Apple’s fall rollout of new products isn’t welcome news for some of us still adjusting to the iPhone 5 and getting the feel of the iPad we got last Christmas. Many of us who grew up in the analog age view every electronic upgrade as stressful and disruptive. Innovation for innovation’s sake isn’t always welcome. Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. Millennials, born thinking of their opposable thumbs as digital operating devices, don’t understand that “intuitive” is a relative and generational term. Which brings me to this classic comedy sketch created for Norwegian TV a few years back.
Newell Rubbermaid’s new Design Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, marks a monumental shift in the company’s design thinking and practices. This consolidation of design functions in a single location addresses how design in the 21st century has become a team activity that pulls in disciplines beyond design.
In 2012, after Newell Rubbermaid adopted its Growth Game Plan strategy focused on four winning capabilities, including design and R&D, it brought in acclaimed designer Chuck Jones as its first Chief Design and Research & Development Officer to make the company more agile and responsive to consumers through design. Jones’ reputation preceded him, having successfully built global design and development teams that boosted sales and won awards for innovation at companies including Whirlpool and Xerox. Here, Jones talks about how Newell Rubbermaid is creating a brand-and-innovation-led company that is famous for design and product performance.
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Less than a decade ago, a billboard was essentially a printed image blown up to a gargantuan size. The picture didn’t move, respond to what was happening in the environment around it, nor interact with passersby. How times have changed, and with it, the types of skills designers need to execute their ideas. Even printed pieces are not static anymore, what with the option of Augmented Reality movement and sound.
Stopp of Stockholm produced this subway billboard for a Swedish cosmetic line called Apolosophy by Apotek Hjärtat. Connecting ultra-sonic sensors to the billboard screen, Stopp made what appeared to be a “still photograph” of a young model come alive. Calibrated to react to arriving trains but not to passing passengers, the sensors made it look like the breeze from the passing trains were tousling the model’s hair. After the train went by, the model returned to her “still” repose. What a delightfully simple idea and brilliant use of technology.
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.
Over the past 30 years, we have seen many professions in the graphic arts replaced by technology. Sign painting is one. Sign painting was a trade that existed in every community to adorn storefronts, banners, billboards, street signs, and buildings. The really good signs were one-of-a-kind works of art, produced by a steady hand, discerning eye, and aesthetic sensibility. Hand-painted signs revealed the pride and skill of the craftsmen. Their execution took human judgment and an active collaboration of eye, mind and hand. On a subliminal level, viewers could feel the effort of the maker. Now signs are mostly computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering. Undoubtedly, this is faster, cheaper and more uniform in quality, but like so much of our urban landscape, it lacks the warmth, soul and touch of human hands. “Sign Painters” is a documentary film (and also a book) by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon that celebrates the vanishing art of sign painting. The film is currently being shown in select locations in the U.S. and other parts of the globe. If it comes to your area, do see it.