Ballin’ Design

January 22, 2012

I know, I know. It’s the heart of the NFL playoffs. The eve of a Championship Sunday featuring a phenomenal pair of matchups… teams steeped in history and tradition, draped in story-lines of renewal and redemption and brotherly rivalry. It’s the most glorious time of year. I get it.

But still. Hoops is back. And with it, this nugget of brilliance-in-the-technology-and-sports-arena. A simple concept that combines motion-capture and quick-printing technologies to form something truly meaningful for kids and the game they love: Basketball. Pretty cool.

(My 8th grade Reading & Studies Skills class taught me to cite my source. My source:  FastCo Design: 5 Lessons From The Best Interaction Design of 2011. Source cited.)

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Inside the Amazon

December 21, 2011
What do smoked-salmon gift baskets, toy dump trunks, toilet paper, and cigars all have in common?  They all make great holiday gifts that you can buy online. That’s right.
the real amazon

Not this Amazon, the other one.

If you’re like most other adult humans, you’re shopping via the web this holiday season, part of a steady trend over the last decade. And chances are, you’ve spent some money with the big boys of eCommerce. The marketplace. The empire. The leaders of the online shopping channel. The Amazon.

From both a business and technology perspective, Amazon’s story is a compelling one. Once known for peddling books over an emerging medium, retail is now only part of what they do (though a big part). A recent interview with Jeff Bezos in Wired.com is a must-read, revealing the extent of the company’s reach, their role as one of technologies biggest players, and their vision of the future. Check it out – then go wrap up your holiday shopping in a new browser window.

We’ll wait.

For kicks, below is a short essay I wrote a while back on the company a when asked to describe a ‘company I admire’. Sort of an elementary-school exercise that was oddly refreshing. How I miss school sometimes…

Amazon is an admirable company. Not just because they are the class of online retail or because I occasionally find great deals on boots there. But because of where they came from, what they’ve done, and where they’re going. It started as a great American business story: an entrepreneur headed West in his car into the unknown, armed with a vision of selling books over an emerging channel known as the internet. It has since evolved into a true empire, growing steadily and remaining on the cusp of high-tech innovation. And all while having a direct and meaningful impact on so many customers’ lives, as well as the successes and fortunes of new businesses along the way.

Amazon’s business model has pushed the limits of capitalism and how we thought about an open marketplace could work. But as a company, it has become far more than a commerce hub of ‘anything you need.’ It has continually introduced new patterns of technology into our lives. It created a custom recommendation engine based on user data, delivering recommendations – sometimes quirky, often helpful, but never overwhelming – to returning customers that many others have since tried to emulate. It evolved into a discussion platform for products of all types, bringing a democratic element to shopping. In this sense it single-handedly brought “social” shopping into the digital age, pairing conversations and reviews from the masses with products themselves. This bottom-up approach to evaluating a marketplace, its participants, and its content, changed how merchants thought about key factors such as pricing and quality. And as a website, Amazon.com has evolved, adapted, and remained usable — an impressive feat for an interface with such a complex ecosystem supporting it. As they grew, they iterated quickly, making interface changes often, and ignoring many web and usability experts who criticized the site for being too busy, too big, too confusing, or simply not sustainable.

Most notably, Amazon had the foresight to expand on its successful business model and dive into hardware by designing and releasing the Kindle. Beyond being an innovative product — a novel design and medium that consumers gobbled up (e-ink, anyone?) — it was a move that challenged the way we consume literature and the written word, threatening to make books obsolete. And that Amazon itself had its roots in books speaks to the vision and fearlessness of their company and leadership. To challenge their own heritage with the Kindle and adapt to the changing times was both a bold and poetic move. They saw a consumer need and went after it, regardless of how their company was positioned at the time. That they continue to expand their businesses is a testament to their successes and a great example of the power of what bold innovation can do for business in today’s world. And it’s admirable. Very admirable. (Profitable too.)


King of the Signs

November 3, 2011
Tower of London

"Castle. That way."

Found … outside the Tower of London (England). Pointing to … the Tower of London (England).

It’s elegant. It’s helpful. It’s honest. It’s the greatest sign ever made.

Yup.


An American Icon on Succinct & Simple Design

September 16, 2011

His words rocked.

If I’d had the time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

Mark Twain  (1835-1910)

When a good quote starts appearing again and again in your life, you got to honor it. Got to. We’ll leave it at that.


The Great Summer Shake Up

August 21, 2011

In fortunate parts of the world, summer often goes hand in hand with rest, travel, introspection, and micheladas. For some, summer brings a dizzying array of new experiences, connections, and insights. For others, it is a big reset. A step back towards our natural beginnings in those hot, muggy environments we all came from (whether that be the womb or the tropical climates where we evolved as a species). For many, summer is all about change.

Big change. Small change. Change.

However you slice it, the time has come for the Infinite User to change. Maybe it wasn’t the season alone. Maybe it that was that fateful weekend I watched all three installments of The Matrix (which are far better on DVR with the power of the rewind, by the way). Or that fine summer read, a good story can shake things up. Or shark week. Blame shark week.

Sign in London, England

Now *thats* a Construction sign -- banged up good.

A new era is upon us. And this weblog. One of opening in the gates and letting in the sun. Sharing faster. More insights, less delay. Posting, rampant posting. There is a time for the insightful thought piece. And these will come. But we have been catapulted into the era of the short attention span. It’s a glorious world out there, and it must be broken down. With more lessons and fewer words.

So with that, in the spirit of construction, change, progress, and summer — I’ll kick it off with a sign spotted in the bustling heart of London, England. A Construction sign. You’ll notice it actually has no words. But it does have a silhouette with a shovel. And wear and tear. A lot of it. It’s a gritty sign. A seasoned sign. One with character. One that tells a story and fulfills its purpose without using a single word. One that sends a message arguably better than its fresh-off-the-press counter-parts. There’s a lesson in there, go find it. And go to Europe too. Good food, cool buildings.

Stay tuned for more. (Much more.)


Life’s Easy in the Sunshine State

March 23, 2011

A recent trip to sunny south Florida unveiled a surprising number of simple-yet-effective designs scattered throughout the region. Maybe it’s part of an effort to cater to the high proportion of Florida residents who are elderly (a huge theme of 21st century design). Maybe it’s because many of Florida’s neighborhoods are so new and shiny, not bogged down by the old conventions and standards that other dense urban areas suffer from. Maybe the state is quietly harboring a large number of crafty designers — drawn south to the tropical climate. Whatever the reason, good work Florida. You’ve reminded us that its not always the knock-out designs that improve our world, that sometimes getting the basics right is most important of all.

Let’s start with my absolute favorite: a standing shower where the knob is actually in a logical place. Where you can turn the water on and control flow and temperature without getting wet. No more turning on the water on one side of the curtain and getting in the other side. No more awkwardly craning your naked body to dodge the water that may be too cold or too hot (It’s okay, we’ve all done that). It’s a shower that’s designed for showering. Beautiful.

Staying with the bathroom theme, this Florida bathroom had two doors, one that opens to the house and one to the outside. I scratched my head on this one for a while. Then I realized it’s Florida. It’s always nice out. There are patios and pools for entertaining. Bathrooms that may need to be accessed by guests. People in beach towels. Guests who you might not want to trek through the rest of your house. Sensible.

These parking space numbers on a coastal stretch in Palm Beach were labeled next to the car as opposed to painted under the car on the space itself.  So you could read them once parked. Smart.

“Beaches… THAT way.” I’m told, when crusing down I-95 on a sunny Saturday. Some highway signs understand their audience (as seen on other coastal freeways). Always refreshing.

Then there’s the Sun-Pass: a digital highway pass that beeps back at you when it’s been read by the toll sensors, as opposed to doing nothing at all. That’s called feedback, that’s a good thing. It’s still an ugly gray box stuck on the inside windshield, but at least it communicates. No more speeding through the toll-booth wondering whether you’ll be receiving a ticket in the mail in five to eight weeks. Hear the beep, know you’ve paid your toll, rest easy.

And of course, rocking chairs strategically placed in a waiting areas are always a win. As I’ve called out before. Works just as well as on the front porch. The ones pictured here were found in a South Beach hotel lobby.

Rock on, South Florida.

Rock. On.


Lounging at One of the Web’s Best

March 3, 2011

Not your typical landing page.

Loungelizard.com is a fine site. Dark. Real. Interactive. Full of great imagery. Provocative and memorable. Bold. And just scattered enough to be offensive to some passersby. In this case, that’s not a bad thing. It adds flavor, character, stickiness.

Note the number scratched into the bar. The subtle integration of the logo. The soiled tissue. Yes, the soiled tissue.

It goes beyond a website. Beyond information. It’s an experience — an almost sensory experience. The texture of the wood, the flickering of the candle, the taste of those damn peanuts, just out of reach. You’re at the bar, hunched over an adult beverage, staring at coasters, kept company by candlelight and a frosty mug. A miniature world you’ve found yourself in, if only for a few moments. It’s experience design at its best.

See for yourself.

Nice job, lounge lizard.  Nice job.