One week after I graduated from college in Ohio, I moved to New York with my new wife Dorothy and began working as a design assistant at Vignelli Associates. It was 1980, and I was the lowest employee on the totem pole. Working in a design office in those days was different. I never touched a computer. As I recall, the office didn’t even have a computer. In fact, we didn’t have a fax machine.
I spent most of my days putting thinner in rubber cement and taping tissue paper over mechanical boards. Every once in a while I would get to do a mechanical myself, usually following the direction of one of the more experienced designers. I was working in New York City for a designer I idolized and I was the happiest person on earth. It so happened that we got an apartment that was three blocks-literally, a 135 second walk-from the Vignelli office. Work started at 9:30 a.m. I usually got up at around five minutes to 9 and still had time to pick up a doughnut on my way in.
Dorothy, on the other hand, had a corporate job downtown, in the World Trade Center to be precise. She had to wake up before 6 to be at work at 8. I literally slept three hours later than her every morning. Every night Dorothy would go to bed at around 10 p.m. I was still wide awake, and our apartment was so small it drove me crazy. I had a key to the office. So I got in the habit of tucking my wife in every night and going back to work to start another shift, which often would last from 10 to 3 in the morning.
This went on for four years. Anything I’ve achieved in my career I credit today to those four years. I loved working late at night. I worked on office stuff, and I worked on personal projects. I played music really loud and drank Mountain Dew. I would design anything: invitations for my friends’ parties, packaging for mix tapes, one-of-a-kind birthday cards, and freebies for non-profits.
When Massimo Vignelli noticed I had extra time during the day, he started giving me extra work. Things that would have taken two days only took one, thanks to the night shift. The more work I did, the faster I got, and the better I got. It never occurred to me to ask for overtime. 25 years later, nearing 50 with three kids (and the same wife), I can’t tell you the last time I was awake at 3 in the morning, intentionally, at least. So my advice to anyone starting a career as a designer? Stay up late while you can. It pays off.
Front looks very Jambox-y. I’m usually not crazy about Philippe Starck’s tendency to house disk-platter based hard drives (“utility”, “slow”, “heavy”) in some amorphous, mercury droplet shaped shell (“gaudy”, “superfluous”, “showy”). But that really works here.
GREAT design, the management expert Gary Hamel once said, is like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography — you know it when you see it. You want it, too: brain scan studies reveal that the sight of an attractive product can trigger the part of the motor cerebellum that governs hand movement. Instinctively, we reach out for attractive things; beauty literally moves us.
Yet, while we are drawn to good design, as Mr. Hamel points out, we’re not quite sure why.
This is starting to change. A revolution in the science of design is already under way, and most people, including designers, aren’t even aware of it.
Take color. Last year, German researchers found that just glancing at shades of green can boost creativity and motivation. It’s not hard to guess why: we associate verdant colors with food-bearing vegetation — hues that promise nourishment.
This could partly explain why window views of landscapes, research shows, can speed patient recovery in hospitals, aid learning in classrooms and spur productivity in the workplace. In studies of call centers, for example, workers who could see the outdoors completed tasks 6 to 7 percent more efficiently than those who couldn’t, generating an annual savings of nearly $3,000 per employee.
In some cases the same effect can happen with a photographic or even painted mural, whether or not it looks like an actual view of the outdoors. Corporations invest heavily to understand what incentivizes employees, and it turns out that a little color and a mural could do the trick.
Simple geometry is leading to similar revelations. For more than 2,000 years, philosophers, mathematicians and artists have marveled at the unique properties of the “golden rectangle”: subtract a square from a golden rectangle, and what remains is another golden rectangle, and so on and so on — an infinite spiral. These so-called magical proportions (about 5 by 8) are common in the shapes of books, television sets and credit cards, and they provide the underlying structure for some of the most beloved designs in history: the facades of the Parthenon and Notre Dame, the face of the “Mona Lisa,” the Stradivarius violin and the original iPod.
Experiments going back to the 19th century repeatedly show that people invariably prefer images in these proportions, but no one has known why.
Then, in 2009, a Duke University professor demonstrated that our eyes can scan an image fastest when its shape is a golden rectangle. For instance, it’s the ideal layout of a paragraph of text, the one most conducive to reading and retention. This simple shape speeds up our ability to perceive the world, and without realizing it, we employ it wherever we can.
Certain patterns also have universal appeal. Natural fractals — irregular, self-similar geometry — occur virtually everywhere in nature: in coastlines and riverways, in snowflakes and leaf veins, even in our own lungs. In recent years, physicists have found that people invariably prefer a certain mathematical density of fractals — not too thick, not too sparse. The theory is that this particular pattern echoes the shapes of trees, specifically the acacia, on the African savanna, the place stored in our genetic memory from the cradle of the human race. To paraphrase one biologist, beauty is in the genes of the beholder — home is where the genome is.
LIFE magazine named Jackson Pollock “the greatest living painter in the United States” in 1949, when he was creating canvases now known to conform to the optimal fractal density (about 1.3 on a scale of 1 to 2 from void to solid). Could Pollock’s late paintings result from his lifelong effort to excavate an image buried in all of our brains?
We respond so dramatically to this pattern that it can reduce stress levels by as much as 60 percent — just by being in our field of vision. One researcher has calculated that since Americans spend $300 billion a year dealing with stress-related illness, the economic benefits of these shapes, widely applied, could be in the billions.
It should come as no surprise that good design, often in very subtle ways, can have such dramatic effects. After all, bad design works the other way: poorly designed computers can injure your wrists, awkward chairs can strain your back and over-bright lighting and computer screens can fatigue your eyes.
We think of great design as art, not science, a mysterious gift from the gods, not something that results just from diligent and informed study. But if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you.
By the time you finish reading this, both of these consumer products will have been recycled at a local e-waste facility.
Both the iPhone and the analog Canon served useful lives and have been replaced with their newest counterparts. The iPhone is being retired after 3 years because its touchscreen has stopped working. In contrast, the point-and-shoot camera works like new after 7 full years, but is being retired because it’s not digital. It’s funny how sometimes a low-tech product can outlive a high-tech one because there are fewer components to fail. So here we have two well-worn objects in product purgatory. Before they are sent away to be dismantled and melted away, I’d like to take a moment to examine their materiality and how it has aged with time. At a glance both products are a satin-finish silver color, but upon closer investigation their battle scars reveal the stuff they’re actually made of.
After 3+ years of having been carried in the same pocket as a ring of keys, the iPhone has acquired a polished patina over its aluminum shell. Abrasion of its hard-anodized surface has revealed the raw aluminum within. The camera’s shell has been worn in a very similar way but instead reveals black plastic concealed by silver paint. Slightly less flattering. The camera’s emulated metallic finish is only surface-deep and its wear tends to emphasizes awkward artifacts of the injection molding process used to create it. At this point the Canon camera’s shell looks like garbage while the iPhone’s is starting to resemble something more like an heirloom pocket watch.
Interestingly, both of these products spent the greater part of their working lives sporting these wear patterns. The truth is that consumer products are ‘new’ for a very brief moment when they are first removed from the packaging, but spend the great majority of their useful lives as ‘used’ products in the process of decay. Many welcome the breaking-in of products like a leather wallet or a pair of jeans as this wear can be aesthetically-pleasing. The Japanese have a term for this, “Wabi-sabi”. Wabi-sabi can be used to describe the aesthetically pleasing wear of an object as it decays over time. It’s a notion that embraces the transience of objects and celebrates the purity of the imperfect. Aging with dignity is a criteria designers should recognize in their efforts. I’m thinking of a future when products are designed not for the brief moment when they are new, but for when they have been aged to perfection. (via)
Take the subway to an otherwise undistinguished part of Third Avenue in Brooklyn. Knock on the door. Wait for some stylishly disheveled young man to open it and let you in. You’ve arrived at the BotCave—the place where 125 factory workers are creating the future of manufacturing.
The BotCave is home to MakerBot, a company that for nearly four years has been bringing affordable 3-D printers to the masses. But nothing MakerBot has ever built looks like the new printer these workers are currently constructing. The Replicator 2 isn’t a kit; it doesn’t require a weekend of wrestling with software that makes Linux look easy. Instead, it’s driven by a simple desktop application, and it will allow you to turn CAD files into physical things as easily as printing a photo. The entry-level Replicator 2, priced at $2,199, is for generating objects up to 11 by 6 inches in an ecofriendly material; the higher-end Replicator 2X, which costs $2,799, can produce only smaller items, up to 9 by 6 inches, but it has dual heads that let it print more sophisticated objects. With these two machines, MakerBot is putting down a multimillion-dollar wager that 3-D printing has hit its mainstream moment.
Unlike the jerry-built contraptions of the past, the Replicator 2s are sleek, metal, and stylish: MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis likens the design to “Darth Vader driving Knight Rider’s KITT car while being airlifted by a Nighthawk spy plane.” There is also the lighting. Oh, the lighting. “LEDs are part of our core values as a company,” Pettis jokes. The new machine will glow in any hue—”to match the color of your couch,” he says, “or like something in the movie Tron.”
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled a suite of Microsoft Surface products, including a signature tablet. The 9.3 mm Microsoft Surface tablet, powered by Windows 8, is a hair thinner than the 9.4 mm iPad 3, and its 10.6-inch display has a full inch on the iPad’s. The Surface’s two standout features are a full-sized, multitouch keyboard with trackpad that also doubles as the device’s case, and a built-in kickstand for hands-free use. It also includes a magnetized stylus that uses digital ink and a full-sized USB 2 port.
All Magnesium, liquid metal casing. A 3 mm thin magnetically attached smart-cover that doubles as full-on multi-touch keyboard (genius!) But the best thing might as well be the incredible little built-in kickstand. Only 0.7 mm thick (about the same thickness of a credit card) that seamlessly integrates into the body. The custom hinges are so well put together that it makes a visceral yet smooth sound while opening and closing.
It is a thing of beauty and marvelous feat of precision engineering.