Archive for December, 2007|Monthly archive page

Merry Christmas

Merry Xmas 2007

Merry Christmas to all!  It’s been a great year for me personally, as well as for Gems Sty. In the past year Gems Sty has been growing slowly and organically – I want to thank all of you for coming by, reading, commenting and sometimes writing mails to me. The site continues to evolve, though I try to filter as much as possible to ensure only the more interesting stuff hits the page (the temptation are great on ‘dry’ days though). I’m sure many of you surf other similar sites too – sometimes they feel a bit like carbon copies – the same materials across multiple sites. I try not to let that happen here (unless it’s really interesting! 😉 ).

And as customary of these festive times, Gems Sty would (probably) not have any posts until the New Year. Meanwhile, have a great time catching up with (real) life, and have a good year ahead!


Retouching Photos – the Process

 Christophe Huet

We’re all probably very familiar with photo-retouching – especially after that ad campaign by Dove. There are of course master ‘touch-uppers’ who are very skilled artists capable of turning one photo into quite another image. While portfolios of these touch-up artists often show before-and-after pictures to showcase their abilities, Christophe Huet went a step further in his rather well-done portfolio website – he also shows quite a bit of the intermediate steps to show how the transformation was done.

And it’s kinda amazing how much detail was reworked in each picture – even the tiniest ones far off in the background. Just goes to show sometimes, you really do have to fabricate the perfect picture that works.

Polish McDonald’s Website

Polish McDonald’s Website

I just came across the Polish version of McDonald’s website – it was really different from most of the other McDonald’s image/website. Produced with a much more slick touch to it – almost feels like some interior design firm or something. Check it out~

MUJI Award 02 Ceremony

In the past week, I was in Tokyo for the MUJI Award 02 ceremony. Here’s just a very quick post on what happened there. MUJI has been a really great host – besides putting me up at a fine hotel right in Shibuya, the award ceremony itself was something that I looked forward to very much, and had fond memories of.

MUJI Yurakucho Entrance
That is the MUJI Yurakucho, MUJI’s 3-storey flagship store in Tokyo. It was an eye-opener for me – practically all of MUJI’s wares are on display here, ranging from furniture, apparel, electronic/electrical appliances to household and lifestyle products. It’s certainly much more complete than those I can find locally in Singapore.

MUJI Award 02 Party
For this ceremony, they have converted the usual MealMUJI (a restaurant within the store) to the grounds for the awards ceremony. Pictured above are some of the winners of this year’s competition, with the Gold Award winner (the towel) on the table.

MUJI Award 02 Winners
More explanation and prototypes.

MUJI Award 02 Jury
Luminary judges giving their comments about the challenges of the MUJI design competition, the quality of entries and what really is MUJI about (Pictured above: Masaaki Kanai, Takashi Sugimoto, Kenya Hara and Naoto Fukasawa). 

MUJI dinner
At the end of it all, they also brought us to a great Japanese restaurant – my first real Japanese fare. 🙂

All in all, it was a great experience to be in Tokyo. Now that I’m back to a more normal life, posts would probably resume in the usual frequencies.

MUJI Award 02 & More on ‘Chronotebook’

MUJI Award 02 Results

You might’ve known that the results for MUJI Award 02 was announced some time ago – the winners were selected from among 3422 entries from the world. ‘Towel with Further Options” won the Gold Prize:

This bath towel moves your mind toward further uses of the product. Towels take every day dirt and gradually become damaged. In accordance with such changes, you can downsize the towel with “further options” from a bath towel to a bath mat, and then to a floor cloth and dust cloth. The towel has a vertical and horizontal textured surface that does not produce pile-fabric waste when cut with scissors. The lines act as a marker for cutting and form square modules that let you imagine other uses, encouraging you to re-use it.

The rest of the entries are the Stackable Hanger, Chronotebook and Kakujio (cube salt). In this post, I’d like to explain more about the Chronotebook design: if for no other reasons – well, because I’m the designer behind this. As the title implies, this is a notebook with Time as a central element in design.

Chronotebook - Exterior

On the outside, the Chronotebook is a rather plain notebook meant for daily use – much like a daily planner. It is A6-sized, thus able to fit into your pants pockets if you really wanted it to. It comes with rounded corners both for aesthetic purposes, as well as to minimize ‘dog-earing’ of the book pages as you use it. A handy bookmark ribbon helps you remember which page you stopped at. Overall, simple plain MUJI-ness.

Chronotebook - Interior

The inside is where the difference lies. Instead of lines and rows of scheduling grids, you are greeted by stark and minimal graphics. At the center of each page there is a graphic of a clock – AM on the left and PM on the right. That’s it. You plan your daily activities around the clock.

MUJI Chronotebook - Usage


That much about the product design and usage itself. Why do it this way? Quite a few factors. A daily planner’s central purpose is to communicate clearly what the owner needs to do at each time. Here’s where I thought the design can be improved:

1) Grid Phobia
Typical Daily Planner

This is how a typical daily planner might look like. In the traditional layout, time is usually arranged in rows defined by horizontal lines. At a glance, they look oppressive and rigid, as we are forced to segment our lives and activities into an artificial lattice of compartments. We are however, not that robotic.

2) Analog vs Digital
Analog vs Digital
We lead our lives in analog, continuous circles of days and nights. While some have grown used and fond of digital watches, I believe that many of us still feel a more direct and intimate connection to an analog watch face. Time seems to be more human this way – maybe it’s the tradition dating all the way back to the first sundial. Or that it’s round and repetitious, just like time (day and night). These are subtle qualities that are lost in the translation to the digital notions of telling time (albeit more precise perhaps).

3) Writing within the lines All Over
Writing All Over

Because of the numerous hours in a day (and various other constraints), the lines in a diary are typically very narrow. They are also usually equally distributed (somewhat). But our information is a hierarchy. Some are more important to us. Some we feel happier about. We want to highlight stuff that’s important to us. We want to write things that are more important in BIGGER sizes. Our lives cannot be so easily and clearly divided into equal parcels.

Chronotebook Detail
In response to those issues, the Chronotebook’s design gives freedom: You can write all over the page – there are plenty of blank spaces. It’s not entirely haphazard either – the central graphical ‘clock’ element still holds all the appointments and schedules together in a logical and intuitive way. It is also easier and quicker to glance at the happenings for the day.

So, those were some of the thoughts behind this design. Hope it helped you understand the design intent behind. If you have any comments/criticisms, do voice them out – I’d certainly appreciate them. Meanwhile, I’d be away for the next few days in Tokyo for the award ceremony – so there probably won’t be any updates until next week.

Till then! 🙂

[Greenhouse Effect] Concepts (Part 4)

This is the fourth (and last) part of the the GreenHouse Effect concept series, showing and explaining some of the thoughts behind the design concepts. The GreenHouse Effect is an exhibition by Orcadesign as part of the Singapore Design Festival, exploring what it means to tackle sustainability through design.

Lullaby Plug

Lullaby Plug Explanation

We have many mobile and electronic accessories, and when we charge them we tend to leave it on and forget about them (or go to sleep). Even while they are fully charged, the devices still consume phantom electricity. There’s also always the nagging suspicion that such overcharging may reduce battery life.

Borrowing a familiar metaphor found in baby pull-string toys, the Lullaby Plug is a power socket with an intuitive timer interface. Pulling the string down activates the power supply; the length you pulled is proportionate to the time you require (markings are on the string for every hour).  As the device gets charged, the ring slowly retreats upwards until it finally cuts off power after the desired timespan.


PaperHaus Usage

Newspaper recycling is one of the more accessible and common eco practice (at least here) – they are often however either stacked at a corner messily, or are relegated to the storeroom. Their fate somewhat mirrors the mindset of households – they are conceived more as an inconvenient waste rather than a valuable resource input (albeit recycled).

The PaperHaus elegantly houses the newspapers, fitting into the living room environment (where newspapers are often read/kept). Flaps on the four sides keep strings neatly tucked. The graphics on the rear wall does more than lifting the product visually – it also indicates how many kilograms of newspapers are accumulated. When you’re done, you can just unzip the edges, tie and bring the newspaper for sale/recycling.

[This post is a part of the series on the ‘GreenHouse Effect’ exhibition under the Singapore Design Festival]. This will be the final post on it – if you have any comments or critiques of any of the ideas (or the thought behind), let ’em loose!]

Car that Drives Itself

Sure, we’ve seen the automatic parking stuff from Lexus and all – but a car driving itself? Well BMW has answered that too. On Top Gear they demonstrated a car that drives itself. Apparently you drive it around the circuit once, and the car ‘learns’ and ‘remembers’ it. Mind you, we’re not talking about weak “safe” cruising speeds and all, but full-fledged >100km/h average speeds.

Now they need to figure out how to implement this on the roads…

[Greenhouse Effect] Concepts (Part 3)

This is the third part of the the GreenHouse Effect concept series, showing and explaining some of the thoughts behind the design concepts. The GreenHouse Effect is an exhibition by Orcadesign as part of the Singapore Design Festival, exploring what it means to tackle sustainability through design.

Bottleneck Saver

This is the Bottleneck Saver – it’s the little black ‘C’ shape thing on the neck of the nozzle. It’s a little simple device designed to attach onto the necks of common dispensers – be it shampoo, lotions or handwash – and it works by restricting the ‘travel’ of the nozzle (and thus the final amount dispensed each time). It may not be a product for everyone – some do need that much of whatever solution is in the bottle – but what Bottleneck Saver gives is a choice. Just think of the average crew-cut guy – typically he doesn’t need all that shampoo for one full press; by natural instinct, however, he would have dispensed a full amount. In addition, manufacturers always have an incentive to make users use more of their products – in some ways, this design attempts to counter that inherent bias in product design. It’s not only less of the soap/shampoo that you save – eventually you’d save more water too.

Sticker Identity

The product in this picture is actually in the top right corner – it is a set of stickers known as Sticker Identity. Often, we sub-consciously or conveniently reuse old products for new usages – we might make do with the back-of-a-notepad as a mousepad; we might use a CD jewel case as a coaster, etc. This is in fact a good practice – we don’t really need to always get a new item. The sticker set affirms these actions – iconic graphics on the sticker affirms the new-found identity of old products – in someways, you can think of it as a ‘re-birth certificate’.

[This post is a part of the series on the ‘GreenHouse Effect’ exhibition under the Singapore Design Festival].

[Greenhouse Effect] Concepts (Part 2)

This is the second part of the the GreenHouse Effect concept series, showing and explaining some of the thoughts behind the design concepts. The GreenHouse Effect is an exhibition by Orcadesign as part of the Singapore Design Festival, exploring what it means to tackle sustainability through design.

Black Out Lamp

This is the Black Out Lamp. In normal days, it sits pretty as per any normal table lamp, casting light through the efficient LED light bulbs. But it’s more than just a table lamp – if and when you need a torch, you can actually detach the ‘lamp’ portion and use it as a torch, as the internal circuit can be switched to run on battery mode instead. For the same function (of illumination), we don’t really need two separate products (lamp + torch). They could very well be the same thing – plus you can definitely find it much easier compared to ransacking your third drawer in the store room.

Facade Vase

The question – what exactly is a vase? Do we need a real, whole (and pretty) object to place flowers in, or is a simple facade up to the mark? Made of industrial felt, the construction of the Facade Vase is absolutely simple – two flat pieces of felt sewn together. It then becomes a parasite onto a ‘partner’ as structure – the omnipresent PET bottle that we almost certainly can find around our house – and becomes a fully functional vase. It is a versatile design too – different silhouette gives rise to rather different visual outcome.

Post-It Notepad

Post-It pads are almost exclusively used on one side only. We also often scribble only on one side of our notepads. So, we have two ‘one-sided’ products. In this concept Post-It Notepad, the second life usability is built into the design. You start off with the notepad (using one side, presumably). When you’re done, you can remove the cover, turn it over and you get a Post-It pad. A product’s reincarnation is straightforward and integrated within the design – turning two ‘one-sided’ products into a single ‘double-sided’ one.

[This post is a part of the series on the ‘GreenHouse Effect’ exhibition under the Singapore Design Festival].

Vii (Wii copycat) Disassembled

Vii - Rip off Nintendo Wii

Nintendo Wii’s been so successful, it’s still unable to fully satisfy demands despite running in peak production for over a year. So what do enterprising (and morally suspect) businesses do? Ride on the wave of rip off, of course. Many of you may have seen the ‘Vii’ – a Chinese copycat of the Wii. But it was the opening of the Vii’s innards that got me laughing rather hard. The video is in Chinese – but I think you can pretty understand from the video alone.

They must’ve mastered the art of circuit miniaturizing, eh? I really wonder what that pathetic circuit board does. At about 1:40 you can also see an iron plate included within the case part to give it more weight. This is simply hilarious.