- Our friend Marco Cross is kicking off a complex design & fabrication project: building a moped from scratch. It's definitely worth following along with, in large part to how transparently he is documenting the process, starting with initial conception and defining project parameters. It's exactly the kind of stuff that makes up the majority of a good product design/development cycle but is largely invisible to outside observers browsing portfolios or case studies.
- Wired profiles the color controversy of Vantablack and artist Anish Kapoor. It's not a totally new story but Wired fleshes it out with greater background and detail than we've seen elsewhere, as well as covering some other historical examples of intellectual property protected colors.
- A really great, detailed read on how the sound design of the recent Wonder Woman movie was developed.
- We wrote up some thoughts on The Digital Factory event from a few weeks ago, along with some commentary on other trends in how physical products get marketed and sold via platforms like Kickstarter. The overarching narrative here is that a lot of converging technologies and models are leading to a different way of doing business for tangible goods.
- Facebook has long claimed a mission to connect the world, but they've had a bumpy time in the past year or so dealing with rampant fake news on their platform and concerns around filter bubbles that increase division rather than bringing people together. The latest controversy the company has found themselves tangled up in is around the issue of LGBTQ visibility- that is, Pride related icons on their platform literally don't show up for everyone, in what critics are suggesting is a form of digital gerrymandering. We'd say it's more of a non-consensual editorializing, that restricts an individual's expression in ways they may not even be aware of.
More next week.
- A look at the difference between photo-realism and realism in painting, and how we perceive shape, form, color and space in general. It's worth noting that fine art and design education are pretty divergent here, with fine art teaching multiple modes of depicting visual space that are based on inference, and design education focused on making things as clear and communicative as possible. Skeuomorphism in digital design might rely on tricking the eye (creating the illusion of 3D space) in a way similar to painting, but it's purpose is still clear communication more than reveling in the weirdness of human perception. Perhaps the UI of AR/VR tech will depart from that clear-cut tradition to engage with a more painterly way of presenting information and interactivity.
- Some big brands rolled out new design approaches this past week, with Twitter and Bloomberg Business Week both rebooting their looks. We were personally big fans of the prior incarnation of Bloomberg Business Week's bold choices in design, graphics and presentation, particularly their online content which blended animation, illustration and typography in a way that went beyond visual interest and really added depth and flavor to the articles themselves. But we can understand that from a viewpoint of seeking customers from the buttoned-up world of finance and Fortune 500s they very well might be making the right choice. The reactions to Twitter's redesign were predictably intense. Any mass social platform that redesigns goes through a period of hand-wringing, disgruntled users, and unsolicited suggestions but much of the reasoning behind it is sound: the feather quill to represent writing didn't translate well for a global user base, pushing platform content to the fore vs. the twitter brand itself, and so on.
- Last year the Chinese appliance company Midea acquired a majority stake in Kuka, the industrial robotics company. We wrote a tiny blurb about that event last summer theorizing that it was a bet on automation to deal with rapidly rising wages in China but it seems that's only part of Midea's plan. They're working on robots *as* appliances - domestic bots to deliver on the usual appliance marketing promises: making your life easier, better, saving you time and money, and so on. We've worked with a number of robotics companies and we think Midea's approach here is incredibly savvy. For one thing, it's easier for a company with deep brand trust to get a person to make the leap to a robot, but mostly developing both appliances and robots means they can create strong interoperability across the hardware that makes up the modern home - e.g. it's much easier for a robot to know how to deal with your dishwasher if it knows all the details of the dishwasher, and how to talk to it machine-to-machine.
- Looking at the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods move through a few stories: the dynamics of retail/e-commerce titans Walmart and Amazon battling it out through the lens of dress shirts (with lessons on returns to scale, fast fashion, and the growth of winner-take-most firms), BuzzFeed compares prices at Whole Foods to Amazon (and unsurprisingly, finds Amazon sells some of the same goods for 25-40% less, but some goods have a gap of only a few percent). It's not at all clear what Amazon's acquisition is about from a strategic perspective, but those hoping for cheaper Whole Foods goods from their local store may be left disappointed.
- MIT is shutting down the (in)famous Senior House - a community known for partying hard, but also for being creative, artistic, and diverse in terms of race, class, and sexuality. Alums are not happy about the decision, which MIT says was done in an attempt to address the much lower 4 year graduation rate of Senior House residents vs the university as a whole. In a high-pressure, high-performance place like MIT, having the support of peers that embrace you as you are seems incredibly important. Given that the institution has also struggled to address their suicide rate in the past, scrapping a place that many MIT grads revere as a sanctuary seems incredibly shortsighted. The truth is that innovation often emerges from these 'messy' spaces that challenge the status quo not just from a technological perspective but also from a social one. When we over-police, over-regulate, and redistrict the weird spaces out of existence everyone loses, even the normies.
More next week.
Pardon the delay - last week we were attending The Digital Factoryand presenting at Formlabs User Conference. There's a ton of significant, interesting developments and concepts from those two days that we'll be summarizing and posting soon.
- Mary Meeker's famous annual report on internet trends is out, and there are some interesting developments related to design on slides 61 and 71, showing how apparel manufacturers Allbirds and Stitch Fix are using a combination of customer feedback, reviews, engagement and sales data to tune or construct new products. As a semi-invisible crowd-sourcing methodology it's pretty interesting, but ultimately overall trends start somewhere, and this data can only be collected as a reaction to the prompt of existing products. That said, those kinds of nimble insights into ever-changing consumer behavior could be a tool for dealing with overproduction and wasted goods.
- A convincing argument that unlocking the potential of 3D printing has a lot to do with design - both in terms of the limited access to design and how we need to change our conceptual models for developing the form and function of a product if we are to make the most of additive manufacturing.
- Ian Bogost at The Atlantic on the self-indulgence of marketing-led design that often results in inferior quality goods selling at a steep markup: "Mahabis is one of many commodity manufacturers that present their ordinary wares as if they were complex, high-tech goods." This is one of the now fairly long-running crises of the so-called design community - yes, design is important but not every artifact is critical, and very often we serve people best by building good, simple, low cost things and getting out of the way rather than trying to conjure some bizarre emotional relationship between humans and the things they use to protect their feet.
More next week.