VW’s Phaeton transparent factory in the heart of downtown Dresden runs counter to the traditional impressions of a car assembly plant. Instead of blue-collar workers, there are white-gloved technicians. Instead of deafening noises, there is the hushed atmosphere of a research lab. The floors are lovely Canadian maple, and the walls are clear glass, which is why a loudspeaker outside imitates territorial bird sounds to keep birds from flying into the glass. There are no smokestacks, shrill sounds or noxious fumes. The grungier stamping, welding and painting of steel bodies take place elsewhere. VW’s transparent factory, designed by architect Gunter Henn and opened in 2002, showcases the final assembly of the luxury Phaeton sedan. Futuristic, exacting, open, and pristine, the Dresden facility is as much a marketing device as a working production plant, drawing thousands of visitors for tours each year. This video is from Megaworld Germany.
If this thermostat looks like something that Apple would have designed had it been interested in home heating, there’s a reason. Tony Fadell, who conceived of the iPod and then went on to work on the iPhone while at Apple (he left in 2008), came up with this household device through his own company, Nest Labs. The clean Apple aesthetic and intuitive ease-of-use are evident in the Nest Learning Thermostat. The temperature is displayed in bright, clear numerals, and the rim ring acts as the dial. The LCD-lit center turns red if you are raising the temperature and shows blue if you are lowering it. A green leaf appears under the number to indicate a setting for optimal energy savings. Not only that, the Nest programs itself, using software to analyze and track your usage patterns over time. Once it learns your preferences, it adjusts itself automatically, and even turns itself down to the “Away” mode, if it doesn’t sense any movement in the house. The Nest also comes with a mobile app that lets you change the temperature and schedule remotely by laptop, smartphone or pad.
Programmable thermostats, even ones that can be controlled remotely, are not new to the marketplace. What makes Nest exceptional is that it is designed for the user. You don’t have to squint to read the temperature gauge or gnash your teeth when trying to figure out the instructions to get it to do all the things that the ads promise it can do. It doesn’t try to impress consumers by displaying the complex engineering of the product. That’s more intimidating than impressive. What good design does best is create an interface with the user that makes the complex simple. Given the large number of consumers (including me) who don’t know how to program their existing thermostats, a device that is pleasing to view and as easy to use as an iPod is a welcome advance.
What better way to showcase the newly released Eames Century Modern font collection than to print each letterform on a Mid-Century Modern LTR (Low Table Rod) table designed by Charles Eames? A collaboration between type designer House Industries and Herman Miller Japan, the Eames alphabet table is a limited edition series of 80 tables adorned with A to Z letters, numbers and ornaments from the Eames Century Modern font. House hand-printed each tabletop at its Grand Rapids, Michigan, factory and then returned the tops to Herman Miller for attachment onto the metal rod base and packaging in a special House-designed wooden crate. House owner Andy Cruz says, “As with most House Industries projects, I tried my best to make the packaging for this limited edition something you wouldn’t throw away once the table was removed. Who doesn’t like a printed wooden crate that can do double duty as a storage container?” Good point.
Now for the bad news. The custom Eames LTR tables are probably sold out by now, since only 80 tables were made in total. Forty were offered at the Herman Miller Reach Exhibition in Hong Kong in September and the other 40 at the HM Tokyo Showroom in October. If there are any leftover crates, I’d be willing to settle for one of them.
Elegant. Simple. Intuitive. Graphic. These are descriptions not applied to technology until Steve Jobs dazzled the world with the Macintosh, the iMac, the iPod, iPhone, iPad and more. He understood the purpose of design on a visceral level and not only transformed the way designers work, but elevated public awareness that design is not merely an aesthetic marketing device, but the heartbeat of innovation. Thank you, Steve. Well done. Rest in peace.
Designed and built by Ethan Frier and Jonathan Ota, two industrial design students at Carnegie Mellon University, Project Aura is an ingenious solution for making bicyclists more visible at night. That’s the time of day when most bicycle fatalities occur. Thirty-six percent of these accidents happen at intersections. One reason is that while many bikes are equipped with headlights, taillights and reflectors, they aren’t very visible from the side – which means they can be clobbered at intersections or nicked from cars changing lanes without seeing them. Frier and Ota addressed that by installing RGB LEDs inside the rim of the wheels, and made them powered by a wheel dynamo that worked through pedaling. Not only are the lights visible from all sides, they respond to speed of motion, making the wheel lights change from white when at cruising speed to red when slowing down. The rim-mounted LEDs are self-powered (no batteries, motor or switches required), and can be seen from passing vehicles – a great safety idea for cyclists and a relief to motorists – plus they looked really sci-fi cool.