The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is just…

Industrial Design
Sep 30, 2010

I’m not 100% sure how I feel about this car but it sure made me look, three times! I never realized how wide, low and brutish the design was until I saw one today. More Mustang than Mercedes, I would say. The new design just oozes power, so much different from the original classic 300 SL that communicated power in a more refined manner.

The 300 SL Gullwing introduced in 1954 is among, if not the, most famous cars from the marque. It was a road-going version of the very successful gullwing racers, and it was most impressive. The iconic doors lifted like wings to accommodate load-bearing members in its space-frame chassis. The racers were particularly potent, with straight eight-cylinder engines that featured fuel injection and desmodromic valves. It was enough to win at places like Le Mans, the Targa Florio and, of course, its most famous victory at the hands of a young Stirling Moss and Dennis Jenkinson during the 1955 Mille Miglia.

I also find that the softer tail design fights with the harder silhouette lines that start from the iconic grill. But I can see how the lines are intended to loop around the back to the other headlight or grill. Regardless, I am pretty impressed with the SLS AMG and a number of other releases in the recent years. It is looking like the Mercedes marque is returning to prominence on the back of a number of provocative designs. Now I just need to drive one!

Quote via Wired and Images from Mercedes Benz.

Design Sojourn Consulting is Open for Business!


Image by David Lofink

Design Sojourn Consulting officially opened for business today, and what a day it was! This first momentous day started slowly but ended with a heart pounding and diaphragm aching bang. I’ll tell you more about that story for sure!

I’m really thankful for all my friends (and family) who have rallied behind me with words of wisdom, business advice, job referrals or even just a pat on the back. Because of that support I’m very excited to be able to “open my doors” with a number of possible business opportunities. They include working with an organization to build a multidisciplinary creative culture anchored by design thinking, strategic design consulting work with a new untested brand, and supporting an entrepreneur fulfill his dream.

That being said, I still have capacity and available for hire, so please email me at brian@designsojourn.com if you would like to collaborate with me or know of anyone who would?

So thank you again for all your emails, blog comments, and tweets. I feel so loved!

Awesome Hand Rendered Atari Computer Concepts


Atari 900 Concept


Atari 1200 Concept


Atari 2600 Concept

I really love these old school hand rendered Atari computer concepts by Industrial Designer Regan Cheng. The repeated streaking caused by the marker’s nibs can be intentionally controlled to create a wide range of different textures from wood, to stone, to textured or glossy plastic. It looks like Regan was exploring some really exciting Computer Archetypes back then!

By 1981, Atari’s home computer division began looking into replacements for the aging 400/800 line of computers. Several types of systems were conceptualized and in the end it came down to two routes. One was called the A-300 project which involved a new series of Atari computers which would work as modules and plug together to form a complete computer system. The second was an evolution of the A-300 project that shed all of the expansion and modular design for a low profile, high tech computer system which became the Atari 1200XL Computer System.

Check out the cool modular A-300 concept below.

Ah the nostalgia! I’m now really inspired to break out my old box of well used markers and broken pastels. Aren’t you?

PS: This is the kind of exploration work you would use my Iteration Book for!

Via: Color Cubic and The Atari Museum.

The Evolution of Mario

Design Process
Sep 17, 2010

It is pretty interesting to see how Mario’s character design has evolved through the years. If you study how the heavy pixilated Mario in 1981 became the sleek rendered Mario in 2008, you can see that a good design language needs to be distinct, consistent, simple and clear.

I know that I will be stating the obvious, but this is the reason why you can identify that the images are all the same character. The red color, cap, big nose, mustachio and the tuff of hair at the back of the head must all sit in a style guide somewhere.

And before I forget, happy 25th birthday Mario!

Via: My Extra Life

So Death to Design Awards because of Egos?

Designing Designers
Sep 16, 2010

The quality of writing at Design Observer must be dropping.

Through a tweet link that read “Design Observer Spits in its face”, I was lead to an opinion piece written by Maria Popova on how she wishes the “Death to Design Awards”. What a horrid thought? She writes:

Awards are awful. Awards breed ego, create false meritocracies and ultimately stymie innovation at every step of the award-granting process — from entry to evaluation to owning the win. Here’s why: For one, award shows are unbelievably self-selective, like a private school off limits to anyone but society’s upper crust of privilege. Entry fees are often prohibitively high, making it near impossible for emerging designers to even enter.

Is this not reopening the same old tiresome can of worms? And guess what? Not even a credible example to substantiate the allegation. This sure looks like sensational journalism at its best from someone that purports to be a writer for Wired or even the Huffington Post. Then again, it is an opinion piece…

Regardless, it is clear to me that Maria:

1) Has not won a Design Award.
If she had, she would know how difficult winning one would be. Especially if they are the top tier ones like Red-Dot, iF or Good Design (G-Mark) etc.

2) Has not taken part in an awards selection jury.
If she had, she would know that the jury often consists of the most cutting edge and respected designers out there (no Maria, not “old white guys”). She would also know that the Awards selection criteria is not a walk in the park nor subjected to individual whims or fancies, though personal tastes to play a part.

3) Has not even researched the products and companies that have won awards.
If she had, she would know that multi-award winning organizations like Apple, Sony, Samsung, Fuse Project, or Frog Design, are some of the most successful organizations out there. This is because they create products that people vote for with their wallet. Just take the top 5 commercially successful products you can think off, and you will likely find the usual suspects are behind their creation. It really does not look like anyone sitting on his or her laurels to me.

4) Is not a designer.
If she were, she would know that we debated this 10 years ago and have, pretty much as an industry, moved on. (Edit: Just to clarify, I’m not saying that this is an exclusive designer only discussion or that non-designers can’t win design awards. What I’m saying is that this issue was discussed deeply in the design community and non-designers would likely not be aware of this fact.)

I’ve met designers that have won so many awards that the awards sadly start to lose their meaning. The reason is that they know design awards really don’t mean too much but a nice pat on the back. Designers don’t design for awards, what fuels us and pushes us on is our passion, the delight of the users, and achieving that real world market success. Interestingly, designers that lack this sort of motivation will probably not be winning awards anyway.

Indeed, moved on we have.

via Design Observer.

(Edited: for Grammar)

The Miura-Ori Map

Spaces for Ideas
Sep 15, 2010

not a sunrise (ミウラ折り 3)
Image: not a sunrise (ミウラ折り 3) by Dan Rosen

The problem with maps is that the moment you unfold them, it becomes a complete nightmare to fold them back into their original compact form. Ergonomically this is a big problem, but not if you use the Miura-Ori folding technique!

Inspired by Origami, Koryo Miura and Masamori Sakamaki from Tokyo University’s Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science, created the Muira-Ori folding technique to allow people to unfold a map in one action and refold it with minimal hassle. It is touted to “transform the ergonomics of map folding”.

Miura and Sakamaki normally work on the problems of packing large flat items, like satellite antennae and solar collectors, into the smallest, most compact shapes with a view to deploying them as rapidly and as simply as possible. They saw three problems with maps folded at right angles in the conventional manner. First, an orthogonally-folded map requires an unduly complicated series of movements to fold and unfold it. Secondly, once unfolded there is a strong possibility that the folds may be “unstable” and turn inside out. Finally, right-angled folds place a lot of stress on the paper inducing, almost without exception, tears which begin where two folds intersect.

The key to an alternative system of may folding lies in the ancient Japanese art of paper-folding, origami. One of the most common origami effects is to use a variant on concertina folding to produce a slightly ridged surface composed of a series of congruent parallelograms, by a variation on concertina folding.

Miura and Sakamaki looked at this kind of surface in terms of its geometry and elasticity and came to the conclusion that the most important point of difference from an orthogonally folded sheet is that the folds are interdependent. Thus a movement along one fold lire produces movement along the other. In other words, the user can open the map with just one pull at a corner. The new method also solves in part the other problems which Miura and Sakamaki cited. Interdependence of folds means that it is very difficult to reverse them and the amount of stress place or, the map sheet is also reduced because only one thickness of paper comes beneath the second fold, avoiding the need to fold several sheets.

How is this for initial research for my next version of the Expandable Sketchbook? Looks like I’m off to a great start.

Check out the full article here, and if you are interested in a step by step process of creating a Miura-Ori origami fold check out the instructions below from ThinkQuest! Please click on the images from left to right and then top to bottom. The text is in Japanese, but the visual and numbered instructions are pretty clear.

Hat tip to Sebastian for pointing this out.

How to Further Design in an Organization without Design Management?

Org Chart
Image: An Event Apart Chicago Sketchnotes: Org Charts


This week’s “question of the week” is actually quite important. With the growing momentum of design thinking and organizations wanting to have a competence in design, more and more designers will find themselves hired in organizations without a design friendly management structure or colleagues sympathetic to the needs of design.

Tyler asks:

Thanks for the work you put into this site – insightful and pertinent to this designer.

I realize this question comes well after this was posted, but I’m wondering if you think the Lead/Principle Designer position can exist in an organization without established Design Management?

As a highly contributing sr. designer, what arguments and discussion points can I use to persuade my company that elevating my role to include design management would be advantageous?

Indeed design will suffer when an organization does not have a strong design management structure in place to further the needs of the competence. However this question has no easy answer. What I do know is that it will require a significant time investment as this is not something you can build and influence in a short time. From my experience it took me about 3 years before I got any traction. However because Tyler wanted to know how, his underlying passion, a key factor, will get him more than half way there.

Understand the role

The short answer to this question is yes. A lead or principle design position can exist in an organization without design management. However design will largely be execution in nature, i.e. the brief get passed down and you create a design from it. I can already see you cringing! But if I sense the question right, this is not what Tyler is asking.

If we want to further the competence of design in any organization we need to understand how the role of the designer has to evolve and move beyond traditional design. The additional workload is something many designers do not cherish, so we need to be careful with what we wish for.

This new hybrid designer cum corporate animal will need to work closely with many departments, and understand intimately how his organization functions. It is indeed a multi-disciplinary role with the designer requiring to wear many hats and speak the different lingo.

After you have done all that communication, you will sit down in the evenings and do design. I’m kidding! It is not that bad, but the toughest thing to do is change our mindsets.

Build Trust

With a closer working relationship with many people in our organization, a certain level of trust and credibility is built. Often designers are seen as fickle and fluffy people, connecting with other competences dispels this myth and also bring us back down to earth.

However, when in doubt always make sure you do good work and/or create great designs. Even if people do not agree, a great design always wins the day. Well most of the time…

Be the champion of design

Design is a noun and a verb. It is an end result and also a process, therefore you need to be the champion of both. Otherwise, who else is going to do it? Championing design in an organization requires a mindset of a marketer as well as understanding it is about adding value to the day to day activities within an organization.

Establish process and structure

A champion of design has also a strong grasp of the design process. Many organizations lack a creative or creation process. Therefore make sure you are the one leading the introduction and deployment of such processes. Throw in your ability to communicate with non-designer types, your status will immediately be elevated as a manager or at least a leader in design and its processes.

Continue to learn

It is likely that this is a lonely role. It was for me. You would likely be the only designer or creative professional in the organization. This is because organizations are testing the usefulness of such roles, and start by bringing in only one designer.

Therefore to ensure that you have the ability to keep on proving to management the value of your role, you will need to improve your knowledge of your competence. Continue to push yourself, learn, network with external mentors and designers, and evolve. Don’t stop challenging the systems you have put in place. This is a role that requires a lot of self motivation, but the rewards are great if you see it to the end.

When things start going well, consider building a team of designers to support you or the organization’s needs. When such creative “hives” are established, things will really start to fly!

Educate your partners

Finally, after everything, you need to ensure that you take responsibility in teaching and educating your partners of the value of design. The more they know, the easier your job will be. Take every opportunity, from informal chats to design presentations, to educate your partners about the process and what it takes to good design. This further shores up your credibility and continues your value add to your organization.

———-

I have actually written extensively on this topic in other posts, I would therefore like to recommend that you check them out for further insights:

1) The Changing role of Design and Designers, and old but still relevant presentation on Slideshare.


2) Corporate Designer’s Survival Guide. Here I discuss issues like Reporting lines to the top, corporate allies, etc.


3) Why do I always get rejected? 10 tips on how to get the “buy in”. In this article I give advice on how to get your ideas or designs approved in a corporate environment.

I hope these further insights help and as always I love to hear your feedback!

Fast Company Incorrectly Condemns Google’s Design Process

Design Leadership
Sep 12, 2010

When I glanced over “Google Equates “Design” With Endless Testing. They’re Wrong” by Co.Design editor Cliff Kuang, my immediate reaction was, does the editorial team at Fast Company’s Co.Design know what they are talking about? I had to re-read it just to be sure, and both times I concluded that they were overly harsh.

Co.Design condemns Google’s recent efforts of improving Google.com with their introduction of Google Instant “…the (unholy) product of Google’s infamous design process”. I quote:

If you have any type of design background, it’s probably funny to you that Google frequently mentions “design,” but doesn’t mention any “designers” involved — the Google design process seems to simply be creating a bunch of fairly obvious alternatives, and testing the hell out of them.

Before Google Instant, probably the most infamous example of Google’s design-by-testing approach was the “41 Blues” — Google’s engineers apparently couldn’t decide on two shades of blue for showing search results, so they tested 41 of them to see which attracted the most clicks. (They eventually settled on a blue that is basically the average of all the blues used in hyperlinks across the web. Duh.)

It depends which side of the Design Thinking camp you come from, but design is a process, and it does not really matter if there were designers involved or not. Of course, by getting designers involved, you will likely stand a better chance of getting quality results.

But back to Google Instant. What’s baffling about the whole thing is that Google’s “solution” to providing instant results still seems so primitive and ugly. In the name of shaving a second off of a user’s search, is it really worth it to make them go through the pain of scanning five to seven different results pages as they type?

One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the new design. I and the 53.2% of the 5,135 people interviewed on Mashable like this new addition. Oh, 30% disliked it and 16.7% were undecided.

The chief mandate of design thinking is empathy — and I’m pretty sure Google’s engineers didn’t have too much empathy for all those over the age of 28 who don’t find it all that useful to have their eyes assaulted by information they weren’t looking for in the first place.

Which brings me to my last point. Testing can only tell you so much — and it often only reveals that people only like things that are similar to what they’ve had before. But brilliant design solutions convert people over time, because they’re both subtle and ground breaking.

Lets take a time out from the Google bashing now shall we? I do agree with much of what is being said here, however this analysis has been considered out of context, or the perhaps the author of the article is not fully aware of the context?

Google’s process is a type of design activity that is often found as part of any incremental innovation process. Such testing activities give designers or developers insights to optimizing a product so that the improvements keep people coming back. Incremental innovation as a design strategy is something many brands and organizations indulge in. Especially one, such as Google, that owns a majority market share. Think about it, if your product has a virtual monopoly, you are not going to fix what is not broken. What you then do is improve it as much as possible, and hence Google’s extensive testing for incremental improvements.

Right, empathy does not come from testing; you get validation from testing. Empathy comes from field studies and observations, and also something key for new products or radical innovation. I don’t really think Google is looking to reinvent the wheel here?

Testing can, at best, prevent massive mistakes. But it can also give you a blinkered perception of reality — and that’s just as dangerous.

(snip…)

Market research can’t tell you whether the “problem” you’re trying to solve is even the right one to be addressing. It can’t tell you that the entire project you’re working on was a bad idea to begin with.

The one thing I do agree with the Co.Design article is that Google’s obsessive testing policies will have an impact to the creativity within their organization, as well as hindering their growth. Google is currently walking a slippery slope, where if things do not change, a credible competitor could overthrow them in time to come.

Simplicity is about Valuing People

Design Leadership
Sep 10, 2010

When we talk about simplicity we always put it in context in the usual expected ways. The usual favorite is associating Simplicity with making products easier to use. Simplicity as a design language is also a good one. Simplicity is also used synonymously with “less is more”. All simplicity discussions almost always also end with designers lamenting how simplicity is hard or simplicity requires a complex processes to get there.

Here is another way to look as Simplicity.

What if we consider Simplicity as an act or an approach to design that is all about valuing people? By doing so, it suddenly re-frames what Simplicity is all about. If we start creating products or services that has an agenda that respects people, it means we need to create products or services that people “get it” right away and do not have to spend all day figuring out how it all works. That’s right, look to reduce annoyances or pain points that steal time from people who could spend this lost time on more important things like spending time with their loved ones.

Suddenly it makes even more sense for simplicity to be part of your design process.

In the same spirit of this discussion, this post, and many more in the future, will be made intentionally short and sharp. This is because I respect your time, and that the time you spent visiting Design Sojourn and reading my posts could be used in many other ways. I am grateful that you have found it worthwhile to spend your time with me. Thank you.

Can Printers be more Social? You can with the ARC

Industrial Design
Sep 03, 2010

ARC Social Printer by Rene Lee 1
Click the Image for a bigger view!


A friend of Design Sojourn, and soon to be graduate designer, Rene Lee has designed a cool concept printer that makes sense. His concept solves the problem of sifting through piles of printed documents to look for yours. Especially troublesome in a busy design office where everyone seems to be printing multiple pages of presentations or drawings for checking.

Rene’s solution, The ARC, is what he calls a social printer. However, I think the real gem behind the idea is the ability to sort the printouts in a clean and efficient manner. The added benefit of users enjoying the document pickup process is a bonus. This design brings a whole new dimension to the term “water cooler talk”.

ARC Social Printer by Rene Lee 2

ARC Social Printer by Rene Lee 3

ARC Social Printer by Rene Lee 4

ARC Social Printer by Rene Lee 5

ARC Social Printer by Rene Lee 6

I am also impressed with how the work has been presented in a narrative manner. This makes his presentation simple and easy to read. I’ll also give him extra points for articulating the idea behind the concept clearly. Do check out the rest of Rene’s interesting portfolio, and congrats to him for winning the IF Concept Award for this design.