The new MoMA architecture goes *POOF*

The architect, Yoshio Taniguchi, of the new addition to the Museum of Modern Art in New York said to the trustees at the beginning, “Raise a lot of money for me, I’ll give you good architecture. Raise even more money, I’ll make the architecture disappear.

John Updike adds,

And disappear, in a way, it has. The customary sensations that buildings give us—of secure enclosure, of masses of matter firmly supported—are diluted by a black gap, a mere quarter inch wide, that runs along the bottom and top of every interior wall, and even at the base of weight-bearing pillars, so that everything, subtly, floats. The gaps are useful for heat and air-conditioning, too, but their aesthetic accomplishment is to dematerialize the walls; the visitor moves through spaces demarcated as if by Japanese paper screens.

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Ketchup desire lines

Just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s article on ketchup, which Peterme and Christina liked so much. The article explores the connection between consumer research and our tastes. The best quote: “The mind knows not what the tongue wants.

Immediately afterwards I was grocery shopping (and bought some Gulden’s mustard, incidentally) and saw this:

Ketchup bottle with opening on the bottom

I wouldn’t be surprised if the upside-down ketchup bottle came out of similar ethnographic observation that resulted in the “EZ pour” child-friendly bottle. In this case it’s about adjusting the product to fit the way people actually use it, like desire lines. I just wonder if they had to educate stock clerks on which way to display the bottles.

Also, Nick writes in with a pointer to their bitchin’ label copy.

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Design is not art

…so says the Cooper-Hewitt, in their new exhibition “presenting virtually unknown designs from some of the most significant artists.” Why artists and not designers I’m not sure, but it looks like a good show. September 10 – February 27.

Link courtesy of MUG.

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Drive + Mouse

IOGEAR put 64MB of RAM into a mouse. Now that’s smart convergence: take two devices that already plug into the same port and that you have to carry around with your laptop, and combine them, taking advantage of all that hollow space inside the mouse.

There’s still a challenge to help customers form a mental model of it: “You see, it’s a mouse, but you can also save your files on it.” The name helps: “Memory Mouse”. You could go further and make something about the form factor resemble a drive (do people even have a concept of what a drive looks like?).

(And if you start to think too hard, it just gets too weird: “You use the mouse to control the cursor to drag and drop files onto a desktop-mounted drive, the effect of which copies files onto the drive that is inside the mouse…”)

It’s a similar problem with the similarly convergent AirPort Express with AirTunes (sans the elegant name). It took me about 15 minutes to understand what it does, and it only really clicked when I saw the “living room” diagram on page 24 of the Tech Overview (PDF). “You see, it’s a wireless base station like the AirPort, but it can also relay music from your computer into your stereo. Oh, and it’ll let you share your USB printer…” I understand what is inside the thing, but even that would’ve made me raise an eyebrow: “It’s a wireless router, audio digital to analog converter, and USB interface in a little device that plugs into your wall.”

As stuff gets smaller, we’re only going to get more devices like this, and we’ll need to work harder to help people understand them.

The School Bag

After reading about Cory’s Prague-style bag I started to drool with lust at a beautiful, earthy, practical bag at such prices. Alas, they were out of the one I wanted and weren’t sure when the Czechs would be sending more. By chance I was walking down Greenwich St. and passed Joseph Hanna’s store. It’s one of those very New York places I’m so happy to discover.

The slick website doesn’t accurately represent the shop, see the Services page for a pic of what is really looks like: part showroom, part shop where they make all the leather goods (and the prices are lower in the store). The owner, Joseph, greeted us on the sidewalk, ushered us in, rushed around showing us everything, and while his son made us complimentary keychains he told us the story of how he left everything he had in Syria as a young man to come to America where he learned his craft. I paid more than Cory did for his bag, but after Joseph made me promise I’d come back every three months for polish and to check the stitching I felt I’d found something better.

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Side Chair No. 14

I’m getting over my prejudice of chair-happy designers (why must every designer do a chair?). Niels Diffrient, designer of Humanscale’s Freedom and the new Liberty, describes the chair, in the new Metropolis, as ‘a psychological challenge: all architects and designers of note have chosen the chair as their ultimate note. it’s gotten to be hallowed ground.‘ We spend an enormous amount of time sitting, and so the chair has universal appeal.

A wonderful example of innovation-via-chair is Thonet’s No. 14 which was made with only six pieces of steam-bent wood, ten screws and two nuts. It addressed an exploding need for cafe-style side chairs and used highly available (in Europe) Beechwood. In 1859 it bridged the gap between craftwork and industrial production with a beautiful product.

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The cure for the common cold

I’m home today suffering the apex of a head cold and thinking, ‘This would be a great design challenge, curing the common cold.‘ I’m way out of my area here, but it’ll make me feel better to look at the problem.

In What causes the common cold? HowStuffWorks tells us, ‘There are many different viruses that can cause cold symptoms, but about half of the time a cold is caused by a class of viruses called rhinoviruses.‘ In their article on the immune system they say, ‘Many diseases cannot be cured by vaccines…. The common cold and Influenza are two good examples. These diseases either mutate so quickly or have so many different strains in the wild that it is impossible to inject all of them into your body.

The trick in battling the cold virus seems to be quickly detecting and vaccinating it. The mutating virus problem is a tricky one, and the plethora of strains makes having the right vaccination on hand difficult. But what if we went for an 80/20 solution, something that allowed us to detect and vaccinate just the more common strains, say just the rhinoviruses.

Let’s look at the patient’s experience. Here’s how my cold progressed:

  • Sunday I felt an annoying discomfort in my throat.
  • Monday I had a full-on sore throat
  • Tuesday brought a runny nose and sneezing, to the dismay of my co-workers.
  • Today, Wednesday, my head feels like it’s in a vise.

Now I’ll go into pure exploration mode. What if, on Sunday, I swab my nose with a special strip that performed a litmus test just for the rhinoviruses. If the test is positive, I go to the pharmacy and the pharmacist slips the strip into a machine that reads the strip, telling the pharmacist which vaccine to dispense.

Or, let’s say the vaccinations were still too varied for a pharmacist to have on hand. A positive test might enable medical associations to dictate specific recommendations to help your immune system fight the virus (zinc, rest, fluids, etc.). This litmus test plus the official recommendation could be recognized by employers, so one proactive day of rest would cure a cold instead of decreased productivity as the cold approaches plus a day off.

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Stanley Cup

Hockey player holding a giant silver cup over his head in victory

I’m not a hockey fan, but I must say this sport has far and away the best trophy of any major sport, a giant silver cup that can be proudly hoisted over the head. Look at that thing gleam.

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Y! Personals & Galleries

Yahoo! has this clever campaign for their personals that I couldn’t help but follow and explore (Not that I’m in the market ­ sorry to disappoint you :). What I saw was pretty amazing, a gallery-like view of many singles…

Very cool, because it’s just so browse-friendly. Visually scan for an attractive face, then click for a bit more info, and if he/she still holds potential then click ahead for all the juicy details. I might be shallow wanting to see what people look like first, but I would bet this is the ‘primary facet’ for many folks, especially in the privacy of their web browsers.

Unfortunately, this isn’t how Y! Personals actually works. The above is just a promotion screen. The actual search results are pretty conventional…

The problem also must balance the volume of results; while the gallery layout can squeeze in 50 results you need to consider the amount of results within the chosen geographical area. I’d probably try delivering the first 50 results closest in geography by default and let the user alter it further. I know in a dense area like New York there’s 92 results of women my age within 5 miles, which ends up being 10 results pages, pages you actually want to view, as opposed to your usually search results. I’d rather have 2 pages. Too many images per page over a modem? Nah, these are worth waiting for.

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Life Chair

I saved my pennies while sitting in one of these* so I could give myself a gift of back relief, a Life Chair. It costs as much as the Aeron and is at least as comfortable, if not more so. Rather than mounting a dark, mechanistic rig, the Life is visually lighter and seems to yield more comfort for being so. Knoll’s extensive line of fabrics can make customization a daunting task, not made easier by their lack of a thorough website. Luckily there’s a showroom nearby, as you pretty much have to go through a Knoll dealer to order it, with a process like ordering office furniture. In my case it was worth; I’ve got one happy bum.

* Note that the Internet includes a

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Design the Designless

OXO Good Grips are often cited as examples of insightful design. Having worked with someone who helped design them, it seems to me a case of someone actually designing, rather than just cobbling together the same old thing. OXO’s a great example to use when explaining the design process and its benefits because the improvement is so obvious. But the lack of any design thought in the previous product design is also obvious. I don’t mean to detract from the Good Grips design – it’s wonderful – but the traditional bent-metal thingies were practically designed to hurt the hand.

I’d like to think the impetus behind the design was much more sophisticated, that OXO also nailed the market and the timing, introducing better, more expensive kitchen tools just when the market was ready to spend on them, but apparently the origin was simply ergonomic; someone’s wife had arthritis.

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Amazon Gold Box

There’s a classic Seinfeld episode where Kramer’s new phone number is one digit from Movie Fone’s, so, surrendering to the misdialed calls, he imitates the automated voice. When he can’t interpret the key presses he improvises, ‘Why don’t you just tell me the name of the movie you want to see?” Which is kinda what interfaces should let us do.

We have a running joke at work: when a navigation design gets away from what the user wants someone says, ‘Why don’t you just tell me what you want to see?

It seems like Amazon took this same approach… ‘Hey Victor, why don’t you just tell me which products you want in your Gold Box?’

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I just taught a class to some designers visiting from Samsung Korea. As my first experience with an interpreter, I couldn’t help but laugh at the process a few times. Usually my sentence would result in a Korean sentence that was a little longer. But once in a while it was five times as long, and I had to wonder what the interpreter was really telling them. ‘This guy is saying such-and-such, but of course we know that’s wrong. Let’s just humor him.

I also realized that when someone is asking a question, even though he is speaking at the interpreter, he’s still talking to me and eye contact is still an important sign of respect (‘you listen with your eyes‘), even though we both acknowledge I don’t understand a word and instead I’m focusing on the interpreter.

But the more complicated social interaction didn’t distract me; the interpretation time actually allowed me additional moments in which to form my thoughts and pick clear, concise words.

Anyway, outside the classroom at Parsons were some student product design posters, including this great one about a desk that converts into a cot called Napple [pic1 | pic2 ]. It privides for both a hammack-like suspended fabric under the desk to lie on and a cover that folds down to give you privacy (inspired by Seinfeld?). The point is to allow for siestas at work instead of relying on less healthy caffiene uppers. It caught my eye because not too long ago I was having dinner with some folks discussing the secret little places we find at work to take naps.

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