screen:




On a more serious note, these photographs are actually a series by Dulce Pinzón, a Brooklyn-based photographer. Through this series of photographs, she examines the roles of Mexican immigrants in the role of the American economy:

The principal objective of this series is to pay homage to these brave and determined men and women that somehow manage, without the help of any supernatural power, to withstand extreme conditions of labor in order to help their families and communities survive and prosper.

This project consists of 20 color photographs of Mexican immigrants dressed in the costumes of popular American and Mexican superheroes. Each photo pictures the worker/superhero in their work environment, and is accompanied by a short text including the worker’s name, their hometown in Mexico, the number of years they have been working in New York, and the amount of money they send to Mexico each week.

The silent contributions of the Mexican immigrants are highlighted through the instant recognition derived from the superhero images that are well-anchored in our pop culture. In this way, we recognize that these immigrants do contribute heroic efforts within the economy, but with much less fan-fare, adoration and dare I say respect.

For more photos and description of the series, head on to Dulce Pinzón’s Superhero site.

When is a design ‘finished’?


When is a design done? As design itself is usually a rather subjective judgment, designers are often lulled into a seemingly endless cycle of re-examination and ‘that-last-bit-of-tweaking’. Abduzeedo asks 23 professional (graphic) designers on their take on when/how they consider their design work to be finished – here are some samples:

“I know a design is finished when every time I add something or adjust something it seems to get worse. I often create a set of history snapshots of the design trying different things – additions or small alterations – and then show them to my wife – who is also a designer. When we both agree that the original is already complete then I delete the snapshots and stop there. Of course sometimes adding one more element can lead you down a whole other path of design, and I have wound up totally reworking a look. But that’s the joy of design, there are always many solutions to a problem!” – Collis Ta’eed.

“I’m never sure if a design is done unless i take a break from it and don’t bother looking at it until the next morning. If what I see the next day puts a smile on my face, then it’s done.” – Kevin Brisseaux

“When the deadline is met.” – James Wignall

“I am finished with a piece when nothing else I add looks good. To me this means the piece isn’t finished, it’s simply reached my creative limitations.” – Joshua Smith

Your take?