17 November, 2010
Visiting Birmingham yesterday, we noticed a shop window displaying 'steampunk' clothing. Without wishing to be snobby, it wasn't great: a vague amalgam of generic 'gothy' and steampunk references, as interpreted by a high-street chainstore for mass-production. I didn't need to explain to K why it was just wrong – even someone with negligible experience of 'the culture' (okay, we went to the Vampire Ball in Whitby this year, but that's it) could instantly see it was a half-hearted attempt to cash-in.
And, having since looked at the chain's website, they certainly do cash-in.
They sell goggles, an item so stereotypical that I abandoned making a pair soon after I began.
[And for some people (not me) making things oneself rather than merely purchasing finished items is a key tenet of steampunk 'culture': the very concept is that the goggles-wearer is some sort of artisan or inventer who lovingly crafts technology by hand. And steam. Plenty of steam.]
Anyway; the commercial version is:
sleek and stylish, packed with dystopian design features [er, "packed" with "minimalistic vintage detailing", that is], created through the influence of science fiction and cyberpunk, bursting with pseudo-Victorian and dystopian rebellion.
These goggles are unique and 100% authentic, a cutting edge fantasy accessory to complete that distinctive, individual look.
Yours for a mere £42.50. Bargain!
Hang on: "100% authentic"?
Well, yes. Authentic gas welding goggles, to precisely the same design as those sold for £7.60 by Amazon, or less at eBay – my aborted project is based on a pair currently available for £4.99. And I do mean precisely: seemingly from exactly the same moulds, presumably from the same factory.
The only difference is that the 'steampunk' version has been part-painted and has had a pair of filigree decorations glued on; I was going to add similar details to mine (though rather more of them, better integrated into a properly-considered design), for which I paid less than a pound. The outer lenses are transparent magenta, too, and presumably cheaper than the BS EN 175-compliant protective lenses of the real thing.
Rip-off? Not if one considers the convenience of saving hours of conversion work, but certainly a matter of caveat emptor, hardly in the steampunk spirit and – sorry if it sounds precious – somewhat distasteful.
And, incidentally, gas welding goggles definitely aren't "sleek" – apart from the stereotype factor, one of the reasons I abandoned my own version was that the goggles looked disproportionately huge hooked over a top hat.
5 August, 2010
Insert link here - yes, right here
Don't be so ridiculous.
Okay, there may be some, very specific situations where it might make some, very limited, sense to offer hyperlinks as footnotes on a web-published article rather than scattered through the text....
No. No, there really aren't. The whole purpose of inline hyperlinking is to connect to an external resource at the point of reference. If you find inline links genuinely impose a "cognitive penalty", you might try disciplining yourself to avoid following them until you've read the main text; I'm sure it'd become second-nature fairly quickly.
If they're available, readers can follow them, but delicate readers don't have to. If they're withheld (at the point of relevance), the cognitively-impaired hold everyone back. And that's unacceptable.
2 July, 2010
"Is CSS the new Photoshop"
Via John Nack (Photoshop's Senior Product Manager): two examples of complex web graphics generated by CSS alone: no separately-prepared .jpgs, .gifs, etc., merely code alone.
Partly because the designers have optimised for webkit-based browsers, the images don't appear perfectly in Firefox (and who cares whether they work in IE?), but there are pre-rendered images for the rest of us.
An image of an iPhone.
Eleven iOS icons.
Impractical? Maybe, but still a fascinating proof of concept.
I really don't want to be overly picky, but the adoption of the Mac aesthetic possibly diminishes the achievement for me. That slightly-cartoony visual style, making extensive use of drop-shadows and smooth gradients, inherently favours the CSS approach.
14 June, 2010
If I find a website's source code more readable than the rendered pages, that's not good, is it?
Not one of mine, I hasten to add, but I think I'll have to, er, 'gently chide' the author....
23 March, 2010
They've done what?
Apparently, the New York Museum of Modern Art has 'acquired' the '@' symbol for its Architecture and Design collection.
The curator explains that:
... physical possession of an object as a requirement for an acquisition is no longer necessary, and therefore it sets curators free to tag the world and acknowledge things that 'cannot be had' – because they are too big (buildings, Boeing 747's, satellites), or because they are in the air and belong to everybody and to no-one...
Er. I can appreciate the concept, even the intellectual aspiration, but... sorry, it's either pretentious bollocks or a publicity stunt. MOMA simply hasn't 'acquired' a typographical symbol, in precisely the same way as I haven't 'acquired' the letter 'E'
. The curators are free to celebrate its history (read the article) and significance to the modern world, but there's no meaningful sense in which it's become part of a specific museum's collection.
What's its catalogue number?
15 March, 2010
In the USA, emergency exit signs show the word 'EXIT' (solely in English), usually in red, which subliminally suggests 'danger', 'stop' and hence 'not this way'. Elsewhere, the international convention is a pictogram (universally recognisable) of a stick figure running through a door, depicted in green (suggesting 'safety', 'go' and 'this way').
In explaining why the US standard is unlikely to change, Robert Solomon of the National Fire Protection Association says that:
when the NFPA investigates fires, it never encounters circumstances "where someone says I didn't know where the exit was because I didn't know Ö what the exit sign was."
Okay, but isn't there a flaw in that argument? I'd have thought the opinions which matter most are those of the people who didn't escape
, for whatever reason.
11 January, 2010
I can see it in the pixels
A 'hacker' blog examines a fashion photo in detail, using surprisingly straightforward forensic techniques to establish the presence and nature of manipulations.
Apart from the one major error which drew attention to the image, it isn't grossly distorted (well, if one doesn't include skin colour), and some manipulation is explained by the purpose to which it was put (a web catalogue, in which users could view the same dress in different colours), but it's still interesting to deconstruct the processing routine within the industry.
23 December, 2009
Why do christmas card designers insist on depicting snow with pink & green glitter?
26 September, 2009
One of the things I love about modern architecture is the interplay of art and engineering; neither purely fanciful nor purely utilitarian but a combination of both.
A particularly fine example is the 'Mojito' shoe designed by architect Julian Hakes: a single curved and folded strip of carbon fibre (laminated with rubber and leather) forming a high-heeled shoe lacking a footplate. As Hakes observed, weight is carried by the ball and heel of a foot, so he was able to omit the standard linking element and produce a striking, attractive and functional object.
Inasmuch as any high-heeled shoe is functional, but let's not pursue that topic....
24 August, 2009
Who needs a dictionary?
I really ought to remember that I don't design websites for myself.
Because I never use them myself, I've forgotten to build a spellchecker into my latest editing interface. Bugger.
Not that I have infallible spelling of course (only very nearly...). It's simply that I always have a spellchecker at the top right of my browser: it's called 'Google'.
12 August, 2009
Reinventing the bottle? No.
I've belatedly stumbled upon a (prototype?) design for readily-recyclable paper bottles (as opposed to waxed/plasticised paper cartons, recycling of which may be uneconomical).
I suppose it'd be good for one-use applications such as tiny bottles of shampoo provided by hotels, but as an everyday drinks container I feel it misses the point. Recycling is rational (not 'good'), but less so than reuse: what one really needs is a robust, washable container one could keep for years. If that bottle is recyclable, so much the better.
8 June, 2009
Germaine Greer's slightly overblown lyricism may harm her message, but she's right: industrial cooling towers and municipal gas holders are beautiful objects, at least as worthy of preservation as street trees.
18 May, 2009
As part of a Graphic Design Diploma, Melih Bilgil produced an animated 'History Of The Internet'. It's excellent, not only for the documentary content – not too techie, but neatly explaining & contextualising half-familiar acronyms – but particularly for the minimalist, icon-based graphics. Very inspiring.
24 April, 2009
Let's not get entrenched
There's a lot I dislike about Macs – rather more than I dislike about Wintel PCs – but having spent yesterday afternoon listening to a senior manager at Apple, I've realised some of my criticisms aren't the ones I thought.
I'm ashamed to acknowledge the level to which my perceptions had been influenced by the rants and unsubstantiated opinions of both Mac-haters and Mac cultists (including Apple.com itself) rather than objective facts or my own experiences.
For example, a small part of my (undiminished) dislike of the OS X UI and Mac hardware was a reaction against Mac cultists who think the products are "gorgeous", a factor I consider less than irrelevant: on reflection, my contempt is for the cultists, not really the kit.
Conversely, I'd absorbed Mac-hater's hostile interpretations of Apple's corporate intentions, which were somewhat dispelled by hearing policies convincingly rationalised, in person, by a senior manager.
I still see a lot wrong with Macs, but I hope I'm now a little more open to being persuaded, on the merits of the products rather than the prejudices of users/non-users. I can't imagine replacing my desktop PC with a Mac, but if I ever feel the need for a web-enabled phone (most unlikely at present!), I wouldn't automatically dismiss the iPhone – ~26 hours ago, I would.
[Ugh. Writing this entry inspired me to look at Apple.com again, refreshing my animosity:
"Why you'll love a Mac: Itís gorgeous. Inside and out. Even the keyboard is beautiful."
**** off, you shallow, pretentious ****s. You may – may – have products worth investigating, but you'll never, ever sell me one on the basis of image or emotional 'appeal'.]
20 April, 2009
Try an alarm clock that flies away (but isn't a cockerel).
17 February, 2009
Slightly insecure now
I don't write like a designer.
26 January, 2009
No more land art on Clougha
Since October, Clougha and other quiet corners of landscape around Lancaster has been enhanced by the Andy Goldsworthy -inspired land art installations of 'Escher' (Richard Shilling). My favourite is his 'Clougha Egg Cairn', a technically excellent dry stone stucture but also quite simply a beautiful object, well suited to its location on a ridge overlooking a popular path.
I'm sad to report that Escher has been contacted by the Westminster Estate, instructed to dismantle his installations and banned from making any more on the Duke's land – and I believe he happens to be the primary countryside landowner in Northern England.
I can't understand how someone could object to the artworks, but it has to be acknowledged that they are (were...) on privately-owned land to which the public only has a right of access, and the Estate is perfectly entitled to object to the artworks. I suspect they were making Clougha too popular: I know several people who have visited specifically to see the Egg Cairn, and though we have a statutory right to do so, that doesn't mean the Duke has to encourage the grubby general public to wander all over his grouse moors.
As I've mentioned before, there is a 'genuine' Andy Goldsworthy installation on Clougha, commissioned by the Estate, so it's not as if the Duke has an aesthetic aversion to land art or dry stone structures. However, I've also speculated on its odd location: well away from the main public footpaths and out of line-of-sight from the summit of Clougha Pike, but mere metres from a shooting track. It's as if the Duke wants the prestige of a Goldsworthy piece, but intended it to be 'exclusive', readily viewable by his shooting guests rather than any but the more determined members of the public.
I'm deeply disappointed, but I hope Escher isn't discouraged. Some of the best land art (indeed, some of Escher's) is ephemeral, and his photos are an excellent portfolio with which he could approach more amenable landowners.
24 December, 2008
When I was a child, and presumably for at least a century beforehand, individually-wrapped sweets were 'sealed' simply by the ends of the wrapper being twisted into a literally iconic shape.
As an adult I don't particularly like sweets, so whilst visiting my mother today I encountered the modern refinement of the wrapper for the first time.
It looks identical, but the twisted ends are actually sealed – pull on the ends and the sweet doesn't neatly unwrap itself. Instead, one is supposed to tear along the wrapper's middle.
All very... sanitary, I'm sure, but it's not the same. It may seem trivial, but it's oddly dispiriting. Aesthetically, it's the difference between elegant simplicity and ripping apart one's memories; between quaint and clinical.
11 November, 2008
Mike Essl asks the intriguing question 'is graphic design art?'.
Unfortunately, he does so in a way which reinforces my answer: "no".
And, nominally, I am a graphic designer.
That link just goes to an over-designed page (of black & white text, in multiple fonts, on a bright red background) which simply asks the question. There's no explanation or expression of Essl's own view, nor an opportunity to add either oneself. No substance whatsoever.
Okay, "no" is too simplistic: my actual view is that graphic design is not inherently art but craft, but that art can arise from graphic design.
21 October, 2008
When I read about the possible return of open-rotor aircraft engines, I immediately thought about the romance of Spitfires and 1930s-era aviation. However, try a quick Google Images search for 'open-rotor engine' – they're hideous – like particularly unattractive varieties of cephalopod.
9 October, 2008
Canít touch this
Khoi Vinh describes the conflict between (print-format) design magazines attempting to convey useful information and feeling obliged to exemplify the subject.
Their charge is to showcase the best work in the field, and they naturally feel compelled to do so in as attractive a package as possible – using lush, full-color photography, tasteful typography and layout, and printing on archival or nearly archival quality paper. The problem though is that, in their commitment to high aesthetic quality, they are effectively publishing periodicals that are primarily saved and only secondarily read.
Itís taken me years of subscribing to these magazines or buying them on newsstands to finally admit to myself that, more often than not, they sit on my desk upon arrival and donít get read. Whether consciously or subconsciously, I consider them to be objects to be stored and protected from the ravages of reading.
Something of a problem, which might only be solved via the web.
11 September, 2008
At long last, we're back in our proper building, our old offices having been remodelled into a semi- open-plan arrangement delineated by dividing walls without doors.
One 'refinement' has been a ban on kettles in individual office spaces, balanced by the provision of a communal kitchen with both chilled and boiling* water on tap. The same tap.
It has two adjacent levers. Hold one down, and water flows until one lets go and the lever springs back. Lift the lever and it stays raised, providing water until the lever is specifically pressed back down. The other lever works the same way. There's a safety interlock theoretically preventing one from releasing boiling water unless a secondary button is simultaneously depressed. It doesn't work.
However, aside from that error of implementation there's a fundamental design flaw: there are two 'off' positions. Lift both levers and no water flows. Imagine that the next user then arrives and pushes the chosen lever down. Think about that: the resulting configuration is to return the lever to its proper 'off' position, whilst the other lever is 'on' – and that's what one gets. Tea made with chilled water is annoying, but a thin-skinned plastic cup of boiling water is a hazard.
*: not bubbling and steaming, but at least as hot as poured from a freshly-boiled kettle.
19 August, 2008
The secret of good cooking: pre-planning
If you're going to instruct people to "brown the chicken then add 1-2 tbsp" of your cooking paste, why sell the stuff in a jar with a neck narrower than a tablespoon?
29 July, 2008
Wikipedia explains who Mary Slessor was, but it still looks odd that the reverse of a Clydesdale Bank £10 note features a map of rural Nigeria.
I'd have expected something more obviously Scottish on an item at least tangentially representing the nation. The reverse of the Royal Bank of Scotland's £5 note*, for example, depicts Culzean Castle, Ayrshire.
*: Which, amusingly, the University's Student Union shop insisted on including in my change when I spent the £10 – they'll accept a Scottish banknote so long as they can get rid of one in return.
16 July, 2008
In the Guardian, Jonathan Glancey attempts to defend Zaha Hadid against criticism unfairly ascribed to her for cost overruns at London's Olympic Aquatics Centre.
It's frequently annoyed me that architects tend to be automatically blamed for unforeseen additional expenses in major public building projects, rather than the additional costs frequently being the results of subsequent revisions, by committees of 'back-seat designers'.
I was going to say that architects seem to be the soft target for media criticism: dilettante artists squandering public money on unnecessarily grand designs when 'no-nonsense' brick boxes (with a little pedestrian neo-Classical fluff if the building needs to be 'fancy') would be more than adequate.
I was going to point out that that's distressingly reductionist, and architects have a key role in defining the soul of public spaces; that in terms of usability and aesthetics architecture is infinitely more important on an everyday basis than mere construction.
I was going to, but in the comments on the Glancey article, Antipode has already said precisely that, more eloquently. Damn.
7 July, 2008
What are you doing at six? How about five past?
Now available as a free download or printed on demand as a hardback book: the most intricate diary in the world. At two pages to an hour, you'll need a new 726-page volume every fortnight.
It's the idea of Freddie Yauner who, at the other extreme, has also designed the longest lipstick in the world (a year's supply).
20 June, 2008
Seen on a website (designed c.1999):
Click on the picture for a larger version.
(Do not click on the picture if you are using a text-only reader.)
Possibly because there won't be a picture to click on?
No, I won't identify the site – it deserves some credit for considering special needs, if not for lateral thinking.
6 June, 2008
Let it stand alone
I like design; it is the basis of my job, after all. However, I do have a bit of a problem with designers who over-analyse and over-intellectualise their work.
The Register offers a prime example.
The corporate logo of an IT company (I think; their 'About Us' web page is so full of buzzwords that I literally don't know what the firm actually does) has recently been redesigned, with an uninspiring result which I think looks pretty good in the context of a website header bar. Fair enough.
Yet the brand implementation guidelines make the fatal error of rationalising each aspect of the logo's design, thereby 'cranking up the whalesong to 11', as El Reg says. Read the ensuing marketing bollocks in the linked article.
The payoff of the story is that a (apocryphal?) customer's immediate impression is far more compelling and memorable than the designers' over-considered waffle: if one feels a need to read 'messages' into logos, this one implies the company cuts corners.
3 June, 2008
A study reported by The Register apparently found that the US consumer electronics industry can expect 11-20% of items to be returned to retailers as 'faulty'. Think about that: depending on the product, up to 1-in-5 is alleged to have been sold with flaws.
Yet further analysis seems to show that of those returns, only 5% are genuinely malfunctioning (is that 5% of 11-20%, ie. 0.5-1% of all items sold?). In 68% of cases, the items function correctly but either fail to meet the customers' expectations or have been merely misconfigured. Over a quarter of returns are ascribed to customers simply changing their minds.
This may be considered to be a marketing issue, but there are implications for designers too. If, as a related study shows, the average consumer will only invest 20 minutes in configuring, say, a DVD player before totally giving up and returning the item as 'faulty', that can't be entirely dismissed as customers being lazy: there's an interface problem. Yes, the average customer may well be lazy – so design for lazy customers, not fellow interface designers.
27 May, 2008
Barcodes obviously need to be functional, incorporating a machine-readable block of thick & thin straight lines and a human-readable serial number, but they don't have to be utilitarian. As such firms as D-Barcode* demonstrate, it's entirely possible to incorporate the essential elements into a more creative graphic element, such as a waterfall, apron or even a pizza.
Dark Roasted Blend has a gallery of interesting examples, including highlights of D-Barcode's work, plus the use of barcode motifs in other areas of design.
Oh, and there's one on every page of the Ministry, disguising a functional image (which doesn't otherwise suit the site design) since 2001.
*: The D-Barcode website is in Japanese, and text is presented as graphics, defeating online translation; I offer the link as acknowledgement but don't necessarily recommend following it!
9 May, 2008
I love these 'faux skylights': photos of country scenes and skies, several backlit, which make picture frames and ceilings look like windows to an idyllic outdoors. Photos on ceiling tiles is a nice idea.
I'm sure it'd be possible to replicate some of the effect oneself, with well-printed photos and perhaps a cheap lightbox; in fact I might prefer that, as the 'official' images are slightly too sanitised and twee for my taste.
2 May, 2008
Not much to say about this: 1m x 0.7m x 0.75m 'cube' (?) of 10cm-thick steel, which one is intended to beat into an armchair.
Yours for $5924 plus $250 shipping charge or for a further $794 one can buy a cube pre-hammered by the designer.
21 April, 2008
Knife-hooks for coats
Those who loved the knife rack mannequin might also be interested in these coathooks which resemble kitchen knives rammed into the wall.
However, £25 per hook plus £20 p&p (whether to Rotherham, UK or Rothera, Antarctica, and they do despatch to Antarctica) is a bit... cutting.
8 April, 2008
Push to open
I have no problem with the idea of button-operated doors for the disabled, but doors which can only be operated electrically annoy me.
There must be a way of integrating a motor which only engages when needed, so the majority of people can use the door manually. Unnecessarily automatic doors are a waste of electricity and totally unusable in power cuts – many don't even have handles on the 'pull' side.
Twice within the past year, once at the University of York and once here in Lancaster, I've been totally unable to access buildings as I haven't been able to find the 'open door' buttons. I've now learned to look behind me – some buttons are unmarked and set 3-4 m away from the doorways.
3 April, 2008
I really like the new designs for UK coins, which replace the 40-year-old reverses with segments of the royal shield of arms; very nice graphic design, and I particularly like the way one could assemble a complete rendition of the arms by arranging five coins, one of each sub-£1 denomination, on a table, whilst the £1 coin has the complete arms.
However, there are a few questionable points:
- The arms feature icons of England, Ireland and Scotland, but not Wales. In the context of the royal arms, that's correct, but I'd have thought that to be a reason to avoid the arms, and to choose something more representative of the entire UK.
- The new designs are for the reverses of the coins, but the monarch's profile will remain on the obverses. Is it really necessary to have royalist symbols on both sides? Hardly representative of modern British attitudes.
- The denomination of each coin is solely stated in words, in English. Stating the value as numerals would be better for non-Anglophone visitors and again, this seems to falsely stress the primacy of England within the UK.
- And the biggest objection: why the **** has the Royal Mint spent ~£35,000 on new designs, when that money could be far better invested in scrapping the isolationist pound and introducing a real currency, the Euro? At best, this is a short-sighted waste, revamping coins which will be obsolete within the near future. At worst, it's an illegimate attempt to sway public opinion towards irrationally retaining the Jolly Old English pound.
So: pretty stylish, but opportunities have been missed.
27 February, 2008
Mine is the right to be wrong
It seems the new partially-customisable BBC home page has been launched. Remember to amend your bookmarks to avoid it.
This isn't petty resistance to change, but an objection to flawed design.
My main problem with the interface is that the individual widgets can be moved around the page apart from the double-width promo area (and of course it's promotional, advertising BBC resources, despite their denial). Hence, if I choose to eliminate the 'sport', 'entertainment', etc. widgets to retain only those I do want to see ('news' and 'weather'), they don't fit above the fold unless I turn off all supplementary content in the 'news' widget, forcing an irritating scroll and adding irregular blocks of dead space.
Evidently others have cited the same objection, as the BBC's web editor responded as long ago as 14 January. I disagree with his reasoning.
It adds visual interest to the page and acts as an "anchor" for the design. Without this the page would look dull. Just as a magazine needs a strong image on the front cover, so does the BBC.
Is the page promotional (remember splash pages?) or a portal presenting headlines and linking through to subsections? It could be both, of course, and I'd support that being the default appearence, but if the front page is supposed to be customisable, the visitor should be able to dump the 'magazine cover' fluff and use it as an information-only resource. Whether the designer thinks that'd look boring is utterly irrelevant.
The ability of users to customise the new homepage opens up tremendous possibilities, but the BBC should have at least one place to display what we reckon is important, interesting or entertaining.
I disagree, but acknowledge it's the BBC's site. If, for the sake of argument, it absolutely must stay, why is it so big (630x315px, and double-width really restricts customisation) and why can't it be moved (i.e. to below the fold)? At the very least, why can't it be minimised, like the other widgets?
The content within this section is set to get more exciting. Reflecting whatís happening across the internet generally, we donít intend to stick to text and images alone. By this spring, we will have rolled out video and audio clips - and be serving you up picture galleries (similar to this one) and a weekly news quiz.
None of which interest me (particularly not audio & video content), which is rather the point: if the page is supposed to be customisable, I should be able to customise it, irrespective of whether the designer wants to advertise his latest gimmick.
"But it's shiny"
"I don't ****ing CARE."
That's the fundamental risk of offering customisable content (and one reason why I don't!): the designer is obliged to step back and let the user display it in a way the designer might think absolutely foolish, potentially rejecting content the designer thinks particularly valuable – but that's the user's choice.
The easiest solution is the one I've employed: I've simply bookmarked the 'News' and 'Weather' home pages separately, avoiding the overarching home page outright.
Incidentally, I don't think this contradicts my normal stance, that the site owner has the ultimate right to decide what is and isn't presented on the page, not the visitor – I still oppose Greasemonkey-type modification of a site's content without the owner's explicit permission. This is different: the BBC is defining what's on offer and claiming to let visitors decide how it's displayed, then withholding the ability to really customise it.
25 February, 2008
Trivial annoyance of the day
DVDs which start to play the film automatically.
I really wish interface designers would set DVDs to autoplay as far as the main menu and stay there awaiting specific instructions. I tend to load a DVD then leave to make a cup of tea or otherwise ignore the offensive 'piracy's bad, m'kay?' notice, returning when I'm ready to watch the film.
Yes, it's a matter of a moment to press 'Menu' and start again (I did say it was trivial), but I'm just about enough of a designer that I find flawed functionality irritating.
23 January, 2008
I don't know whether she still does, but my sister used to really like spiral staircases, to the point of taking unnecessarily long routes from 'A' to 'B' via 'Q' because a particularly attractive example was visible from the street at 'N'. I've never felt the same sort of "want!" reflex about stairs... until now.
These triangular steps are hideously impractical, of course – too narrow for anything bulky to be carried up them, and about as steep as a stepladder, but they look good.
I saw the basic design last summer, in fact, on the roof of Dolwyddelan Castle in North Wales, and preferred that less boxy execution, but still... want!
23 November, 2007
Pushed too far
I couldn't say how many meetings I've attended in which I'd have loved to discreetly slip someone one of these cards.
However, this solution would be far more satisfying.
[The links are to items in a webstore, so they're likely to break eventually. For the record, the first item is a pack of business cards, each of which simply says "Stop talking". The second is a 60 m roll of packing tape printed with "Shut Up Shut Up Shut Up..."; the accompanying photo shows an annoying person bound and, more importantly, gagged with the stuff.]
16 November, 2007
Over three weekends, the individual offices on my corridor are being vacated in preparation for building work (we 'decant'* across campus for about a year, then return to an open-plan layout). The contents are being placed in plastic crates for a removal firm to transfer, as Health & Safety regulations prevent us moving anything ourselves.
I couldn't help noticing that the end wall of each rectangular crate is printed with a square marked 'LABEL' i.e. a preferred location in which to attach a label indicating its destination. Presumably, this is to assist the removals staff, who presumably stack the crates in their van in such a way that the end walls are readily visible.
Yet no-one, not one person, has actually used that designated space – all crates are neatly labelled, but on the long side wall, or on top.
I wonder who's at fault. Is it the office staff for not paying attention? Or could it be that the crate markings themselves are poorly designed, failing to convey their message?
*: Yes, 'decant' is the officially documented term.
30 October, 2007
Well, it is.
Whatever my opinions of the UK's Ministry of Justice* , I quite like their logo: clean and simple, with a typeface midway between businesslike and approachable, evoking the London Underground and 'Britishness'.
*: In short, I think they're the acceptable half of the old Home Office, which remains the cutting edge of state erosion of individual privacy. But I digress....
27 October, 2007
Ever planned to make a spur-of-the-moment sketch in landscape format, but been foiled by a portrait-orientated notebook?
Er, nor me (I favour square Post-its), but at least this sketchbook makes me smile. It's portrait-orientated at the front, but the dimensions of each subsequent page are slightly different, until the back page, which is landscape-orientated.
I wonder how the edges were trimmed.
Nice concept, but a limited edition of 500 hand-bound books, for $80 each? Perhaps not.
17 October, 2007
I don't wear cufflinks, nor indeed shirts with cuffs, but....
16 October, 2007
Does not compute
BoingBoing Gadgets has discovered a Japanese PC built into the abdomen (waist to thighs) of a mannequin dressed as a French maid. Ew. Not want.
Never mind why, how did someone even think of this? Worse, how did that odd idea get past the prototype stage? If it's unclear, this is a retail product, not a one-off.
4 October, 2007
Flat pack dish-rack
I suppose the target market of this space-saving drying rack for dishes would have the mindset/discipline to put away dry dishes and fold the rack away. I'm not sure I would!
2 October, 2007
Most people, and hopefully all web designers, are aware of liquid layout*, whereby a web page's layout (especially text flow) changes to accommodate different widths of browser panes.
Dynamic text formatting is fine, but graphics have always been a problem.
However, work by Shai Avidan and Ariel Shamir on 'seam carving', is moving towards images which rescale 'intelligently' as page dimensions change.
Rather than an entire image shrinking or enlarging uniformly, maintaining its aspect ratio, parts of the image are discarded (or generated) preferentially. For instance, in a picture of a person on a beach, areas of background are discarded before the figure is affected at all, and even then, areas such as the face can be protected to avoid distortion. See the video at the aforementioned link for examples.
The technique can already be applied to one-off image resizing (rather than dynamic resizing), which is itself very useful. Lifehacker suggests two free utilities (whilst noting that the results don't necessarily match the standard in the research video). One is a downloadable plugin for GIMP, the open source image editor, whilst the other is a standalone online utility, 'Rsizr'. I can certainly imagine this being built into the next generation of commercial image editors as standard.
*: I hope web designers are also aware of the distinction between liquid and elastic layout, and tend to use the latter!
25 September, 2007
One could wonder whether a 'web editor' is in the right business if he asks people to assess the value of a conference "on a scale of 1-10" by providing a tickbox....
16 August, 2007
While a move away from infantilising smock dresses is undoubtedly welcome, there is something dubious about the industry's belief that the only other option for a woman is to dress as if she charges by the hour.
Catwalk, pop video and bedroom are one thing (er... you know what I mean), but the everyday mass-market? Let's not get carried away.
9 August, 2007
Nice colour scheme, eh? Black on very dark olive. I've just joined a new discussion forum (more to the point, I've just paid to join a new discussion forum) in which this is the sole available style.
7 August, 2007
Though I can't find a single mention on the event's own website* , the BBC reports that the SIGGRAPH 2007 conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques included 'Unravel', a fashion show of innovative clothing.
Some were nothing special; there's nothing conceptually remarkable about inserting solar cells into a bikini, allowing the wearer to ambiently recharge his/her (er, probably her) mp3 player, though it's a media-friendly idea.
The BBC mentioned two designs specifically for couples. One was innocuous – a pair of jackets which display illuminated (LED) text scrolling across both backs when the wearers hold hands – and one less so.
That was something like the 'Dance Dance Revolution' arcade game (in which one presses pressure-sensitive pads in time to music, thereby 'dancing') though with the pads attached to a pair of boxer shorts and a bra. The 'DDR' variant is merely the simple game chosen to demonstrate the technology, but I suppose the touchpads could function like a standard controller for any game.
That's a compelling thought, but the one which impressed me most was clothing printed with designs only detectable by the CCD/CMOS sensors of digital cameras. To the naked eye, the vest in the linked example shows a thundercloud, but a photograph would show a lightning bolt too.
The technology can be applied to digital media too. The project's own website suggests that subtitles could be invisibly incorporated into feature films, so that those needing that assistance could access them by watching through a cameraphone's screen. I can't imagine that being an enjoyable experience, nor one that'd be encouraged by cinema managers – I suspect it'd be more likely to be used to obscure the image recorded by a camaraphone, perhaps with an anti-piracy logo.
One more interesting application could be 'electronic makeup' which would protect a wearerís anonymity by discreetly disrupting the features required by electronic face-recognition software. ****, I'd wear that!.
Others were less practical, either illustrating a principle or frivolity (which is fine). For instance, Joo Youn Paek's 'Self-Sustainable Chair' is a polyethylene dress incorporating an inflatable bustle connected to two foot pumps. As the wearer walks (laboriously), the rear inflates until the wearer is obliged to stop and sit on it, thereby expelling the air. Why?
And an exploding backpack of confetti deliberately imitative of a suicide bomber is a seriously bad idea nowadays.
*: I've since found the fashion show's own website, as yet unpublicised by SIGGRAPH.
[Argh! Somehow I saved over my completed draft of this entry, so I've had to retype it from memory. I think it makes most of my original points, but writing's never as good the second time, is it?
I have a couple of URLs left over, too. I forget the contexts in which I linked to the fashion show's programme (.pdf) and this hideously impractical yet oddly attractive (as a hanging object, not as a garment) shirt.]
21 July, 2007
Can do that, Dava
Scientists designing a 'next-generation' spacesuit for astronauts clearly need to balance protection (and loss of mobility) against mobility (and loss of protection).
Dava Bowman Newman and her team at MIT have had the wonderfully elegant idea of identifying the lines of non-extension on the human body – those areas of skin which don't stretch during activity. Since they don't need to move, the material directly over them can be near-rigid, collectively providing what amounts to an exoskeleton of lines set into an otherwise flexible suit.
10 July, 2007
Canard de bain
My French is appalling*, so frankly I don't understand the details, but a public art project along the Loire estuary between Nantes and St Nazaire, France has produced some wonderful pieces. Amongst my favourites are this 'flyover' bed, this partially submerged house and this giant rubber duck.
*: considering it's the only non-English language in which I have any formal qualification, and my French is now drastically worse than my Norwegian, Polish, German, Welsh, Catalan, Spanish and Italian (and those are only nominal), yes, I'm appalled.
5 July, 2007
In this week's 'Classics of everyday design' (the 24th, already), Jonathan Glancey celebrates Ordnance Survey maps. As he rightly says, they have an attraction beyond the 'merely' practical, but in terms of practicality, I do think the OS's 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 series are the world's best.
I'm not sure Mr. G's employers at the Guardian would agree with his closing paragraph, though. That the OS is a state-owned body and "OS Maps are ours" is an ongoing argument, as the Survey is somewhat reluctant to share 'our' data, even within the government sector.
Incidentally, Mr. G (or the Guardian, anyway) illustrates his article with a map extract of my local area. A line on the road at the point marked '176' is precisely 10 miles from Lancaster.
That happens a lot. For years I used to buy my mother a road atlas each year, and a disproportionate number of covers depicted Lancaster or at least NW England. I even started to wonder whether publishers produced regional editions, with an atlas for sale in the North-east illustrated by a map extract of Newcastle and one sold in London showing London, but that doesn't seem likely. Maybe the configuration of NW England and the North Wales coast simply suit graphic designers' requirements.
28 June, 2007
Random queries no. 116
One of a series of genuine search engine enquiries which successfully brought visitors to the Ministry. Can I help?
what is tesco logo font
It's a custom font, created by Dalton Maag. Ah. No, that's the font Tesco uses in writing, not in the logo.
The principle still applies, though: the logo font is proprietory, and it's unlikely you'd find a (legitimate) usable copy of the character set.
Most such corporate fonts are purpose-designed, in part specifically to prevent reuse of part of the brand image by others. If the company owns and restricts access to the font, it reduces the risk of 'passing-off'.
I can't think of any major company which uses a generic or publicly-accessible font in its logo, and couldn't imagine why any would.
21 June, 2007
Visiting Venezia in March (name-dropper...), we saw flyers advertising an exhibition of everyday objects, primarily clothing, carved in wood. We eventually found the (closed) gallery and happened to see a couple of other pieces through the windows of (very) commercial galleries, but otherwise I'd almost forgotten about it.
Via Boing Boing, I've found the artist's website. Visit the 'Gallery' page for numerous examples of Livio De Marchi's excellent work.
Slightly uncharitable thought, though: is this art?
29 May, 2007
Should all be this way
Top website! It's Miranda July's promo site for her book of short stories, and has a unique visual & narrative style*.
[Via Neil Gaiman.]
*: Which wouldn't remotely conform to accessibility legislation, but let's not think about that.
15 May, 2007
If you click on the link, you'll see what appears to be drawings of kitchen chairs, as if by young children. However, they're actually three-dimensional real chairs made of powder-coated steel.
Nice idea, but £285 each?!
[Via Boing Boing.]
2 May, 2007
There are times when I disagree with Jonathan Glancey, the Guardian's architecture/design critic – he can be a little resistant to modernity, favouring the cosily retro. However, I applaud his 'Everyday design classics' series in the Guardian for identifying unconsidered examples of good design.
Today's (the seventeenth in the series – I recommend reading the archived posts too) discusses the Yale key and associated lock.
29 April, 2007
A wrist watch encased in black leather. Stylish, and a bargain at $275.
Yes, that's encased, meaning it's utterly useless as a timepiece. And?
14 March, 2007
Where am I?
I'd love to install a camera at the top of the main stairs in my office building, to capture the blank confusion of those people who have accidentally ascended one floor too many, and unexpectedly run out of stairs in an unfamiliar location. I did it myself a few minutes ago.
Since the almost-completed remodelling work, that has become slightly more likely, as the new signage is too confusing. Rather than a clear indication that 'You're on C Floor: Press, Publications, Admissions, International Office, Lingerie and Soft Furnishings', the new signs list every department in the building, with slight shading indicating one's current location. There's too much information, and one's eye doesn't naturally fall on the required aspect.
5 March, 2007
Not merely weird
Here's an interesting, if a little too wide-ranging article by Jonathan Jones on surrealism, which is supposed to be about the influence of the Spanish landscape on Dalí, apparently.
There's also a related article by another Jonathan, Glancey, on surrealist architecture. In the first draft of this entry, I explained, thankfully briefly, that Glancey was wrong. Gaudí wasn't a surrealist, though his work was very novel, organic and influencial on those who were surrealists. Likewise, the further supposition that the Scottish Parliament building is Gaudí-inspired, and therefore surrealist, is flawed. However, I then realised that that was Glancey's exact point: the best surrealist architecture wasn't the product of deliberate surrealism.
My headline is the key point, which seems to have eluded Glancey's subeditor (who I presume wrote the introductory paragraph): there's far more to surrealism than merely being 'weird and wonderful'.
28 February, 2007
That's clever: a large window above a waist-high wall, which folds out of the side of an apartment building to provide a balcony whenever required.
It's a great space-optimisation idea, though one couldn't have anything permanently outside, such as a garden of potted plants. There's also the key consideration: could you really relax on a folding structure dozens of metres above the ground?
26 February, 2007
Two 'ingenious' inventions seen at Shiny Shiny:
20 February, 2007
Slice of life
For some reason, I really like the idea of this wall clock. It is (or simulates) a 7 cm slice taken from the face of a grandfather clock, with full-size hands indicating the time merly by their position.
16 February, 2007
Not a euphemism, but a serious alternative to standard plastic or plasticised/waxed paper milk cartons.
These 'rapidly' biodegradable bags aren't a new invention – apparently 65% of fresh milk sold in Canada is bagged – but it's good to see Welsh dairies I happen to recognise leading introduction to the UK.
Milk cartons are a bit of a problem: the waterproofing in paper-based cartons prevents them being recycled as either paper or plastic (Norwegians are encouraged to crush and insert them into another empty carton, then burn the result as fuel) and empty plastic cartons are bulky items to transport for recycling.
The bags take up negligible space when empty (a 90% reduction in landfill volume is cited), can be disposed of in landfill, and biodegrade fully within nine months. I wonder if that means they'd be suitable for domestic composting too.
There's still the commercial/environmental cost of bag production, of course, so I hope they're not proposed as a replacement for near-endlessly reusable glass bottles in doorstep milk deliveries, but for the supermarket or corner shop sectors, this sounds very promising.
4 February, 2007
Speaking of upcycling...
... I wonder whether any product packaging or similar articles suitable for upcycling are deliberately designed for likely secondary uses. Are yoghurt pots optimised to be used to grow seedlings, for example?
If not, why not? A supermarket chain could even gain a marketing advantage if it could partly justify packaging, and offer one step better than recyclable.
26 January, 2007
The gallery of Jeff de Boer's armour for cats and mice was 'link of the day' at User Friendly, but when you've finished admiring them, don't forget to look at his other galleries, particularly the exoforms, abstract shapes inspired by historical armour.
17 January, 2007
The term was new to me when I encountered it in BoingBoing, but it's a nice idea.
Apparently coined by William McDonaugh and Michael Braugart in their book on ecologically intelligent design (er, that could have been phrased better!), 'Cradle to Cradle', it refers to reusing a disposable object in a way which increases its value.
14 January, 2007
Alternative uses for everyday items; some useful, some, er, not, but all ingenious.
13 January, 2007
Plus ça change...
Matt Blaze says:
Somehow, for all the attention to minutiae in the guidelines, everything ends up just slightly wrong by the time it gets put together at an airport. Even if we accept some form of passenger screening as a necessary evil these days, today's checkpoints seem like case studies in basic usability failure designed to inflict maximum frustration on everyone involved.
Isn't that the stereotype once applied to Soviet Eastern Europe? Strange how the ideological enemy seems to have achieved the same result.
10 January, 2007
But is it art?
I haven't felt much inclination to decorate my house; 3½ years on, the walls still feature the slightly odd colour scheme chosen by the previous owner, gold-and-purple ceiling roses and all. There's a larger number of interesting rocks on my windowsills than conventional ornaments, which themselves are on show as much for their personal significances as for their visual appeal or any sort of thematic consistency.
I do have a few pictures on my walls.
- In the living room, I have 'Brave', by Carl Glover (I think) at Bill Smith Studios, plus a lot of blank space. It's a small room; I don't want to clutter it up, and besides, I don't use it much myself.
- In the kitchen, there's a photograph over the sink, depicting a gorge in North Wales, and Gotti Bernhöft's 'Angel Foetus' by the stairs (actually, mine is the negative of the linked image, and hence looks a little more like an ultrasound scanner's output).
- There are four postcards of Edward Burne-Jones' 'Pygmalion And Galatea' series down the side wall of the stairwell, whilst John Blackford's 'Signify' hangs over the stairs.
- In the 'office' (back bedroom) there's a print of D.G. Rossetti's 'Dante's Dream At The Time Of The Death Of Beatrice' plus various postcards on the noticeboard.
- In the bedroom, I have two original paintings by my mother (all other pictures mentioned are prints, if that's even slightly unclear) and J.W. Waterhouse's 'Hylas And The Nymphs' (I wonder whether waking to the sight of seven nubile nipples has a subliminal effect on the rest of my day).
If there's a point to any of this, it's that a number of people have admired the Glover, Bernhöft and Blackford pictures until
I've revealed that they're album cover images: Marillion's 'Brave'
, Sigur Rós' 'Ágætis Byrjun'
and Porcupine Tree's 'Signify'
. Something seems to change in that moment of revelation, and what was accepted as art is suddenly diminished and dismissed as either mere 'design' or as vacuous pop culture. I've even experienced laughter and the comment "I should have known"
, though the speaker couldn't, or wouldn't, rationalise that response.
Is the original published context really the defining characteristic, and is it impossible for the artwork to be considered on its own merits? That's surprising, and somewhat disappointing.
6 December, 2006
Bethan Lloyd has had the ingenious idea of part-glazing china teacups so that the tea's tannin gradually stains only primarily the unglazed design, generating a unique and evolving brown pattern.
I discovered this via BoingBoing, but Lloyd's site also features saucers in the shapes of teacups' shadows; another elegant idea.
28 November, 2006
Not Tesco at all, honest.
Having spent much of today attempting to design a logo for a new outreach programme, and having accidentally produced a Web 2.0 version of the old Tesco logo twice, I thought I'd better check a few existing examples for inspiration. If anyone else is in a similar situation, try Web2Logo.com.
Annoyingly, the least derivative thing I've managed to produce today is a simple geometric shape, a sort of swoosh-y open-sided frame, which I really like but which is absolutely useless for this project....
17 November, 2006
What the font...
...is the name of a potentially useful utility which helps designers identify typefaces.
Simply upload an image of the text, and the site will either analyse and name the font automatically, or allow users to submit it to a user forum for the attention of fontspotters.
[Discovered by Lifehacker, er, a year ago.]
16 November, 2006
The University's main admin building also houses a number of student support* departments. I heard about this second hand, but I presume it was an overseas student (i.e. a non-native English speaker) who asked where one could buy 'thong johns'.
I spot a gap (or two) in the market: an undergarment for when one wants to be warm without ruining the line of one's clothes.... Perhaps there could be two versions: with legs, as chaps to avoid chapping, or without, as a thimple, er, simple thermal thong.
Yes, I'm easily amused; it's been a boring afternoon.
*: that's apt.
27 October, 2006
Oh. That's disappointing.
When I saw these Helmut Newton T-shirts (via BoingBoing), I was immediately interested. I'd definitely wear an x-ray image of a foot in a stiletto shoe. Yes, really.
As soon as I returned home to my credit card, I visited the site to submit an order. €32 (£21.45) is a little more than I'd ordinarily pay for a shirt, but I wouldn't object to supporting the Helmut Newton Foundation.
However, €27 (£18) for postage, presumably from Berlin, is ludicrous. That's just short of £40 ($74) for a T-shirt.
I don't think so.
[Update 1/12/06: The postal rates have been revised, to €12 for the shirt, which is expensive but not excessively so; the revision cuts over £10 off the total price.]
23 October, 2006
Reuse, not recycle, II
Supermarkets in the UK, and presumably elsewhere, provide dividers at checkouts, to distinguish one customer's groceries on the conveyer belt from the next customer's.
The divider design at Sainsbury's is a clear plastic tube with a triangular cross-section, into which is inserted printed paper displaying the company name, a specific message (e.g. '10 items or less') or whatever promotional message the management wishes to push.
Booth's, a regional supermarket chain probably little-known outside Lancashire & Cumbria, dispenses with the plastic tube. The dividers are simply cardboard triangular tubes.
Some would say the latter is 'better', as paper is more readily recycled and biodegraded than plastic, but the flimsy card dividers wear-out rapidly and need to be replaced drastically more frequently than those protected within Sainsburys' plastic tubes. It's false economy to use lots of printed paper rather than a little plastic; the plastic tubes themselves could be in service for years whilst each paper insert could last for weeks, even months.
From a less environmentalist point of view (which is equally valid), the lightweight card dividers fall over even before the conveyer belt moves and they just look cheap, especially when a little tatty – they're a poor advertisement for the company brand image and and its shopping environment.
Quite apart from that, the Booth's staff are scandalously rude: "Sorry about your weight." Well, really.
28 September, 2006
The first new students (mainly from abroad) have started to arrive, and with them their eccentric dress sense (actually, that's usually in the spring term; freshers first arrive dressed by their mothers).
Just seen: a man in a mottled pink and purple fleece, with the large, white letters R, A, P, and E across the front.
Pink & purple.... What was he thinking of?
18 September, 2006
You probably know by now that I like the work of 'street artist' Banksy, so I was pleased to find photos of his recent Los Angeles gallery show.
A surprising number of pieces were 'reissues', already published in his (excellent) book, and I'm not entirely sure what he was saying about the art world by selling works for ~$100,000 each, but the photos are worth seeing.
Oh, and those who complained about temporarily dying a trained elephant pink red: reconsider your priorities.
15 September, 2006
Various green spaces within the University have hosted unusual structures in recent weeks. They've resembled livestock enclosures, but in odd shapes. In plan view, one was 'S'-shaped, with both ends open, another was the shape of a round-bottomed bottle, and others were less describable.
I'd presumed they were art installations – there is an ongoing exhibition of work by MA Arts students (is 'Master of Arts in Art' tautological?), but I belatedly discovered today that I was mistaken. They were temporarily installed as part of some agriculture-related conference, and really are livestock enclosures.
6 September, 2006
Real web design
Wow! This site really breaks out of the (literal) box of conventional corporate web design. It's great to see the standards of art-based print advertising applied to the web, and disappointingly uncommon.
4 September, 2006
Change for change's sake
Sainsbury's low-fat fruit yoghurt is sold in four-packs of individual 125g pots. The intention is clearly for the consumer to peel off the foil lid and, well, consume from the pot, using a teaspoon.
So which fool redesigned the pots to incorporate ridged bases? They might provide excellent traction when eating off-road, but needlessly waste 2-3g of food trapped in a dozen inaccessible hollows.
Yes, it's trivial, but this sort of pointless intervention by a designer merely justifying his/her continued employment really annoys me. If it isn't broken....
30 August, 2006
Inspired! I'd be tempted to buy this CD/DVD box set for the packaging (if not necessarily for much of the music...), even if someone didn't have a birthday approaching in, er, nine months... make that a non-christmas present, then.
Don't read this entry, H.
18 August, 2006
The Students' Union shop sells individual portions of breakfast cereals, foil-sealed in plastic bowls with milk and a spoon. Somehow this makes me want to slap someone.
The excessive packaging and waste of production/distribution resources comprise one major objection, but more than that it's the OTT convenience of it, pandering to and encouraging a total absence of forethought. Someone who can't think ahead far enough to organise it for him/herself doesn't deserve breakfast.
J. tells me this product line is nothing new, but it was to me.
14 August, 2006
A certain institution with which I have a slight professional connection is developing a new intranet site for finance/procurement purposes. I happen to know the designer has been asked to tone down the usability; otherwise "well, people might be tempted to use it."
14 July, 2006
Helen's response to yesterday's 'mediaeval' heels was a link I'd already noticed at BoingBoing but hadn't clicked through.
'Mleak' has made a pair of metal 5Ē stiletto sandals with hinged straps which secure the shoes onto the feet, using padlocks. Personally, I don't like the shoes as shoes – I don't find anything attractive about feet that contorted – they work better as empty items. I doubt they were designed to be wearable, being more of an artistic/political statement. It's that stated rationale which I question (hey; it's art; if it provokes a response, it's succeeded).
When I made these, I was considering popular ideas regarding beauty, particularly the idea that 'pain is beauty, beauty is pain'.
Iím honestly amazed at women who choose to wear stiletto heels on a regular basis. One must 'learn' how to walk in such heels, and it remains difficult and uncomfortable. Over time, high heels can cause serious damage and permanently restructure the leg.
This pair of shoes acts as a pair of handcuffs, binding the wearer, although it is unclear who will hold the keys.
opinion, but it's a rather loaded statement, which I consider overly negative and judgemental of women who do choose to wear heels regularly. To imply* that women don't want to wear high heels but passively submit to an external expectation is somewhat analogous to saying that because I
don't understand the attraction of football, no-one
enjoys it, they only pretend to because of social obligation. That absolutism leads to dungeree-clad uniformity, and the OTT variety of bra-burning 70s feminism.
Unsurprisingly, I support individual choice ahead of politicised groupthink. Believe it or not, there are people who do genuinely choose to wear heels, and not because they 'have' to. It is conceivable that some wear them for comfort – mental, if not podalic.
To be fair, Mleak doesn't condemn heel-wearers outright:
Iím also interested in the use of high heels as a sort of armor for women, in which, for instance, a businesswoman might don them to provide herself with additional height, a sexualized stance and gait, and a feeling of power over men.
Okay, but those 'pro-' arguments seem a little simplistic, too.
It's fashionable to criticise the 'bondage of feminine beauty', especially amongst male feminists, for some reason (overcompensation?): "I feel your pain." Bollocks. By definition.
It does irritate me immensely when I want to go sightseeing (which involves walking) and Helen wears heels to be seen, or when I'm restricted by the inability of H's shoes to cross/stand on certain surfaces, but I respect her right to feel good about herself, for herself, without being accused of merely conforming to male-defined social values.
*: imply, but not state. If I'm ascribing intent wrongly, I apologise. Hopefully my more general point stands (Ooh! Two unintentional puns in one!).
13 July, 2006
Don't tell H
Ah. I just did. Bugger.
11 July, 2006
Enabling the imagination
This is the sort of open-ended design I particularly appreciate. It's a toy which helps children play for themselves, but which doesn't have a predetermined single defining use. It's not a chair, nor a sledge, nor a hat, nor a turtle shell, but a child could use it as all of them, or anything else the individual imagination allowed.
8 July, 2006
They'll love it
Perhaps I'm discovering something empirically which professional marketers already know by training: is there a significant mismatch between the personal preferences of those commissioning corporate imagery (adverts, websites, etc.) and the preferences of target audiences? Is there a risk that inappropriate adverts might be published because older executives misjudge or are poorly advised about 'youth' audiences, and the converse?
The example which inspired my initial thought is this pair of billboard adverts shown by the Cool Hunter. To save clicking the link: a billboard on the left of a road shows the inner side of a bare female leg. The billboard on the other side of the road shows the right leg. The ad is for lubricating cream. I'm sure some people might find it offensive; I think it's in at least questionable taste. How did it get published? This wasn't the result of one man's idle thought, but must have passed several states of corporate approval. Did no-one have doubts?
I presume the designer was male and in his early twenties, and I presume the commissioning panel were in their late forties and fifties. The only way I can think the ad was authorised was that the former convinced the latter that although fiftysomethings might find it distasteful, the 18-34 target audience would be more accepting of 'racy' humour. Not knowing for sure whether that was true, the executives felt obliged to trust the 'youth expert' and ran the ad.
Another example I encountered recently is that of a HE institution which hired external web designers to refresh its home page.
When the proposed designs were first shown to the commissioning team, they disliked the imagery and direction taken but were assured that the designs weren't intended to attract administrators and academics in their forties, but were targeted at school-leavers, even 15/16-year-olds. This advice came from the design consultancy, which had something of a vested interest in saying their designer was right. For that matter, I wonder whether the fortysomething account manager knew whether his/her thirtysomething designer was adequately targeting teenage tastes.
So far as I'm aware, a small amount of focus group testing by the consultants suggested that the design was appropriate, but I get an overarching sense of 'emperor's new clothes' about the whole process – which fiftysomething accountant was going to have the courage of under-informed convictions and say he/she thought this was a huge mistake?
22 June, 2006
Spill tea down the side of a mug, and you'll leave a brown ring on the table. Yet it doesn't need to be a ring. These mugs have more decorative bases, and hence leave novel cup marks – presumably where you still wouldn't want stains, but that's not the point.
19 June, 2006
Now you can buy flipflop sandals with a bottle opener built into the sole.
Great: the instant convenience of opening a bottle whilst simultaneously smearing whatever you've stepped in onto the bottleneck.
30 May, 2006
I recoil from the idea of a novelty conference table: "This table will be at the center of different viewpoints, cultures and motivations colliding with each other to form something new and powerful, this idea is symbolised in the colors and design of the table."
However... I quite like the object itself.
23 May, 2006
'Unrealised Moscow' offers illustrations of proposed architectural projects in Stalinist Moscow.
The scale and brash grandeur of these monumental designs is astonishing. The only one I already knew about, the abortive Dom Sovetov (Palace of Soviets), was to have been the tallest building in the world, 415 m (1365') tall, of which 100m would have been a vast statue of Lenin. The other plans were almost as grandiose, and just as overpowering.
It's a fascinating insight into Soviet architects' (in terms of both social- and civil engineering) Neo-Classical yet futuristic dreams, which were abandoned in 1955 with the Central Committee's condemnation of 'excesses and over-ornamentation in architecture'.
17 May, 2006
Why are modern (well, 20th Century) municipal cemeteries so bland? The Guardian reports one architect's attempt to 'restore some beauty and civic pride' to the 'most under-valued public spaces we have'.
The Victorians considered cemeteries as an environment to be visited and enjoyed, and I certainly regard Lancaster's* as a good place to take a book (partly because few others do...), but it's pity that modern designs have become so boring and off-putting.
*: the Victorian one on Quernmore Road, last resting place of such prominent and less-prominent Lancastrians as Lazarus Threlfall Baines, Pythagoras de Nicteroy and Lord Ashton.
13 May, 2006
The Selfshelf: a bookshelf disguised as a book, so that a stack of books placed upon it look as if they're levitating unsupported. And the title of the fake book? 'Cesi níest pas un livre'.
10 May, 2006
Oh, come on.
Look; sorry to be prejudiced, but if you're tendering for a web design project expected to cost around £50K / $100K, a portfolio on a Blog*Spot site simply won't cut it. You really need to have your own domain.
3 May, 2006
Who wouldn't want a brushed-steel armadillo curled up on the kitchen worksurface?
Pity about the price tag, though.
2 May, 2006
I have a Hitachi DVD player connected to my TV. My digital TV tuner is also made by Hitachi. Each has a remote control handset.
Fine so far, but there's a problem: the handsets have near-identical layouts. In a darkened room – such as when I'm watching TV or a DVD – they're indistinguishable, and I find myself ejecting a DVD to change channel, or raising the volume to fast-forward.
It's not a big deal, but it's such a pointless design flaw.
25 April, 2006
'Perfect'? For what?
A study reported by New Scientist has found that web sites designed to the golden ratio of 1.618:1 – supposedly the most aesthetically pleasing in art – are less usable than other proportions.
Could it be that the golden ratio promotes appreciation of the overall composition, rather than extraction of specific information? Hence, is the ratio inappropriate for some web sites (and, by implication, suitable for others)?
19 April, 2006
Like the majority of the global population, I dislike phone caller management systems, and always prefer to deal with companies by e-mail or post. Sometimes I can't avoid using the phone, so I make a cup of tea and prepare to be stuck in a queue for 15-20 mins.
Surprisingly, I've just encountered a relatively good interface.
- A recorded voice welcomed me, and notified me that I could use a menu or go straight to a real person i.e. I didn't have to listen to the menu first.
- I did have to join a queue, and was asked which genre of music I'd prefer to hear whilst waiting &ndash and 'no music' was an option.
- The automated operator was able to inform me immediately that the queue was very long, and that it wouldn't be practical for me to wait; I was asked to call again later. That was mildly annoying, but being told up-front was very welcome.
So, well done, Company-I-Won't-Advertise-By-Naming; at least you can get something
24 March, 2006
'MAKE:' presents the top 25 (US) inventions of 2006 (that's a bit premature, isn't it?), as chosen by the 'Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge'. There's quite a range, from surgical instruments to bridge supports, from chemical engineering to sports. Some seem a bit academic (I nearly said frivolous, but that's unfair), such as a maglev bow & arrow or remote controls for a (real) horse, but some are excellent.
My favourite is the shift bicycle:
This is intended to help small children learn to balance on their own without the crutch of training wheels and the worry of skinned knees. The bicycle features two rear wheels that are spread apart at slow speeds to provide critical stability, and as the rider gains speed, the two rear wheels merge together to act as one wheel until the rider reduces speed and consequently returns the bicycle to the two wheel configuration.
22 March, 2006
Service with a sneer
Updating a link, I happened to look at the website of the company that makes/rents academic robes for the University. Ignoring the 'FAQ's' link (as I'm not a FAQ, it's plainly not for me), The site requires each visitor to select the intended institution, then agree to the company's terms & conditions (and financial liability, I think) before continuing into the site itself.
I suppose those visiting the site are doing so for a particular purpose (gown hire for degree ceremonies) and since the company has a monopoly deal with the University, visitors aren't exactly customers, needing to be impressed.
Still, I think it's poor design to shove in the TOC up-front. It's just rude. This isn't software installation....
17 March, 2006
Door closed: does not compute
A while ago, I wrote about the potentially-confusing design of Intercity train doors, and the idea that it's not a matter of improving signage or audible warnings; the doors need to 'Just Work'.
Every day this week, the main entrance to my building has been locked, to deter any protest invasion by the hippies camping outside. There are three doors: the one on the left obviously isn't in use, the central one is a revolving door with an ingenious revolving 'shutter' currently in place (i.e. the whole door is masked), and the 'normal' door on the right is locked, displaying a very obvious sign. The sign (the only one on the whole entrance frontage; it's not exactly lost amongst several other notices) states "Please Use The Side Entrance", in ~40pt. text. It couldn't be clearer.
Yet at least twice per day this week, I've seen people approach the revolving door, find it's inaccessible, push in vain on the right-hand door, turn to the left door, then give up and start to walk away, scowling. Whenever I've pointed the sign out to people, it's been plain that they were literally unaware of a 40 x 30cm (16½ x 12") sheet of white paper at about head height, stating a clear message in large black type.
What more could be done? People simply don't read. Some things have to 'Just Work', and no amount of signage will help. If it doesn't do exactly what's expected, in the expected way, it won't work at all for a significant number of people.
3 March, 2006
Great British design?
BBC 2's 'The Culture Show' is running 'The Great British Design Quest', a three-stage poll to identify the public's favourite British design icon (1900-2006). The Culture Show and the Design Museum produced an initial shortlist of 25 design icons, which was voted down to ten. These were discussed on the programme, then further public voting cut the ten to three. The 'winner' is announced in a fortnight.
It's all on The Culture Show's website, but I don't know whether that'll be archived, so I'll reproduce the shortlist(s) here:
- Anglepoise Lamp
- Aston Martin DB5
- British road signage
- Dr Martens boot
- Dyson vacuum cleaner
- E-Type Jaguar
- London A-Z
- Mini skirt
- Penguin paperback
- 'Power, Corruption and Lies' (the album cover, not the concepts themselves!)
- Raleigh Chopper
- 'Sgt Pepper' album cover
- Sinclair Calculator
- 'The Face' magazine
- Verdana typeface
Plus those which made it into the top ten:
And the top three:
- Supermarine Spitfire
- London Underground map
There are a few genuine design icons in there, which both characterise Britain and have influenced global culture, but some are annoyingly metrocentric – is the red London bus really
so significant outside that city?
Others are rather odd choices.
The 'Power, Corruption and Lies' album cover? I hadn't even heard of it before the poll!
'Tomb Raider' and 'Grand Theft Auto'? The programme argued that each changed the nature of computer games, which is probably true, but are they really design icons of the last 105 years? Actually, I'd argue that the Lara Croft character is iconic, just not in the same league of influence or ubiquity as others.
Likewise the Verdana typeface (which I didn't even know was British!) – one of the very top design icons of the past century? If a British typeface has to be included, surely Stanley Morison's Times New Roman has had a greater impact, not only in the age of PC word processors.
It's been suggested that there's a fundamental ideological flaw in the list, repeating an argument about the Design Museum itself. Sir Terence Conran founded the Museum to celebrate the manufactured object and the industrial design process. Yet, as James Dyson claimed when he resigned as chairman in 2004, the remit has been hijacked to feature 'merely' decorative design – iconography and style:
By failing to give a lead to the public on the difference between design as styling and design as intelligent problem solving he believes the museum is perhaps neglecting its purpose.
I haven't been able to find the exact reference, but I recently read that the Museum's director, Alice Rawsthorn, has since resigned too, supposedly for leading this contentious shift in emphasis; it was suggested that this Design Quest shortlist was 'the final straw' for the board of trustees.
Incidentally, the Design Museum's own site offers Flash and standard html interfaces – well done – but the 'shop' section of the html side is Flash-only. Well done....
[Update 17/03/06: Concorde won, with the Underground map second and the Spitfire third.]
12 January, 2006
I love the name of these sound-isolating earphones: Griffin EarThumps. Very Narnian.
I can't help wondering about how, and why, that name was selected.
23 December, 2005
This is my stop! Let me out!
Intercity train doors are now opened by pressing an adjacent circular button. The button is inactive until the train is at a complete standstill; unless the button is illuminated, it's inactive. That makes sense – if one knows.
The latest generation of carriages are generally considerably higher than platform level, so a step is required. Presumably for streamlining, this is drawn into the body of the carriage whilst in motion. When one presses the button, the step has to be extended before the door opens. Surprisingly, it doesn't snap out instantly, kneecapping little old ladies; instead, it emerges rather slower, taking a few seconds.
That's fine if one is attempting to board the train, as one can see the step. When attempting to disembark, however, one presses the button, and nothing appears to happen. I've often seen people pressing the button repeatedly before it's activated at all, then pounding it in alarm when it seems the door isn't going to open at all.
I noticed this evening that in announcing imminent stops over the PA, the conductor explained how to operate the doors. Before every stop.
Doesn't that suggest a slight usability problem? If one knows what's happening, it's absolutely fine, but first-time passengers shouldn't face a learning curve or need instruction simply to get out at the end of their journeys.
10 December, 2005
Protect your noggin
Wouldn't be seen dead in a bicycle helmet? I'd rather not be seen dead, so I do wear a helmet.
Rather stretching the point: though I found these helmet covers (noggin sox - good name!) amusing, I think the joke would wear thin rather quickly (for an adult – it might be a good way to persuade a child to use a helmet), and I wouldn't be seen dead in one myself.
However, I'd definitely wear this jacket.
[Via the University's internal cycling forum.]
24 November, 2005
The long short version
Sometimes it's rather frustrating to do web design for a university. Academics can be so prolix and self-important....
I've prepared a template for holding pages, one per facet of a new inter-departmental initiative. I requested copy text from the departments, clearly specifying that there's space for up to 200 words, and providing a mock-up to indicate where text will appear & how it'll be formatted (wrapped around an image at the bottom-left of the page).
One department complied, and has a pretty good page.
Another provided 694 words, "all essential". The page looks awful, and the image is well below the second scroll i.e. 1¾ screens down at 1024x768. It's a standard template; the pages have to match, so I can't only customise one, and I don't have time anyway.
And who'll be blamed? Go on, guess.
[Update 15:25: I mentioned it to my boss, who summarily dumped 487 words!]
5 November, 2005
I thought the very idea of a maternity corset was a joke when H told me about it, but I suppose it might provide welcome back support. Maybe.
3 November, 2005
Failed marketing experiment
- Milk with 'a hint' of vanilla – if you think you'd like that, why not just buy a pint of ordinary milk and add a couple of drops of vanilla essence yourself, rather than pay extra for a novelty product?
- Milk with 'a hint' of strawberry – if in doubt, I sniff milk to check whether it's gone 'off'. The tell-tale smell resembles strawberries. There's no way I could drink this stuff.
The context in which I saw these gimmicks? By the tills in the Spar shop on campus, being given away free, as they can't sell 'em....
12 October, 2005
For the boudoir-challenged
Three examples of 'cutting edge' yet supposedly functional designs for space-optimising furniture (thrilling, eh?), all via BoingBoing:
- A bookshelf/divider incorporating a chair and stool. I suspect those angled shelves would create unusable 'dead' space, and the finish gives the impression this is just a mock-up, but it has potential. While you're visiting that page, also admire the desk lamp styled to look as if it's falling through the desk.
- The 'ultimate' bed which seems to combine all the furniture and fixtures of a typical bedroom into one somewhat ugly item.
- This one is a little annoying: a 'clever' design which hasn't been thought through properly. It's an armchair which pivots (vertically) to reveal a stove and cooking workspace. Because "you'll never sit and cook at the same time". Possibly true, but one might well wish to sit down to eat, ideally before cleaning the workspace and hob and converting the unit back to a seat.
20 September, 2005
The taming of the screw
Someone's redesigned the screw. Yes, the humble, so-simple-it-couldn't-be-improved-upon screw.
This is the sort of design work I really appreciate.
[Via Boing Boing.]
14 September, 2005
As El Reg reports, the new "fresh, inviting, and open" logo of Quark is identical to that adopted by the Scottish Arts Council in 2001. The only difference is that Quark's copy is in PANTONE 368, officially designated 'Quark Green'.
Honest mistake? Maybe. The logo is a fairly obvious construction, which I could imagine inventing myself; a circle with one quarter squared. It's certainly conceivable that two designers could produce the same logo independently. However, the fonts of the accompanying text are suspiciously similar, too, which makes me wonder whether it's a publicity stunt which, by posting this entry, I might be assisting. Damn.
[Update 27/03/06: Quark has undergone a
re-rebranding, and now has another new logo. That means one can no longer visit the Quark & SAC websites and compare the logos, but the original article from The Register has screenshots. Alternatively, go to the SAC home page and imagine thair logo in PANTONE 368 – it really was identical.]
12 September, 2005
One step too far
A classic pocket watch which opens to reveal a sundial in one half and a compass (to align the sundial) in the other might be a fairly good idea. Adding a tiny reproduction of Stonehenge to the sundial is a nice novelty, allowing the user to predict solstices.
However, the associated website is so overblown as to be just comical.
Now, you too can hold the legend and ageless wonder of Stonehenge in the palm of your hand by claiming The Stonehenge Watch as your own.'Fifth Millennial Special Edition'
7 September, 2005
It doesn't have the same sociological elegance as the chewing gum target I mentioned yesterday, but this invention, a shower which recirculates used water, could be rather more revolutionary, especially as clean water becomes a scarcer commodity worldwide.
6 September, 2005
I wonder whether this would work.
If people are going to spit out gum in the street, regardless of laws, incentives and campaigns, etc. - give them somewhere to do it.
[Via Boing Boing
24 August, 2005
Understandably mocked by Gizmodo, Sunblades are sunglasses without the, er, glasses.
17 August, 2005
Ulrich Teuffel's revolutionary guitar designs aren't entirely to my taste, but they're interesting and designed for optimum functionality and sound quality. Whilst I can appreciate the craftsmanship, these, by Peter McGilton are primarily playable gimmicks. Unlike Teuffel's, they don't redefine the instrument.
Don't misunderstand me: some (not all) of the novelty guitars look amusing. It's just that for me, the music is all that matters. If a modification doesn't improve playability or sound quality, don't bother with it. I couldn't care less about 'showmanship', and any band using a twin-neck, dragon-styled guitar with an integral harp is not a band I'd choose to see.
12 August, 2005
I'm about as impressed by this as were Lifehacker and the NY Times*. The very best inventions are the simple ideas, which simplify one's life.
The memory card manufacturer Sandisk has produced a new model which plugs directly into a computer's USB port. No USB between the camera and computer, no memory card reader The card itself is 'about the size of a postage stamp', but a hinged section folds down to present just the essential contacts, omitting the bulky housing of a standard USB plug.
Okay; it's a memory card, for use in digital photography – how could that be exciting? The nature of the item is irrelevant; it could be a pair of glasses, or a pen, or a concrete mixer. It's the elegance of design that's noteworthy.
*: That NY Times link mightn't be permanently archived.
8 August, 2005
That street art again
I expect everyone who's ever used a web browser has encountered a site displaying the same photos of curiously three-dimensional street art. It's been mirrored and copied so often I couldn't guess which was the original URL.
Now there's a web page explaining a little about the pavement artist, Julian Beever, and his technique. It's fairly obvious, though it hadn't occurred to me, that he uses anamorphosis i.e. the image on the ground is considerably distorted, but looks fine from one oblique angle.
16 July, 2005
An issue to address
This would probably qualify for This Is Broken, the archive of flawed user interface design [16/04/08: Site dead, so link removed]. It's the Royal Mail's Postcode Finder utility; type in the address and hit 'Search' for the postcode, or switch to the Address Finder, type in the postcode and search the database for one of 27 million addresses. Simple, and useful (if one hadn't been required to log in to even access it – I used a fake Bugmenot ID, of course).
The button design is... mixed. The distinction between the grey 'Help' & 'Clear' buttons and the red 'Search' button is good, but user familiarity with conventional form layouts means it's all too easy to click on the big, more obvious, red button without reading it, and flip to the Address Finder, clearing the text already entered.
Picky? Perhaps, but if the browser's autocomplete dropdown appears when one types into the 'Town' box, the 'Help', 'Clear' & 'Search' buttons are completely hidden, and one naturally clicks on the only available button, wiping the entire enquiry.
Still picky? Okay, yes – I doubt 'This Is Broken' would be interested, really – but this could have been avoided so easily, with even the slightest pre-publication user testing. I'm not complaining about the magnitude of the error, but the apparent lack of thought.
29 June, 2005
A pair of swimming googles has been designed which projects elapsed time and number of laps onto the swimmer's field of vision. I'm not overly concerned about my times, but it'd be liberating not to have to keep a conscious count of lengths, and I can imagine it being of real use to competitive swimmers in training.
The aspect which impresses me most is the technique by which the device increments the number of lengths. When the swimmer enters the pool, he/she presses a 'start' button, thereby setting the direction of facing. A compass in the unit then notes each time the direction changes by 180°. Elegant simplicity.
25 June, 2005
Don't just paint what you see
Every Tuesday evening in the late 1970s and again since the 1990s, my mother has attended a painting 'class', not literally for tuition but as more of a social group. Frankly, I think she took the painting itself more seriously in the early years, and my favourites of her paintings are from that period, but she still produces good ones. She favours oils, for the textures achieveable (though I'd love to see more of the richly-detailed watercolours of which I know she's capable), even when a rich texture isn't really required*.
My one significant criticism is composition. Naturally, she's very good – certainly a better photographer than me, in that sense – but the subject matter of her paintings tends to be copied from photographs, which doesn't always work.
Barring trickery, a camera records whatever is present. Knowing that, the viewer accepts what he/she sees in a photograph. However, precisely the same view in a painting attracts greater critical evaluation. If one really considers it, some genuine sunsets and cloud patterns, or the arrangements of twisted branches in trees, can look downright unnatural; rendered in a painting, one would blame the artist.
I believe this is one of the many aspects which begins to elevate the craft of painting to an art: the ability to represent what one sees in a credible manner, not merely reproduce it. Even if that palm tree really did lean at an alarming angle, change it – its 'wrongness' draws the eye too much. The same with that broken branch. That anomalously dark cloud gives the impression the church on the horizon is on fire – modify or move it. Trust me; it'd produce a more compelling image.
*: It's just a matter of taste, but whilst stipling of thick oil paint can add a luxuriant 3D effect to the centre of a flower or the fur of a fox painted on canvas or textured board, I feel the smooth surfaces of a fish or a golden buddha would be better represented in watercolours on paper i.e. without added texture.
24 June, 2005
Gallery of improbable bikes (and trikes, and quads).
17 June, 2005
'Space Invaders' is an unofficial street art project whereby small ceramic tiles are anonymously cemented to public buildings, displaying the pixellated villains of the 1978 video game. It's not so much graffiti as guerrilla art, and the best examples blend into their surroundings.
Several cities around the world feature so many examples that maps to 'landing sites' have been produced, but they've infiltrated further than even the project's global home site seems aware; this one occupies a very prominent location in Prague.
Click on the image for a closer look.
12 June, 2005
What's wrong with Arial?
If you fancy a little Sunday afternoon amusement, have a look at this gloriously snobby article about 'The Scourge of Arial'.
The author acknowledges that the font is entirely suitable for its purpose: a standard, readable typeface for routine, not especially decorative, use. However, he goes on to make essentially empty criticisms.
Arial is a near-clone of Helvetica. So long as it's not absolute plagiarism (and no-one has been sued, so...), so what? Who, apart from an excessively precious font historian, cares that a pre-existing typeface was subtlely modified for wider availability? It's not even as if the pristine purity of Helvetica itself had been maintained – the author himself reports that within twenty years of its invention in the 1950s, the version in use differed from the original; a further twenty years later, when Arial was devised in about 1989, Helvetica was a range of variants under the same name rather than one definitive original. Why does one more variant, which didn't even 'borrow' the same name, matter?
The author provides a 'How to Spot Arial' guide, illustrating just how trivial some differences are (e.g. in Arial the top of the 't' terminates at an angle; in Helvetica it is cut off straight – try spotting that at 10pt on 72dpi), yet how distinct others are (the capital 'R' is quite distinct – other fonts mimic Helvetica closer, and personally, not just being perverse, I prefer the straighter line of Arial's version).
Interestingly, Arial is described as "actually rather homely", whilst simultaneously being a "shameless impostor" of Helvetica's "friendly, cheerful appearance and clean lines". Anyone notice the self-contradiction of prejudice?
By the author's own admission, Arial seems to be:
"a loose adaptation of Monotype's venerable Grotesque series [from decades before the invention of Helvetica] redrawn to match the proportions and weight of Helvetica. At a glance, it looks like Helvetica, but up close it's different in dozens of seemingly arbitrary ways."
So it was a substitute
for Helvetica, not a copy. That's fine, then. What's the problem?
"This, to my mind, is almost worse than an outright copy. A copy, it could be said, pays homage (if not license fees) to the original by its very existence. Arial, on the other hand, pretends to be different. It says, in effect "I'm not Helvetica. I don't even look like Helvetica!", but gladly steps into the same shoes."
Don't be so stupid. That's saying that in the situations where Helvetica would be used, only
Helvetica may be used; no rivals may intrude and all text must look identical.
"The situation today is that Arial has displaced Helvetica as the standard font in practically everything done by nonprofessionals in print, on television, and on the Web, where it's become a standard font, mostly because of Microsoft bundling it with everything."
That seems to be a rarified definition of 'professional'. Presumably a 'true professional' (who would apparently never use Arial unless a client insisted) is someone who regards Helvetica as all-holy, and everyone else, irrespective of talent, qualifications or experience, is a 'nonprofessional', even if using professional skills in a professional context.
"Helvetica became popular on its own merits. Arial owes its very existence to that success but is little more than a parasite – and it looks like it's the kind that eventually destroys the host."
If we're going to use biological metaphors: evolution relies on a slight shift in an organism's characteristics, so that it and its offspring are better adapted to their environment than the species from which they mutated. If the cause of the font mutation was the avoidance (not evasion!) of royalties, that's fine with me. Whatever the cause, it worked, and Helvetica has simply been out-competed in the environment of the free market.
I was going to say 'So Helvetica's dead. I won't miss it.' However, that's buying into the whole ludicrous concept that it's one or the other, and I reject that. Arial is currently ubiquitous, and I don't see any reason to regret that, but Helvetica still exists, for those who want something a little different or who wish a frissance of self-superiority.
23 May, 2005
Why has no-one ever thought of this before now?
Rotating electrical sockets. If a bulky plug or transformer is blocking access to the other socket, twist it to a different angle.
This deserves to sell well.
2 May, 2005
Kiss it better
... with a mouth-shaped sticking plaster.
If that's a little too twee, how about slapping a rasher of bacon on that cut?
But whatever you do, don't think about the concept of a shower curtain decorated with pictures of meat. Don't.
27 April, 2005
interactive plush dolls inspired by codependent, high-maintenance relationships.
Hug a Needie, and it'll flatter and sing to you. However, if you pay attention to a different Needie, it'll whine and conspire against its rival.
[Via Gizmodo, but don't go there - stay here and pay attention to me! ME! Ahem.]
23 April, 2005
A fancy straw
If it wasn't for the fact that I drink negligible quantities of alcohol (less than a pint per week, and that's in batches of fewer than once per month), I'd quite like one of these: a fake Grolsch bottleneck (neck, shoulders and distinctive flip-top cap) which one could attach to a can of beer.
14 April, 2005
They rise - a bit quicker
This is of minority interest, but if any other sculptors/painters of Games Workshop's 'Warhammer 40,000' miniatures are looking for a shortcut in generating Necron iconography, Glashaus Design offers a very suitable freeware font.
From the home page, click on 'Glashaus Fonts'. The one you're looking for is 'Echolot'.
22 March, 2005
Ever prepared a rough 'sketch' (in Photoshop) of a logo, just intended to convey the concept to a client, then have the client simply use that rough as the finished item?
I was paid, so I shouldn't really worry about it, but I'm still annoyed to see unfinished work on posters, letterheads, websites, etc. If I was so inclined, I might have been tempted to boast about my work achieving a degree of prominence, at least within a narrow market sector, but in this instance I'd rather stay anonymous.
Not one for the portfolio!
19 March, 2005
Odd product, odder advertising
It might seem a strange idea to fit a mp3 player into the ammunition magazine of an AK-47 assault rifle, but what I find even more bizarre is the way it's presented on the manufacturer's website. The dubious benefit of using barely-dressed models (the 'Triple Kalashnikov Girls') is ruined by juxtaposing a gratuitous photo of a (covered) female crotch and a photo of some bearded, long-haired Russian ex-rock-star gnome peering myopically at the camera.
16 March, 2005
I've already mentioned the ascending alarm clock, but Gizmodo links to two other effective, novel ones.
The first is somehow endearing: mounted in a furry cylinder, when one hits 'snooze, the clock rolls itself off the bedside table then goes and hides, in a different place each day.
The other sounds effective but probably annoying. At the required time, it fires it's four-part 'off' button into the air. One then has to find the segments and reassemble the button (it's a jigsaw) in order to stop the noise.
[Update 12/10/05: The former invention, Clocky, now has its own website, and its creator won the 2005 Ig Nobel Prize for Economics.]
24 February, 2005
Refreshment on a bad day
I think I'll just quote Alizon on this one:
Want. Want. WANT!
In case the link is broken when the target site is updated: it's a rack for kitchen knives, in the form of a human figure. Two knives piece the chest, one goes through the abdomen and one through each thigh.
22 February, 2005
I covered much the same topic a couple of weeks ago, but the New York Times gives a few more examples of excess 'helpfulness' built, or rather programmed, into modern cars.
To be fair, some users do appreciate such features (as I said earlier, they'd just annoy me), but as the article explains, the car/manufacturer doesn't always know best, and customisation can be difficult.
... an owner wanted to know how he could stop the horn on his car from sounding every time the doors were locked - one of many security features drivers find overzealous. "I don't mind the parking lights flashing," he wrote, "but the horn is a little annoying at 3 a.m. in my quiet neighborhood when I get home from the night shift."
17 February, 2005
Just run it under the tap
I seem to have been posting about slightly unusual household goods recently. Must be a phase, as here's another (with a healthy return to despair and cynicism...).
When I was a child, I was taught that if I couldn't open a jar, running it under hot water would loosen the lid. When I was a little older, this was supplemented by my mother's purchase of a plastic pad which improved one's grip on even a wet or greasy jar/lid. It probably cost £1.
Now Black & Decker have produced a bulky electrical appliance, considerably larger than, say, a kettle and costing at least $39.99.
No. Just no. It's form over function and empty 'convenience' over rationality. It's a gadget (Smarthome explicitly categorises, and prices it, as such) - a toy, not a utensil.
Yes, it might be useful for the elderly or those with special needs, but they're plainly not the target market for the shiny black & chrome, nor the price tag. I'm pretty sure occupational therapists and related technologists have already produced a range of rather more utilitarian (and cheaper) alternatives for those who need them.
Maybe this thing is a talking point, but does anyone really talk about opening jars?
Not counting this entry, obviously ;)
A comment at Boing Boing reports that the original project was to design a genuinely useful product for those who really need it, and I agree that under the decorative elements, that's what was achieved. I just think that the styling was excessive and has shifted it to a different, more frivolous, market sector.
There is an argument that essential equipment shouldn't necessarily be dull or ugly - large-cup bras spring to mind, for some reason - and there's no reason why the elderly or disabled shouldn't have jar-opening appliances they'd be happy to have in plain view. Quality of experience matters. Everyone has the right to buy premium goods. I just hope that those who don't have the opportunity to pay premium prices aren't excluded.
Plus, I simply dislike over-designed items, so I may be overemphasising my own preference.
16 February, 2005
Dragged out of bed
This is a good idea. The Sfera radio alarm clock hangs from the ceiling above the bed. When it goes off in the morning, a quick tap triggers the snooze function but also causes the cord to retract, so that ten minutes later, one has to reach higher to gain a further snooze period. It only stops when it reaches the ceiling, by which time one obviously has to get out of bed to turn it off.
4 February, 2005
Onkar Singh Kular has had a wonderful idea, creating:
... a set of mugs in each of 128 Pantone shades of brown so that each family member or co-worker can choose the mug corresponding to their favourite colour of tea. Whenever a relative or colleague makes tea for them, they will be able to tell from the colour of the mug exactly how strong it should be and how much milk to add.
[Via Boing Boing]
4 February, 2005
Incorporated into the design of all STRUTZ® footwear is a strut shock absorber. This innovative concept in shoe design allows a persons body weight to be transferred from the heel to the ground. This dampens the shock stress to the entire foot.
Innovative, maybe, but ugly
. To date, their online store only offers strappy sandals. Gizmodo
seems to agree with my immediate impression: "something so overtly mechanical integrated into something so dainty"
just looks wrong
, not to mention a bit chunky.
Strutz intend to produce more enclosed shoes and boots, and I can imagine the idea could function much better within the aesthetic of deliberately 'industrial' styles of boots e.g. some New Rocks (site requires pop-ups, or try this one), but thumbnails at the Strutz site look even worse than the sandals, as if the soles are hanging off.
High heels are all about appearence, so any attempt to resolve what is a genuine concern has to look good. I'm not sure these do.
[Via Boing Boing, appropriately]
[Update 01/02/07: the Strutz site seems to be dead, so I've removed the link. In checking whether it had merely moved, I discovered that the idea for the heels was that of Jonah White, also inventor of 'Billy-Bob' joke teeth and abortive earthworm farmer.]
3 February, 2005
An experiment for web designers: set the page background to bright red (#ff00cc - thanks for the correction, danbee!), body text to black (#000000) and links to cream (#ffffcc). The immediate effect will probably be repulsion - it's far too violent a colour scheme. However, try to read a block of text containing inline links, and after a few moments those links will seem to float above the plane of the page. I've never encountered that 3D optical illusion before.
Might be useful; I just can't think where.
I noticed this at a Channel 4 microsite promoting a one-off documentary about 'The Real Da Vinci Code', but I suspect it mightn't be archived; hence the instructions above.
28 January, 2005
When it all gets too much...
... use your ScreamBody:
ScreamBody is a portable space for screaming. When a user needs to scream but is in a situation where it is just not permitted, ScreamBody silences the userís screams so they may feel free to vocalise without fear of environmental retaliation, and at the same time records the scream for later release where, when, and how the user chooses.
See the site for more, well, psychobabble. Interesting concept, overstated rationale.
Go up a level in the site structure (i.e. remove '/screambody/' from the URL) for other ideas from the same inventor, such as a machine that bites itself to make sure it's still a machine.
[via Unscathed Corpse, which is as odd as the title implies.]
20 January, 2005
There's a poster outside Sainsburys at present, advertising a supposedly health-promoting live yoghurt:
with vegetable extracts
Mm, cholesterol with vegetable extracts. Yum!
This could have been avoided so easily:
with vegetable extracts
I wonder how much the ad agency earned for that little ****-up.
Maybe I'm underestimating them - bad adverts sell too. The copy itself is particularly bland, but the mixed message conveyed by the layout certainly grabbed my attention.
7 December, 2004
Best kept in the dark
What is it about minimalist lingerie that inspires utterly pointless, tacky innovation? Here's another in an ongoing series which demand the simple question "why?"
The GloThong, available for a mere $49.95, is:
An Electro Luminescent Thong with a lightweight water-resistant rechargeable battery. The charge lasts ~2 hours and neon colors are available. Detachable plug [steady...] is included for recharging.
Sadly, the GloBra
is currently unavailable.
[Via Spinneyhead - blame Ian]
[Update 10/7/05: I've just discovered that GloThong.com links to this entry, as an example of their media coverage. That's fine with me, so long as it's clear their link was added without my knowledge, and I certainly don't endorse the product.]
6 December, 2004
No. Just no. Not even if I owned an iPod.
30 November, 2004
You HAVE to be joking
These mousepads are ergonomic, and a valuable insight into contemporary Japanese culture - honest.
[Via Boing Boing - don't say it]
26 November, 2004
Look at that!
I'm not sure why, but I've always found cutaway drawings fascinating. It may be inherited from my father.
Hence, I was pleased to discover Kevin Hulsey's website, which not only displays excellent, photorealistic examples from his portfolio, it explains his (very laborious!) working methods (see the ocean liner).
17 September, 2004
Microsoft have released a black leather IntelliMouse. Want!
Damn. That's just the name of the colour, unless the dark red version really is made of crimson fire. Ow.
The 'Blue Moon' one looks pretty good. It was apparently inspired by "the moon, fantasy, phenomena". Just phenomena. All phenomena, or did the author have a limited understanding of the word's meaning?
The 'Night Vision' mouse looks okay, too: very dark green with a 'Matrix'-inspired translucent interior.
Yet these are mice; simple pointing devices for computers. What's wrong with standard beige plastic?
I dunno; there'll be wallpaper images showing close-ups of the mice, next.
22 August, 2004
I'd rather you didn't
Following on from Monday's backless g-string, the 'Show Me' thong/necklace:
The jewel of lingerie: an innovating concept. In a twinkling of an eye, it changes itself into a lovely necklace. Seduction, sensuality, desire... the detachable jewels can be worn around the neck during the day and showing out of a trouser at night. This is the MUST HAVE for every trendy women in 2004.
19 August, 2004
Of course it's art
The graffiti artwork of Banksy. I have major doubts about spray-painting live cattle and 'colouring-in' statues, but the rest of his work is excellent.
16 August, 2004
Seen it all?
This truly is a world of limitless ingenuity. The backless g-string. A concept so far ahead of its time that consumers mightn't even understand.
10 May, 2004
I see the BBC website has dropped the 'i' from its brand name: 'BBCi' has reverted to the rather more meaningful 'bbc.co.uk', which is not only more intuitive but avoids the problem of people trying 'www.bbci.co.uk/', a minor but avoidable source of confusion. The elimination of a superfluous brand name will presumably streamline links mentioned in broadcasts, too, as presenters will no longer have to refer the audiences to "BBCi at 'bbc.co.uk'" for supplementary information.
A good move, and I'm not about to criticise the BBC for pragmatism. I can't help wondering about the cost of debranding, though - all those letterheads and print publications that mentioned BBCi. The change to the website itself should be straightforward, merely modifying the header graphic, master stylesheet and CMS/publishing package. I remember the public criticism when the BBC changed its logo from three tilted rhombi containing the italicised letters to three squares containing the upright letters, at massive expense: tens of thousands of pounds to remove a tilt.
22 January, 2004
Logo design trends
An overview of fifteen current trends in commercial logo design; not only useful for inspiration, but also a warning of what's becoming passe.
12 December, 2003
Company logos don't last forever; fashions, ad campaigns, takeovers and company failures mean many well-known or influential logos are no longer with us.
Okay, this is a website promoting a book, and a lot of the 'meat' of the subject is presumably held back for its purchasers, but it's still an interesting taste. I remember the circumstances surrounding the loss of some of these logos, others have personal significance, and I hadn't realised some had gone!
4 December, 2003
Mildly interesting promotional site at Honda UK, where visitors are asked to vote on the most influential (I think - it's not specified) of ten shortlisted everyday items: can opener; ballpoint pen; stapler; tap; zip; corkscrew; bra; teabag; light bulb; toilet.
Which do you regard as the most important/most influential on everyday life?
At the time of writing, the light bulb is leading, with 26% of the vote, followed by the toilet, as one might expect; these are the items absolutely everyone (in the UK, anyway) uses daily, whereas the others are restricted to only a proportion of the population (the bra, currently third with 12%) or are only used at intervals (the corkscrew, 6%). The relative valuation of the tap is surprising, at seventh (5%) - either people don't regard it as being as profound an influence as others, or perhaps it's regarded as less of a design achievement than the others.