Tag Archives: industrial design

The Invisible Design Behind the Apple Watch’s Many Faces | WIRED

ON FEBRUARY 10TH, 1982, in a room full of designers and engineers drinking champagne and eating cake, Steve Jobs called out the names of Apple’s Macintosh team. And one by one, beginning with motherboard engineer Burrell Smith, they signed their names to a large sheet of paper.

These 47 signatures—some in perfect script, others loopy and illegible, a few just hastily printed—would soon be inscribed on the inside of every Macintosh, etched into the hard plastic case. According to former engineer Andy Hertzfeld, whose signature is on that paper and whose business card during his time at Apple read “Software Wizard,” this was a natural course of events. “Since the Macintosh team were artists,” he wrote on his blog Folklore.org, “it was only appropriate that we sign our work.”

[…]

Yet what Dye seems most fascinated by is one of the Apple Watch’s faces, called Motion, which you can set to show a flower blooming. Each time you raise your wrist, you’ll see a different color, a different flower. This is not CGI. It’s photography.

“We shot all this stuff,” Dye says, “the butterflies and the jellyfish and the flowers for the motion face, it’s all in-camera. And so the flowers were shot blooming over time. I think the longest one took us 285 hours, and over 24,000 shots.”

[…]

He flips a few pages further into the making-of book, onto the first of several full-page spreads with gorgeous photos of jellyfish. There’s no obvious reason to have a jellyfish watch face. Dye just loves the way they look. “We thought that there was something beautiful about jellyfish, in this sort of space-y, alien, abstract sort of way,” he says. But they didn’t just visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium with an underwater camera. They built a tank in their studio, and shot a variety of species at 300 frames-per-second on incredibly high-end slow-motion Phantom cameras. Then they shrunk the resulting 4096 x 2304 images to fit the Watch’s screen, which is less than a tenth the size. Now, “when you look at the Motion face of the jellyfish, no reasonable person can see that level of detail,” Dye says. “And yet to us it’s really important to get those details right.”

The Watch’s faces are littered with such details. The Mickey Mouse face, which is an explicit update on the 1933 Mickey Mouse Watch from Ingersoll, was particularly complex. Select this face, and watch Mickey’s toe tap once per second, in perfect time. Line up a bunch of watches, Dye says, and they’ll all tap at exactly the same time. There’s no reason to point out that almost no one will ever fact-check this claim—he doesn’t care. He did it for the same reason Jony Ive has taken to personally designing the internals of the Mac. Details matter.

The Astronomy watch face is another of Dye’s favorites: it gives you a view of the Earth as if you were floating peacefully above it. Spin the Digital Crown and you see moon phases, the Earth’s rotation, and even the solar system. It’s a riff on the oldest method of telling the time just with digital stars and planets instead of those far-away real ones.

Dye points out the subtlety of this face. “When you tap on the Earth and fly over the moon: We worked really hard with our engineering team to make sure the path you take from your actual position on the Earth to where the moon is and seeing its phase, is true to the actual position of the Earth relative to the moon.”

Apple employees often use the word “inevitable” to describe their work. When Dye uses it, it’s self-deprecating, as if to say: ‘this was always the right answer, but it took us a while to figure that out.’ It’s true of even seemingly simple things, he says, like the concentric circles the Watch uses to display your fitness goals.

“I couldn’t tell you from a design perspective the number of iterations we did on those three rings.” The human interface team wanted to make it easy to see progress and activity for the day, but also to make you want to hit your goals. “We spent a year, and did far more studies… enough studies to kind of fill this wall, probably,” he says, gesturing to the giant glass walls of Apple’s Caffe Macs cafeteria. “Different ways that, at a glance, someone could understand that information, and easily assess where they’re at in their day, and hopefully in a really simple and visceral way feel like they accomplished something when they fill them up.” They arrived at three circles because there’s just something about a not-quite-complete circle that drives you just crazy enough to take those last 400 steps.

 

King of click: the story of the greatest keyboard ever made | The Verge

King of click: the story of the greatest keyboard ever made | The Verge.

Clicky Keyboards

The first thing you notice about the IBM Model M keyboard, when you finally get your hands on it, is its size. After years of tapping chiclet keys and glass screens on two- and three-pound devices, hefting five pounds of plastic and metal (including a thick steel plate) is slightly intimidating. The second thing is the sound – the solid click that’s turned a standard-issue beige peripheral into one of the computer world’s most prized and useful antiques.

Next year, the Model M turns 30. But to many people, it’s still the only keyboard worth using.

[…]

Looking at a Model M for the first time in years, what was most remarkable about the keyboard was just how unremarkable it looks. The Model M might be a relic of the past, but its DNA remains in almost every keyboard we use today.

[…]

The QWERTY keyboard layout was designed for typewriters in the late 19th century and quickly became universal. But by the time IBM released its first PC in 1981, layout was no longer a simple matter of spaces and capital letters — users now needed special keys to communicate with word processors, terminals, and “microcomputers.” In hindsight, keyboards from the ’70s and ’80s range from familiar to counterintuitive to utterly foreign: in the IBM PC’s original 83-key keyboard — known as the PC / XT — the all-important Shift and Return keys were undersized and pushed to the side, their labels replaced by enigmatic arrows. The entire thing looks like a mess of tiny buttons and inexplicable gaps. In August of 1984, IBM announced the far more palatable PC / AT keyboard. Compared to the previous model, “the AT keyboard is unassailable,” said PC Magazine. The AT couldn’t pass for a present-day keyboard: the function keys are arranged in two rows on the far left instead of along the top, Escape is nestled in the numeric keypad, and Ctrl and Caps Lock have been switched. Even so, it’s cleaner and far more comprehensible than its predecessor to modern eyes.

But IBM wanted something more than merely acceptable. In the early ’80s the company had assembled a 10-person task force to build a better keyboard, informed by experts and users. The design for the previous iteration was done “quickly, expeditiously — not the product of a lot of focus group activity,” says David Bradley, a member of the task force who also happens to be the creator of the now-universal Ctrl+Alt+Delete function. The new group brought in novice computer users to test a friendlier keyboard, making important controls bigger and duplicating commonly used keys like Ctrl and Alt so they could be reached by either hand. Many of the keys were detachable from their bases, letting users swap them around as needed. And the Model M was born.

Introduced in 1985 as part of the IBM 3161 terminal, the Model M was initially called the “IBM Enhanced Keyboard.” A PC-compatible version appeared the following spring, and it officially became standard with the IBM Personal System / 2 in 1987.

[…]

That layout of the Model M has been around so long that today it’s simply taken for granted. But the keyboard’s descendents have jettisoned one of the Model M’s most iconic features — “buckling springs,” a key system introduced in the PC / XT. Unlike mechanical switches that are depressed straight down like plungers, the Model M has springs under each key that contract, snap flat, or “buckle,” and then spring back into place when released. They demand attention in a way that the soft, silent rubber domes in most modern keyboards don’t. This isn’t always a good thing; Model M owners sometimes ruefully post stories of spouses and coworkers who can’t stand the incessant chatter. But fans say the springs’ resistance and their audible “click” make it clear when a keypress is registered, reducing errors. Maybe more importantly, typing on the Model M is a special, tangible experience. Much like on a typewriter, the sharp click gives every letter a physical presence.

[…]

“This is like oil. One day oil will run out. It’ll be a big crash,” says Ermita. For now, though, that crash seems far away. The oldest Model Ms have already lasted 30 years, and Ermita hopes they’ll make it for another 10 or 20 — long enough for at least one more generation to use a piece of computing history.

The Model M is an artifact from a time when high-end computing was still the province of industry, not pleasure. The computer that standardized it, the PS / 2, sold for a minimum of $2,295 (or nearly $5,000 today) and was far less powerful and versatile than any modern smartphone. In the decades since, computers have become exponentially more capable, and drastically cheaper. But in that shift, manufacturers have abandoned the concept of durability and longevity: in an environment where countless third-party companies are ready to sell customers specialty mice and keyboards at bargain basement prices, it’s hard to justify investing more than the bare minimum.

That disposability has made us keenly aware of what we’ve lost, and inspired a passion for hardware that can, well, take a licking and keep on clicking. As one Reddit user recently commented, “Those bastards are the ORIGINAL gaming keyboards. No matter how much you abuse it, you’ll die before it does.”

1981 IBM PC/XT

1984 IBM PC/AT

1985 IBM Model M

2014 Unicomp Ultra Classic

Tesla’s “insane” Model S car could eradicate taxis

Tesla’s “insane” Model S car could eradicate taxis.

tesla-model-s-autopilot-design-dezeen_7

Tesla’s newly launched Model SD electric car could be “summoned” by owners to pick them up autonomously using the car company’s new Autopilot function, potentially eliminating the need for taxi services.

By integrating a number of safety technologies, Tesla‘s Autopilot system could eventually enable its electric cars to drive and collect passengers without anyone at the wheel, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Drivers could command their cars to pick them up using their phones, or by pre-programming a calendar.

“You’ll be able to summon the car and it will come to wherever you are,” explained Musk. “It can even go a step beyond that… if you have your calendar turned on, it’ll meet you there”.

[…]

Under existing regulations, drivers will be able to use the Autopilot mode on private land for a number of functions including self-parking.

“When you get home, you’ll actually be able to just step out of the car and have it park itself in your garage,” said Musk.

The car will be able to steer itself to stay within a lane and change lanes as well as manage its own speed by “reading” road signs. According to Tesla, it will take “several months” for all Autopilot features to be completed and uploaded to the cars.

“Tesla’s Autopilot is a way to relieve drivers of the most boring and potentially dangerous aspects of road travel – but the driver is still responsible for, and ultimately in control of, the car,” explained a statement released by Tesla.

The vehicle’s safety features, which have enabled its Autopilot functionality, include a forward-looking radar system that can detect potential collision risks even in poor weather conditions.

[…]

A camera located at the front has been programmed to distinguish road features such as traffic lights and safety barriers, as well as pedestrians and cyclists.

Twelve sensors have also been positioned around the vehicle to form a “safety cocoon”, which detects hazards in blind spots.

The system can activate a digitally controlled electric braking system and give tactile feedback through the steering wheel, alerting the driver to perceived risks.

In addition to enhanced safety features and Autopilot, the Model SD has managed to match the acceleration performance of the iconic McLaren F1 sports car, reaching 60 miles per hour from a standstill in just 3.2 seconds.

The power is generated from two electric motors, which are located on the front and rear axels respectively. Each motor is digitally and independently controlling torque to the front and rear wheels, making minor adjustments to effectively translate its power to the road without loss of traction and wheel-spinning.

“We’re going to have an option in the settings whereby you’ll actually be able to choose from three settings,” explained Musk. “Normal, sport and insane.”

DEZEEN-Tesla_Wales_May2014_152-SMALL

What It’s like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class

What It’s like to Fly the $23,000 Singapore Airlines Suites Class.

The world’s best airline experience, from Singapore to New York.

In 2008, Singapore Airlines introduced their Suites Class, the most luxurious class of flying that is commercially available.

The Suites were exclusive to their flagship Airbus A380, and they go beyond flat beds by offering enclosed private cabins with sliding doors that cocoon you in your own little lap of luxury. The interior was designed by French luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste and comes along with a plush soft leather armchair hand-stitched by the Italian master craftsmen Poltrona Frau. Perhaps most well-known of all, Singapore Airlines became the first and only commercial airline with a double bed in the sky.

However, the experience came with a hefty price tag. With round-trip tickets costing up to S$23,000 (or US$18,400), it was completely unattainable for most people.

Formerly, the only way for an average person to fly in the Suites was to take out a bank loan. And then I remembered that most of my personal net worth exists in frequent flier miles rather than cash.

So in September 2014, after splurging an colossal amount of miles…

I was booked on Suites Class to New York!


This is my trip in photos.

I arrived at Singapore Changi Airport and proceeded to the Singapore Airlines counters for check-in.

As I joined the line for check-in, I was promptly greeted by a staff.

“Good evening sir, how may I help you?”

A sudden realization hit me and I went “OH NOPE SORRY” and briskly walked away, leaving the lady astonished.

I had almost forgotten that Changi had a luxurious check-in lounge specially for First Class and Suites passengers.

It looks like a hotel lobby, and there’s even a bellhop who carries your luggage.

Soon, I was in possession of The Golden Ticket.

Flying in the Suites also includes an invitation to The Private Room, which the staff was proud to say that it was “higher than first class”.

I arrived at the lounge and was approached by an attendant. “May I escort you to The Private Room?” she asked.

I followed her past what seemed to be 50-60 people in the Business Class lounge. She walked noticeably fast, seemingly afraid that I would be disgusted by the presence of the working class. Here I was transferred to another attendant who walked me through the First Class lounge, and then through a set of automatic sliding double doors before being transferred to yet another attendant.

Finally, after 10 miles of secret passageways and being escorted by 3000 people, I arrived at The Private Room.

Entering the confines of The Private Room, the staff greeted me by name. It’s like they all already knew me before even meeting me.

I wasn’t hungry but I’ve heard rave reviews about the dining room. So I sat down and ordered a glass of champagne and had the Chicken and Mutton Satay plate.

…and the Baked Boston Lobster with Gruyere, Emmenthal and Cheddar.

…and also the U.S. Prime Beef Burger with Foie Gras, Rocket Leaf and Fried Quail Egg. Oh, and a Mango Smoothie too.

Completely stuffed at this point, I realized it was time for boarding.

There was a dedicated jet bridge solely for Suites passengers. Standing at the end of the bridge was a flight attendant ready to greet me.

“Good evening Mr Low!”

I realized that they would address me by whatever title I chose in my Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer profile. I instantly regretted not going with President Low or Princess Derek.

I was escorted to my Suite.

I picked the middle suite, which can be merged with the adjacent suite to form a double bed.

“Would you like a glass of Dom Pérignon, sir?” And I replied the only acceptable response to such a question: Yes.

“Sir, would you like a copy of every newspaper we have onboard today?”

At this point, the crew members came out to personally introduce themselves to me. Among them was Zaf, who was the Chief Steward of the flight.

As it turns out, he’s also the guy in the airline’s safety video.

Zaf told me that there were only 3 passengers in the 12 Suites, and joked that I could have a bedroom, dining room and living room if I wanted.

And so I picked my dining room.

Dom Pérignon and Iced Milo in hand, it was time to take off.

I took this time to check out what was provided onboard the flight. Headphones from Bose, for example.

Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kit, which included a full-sized bottle of cologne.

Everything else was Givenchy: blankets, pillows, slippers and pajamas.

As soon as the plane reached cruising altitude, I was offered another drink.

Seeing that it was almost 1 AM and I was just beginning to indulge in the whole suite experience, I decided to order coffee to stay up.

I don’t know much about coffee, but I do know the Jamaican Blue Mountain costs a ton. A pound of the Blue Mountain beans sells for $120 at Philz Coffee.

So I ordered the Blue Mountain, and was complimented by Zaf. “You have very good taste in coffee, sir.”

Zaf returns with the coffee and tells me about their selection of gourmet coffee, and how the Blue Mountain was “by far the most outstanding”.

I unglamorously gulped down the entire cup at once, while pretending to appreciate the finely-balanced traits of the Blue Mountain.

I asked him to recommend me a tea, and he quickly brought out a cup of TWG’s Paris-Singapore tea.

And then he knelt down next to me as I sampled the tea. He told me about the high quality tea leaves. He told me about the hand-sewn cotton teabags. He told me about the fragant cherry blossoms and red fruits infused into the tea. Somewhere in between, he might have mentioned about the history of coffee trade and the East India Company, but I can’t be sure.

He says that he has been with the airline for 19 years. Within the past 2 or 3 years, he has served Leonardo DiCaprio and Morgan Freeman flying in Suites Class.

I figured since Zaf was so available to recommend me coffee and tea, I asked him, “can you recommend me a movie?”

He picked The Grand Budapest Hotel, a fantastic movie which I thoroughly enjoyed. Off his head, he could name me the actors and talk about how brilliant their performances were in the movie.

“That’s incredible!” I exclaimed. “Are you like a savant of the cinema?”

“I just happened to be someone who likes movies,” he said, modestly.

“I will call you here every time I need a movie recommendation in the future!”

“Uh… okay!” he said, as brightly as he could.

As I settled in, supper service began.

Having stuffed myself with three entrées back in the lounge, I wasn’t particularly hungry so I settled for a 5-course supper.

For appetizer I had the Malossol Caviar with Lobster-Fennel Salad. And after clearing the plate in three bites, I asked for a second plate.

On to my third appetizer, I had the Duck Foie Gras with Shaved Fennel-Orange Salad, Beetroot and Mizuna.

I picked the Fish Noodle Soup for main course.

And Vanilla Bavarois with Raspberry Coulis for dessert.

After supper, I decided to burn off the calories by walking around the plane. I asked the crew if they could give me a guided tour of the A380 and they willingly obliged.

We walked up the front stairs to Business Class, down the length of the upper deck, and back down a spiral staircase to Economy Class. Zaf said he’d love to take me to see the pilots’ cockpit, but the airline has stopped allowing that in recent years due to security concerns.

When I got back to the Suites, the lights were already turned down indicating it was time to sleep.

In the Suites, you don’t just lie on a seat that has gone flat. Instead, you step aside while the Singapore Airlines flight attendants transform your Suite into a bedroom, with a plush mattress on top of a full-sized bed. When the adjacent suite is empty, the dividing partition can be brought down to create a double bed.

Zaf and a stewardess went about making the bed.

I don’t even know how to express this in words.

I probably need a poet to describe how amazing this was.

I jumped into bed squealing like a little girl.

I spent the next hour lounging in all possible positions.

Some people might say this seems to be the loneliest flight ever. And to that, I say this:

And while you’re doing stupid things like that in the Suite, you can use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ button for privacy.

Through the entire flight, the attendants check on you almost every 3 minutes without being intrusive or annoying. They would just briskly walk past you with quick glance.

I paid a visit to the restroom to change into the pajamas provided.

It’s a restroom, what were you expecting?

There’s a seat that folds down that’s actually more comfortable than most Economy Class seats.

And henceforth, I slept. Well, not on the toilet of course.

When I woke up, I saw the clock and my heart sank. A little over 3 hours to Frankfurt. I’d slept for 6 hours, or $6,000 worth of the flight.

So to cheer myself up, I asked for a chocolate and was handsomely rewarded with two.

We landed at Frankfurt for a two hour layover, and the three of us in Suites Class were escorted to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge which had a spa and hot shower.

Getting back on the plane, a new crew was onboard for the flight to New York.

It was 8 in the morning and I decided to begin the day with a Singapore Sling.

For breakfast, I used Singapore Airlines’ Book the Cook service.

It allows you to pre-order a specific meal before the flight, which is then specially put onboard the flight for you.

I had the Lobster Thermidor with Buttered Asparagus, Slow-roasted Vine-ripened Tomato, and Saffron rice.

And dessert, which I can’t remember what it was.

When it was time to nap, I didn’t want to trouble the crew for a full double bed, so I opted for a single bed instead.

The partition between the two middle suites slides up to form a wall.

The single bed is plenty spacious on its own.

Waking up, I was immediately presented with the second meal I pre-ordered through Book the Cook.

U.S. Grilled Prime Beef Fillet designed by celebrity chef Alfred Portale.


As we finally landed at New York, a huge problem presented itself — I didn’t want to leave the plane.

I have to say, after being served Dom Pérignon in a double-suite bedroom at 36,000 feet, I’m not sure flying experiences get any better than this.

But eventually I got off the plane, because New York’s not too bad.


 

A Rare Look at Apple’s Design Genius Jony Ive — Vogue

A Rare Look at Apple’s Design Genius Jony Ive — Vogue.

Jonathan Ive

Ive has a calming presence, like the Apple campus itself, whose very address, Infinite Loop, lulls you into a sense of Zen-ness. In the courtyard, trays of beautiful food—grass-fed steaks and fresh-made curries and California-born hot sauces—lead Apple employees out toward the open-air seating, away from the white cafeteria that might be described as a luxurious spa for the terminally nerdy. White is the color of choice at Apple HQ as in the Apple product line. It is through this white, with its clarity, its dust-hiding lack of distraction, that you have already met Jonathan Ive.

[…]

he is passionate about things, as in things, literally. “So much of my background is about making, physically doing it myself,” he says. In other words, the secret weapon of the most sought-after personal-electronics company in the world is a very nice guy from Northeast London who has a soft spot for woodworking and the sense that designers ought to keep their design talents backstage where they can do the most good.

[…]

“I wish I could articulate this more effectively,” he continues, addressing his ambitions as a designer. “But it is to have that sense that you know there couldn’t possibly be a sane or rational alternative.”

[…]

It may be easier to sneak into a North Korean cabinet meeting than into the Apple design studio, the place where a small group of people have all the tools and materials and machinery necessary to develop things that are not yet things. Reportedly Ive’s wife, Heather Pegg, has never been—he doesn’t even tell her what he’s working on—and his twin sons, like all but a few Apple employees, are not allowed in either. Work is conducted behind tinted windows, serenaded by the team’s beloved techno music, a must for the boss. “I find that when I write I need things to be quiet, but when I design, I can’t bear it if it’s quiet,” he says. Indeed, the design team is said to have followed an unwritten rule to move away from their work whenever the famously brusque Jobs entered the studio and turn up the volume so as to make his criticisms less audible, less likely to throw them off course.

[…]

“if you tasted some food that you didn’t think tasted right, you would assume that the food was wrong. But for some reason, it’s part of the human condition that if we struggle to use something, we assume that the problem resides with us.”

[…]

His father, Michael Ive, is a silversmith, and his grandfather was an engineer. When Ive was a boy, his father worked with the British government to develop and set the standards for design education. When he made things with his son—a toboggan, say—he would demand that Jony sketch his design before commencing construction.

[…]

Five years later, a disenchanted Ive was about to leave when Jobs returned to reboot the then-floundering Apple, which happened, by most analyses, when Jobs enabled Ive. By Ive’s account, the two hit it off immediately. “It was literally the meeting showing him what we’d worked on,” Ive says, “and we just clicked.” Ive talks about feeling a little apart, like Jobs. “When you feel that the way you interpret the world is fairly idiosyncratic, you can feel somewhat ostracized and lonely”—big laugh here—“and I think that we both perceived the world in the same way.”

[…]

Design critics now look back at the birth of the Jobs-Ive partnership as the dawn of a golden age in product design, when manufacturers began to understand that consumers would pay more for craftsmanship. Together Jobs and Ive centered their work on the notion that computers did not have to look as if they belonged in a room at NASA. The candy-colored iMac—their first smash hit—felt to consumers like a charming friend, revolutionary but approachable, and appealed to both men and women.

[…]

Throughout, Ive has refined Apple’s design process, which, he argues, is almost abstract in its devotion to pure idea: Good design creates the market; ideas are king. And here’s the next irony that defines Ive’s career: In the clutter of contemporary culture, where hits and likes threaten to overtake content in value, the purity of an idea takes on increasing currency. “I think now more than ever it’s important to be clear, to be singular,” he says, “and to have a perspective, one you didn’t generate as the result of doing a lot of focus groups.” Developing concepts and creating prototypes leads to “fascinating conversations” with his team, says Ive. “It’s a process I’ve been practicing for decades, but I still have the same wonder.”

[…]

“My boys are ten, and I like spending time with them doing stuff that I did, which is drawing and making things—real things, not virtual things,” he says. Easygoing Ive morphs into Serious Ive on this point: He sees design schools failing their students by moving away from a foundation in traditional skills. “I think it’s important that we learn how to draw and to make something and to do it directly,” he says, “to understand the properties you’re working with by manipulating them and transforming them yourself.”

[…]

On a recent birthday, Tang received two finely crafted wooden boxes containing large, engraved, Ive-designed ashtrays—Tang loves cigars—constructed from the next-generation iPhone material. “It was like getting the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey,” Tang says. Ive likes nothing better than to come up with mischievously inventive ways to use the technology at his fingertips. When a presenter from Blue Peter—Britain’s longest-running children’s TV show, known for encouraging kids to craft utilitarian designs from household objects—came to present him with its highest honor, a gold Blue Peter badge depicting a ship in full sail, Ive was delighted. In repayment, he fired up a Mikron HSM 600U, a computer-controlled machine that can cut up a chunk of aluminum like an origami flower, and in a mere ten hours created a Blue Peter badge that looked a lot like a not-so-distant cousin of the MacBook Air.

[…]

“Shit we hate,” says Newson, includes American cars. “It’s as if a giant stuck his straw in the exhaust pipe and inflated them,” he adds, “when you look at the beautiful proportions in other cars that have been lost.”

[…]

The watch underscores the fact that Ive is first and foremost a masterly product designer; technology almost comes second. It’s a beautiful object, a device you might like even if you don’t like devices. “Everything we’ve been trying to do,” he says, “it’s that pursuit of the very pure and very simple.”

[…]

“You just press this button and it slides off, and that is just gorgeous,” he was saying. He encouraged you to pause. “But listen as it closes,” he said. “It makes this fantastic k-chit.” He was nearly whispering. And when he said the word fantastic, he said it softly and slowly—“fan-tas-tic!”—as if he never wanted it to end. Aside from all the ways the watch connects to your phone, Ive is very interested in how the watch can connect to another human. “You know how very often technology tends to inhibit rather than enable more nuanced, subtle communication?” he asks. This is the question that haunts the son of a craftsman: Is he making tools that improve the world or shut people down? “We spent a lot of time working on this special mechanism inside, combined with the built-in speaker” —he demonstrates on his wrist. You can select a chosen person, also wearing the watch, and transmit your pulse to them. “You feel this very gentle tap,” he says, “and you can feel my heartbeat. This is a very big deal, I think. It’s being able to communicate in a very gentle way.”

TBD Catalog – the story

TBD Catalog – the story.

How might the promise of what at the time was called an “internet of things” play out in the near future? What would the future look like in a world blanketed by advances in protection and surveillance technologies? If Autonomous Vehicle innovations continued its passionate race forward, what would it be to pick up the groceries, take a commercial airline flight, commute to work, have mail and parcels delivered, drop off the dry cleaning, meet friends at a bar across town, go on cross-country family vacations, or take the kids to sports practice or school? Would food sciences offer us new forms of ingestible energy such as coconut-based and other high-caloric energy sources, or caloric burners that would help us avoid exercise-based diets? In what ways would live, streaming, recorded and crowd-authored music and filmed entertainment evolve? How might advances in portable spring power hold up against traditional chemical battery power? How would emerging forms of family and kinship be reflected in social networks? How will Chinese migration to Africa shape that continent’s entry into the world of manufacturing, and how would that inevitability shape distribution and production economies? What is to become of open-source education and the over-supply of capable yet unemployed engineers? Would personal privacy and data hiding protocols be developed to help protect our families and businesses from profile pirates and data heists? What happens to our sense of social relations as today’s algorithmic analytic interpersonal relationship matchers get too good and algorithms effectively pre-pubscently “couple us off” before we have a chance to experience the peculiarities of dating life? Will crytocurrency disrupt today’s national currencies? What will become of coffee and plant-based protein products?

[…]

Ultimately though, our task was to decant even the most preposterous idea through a series of design procedures that would make it as normal, ordinary, and everyday blasé as, for one retrospective example, the billions of 140-character messages sent into the ether each day – a form of personal individual communication that must have, at its inception, seemed to most of the world to be the most ridiculous idea ever. The point being that the most extraordinary preposterous social rituals have often made their ways into our lives to become normal and even taken for granted.

A report (or catalog, such as TBD) offers a way to normalize those extraordinary ideas and represent them as entirely ordinary. We imagined it to be a catalog of some sort, as might appear in a street vending box in any neighborhood, or in a pile next to the neighborhood real estate guides or advertising-based classified newspapers near the entrance to your local convenience store.

[…]

Rather than the staid, old-fashioned, bland, unadventurous “strategy consultant’s” report or “futurist’s” white paper (or, even worse – bullet-pointed PowerPoint conclusion to a project), we wanted to present the results of our workshop in a form that had the potential to feel as immersive as an engaging, well-told story. We wanted our insights to exists as if they were an object or an experience that might be found in the world we were describing for our client. We wanted our client to receive our insights with the shift in perspective that comes when one is able to suspend their disbelief as to what is possible.

[…]

During our workshop, we used a little known design-engineering concept generation and development protocol called Design Fiction. Through a series of rigorous design procedures, selection protocols, and proprietary generative work kits, Design Fiction creates diegetic and engineered prototypes that suspend disbelief in their possibility. Design Fiction is a way of moving an idea into existence through the use of design tools and fictional contexts that results in a suspension of one’s disbelief, which then allows one to overcome one’s skeptical nature and see possibility where there was once only skepticism or doubt.

There were a variety of tools and instruments we could put in service to construct these normal ordinary everyday things. For example, several canonical graphs used to represent trajectories of ideas towards their materialization would come in handy. These are simple and familiar graphs. Their representations embody specific epistemological systems of belief about how ideas, technologies, markets, societies evolve. These are typically positivist up-and-to-the-right tendencies. With graphs such as these, one can place an idea in the present and trace it towards its evolved near future form to see where its promise might end up.

We also had the Design Fiction Product Design Work Kit, a work kit useful for parceling ideas into their atomic elements, re-arranging them into something that, for the present, would be quite extra-ordinary. But, in the near future everyday, would be quite ordinary.

[…]

No. Not prediction. Rather we were providing thought provocations. We were creating a catalog of things to think with and think about. We were creating a catalog full of creative inspiration for one possible near future – a near future that would be an extrapolation from todays state of things. Our objective was to create a context in which possible-probables as well as unexpected-unlikelies were all made comprehensible. Were one to do a subsequent catalog as a reflection on another year, it would almost certainly be concerned with very different topics and, as such, materialize in a rather different set of products.

[…]

There were no touch-interaction fetish things like e-paper magazines, no iPhones with bigger screens, no Space Marine Exo-Skeletons, no time-traveling devices, not as many computational screen devices in bathroom medicine cabinets as one may have hoped or feared. There was no over-emphasis on reality goggles, no naive wrist-based ‘wearables’, a bare minimum of 3D printer accessories. Where those naive futures appeared we debased them – we represented them with as much reverence as one might a cheap mass-produced lager, an off-brand laundry soap, or an electric toothbrush replacement head. We focused on the practicalities of the ordinary and everyday and, where we felt necessary, commoditized, bargainized, three-for-a-dollarized and normalized.

What was most interesting is that the deliverable – a catalog of the near future’s normal ordinary everyday – led us in a curious way to a state that felt rather like the ontological present. I mean, the products and services and “ways of being” were extrapolated, but people still worried about finding a playmate for their kid and getting out of debt. As prevalent as ever were the shady promises of a better, fitter, sexier body and new tinctures to prevent the resilient common cold. People in our near future were looking for ways to avoid boredom, to be told a story, find the sport scores or place a bet, get from here to there, avoid unpleasantries, protect their loved ones and buy a pair of trousers. Tomorrow ended up very much the same as today, only the 19 of us were less “there” than the generations destined to inherit the world designed by the TBD Catalog. Those inheritors, the cast of characters we imagined browsing and purchasing from this catalog in the near future, seemed to take things in stride when it came to biomonitoring toilets, surveillance mitigation services, luxurious ice cubes, the need for data mangling, living a parametric-algorithmic lifestyle, goofy laser pointer toys, data sanctuaries, and the inevitable boredom of commuting to work (even with “self-drivers” or other forms of AV’s.)

[…]

The near future comes pre-built with the expectation that, being the future, it must be quite different from the vantage point of the present. This is an assumption we were trying to alter for a moment – the assumption that the future is either better or worse than the present. Quite less often is the future represented as the same as now only with a slightly different cast of characters. Were we to take this approach, which we did, it would be required that the cast of characters from the future would be no more nor less awestruck by their present than we are today awestruck by the fact that we have on-demand satellite maps in our palms, that the vapor trail above us is a craft with hundreds of souls whipping through the stratosphere at breakneck speeds, and that when we sit down at a restaurant fresh water (with ice) is offered in several varieties from countries far away, with or without bubbles.

[…]

It was important that the concepts be carefully represented as normal, rather than spectacular. Were things to have a tinge of unexpected social or technical complexity as suggested, for example, by regulatory warnings, a hint of their possible mishaps, an indication that it may induce a coronary or require a signed waiver — all the better as these are indications of something in the normal ordinary everyday.

[…]

the near future may probably be quite like the present, only with a new cast of social actors and algorithms who will, like today, suffer under the banal, colorful, oftentimes infuriating characteristic of any socialized instrument and its services. I am referring to the bureaucracies that are introduced, the jargon, the new kinds of job titles, the mishaps, the hopes, the error messages, the dashed dreams, the family arguments, the accidental data leak embarrassments, the evolved social norms, the humiliated politicians, the revised expectations of manner and decorum, the inevitable reactionary designed things that reverse current norms, the battalions of accessories. Etcetera.

Also, concepts often started as abstract speculations requiring deciphering and explication. These would need to be designed properly as products or services that felt as though they were well-lived in the world. Predictive design and speculative design lives well in these zones of abstraction. To move a concept from speculative to design fictional requires work. To materialize an idea requires that one push it forward through the gauntlet any design concept must endure to become the product of the mass-manufacturers process of thing-making. To make an idea become a cataloged, consumable product in the world requires that it be manufacturable, desirable and profitable. Each of these dimensions in turn require that, for example, the thing be imagined to have endured regulatory approvals, be protected as much as possible from intellectual property theft, be manufactured somewhere, suffer the inevitable tension between business drivers, marketing objectives, sales goals and design dreams while also withstanding transcontinental shipping, piracy of all kinds, the CEO’s wives color-choice whims (perhaps multiple CEOs over the course of a single product’s development) and have a price that is as cheap as necessary in many cases but perhaps reassuringly expensive in others. Things need to be imagined for their potential defects, their inevitable flaws and world-damaging properties. A product feels real if it has problems it mitigates as well as new, unexpected problems it introduces. Things need names that are considered for certain categories of product, and naive or imbecilic for others. Things need to be imagined in the hand, in use in “real world” contexts – in the home, office, data center, one’s AV, amongst children or co-workers. They should be forced to live in their springtime with fanfare, and their arthritic decline on the tangled, cracked and chipped 3/99¢ bin. To do this requires that they live, not just as flat perfect things for board room PowerPoint and advertisements, but as mangled things co-existing with all of the dynamic tensions and forces in the world.

[…]

Ultimately, things are an embodiment of our own lived existence — our desires and aspirations; our vanities and conceits; our servility and humility. A Design Fiction catalog of things becomes an epistemic reflection of the times. One might read such a catalog as one might read a statement titled “The Year In Review” – a meditation on the highlights of a year recently concluded. This would not be prediction. It would be a narrative device, a form of storytelling that transcends naive fiction to become an object extracted from a near future world and brought back to us to consider, argue over and discuss. And, possibly, do again as an alternative to the old journalistic “The Year In Review” trope. Is there a better name or form for the thing that looks forward with modesty from today and captures what is seen there? What do we call the thing that stretches into the near future the nascent, barely embryonic hopes, speculations, hypotheses, forces, political tendencies – even the predictions from those still into such things? Is it Design Fiction? An evolved genre that splices together naive fiction, science-fiction, image-and-graphic mood boards and the now ridiculously useless ‘futurist’ predictions and reports? Something in between crowd-funding as a way to prototype a DIY idea and multiform, transmedia shenanigans?

[…]

We started receiving inquiries from individuals around the world who wanted to order items and provide crowd-funding style financial backing for product concepts. Some entities demanded licensing fees because a product the “catalog” purported to “sell” was something they had already developed and were selling themselves or, in some cases, they had even patented and so were notifying us that they would pursue legal remedies to address our malfeasance.

We found that products and entire service ecosystems we implied through advertisements actually existed in an obscure corner of the business world. Of course, there were items in the catalog that we knew existed already. In those cases, our task was not to re-predict them, but to continue them along their trajectory using one or a combination of our graphs of the future (see following pages). In these cases, it can be expected that an unwitting reader of TBD Catalog would naturally make contact with us to find out why they had not be made aware of the new version of the product, how could they get a discounted upgrade, or how they could download the firmware update for which they simply had not already been aware.

[…]

One could write quite didactically about innovation of such-and-so, or make a prediction of some sort or commission a trend analysts report or a clever name-brand futurists’ speculation. Or, one could start with the names of some things and fill out their descriptions at their “consumer face” and let the things themselves come to life, define the sensibilities of those humans (or algorithms?) that might use them. How would those things be sold – what materials? what cost? what consumer segment? Three-for-one? Party colors? Or one could do a very modern form of combined prototyping-funding such as the ‘Kickstarter model’ of presenting an idea before it is much more than a collection of pretty visual aids and then see what people might pay for an imaginary thing. Design Fiction is the modern form of imagining, innovating and making when we live in a world where the future may already have been here before.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come – Metropolis Magazine – June 2013

An Idea Whose Time Has Come – Metropolis Magazine – June 2013.

Billy Wilder’s The Apartment

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Living Office concept by Herman Miller

In Billy Wilder’s 1960 comedy The Apartment, an anatomization of sex and power in the white-collar workplace that anticipated Mad Men by half a century, the great director offered a brutally funny, spot-on portrait of the postwar office, depicting the fictitious Consolidated Life of New York as a cornfield-size, perfectly rectilinear grid of anonymous, identical desks. How long ago and far away that seems. Though in places the old model still prevails, today’s ideal office paradigm could not be more different: fluid rather than fixed, less hierarchical and more egalitarian, and encouraging (mostly) of individuality, creativity, and choice.

A new story requires a new stage, and into this brave new world comes Herman Miller’s Living Office, the initial components of which the Zeeland, Michigan, furniture company is introducing at this year’s edition of NeoCon. The first wave of an anticipated two-year rollout, the Living Office’s first three product portfolios—called PUBLIC Office Landscape, Metaform Portfolio, and Locale, and designed, respectively, by fuseproject, Studio 7.5, and Industrial Facility—represent the company’s carefully considered response, not only to the ways in which a changed business culture has transformed workplace design, but to where our personal aspirations may be headed, and how the office can support them.

It’s a resolutely forward-looking vision. Yet this emphasis on what the company calls “human-centered problem-solving” has been the hallmark of Herman Miller since 1930, when Gilbert Rohde, its first design director, famously declared, “The most important thing in the room is not the furniture—it’s the people.”

In fact, the past is prologue to the Living Office in a central way—specifically, a slender, significant book, published in 1968, called The Office: A Facility Based on Change, by Robert Propst, at the time the company’s head of research. Under George Nelson, the second design director, Herman Miller had produced many of postwar America’s most iconic objects, by the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, Isamu Noguchi, and others, including Nelson himself. But by the late 1950s, the residential and commercial businesses had plateaued, and the company’s out-of-the-box-thinking president D.J. DePree began casting about for untapped revenue streams. DePree discovered Propst at the 1958 Aspen Design Conference, and was immediately taken with the artist/teacher/inventor. “Propst was truly brilliant, an innovative thinker,” explains Mark Schurman, Herman Miller’s corporate communications director. “D.J. figured, ‘We’ll set him up with a research division, and he’ll find new opportunities.’ One of his first directives was, ‘Anything but furniture.’”

Despite the company’s mandate, Propst became increasingly absorbed by the idea of reinventing the office, an interest that dovetailed with Nelson’s, who as early as 1948 had talked about the ideal working environment being a “daytime living room” that would be welcoming and humane. Propst, too, concerned himself with the human factor—specifically how flexible floor plans and porous, intercommunicating spaces might empower both the individual and the organization.

[…]

Action Office II’s 12 “principles of operation,” encouraged a workplace in which “the individual can participate in goal setting and thus behave like a manager at any level.” Propst’s environment remained “responsive to the goals of the user,” changed gracefully and with minimal disruption, and enabled rapid replanning. It also thrived on contrast: between neatness and chaos, sitting and standing, solitude and collaboration, privacy and community, and, critically, “geometry versus humanism”—that is, a traditional, grid-based floor plan versus a more organic layout.

[…]

Alas—and despite Propst’s injunction against the “four-sided enclosure”—by the late 1970s, the dominant application of the Action Office (and its multiple imitations) had become that most despised of office conditions: the cubicle. Propst, who died in 2000, had sought to liberate humankind from the grid, but his invention wound up locking the worker even more tightly into it.

Yet good ideas die hard, and the Living Office—which expresses Propst’s vision in a new-century way—suggests that, 45 years on, it’s an idea whose time has come. For one, when the Action Office appeared, the world depicted in Wilder’s film had its roots in the blue-collar assembly line, an essentially Victorian model. “There was a small group of people who made decisions, and a whole lot of people lined up executing,” says Greg Parsons, Herman Miller’s vice president of New Work Landscape. Today, Parsons points out, “the office is a facility based on creativity, and we need an organizational structure that reflects that.” As well, the anchoring effects of technology, which worsened in the 1980s and 1990s as ever more devices appeared, have been swept away in our wireless world. Both philosophically and physically, the office is far more flexibility-friendly than it was a half-century ago.

No less important is what might be called the Marissa Mayer Effect. Though the Yahoo! CEO’s ban on work-from-home may have been poorly handled, according to Gary Smith, director of design facilitation and exploration at Herman Miller, her point was powerful. “We’re talking about a shift of emphasis, away from housing and technology, capabilities that could exist only in the office,” Smith explains. “Now there’s a different thing that can exist only in the office, and that’s my access to you. I want to tap your potential, because what humans do best is connect and communicate”—something the Living Office is meant to encourage, by creating a multiplicity of differently scaled settings and making the connections between them more logical, adjustable, and fluid.

In keeping with its people-first philosophy, the company focused its predesign research on gathering insight, not information. “Research will expose the manifest behavior of a population, but it won’t reveal innovation,” observes Smith. Instead, Parsons says, “We asked, ‘What’s going on in the world? What’s fundamental about all human beings, and what do they really want to do?’” Toward this end, Herman Miller engaged in a process that Maryln Walton, of the insight and exploration group, describes as “informed dreaming.” Since 2001, the company has completed three rounds of scenarios, in which it looks five years ahead at potential futures; these enable the company to think about how the world might change, and adjust its product development and business strategies accordingly. The brainstorming process begins with a dozen people from different parts of the organization, followed by a two-day “expert workshop” with six individuals representing multiple disciplines—the most recent, which looked ahead to 2018, included two cultural anthropologists, a specialist in Asian HR policies, and a political science professor—to challenge the in-house assumptions.

The team then takes what it’s learned and imagines (and reimagines) the future until it arrives at three possible scenarios. For 2018, these include Datasphere, which looks at how the digital information generated by individuals worldwide can be innovatively repurposed; New Normal, a consideration of potential push-back against organizations, institutions, and governments; and Polarized World, in which the U.S. and China emerge as the two great economic powers. “We ran workshops with groups of people thinking about each scenario,” Walton says. “Then we spent a lot of time synthesizing the results, and developed what we believe are likely workplace realities in 2018.”

These realities— called propositions—are the gold nuggets sieved from the sand of the scenarios. “We don’t think any one of the three stories will come true,” says Walton. “But the eight propositions are things that we really believe.”

[…]

PUBLIC Office Landscape
Yves Behar & fuseproject

We found this statistic: 70 percent of collaboration happens at the workstation. This hit me like lightning, and I wrote on the project wall: “THE MAJORITY OF COLLABORATION HAPPENS AT THE DESK, YET DESKS HAVE NEVER BEEN DESIGNED FOR INTERACTION.” Our approach became to think of every place in the office, including one’s individual desk, as a place for collaboration. We came up with the notion of Social Desking.

[…]

We believe collaboration doesn’t just happen in conference rooms—it happens everywhere. PUBLIC Office Landscape supports fluid interactions and spontaneous conversations. The seating elements flow into desk surfaces, the fabric elements flow cleanly into hard surfaces. The result is a visual connection that encourages new functionality and casual postures.

[…]

“We’re trying to create Living Office products that function in group and community as well as individual zones,” Katie Lane, Herman Miller’s director of product development, tells me as we tour the cheerfully cluttered, bustling obeya space, the company’s fancy name (obeya is Japanese for “big room”) for the R&D skunkworks in its Design Yard, one of several facilities scattered around Zeeland. PUBLIC Office Landscape, the first system Lane showed me, supports areas in which two to six people typically cluster, and is designed specifically “for knowledge transfer and cocreation to occur,” she says. The heart of PUBLIC is the Social Chair, which supports the casual nature of the contemporary workplace by elevating the ergonomic levels of what looks at a glance like hip lawn furniture. Equally suited to perching, slouching, or sitting on the arm rests, the Social Chair, which can be easily pulled up to a desk or arranged in clusters, invites the quick chat or collaborative bull session, and supports what fuseproject principal Yves Behar (noting that “70 percent of short meetings happen at a person’s desk”) calls “collaborative density.” PUBLIC Office Landscape also speaks to one of the most compelling of the 2018 propositions: Swarm-Focused Work, in which—like bees—groups of individuals quickly zoom together to one spot to accomplish tasks.

Metaform Portfolio
Studio 7.5

Our approach was based on our observations in American offices: We saw a shift from individual to collaborative work patterns, we saw the walls being lowered to 42 inches to introduce natural light to the floor plan. We observed a huge amount of content and the transactions associated with work moved to the digital realm, leaving drawers and cabinets empty. We were looking for an environment to support the creative class.

[…]

Metaform Portfolio addresses a proposition called Hackable and Kinetic Nodes, a vision of the workplace as a campsite that can be arranged opportunistically and moved when necessary. The design challenge, according to Studio 7.5’s Carola Zwick, involved achieving “an architectural quality that can still be transformed by the inhabitants, since traditional planning cycles miss the needs and dynamics of today’s knowledge workers.” Accordingly, Metaform’s core element is a tiered block of polypropylene, weighing about 18 pounds, which can be combined with identical units to create a semi-enclosed space. The arrangement Lane shows me is formed into a half-circle, with squiggly shelves called Centipedes cantilevered off the tiers, and magazines and work displays tucked into the narrow spaces between them. An adjustable-height table, large enough for small-group collaboration, bisects the half-circle. Vertical versions of the shelving—called Vertipedes—are connected to the top tier and provide light visual screening.

Locale
Industrial Facility

In our office, we all travel from our own neighborhoods to a place where we can collaborate in person, so we thought: Why not design an office landscape that behaves like a good neighborhood? In our first thoughts we talked a lot about how social networks behave. Locale is a physical version of how social networks function; the most relevant participants are kept close so that communication is easy, fast, and frequent.

Locale works like a small high street where everything you need is clustered together. The architect or specifier can build small clusters out of different functional modules to form what we call a Workbase, so that the disparate functions of the office reside comfortably together. The library, social setting, working desk, and meeting table are al formed into an architectonic line.

In Sam Hecht and Kim Colin’s Locale, “individual work areas mix with group and collaborative elements to give a high-performance team everything it needs within a neighborhood on the floorplate,” Lane explains, leading me into a zone shaped by standing-height screens, storage/shelving units incorporating sliding easels, and with a low circular coffee table, stand-alone refreshment center, and a row of curved adjustable-height desks. Locale grew out of what Hecht calls an “autobiographical approach” to design, wherein he and Colin thought about how unnatural it felt to have an impromptu get-together in their own office. “You’re sitting, they’re standing, it’s not very productive,” he explains. “We wanted to create a system in which people would collaborate very naturally—every table can be a meeting table.”

[…]

Greg Parsons recalls, “We came up with ten modes of work that are repeated in virtually every organization”—including “administer,” “contemplate,” “create,” “quick chat,” “converse,” “warm up/cool down,” and “gather and build”—“and tied them to the kinds of settings we can create,” he says.

Once an organization’s programmatic needs are understood, and what the mix of work modes might be, Gee’s group develops study plans that suggest how an office’s square footage can be best apportioned. The ones she showed me resemble urban site plans, which seems appropriate: A well-functioning business environment, after all, is akin to a neighborhood, different parts of which cater to varying needs and interactions. “Our team uses a lot of urban planning metaphors when we talk about this,” Gee says. “Because getting the settings right is just part of the equation. That would be like getting one building right in a whole city.”

The Cubicle You Call Hell Was Designed to Set You Free | Design | WIRED

The Cubicle You Call Hell Was Designed to Set You Free | Design | WIRED.

Action Office I promotional image

Action Office II

In 1964, the iconic furniture design company Herman Miller unveiled an office plan unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Called Action Office, it was the brainchild of Robert Propst, who was among the first designers to argue that office work was mental work and that mental effort was tied to environmental enhancement of one’s physical capabilities. Rather than a furniture item or a collection of them, Action Office was a proposition for an altogether new kind of space.

Most office designs at the time were about keeping people in place; Action Office was about movement. Advertisements for the system show workers in constant motion; indeed, the human figures in the images often appear blurred, as if the photographer were unable to capture their lightning speed.

[…]

The items Nelson had designed for Action Office were beautiful, at once homey and utterly modern, nostalgic and forward thinking. His desk surfaces rested on cantilevered die-cast aluminum legs; for the standing desk, a chrome brace doubled as a footrest. A “communications center” with a telephone was acoustically insulated.

There were many idiosyncratic touches. Because Propst had convinced himself that work out of sight was work out of mind, there were no large desk drawers. Instead, there was a movable display surface, from which items could be retrieved and replaced at ease. A standing rolltop desk not only kept workers on their feet but also allowed them to leave work out overnight, securely closed.

Above all, it was colorful: green, bright blue, navy blue, black, and yellow. Like bright magazine advertisements, or the Pop Art of Warhol and Lichtenstein, Action Office proclaimed its allegiance to the new spirit of the age: rich, advanced, potentially liberating.
In this sense, the Action Office that Propst had conceived and Nelson designed might have been the first truly modern idea to enter the office—that is, the first in which the aesthetics of design and progressive ideas about human needs were truly united.

[…]

Despite the rapturous reviews, Action Office didn’t sell. Office managers complained that the entire system was too expensive, because the furniture was made of such quality material. And the space that Action Office created was too vaguely defined, its borders too porous.

The product won a few awards within the industry but otherwise saw little actual adoption in the workplace.

[…]

Propst had run up against a classic problem of design. Office planners and architects tend to imagine that the setup of their own offices should be the way that everyone should work. They pretend that their own subjective methods are objective empirical results.

The failure of the first Action Office on the market might finally have been due to another factor: the cynicism of executives. They had the final say on how their offices looked, since they controlled the bottom line, and the last thing they were going to drop a ton of money on was a set of fancy chairs and desks for their junior and middle managers, let alone the steno pool. And office space was growing at too fast a volume for anyone to be concerned about niceties. Something faster was needed, something more easily reproducible.

[…]

The concept that Propst came to reiterate again and again was that office design needed to be “forgiving.” That is, overly designed and stylized spaces were “unforgiving,” barriers against change, and change was coming into the office one way or another.

Computers were automating more and more processes, allowing office workers to reduce routine tasks to focus more on “tasks of judgment.” What an office design had to do was anticipate these changes as best as it could, through modularity and flexibility. It had to be adaptable, movable. This meant that “design” itself had to be tossed out: anything that made his concept more expensive and less “forgiving” to user needs was against the concept.

[…]

The predilection for beauty of the object was an obstacle in Propst’s eyes; it detracted from the beauty of the office worker’s motion in space.

By the end of 1967, Propst had made significant improvements. The space was smaller; the interlocking walls were mobile, lighter, and made of disposable materials; storage space was raised off the ground.

Action Office II was Propst’s attempt to give form to the office worker’s desire. A “workstation” for the “human performer,” it consisted of three walls, obtusely angled and movable, which an office worker could arrange to create whatever workspace he or she wanted.

The usual desk was accompanied by shelves of varied heights and variable placement, which required constant vertical movement on the part of the worker. Tackboards and pushpin walls allowed for individuation. Intentionally depersonalized, the new Action Office would be a template for any individual to create his or her own ideal work space.

[…]

Steelcase’s 9000 series and Knoll’s Zapf System soon followed.

But the copycat Action Offices were starting to have strange, unforeseen effects on other workplaces. Rather than making them more flexible, they in fact appeared to be making them more regimented.

Douglas Ball, a designer for the rival furniture company Haworth, came up with one of the many knockoff designs for the Canadian company Sunar. Initially excited, he emerged from the completed space utterly depressed. “I went to see the first installation of the Sunar system, a huge government project. The panels were all seventy inches tall, so unless you were six-foot-three you couldn’t look over the top. It was awful—one of the worst installations I’d ever seen,” Ball said. “We thought it was extremely flexible in the plan view, but we had never considered the vertical elevation.”

And it was too late to fix the problem. He had trapped people in giant fabric-wrapped walls, when he had meant, like Propst, to free them.

It turned out that companies had no interest in creating autonomous environments for their “human performers.” Instead, they wanted to stuff as many people in as small a space for as cheaply as possible as quickly as possible.
By 1978, Propst was composing memos on repositioning his design, panicked over the obsession with “easily defined and accountable cost savings.” “Meanwhile, other matters of more profound influence on the real productivity of organizations have slipped into the background,” he worried.

Action Office had been meant for flexibility; instead, a new rigidity set in—though it was wrapped disingenuously in humanistic fabric. Propst’s memos seemed to have no effect. Soon the designs for Action Office in the Herman Miller brochures began to seem more box-like. They were selling what the companies wanted.

[…]

“The dark side of this is that not all organizations are intelligent and progressive,” Propst says. “Lots are run by crass people who can take the same kind of equipment and create hellholes.”

Propst noted that his design proved irrepressibly popular: 40 million employees in America alone worked in 42 different versions of the Action Office. But he failed to note that by that point they were all known by the same name: the cubicle.

Action Office – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Action Office – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Action Office II by Herman Miller

The Action Office is a series of furniture designed by Robert Propst, and manufactured and marketed by Herman Miller. First introduced in 1964 as the Action Office I product line, then superseded by the Action Office II series, it is an influential design in the history of “contract furniture” (office furniture). The Action Office II series introduced the concept of the flexible, semi-enclosed workspaces, now better known as the cubicle. All cubicle office designs can be traced back to Herman Miller’s Action Office product lines.

[…]

Herman Miller Research Corporation’s mission was not to address problems with furniture itself, but to solve problems related to the use of furniture. The corporation’s first major project was an evaluation of “the office” as it had evolved during the 20th century — particularly how it functioned in the 1960s.[1] Propst’s studies included learning about the ways people work in an office, how information travels, and how the office layout affects their performance. He consulted with Joan Evans (scholar of ornament and pattern), Terry Allen and Carl Frost (Michigan State University psychologists), Robert Sumner (who investigated the effects of different spaces on mental health), Edward T. Hall (anthropologist and author of the 1959 book, The Silent Language[2]), as well as with a number of specialists, including mathematicians and behavioral psychologists.[1]

Propst concluded from his studies that during the 20th century, the office environment had changed substantially, especially when considering the dramatic increase in the amount of information being processed. Despite the change in what an employee had to analyze, organize, and maintain on a daily basis, the basic layout of the corporate office had remained largely unchanged, with employees sitting behind rows of traditional desks in a large open room that was devoid of privacy. Propst’s studies suggested that an open environment actually reduced communication between employees, and impeded personal initiative. On this, Propst commented that “one of the regrettable conditions of present day offices is the tendency to provide a formula kind of sameness for everyone.“ In addition, the employee’s bodies were suffering from long hours of sitting in one position. Propst concluded that office workers require both privacy and interaction, depending on which of their many duties they were performing.[1]

[…]

Action Office I

Propst and the Herman Miller Research Corporation formulated a plan to address the problems plaguing office workers of the time, which George Nelson’s team realized in the form of the Action Office I. It was introduced in the Herman Miller lineup in 1964.[1][3] Action Office I featured desks and workspaces of varying height that allowed the worker freedom of movement, and the flexibility to assume the work position best suited for the task. Action Office I was ideally suited to small professional offices in which managers and employees often interacted using the same furnishings. However, Action Office I was expensive, difficult to assemble, and wasn’t suitable for offices at large corporations.

[…]

Action Office II

Propst was free to explore his concept of an office that was capable of frequent modification to suit the changing needs of the employee, without having to purchase new furnishings. He wanted to allow the employee a degree of privacy, and the ability to personalize their work environment without impacting the environment of the workers around them. Propst recognized that people are more productive within a territorial enclave that they can personalize, but also require vistas outside their space. His concept was the “back-up,” a two or three sided vertical division that defined territory and afforded privacy without hindering the ability to view or participate in happenings outside the space.[1]

Action Office II was based around the mobile wall unit that defines space. The unit also supported multiple workstation furnishings that benefited from the vertically oriented work space. The components were interchangeable, standardized, and simple to assemble and install. More importantly, they were highly flexible, allowing the company to modify the work environment as needs changed.[1]

The Action Office II lineup was an unprecedented success,[according to whom?] and was quickly copied by other manufacturers.

Despite the Action Office II line becoming Herman Miller’s most successful project, George Nelson distanced himself from any connection with the project.[2] In 1970, he sent a letter to Robert Blaich, who had beome Herman Miller’s Vice-President for Corporate Design and Communication, in which he described the system’s “dehumanizing effect as a working environment.” He summed up his feeling by saying:

One does not have to be an especially perceptive critic to realize that AO-II is definitely not a system which produces an environment gratifying for people in general. But it is admirable for planners looking for ways of cramming in a maximum number of bodies, for “employees” (as against individuals), for “personnel,” corporate zombies, the walking dead, the silent majority. A large market.[2]

Scornful as he may have been, Nelson was correct in stating that there would be a “larger market” for Action Office II. By 2005 total sales had reached $5 billion.[2]

Coherent Structures

Propst’s last contribution to the Action Office lineup was a series of furnishings designed specifically for the hospital and laboratory setting. Known as Coherent Structures, the series of highly mobile containers, frames, carts, storage devices, and rails were introduced in 1971.[1] Designed to streamline the service functions of a hospital environment, they were highly successful until the advent of centralized computer systems made such portability of documents obsolete.

Ethospace

Designed by Jack Kelley, who worked on the design of both Action Office I and Action Office II, Ethospace enhanced the wall elements of the Action Office II system. Kelley changed the wall units to highly varied — but standardized — tiles that could simply slide into a frame and be finished with end caps. By selecting new Ethospace tiles, one could quickly change the color, texture, function, and character of the workspace without dismantling the frame or disrupting work flow.[1]

[…]

In 1997, Robert Propst said that he had hoped that his idea would “give knowledge workers a more flexible, fluid environment than the rat-maze boxes of offices,” but regretted that his idea had evolved to some extent into just that, saying that “the cubicle-izing of people in modern corporations is monolithic insanity.”[5]

[…]

Action Office furnishings have appeared in many films released within the last thirty years. The first film to feature Action Office products was Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968. In the film a white Action Office I roll-top desk is used in the space station reception area.

Crave’s USB-chargeable vibrator doubles as a necklace pendant

Crave’s USB-chargeable vibrator doubles as a necklace pendant.

Vesper vibrator necklace by Crave

Vesper vibrator necklace by Crave

Vesper vibrator necklace by Crave

Co-founded by entrepreneur Michael Topolovac and Royal College of Art graduate Ti Chang, Crave created the Vesper vibrator as a design-focused stimulator rather than a novelty item.

“For lack of a better term, the ‘sex toy’ category has historically been overrun by novelty products,” Chang told Dezeen.

The 9.65-centimetre-long vibrator can be worn on a chain around the neck as a metallic pendant, or removed from the chain and kept in a drawer a home.

“In the case of Vesper, I was intrigued to explore, in a fun way, the tension between that what is private and public,” said Chang.

“Not everyone is going to want to wear this out – some women love it as a piece of jewellery with a naughty secret, for others it is a symbol of sexual empowerment to wear their pleasure openly.”

“At the same time we recognise that it is a totally personal decision, so the design of the necklace is intended to be removable,” Chang added.

Designed for external use only, its minimal case includes just one button to turn the device on, change between the three speed options and a pulse setting, and turn it off.

The body and tip of the slim vial-shaped device are made from polished stainless steel, shaped using computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining.

The chain and cap are also made of stainless steel and finished with a choice of silver, rose gold, or 24-karat gold nickel-free plating. An all gold-plated version is also available.

Inside, a small circuit board controls custom-machined and silicone-moulded parts.

The decision to make Vesper USB rechargeable was driven by environmental and convenience considerations.

 

Lacktopia – TD

Lacktopia – TD

Superstudio’s Quaderna table

IKEA’s Lack table

As part of Superstudio’s Anti-Design Campaign, the Quaderna table formed a striking contrast to the pop design of the late 1960s, opposing all its curvy, colourful forms. Superstudio was convinced that there can be no renovation of design until ‘structural changes have occurred in society’, as Peter Lang and William Menking wrote in Superstudio – Life Without Objects. Thus they developed a matrix to generate objects for a new rational, social and cultural order.

‘The investigation into the essence of the object started in 1969, when Superstudio launched their Istogrammi project,’ Sander Woertman wrote in Exit Utopia – Architectural Provocations 1956-76. ‘The starting point was a square, the surface of a plane consisting of a regular rectangular grid. What Superstudio intended with this quickly became clear: the diagram could easily be translated into a furniture item, architecture or a landscape. A definitive solution for any kind of space or form had been found.’

The Quaderna, a table presented 37 years ago as a utopian statement against design, rebounded a little more than a decade later, becoming the ultimate design icon. Superstudio unconsciously wrote the lyrics for a world-hit and IKEA made it play.

One could say Lack is the ultimate global compromise, the table of all tables. If the United Nations had an assembly to decide what a world table – representing all the cultures and nations on earth – should look like, Lack would be the outcome. It’s square – avoiding the discussions of which culture invented the wheel; it’s average in height – right between the Asian and Western dimensions; it’s endlessly extendable – seating anywhere from one person to all the people in the world.

Lack avoids any reference to any particular culture; it is the common denominator of all tables of all cultures. It is the ultimate success story of the international style, or better: intercultural style, the style of the global middle class. Lack started a world tour and when it’s done, Lack will have globally reformatted the notion of the table. In the end there will be only one table left: Lack.

Lack is unavoidable; it is neither good nor bad, neither ugly nor beautiful and most important of all, it is cheap.

By omitting the Quaderna quadrangles, the table was released from its theoretical burden, it was liberated from the last evidence of culture that Superstudio ‘forgot’ to remove. By doing this, IKEA managed to turn the whole theory of Anti-Design inside out and baptised it, ironically, Lack.

Why the World Cup always reminds me that the yellow card is a brilliant object.: Design Observer

Why the World Cup always reminds me that the yellow card is a brilliant object.: Design Observer.

As objects go, it doesn’t look like much. It’s, you know, a yellow card. But when theatrically brandished by an official, almost literally in the face of a player who has done something uncool, it has wild power. It sets off a stadium-full of whistling, and cartoonish arm-flailing from the carded player and his colleagues. A yellow card has real consequences: Possession, a free kick, and the possibility that if the carded competitor blunders again he’ll leave his team understaffed for this match, and will sit out the next.

It strikes me as more interesting than the other penalty card, the red. That one results in instant ejection, in response to some plainly egregious act. Its presentation is memorable, of course. But the yellow card is both more ambiguous and more humane. It’s a warning: There’s trouble; but it could be worse.

According an item on FIFA’s site, the penalty-card notion was invented by an official named Ken Aston, in the wake of a 1966 World Cup quarterfinal match between England and Argentina. Apparently there was some controversy about whether the referee had clearly communicated penalty warnings leveled against two English players:

It started a train of thought in Aston’s head too. He began to think about ways to avoid such problems in the future. “As I drove down Kensington High Street, the traffic light turned red. I thought, ‘Yellow, take it easy; red, stop, you’re off’.”

Yellow and red penalty cards became part of the World Cup in 1970, and are of course now a routine element of soccer and (according to Wikipedia, anyway) a number of other sports.

The cards are a such a brilliant solution to the problem of making sure a penalty has been adequately signaled — they transcend language; they’re clear not just to everyone on the field, but in the stadium, or watching on a screen — that it’s hard to imagine the game without them.

Moreover (and this is the line of thought that idle World Cup moments lead me to every four years), I semi-seriously wish we could port the card system into daily life. Imagine a yellow card as a warning to the shop employee whose insolence is getting close to inspiring a boycott; to the dinner companion whose habit of checking his phone is on the verge of becoming a friendship-ender; to the aggressive tailgater who is just about to inspire a road-rage incident.