Archive for the design Category

The Brand Gap

A couple of months ago, a colleague asked me what branding was. I remember fumbling to find the right definition, and said something like, it’s the whole experience or impression you get when you recall the name of a company, organization or a person. It’s something that you can guide but it is ultimately outside your control, and in the hand of your customers.

In a serendipitous discovery, I found on Slideshare a beautiful presentation entitled The Brand Gap on clarifying what branding is, and the gap that exists between business strategy and design.

Personalization and Mobile Phones

Custom wood case for iPhone by Miniot

Custom wood case for iPhone by Miniot

Mobile phones and most personal electronics devices have been made for durability. My Samsung phone is finished in stainless steel, plastic and glass. It is black and shiny. My iPod Nano is aluminum.

My wallet is made of leather. When I first bought by wallet, it was stiff, and uncomfortable. But at some point in time, it yielded and started to conform to the curve of my posterior. Same thing happened to my watch strap, also made of leather. It is has morphed to the size of my wrist. Shoes, jackets, baseball caps.. I can name numerous examples.

In the flood of hyper-niched marketing world, I am still surprised that very little effort is made in the personal electronics space to take advantage of this property of personal artifacts: that it registers the physical interaction between the artifact and user. Guitar frets have show well-worn usage by its owner. Yet phones resist this natural aging process.

Most aspects of our environment can be better personalized than our electronics. We can choose wallpaper or paint color for our apartments, adorn it with our personality over time. Personalization to mobile users usually means changing the background or ringtone or those little dangley phone accessories that you see all over Korea and Japan. Nothing that registers gradually over time. Why not a mobile phone made with leather or wood. Why not a iPod where a friend can scratch their message into the surface instead of having it laser engraved.

Bamboo, the degradable phone (via core77)

Bamboo, the degradable phone (via core77)

The Chute Smartphone (via Yanko Design)

“The Chute Smartphone (via Yanko Design)

It was refreshing to see a couple of example recently. Here are two concept phone examples, The Chute Smartphone and Bamboo phone, and iWood handcrafted iPhone case by Miniot made from high quality wood (commercially available).

Yet another argument for the use of natural materials in personal electronics is environmental. Massive amounts of mobile phones are consumed each year. The rates of mobile phone penetration is close to saturation in the US, Korea and in most developed countries. It’s rare that we find any recycling of mobile phones. Most people just throw away their phones when it is broken or when they switch carriers. Here’s where the mobile telecom industry can learn from the automotive industry. There is a whole secondary industry build around reclaiming, reusing, and recycling used car parts on one front, on another front there are movements to make more efficient cars. Why are there so few examples of environmental friendliness in the mobile phone industry? I think this is a marketing opportunity that begs to be tapped for both the consumer’s and industry’s benefit.

My Top 10 Favorite TED Talks

TED conference

TED conference

I’ve been systematically going through the TED video podcasts ever since I got my iPod Nano in late October, 2007. I’ve finally achieved my goal of being up-to-date with the podcast, sitting through some 180 episodes.

TED for those who are unfamiliar, is handful of annual events, the heart of which is a conference hosted in Monterey, California. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and the events brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

The next TED conference is Feb 27 – March 1, 2008 and is completely sold out, except for a few tickets that show up on eBay for $33,000

Most of the presentation are amazing, but a couple really stand out for me. Here’s my personal top 10 list and my reasons why. They are listed in order of ones that have inspired me and I find myself recalling most often.

  1. Ken Robinson Humor aside (this is one of the funniest presentations), Ken Robinson makes a compelling case for creativity in education. He makes the point that current education has a strong bias towards the languages and math (which is good for training college professors) whereas in order to tackle the complexity of the problems facing us today and in the future, we’ll need to educate the next generation to be more creative than we’ve ever been.
  2. Evelyn Glennie is world-renowed, and incidentally, the first ever professional percussion soloist. She is also deaf. This provides her with a whole new perspective that most of us miss: Music as experience, and not just a series of notes to be played.
  3. Cameron Sinclair is one of the founders of Architecture for Humanity, which explores sustainable housing solutions for impoverished nations. It’s action-oriented mottos is “Design like you give a damn”. In his talk, he advocates an open-sourcing of design ideas where local solutions can be shared and refined globally, while being protected through a Creative Commons Developing Nations License.
  4. Malcolm Gladwell is just an amazing storyteller. He takes the example of the common pasta sauce to illustrate that often in marketing there is no platonic idea of perfection, but many points of perfection. “There is no perfect Pepsi; There are only perfect Pepsis.” Different people will be drawn to different ideas of perfection, though the may never admit it overtly. Hence the creation of the “Extra Chunky” pasta sauce. A perfect example of uncommon wisdom.
  5. Barry Schwartz is the author of “The Paradox of Choice” and explains that we often confuse freedom with limitless choices. More choice can often be paralyzing and leads to misery.
  6. Vilayanur Ramachandran‘s presentation show how parts of the brain are linked and function in a integrated manner, and how emotion plays an important part of how we process information.
  7. Hans Rosling analyzes global health data, but uses a tool to adds the dimension of time which illuminates trends and relationships that are harder to grasp as static charts. He takes what seems to be boring statistics and animates them not only through software but through his humorous commentary. He goes even a step further by swallowing a sword in his sequel presentation.
  8. Charles Leadbeater advocates an approach to design that takes it outside corpoarte walls and start harnassing and incorporating the power of passionate non-professionals and communities into the design process.
  9. Janine Benyus Biomimicry is something we all need to know more about. Period.
  10. Thomas Barnett outlines a post-Cold War solution for the foundering US military. Dead serious pill, dispensed with a healthy dose of humor.

There were also some close runners-up:

  • John Meada talks about, you guessed it, Simplicity
  • William Macdonough is working with cities in China to create sustainable urban planning solutions. He explains his philosophy of “cradle to cradle” design, which bridge the needs of ecology and economics.
  • Jimmy Wales is the founder and the philopher king of Wikipedia. He explains how Wikipedia is not an idealized democratic society where everyone contributes anything but one that has formed an aristocracy out of social necessity for maintaining quality of content.
  • Chris Bangle provides a rare inside look at how BMW designs its cars.
  • Stefan Sagmeister talks about what makes for happy design :-)
  • Jonathan Harris is the creator of the We Feel Fine project, the epitome of Web 2.0 atomization and regrouping of information.
  • Stephen Petranek talks about 10 way the world could end and what we can do about it. Amusing in a morbid kind of way.
  • Larry Lessig is the founder of Creative Commons and a board memeber of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He makes us think about digital rights in an age where lines are increasingly being blurred.
  • Vik Muniz How can you resist an artist that makes art from spaghetti on plate?

After all those podcasts, I’ve found that the teeny screen Nano isn’t really sufficient or satisfying, user experience-wise. The iPod Touch looks so much more appealing now.

Projecting Corporate Identity to Retail

iriver booth at CES 2008

iriver booth at CES 2008

I used to live in Fairfax Virginia, about 10 minutes away from Tyson’s Corner Mall. Tyson’s Corner was the mythical location of the first Apple Store which opened in the summer of 2001.

When I first visited the Apple Store in 2001, it was like setting foot inside a gallery: very quiet, uncrowded, with patrons admiring Job’s masterpieces, slowly moving from one item to the next. Just before I left for Korea, I had a chance to visit the NYC 5th Avenue store. It was a madhouse.

However despite the difference in atmosphere, what remained the same in both cases was the consistency of the user experience throughout the store conveyed through the layout, knowledgeable staff and careful choice of architectural materials that furnish each store.

Our experience of a store is first impacted by the materials our senses register. Think of a GAP store compared to a Urban Outfitters store. It’s not surprising that someone took the time to take apart all the materials and furnishing in an Apple store, in case you want to build yourself a shrine to Apple’s retailing success in your living room.

A project that I was peripherally involved in was the iriver booth for CES 2008. iriver, best known in the US for its un-iPod MP3 players and other digital devices, is one of only a handful of companies in Korea that maintains a strict control over its products and branding image, much in the same way that Apple does. VINYL the company I work for (along with 607)was responsible for designing and installing the iriver booth (link in Korean). The team took a lot of care to project a clean, sterile environment and even suggested that iriver hire knowledgeable local fans to man the booth. The booth ended up on the Top 25 Booths as selected by Tech-Em and Event Marketer magazine. The most successful part of the booth in my mind is the interactive projection. When a visitor stand in front of the projection, speech bubble pop up above their shadow and follow them around, showing whimsical graphics. The walls of the booth is actually a screen, so all this interaction can also be viewed from the exterior, drawing curious visitor to come inside.

(Photo credit: Vinyl VLab)

Adventures in the Seoul Metropolitan Subway

I take the Seoul Metropolitan Subway system to work everyday, compacted like sardines in a can. I was in no rush to get to work the other day and as I took my time through the system, I started to notice the signage around me. I found some interesting ones.

(My personal favorite) In case you find yourself in the possession of a shopping cart in the middle of the subway system, we won’t ask you how you managed to get it down the steps and through the turnstile, but you absolutely cannot take it with you on the moving walkway. You probably won’t know what floor you are on since it doesn’t really matter underground and we don’t tell you, but the restrooms, should you find yourself in need of one, are located somewhere between B4 and B3.
Just follow the blue line into the wall to transfer to the Blue Line. Make sure you fully decipher the meaning of these random signs before you get on the escalator. And btw, falling down the escalator is not permitted.
Please make sure your feet are in a good mood before attempting to negotiate these steps. This is where you call to “S.ave O.ur S.ubway”
These seats are reserved for the people who did not listen and fell down the escalator, or have back issues, or (we understand it happens sometimes) just had too much kimchi and rice for dinner. However these seat are reserved for those in wheelchairs, should they want to get out of their wheelchair and want to sit on these really comfy seats, or those who can magically balance a cane without any hands, or are hiding something under their dress, or are being attacked by tiny aliens.