I’m a Scorpio and…

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So I’m talking to a young upwardly mobile couple in the bar today, and discussing everything from tonights international ‘friendly’ with the England Soccer team, to apple vs android and everything in between, when she mentions that a milestone birthday is coming up, in November (yeah, that important!), and I mention my birthday is November also. So suddenly she’s telling me about how we’re both Scorpios, and that’s why we get along so well and how he’s a Leo, but just barely so he’s got traits from (?whatever comes before Leo) and how that has some profound effect on how they blah nblah blah.
It comes up how there are twelve horoscopes and twelve months, but they don’t exactly line up. So I pay no pass on it, and go about my day until I’m on the phone to the girlfriend and I see there is a star on horizon, and I see it flicker.
I remember seeing a light like that in the sky while looking up at Jupiter or Venus when I was young, and thinking maybe its one of the planets. Then I said on the phone to the girlfriend ‘there is a planet in the north west part of the sky’ and the penny dropped. The only star (visible to me) or planetary body to stay in one place is the north star. All the rest are constantly moving across the sky (when really its the rotation of the earth that’s moving the lights across my sky) and it suddenly occurred to me that not only am I moving relative to them, but they also move relative to the sun.

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So that’s what it means when they say ‘Saturn is in Gemini’, its a reference to where the body is relative to the ‘top’ side of the Sun, like a calendar to keep track of where things are.

But now my predicament lies in how we designated ‘north’! Or Capricorn, as I believe its designated, The first of the horoscopes in our calendar. Is it linked to where the sun is on our horizon at noon? The solstice? The equinox? (Or is that moons?)

What concerns me is how it was decided that the names be designated to these ever moving, ever ponderable, or how it was decided the lengths and durations of the solar seasons would run for. How to explain to so many a concept so foreign. If I could explain that kind of depth to another, why couldn’t I convince them that my design is best.
Understanding how to explain is where it all starts. If you can manage that, you can sell them whatever you want to sell them. And that’s what’s its all about, sales baby.

Part of our Contemporary Design Culture course is an essay, where we discuss an aspect of design. We were given a list of topics, and I chose to come up with my own title. I chatted with Adam de Eyto, our course director about some ideas I had about the casing music used to come in, and how we’re losing that art form because digital music doesn’t come with a package. We also chatted about the artefact value of music players, how having something physical increases the value and enjoyment and interaction with the music.

The essay is due tomorrow, and I’m almost done, but I have a little ways to go still by way of image procurement, and referencing.

I’ll leave you with this TV advert for Eircom, which nicely demonstrates the fun possibilities stemming solely from the packaging of the music.

Those notes and coins in your pocket

Imagine designing something that everybody desires. What is it? How does it look? What does it do? A shiny car? Not for those that can’t drive. A mobile phone? Not if you can’t use one. What is the most universally desired product in the world?
One argument would be money.
Money makes the world go round, and in today’s global environment money is just numbers being fired across boardrooms and international undersea cables to and from servers and financial institutions, but the down and dirty amount us still deal In cold hard cash. Cash is king, and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. There’s nothing that wets a sellers chops more than the sight and smell of a big wad of twenties ready to blow on their next impulse.

But who designs the money? Money, like all the things its used to barter against, needs to be designed for the people who use it. But how do you distil 350,000,000 peoples needs into a coin or note? How do you set about making that what is desirable desirable?
When the new euro currency was being planned in 1996, the powers that be were faced with a problem: identity. How do you represent the identity of millions, many of whom have been at war as recently as the forties. How do we say ‘this represents me’ without alienating others? The answer was in plurality, having each country or sub group with their own national side, and a common side to represent the denominations.

Luc Luycx designed the common side. He’s a computer engineer from Belgium working with the Royal Belgian Mint. His signature is visible on the coins, beneath the O on the 2 euro coin as ‘LL’. Go ahead, check. I’ll wait.

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For those too impatient or too broke!

Why these coins? Surely there must have been a selection process, with competing designs? What did the other possibilities look like?

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And the notes are even better. Just look at some of the crazy designs for euro notes,

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This series by Roger Pfund (Switzerland) is based on symbols

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Winning design by Robert Kalina (Austria)

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How crazy would it be to have dance steps on the back of a fiver?
(Klaus Michel & Sanne Jünger, Germany)

Source:euro information website

Street art in Holland- part 2

This is a selection of street art stickers I found on my travels around Holland last week. The stickers are all around 60mm squared, some in colour, and most are die cut to around the design. I think this is a very nice way of applying street art, as the property is not   ruined requiring a fresh coat of paint. It also allows for mass production and proliferation of the chosen design or message, and instant application to the scene. All in all, it is a novel form of grafitti, and adds to the urban art scene in Holland. 

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Street art in Holland- part 1

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This sea lion made from old oil drums played on the disastrous and destructive effect of oil spills

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Jean Paul Gaultier's welcome message to the exhibition we visited

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This keen fellow left me a little uneasy, what's that in his hand, and why is he 20 feet tall?

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These lights were positioned like lifting cranes, and the design in the back ground was burned into the concrete by leaving a sign up in the sunshine

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This was just a wind breaker outside one of the pubs we were in, but a very effective use of laser cutting

Sharp

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Saw this online today, really great use of material and the shape of the pencil. We’ve all had an unrewarding experience with a sharpener, whether its breaking the nib and having to sharpen again, or an oddly sized pencil not fitting in the barrel.

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I like when I see redesigns of everyday devices, its good to know people are looking around them and challenging the way things are for the sake of progress!

Coffee break: Assigned task

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This week in Contemporary Design Culture we were assigned the task of analyzing somebody making/ ordering a cup of coffee. “Where’s the Product Design in that?”, I hear you say. Fear not Dear Reader, there is a point to this exercise. But first, my observation. 

I watched my mother (a seasoned Coffee drinker, with 30+ years of Psychiatric nursing under her belt) make a morning coffee on Saturday morning. She had no idea I was observing her, and neither did I really, until I noticed that she had boiled the kettle for the third time before she even got a cup down from the press. The first time she pressed the switch was when she passed it on her way to let the dog out for his morning… erm… coffee break. The kettle boiled, and Mam was tidying away bowls from my younger siblings breakfast earlier in the morning. Passing back by the kettle, she pushed it again as she went to the bedroom to get her phone. Then, reading a text message about a cancelled soccer match, pushed it again, opened the press and got down a small mug, took a spoon from the drawer, opened the cylinder of coffee, spooned the powder in the cup, and poured the water all within three seconds. The press doors were closed, kettle back in its place, coffee put away, no trace of her being there at all. She walked the four or five steps to the fridge, uncapped the skimmed milk, poured in a ‘good drop’ of milk, and was sitting at the other end of the table before the toast I was waiting for had even popped. 

What intrigued me most about the process is the order of events. I know she has two cups of coffee every morning, before ‘tackling the day’, but its the little tasks between that seemed to dominate the time and effort. Moving other peoples mess before addressing her own needs, or needing to have the place tidy before she could enjoy the coffee? The ritual is deeply ingrained. I know she used to smoke with her morning coffee, when I was the one leaving early morning cereal bowls on the kitchen table. Thankfully, she hasn’t been smoking in five years, having just taken the decision one day to switch to nicorette gum. I estimate she could have spent half her adult life doing the morning coffee and a cigarette combo. The process is so streamlined that she could literally do it in her sleep. But why then the interruptions? The dog, the phone, the bowls. They all could have waited if it were me making coffee. 

The task of analyzing the coffee process is a classic in design education. The ritual of preparation is part of the experience. I read a biography of a heroin addict who testified that her urges began to be met once she began the preparation of her drugs. Just knowing that the wheels were set in motion, and soon she would feel the effects was relief to the point of emotional reward. Maybe its the same with our drug of choice, be it Coffee or Guinness. Did you know the reason for the two-part pour traditional with stouts is because when buying casks of stout, a publican would buy them in fours, and add a cup of sugar to the fourth. This sugar would increase the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the yeast in the beer, and give the drink a thicker head. When pouring, the publican would fill the glass 3/4 the way full, and top it with the extra sugar keg. This way, the froth was good and thick, and the four barrels would be used at approximately the same time. We only do it today because its traditional, not because it is necessary anymore. If we can design a pleasant experience to go along with the product we are trying to sell, it resonates positively with the user and continued use is likely. 

Design partners Visit : Cathal Loughnane

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Tuesday morning last we had a Guest speaker in UL, one Cathal Loughnane, Creative Director at Design Partners, Dublin and San Francisco. Cathal was asked to speak to us about what a career in Design might be like, and I was very pleased with the talk, as it provided some much needed and hard won insight into the world beyond the glass corridors of the PD&T centre is like. We learned about what the other Product Design courses in the country are studying, and more importantly what they think of the Designers Limerick produces. What our strengths are, our weaknesses. We have the single best model making mentor in the country, and a hands on approach that the other courses really envy. We have a chance to explore through carving, sculpting, chiselling, a skill highly prised at Design Partners.

We’re not so good at the Sketching however. As a student who is young in the lessons of sketching, I can certainly see where he is coming from. Fortunately, sketching is a skill available to anyone in possession of a pen and some form of canvas, napkins and envelopes are easier to come across to practice drawing on than lumps of blue foam to carve. 

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Cathal gave a great series of examples of what potential employers are searching for in a portfolio. Having an online representation of your work is an absolute must. The presentation of that work is even more important. An employer will typically get landed with hundreds of applications for any advertised position, so the time you get to impress them is fractions of a second. You need to show your strengths immediately. You also need to have the right presentation. It needs to be visually appealing, indicative of your best work, and also be what the employer happens to be searching for right that second. You need to prostitute yourself, and that’s not entirely a negative thing.

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When I was in Amsterdam after my leaving certificate, I saw the girls in the red light district. Each girl was trying to advertise the same product, but the time taken by the customers was highly competed for. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, and I’m the one selling myself, I can certainly appreciate how important it is to display your best work upfront and obviously, no puns intended!

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He also talked excellently about storytelling. Adam had previously highlighted how a cohesive story can resonate with us and cause and emotional attachment. If you can get a customer to place that attachment on your product, you’re in a powerful position to command a high price. Cathal relayed that opinion, and even supported it with the evidence of the Dublin Airport electronics duty free shop: Every week the area dedicated to Sony, Phillips and Panasonic headphones is being taken over by Emotionally charged brands, notably Beats by Dr. Dre and Skull Candy, even if Skull Candy are in a slight decline since the arrivals of Beats. In a sense, what he is describing user centred design based on what the customer would choose, not what the manufacturer wants to sell them. He told an anecdote about the product development of a UE Bluetooth speaker, where the manufacturer wanted to swap polished aluminium for cheap plastic for the handle. Cathal really had a hard time explaining to the company that to do so would detract so drastically from the appeal that the pricepoint would have to be reduced markedly. The company saw an opportunity to save on their manufacturing costs, and wanted to push for it. An impasse was almost reached. Cathal then had to be quite rigid in his professional belief, and explained that the line of endearing products they were developing requires that the buyer feels like they have gotten a good deal, and that they feel like the device is really precious to them, which is almost impossible to achieve in cheap plastic. On a side note, look at your iPhone. Glass, not plastic. And that’s €899 well spent in many books. Image

Window-watching, and why its important to carry a decent camera.

I was in work almost all weekend. I work in an Irish pub on the main street in a village in Ireland, and the conversation invariably has three facets: The weather, its bad. The money, its gone. The sports team, what they’re doing wrong. I’ve worked thee since i was tall enough to see over the counter, its family run (Which is a nice way of saying you don’t have a choice in the matter), so you can appreciate that my attention may wonder to the window.

This weekend what caught my eye were two cars that pulled up outside, one Friday evening when I was fresh into work, and the other Sunday evening when I was just about weathered out of it. Interestingly, they were both red and parked directly outside, as if planned a comparison were to be made.

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The first was a Citroen DS3, a car which i glancingly mistook for a pimped-out mini from the side view. I warranted me leaving my perch on the window for closer inspection. Specifically, what caught my attention was the middle column, the red swash behind the door. It gives the car a dynamic feel along an otherwise plain looking segment and really adds a twist to the traditionally boring centre pillar.

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Interestingly, Ford have scrapped the middle post in in their B-MAX range, we’ve all seen the ad where the diver leaps through the huge open doors.

The other car I noticed was a Nissan Juke. I was using the side door to collect glasses after Ireland’s crushing defeat by Scotland’s rugby team, and the local experts were outside digesting the match. The Juke pulled up, and the driver strolled across the street to the newsagents. One reveller made a comment about the middle aged, but still eye-catching driver, to which the Comedian of the group said he would prefer the car. This began a discussion about the car, more a ‘jeep-lite’ or ‘super car’ in my opinion.

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By the time I came full circle to collect more glassware, they had narrowed it down to the position of the back door handles. Offering my opinion, i suggested that not placing them as traditionally done on other cars but to place them in line with the window-line made the panel look less cluttered, and more dynamic. Hearing their barman make a cohesive point couldn’t be tolerated by the paying experts, so I was dismissed comprehensively and loudly while dodging losing dockets pelted in my direction, to which I retreated, saying “What would I know about it anyway, I’m only studying design in University!” Image

Design Portfolios online, a quick review.

We searched Corofloat and went straight into portfolios. We then refined using the left-hand action bar to view only product designers, our direct competition.

 

We first began clicking on profiles based on what caught our eyes, a nice logo in the image section (Jeabyun Yeon, http://www.coroflot.com/jeabyun#specialty=37&page_no=1 ), who’s page we immediately liked because of the images of products they had designed. They had an easy to read ‘about me’ section, just the bare facts. We liked her ‘Jelly Chair’

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We then clicked on the next profile up, that of Susana Garcia. (http://www.coroflot.com/sgarcianxd#specialty=37&page_no=1). Susana’s page opens with four or five black text images linking to projects she’s done. It looks flat and unappealing, and demands that if we really want to see her stuff, we need to navigate and click again. Asking the interviewer/customer to complete more steps seriously reduces the likelihood of them getting to the prize, the work samples they came to see. Her profile picture is more suited to social networking and does not give a professional tone.

 

Next we paid attention to the profile picture of the person we clicked on. Vlad Icobet’s black and white passport type photo looks sleek, professional and considered. (http://www.coroflot.com/vlad_icobet#specialty=37&page_no=1) His page shows a variety of sketching, completed product renders, developmental drawings and marketing boards. It seems well rounded with a strong sense of visual identity. His ‘transportation design’ folder contains many excellent concept drawings and beautifully rendered illustrator images. Well worth a look.Image

 

Another excellent find was the page belonging to Tommaso Bistacchi, who comes from Milan, Italy. Immediately the design juices begin flowing, being from Milan and a design capitol of the world gives this guy credibility and I haven’t even clicked on his page yet. The page opens and its immediately obvious what this guy does, interior/furniture/household living space design. There are Lamps, Coffee tables, Worktops, Beds. All sleek, some vivid use of colour, bold shapes, and contrasting textures. Looking at his stuff is looking in an IKEA catalogue with a pulse. (Sorry IKEA). link: http://www.coroflot.com/tommasobistacchi#specialty=37&page_no=2

 

The Profile picture for Horacio M. Pace Bedetti promises much, but the fact he only has one project up either makes me think he’s new to the website of hasn’t done much that would deserve to get on here. Either way, I’d like to see more, as the shower enclosure is a nice blue-sky concept, even if I have my practicalist sceptical hat on. Have a look yourself, tell me it wouldn’t get mouldy if not properly dried and put away. http://www.coroflot.com/horaciopacebedetti#specialty=37&page_no=2

 

Robin Spicer had a nice layout, visually aware of the presentation space he used a Polaroid frame for his images which I liked, but Safa pointed out the text was obscure and a change of font could have done a lot for the page. http://www.coroflot.com/robinspicer#specialty=37&page_no=2

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Award for nicest concept goes hands down to Mark DiLella, whose ‘Clarity, A smartphone for the blind’, incorporating smart braille into a touch screen phone was not only innovative but also unique. A quick googling led us to believe that he is alone in the marketplace with this concept, and while it may be difficult to ship the necessary unit numbers to make profit, I’d certainly be interested to see how it handles when it’s done. http://www.coroflot.com/mdilella/Clarity