May 10, 2011

Arranging the names on the 9/11 Memorial

Names from the 9/11 Memorial
This autumn a new memorial commemorating the September 11th terrorist attacks will open at the Ground Zero site in New York City. The memorial will feature the names of the 3,500 victims of the attacks, and THAT led to quite a technical challenge.

It would have been easy to just arrange the names in alphabetical order. But the designers wanted the names arranged by affinity... so friends would be listed together, as would co-workers, colleagues, etc. Families of the victims submitted nearly 2,000 different requests for names to be placed next to other names.

The task of arranging the names fell to designer and vizualization expert Jer Thorp. There's an article on how he did it on

Comments welcome via email to

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April 28, 2011

How to make an hourglass

photograph of hourglass being made

Here's a bit of beauty for your weekend. This lovely little video shows the step-by-step process of making an ultra high end hourglass. If you have US$28,500 you can pick one up from Marc Newson. If not, spend a tranquil three minutes watching one of these masterpieces taking shape.

Comments welcome via email to

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April 14, 2011

Placekitten image

Graphic designers often (usually) design their print and web projects before the final text and images are ready. To help them mock up how the finished project will look, they use dummy placeholder text (often beginning with the Latin words "Lorem ipsum") and placeholder images.

There are easy to use online generators that will spit out lorem ipsum text for you, but coming up with place-holder images of the precise dimensions needed can be a surprisingly annoying pain in the ass.

Or, at least that was the case before Placekitten is a free service that automatically serves up images of the exact size needed. The fact that each image happens to be of a so-adorable-I want-to-die kitten is just a bonus.

Comments welcome via email to

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March 29, 2011

New logo for the MIT Media Lab

business cards with the MIT Media Lab logo

If you're going to do a new logo for a place as cutting-edge and futuristically groovy as the MIT Media Lab, you better bring your A game.

The German/New York design firm TheGreenEyl landed that gig and they came up with a solution that is simultaneously unique, identifiable, and infinitely variable.

The logo consists of three black squares, each one projecting a kind of square beam of color. But here's the clever bit -- each person at the Media Lab -- professor, staffer, or student -- can claim their own personalized version of the logo, via a web based logo creation interface. They can also generate one-of-a-kind logo animations. (You can see examples in TheGreenEyl's demo video).

UPDATE: A friend who attended the Media Lab says that customizable business cards are nothing new there. He says back in 2000 he was able to pick the stripe colors on his cards.

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March 09, 2010

Scent in design

close up of nose by jugbo/, available under a Creative Commons license. Details and original at

Designers work with just about everything -- form, function, physical materials, visual imagery, shapes, sights, and sounds. But almost no designer ever works with smells. Why is that? Are aromas too ethereal? Too hard to control? Too open to personal interpretation? Too boring?

Parsons The New School for Design(*) in New York City is looking into that issue later this month, when they host a symposium called HeadSpace: On Scent as Design. The one-day event will feature explanations of how smell works, how aroma alters our perceptions, how perfumes are made, how and why our modern environments are becoming devoid of odors, and more.

The event is free, but you have to pre-register. Here are the details and the registration page.

(*)Yes, the place really is called Parsons The New School for Design. I know, it's an odd name. But what 'ya gonna do?

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February 28, 2010

When Steve Jobs met Paul Rand

NeXT logo

Paul Rand might very well have been one of the most influential graphic designer of the 20th Century. He's best known for his logo design... Rand created the iconic logos for ABC, IBM, Westinghouse and UPS.

In the early 1990s Steve Jobs hired Rand to create the logo for his new computer company, NeXT.

The Brain Pickings blog has uncovered a great video of Jobs talking about what it was like working with Rand...a meeting of two great iconoclast perfectionists.

I asked him [Rand] if he would come up with a few options. And he said, 'No, I will solve your problem for you, and you will pay me. And you don't have to use the solution - if you want options, go talk to other people. But I'll solve your problem for you the best way I know how, and you use it or not, that's up to you - you're the client = but you pay me.'

See the video here.

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February 25, 2010

Creating a new traffic sign

Taking turns sign

While there are traffic signs for most of the actions we perform with our motor vehicles (turning, stopping, speeding up, slowing down, etc.) Gary Lauder thinks there's room for one more.

Speaking at this year's TED conference, Gary Lauder unveiled his design for a traffic sign for the traffic maneuver that more than any other brings out the best and worst in people -- the alternate merge.

While an explicit instruction telling people to be nice to each other is never out of place, not everyone is happy with the sign. Some call it ugly, others confusing. And there's an argument to be made that the last thing the world needs is more traffic signs.


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November 29, 2008

How to be a designer in Japan

illustration from

OK, you're a hot-shot designer in LA (you know who you are) and you'd love to make it big in that design-mecca just across the big pond, Tokyo. But how to go about it?

You could do a lot worse than start with this article from Parissa Haghirian studies how small companies fare in Japan...why some make it and others crash and burn. In this pingmag article, she lays out what to expect...

Tokyo is a very competitive place, especially for creative people; it is the hub of all business in Japan and there are many opportunities. However, most people need to find a job to make a living first and can only then slowly start to build a career in a creative field. This may take a year or two. Japanese business is extremely relationship oriented, and it therefore takes a while until a young designer has the right contacts and can earn money with his or her ideas.

Here's the full article.


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August 03, 2008

Objectified: A Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit

Objectified logo

Fans (like me) of Gary Hustwit's great design documentary Helvetica have great reason for excitement. Hustwit's announced that his next project is another documentary, this one on the world of industrial design.

The film's called Objectified. In the same way that Helvetica illuminated the arcane and fascinating world of typography, Objectified aims to show what goes into the creation of the man-made objects that surround us, and how the decisions that product designers make shape our lives.

The premiere is scheduled for early 2009. To be alerted of advance screenings, sign up for the Objectified newsletter.

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June 16, 2008

Eames stamps

Eames stamps

Today's a great day to mail a letter, cause starting today you can pimp out that letter with one of the new stamps celebrating the work of the great 20th century designers Charles and Ray Eames. The Eames were astonishingly versatile, with a portfolio that ran the gamut from architecture to furniture to film (they made one of the greatest short films in history, The Powers of Ten) to photography to toys to museum exhibits. They were a national treasure, and they're a great choice for the honor.


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May 25, 2008

New money for the UK

new UK coins

It's widely agreed that the United States has the ugliest money on Earth, while countries such as the Netherlands have currencies that have become hallmarks of design.

Great Britain is furthering the tradition of innovation with the new design of their coins. Each coin shows a section of the Royal Arms, placed together you get the impression of the coins being cut out of a larger symbol. This page shows the full effect.

The design is a result of a nationwide competition, with more than 4,000 entries. The winning design is the work of Matthew Dent, a 26 year old graphic designer who now has a hell of a item to add to his professional resume.

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May 24, 2008

Designing a new symbol

proposed RFID logo

As new concepts enter the world, our language must change to keep pace. But language is more than just words, we also depend upon a rich, varied and subtle visual language...signs and symbols that speak to us throughout our day.

So where do new visual "words" come from? They must be invented of course, a task that usually falls to graphic designers. Here's an example... the English designers Jack Schulze and Matt Webb recently gave their design students the task of designing a symbol to represent the concept of commerce via RFID technology...using those little wand-like devices to make everyday purchases(*).

It's a subtle and complex topic to try to boil down into a simple gylph. One of the students' attempts is pictured above. Check out some other examples here.

You got a better design? Let's see it!

(*) And yes, I know that the use of RFID has been fraught with technical and personal freedom issues for years. I'm not saying it's a good idea, just that it's becoming a more widely used idea.


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May 20, 2008

Fluid Earth Bowl

FluidForms bowl

Here's a cool mix of custom manufacture, geography, and modern design. The European company Fluid Forms lets you specify any location on Google Maps, and then they custom mill a laminated wood bowl matching the topography of your choice. A bit pricy at 230 Euros. But very cool.

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April 06, 2008

Pimp my Ikea

image of Parts of Sweden website

A sure sign of any company's success is when derivative companies based on the main company's products start showing up. For instance, companies like Griffin Technology have made a business out of making add-on products for the iPod.

Ikea has now picked up one of these ramora-like companies. A company called Parts of Sweden offers add-on items for Ikea's most popular shelf and cabinet systems. Right now they're a European company (you think Ikea is popular here in the US, go to Northern Europe. Yow.) but there's no doubt that they (or someone else) will open up a U.S. operation.


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March 03, 2008

Off to ETech


Today I'm off to the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, for a few days of mind-expansion. If you're going to be there too, say "Hi!"


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February 26, 2008

The (type) face of Barack Obama

Barack Obama

As viewers of the brilliant documentary Helvetica know, typographic design choices can have a powerful influence on our perceptions, and even our emotions. Barack Obama's campaign knows this, as evidenced in the thought they put into the design of the large "Change We Can Believe In" signs at Obama rallies.

Those signs are written in a font called Gotham, designed by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones for GQ Magazine (look at the cover of GQ, and you'll recognize it right away).

The DVD version of Helvetica has an interview with Hoefler and Frere-Jones where they talk about some of the design decisions that went into the creation of Gotham. In their words, "GQ had a dual agenda of wanting something that would look very fresh, yet very established, to have a credible voice to it."

There's a video excerpt of the interview on the Helvetica website.

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February 05, 2008

Senz umbrellas

Senz umbrella

The umbrella is thousands of years old. Which means thousands of years of people cursing in frustration and throwing their umbrellas in the trash in disgust when they flip inside out or rip apart in the wind.

Now it looks like someone's finally come up with an umbrella that not only survives a strong breeze, but delights in it. The Senz Umbrella has an asymetrical airfoil shape that causes it to automatically lean into the wind, instead of flipping backwards when hit with a gust.

They're available in Europe, and in the US via the Totes website. They ain't cheap (about $55) but it may just be the last umbrella you ever buy.


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January 01, 2008

Lunch in a Box

bento box from Lunch in a Box

Even the simplest, most mundane daily acts have the ability to be transformed into art. Case in point, the daily kids lunches chronicled on the Lunch in a Box website. The woman who runs the site (identified as Biggie), packs a lunch for her preschooler each day. But instead of the typical sandwich and juicebox that the other children get, Biggie's kid hits school with a meticulously crafted, beautiful, and delicious Japanese bento box meal(*). This is a hell of a feat, given the harried life of any parent and the picky eating habits of just about any kid.

The Lunch in a Box blog is simultaneously a gallery of Biggie's best looking bento boxes, suggested menus, and resources to where we westerners can get a hold of all of the cool little containers that make bento box lunches so cool.

Read it for a few days and see if your daily lunch at McDonalds starts to seem too dull to bear.

(*)Pictured: Lunch of frozen buttermilk waffle with maple syrup and Nonya kaya (a.k.a. serikaya, a Singaporean coconut egg jam), Babybel wrapped cheese, edamame skewers, fresh pineapple, and apple wedge cut like a rabbit.


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November 04, 2007


Photo of the Ohio Ikea under construction. Photo courtesy of the Ohikea blog. Thanks!

It is good to have a dream. Some dream of catching the perfect wave. Others of seeing the perfect sunset. Jen Segrest dreamed of Ikea. Segrest is a graphic designer in the Cincinnati region of Ohio, and a self-described IKEA fanatic, who year in and year out lamented the fact that nowhere in her home state could she find the big blue store with the unpronounceable furniture. "Oh cruel fates of geography and retail distributions7quot; she seemed to say through OHIKEA!, her blog devoted to the subject, "how could you mock the people of Ohio so?"

And then, one glorious day in Spring 2006, word came from on high... Ohio would be getting their own Ikea! Since then Segrest has been gleefully keeping OHIKEA up to date with minutia of the great store's creation and pending grand opening.

The blog is well worth a look, if for no other reason it's always a good moment to see someone get their wish. As a Red Sox fan, I know exactly how she feels.

P.S. Ya gotta love the subtitle of her blog: "We got one, suck it Indiana!"


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September 16, 2007

Design school survival guide

Core77 Hack-to-school image

Every September you feel it...the tiny rise in the ambient anxiety level. The cause? Another freshman class just starting design school. If you're lucky, you're beginning one of the great experiences of your life, one that will shape you professionally and personally for the rest of your days. If you're unlucky, you're entering an arena where people you admire and envy will destroy your entire sense of self-worth.(*) If you're typical, you'll get a bit of both of those things.

The folks at Core77 (a website devoted to industrial design and related fields) feel your pain. They've made it through design school, and now they want to ease your way. They've created a design school(**) newbie guide called Hack-2-School filled with tips on how to survive the design school experience...everything from the essential Get a good camera) to the silly (sure-fire I.D. school pickup lines like "Are those styrene pants? Because your ass looks vacuum-formed."). Read it and survive.

(*) Damn you Delano, who was a better freshman year photographer than me and who all the girls wanted. Damn you and your insouciant comments in crit. Damn you to hell.
(**) The guide also applies to art school. Hell, parts of it apply to any school, or even to starting a new job.

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September 09, 2007

Illustration by John Maeda

portion of John Maeda's key illustration for the New York Times

A brief bit of beauty for your weekend. Today's New York Times contains the paper's occasional magazine supplement about real estate called "Keys". Today's edition features a cover illustration by computer artist and MIT professor John Maeda.

It's a cool illustration, but what I really liked is the feature about the illustration on the Times website where Maeda walks through the evolution of his illustration.

I also highly recommend Maeda's books The Laws of Simplicity and Creative Code.

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August 13, 2007

Making better highway signs

photo from the New York Times showing variations on highway signs

2007 is going down as the year that the importance of type design hit the mainstream. First there was Gary Hustwit's great documentary Helvetica, showing how one typeface shaped the second half of the 20th Century. Now the New York Times has run a great article talking about the redesign of the font used on highway signs.

The article, The Road to Clarity, recounts the design and evolution of Clearview, a new typeface that makes highway signage clearer and legible from a greater distance. It does a great job explaining how little things like increasing the size of the center hole in a lowercase "a" can make a font easier to read. It also examines the way that the choice of typeface convey import, meaning an emotion.

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August 12, 2007

Terrorist organization logos

Red Brigade logo

My friend John pointed me to this great post on Ironic Sans deconstructing the logos of terrorist organizations. Terrorists want publicity for their actions, any graphic designer or ad exec can tell you...a good logo is one of the best way to get noticed and remembered.

The terrorist org logos are helpfully organized by primary design motif. Pictured above, the Red Brigade logo, one of the best known "star in a circle" designs.

Tags: terrorists  logos

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July 10, 2007

Transformers maker Alex Kubalsky

photos of Alex Kubalsky from

With all of the hype around the Transformers movie, there has been renewed interest in the kids toys that started the whole Transformers phenomenon.

The Japanese design blog PingMag has a cool interview with Alex Kubalsky, an Australian designer who created many of the Transformer toys. He's also the only foreign-born toy designer in Japan.

How do you usually start with the creation process?

I put on my headphones, listen to music and close my eyes - and most of the stuff is in my head. When I was a kid I spent hours and hours with LEGO. I would go to bed and still be thinking of LEGO in my head.

Really? No 3D software involved?

No, I draw everything on millimetre paper, including every part. It is all in my head!

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June 24, 2007

Floating light bulb

photo of Jeff Lieberman's floating light bulb

Looking for a art installation that is both elegant and possessed of a metaphor that even the most literally-minded art newbie can latch onto? Check out Jeff Lieberman's Lightbulb. Lieberman has created an incandescent lightbulb that floats...fully mid-air. It looks like magic, but it's actually clever electronics. (Though, come to think of it, if electronics isn't magic, then I don't know what is). The bulb is filled with LEDs that get power via induction, and the bulb itself floats via a combination of electromagnetism and Hall effect feedback.

Want to make your own? Lieberman has full technical details.

Tags: art  electronics

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June 21, 2007

Sea Phantom

photo of the Sea Phantom

Coming soon to an ocean or lake near you... the most bad-ass boat ever. The Sea Phantom from Maritime Flight Dynamics tears across the water, being held just above the waves by shock-damped hydrofoils.

The designers predict they'll be able to routinely hit speeds of 100 MPH, without the high gas consumption and jarring and pounding of other high-performance boats.

And the thing looks so damn cool. It's the boat that Darth Vader would have. Or Kaizer Soze.

Maritime Flight Dynamics doesn't say what the Sea Phantom will cost. But if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

Tags: boats

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June 19, 2007

Lunar-resonant streetlights

diagram of lunar-resonant streetlights in action

Each year Metropolis magazine sponsors a competition to locate an up and coming young design firm. This year the magazine's competition was all about energy conservation, and the winner was a San Francisco-based design collective called Civil Twilight.

Their winning design is a clever innovation called lunar-resonant streetlights. They're streetlights that automatically dim throughout the month as the moon gets brighter. The scheme reduces streetlight energy use by more than 80%. All well and good. But the really great thing about it is how it brings the moon back into urban life.


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June 05, 2007

Remix the London 2012 Olympics logo

London 2012 logo

Yesterday the folks behind the London 2012 Olympic Games unveiled the Games' logo, and it's faced an assault of derision from the first moment (Check out some recent news coverage). And at first glance it is absolutely butt-ugly. But it may be worth reserving judgement for a while.

The London 2012 folks want the public to create their own variations on the logo (they've even provided some starter templates). They've already posted some examples of art based on the logo. With five more years to go, there's plenty of time for your entry too. Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, the logo could turn into a cool, multi-year, multi-national cooperative art project.

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May 28, 2007

Enright and Samples wedding chart

portion of Andrew Coulter Enright and Heather Samples wedding chart

When Andrew Coulter Enright and Heather Samples got married back in 2006, they wanted an easy way for all of the wedding guests to learn about each other. Their solution was this intricate chart showing every attendees relationship to the rest of the group. Everyone at the wedding got a copy and with it, an automatic conversation starter.

You can check out the chart at

(Thanks Visual Complexity).

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May 15, 2007

Mommy chairs

photo of Mommy Chairs furniture

This is such a great idea. Take kids' crayon drawings of chairs and tables and then turn those drawings into actual furniture. They ain't cheap (nearly 300 pounds UK for a "Mommy's Chair"), but they sure are cool.

The chairs are available via


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April 17, 2007

The folding guitar

photo of DeVillain folding guitar

Find a need and fill it. It's a timeless business maxim, proven a thousand times. The latest proof comes from the DeVillain Guitar Company. They realized that guitar players had a need for a more compact instrument, and they've filled that need with the Centerfold, an electric guitar that folds neatly in half. But be forewarned, they ain't cheap...a Centerfold will set you back nearly 3400 dollars.


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April 12, 2007

Deconstructing An Inconvenient Truth

chart from Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth'

What's the one image you remember from Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth? I bet it's that one chart... the one that shows carbon dioxide levels over the last several hundred thousand years.

It's a powerful image, but exactly why is it so powerful? What makes it work? David Womack of Adobe's Think Tank website deconstructs some of the images used in the global warming debate, analyzing how to hit the right balance between data and art.

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April 07, 2007

From Pixels to Plastic with Matt Webb

slide from Matt Webb's from Pixels to Plastic presentation

One of my favorite moments from last month's Emerging Technology Conference was designer Matt Webb's keynote presentation From Pixels to Plastic.

Webb's an impressive interactive designer who in recent years has branched out into physical world objects. His talk showed why, when it comes to the design of physical devices that are clever, magical, and simple to use yet powerful, we still have a long way to go.

He's done a great job transforming his presentation talk and slides to the images plus text format of the web. I urge you to take 20 minutes and read the whole thing.

Webb is also co-author of one of the most fun books ever about how the brain works, Mind Hacks.


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April 06, 2007


foldschool photo

If you're a fan of both math and art (and you know who you are) then by definition you're also a fan of origami. If you're looking for a king sized origami project this weekend, check out Foldschool. It's a series of kids furniture make out of corrugated cardboard. Download the free patterns, trace them onto some cardboard sheets, and then cut and fold away.

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March 10, 2007

New symbol for radiation danger

New radiation warning symbol

The International Atomic Energy Agency has unveiled a new graphic symbol designed to warn people that they're in the presence of dangerous radiation. The symbol, meant to supplement the ubiquitous trefoil radiation symbol that filled us all with dread and fear back in the Cold War days, will be used in situations where proceeding further could result in grave consequences. For instance, you might find the symbol inside of a food irradiation device, on the internal hatch covering the radiation source. The message being "Dude, you don't want to take this cover off". Most people will go their whole lives and never see this symbol.

The new symbol was the result of five years of work that included testing in 11 different countries all around the world. But not everyone is happy with it. For instance, check out this critique by usability expert Andrew Crow from Adaptive Path.

I can't wait 'til I start seeing these stickers on skateboard decks.

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February 28, 2007

Say What Again

still from Jarratt Moody's Pulp Fiction

Jarratt Moody is currently a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He surely got an "A" for this great bit of motion typography, combining a famous passage from the movie Pulp Fiction with the Rockwell Bold type face. Watch the video (7.5 MB, 58 seconds) and smile.

(Thanks Motionographer).

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February 27, 2007

Switchable mirrors

switchable mirror

The great thing about Blaine Bromwell's Product of the Week newsletter is that every seven days I'm pretty much guaranteed of learning about something that will make me go , "Oh man, that is so cool!"

This week's entry is no exception. It's a new mirror design from Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology that instantly switches from being reflective to transparent. In other words it goes from being a mirror to being clear glass and back again in the blink of an eye.

Switchable mirrors have been around for a while, but this new design will allow ones that are larger, clearer and last longer. I can't wait to see how these will be used in architecture, product design and, of course, magic.


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February 25, 2007

Retro-future visions of space stations

artist rendering of a space colony

Here's a quick bit of beauty for your weekend. Back in the 70s, NASA commissioned paintings of what future space colonies might look like. Now they've released more than a dozen of these gorgeous paintings into the public domain. While it looks like it's going to be quite a while before we're all living in giant spinning rings gently circling the globe (hell, we still can barely get humans into low earth orbit) but when we *do* get there, it's going to look amazing.

P.S. If you like these images, you may enjoy these images I found from the dawn of the Apollo program.

(Thanks Paleo-future).

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February 05, 2007

The man who made the most beautiful money in the world

Dutch 25 Guilder banknote

The British visual design magazine "Creative Review" has a nice little interview with Robert Deodaat Emile Oxenaar, the Dutch graphic artist who, for 20 years, designed the Netherlands' paper currency. Oxenaar's Dutch Guilder banknotes are widely considered the most beautiful paper money ever created. He also sprinkled the bills with Easter eggs...everything from little animals to his own fingerprint to the names of his girlfriends.

CR: Is it right that you included some "personal" touches on some of the notes – like a fingerprint?

Oxenaar: Yes, the fingerprint’s true. In the five guilders note I did, there's a temple in the background where the holy things are – so I hid my name there. On the 1000 guilder note, it became a "sport" for me to put things in the notes that nobody wanted there! I was very proud to have my fingerprint in this note – and it's my middle finger! It was too late when they found out and though the director saw it he said he wouldn’t stop the whole production.

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January 07, 2007


photo of MonsterPod

MonsterPod is one of those genre-redefining inventions. In this case the genre is the camera tripod. With MonsterPod, the whole world is your tripod. The device consists of a rubberized disc bonded to an elastic polymer material that clings to just about anything. Slap it on the side of a tree, the hood of a car, a ceiling, you name it. Then take your shot and just peel it off. It sticks via Van der Waals force, not glue (it's the same molecular principle used in gecko feet) so the Pod doesn't leave a mark and never stops working.

Now the thing won't hold forever in all cases -- the camera on the side of a tree may only stay in place for several minutes to an hour or so before it begins to sag and eventually fall off -- and it's not strong enough to hold a pro SLR or a video camera, but for your typical digital camera it's brilliant.

You can buy one for $20 at Amazon and you can see it in action on MonsterPod's fairly awful website.

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December 07, 2006

TO DO in L.A. Thursday night: inventor Chuck Hoberman

photo of Chuck Hoberman

If you're in the Los Angeles area (Pasadena specifically) Thursday night, come catch a free talk by Chuck Hoberman. Hoberman is the man behind that clever toy sphere that expands to huge size and then collapses down to a compact core. But he's designed all sort of other weird and wonderful structures that fold, collapse, spiral inward and otherwise disappear into themselves...everything from tiny cardiac artery stents that spring into shape when released inside the heart to folding roofs for giant football stadiums.

Hoberman's talking at the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The talk start at 7:30 Thursday night. Admission is free. See you there!

UPDATE: Hoberman had to cancel his appearance at Art Center. They will reschedule his talk for sometime next year.

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December 01, 2006

We know why apples are red

apple photo by PPDIGITAL/

After a five year search, scientists in Australia have located the gene that controls the red color of apples. Apples get their red color from chemical compounds called Anthocyanins, and the researchers have figured out which gene controls the amount of Anthocyanin produced.

Produce industry folks are hoping this discovery will lead to new and more popular varieties of apple. Me, I hope they extract that gene and start putting it into all sorts of other fruits and vegetables. I could really use a watermelon that is red on both the inside and outside.

There are a number of science websites reporting the discovery, but it's more fun to read about it at Food-USA navigator!

(Apple photo by PPDIGITAL/flickr)

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November 25, 2006

Dekotora my ride

dekotora image

Forget West Coast Customs and Pimp My Ride, the most tricked out vehicles on earth are the Japanese trucks known as dekotora ("decoration trucks"). These things have more lights and colors than a pachinko machine in the middle of the Ginza...they have to be seen to be believed.

The Pink Tentacle blog has just posted links to several on-line Dekotora photo galleries. (Some of the links are in Japanese, but hey, that's part of the fun!)


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November 24, 2006

Time for another revolution

teamaware jersey

Remember how starting about 25 years ago the rise of the personal computer changed our lives, altering and effecting almost every aspect of, well, everything?

Well, buckle your seat-belt, Dorothy, 'cause Kansas is going bye-bye. Again. This next revolution is coming in the field of clothing & garments. It's being driven by simultaneous innovation in three different fields...polymer chemistry, which is making it easier to design materials like fabrics to order with exactly the traits you want...nanotechnology, which is opening up the possibility of endowing fabrics with weird and wonderful characteristics (check out this umbrella that never gets wet or dirty)...and embedded electronic systems which can be comfortably and reliably integrated with clothing (Lumalive fabric is just one example).

Independent designers and academic researchers are having a field day playing with all of this stuff (pictured above is the TeamAware basketball uniform with built-in player stats.) Right now these innovations are showing up in term projects and avant-garde fashion shows. Give things another few years and your local mall will be filled with them.


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November 20, 2006

Inventing by sketching

early sketch of the Brannock shoe fitting device

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History has a great on-line mini-exhibit showing the original sketches and doodles that eventually led to commercial products. Pictured above, Charles Brannock's early design sketch for the foot measuring device that is part of every kid's shoe store in the universe.

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November 19, 2006

Sprouting business card

Tur & Partner business card

The business card for the Swiss landscape architecture firm Tur & Partner is an example of their practice writ small. Water the card and in a few days seeds embedded within the card begin to sprout. (I wonder if they have to always give clients two cards... one to water and one to keep.

Thanks once again to Geoff Manaugh's BLDGBLOG, which is constant source of interest.

My business cards don't grow or glow or change color or anything, but they are clever and clear and beautiful. They're the work of L.A. designer/photographer Nicholas Ashbaugh.

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November 18, 2006

The beginning of the long end of the wristwatch

photo of Kienzle watch

The 20th century was the century in which the wristwatch was born(*), but it looks like the 21st century may be the century in which the wristwatch dies. According to a survey by watchmaker Seiko, only 46% of people wear wristwatches today, down from 70% only a decade ago. They say the drop is because of more and more people using the clocks on their cellphones as their primary personal timekeeper.

That makes sense I guess, but I'll miss the wild and wonderful variation in wristwatch design. Want to see what I mean? Take a look at The Watchismo Times.

(*) Actually, the first commercial wristwatches hit the market just before the end of the 19th century, but wristwatches really took off a decade later during World War I.

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Coming in December: UGLYCON!

uglydoll image

L.A.'s known for lots of inventions..the freeway, talkies, the Eames chair, the artificial breast...but I say the best L.A. invention is Sun-Min Kim and David Horvath's creation, the Uglydoll. Since the pair made the first Uglydoll back in 2001 they've become a bona-fide phenomenon. The next stage in Uglydoll world domination happens on December 9th, when L.A.'s Giant Robot store sponsors UGLYCON. Uglydoll costume contest, Uglydoll slideshow, one of a kind Uglydolls, and lots more!

Complete details here.


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November 13, 2006

Transistor radio museum

image from Sarah Lowrey's transistor radio collection

Sure, these days you're all into your iPod, but a generation or so you would have been all agog about your new, state of the art transistor radio. These days it's hard to even find a transistor radio, but they used to be the pinnacle of consumer design and electronics.

Sarah Lowrey is keeping the memory of the transistor radio alive, with an astonishing collection of more than 1,000 models, all photographed and catalogued on her website. It's a tremendous window into mid-century industrial design. Check it out at


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November 11, 2006

Need an extra hand?

image of Shadow Robot's shadow hand

OK, bad joke. But if you do need an extra hand, you gotta check out the Shadow Hand, by the UK-based Shadow Robot Company. It's an amazingly sophisticated device, with 24 different degrees of freedom, just like a real human hand. It also has pressure feedback (so the robot hand knows how hard it's squeezing something) and enough sensitivity to pick up a single coin.

And it's just so damn cool to watch in action. The site has several videos.

Can't afford a robot hand? (And believe me, if you have to ask how much this hand costs, you can't afford it). Shadow Robot also sells an individual robotic finger, as well as the very cleverly designed (and quite inexpensive) air-powered muscles that drive the devices.


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November 10, 2006

International symbol for breastfeeding

finalist for the breastfeeding icon contest

AIGA elevator symbolEver since the AIGA designed 50 universal travel icons (like this elevator symbol) back in the 70s, they've become part of the venacular of modern life.

But those symbols don't cover every situation. Recently Mothering magazine sponsored a contest to design a universal symbol for a breastfeeding area. Check out the 12 semi-finalists in the competition, as well as some also-rans.

The magazine will announce the winner on November 13, and release the winning image into the public domain for free worldwide use.

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November 07, 2006

Prepare for another round of red vs. blue horror

red and blue voting districts

Today is election day in the U.S., and for graphic designers and cartographers all over the country it's a day of horror and revulsion as...just like cockroaches crawling out of a drain pipe...thousands of hideously ugly Red vs Blue maps begin to appear.

They will be everywhere in the next few days...on our TV screens, our websites, in magazines and newspapers. Each and every one of them further proof (as if further proof is needed) of why red and blue should never be used side by side.

But then it gets even worse. Many map makers decided to mix red and blue together in different proportions to represent the degree to which a voting district sways Democrat of Republican. A clever idea in theory, but one that leads to horrible crappy messes of red, blue, and purple like the one above (*). Why, on the one day when all Americans could really use great information graphics, are we subjected to this garbage?

I bet up in heaven Josef Albers spends every election day with his eyes closed.

(*) The thing that pisses me off about this so much is that there are many red-to-blue gradients that can be quite lovely, if you just pick a different intermediate color. Want to experiment? I made a gradient picker tool for you to play with.

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November 03, 2006

Visualizing energy with STATIC!

power aware cord

What if energy was a design material, just like plastic and steel and wood? That's the premise behind STATIC!, a design project funded by the Swedish Energy Agency. They've come up with a number of interesting prototypes of ways to help consumers become more aware of their energy use. Among their ideas...

Some of these items are just prototypes, others are on the way to market. As pointed out on the Inhabitat blog, they are all indicative of a growing trend of bringing our energy use front and center in our conscious thought.

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October 26, 2006

Design a better radiator

photo of radiators

The basic design of the radiator hasn't changed for more than a hundred years. The British radiator manufacturer Bisque thinks that's way too long, so they've opened up a competition to design the radiator of the future.

Radiators are simple in concept, but the physics of rising air and cooling water impose some really tricky limitations on them (Bisque has a pdf explaining the issues), so don't expect to just sketch out some wacky new shape and walk away with first prize.

But if you can come up with something great you can score a 3,000 Euro first prize, and have your design on view in European design shows. Here are the contest details. But hurry! Registration for the competition closes on October 30, and you have to post your entry by November 10th.

(The contest is being put on in collaboration with the designboom industrial design website).

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October 12, 2006

Vote for the People's Design Award

Cooper Hewitt People's Design Award logo

There's only a few days left to vote for the People's Design Award. The award is organized by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. For years they've run the prestigious National Design Awards, this year they've expanded things with the People's award, allowing we mere design mortals to speak.

It's a blast to browse through the nominees. People have already nominated more than 350 design artifacts...everything from the iPod to Veronica Lake's hairstyle (my personal favorite -- Curt Herzstark's astonishing Curta mechanical calculator). You can vote for any of them, or make your own nomination.

But hurry! Voting closes at 6 PM (EST) next Monday, with the winner announced next Wednesday.

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October 10, 2006

Fruitree puts an end to rotting fruit

photo of ftuitree

One of my many vicious circles goes like this...
1) Decide to eat healthy.
2) Buy lots of fruit and other healthy foods.
3) Stick fruit in a big bowl on the kitchen table.
4) In a moment of clutter, set the bowl aside. Forget all about it.
5) Several days later, follow the swarm of fruit flies back to the forgotten bowl, now filled with a sickly sweet rotting goo that used to be bananas, oranges, peaches, and mangos.

One of the winners of a recent kitchen design contest may be just the thing for people like me. Fruitree is a concept piece designed to solve the out of sight, out of mind problem with fruit that goes uneaten and spoils. Fruitree is mounted on a wall, so the fruit is right in front of your eyes. Circulating air is pushed throughout the Fruitree, keeping the fruit fresh longer. Fruitree was designed by Chia Shee Loh, Antonietta Fortunato and Elena Godenzi.

[Thanks designboom]


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October 01, 2006

Design Beck's new CD cover

cover materials for Beck's new CD, The Information

Beck's new CD, The Information, hits the shelves today, and this may be one new release where you want the actual physical artifact, not just the iTunes download(*). That way, you can make your own CD cover. The CD comes with a set of stickers and a sheet of grid paper, letting you create your own one-of-a-kind cover art. You can also upload your designs to one of Beck's websites for a chance to have your design used as the static image for later press runs of the CD.

Dmitri Siegel has a great article on the CD cover, and where it fits in the sweep of modern art, on Design Observer.

(*) Of course, if you're righteously angry about Apple's DRM, you've already passed on iTunes purchases.


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September 29, 2006

Airbags for motorcyclists

drawing of motorcycle airbag

Technology has made driving much safer in the last couple of decades. Unless you drive a motorcycle that is. After the invention of modern motorcycle helmets, there really hasn't been much improvement. But now there is development in an area you wouldn't have thought possible...motorcycle airbags.

photo of Honda's motorcycle airbag

Earlier this month Honda announced they had figured out how to build a practical motorcycle airbag. The bag is triggered by sensors mounted on the bike's front fork, and it fires the airbag in the event of a head-on collision.

That's all well and good for a head-on, but what about spilling your bike when you hit a gravel patch while rounding a curve? A company called hit-air has you covered. They've created a motorcycle airbag jacket lined with inflatable pockets. Get tossed from your bike and airbags inflate around your neck, chest and back. The airbag jacket doesn't use lots of complicated electronics like automobile airbags and Honda's motorcycle bag. Instead, the rider clips a cable attached to the bike to his jacket once he's on the bike. If the rider falls off the bike, the cable yanks a trigger that fires compressed air cartridges to inflate the jacket. The company says there's little danger of the jacket firing off if a rider forgets to disconnect the jacket when have to pull the cable way harder than that. You can also re-user the jacket after a spill, just screw in some new compressed gas cartridges. Assuming of course you're not now terrified of getting back on your bike.

P.S. BTW, check out Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash for the future of protective clothing, as worn by Y.T., the skateboard-riding uber courier.

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September 27, 2006

How to draw one second of The Incredibles

sequences of images from The Incredibles

There's a brief moment in The Incredibles where Dash, the little kid brother, does a double-take, his face going from an expression of happiness to one of surprise and fear. That sequence was created by Pixar animator Victor Navone, and on his blog Navone has de-constructed that take frame by frame. Even though it's just a tiny moment in one shot of one scene of the movie (the sequence lasts less than one second) Navone and Incredibles director Brad Bird put an amazing amount of thought into it...

Frame 7 - Pop! The eyelids spring open. They do a fast-out as if they were forcibly yanked up by the brows. The brows continue up slightly, overshooting the "B" pose. The mouth is reversed into a frown but is still closed. It starts to narrow as the jaw stretches, giving it a sense of volume preservation. Note the shrinkage of the pupils AND irises. Real human irises don't shrink, of course, but this is animation and it makes for a clearer, more extreme attitude. Normally this and the following frame would be considered "off-model" for Dash, since it doesn't really look like him any more. I can get away with this because it's happening in a fast action. I would never hold a pose this extreme.

One of the big differences between animation and live action film is that in animation there is nothing accidental on the screen...every background building, every cloud, every leaf, every twitch of every explicity created, the result of deliberate thought. I think this mini-tutorial is a wonderful view into that thought process. Check out Navone's tutorial here. You may also enjoy Navone's blog.

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September 08, 2006

Oahu's last tiki bar is up for sale

photo of La Mariana tiki bar

Looking for a change of career? How about taking over the last tiki bar on Oahu? The La Mariana Sailing Club has been serving up umbrella-festooned drinks since 1955, but now the owner, 92-year old Annette L. Nahinu, says it's time for someone else to take over. She'll hand you the keys to the place for a measly three million bucks. The bar is down a dirt road on the outskirts of Honolulu, and it's a veritable museum of tiki art and culture, filled with decorations from the original Trader Vic's and other tiki cool spots that are no longer around. There's a full article in The Honolulu Advertiser newspaper.


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September 04, 2006

TechShop makes personal fabrication one step closer

TechShop logo

We are at the dawn of a new revolution, similar in size and ramifications to the personal computer revolution. This revolution is about personal fabrication... the ability to design complex physical objects and then just make them, using a variety of powerful, computer aided tools.

The signs of this revolution are everywhere... in the publication last year of Neil Gershenfeld's(*) book Fab, in the popularity of Make Magazine, in the explosion in the use of computer-aided fabrication devices in design schools.

In not too many years, it will be as commonplace and as simple to crank out a few copies of a chair or lamp that you've designed as it is now to mix and rip some music CDs on your PC.

If you live near Menlo Park, CA (about 30 miles south of San Francisco), you can get a head start on the revolution by joining TechShop. It's an open-to-the-public fabrication facility with just about every tool and machine you could ever want to use... milling machines, 3-D printers, sand blasters, plasma cutters, vacuum casters, silkscreen printing presses, welding rigs... you name it, they got it. And don't worry about not being expert in all of this stuff, they assume most people don't know (yet) how to use these things, so they offer lots of quick classes to get you up to speed.

Use of TechShop is by membership... a monthly pass costs $100, $1,000 dollars gets you a full year. A bargain! I can't wait for them to open a branch in L.A.

(*)There was a good interview with Neil Gershenfeld last year on the public radio program Weekend America.

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August 08, 2006

Eames film festival, coming to a DWR near you

photo of Charles and Ray Eames

If they did nothing else but create their chair, the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames would still have a secure place in the world of design. But they did so much more...everything from creating custom fabrics to inventing multimedia presentations to designing one of the landmark homes of the 20th century to producing a large selection of brilliant and beautiful short films. It's that film aspect of their work that's being celebrated with a series of free screenings at Design Within Reach furniture stores all across the country.

DWR will be showing seven Eames short films, including their masterpiece, The Powers of Ten. I think The Powers of Ten is the greatest science film ever made, and I know a number of people who count seeing it for the first time as one of the most influential events in their life.. it certainly was for me. (A couple of years ago I did an appreciation of the film for the public radio program Studio360. You can listen to it here).

If you're like me you can't afford to breathe the air in a DWR store, much less actually buy a piece of furniture there, but don't let that stop you, everyone is welcome. Spend an evening watching the Eames films, and leave with a blown mind. (Check this page on their website to see when the screening is happening in your area).

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August 07, 2006

Helvetica: The Movie!

If this were April 1st, you'd think I was making this up, but they really are making a movie about a font... the documentary film Helvetica is scheduled for release next year.

Actually, this movie sounds really great! Here's a description from the movie's website:

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2007) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type.

Visual design shapes our lives, and this deceptively simple font has been one of the most-used visual design tools in history. (You'll probably see things written in Helvetica a hundred times today). Who wants to come with me opening night?

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Pictographs for Beijing Olympics unveiled

olympic archery pictograph

The summer Olympics are still a couple of years away, but when it comes to the graphic design of the Games, today marks one of the big milestones. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (that's quite a mouthful!), the folks in charge of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just released the pictographs they'll use to indicate the various sports.

The creation of these pictographs (you can see them all here) is one of the dream gigs in all of graphic design. This time the pictographs are influenced by inscriptions on bones and bronze objects in ancient China.

It's interesting to see how the pictographs of the various Olympics mirror the changes in graphic design in general. You can compare samples from the last 40 years of Olympics here.

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August 06, 2006

Manhole covers of Japan

Japanese manhole cover

A brief bit o' unexpected beauty for your weekend... check out this photo gallery of Japanese manhole covers.

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August 01, 2006

The computer interface of the future

Jeff Han demonstrating his computer interface

For me, one of the highlights of this year's O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference was Jeff Han's amazing demonstration of his touch-driven computer interface. To see it is to be blown away by its simplicity and elegance.

Now you can see it. In addition to his appearance at ETECH, Han also demoed the interface at this year's TED Conference, and the TED folks have just posted a nine-minute video of the demo. While you're on their site, one of the best things you could do is to subscribe to the TED podcast (thoughtfully available in both audio and video flavors).

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July 23, 2006

Cursor Kite

photo of the cursor kite

That's not me adding the large cursor pointing at the woman in the bikini. Look closely and you realize that it's a kite...a giant, 4-string kite designed to perfectly mimic a computer cursor arrow. It's a creation of the high-end kite designers Windfire Designs. They plan to offer the kite for sale, but haven't given a price yet. They're also working on other cursors. [Spotted on Make]


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July 20, 2006

Spore in BusinessWeek

screen shot from Spore

The countdown to Spore, Will Wright's astonishing new video game, is in full swing. The release date may be as much as a full year away (no official release date has been given, but various statements put it anywhere from fall 2006 to June 2007), but whenever it appears, the consensus is that you've never seen anything like it. The current issue of BusinessWeek magazine has an article about the game and what it's like to play it...

In many ways, the next phase – creature design – will be the core element of the game. And we were able to dive into the editor, design a creature, and send it out into the wild. The Creature Editor is astonishingly easy to use and powerful. You start by picking a backbone, which you can stretch by pulling the ends, and deform by grabbing and pulling (Maxis calls it a metaball). It comes with a standard thickness of flesh around it, which again, you can adjust, creating a body which could resemble your favorite animal or something never before seen in nature.

I can't wait.

P.S. Last month Spore creator Will Wright and musician Brian Eno shared a stage for one of the mind-expanding Long Now Seminars. They had a wonderful discussion about the nature and process of creativity. The audio of their discussion is available.

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July 17, 2006

Interactive map of the current Israel v. Hezbollah crisis

part of the NYTimes interactive map

The New York Times website has a nicely designed interactive map of the escalation of events that led to the current Mideast crisis. You can start with the capture of an Israeli solder on June 25, and go from event to event all the way up to July 14th(*), with each event highlighted on a scrolling map. It's fascinating to click on each event in sequence and watch the map scroll to and get a sense of how the conflict is being waged on multiple fronts at once.

(*) The map doesn't show the latest events of the last three days. I bet they'll get an updated version online, but the URL will no doubt be different than the one I link to above.

Looking at the map, I'm also struck with what a small area all of this is going in... a strip of about 120 by 30 miles... and the whole world is watching. More than anything else, it reminds me of a intense amount of misery, that's all coming from this tiny tiny cluster of nerves.


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July 13, 2006

Visual analysis of the World Cup final

world cup field

Looking for a way to remember the final World Cup game between France and Italy? Check out this visualization of the match by the Austrian company FAS.research. It shows the passes from every player to those three team-mates he passes to most frequently. Arrow thickness equals the number of passes, the size of each player's circle indicates the influence (flowbetweenness) of a player.

The full-size image (available here) is 3565x3513 pixels. Perfect size for your cubicle wall. (Thanks Visual Complexity).

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July 12, 2006

The Most Creative Program on Television

image from season two of Project Runway

...returns tonight. Project Runway, on Bravo TV, begins its 3rd season this evening with a new group of 15 designers. The show is kind of a shoot out for people who work in the fashion industry... each week the designers are given a specific task (redesign the post office uniforms, create a dress using only materials you can find in a grocery store, design an outfit for an Olympic figure skater) and a limited time in which to execute it.

I'm not particularly interested in fashion per se (my couture consists almost entirely of T-shirts from tech conferences, old chinos and blue-jeans, and ratty shoes with no socks) but what I *am* interested in is watching talented people being creative under extreme deadline and budget pressure. You can watch this show with no knowledge or interest in fashion whatsoever, and still be totally impressed with the skill and ingenuity of the participants. Watch an episode or two and see if you don't agree.

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July 10, 2006

The Real Life People and Places of "Cars"

cars before imagecars after image

The success of the latest Pixar film, "Cars", has triggered a wave of renewed interest in Route 66, and a whole new audience for the tremendous Route 66 News blog. This blog a real labor of love...dozens of posts each week covering everything from the latest renovation of some store or theater along the route to reviews of books about the highway and its history.

One of the recent gems is an amazing post about the real-life people and places portrayed in "Cars". For instance, did you know Sally the Porsche, portrayed in the film by Bonnie Hunt, is based on Dawn Welch, owner of the historic Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma? Or that Fillmore, the VW microbus voiced by George Carlin in the film, was inspired by Route 66 artist Bob Waldmire, who drives up and down Route 66 in his own VW microbus selling his wares? Or that the bridge that Sally and Lightning McQueen drive over is actually the Colorado Boulevard Bridge in Pasadena? Or that Ramone's body-art shop in the film (see images above) is directly inspired by the U-Drop Inn, a recently restored Art Deco gasoline station and restaurant complex in Shamrock, Texas? Check out the blog post for the real-life stories behind the people and places in the film.

Tags: cars  Route 66.

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July 08, 2006

The Coffin of the Future...Today!

photo of uono cocoon coffin

No pine box for me when I shed this mortal coil... nosiree. Send me off in The Cocoon, by the Germany company Uono. This bad boy features a shape right out of a Star Trek movie, and it comes in a variety of shiny shiny space age colors. (I wonder if you can mount phasers and warp drive on it). They won't say what it's made out of, but they do say it decomposes in 10 to 15 years, and the finish releases no toxic fumes, if you're not into the whole buried in the ground in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection thing. They don't give a price but, hey, you can't take it with you!

Tags: coffin  death

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July 03, 2006

A New Wall Plug

new wall plug design

Well, a hundred years late is better than never. After a century of reaching behind couches and struggling to plug electric cords into wall outlets, someone has finally designed an outlet that's easier to deal with. The PLUG-IN’s tilted faceplate allows users to better orient themselves and the cord’s prongs before bending over or reaching behind furniture. It's also easier to unplug cords, particularly for the elderly. Julia Burke of Notre Dame University designed the PLUG-IN, and scored an Industrial Design Excellence Award from the IDSA for her efforts.

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June 29, 2006

Hacking Ikea

image of some hacked Ikea objects

University of Brighton (UK) student Kieren Jones came up with a brilliant design concept for The British Council’s annual student design competition... a DIY Ikea project called "Flat-pack re-arranged". Using Ikea self-assemble furniture and Jones' instructions, anyone can make objects that Ikea never dreamed of. Pictured above, the parts from Ikea's Bumerang clothes hangers rearranged to create a deer head and crossbow that shoots Ikea pencils.

No word yet if Jones will sell the instruction manuals.

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June 24, 2006

Presentation Zen on the rule of thirds

screen shot from New Zealand video, as shown on screen shot from Australian video, as shown on

I'm a big fan(*) of Presentation Zen, a great blog by Garr Reynolds devoted to teaching people how to improve their talks and presentations (how many poorly executed PowerPoint talks have I dozed through? It feels like thousands). The latest posting examines The Rule of Thirds... a visual technique that can improve the power of your images by moving the subject off center. Reynolds dissects recent travel videos from Australia and New Zealand to show how they use the technique to great effect.

(*) I used a number of the techniques outlined in Presentation Zen for my recent talk at the Where2.0 conference, and it was very well received. Thanks Garr!

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June 22, 2006

Stamp mugs

stamp mug

A quick bit of praise for these clever coffee mugs... given that coffee mugs always leave marks on the table, why not make patterns prettier than the regular old rings? These mugs make neat little floral patterns that interlink. They're not cheap ($59!!) but they're very clever. You can get them from Generate.

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June 17, 2006

Donald Norman sez: Maybe we're doing user observation all wrong

still image from Franklin Institute video of Don Norman

Human-based design pioneer Donald Norman has posted a provocative essay on his website about how we study the way people use the things we create. Norman and others have long proposed that we study our users in order to gain insight into how they could best use our product (be it a website, a kitchen appliance, or a weapons system) and then go ahead and build the product. Now he's not so sure:

Most projects are enhancements of already existing projects. Why do we have to start studying the users all over again? Haven’t we already learned a lot about them? Shouldn’t we be studying them all throughout the adoption period? Once a project starts, it is too late.

Norman talks about adopting the same type of iterative approach used in programming to endless weaving together of design, observation, and manufacture. The full essay is here.

In other Donald Norman news, earlier this spring my old stmping grounds, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, awarded Norman the 2006 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer & Cognitive Science (press release). They made a nice little video (5:05, 17MB, mp4 format) talking about Norman's life and the influence of his work.

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Michael Jackson's patent

Michael Jackson's patent

Musical innovator? Brilliant dancer? Sexual predator? Victim of multiple personality disorders? All of the above?

Whatever label you apply to Michael Jackson, I bet you it isn't "patent holding inventor". But it turns out Jacko holds U.S. patent 5,255,452, for a shoe system that allows the wearer to lean forward at an impossible angle without falling over.

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June 12, 2006

Soccer ball dispenser

Call A Ball image 1 Call A Ball image 2

As part of the lead up to the World Cup, Nike's Play Award site sponsored a contest for innovation in soccer. The third prize winner is a really clever proposed public ball dispenser called CALL A BALL.

Just walk over to CALL A BALL and send an SMS detailing the kiosk's number to CALL A BALLs communication center. It then dispenses. Thanks to the RFID chip embedded in the ball, the center knows at all times where the ball is. When you're done, just drop the ball into the receiving hole at the top of the kiosk. (Keep the ball, and you get charged for it on phone bill).


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May 08, 2006

The world's most advanced soccer ball

addidas soccer ball

Every four years, the World Cup rolls around, and every four years one of the big sports companies gets the honor of providing the offical balls for the competition. Adidas got the nod this year, and they've cranked out perhaps the most advanced football in the history of the sport. It's called the Teamgeist, and one will set you back a cool $130 US. According to their web blurb, it's the roundest ball ever.


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April 25, 2006

R.I.P. Jane Jacobs

1963 photo of Jane Jacobs walking the streets of New York City

Jane Jacobs, one of the most important figures in the history of urban planning, has passed away at the age of 89.

Her famous 1961 book, "The Death and Live of American Cities" took on the central-control-master-plan school of urban renewal... the type of planning that left many cities split apart by huge freeways and monolithic decaying high-rise housing projects. She was perhaps the first critic to argue the importance of small neighborhoods within cities...places where stores, restaurants, parks, schools, and housing for all levels of income can all co-exist.

There are rememberences of her on Treehugger and The Globe and Mail. There are sure to be more in the coming hours and days. You can google for the latest.

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April 22, 2006

Never say "There's nothing on TV" ever again

photo of groovetube

Groovetube turns your TV into a pulsating disco light. Besides being a riveting visual display, and an interesting conversation piece the blurring of the image can be just the thing to take the edge off of the latest TV news horror show.


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April 03, 2006

Random product: Leak Diverter

photo of a leak diverter bag at the Dallas Airport

Spotted at the Dallas Airport: A mini plastic tarp with built in hose-connection, designed to catch drips from the ceiling and funnel the water down to a bucket below. On the one hand, I'm impressed that some company saw the need for a product like this and came up with this simple, versatile design solution. On the other hand, it's a little sad to think that there are so many poorly built structures out there that there'd be a thriving market for something like this.

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April 01, 2006


photo of hektor in action

Hektor is an amazing robotic graffiti output device. It's driven by a software plugin to Adobe Illustrator, and uses a bunch of cables and pullies to precisely position a spray can. The website has a bunch of great videos of Hektor in action.


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March 30, 2006

Bruce Sterling on life at the Art Center College of Design

Bruce Sterling spent the last year as "Visionary in Residence" at the Art Center College of Design, a wonderful little design school in Pasadena.

Sterling wrote a touching essay about his year at Art Center, and about the place's power to transform and inspire:

Those students work harder than oxen. By show time at the end of the term, they're physically collapsing from their own ambitions. They grieve. They tremble with burnout. They slumber on the library carpets. They change a lot. Designerhood steals over them. It's like character transformation in a novel. That ditzy illustration chick, who shambled in wearing her Goodwill dresses, somehow develops her own look; she's still a freak, but now she's all together about it. That digital-arts kid, twitchy from his misspent youth of computer games, somehow learns to exude geek chic. He once had a thousand-yard stare. Now he's got the polished arched-eyebrow look of the cell-phone techie on Verizon billboards. You can't teach that to anyone--it's self-inflicted. What happened to them? They have recognized certain aspects of their pre-designer selves that, to their newly trained eyes, are no longer apt and fitting. So they prune those parts off. They take the gum eraser to it. They X-acto it. They mill it down to sawdust over in the machine shop. It's spooky. Even their parents can tell

The full essay is in the current issue of Metropolis magazine.

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Wanted: Aircraft designers for Mars

drawing of UAV

How's this for a challange? Design a reliable, ultra light-weight robotic flying machine. And as a needs to work on Mars.

The European Space Agency is kicking off a student competition, looking for the most practical and innovative Martian Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) designs. If you're a European aerospace student, check out the contest website.


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March 29, 2006

Architecture's Scientific Revolution

The Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany. Credit: Zaha Hadid Architects

From Sweden to Botswana, Germany to Japan, master builders are incorporating recent developments in math and physics, as well as elements of biology and other fields, into their designs. The result has been some of the most innovative and interesting constructions of the last several decades. Seed presents five examples of contemporary architecture that have been influenced by science. Welcome to the new architectural revolution.

No shift in architectural practice in recent times has been more fruitful or astonishing than the profession's current embrace of scientific models and ideas. While the Modern movement of the last century famously incorporated the latest advances in technology and industry, there were remarkably few attempts to come to terms with the more radical scientific developments of the era, such as relativity or quantum mechanics.

Read the entire article

(Via Seed Magazine.)

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Treehouse building workshop

Tim writes - 'We will be sponsoring a treehouse building workshop in Santa Cruz, CA (about an hour south of San Francisco) on May 5,6 and 7th. The world famous treehouse builder and innovator Michael Garnier will be teaching the workshop. He owns Treesort treehouse resort in Takilma, OR and has built a treehouse for the Discovery Channel.' - Link.

Pictured here, Shawn's tree house! A big old-growth redwood stump had steps carved into it when we bought the place. Visions of a fabulous tree deck danced in our heads... - Link.


[Read this article]

(Via MAKE Magazine.)

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March 25, 2006

Frogs critique

the frogs from Frog Review

The web's best-known usability amphibians are back! Check out the Frog Review frogs tearing apart Home Depot's website.

Link to Frog Review


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Is there a better way to draw?

IDSA logo

The Industrial Designers Society of America wants you to come up with a better way to teach people to draw. They want to create a course that emphases "visually communicating ideas," rather than simply improving drawing techniques. The IDSA has put out a call for proposals for curricula. Want to design a kick-ass drawing course? Check out the details.


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March 17, 2006

Something every teenage boy could use

Some student designers came up with this brilliantly clever design...a bedroom shelf with a secret compartment underneath designed to hold your porno mags. Find a need and fill it!


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