By the time that you look at this photograph of a paper bridge, you won’t be able to see it in real life anymore. As is often the case with environmental art, the paper bridge that spanned a mountain stream in the UK’s rural Lake District was meant to be a temporary installation. A sharp contrast to the natural landscape, the poppy red paper bridge was so startling and surreal to see that people found themselves looking anew at their surroundings and consciously thinking about the wondrous view.
Conceived by British environmental artist Steve Messam, the paper bridge is a remarkable feat of art and engineering, made without glue, nails, screws, or structural support out of 22,000 sheets of red paper, provided by one of the UK’s oldest paper manufacturers, James Cropper. The structure itself was designed by Peter Foskett who combined the laws of gravity and the pressure between the sheets of paper to build a form strong enough to bear the weight of human and four-legged hikers. Commissioned by the UK’s Lakes Culture for its Lakes Ignite project, the bridge is one of a series of temporary installations to appear in the Lake District National Park through 2015. The paper bridge remained in place for ten days in May, and was then dismantled to be recycled back into paper. Read More »
Unbeknownst to most sports fans was a completely different Super Bowl competition being played out on the sidelines. Sponsored by Intuit, maker of QuickBooks, TurboTax, Intuit and Quicken software, the contest drew 15,000 small business contenders who vied for the chance to win a free 30-second spot during the big game last weekend.
And the Intuit winner was GoldieBlox, a startup that offers construction toys strictly for little girls. A Kickstarter-funded project, GoldieBlox was founded by Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-graduate engineer who was disturbed to learn that 89% of all engineers in America were men. Taking a walk through a toy store, Sterling noted that the “blue aisle” was lined with construction toys and chemistry sets, while the “pink aisle” had lots of princesses and dolls. Sterling vowed to redecorate the “pink aisle” with construction toys to send little girls the message that they could pursue a career in science, engineering, technology ad math too. San Francisco-based Sterling developed an interactive storybook series with a companion construction kit. The book’s heroine is a girl named Goldie who likes to invent mechanical things and seeks the assistance of the young reader to build them using pieces from the project kit.
It is nice to see that Apple is still channeling Steve Jobs in this new ad campaign by TBWA/Chiat/Day. The “Intention” video is classic Apple. Like Apple’s products and its packaging, it feels elegant, devoid of fussiness and ostentation. It communicates simply, directly, softly. It doesn’t provide boastful descriptions of its own engineering prowess or gee-whiz features. In fact, it doesn’t show or name its products at all. It tells you how it strives to deliver what you want to feel when using Apple products. It’s all about you… your desires… your pleasure. If iMac was a guy, he’d have women swooning at his feet.
Two things to learn from this video: 1) No matter how fascinating the subject, nearly all videos benefit from a voiceover narrative and an appropriate soundtrack, both lacking here. 2) Although the term “industrial design” did not emerge until the 20th century, the design and engineering skills to produce incredible objects that utilized the principles of applied science and engineering existed long before then. Centuries before CAD systems and 3-D modeling devices, Abraham Roentgen (1711-1793) and his son, David (1743-1807), made ingeniously engineered and mechanically complex cabinetry that incorporated drawers that opened automatically at the touch of a button, hidden compartments, and drop-down writing surfaces – all behind elegantly decorated panels. This walnut-veneered masterpiece was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia in the late 18th century and is housed today in the Kunstgewerbe museum in Berlin.
German magician Simon Pierro reviews the iPad iOS, demonstrating feats through sleight-of-hand and digital illusions. Aside from the fact that Pierro is an awesome performance artist, you have to admire his code-writing genius. He had to have spent hours designing apps and editing video and then working out split-second timing to have the image on the screen materialize seamlessly as a real object in hand. It used to be that magicians worked with smoke and mirrors, now the act is man and machine. Although this is entertainment masquerading as product demo, it is a clever sales pitch for iPad engineering – color clarity, speed, multi-screen patterns, instantaneous rotation of images so they can enter screen right and exit screen left or the other way around. At a trade show, Pierro’s act is sure to stop passersby in their tracks, and leave people marveling not only over what a great magician can do, but the iPad too.
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.
Supposedly electric hand dryers found in public restrooms are better than paper towels because they are more hygienic, require less manufacturing energy, lower janitorial costs, and reduce landfill. Supposedly. However, most people who use hand dryers in public restrooms either punch the start button several times to evaporate residual moisture, walk out with damp hands, or complete the drying process by wiping their hands on their clothes. The conventional hand dryer is a candidate for the “bad design” award.