Disappointed with Objectified

Design Articles
Jul 30, 2008

[Edited: Grammar and Phrasing]

I really was not going to write much this week, being sick and all. But after a blog post and comment exchange, I cannot help but feel fired up to share some of my thoughts here.

I’m sure by now most of you would have heard about Objectified, a documentary on Industrial Design by Gary Hustwit of Helvetica fame. News of it is running all over the design blogosphere, I caught wind of it from Core77.

When I first read about it, I thought “GREAT!” more exposure on our wonderful industry. But after reading about the list of designers being considered, I could not believe my eyes! The list seems to cover the stereotypes what Industrial Designers “are” or “should be”. Not surprisingly, the documentary picked a “sample space” of designers which were the usual list of design superstar suspects.

So I decided to visit the Objectified website, and to my surprised it was a blog. I though good, they want to talk, so I left a comment (reproduced here):

Great to see this and am excited on its release. However I did noticed a serious lack of viewpoints from Asian designers. As it is now, I think this would biased the film towards the usual designer suspects from the west, the majority of which the world already know a lot about. They are the so called “design superstars”.

Asian design will be a strong player in the next 5-10 years or less, and I would have liked to see a revolutionary film such as this, cover a truly global view of design.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would be interested in some recommendations or viewpoints of designers trying to make a difference in the East.


About a day later, here was my reply from Gary Hustwit.

DT – Ditto. Asian design and designers definitely factor into our discussion in the film. I think Naoto Fukasawa is doing some amazing work. And if we felt we had to showcase a designer from each country in the world with an active design scene/history, we’d only be able to spend a minute with each person. This isn’t that kind of film.

Perhaps I have misunderstood the reply? But suffice to say I was a little surprised and disappointed at this comment reply. Does this mean that Gary considers Naoto a representation of Asian design in general? Or was Naoto only worthy enough to be included?

Let us now look at the about page for a little more information on the documentary.

Objectified is a feature-length independent documentary about industrial design. It’s a look at the creativity at work behind everything from toothbrushes to tech gadgets. It’s about the people who re-examine, re-evaluate and re-invent our manufactured environment on a daily basis. It’s about personal expression, identity, consumerism, and sustainability. It’s about our relationship to mass-produced objects and, by extension, the people who design them.

Through vérité footage and in-depth conversations, the film documents the creative processes of some of the world’s most influential designers, and looks at how the things they make impact our lives. What can we learn about who we are, and who we want to be, from the objects with which we surround ourselves?
(Bold text are mine.)

I have nothing against Gary, and I do not intend to demean all the fantastic work he has put into both his films and its betterment of the design industry.

However from my stand point there is so much more Asian design can offer the world, and this documentary has an opportunity to share the complete picture rather than the usual choice stereotypes which will unfortunately biased the production.

What about Niti Bhan’s work focusing on the Bottom of Pyramid (BOP)? What about Yao Ying Jia, Lenovo’s Director of Design, looking at new computing archetypes? Or Haier’s White Goods taking the world by storm, but still finding time to connect with the local Chinese farmers with vegetable washing machines?

While we are at it, lets not just only focus on Asian design, what about other aspects of Industrial Design that are not quite entirely mainstream but equally as important?

What about the future of our designed and materials ecosystem? Notably missing are designers leading the forefront of sustainable design such as Janine Benyus. What about the impact of Industrial Design by rapid prototyping technology as explored by Gershenfeld and reBang? How about Brands such as Philips and their efforts in future probing so that our lives with technology can so much better? This is by-far not an exhaustive list, but granted, not as sexy as Objectified’s list that contains the superstars like Bangle from BMW, Ive from Apple or the Bouroullec brothers etc.

So as Gary said “This isn’t that kind of film”, so I like to ask just what kind of film should it be?

All that being said, I am looking forward to the documentary. There is not enough being done to expose the industry in this way, but I cant help feeling that it could have been just this much better.

Photo Musings

Designing Designers
Jul 29, 2008

A little slow down in postings this week as I’m feeling under the weather. So instead, I though I might share a blog post of my latest photos taken with my brand new Canon Powershot G9. Enjoy this Photo blog…*cough cough*

Lizard Suntan
Lizard’s Suntan

Politically correct Bathroom sign
Politically correct Bathroom Sign

Lost in a Jungle
Lost in a Jungle


Ball Tree
Ball Tree

Children at Play 01
Children at Play 01

Children at Play 02
Children at Play 02


Meta Design Links: 25 July 2008

Industrial Design
Jul 25, 2008

1) Billy Graham: Technology, faith and human shortcomings. A presentation he did on TED about the real problems we should be using design and technology to solve.

2) Tired of your Moleskine? (Mine’s not even open!) Check out this Monster collection of Moleskine hacks to give your new or tired Moleskine a new life.

3) Check out the strongest material tested. Though strong it looks very soft to me, ah the ironies of life.

4) While we are on technology, check out the new High-Tech Sports equipment and apparel that is going to help Olympic athletes win in Beijing.

5) Now lets get back to work with 9 ideas for better brainstorming.

6) Finally lets wrap it up with an interview with Ross Lovegrove on his thought on modern design, sustainability, and his very beautiful Solar Trees.

Think of Creating a Language Rather than a Form

Design Leadership
Jul 23, 2008

Heard in a fictional design studio near you.

Me: Yo man, how is it going?

Designer: Great! I’m just sketching/developing/refining this concept.

Me: Cool, so how do they look?

Designer: Here they are…

Me: Hmm…so what are we looking at here?

Designer: Ah…I’m inspired by [insert suitable object] and creating this to match [insert product], but then to make it different, I’m using [insert line description] to create [insert dynamic] between these two elements…

Me: But, it does not look anything like your inspiration nor is it logical to what we want to do here?

Designer: Eh…what?

Me: Ok, basically what are you trying to communicate with your design?

Sound familiar?

Or perhaps another scenario could be you are working on a design and it does not seem to be going anywhere as you are either stuck or it’s well just crap! You see, what you are basically doing is random doodling rather than intelligent drawing.

Under these circumstances, what I always tell my design team, is to focus on creating a design language rather than just a form. In other words, ask yourself what is this shape trying to say or trying to tell me?

Why is that?

What many designers don’t realize is that design is a communication tool and a product’s form needs to therefore communicate the product’s intent. The product’s intent can consist of many factors. These includes target market requirements, branding, ergonomics, design language standards, technology, etc. Its all depends on how you define the product’s brief.

So when you are styling a product’s form, you are actually communicating, to the user, the what and how this product should function. A language if would you like. Unfortunately many designs fail on this one simple point.

If you focus on that fact, you will suddenly realize that the shape you have created suddenly has meaning, or maybe it does not. Once you start to ask about the meaning or are looking to apply meaning to your form, your design thought starts to become multi-dimensional.

The reality is that, this tip can applied to many other design professions such as Graphic, Interiors even Fashion etc. Why not try it and let me know if it works for you? All the best to your design concept success!

Sketch Techniques with Michael DiTullo

Designing Designers
Jul 22, 2008

Michael DiTullo, Design Director at Converse, sent me a quick note about Core77’s new Show and Tell series that features his sketching techniques in a nice 4 easy minutes.

Now you don’t have to draw like this “Form Monster” (Heh-heh!), but have a good look at his techniques of shading, line weights, market use and hatching that can give any sketch a lot of punch and definition.

Michael sketches a sneaker.

Michael sketches an i-Something

Flawless technique as usual Michael and great stuff!

Post Occupancy Design – Life after the Designer

Jul 21, 2008

Domus Magazine has recently launched a signature edition offshoot called Domus d’Autore. This first issue, entrusted to Editor-Architect Rem Koolhaas, was designed to allow readers to listen “…to the voice of those who know how to look beyond current confines and have the strength to direct and influence our way of perceiving the city and the spaces beyond it.”

As usual the magazine focuses mainly on Architecture, but Imomus has highlighted one of Rems theories that can have an interesting application in Industrial Design.

“post-occupancy design” — the stuff that happens to design after it’s left the designer’s workshop (and architecture after it’s left the studio) is the real test of its quality and character. Occupancy and use shouldn’t see the designer and the architect melting away. They should stick around, take notes, and take photos. The processes of time and decay can be beautiful. The way people use stuff and adapt it can be instructive.

un-p3 project

Very well put. Furthermore my regular readers would recognize “Post-Occupancy Design” as similar to, amongst other things, what I have been exploring in my Un-p3 Project (Yes it is till happening!). I wanted to create, through the use of materials, an object that reflects this process of “time and decay” and how it can be beautiful, something that I think iPod/iPhone owners lament angrily over when they are clean polishing their shiny screens or chrome backs.

But is this another trend coming full circle?

It is funny. Our shiny PSP/Mp3 Player/Mobile Phone/Laptop products of today seem to prioritize looks over product engineering fundamentals of case-part protection from the environment, long term usability and product life deterioration. Even more surprising, is the fact that these are portable products. Perhaps that is why the protection accessories market is big business? But hey, would you want to use the heavily textured, dark grey plastic Palm PDA of ages past?

Well, my curiosity is piped, and I’m off to get the Magazine…

How to avoid “Mental Masturbation”?

Design Articles
Jul 16, 2008

Image source: Cab Ride (Ecstasy)

So what, you may ask, is “Mental Masturbation”?

Well the first logical assumption that comes to mind is procrastination. Actually, though, it’s not quite what I would call procrastination. Let me explain.

A design lecturer friend coined that term over a lunch chat after a major design critique. We noticed that both design students and design professionals have a bad habit of getting into a mode of what he calls “Mental Masturbation”. Though “tongue in cheek” at that time, I have since encountered it over and over again on many different levels.

My friend describes it as follows:

I guess “Mental Masturbation” is a luxury only safe, secure well-to-do adults have time to actually do. I doubt it would lend itself to someone stuck in one of the many wars raging around the world.

86% of the worlds population sadly do not share the luxury of the first world. If I lived on less than $2.50 a day, then I doubt whether I could procrastinate over the merits of a 3mm radius or a 3.5mm radius.

In regard to design and designers, the creative thought is a high level of consciousness which without our profession would not function. It is the Rolls Royce of cognitive energy.

A space where the mind needs to run free, free from pain, hunger, conflict and guilt. As designers we take it for granted that we can generate this mood at the flick of a switch as we enter the office every morning. (Some may do it all the time! ~ DT)

Is “Mental Masturbation” a posh way of saying procrastination? If a decision is difficult to make then normally there is no decision to make. I cant decide between this shirt or this shirt well, the outcome is the same, it’s negligible.

Great explanation and intentionally written to reflect the subject we are discussing.

I would rate this Cognitive Level, my friend is describing, as the next step after procrastination. Where I would define procrastination as the inability to get started on anything, “Mental Masturbation” would be about designers up and running but in a tight repetitive loop.

I would now like to expand it and be a little more specific by giving some situational examples:

1) A designer obsessing over a design concept trying to get it to work and as a result ends up blowing the schedule and budget.

2) Endlessly trying to justify the merits of your design and why it is the best thing to every happen to mankind.

3) Trying to convince even yourself that your design is a good one.

4) Sitting around and discussing the merits of a design, and supporting it by referencing great works of other designers, and/or successful design theories.

5) All the while feeling good and secure and enjoying your new found mental superiority and a sense of achievement.

I think you get the picture? Honestly, this is one of the root causes of very inefficient and ineffective designers.

So how do we get out of this?

1) Write your own design brief.
I have already written about how great a design guide the brief can be for a designer here. Do have a look?

2) Work in a team.
Creative energy and conversation, helps spur a design onwards. Alternative insight helps closes the design options quickly as well.

3) Set tight schedules to avoid Parkinsons Law.
The famous adage that describes how “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. This is very true with designers, especially during the concept phase. We have a bad habit of sketching ideas over and over again. Check out my “10 Tips for Guaranteed Concept Development Success” for more information for efficient sketching tips.

4) Get feedback and listen to advice.
If A does not like B and vice versa, it is subjective on who the the bad one is. However if A does not like B, and C does not like B, and also D does not like B, then we know the problem lies with B. This same goes for a design. Trust me if most people don’t seem to like it, it is probably not very good. What every it is, get it critiqued anyway. At the very least you will get a different perspective on your work. Oh, do listen to the advice, even if you don’t like what you hear.

5) Support your design through research.
There should be a reason why your design looks/works/feels as such. If there is no reason why, then you better figure why. Use everything you lean in consumer behavior research to help you determine the right path for your design.

6) Get real quick to verify your idea.
Designers suffering from “Mental Masturbation” tend to be all talk and no action. Often times the only way to verify a design is to get real quick. Jump into 3D to resolve a quick detail, or even better, get into the workshop and build a model. It does not have to be a good looking one, but at least a sketch model to get your proportions right. Check out >Think>Draw>Make> to see how this can help you along your way.

7) Big picture thinking but details orientated.
Finally, take 2 steps back, and take a look at the bigger picture objectives. This takes us into a loop, and back to point 1. Having a big picture awareness helps you be aware of what your design needs to do and when.


While this article is targeted to Industrial Designers, I think these principles can apply to designers of other professions as well. In fact, I believe anyone involve in creative thinking, can benefit from these tips. If you like to share your experiences or advice, please do not hesitate to leave a comment?

The Art of Selling

Design Leadership
Jul 14, 2008

One of my first bosses taught me an important lesson.

Good designers are a dime a dozen, he said. Coming up with a great design solution is the easy part. The hard part, he said, is getting the client to accept the solution.

“But if the work is good, don’t the clients know it when they see it?” I asked.

My boss just looked at me silently for a long time. And then, with gentleness and no small amount of pity, he reached out and patted me on the head: Poor kid.

He was right, of course. In any creative activity where clients are involved, you have to make the sale twice. Before you get to the customer, you have to sell the client.

I love this little snippet by Michael Bierut that highlights why some great designers don’t really go anywhere. The ability to sell a design is one of those skills I would rank very closely to creativity in terms of important ones a designer should have.

Via: Design Observer

Sustainable Brands 08 Video Log

Industrial Design
Jul 11, 2008

Mario Vellandi, Marketing Commando and part time Design Ninja, has published a fantastic collection of videos created after his recent attendance at Sustainable Brands 08.

All of these videos cover topics in marketing communications, product development, operations, human resources, and management. The camera may not be always perfect, but I tried my best to get the best audio and sharpest resolution. On each individual page, there is descriptive information below the video about the speaker(s), the presentation’s summary and analysis, and additionally related articles and resources for further learning.

Not all the videos are about marketing or branding, as there are some great ones that would interests Industrial and Product Designers. I’ve take the liberty to sort them out and list them here:

Clean Tech Investment – Bob O’Connor, Wilson Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati

CleanFish – Tim O’Shea:

PANEL – Current Consumer Brand Perception

Keen Footwear – Bobbie Parisi

PANEL – Designers Accord

PANEL – The New Social Ethic, Making Sustainability Personal

Method Products – Eric Ryan

PANEL – Avoiding Greenwash & Establishing Credibility

Design for the Other 90%

The Future of Sustainability – Mark Lee, SustainAbility

Hewlett-Packard, Printing & Imaging Division – Michelle Price

John Edson – Sustainable Product Design

Check out the complete list of videos at his Melodies of Marketing Blog.

All his videos are distributed by a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license, and may be downloaded and redistributed as appropriate. So please share and share alike!

Great job Mario, and thanks for the email heads up!

Meta Design Links: 10 July 2008

Industrial Design
Jul 10, 2008

Wow it has been a long time since we did this. The last time was the end of Sept 2007!

I had opted to send most of my links via my Twitter and Plurk accounts. But after monitoring Twitter for about 6 to 8 months, I think a lot of my links getting lost in the “river of news”. So I’ve decided to bring this weekly series back by rounding up only the best links for you.

1) Why are mouse sensors in the middle of a mouse? When they should be at the front of the mouse instead.

2) Q&A: 90 Minutes With Miyamoto, Nintendo’s Master of Amusement from Wired. He talks about games, their take on it and how they plan to revolutionize it.

3) In my Pillar Article “How to be a Design Superstar?“, I recommend that all designers should have an online presence or a website that is at least a portfolio site. YoutheDesigner Blog shares his comprehensive guide on how and why you should have one, and you can do so quickly with a One page online portfolio. Also, if you are stuck for ideas on the site design, have a look at the One Page Portfolio Directory.

4) Check out Rands In Repose ultimate sketch book face off in his quest to find the world’s best sketch book. If you are not satisfied, do also consider his other monster face off article that covers his favorite writing instrument, Gel Pens.

5) A Look at the State of Chinese Design Development Today and how we are or will be sorely mistaken.

More specially, I set out to debunk three design falsehoods I see preventing outside professionals from seeing the recent graphic design being created in the New China without Western misinterpretations. They are: 1) Modernization Does Not Necessarily Equal Westernization, 2) Modern Graphic Design is a Western Import to the New China, and 3) Imitating is More than the Best Form of Flattery. By dispelling these stereotypes, I hope to reveal how the Chinese designers’ entry into the world market is giving them a new sense of global citizenry, as well as local identity. Their visual voices are being heard in the larger globalization narrative and, thus I believe, are enriching graphic design worldwide.

Via: Design Altruism Project


Got a design link, story or website you like to be featured? Do not hesitate to drop me a message on our online contact form.