Archive for the ‘muse’ Category

No Middle Ground

Amit Gupta is calling it – “The laptop starts dying tomorrow”.

I’d agree with him too. Nobody around me buys a point-and-shoot digital cameras anymore – they’re all migrating to either pro-ish DSLRs, or perhaps quirky exotics like Lomo or Holga. The point-and-shoot just doesn’t have a place in competing for the consumer’s mind, because they don’t do any one thing particularly well, losing grounds in various aspects:

  • Quality: vs DSLRs;
  • Experience: vs Lomo, Holga, Polaroids
  • Portability: vs camera phones
  • Price: phone-cameras are effectively free

Does it mean that ‘middle-ground’, jack-of-all-trades products that try to seek a compromised middle ground will eventually have no place in the market? What are some of the other products that failed (or will fail) because they inherently always try to appease everybody, especially if designed-by-committee without a clear vision?


Taurus Concept – Segway on Steroids

In a nut shell, the Taurus pictured above (designed by Erik Lanuza) is Segway-on-Steroids. Utilizing the same principle of gyroscopic balance (lean-forward-to-move, etc.), it is a lot sexier, and the design probably takes away a lot of the dorky-stigma that still plaques the original Segway.
And it got me pondering.
The Segway was very intentionally designed (based on the book Code Name Ginger which catalogs the design/development process) to look:
1) Unlike a transportation
The whole ‘revolutionary’ idea behind Segway was to look unlike a vehicle. If it looked like a vehicle, there’d be problems getting cities to permit it running on sidewalks. People would need licenses to drive/operate them. It’d be a lot less spontaneous to get on a Segway and roll down that sidewalk.
2) Not fast; perhaps to look almost meek, even
If it looked like it’s anything fast, sleek or sporty, everybody would claim it’d endanger (pedestrian) lives. Licenses and helmets become mandatory. The idea is to just portray a very neutral design that doesn’t look like it has untamed power underneath the hood.
3) Occupy minimum footprint
One of the rules-of-thumb in developing the Segway was that it shouldn’t exceed the footprint of a person’s shoulder – thus its current shape, which means that basically anywhere someone can go, the Segway should be able to fit. Office corridors, stairs, alleys, etc.
So, given:
– Designs like the Taurus above is a lot sexier. I’d love to get on it and zoom around, and be seen on it.
– Designs like the Taurus above, is a lot like a vehicle. It uses Segway-style technology, but it’s way too vehicular to adhere to Segway’s original “Personal Transporter” vision. It’s more like a motorbike.
– Designs like the original Segway, makes people label others using it as dorks, geeks, nerds.
How’d designers approach this tricky problem? Is the original Segway vision of an upright personal transporter that navigates sidewalks and office corridors a lost cause – no matter what you do, there’s no removing of that gloating-geek stigma?
Or is there some way to extract elements of the coolness in design from concepts like Taurus and apply it (in a deft way that defy looking dangerous to city council officials)?

Car Cigarette Lighters


It’s one of those things that I’d label as ‘dormant trivia’ – curious questions that I didn’t know exist, even though on hindsight, the bigger question is “why didn’t I think of that question (and find out the answer)? Maybe it’s just me being particularly ignorant or slow – that this is general knowledge to everyone but me:

Why are car cigarette lighters so big (diameter) compared to the cigarettes they are supposed to light?

And today (finally?) I learnt the answer.

Microsoft Courier Tablet

It’s been making the rounds around the net  – Microsoft’s (concept? slated for production?) tablet titled Courier with some interesting UI features. The video shows pretty much a scrap/sketch-booking concept so there’s bit of quirky messy-ness within the UI (as how sketchbooks usually are); given the education-leaning demonstration I’d also wonder about the ‘Kindle-killerness’ – could Microsoft muscle their way into schools and convince boards of education that this is indeed going to be a real effective teaching aid (like how many iPod touches ended up as educational aid – IMHO probably more gadget-lust than actually effective tools for learning).

But I digress. Concept tablets have been promised for quite a long time – almost since the invention of the computer someone’s been envisioning devices like these. They have been languishing – “it’s around, but not really making that much of a real impact” sort of presence – mostly catering to a niche. I wonder if a properly tailored UI would make a tablet really work and take off this time.

Hopefully it does – that’d spice things up a little!

Loanshark Marketing

Recently I’ve taken a special interest in a rather niche segment of marketing – those done by loan sharks. Johor Bahru (or JB – city in Malaysia) has a very high density of these (theoretically?) illegal money-lending businesses, catering to anybody from gamblers seeking a quick rescue to ‘proper’ businessmen needing just that bit more cash flow.

Growing up, I had the common impression of loansharks where they are generally  underground – where you need some sort of mafia-connection to get access to it. In JB this is a lot more ‘above-the-line’, where you’d see signs and phone numbers pasted all over, on practically every surface you can find.

Recently though, I get impressed yet again with their level of  ‘marketing professionalism’ – just received this set of brochures (only showing the front/back):



Check out the amount of design and creative direction (everything from layout, typography, photography to copy-writing, consistency in theme between the 3 separate brochures) that went into promoting their services: simply impressive!

Cone Pizza

cone pizza

I was quite amused and inspired simultaneously when I came upon this picture of a cone pizza – it’s the first time I’ve seen it, and got me thinking about the form of pizza – is this a more optimized form for the funtion (pizza-enjoyment)?

I see quite a few strong points going for this design. The cone form, just like the ice cream, gives it a much more portable interface for individual servings of pizzas to go, though it becomes rather unwieldy if you’re a big-eater who needs more than a few of them.

It also concentrates the toppings (do you still call them toppings if they’re more like, well, “innings”?) in a more concentrated manner – you can certainly imagine the oozing, flowy melted-mozarella as you bite in, and probably more fitting for the mouth as well. As a stall owner, this arrangement seems to let you get away with less ingredients to achieve the same impact too.

However, the satisfaction-curve for this form perhaps leaves something to be desired. Assuming that the ingredients are generally preferred over crusts (I see many who leave the pizza crusts behind in a pizza buffet, for instance), your experience gets worst as you chomp your way down, until you’re left with the tip of the cone – large mouthful(s) of relatively dry dough.

Interesting innovation dough though!

(Any even better/alternative forms of pizza?)

Demystifying the Design Process

In my daily work, I’m heavily involved in design research and design strategy, and creating the framework/angle in which the design team can approach a project. One of the things that I have always yearned to do is to create a series of ‘standard steps’ to take – a design strategy/framework set, if you will – the basic ‘design process’ that can lead to sound strategies that leads to creatively-directed and successful work both internally and for our clients.

This of course, is a good thing. With a more structured process, there is the effect of leverage – the same results can be replicated and amplified through more designers. Even for myself – this could be a good library of ‘known-solutions’ to fall back on – projects can get on faster and easier, without having to spend too much time re-thinking each project as they come.


But I always seem to come to a stumbling block. I can try to summarize all of the frameworks/methods that I know of, or have applied in past projects, but inevitably they boil down to a few issues.

The strategies/approaches can become simplified – but to what extent? If I boil it down so that it can be applied across different projects, it can end up somewhat like IDEO’s Method Card (which I do have in my cabinet), which is good enough as a ‘spark plug’ to remind one in the existence of a particular approach, but hardly sufficient to take it and run (it’s not a ‘play book’).

If I do not simplify – and choose to instead include all the little extra steps, the creative angles, the specific techniques, then it’d seem to revert back to a very specific and narrow method, suitable perhaps for that one particular project of that one client, but difficult to transfer across projects (it cannot be generalized).

And today, I stumbled upon this quote by Michael Beirut – an old Design Observer essay from 2006, to be sure – but I thought “Wow, that captured my dilemma!”:

When I do a design project, I begin by listening carefully to you as you talk about your problem and read whatever background material I can find that relates to the issues you face. If you’re lucky, I have also accidentally acquired some firsthand experience with your situation. Somewhere along the way an idea for the design pops into my head from out of the blue. I can’t really explain that part; it’s like magic. Sometimes it even happens before you have a chance to tell me that much about your problem! Now, if it’s a good idea, I try to figure out some strategic justification for the solution so I can explain it to you without relying on good taste you may or may not have. Along the way, I may add some other ideas, either because you made me agree to do so at the outset, or because I’m not sure of the first idea. At any rate, in the earlier phases hopefully I will have gained your trust so that by this point you’re inclined to take my advice. I don’t have any clue how you’d go about proving that my advice is any good except that other people — at least the ones I’ve told you about — have taken my advice in the past and prospered. In other words, could you just sort of, you know…trust me?

Beirut’s main struggle seem to be “how to convince clients of the worthiness of his (team’s) ideas while the process appears fuzzy, unexplainable and/or non-logically-sequential”. In my case, the struggle is the attempt to sequential-ize and formalize a process that is in itself a blend of intuition, experience, fuzziness and voodoo magic.

The temptation to create a play-book (just like how football coaches do) is still strong – and I’d probably still want to (try to) do that. But perhaps I can take a page off Beirut’s experience and acknowledge that hey, not everything is a straightforward and repeatable process – particularly not in the fuzzy front end of design.

Why are Browser Icons Round and Blue?

Voltage Creative asked an interesting question:

Every single (even moderately successful) [note: except Opera] web browser’s logo has been round… Why?


Some plausible explanations:

  • IE was a blue rounded icon and everybody just followed suit
  • The globe is the best representation of the Internet (and it’s round and blue)

I tend to concur with the blue-globe metaphor explanation – if you look at most of those icons, there are explicit globes in it and you can’t quite have a square globe, can you? Which leads me to think – is there any better metaphor apart from the globe for the Internet?

Too much (poorly designed) Information?


Came across this interesting design commentary by Joseph Logan, describing how a transparent window in the milk carton (ostensibly a good idea to have a quick, real time, reliable way to tell how much milk is left) degenerated into something that is a whole lot less elegant, simply by adding more and more visual elements (inappropriately too):

A designer suggested adding a little window on the carton to provide something easier for making a shopping list than a rough weight estimate.  The first round of design review probably added the volume markers, which are innocuous enough but unnecessary for the majority of milk drinkers.  Subsequent rounds probably added the wholly useless picture of the milk jugs and the placement of all this visually distracting detritus.

Is there anything beyond the little windows that substantially improves your ability to make decisions about the volume of milk?  Of course not.

What is actually happening here is that a potentially useful addition to the good old milk carton becomes something cluttered and misleading, and it smacks of committee work.  Will any harm come of it?  Probably not.  At most, it might be a little more confusing than necessary to anyone who bothers to look at it, which probably won’t be too many of us.  Imagine safety diagrams on an airplane or in a chemical plant, though;  how much distraction or confusion would be necessary to cause an accident?

Hear hear~ that is also something that I come across once in a while in my day-to-day job. It’s quite easy to slip into the chasm of  “isn’t more of something good better?”, and forget the delightful balance and restraint that must sometimes take priority instead. Or to push design concepts all the way to the extreme ends of a cross-matrix – where subtlety is erased and diminished.

Problematically, these are also typically calls that you can’t rationally make a rule of. How do you know when ‘too much’ is, in fact, too much? In these times, it simply boils down to good judgment, clarity of intent and experience.

Seeing Maps Everywhere

We certainly have a tendency to recognize familiar shapes from all actually-random sources: we see faces or creatures in the clouds, we imagine that there is indeed a divine intervention when Virgin Mary appeared on toasts; and now – “cartocacoethes – a mania, uncontrollable urge, compulsion or itch to see maps everywhere”:


UK, Africa and Australia? Further elaboration here.

[via infosthetics]