Tag » design

Have nothing in your houses…

I love this quote shared by my friend Amit:

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” -William Morris

Designing the on-hold experience

A standard telephone keypad.

Image via Wikipedia

On designing the on-hold experience:

In the first of two experiments, Munichor and Rafaeli found that callers who were given information about their place in line reported more positive experiences—and hung up less frequently—than those who were played background music. And as for recorded apologies? They can make the situation worse, said Rafaeli.

Every interaction your company has with a customer is an opportunity to leave a good impression. via David Hammer.

Virtual Keyboards

Virtual Keyboards

This article about virtual keyboards on iPhone and Android is a good case-study of how seemingly small changes can make or break a design.

It also contains this brilliant idea:

[David Pogue:] “Although you don’t see it with your eyes, the sizes of the keys on the iPhone keyboard are changing all the time. That is, the software enlarges the “landing area” of certain keys, based on probability.”

For example, if you type the letter «N», the next letter is unlikely to be «H», but quite likely to be «G». Accordingly, the iPhone will increase or decrease the target areas of these keys.

13-year old reviews Walkman

You’ve got to love this story of a 13-year-old kid reviewing an original Sony Walkman:

It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape. That was not the only naive mistake that I made; I mistook the metal/normal switch on the Walkman for a genre-specific equaliser, but later I discovered that it was in fact used to switch between two different types of cassette.

There are a lot more great paragraphs in there, and the article really shows how quickly technology has evolved over the past 30 years. You’ll find some more thoughts on the virtues of the walkman in this article, including a picture of the gorgeous blue model.

Matte Harley-Davidson

Harley Davidson

The other night I saw a Harley-Davidson 883 parked on the street. This bike wouldn’t have caught my eye, except for the fact that it’s painted in completely matte paint. It’s so dark and un-shiny that it really stands out.

My cruddy iPhone photo doesn’t do it justice, but you can see the contrast between the shiny exhaust and the rest of the bike:

Matte Harley

It’s remarkable how such a simple change can completely change the perception of a product.

PS: I wish the rumors of a matte iPhone had been true. The shiny plastic they’re using today looks so cheap.

2009-6-30-8:50 PM #   

A washing machine that uses less water

Halle linked to this article about an awesome washing machine that uses only one cup of water.

It uses less than 10 per cent of the water of conventional machines and 30 per cent less energy by replacing most of the water with thousands of tiny reusable plastic beads to attract and absorb dirt under humid conditions.

I wonder how they manufacture these beads, and how durable they are. Hopefully the process is somewhat eco-friendly as well, lest the net impact be negative.

Confusion rug

This rug is hilarious, thanks Amit! I wish it were for sale… though I suppose it’s easy enough to make.

Incidentally, Amit started the excellent Photojojo site and store. If you’re into photography, I recommend checking it out.

Bathroom art

Brillo Bathroom

Someday, I want a bathroom with creative tile art.

tags: ,
2009-5-10-6:10 PM #   

Durable electronics


I watched the San Francisco premiere of Objectified last week. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a movie about product design (watch the trailer). I really enjoyed it, in particular for the interviews with some of my favorite designers (Jonathan Ive, Dieter Rams, Naoto Fukasawa).

I asked the folllowing question during Q&A:

Will we ever get to a world where products last 5, 10 or 20 years?

Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, suggested that there is a difference between furniture and electronics. A high quality chair or table can easily last decades. Electronics on the other hand are simply vehicles for delivering the latest technology.

While I agree for the most part, I can think of the following counter-examples:

  • I’ve had my Nikon D70 for 4 years now, and have no particular desire to replace it. Newer cameras have higher resolutions and slightly better features, but I’m perfectly satisfied.
  • I have a first-generation iPhone, and don’t feel any particular need to upgrade. 3G and GPS would be nice, but I got most of the upgrade through the software update alone. The only reason I’ll get a new one this summer is that the hardware is failing on me (the mic has an echo).
  • If it hadn’t broken down, I’d be quite happy using my old 12″ Powerbook. With more of my computer usage moving to a super-efficient browser, I might actually use fewer computing resources now than I did back in 2003 (disclosure: I work on Google Chrome).

These three examples lead me to wonder if we might someday reach a state of “great enough” in electronics. This is different from “good enough”: I mean a state where the hardware is powerful and flexible enough that we no longer feel the need to upgrade for incremental improvements. At that point, we’ll want these devices to last longer than a couple of years.

So how do we incent manufacturers to make more durable products, when their business models depend on selling us new stuff? I can think of three alternative revenue streams, and Apple conveniently illustrates all of them:

  • Software. I got my iPhone software update for free, but I would definitely have paid for it (iPod Touch users did). I also spend money on iPhone Apps, from which Apple takes a cut.
  • Content. Apple sells music and movies through the iTunes store. Digital content is a perfect sustainable good, for which there is ever-renewed demand.
  • Services. Apple’s MobileMe services offers access to cloud storage, sync and access for a yearly fee. I get Gmail for free, but would pay for it if I had to.

Of course, Apple’s hardware margins still make up the bulk of their profits. However, as these other revenue sources grow in volume, the hardware might eventually become a loss-leader, as is commonly the case for new gaming consoles. At that point, we would expect them to shift to more durable, “great enough” hardware. (In the particular case of Apple, don’t hold your breath).

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this. Do you ever see us shifting to a world where electronic devices last more than a couple of years? And if so, how would that happen?

Bonus: check out the recently launched lastyearsmodel.org:

We love cool gadgets as much as anybody else. We just want to be thoughtful about the stuff we’ve bought. Even the most cutting-edge, tech-savvy geeks in the world are choosing to hang on to their phones or their iPods that still work just fine.

Also, thanks to  Noah and Matt  for discussing the ideas in this post with me.

Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan

Interesting thoughts on game design in this Wired article about Settlers of Catan:

Instead of direct conflict, German-style games tend to let players win without having to undercut or destroy their friends. This keeps the game fun, even for those who eventually fall behind. Designed with busy parents in mind, German games also tend to be fast, requiring anywhere from 15 minutes to a little more than an hour to complete. They are balanced, preventing one person from running away with the game while the others painfully play out their eventual defeat. And the best ones stay fresh and interesting game after game.

I first played this in 2003 when studying abroad in Germany. I finally ordered an English version; I’m excited to start playing with friends again.