Sunday, July 29, 2007

7 Bad diabetic design

I ordered a "coffee and donut" combo, then I poured the usual 4 packs of sugar into my coffee... but then I noticed there was something wrong with the sugar powder. In fact, I took "sugar free sugar" in this case the one called "aspartame". Usually, the packaging for those artificial sweeteners are colour coded: aspartame sweeteners are usually blue, and saccharin sweeteners are pink. It's not that I am afraid of getting cancer from just one cup of coffee with artificial sweetener, or that I could be allergic to Phenylalanine, It's just that I don't like the taste. For those with health issues, that's why sweeteners are not just clearly labeled, but also colour coded. I wonder if one day there will be "sugar free donuts" with pink glazing!

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Philip Hilton design experience

Industrial or any other kind of objects become meaningless or meaningful through their usage. We've heard a lot about emotional design lately, i.e. how to make a product that's going to be not only needed, but wanted! Buyers can identify certain elements with their lifestyle or at least what they pretend to be their lifestyle (so called wannabes) from diet or healthy food, high tech gadgets, humongous SUVs, entertainment systems, sports items, etc. It all depends to which lifestyle-stereotype they want to fit in. Of course all those stereotyped groups are part of a cultural segment of our societies. We can have our prejudices about refinement or lack of it just by looking at someone's car... and it's not mere coincidence. People tend to surround themselves with objects that reflect the place and segment of society where they are or would like to be. Consumption just fills them with the desired products.

Take this promotional for Philip Stark's Icon apartment building in Vallarta... I prefer the Paris Hilton room renovation (here some unseen pictures). By the way, it confirms my theories that Paris may be the lost evil twin of Philip... the only thing missing on these renders is a cradle for Tinkerbell... or maybe the idea is for him to sleep on Eero Aarnio's bubble chair!

Not all of emotional design is just economic status, nor because it's emotional means people who buy "emotional"items are Emos. Like I said, some people are into "healthy food"... it doesn't matter if they are actually fit and healthy or morbidly overweighted. Those are the ones who want to belong to the "healthy people" club. Then, there's the "extreme makeover" club... those who want to look and live like Barbie and Ken. There are also Otaku or Geeks (by the way, check out the Geek variables... it may be a good idea to find out my code) and many other groups to which people wants to identify with.
The logic of what is sometimes called, in typically 'pedantic' language, the 'reading' of a work of art, offers an objective basis for this opposition. Consumption is, in this case, a stage in a process of communication, that is an act of deciphering, decoding, which presupposes practical or explicit mastery of a cipher or code. In a sense, one can say that the capacity to see (voir) is a function of the knowledge (savoir ), or concepts, that is, the words, that are available to name visible things, and which are, as it were, programmes for perception. A work of art has meaning and interest only for someone who possesses the cultural competence, that is, the code, into which it is encoded. Pierre Bourdieu
What it means is, that everyone of those groups has a cultural code that is unique to that group. Works of art, objects, slang and many other cultural expressions use those codes. That's the reason why certain objects or kinds of music are pleasant or unpleasant for us, it depends if we are able to decipher that code (cultural competence). Emotional design is about finding codes that can awaken pleasant emotions, like I said... the stuff that can make a need become a want... or make a want out of no need.

Cultural design on the other hand, is not about finding out the emotional gaps, is about the cultural practices. Domus Academy has just launched a Master in Cultural Experience Design. Their prospectus explains very well the 4 elements of Cultural Design:
This module intends to refine the sensitivity towards the cultural experience, through the encounter of the knowledge on productions with representative methods of the talent in the various cultural activities.

This module offers a base of knowledge and solutions to select and use the most innovative technologies in order to develop cultural experiences by improving them.

This module provides the tools to understand the various aspects and peculiarities characterising subjects and producers of cultural experiences.

This module is aimed at building competence in the creation of value within a very special and delicate field, where usage can’t generate consumption.

MED has the objective to train designers-managers designing tools for fruition and communication, organising and managing experiences, by proposing new and technologically advanced modalities to enhance the cultural goods. In this framework, the designers-managers will also acquire the skills to create new cultural meanings for the recently industrially developed cities.
Although the MED is somehow focused on the tourism industry, the idea that cultural experiences (here I am referring to objects and not touristic places) can be managed, planned, and designed to generate a planned result (in this case consumption) confirms the point that objects become meaningful or meaningless through their usage. It means, that design constraints should also consider the cultural value, and cultural practices associated with those products. At the end, it's not form or function what makes a product valuable.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

virtual vandalism

This is quite interesting. I wrote previously about interactive architecture... but this is actually interactive virtual vandalism! A 2500- 4000 lumen projector is more expensive than a paint spray can, but the implications are huge. (Watch the video here and pics at Flickr) Can you imagine sending a text message from your mobile and having that text projected with virtual graffiti somewhere? (say, a wall on your girlfriend's house) That would be wicked!

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Free Creative Viagra and Cialis!

Edwina invited me yesterday to the publicity Expo. We met with the editor of REDiseño magazine. I spent the rest of the afternoon at the expo. There were many interesting things there: like printed t-shirts with light... 3D advertising for TV, and of course the large format printers. Anyway, RAIA, one of the advertising agencies, had this small medicine containers with sweets (like homeopathic candies)... their label reads: "against creative dysfunction". It reminded me of the danish exhibition "flowmarket". I took a couple of bottles of "creativity viagra"... maybe I'll need them someday.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bad influence

Could it be that (many) american films encourage an attitude of "rules apply to everyone else but me"? I've been saying that this is becoming a very nasty attitude in Mexico. Not just on the way people drive: when I drove into the Mall today, at least 10 cars (most of them new models of SUVs) crossed on red light into the parking lot. Years ago, there only few people like that, nowadays almost everyone behaves like rules don't apply to them.

Many films have similar plots like Rambo... when rules, and establishment affect you, it is OK to stand up and break the rules. Take Harrison Ford trying to prove he's innocent... or the guy who kidnaps a police station... etc, etc. It's Ok to think that some rules are "optional" but not every rule, and not every time... and some other rules are not optional, they are mandatory! I think that propaganda, media, and brain wash are damaging the idea of order and social behavior. When people start to believe (and act upon that) that rules are OK, until they don't want to follow them... (like: why should I wait in line until traffic lights are green, when I can cross right now)... it's when things go into chaos.

That same line of thought goes into design. If you think that rules, specifications, standards, design brief or whatever, apply to everyone else but you... well, things might also fall into chaos. Those guidelines are there for a reason... some are legal, some are rules from previous experiences, some are the client's specifications. My typical example is a client who wants a house, and the architect says: "no way, I am going to design a cathedral like the sagrada familia because that's what my creativity tells me to do, and you (client) have no say on creative matters". Can you imagine that! Well, unfortunately that's how some young (industrial) designers respond to their design brief.

But it's not just what the client wants. There's also the social and environmental responsibility. There are many engineers and designers in all kinds of industries "polishing" design. i.e. making small (or big) changes on how products are made, from optimizing shapes, to optimizing assembly or materials, etc. They know that a small change can represent less minutes of assembly, or less material... and that translates into saving some money. Even when it's a few cents, because products that are produced by the millions, 5 cents can become 5 millions in savings. So, why not taking that into account on the first place? Don't think that rules apply to everyone else but you... so you can just waste materials, and throw useless shapes and do as you like just like this monster home. Like I saw today on a billboard : "You don't need more money. You need better taste"

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hold the line

OK. About the construction lines issue. Since ancient times, people have used construction lines and axis to generate proportions and relationships between formal elements. One of the most quoted examples is the Greek Parthenon, which is considered to be the most sophisticated example of the use of the Golden Section (here some other explicit graphic examples). However, not only those ancient cultures in Vitruvian times have used that kind of proportions. There are also modern examples, of course le Corbusier used the golden section for the UN building (for me, the general assembly auditorium looks like a war tank, but that's a semiotics interpretation and another story).

Anyway, during the 1900's, Clement Greenberg literally destroyed the old ways of structured creation, paving the way for a generation of "american idol" artists. Like I said, during thousands of years, creators have used basic composition rules and schemes that are adapted from time to time. Of course, it requires a certain knowledge and mastery of those rules... in a way, that's the grammatic of creation. However the new language rule for the 20th century was that there is no rule, anything goes! I must admit that this liberating anarchy brought some good ideas, but it gave people the false impression that anyone can make art, or design, or music just like that, without any regard for composition, melody, technique, etc.

I learned that comparing design or aesthetics with language may be a cute comparison, but it doesn't work at some levels. I'll use the analogy anyway: if design is a language, and you don't follow grammatical rules, it will only be a series of words with no connection, just like the titles of some random generated spam messages: "pageboy style steps" "conducts useful turning" "statler and emphysematous" "metaphorically hepatitis" ... for the unexperienced eye, they may look like regular titles, however, for experienced readers, the message makes no sense. The same happens with aesthetics, for unexperienced viewers, a piece of furniture or any object for that matter may look fine, for expert eyes, it may or may not have the right proportions or visual relationships between it's elements.

There's no universal design language, but there are universal rules that have to be followed to make the object understandable and pleasurable. Design software doesn't know about that... you have to use old fashioned grids to generate the geometry you need to place later the elements on that object. Some students during this summer course had a hard time understanding that they need to work with those basic rules, I guess they didn't expect some sort of Spanish Inquisition...

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Back to basics

Hopefully I'll have some time to write again, now that the summer course is over. There are still some small details to install before the grand opening, but the hard part is over. Besides the time pressure (5 weeks) for the project, the most common difficulty for most students was to change from the normal academic behavior to a working behavior. What I mean, is that in academic life, the workflow is open to exploration, learning from mistakes, etc. But, trying to get a project done in 5 weeks requires to focus on goals and optimizing work-flow. You have to keep your eyes on the goal, not on your grade or how "conceptual" your proposal is. You have to use basic design tools and methods to keep on track. Those who are used to work without those tools, had a really hard time finding the correct answers. That's a typical mistake students make, and some teachers wrongly encourage.

I've been saying that I am not a great fan of Bruno Munari, but he makes some quite interesting points regarding design methodology. Basically, it is not OK to try to make (or learn) things from scratch... "those who forget their past, are condemned to repeat past mistakes" . Making design by "intuition" "ingenuity" or "common sense" are more likely to take wrong steps. I mean, to get to a working object, there are many trials and errors. Those who refuse to learn from previous experiences will certainly have to go through that same path of trials and errors before reaching the goal. Even when you are looking for innovative solutions, it's good to know about previous experiences, so that the new trial and error path, is not the same as previous ones, and the new solution could come from a different perspective.

Trying to get things done by chance or by "common sense", can take a long time and sometimes it won't have the expected result. It's like trying to get to be a millionaire by buying lottery tickets instead of focusing on developing a business for example. You may eventually get a refund ticket, but not the great prize. Design should therefore be targeted on achieving results, and the best way to do so, is using basic simple tools to do it. Start with a plan: if you don't have a detailed plan or "design specifications" you will get lost really fast.

Everyone has their own sketching techniques, but if you don't have a way of telling the progression of ideas, the best ideas might get lost in a crowd of napkins. Have a precise way of numbering and grouping ideas, that way, the idea will actually "develop" from previous sketches. It's like a platform to launch ideas further, if you don't use that platform, your ideas will hardly jump up.

Use basic composition diagrams when sketching. Some people have a natural skill for proportion, symmetry, asymmetry, balance, contrast, etc... some don't. Even the more skilled painters and artists start by locating construction lines upon which they will be working the forms and shapes. Always!!! Always use construction lines... (I'll further comment about this on a later post). And of course, when you are at the workshop, building your stuff... use those construction lines to draw axis, angles, etc... use drawing tools on your materials, do not draw or mark things by hand! remember i's INDUSTRIAL design, not artisan's design. A Pollock painting couldn't be industrial design, so why let things fall in place by chance or gravity?

Then, my typical advise on workshop manufacturing: do not compromise or change anything that affects the size, shape, function, aesthetic, form, or functionality of your design just because a technician tells you to! They are there to solve technical difficulties, not to solve design issues. If this world would have been created by a technician, gravity would have been solved with a rubber band, animals and plants would come in only 3 or 4 shapes (why bother to make each and one individually), everyting would be built with steel square profiles (PTR) and have humongous over sized screws to fix things... or be fastened with duct-tape if it's just temporary.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Centennial meeting

I promise to post about the multisensory room later. Now, this from ASABE's newsletter:

Decades from now, when members glance back at the Society's centennial, surely the speakers whose addresses punctuated the 100th anniversary meeting will stand out as highlights. Panels assembled among Young Professionals and Senior Actives peered into the future of agricultural and biological engineering, while Centennial Gala speakers reflected on the challenges of the profession, both those that have been met and those set before us. Colorado State University livestock systems designer Temple Grandin inspired her Sunday afternoon audience, advising them that engineers do well to avail themselves of 'visual thinkers' like her, adept at envisioning systems and products as they will function. The following morning, author and physicist Brian Greene spoke so compellingly about our understanding of the universe that his allotted hour was not enough for some listeners. Greene indulged the inquisitive, entertaining questions for another twenty minutes at the edge of the stage. Finally, those lucky enough to be around when the Society celebrates its sesquicentennial will be able to take stock of the progress the profession made in addressing three crucial issues identified by President Bill Clinton. Greeted by a standing ovation, President Clinton called the next fifty years "an engineer's dream" for the challenges presented by climate change, population growth, and resource depletion. Local-news coverage of the event was heavy, with all network affiliates, plus radio and newspapers, reporting on the President's address to ASABE. The following links will take you to some of those stories: KARE 11 - NBC, Fox 9 News.

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