Sketching with LunPlus: Concept Art Workflow

Design Articles
Aug 10, 2011

Here is something slightly off the beaten track today. Technology is one of the key drivers of change today, in particular, it changes the way we live and work. Designers, being mostly early adopters of technology, are always very quick to jump into the next big thing. When the iPad was launched every fan boy designer, rightly or wrongly, saw that product as the digital sketchbook of their dreams. Autodesk Sketchbook Pro cleverly read the market trend and cornered the tablet sketching market by quickly making their iPhone Sketchbook Pro app, iPad usable.

In the coming weeks, (probably weekly?) we will be running a new series of articles here at Design Sojourn, called Sketching with LunPlus. LunPlus (aka Lun Cheak) is a full time Industrial Designer and part-time illustrator. Being a hands on sketching kind of guy, he will share with you tips and techniques in getting the best design workflows from the latest technology available to designers, such as designing on your iPad. This way we can judge on our own if the technology is right for us or not.

By the way, you might already be familiar with Lun Cheak’s work. He created that very cool sketch illustration that really emphasized how far our Expandable Sketchbook could expand!

So anyways for this week we will start with something basic to get you all in the mood. No actual designing, but just a straight out concept art workflow that is very similar to the process that entertainment designers use. So grab a cuppa, sit back and enjoy: The Puppet Story Booth concept art workflow. All images and text below are by Lun Cheak.

1/5: Sketch

Click for a bigger image.

It always starts with an idea in the head, before I start doodling on my iPad, using Sketchbook pro and my trusted Griffen stylus pen. I keep the sketch really loose, focusing on the composition and getting the idea across on a page. I like the edginess and unfinished look of it. I think that’s where my personality as the artist is best captured. I know if I proceed to tweak it further at this level, I tend to lose the original intent of the idea and the fun, free-spirited energy in the drawing.

2/5: Background

Click for a bigger image.

Once I’m relatively happy with the sketch, I’ll move on by choosing a texture and color I would under-lay the line drawing. Depending on my mood and how I’d like the drawing to turn out, the background sets the overall tone for the rest of the colors that’s going to be laid onto it.

At this point, I opted for a dark grey stone marble texture I found on the Internet. I wanted the outcome to be somewhat dark. I like how the texture gives the drawing an edgy, weathered and worn-out look. This artwork was inspired by the story of the Little Riding Hood, so the dark weathered look works.

3/5: Base colors

Click for a bigger image.

Other than the line sketch, I think this is the second most important part of the drawing process. Getting the colors and tone right makes the difference between a successful drawing and a bad one. I don’t get it right all the time. It really depends on how are feel and the coffee I’m drinking! ;)

Starting with the colors that I’m familiar with, I work fast and go with my gut. For example applying Red on the hood. After that, everything else becomes my interpretation of what works with red vs. the background color.

4/5: Light + Shadow = Depth

Click for a bigger image.

Once the base colors are applied, the drawing is 80% complete. The rest of the work is all about popping things to the foreground and pushing objects into the background. I do this by applying highlights and shadows.

I opted for a white outline around the main characters to give them more focus.

At this stage I’ve also included additional texture details to give more depth to the overall drawing.

5/5: Finishing touches – Focus

Click for a bigger image.

I always think that when we first encounter an image of a humanize form or an animal, it’s instinctive that we our attention is drawn to their eyes. The eyes are where the soul is. Therefore, I’ve decided for the Wolf to carry the soul of the drawing. Though this addition is just a small highlight, it gives life to the character and the drawing on the whole.

I’ve also included other details like blood and text to spice up the overall concept/ drawing, but making sure it doesn’t take attention away from the subject.


Tool: iPad2 + Griffen Stylus Pen
Software/App: Autodesk Sketchbook Pro


I hope you enjoyed this little workflow tutorial, and now it is time to have your say. If you have any thoughts, questions of comments about this article or for Lun Cheak, please leave them in the comments section below. For more artwork by Lun Cheak, check out his LunPlus Facebook Page.

10 Essential Tips for Creating that Killer Portfolio

Design Articles
Jul 26, 2011


It is actually a perfect time to update your portfolio!

Not only are we somewhere in the middle of the year, we are right smack in the middle of summer and it’s blistering out there! Lazing on the beach is not going to get you a job, so why not stay indoors in the air conditioning and take this opportunity to update your portfolio?

I have therefore compiled a list essential and useful tips (I hope!) that can help you churn out that killer portfolio. As a side note, this list was generated while I was teaching students, at the local polytechnic, techniques on how to improve their portfolios.

1) A portfolio is a story about you.

A lot people say a portfolio is a selling tool. I fully agree. But a portfolio is more than that. If you think of your portfolio as a sales tool, you tend to just focus on execution skills or how many pieces of software you can use. A portfolio should instead tell an engaging story about you. It should show, through your projects, where you are in design, your passions, your goals, and your strengths. A good way to start your portfolio story is to have a 2-sentence summary about who and what you are all about.

2) Have an intro page.

This might be a no brainer, but a well-designed introduction page sets the tonality of your portfolio presentation. Many designers just have a title page at the start that says: “Jack’s portfolio.” That’s not good enough. Expanding from the first point you need to share a little about your background to give your portfolio story more depth. Keep it light though; you are summarizing your design career not writing a biography.

3) Keep the number of projects in your portfolio to between 8-10.

As time goes by, you are bound to build a drawer or a hard drive full of design projects that you have played a part in. The trick is to pick 8-10 of your very best projects for your portfolio. Any more than 10, it gets too many and most people cannot remember what they have seen. Run with less than 8 projects, and your portfolio content feels a little light.

There is one caveat to this number, and that is the number of pages per project. If your portfolio tends to have more pages for each project, you should cut the total number of projects down. If you have fewer pages per project, then you may need to bump the total number of projects up.

4) Ensure that projects in your portfolio are no older than 3 years.

To help make your selection process easier, consider removing projects that are older than 3. A big and extensive design project, could sit in your portfolio for up to 5 years as it probably took more than 2 years to complete, but try to avoid anything pass that timeframe as the work could start to look a little dated. When in doubt, prioritize commercial work over concept or schoolwork.

5) Know the purpose of each project in your portfolio.

Every project in your portfolio should have a purpose, a reason for it to exist in your portfolio. That purpose should be somehow related to highlighting your strengths and ability as a designer. Does this project show your potential employer you can deliver award-winning designs? Is this project all about your 3D rendering skills? Or does this project share a little about your design process? In many cases designers tend to double up projects, for example show a lot of 3D work and as a result unknowingly make their portfolio very 3D heavy. Try to avoid repeating skills and be ruthless in your selection criteria.

6) Who did what?

Always be crystal clear when a project you show was group work, and especially highlight your role in that project. Managers are always very happy to hear how designers can work as a team and produce great work. Not only that, as the design industry is small, many designers tend to vie for the same jobs which could put you into an awkward situation.

7) Create customized portfolios.

Selecting and deciding on projects for your portfolio can be hard. On the flip side, having a lot of projects allows you the flexibility of customizing a portfolio suitable to the type of employer or client you will be showing your work to. Are you meeting a marketing guy, or a head of R&D, or perhaps even a CEO? Having a variety of projects and presentation styles helps make your portfolio more relevant to that individual.

8) Know what you want to do as a designer.

Knowing what type of design you want to do can help you build a more engaging portfolio. Do you want to work in a consultancy? What about in an in-house design team, or even in a cross disciplinary role that reports to the CEO?
Knowing what you want in your design career can also help you shape the projects you yet to do. If you want to work in a consultancy, and you find you are weak in 3D rendering skills, this may prompt you to seek out more 3D rendering projects to shore up your portfolio content.

9) A portfolio is a living document.

A portfolio should always be evolving and living in beta. My advice is to update your portfolio every 6 months, or at the very least, update it yearly. Waiting longer tends to allow for work or documentation to go missing. Not only that, a juicy job opportunity might just pop up that could leave you scrambling to get things organize before the submission dateline is over. The Scout’s motto applies here: “Be prepared.”

10) A killer portfolio is well designed.

It is logical that as a designer, you should take every step to make sure that your portfolio is well designed and not just a bunch of images sitting in a plastic folder. Unfortunately, there are a lot of portfolios out there that are poorly designed, even though the content might be acceptable.

Not only it is advisable to have a consistent portfolio layout, the flow and organization of the content should be designed to work in your favor. Do all of your projects start with a beauty shot of the design? What about ensuring a consistent landscape or portrait format? The industrial designers reading this may be forgiven for a poor layout, but the graphic designers will need to be extra careful to ensure their portfolio reflects their capabilities.

A good way to get started is to create a template by using the grid technique (popular with graphic designers) and populate your design work from there. It is always tempting to over style your portfolio, especially if you have a high octane personal brand, but at the end of the day, the best thing to do is keep your layout design simple. You don’t want the background or portfolio layout to overshadow your design work.

11) Bonus tip: Digital vs. Printed portfolio?

With the Internet becoming a standard means of communication, most portfolios are now sent through email. Not only that, more and more designers are presenting their portfolio work on their laptops, iPads and projectors. Don’t discount the paper portfolio though; the honesty and tangibility of the medium could be the winning factor that gets you your next design job.
My point is that it is important to design for the medium. In many cases, a layout for a printed portfolio will not work on a laptop screen or projector. There is a lot more real estate on paper than on a laptop/iPad screen. Paper also tends to be a more forgiving medium as well. A laptop screen’s allows for bright and vibrant images, but a computer screen is limited to so many pixels and zooming breaks the flow of the presentation.


I hope you enjoyed these tips and suggestions. They are by no means a complete list, so please do not hesitate to share your own proven portfolio tips in the comments below. I look forward to reading them.

Are Mobile Phone Brands Really Copying iPhones?

Design Articles
Jun 30, 2011

In the last few months most of you would have read the endless press about Apple’s multiple lawsuits filed against their competitors claiming that they are stealing their intellectual property. Not only that, countless of other websites/blogs etc. have been jumping into the fray by putting up comparison images of how competitors like Samsung or LG have been blatantly copying Apple’s design language.

But are Apple’s worries justified and are mobile phone brands really copying iPhones? My short answer to this question is actually no.

Before we go on, lets take a look at the evolutionary history of the iPhone? I have taken the liberty to compile the iPhone’s design history into a convenient graphic below.

Click on the graphic for a larger view.

As you can see the iPhone was launched on 29 June 2007, with a new design or iteration almost every year. (By the way, from this graphic you can almost guess that the iPhone 5 will be announced within the next month or year.) However the main take away from this graphic is that it has been almost 4 years since the original iPhone was launched. (Edit: Another thing to note is that the UI/UX is more or less the same over 4 generations.)

Now lets take a look at the latest smart phones the other mobile phone brands are launching.

Click on the graphic for a larger view.

Check out Nokia’s N9 developed with Intel. This product is touted as an interim gap filler before their first Windows 7 phones come out. Hmm that interface looks familiar…

Sony Ericsson new Xperia Active targeted at the Sporty and designed to reflect those typical consumer requirements.

Finally we have Samsung’s second incarnation of the Galaxy range and one of the targets of Apple’s lawsuits.

I’m sure there are a few more that I have missed, but these 3 will do for now. So, after looking at the above suspects, are we now saying that the entire mobile industry is copying the iPhone’s industrial design as well as the user interface design?

To answer this question, lets go back 4.5 years ago and take a snap shot of the mobile phone industry before the iPhone was launched.

If you recall, the smart phone archetype was at its infancy, and the mobile phone industry was filled with many different configurations. There was Blackberry’s screen and tick tack keyboard, Nokia’s clam shell/hot dog bun communicator, HTC’s sliding cosmetic compact, and Motorola’s Razr biscuit. (Well the latter is not really what we would define a smart phone, but I just threw it in the mix for variety!)

Then the iPhone was revealed and the world was divided. The faithful call it the “Jesus Phone” and the other half of the world ridiculed its lack of buttons, last generation mobile technology, crappy battery/camera/reception and most struggled with fat fingers getting in the way.

Fast-forward 4 years later to today, the immense success of the iPhone has not only transformed the mobile industry, it has cemented the archetype of the smart phone. The now ubiquitous iPhone means that the consumer is very familiar and comfortable with a device that is essentially a screen and a few buttons (for home, volume and perhaps a camera etc.). We are as used to and comfortable with the iPhone, as much as we are used to cars with 4 wheels and wristwatches with straps.

Edit: As one of Design Sojourn’s readers rightly pointed out, the user interface and the experience on the iPhone was nothing short of unique and spectacular. It redefined how people engaged with their products. In the past, all people wanted was the precision of styluses, but Apple made touching, multi-touching, gesturing, and sliding etc. all common place. This is something by which people have come to expect or even demand from a device which is predominantly made up of a screen.

And that’s why I hate mobile phone design. Given the constraints you have to work with, the business requirements and what people are familiar with, most of the design work tends to produce very similar looking phones. Though some brands (who will not be named here) could choose to use less Apple inspired design details. (Edit: To clarify, when I say design here I mean both industrial design and user interface design.)

There is another angle to this discussion.

From the look of things, it would make more sense for Apple to drop their lawsuits and channel the legal costs into product development. The reality is that Apple’s success has been due to its ability to create new market leading and innovative propositions unlike any other. What we are seeing now though, is that it has been 4 years since the iPhone bandwagon as started rolling and the rest of the world has caught up.

That being said, I hope the iPhone 5 will really be something special, but I’m not holding my breath. Just like going from 3G to 3GS, the iPhone 5 may only be an evolution, which means the iPhone 6 should be the revolution. As my iPhone 4 is looking mighty tired next to my friend’s HTC Inspire, waiting for iPhone 6 might just be too late.

Image via Smart Phone Envy

9 Lessons from a Design Entrepreneur

Design Articles
May 05, 2011

Sometime in 2006, I decided that if I were going to be designing commercially successful products and strategies, I would need to know what it is really like to run a business, a business that would rely on the type of products and strategies that I would come up with.

Not only that, if I was going to run a business, I knew I would have to bootstrap it. By investing my own hard earned savings into my business, I could better understand the pain my clients felt whenever they spent their money on my ideas or on me.

So why am I writing this?

Firstly, I strongly believe in learning by doing. Therefore I do encourage those that would like to be similarly enlightened to take that step into design entrepreneurship. However design entrepreneurship is hard, so I though it might be a good idea to share some of my (painful!) learning experiences here on Design Sojourn.

Secondly, the feedback I got after running an informal poll on whether I should start a site on design entrepreneurship, made me realize that many of you are interested in design entrepreneurship.

Thirdly, with the large number micro financing or crowd-funding sites on the Internet such as CKIE etc, the financial barriers of entry for product development have never been lower. It is now all about hard work, good design, and great ideas.

So here are some of my thoughts on life as a design entrepreneur. Oh, do consider getting a cup of coffee before you read my article, as it came out longer then I expected!

1) Expect a Huge Learning Curve

One key skill that a design entrepreneur needs to have is the ability to work with or leverage on partners to get the job done. Fortunately, most designers are actually well equipped to be design entrepreneurs as they have the ability to empathize with non-designers and also wear many hats.

The difference here (and this is where the learning curve bit in) is between owning the process and working within a process. Design is only approximately 20% (or less) of the entire product development process. And when suddenly you have to make the calls for the other 80% of the process, things get hard very fast. Once that happens, many other factors such as confidence, initiative, and knowledge come into play.

The good news is that starting out in design entrepreneurship can be done relatively risk free. You can easily work on your personal design projects in your spare time, rather that quitting your day job to do so. Once you have brought your design into the market, stabilized your development and process issues, you can then decide if you want to be a design entrepreneur full time.

2) Designing for the Retail Shelf

Unless you sell your product exclusively online, your will probably need to consider making sure you design works in a retail space. Many designers forget that designing for retail is almost as crucial as designing for the product itself. Designing for retail can be a whole different ball game, and often what is good for retail may not be necessary be good for the product or customer. The best designers will need to make sure they can find a good balance between the two.

Here are a few tips to get you going. Is your design good enough to stand out after you apply the 3-second rule? Is your design easy to understand or use when the customer engages your product superficially? Is your design durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of retail? Does your design radiate the value of the product or communicate it clearly enough?

3) Be a Quality Hound

Rightly or wrongly, I was completely obsessed with perfection and in making sure every product was as close to my ideal specifications as possible. Needless to say my behavior drove my suppliers and manufacturers crazy, even though it was necessary to ensure that every product was up to standard. My activities included 100% inspection runs on all production pieces. This was a very tedious affair especially when having to check the quality of thousands of products.

Every piece you throw away is a waste of money, and as I’m self-funding this project, the money could have been used for other things like lunch with the family. Just make sure you are upfront with your manufacturer on your target percentage of waste per production run, so that they would know the quality levels you expect.

This is something that many designers may not be used to, as many never have to worry about the details of their product’s quality requirements. Much of it is institutionalized and designers often just need to give the once over and then defer to quality engineers to resolve problems. This is logical as many quality issues stem from production problems. So design entrepreneurs will need to be prepared to take over the work of quality engineers, and to also be prepared to pay the price for constant vigilance.

When dealing with quality issues, there is something I like to call “perception bias” that needs to be managed. Perception of what is good quality differs from designer, manufacturer and consumer. Designers often stand at the end of the strict quality scale, with the manufacturer at the other end of the relaxed quality scale. Disagreements happen when both the designer and supplier have different views on what they consider as good quality. The best way to align quality perceptions is to look at the consumer and determine what they view as good or good enough.

4) Love your suppliers

I have found that your suppliers or vendors are key to your success. Despite recognizing this, companies still treat suppliers as…well…suppliers, by squeezing them for better profits and shorter time frames while often forgetting that they have a business to run as well. On the contrary, by creating a win/win relationship with your suppliers, you will gain a longer-term advantage instead of shorter-term profit gain.

However, don’t make the same mistake I made by liking your supplier too much. I found myself trying to find ways to work with a particular supplier that I liked and had built a long-term relationship with. I was even willing to compromise my design because they could not achieve what I wanted! At the end of the day, this is all about business, and if it does not make business sense, perhaps it is time to look outside of the box.

5) Budget, Budget and Budget!

The one big things I learnt about self-funding my projects, is that success is all about how you manage budget and control cash flow. On the flip side, designers love to tell the business that the extra cost you put into a design can justify its selling price. Sometimes this is true, but if you don’t put on your pragmatic hat, it will spiral out of control and so will your profits. I always remind myself that having limited resources forces me to make very hard decisions on what is important to the end consumer.

Once you have set your budget, you have to stick to it. If not, it will be a moving target that will make running a business difficult. For example, I put my Spaces for Ideas: Collection 2 on hold as I was not able to meet my budget and cost targets. Pushing the project forward would have put my company in great financial risk.

All that being said, don’t forget that it is also very important for you to figure out what your ROI or return on investment is going to be. Or at the very least how many pieces you would need to sell to recover your cost.

6) Pricing is a Science and an Art

It would be a good time now to touch on one of the hardest thing to figure out as a design entrepreneur, how to price your product.

There are a lot of things to consider when you are working out your pricing strategy. They include: Will your customer be able to afford your price point? Is the selling price high enough to make you enough profit? Is the pricing flexible enough for you to give discounts during a sale? What about wholesale pricing? What about standardizing your pricing across your various distribution channels? Then how does everything reflect back to recovering your initial investment? (See previous point.)

Here is another tip on pricing; you make money when you sell your product. While this sounds rather painfully obvious, it is a subtle change in mindset. If it’s anything I’ve learnt from the best Marketing minds I’ve worked with, we need to adopt a market-in approach to find the price points where consumers will bite. Despite this many people still make the mistake on focusing on cost plus pricing strategies, rather than working backwards to the cost after achieving the right price vs. product offering.

7) Having Inventory can be Bad

I quickly learnt that excess inventory is the enemy of profit. A lot of designers don’t actually get much of a chance to experience the actual physical space volumes of completed product take up. Trust me, I have sketchbooks in every nook and cranny in my home!
If you are not selling your products fast enough, not only have you locked down your investment into a product, you would likely be paying extra for storage space. I’m lucky to have a good friend with a spare room to house the rest of the sketchbooks I can’t fit in my home.

If managing inventory is not easy, stock take is even harder. Throw in being a quality hound; you have a nightmare in the making. Just imagine having to unpack, check, and repack every product you ordered, 100% of the time! At the end of the day, if you can get your inventory under control, you can achieve good cash flow management. And the best way to do this will be explained in our next point.

8) Strive for Creative Manufacturing

The whole concept of manufacturing is all about economies of scale (volumes) and repeatability. When that happens, the process we have to adopt is one that requires structure and standardization. So with that in mind, the term creative manufacturing is a rather obvious oxymoron, as it is all about allowing flexibility, such as color or materials options, during the process of manufacturing. These days as designers push the boundaries more and more to create exceptional work, creative manufacturing will become a vital enabling factor in allowing designers to do what they do.

The other thing about manufacturing is that big is not always better. While the big boys often have the right machines, quality processes and speed, they often have their hands tied up in terms of overheads, flexibility and costs. Therefore, depending on your design, working with a smaller manufacturer could be a better option for you. Smaller outfits have the flexibility and perhaps are more willing to try something different. However smaller manufacturers may not be as up to date with the latest skills and equipment or lack organization and a strong process. This could impact response time and consistent quality.

9) Don’t take no for an answer

At the end of the day, success is all about finding the right balance of all the points we have discussed and also a never say die attitude to keep pushing and finding for the most ideal circumstances for your business.

After painfully deciding to put Spaces for Idea’s second collection on hold, I took time away from the project and regrouped. By taking the project off my development cycle, I actually gave the project some space to breath and time for more ideas to mature.
After a break of a few months, I quietly started talking to people about the project again. I also had some time to really reflect on what the problems were and how I could find a solution around the problems I had. I realized that to make the second collection a reality, I had to slaughter some sacred cows such as moving on from a well-loved supplier and reconfiguring some long held notions of manufacturing processes. Sometimes we can be our own roadblock. Just don’t take no or impossible for an answer and find creatives ways around the problem!


With that being said, I’m very happy to re-launch the Spaces for Ideas Collection 2. It has been a tough and bumpy road with many challenges, some of which inspired this article. This collection consists of a new look Story Book that has been redesigned from the ground up, and an Elastic Bookmark made from new materials. Check out the photos of rough prototypes below! The Iteration Book, introduced last time, is on hold and may be launched as part of Collection 3.

Click for a larger image of the prototypes!

The Story Book and its matching Elastic Bookmarks are made from 3 different 280 gsm colored (Yellow Cream, Chocolate Brown and Deep Blue) material. The 20-panel accordion fold is available with black (120 gsm) and white (140 gsm) paper. The paper in each book is intentionally heavier to create more structure in the accordion fold. It is also lovely to draw on. This new design has a modified hand made manufacturing process that allows flexibility by having a range of different cover colors and paper.

As production has already started, I’ll try to have pictures of the first production prototypes as soon as I can get my hands on them sometime at the end of this week.

Click for a larger detailed image of the prototypes.

So what to you think of this article as well as the newly revamped Spaces of Ideas Collection 2? I would love to hear your feedback and thank you in advance.

Good Books on Design Sketching (Updated October 2011)

Design Articles
Mar 01, 2011

Good sketching skills are important in any design process, and something truly needed in the design industry today. While working in the design industry, I have seen many young designers give up on sketching because they think they cannot do it.

The truth is sketching is an activity that requires constant practice to perfect. Therefore the will to practice is essential in helping you succeed, hopefully to the point where sketching becomes second nature to you. Or at the very least, you would get to the point where it would be easy to visualize a design in your mind.

One good way to improve your drawing is to use good sketches and sketch techniques to inspire and motivate you. So here are some design sketch references and sources that I have found both helpful and meaningful.

1. Design Sketching by Erik Olofsson and Klara Sjolen.

The excellent collection of design sketch explorations makes this book worth buying. It features 24 of the best designs from the Umea Institute of Design (Sweden), one of Europe’s best design schools. Well-known for their good design sketching skills, this book features many strong designs that have been done in various mediums (pens, pencils, markers) and computer programs like Photoshop and Illustrator.

The Design Sketching website provides sneak previews of the some of the chapters in this book. Their 2D rendering skills are so amazing that you will be tempted to order it!

design sketching

2. Learning Curves by Klara Sjolen and Allan Macdonald

From the same publisher that brought you Design Sketching, Learning Curves is a follow-up book targeted to take design sketchers to the next level by helping them to really learn how to sketch.

The book includes samples of sketching work of over 60 professional (product, industrial and transportation) designers from around the world. Structured more like a comprehensive list of hints and tips, designers can quickly find help in improving specific areas of their sketching abilities. You can find great tips such as sketching reflections, playing with line weights, constructing sketch scenes, creating exciting viewpoints and even workflow improvements such as generating more ideas via sketching etc.

The authors hope that this new approach is more meaningful and refreshing than the more usual tutorial route. However for people like me, I’ll just be reading it from cover to cover, and you know what? You should too.

3. Carl Liu’s Design Book

Possibly one of the best design sketchbook for industrial designers, Carl Liu’s book is a collection of his many design sketches from his career in design. Working with reputable design companies like Astro Studios and Disney, book show cases ideation sketches, presentations, exploded views and storyboards done with his signature quick sketch and rendering style.

If you can’t get your hands on his book, visiting his portfolio on his website, will definitely inspire you to practice your drawing further.

carl liu

4. Concept Design Books by Scott Robertson

Known for his strong futuristic product, transportation and city concepts, Scott Robertson creates great design work that exists far beyond anyone’s imagination. On his Drawthrough website, there are design sketching DVDs available, which shows vivid demonstrations of Scott Robertson sketching skills and covers topics such as perspective and proportion.
However if you want something to hold in your hand, his concept design books are a good alternative. Here are a few of his more popular ones.

DRIVE: vehicle sketches and renderings by Scott Robertson.

Start Your Engines: Surface Vehicle Sketches & Renderings from the Drawthrough Collection.

Lift Off: Air Vehicle Sketches & Renderings from the Drawthrough Collection.

5. Presentation Techniques by Dick Powell.

presentation techniques

Yep, it’s that Dick Powell. I believe this became an instant classic, as it was probably the first of its kind in the sketching or presentation skills category. This all-rounder book covers all presentation techniques starting from sketch, to marker rendering, and finally to presentation renderings. I actually got a chance to speak to Dick about his iconic book, and after his long embarrassed groan, he told me that after “hello”, every Industrial Designers he has met has told him they have read it. You should too.

6. Sketching: Drawing Techniques for Product Designers by Koos Eissen and Roselien Steur.

Now into its 5th reprinting, this successful reference tome houses a great collection of sketches and drawings contributed by Industrial Design professionals from all over the world. Not only that, there is a great collection of drawing tutorials like varying the line widths, vanishing points, and shading etc. at the beginning of the book.

7. Analog Dreams by Michale DiTullo

Michael DiTullo, famed Core 77 sketch guru, former Nike Design Director and currently Frog’s creative director, has self-published a collection of 120 design sketches from a decade of work as an Industrial Designer. In addition to his vast range of footwear sketches (something he is known for), he shares his thoughts on how to get better at sketch visualization and creating strong visual (design) languages. Buy his book at Blurb.

If you are interested to see more of his design process, check out his design visualization sketch he did exclusively for us at our sister site >think>draw>make>. Thanks for doing what you do Michael.

8. Sketching Videos from Feng Zhu’s FZD Design School

While technically not a design book, Feng Zhu sketch tutorials should not be missed for any aspiring design sketcher. He has a great range of inspirational concept sketches that has driven the environmental or character designs of movies and games such as Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Transformers, Command and Conquer 3, Sims 3 etc.

Check out their Youtube Channel as well: FZDSCHOOL


In today’s design industry, designing in sketch or in 2D is still a very powerful tool of communication. It is never easy to master it, but with constant practice and a library of good references, you can achieve it. So do enjoy the process!

For more great books on design, check out our awesome article: 30 Essential Books for Industrial Designers.

This article was originally co written with guest author Sharon Goh and published on 23rd July 2007. As it has become outdated, I’ve decided to rewrite and keep updating this post with the latest and greatest design sketching resources!

V1: 23 July 2007
V2: 1 March 2011
V3: 7 October 2011

Sharon Goh graduated in 2002 from TU Delft with a Masters Degree in Strategic Product Design. She is currently in charge of the sales and marketing of Dutch designed products in the Asia Pacific. She has worked in Japan, Netherlands and Singapore, in the competences of industrial design, design management and product marketing.

The Nokia and Microsoft Alliance is a Good Thing, Really!

Design Articles
Feb 22, 2011

I’m sure most of you have heard the news about the Nokia and Microsoft alliance. Nokia announced that it has decided to use the Windows Phone 7 as their primary Smartphone platform. Their existing platform Symbian, will be franchised and milked to the very end.

I was pretty excited and positive when I heard about this, but was quickly surprised to find out that I was actually in the minority. Even industry heavy weights like Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini and Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt both disagreed with the decision.

Schmidt regretted the decision but kept the Android door open for Nokia. Otellini bets that the future is open source rather than a closed ecosystem. I’ll take their comments with a pinch of salt as both are likely biased. With Schmidt the losing party to this alliance and the other, well, I’ll believe him only when I see him release his CPU reference designs to the open source community.

But I digress.

I believe this is indeed the right decision for one very simple reason, the bigger you are the harder it is to change the corporate culture and the way you do things.

Nokia always had it roots in developing mobile hardware. It built its fortune on exactly that. I can only imagine the extensive infrastructure put in place at Nokia to develop the most wild and wonderful handsets ever conceived.

Unfortunately, products have evolved into an experience and we all know experiences ask for a joint proposition of both hardware and software. Many companies understand this, including Nokia, but few have made the transition comfortably (most notably Apple).

Nokia, already struggling with waning handset sales, cannot financially afford to make this transition. This is probably why the Android platform was so attractive to traditional hardware manufacturers like Samsung, LG, Dell and Motorola etc. It allowed them an “in” without the hefty investments. This sounds great but it is really not that rosy, I’ll discuss this more later.

Now, lets go back to corporate culture.

Having worked for a number of hardware base companies, I can tell you it requires a huge change in mindset to develop a software solution that is not perceived as an afterthought or a slave to the hardware. I know Nokia has tried, but I belief it is just too big to make both hardware and software and equal part of its DNA.

Running a large corporate behemoth is not an easy task. You need to take the good and the bad together. A quick culture change is possible, but you have to fire everyone. Something most companies will not do. Going forward, the only way is for Nokia to leverage on its strengths and find help to cover its weaknesses.

The huge ship (Titanic?) analogy works here. Once it starts heading in one direction, it is going to be very difficult to change route quickly. Essentially, the mobile industry, lead by Apple, bypassed Nokia and headed in a different direction. Apple redefined the mobile phone industry by starting out with a niche premium phone that soon became the mainstream industry standard. If we consider how Android phones filled up the mid to bottom end nicely, you pretty much have the Smartphone market lock down tight.

So I ask you, if you were Nokia and wanted to survive what would you do?

One way is creating your own ecosystem and this is where Nokia needs Microsoft’s help. This sounds rather crazy, but not so when you consider this; companies, the size of Nokia, don’t play to get by, they play to win. If they can’t win or come in a credible second they are good as dead anyway. Their overheads will just flatten them.

At the other end of the alliance, Microsoft also suffers from similar issues. As mobility is seen as the future of computing, Microsoft has faced much criticism for not being able to create a credible mobile OS platform, hardware included. With notable failures such as the Kin behind them, Microsoft can now focus on their software platform. As it is, they are already having so much trouble keeping up with the competition. I’m sure Microsoft is probably not perfect for Nokia, but under the circumstances, they are the best option.

Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against Android. In fact I think it is a great platform. Android did not want to compete with the Apples and Blackberrys of the world, and instead cleverly crafted an open sourced strategy that has made them the second largest Smartphone operating system in the world. How they did it was by essentially “sleeping” with everyone. Call it promiscuous if you like. However, if you actually adjust the Android OS numbers with Smartphone Brands instead, you will get a far different picture.

This discussion here is really not about which platform, but about a brand.

If you take a step back and think about this objectively, there is actually very little differentiation between Android Smartphones. Furthermore, new features such as the recently announced Movie Studio will be made available to everyone.

Again ask yourself, if you were Nokia and you wanted to play to win, how are you going to beat the competition running an OS that is essentially the same as the rest of the market?

A smart friend, who is a tech analyst at a bank, pointed out that with Android it has all come back to the hardware. In other words product differentiation comes in the form of a bigger camera, longer battery life, nicer design, sexier brand etc.

Android as it is now, will likely not have revolutionary changes unless Google takes it in another direction. The smart hardware brands should be very concerned, because if Google does so (and they might), they could lose their entire product range (and millions of dollars in tooling investments) just like that. However as alluded to earlier, with all the software development risk borne by Google, the Android is still the perferred platform for the fast follower or me-too hardware makers who have a hard time developing their own software.

So here is the clincher that many might have missed.

The partnership between Nokia and Microsoft is not just any old handshake, but rather a strategic alliance. As Nokia shares on their blog:

Nokia wouldn’t be just be another Windows Phone OEM. Nokia plans to help drive and define the future of the platform. That could include contributing expertise on hardware optimization, language support, customization of the software and helping bring Windows Phone to a larger range of price points, market segments and geographies.

This is a huge breakthrough in negotiation, something I bet Google stood firm against. What you may not realize is that there are no favorites on the Android (or even OEM Windows 7 for that matter) platforms. Google releases their software versions to all brands at the same time, so that everyone has an equal chance in implementing the new OS platform.

If you think about it, if anyone wants to beat Apple’s closed ecosystem, Android is not going to be the choice to partner up with. Nokia’s agreement with Microsoft essentially allows Nokia to have a very important strategic competitive advantage against their competition. It will allow them to have mobile phone experiences no one else would have in the market. Android could have been an option 2 years ago when it first came out, but the ship has long since sailed with other brands whom are now enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Of course this alliance is fraught with its own perils. Rather than forcing a large ship to change it’s course, it is now as if two large ships are trying to travel side by side at the same pace. I immediately see challenges in aligning development cycles, business strategy and even go to market activities.

If not for catching wind of the strategic agreement between both brands, I would never bet good money on two big companies trying to work together as equal partners. However if they can work their issues out, I foresee a strong and credible competitor to Apple and their iOS. I wish them both all the best, with a big pat on their backs.

As an endnote to this article, do check out Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s rumored internal email sent to all Nokia employees before the announcement of this alliance. I take my hat off to Stephen; the man has guts.

Hello there,

There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.

We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared with you what I’ve heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And, we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.

For example, there is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed, but very powerful ecosystem.

In 2008, Apple’s market share in the $300+ price range was 25 percent; by 2010 it escalated to 61 percent. They are enjoying a tremendous growth trajectory with a 78 percent earnings growth year over year in Q4 2010. Apple demonstrated that if designed well, consumers would buy a high-priced phone with a great experience and developers would build applications. They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range.

And then, there is Android. In about two years, Android created a platform that attracts application developers, service providers and hardware manufacturers. Android came in at the high-end, they are now winning the mid-range, and quickly they are going downstream to phones under €100. Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry’s innovation to its core.

Let’s not forget about the low-end price range. In 2008, MediaTek supplied complete reference designs for phone chipsets, which enabled manufacturers in the Shenzhen region of China to produce phones at an unbelievable pace. By some accounts, this ecosystem now produces more than one third of the phones sold globally – taking share from us in emerging markets.

While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

At the midrange, we have Symbian. It has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America. Additionally, Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms. As a result, if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind, while our competitors advance further and further ahead.

At the lower-end price range, Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, “the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.” They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.

And the truly perplexing aspect is that we’re not even fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

This is one of the decisions we need to make. In the meantime, we’ve lost market share, we’ve lost mind share and we’ve lost time.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s informed that they will put our A long term and A-1 short term ratings on negative credit watch. This is a similar rating action to the one that Moody’s took last week. Basically it means that during the next few weeks they will make an analysis of Nokia, and decide on a possible credit rating downgrade. Why are these credit agencies contemplating these changes? Because they are concerned about our competitiveness.

Consumer preference for Nokia declined worldwide. In the UK, our brand preference has slipped to 20 percent, which is 8 percent lower than last year. That means only 1 out of 5 people in the UK prefer Nokia to other brands. It’s also down in the other markets, which are traditionally our strongholds: Russia, Germany, Indonesia, UAE, and on and on and on.

How did we get to this point? Why did we fall behind when the world around us evolved?

This is what I have been trying to understand. I believe at least some of it has been due to our attitude inside Nokia. We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven’t been delivering innovation fast enough. We’re not collaborating internally.

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.


Memo via: Mashable.

The Future of Design Consulting: 4 Business Models to Consider

Design Articles
Feb 10, 2011

The Design Currency Logo by Jeff Harrison.

Over the recent Chinese New Year holidays, I met a very well traveled designer. We were discussing the pitfalls of running a design consultancy, and that conversation eventually led to consulting business models.

He basically said, “The majority of design consulting firms that fail, fail because they all follow a traditional (and outdated) consulting business model.”

This traditional client and consultant model he was referring to works in the following manner. A company needs a design solution and decides to looks for a designer to come up with that solution. The designer takes the brief, does the work, delivers it and then moves on. This is perhaps a rather over simplification, but I would hazard a guess that this is how most designers see the design consulting business.

However in today’s design industry, the way design is outsourced or purchased is changing. This is a reflection of the changing promise of design and what we as designers are doing in response to this change. As design becomes more strategic or holistic, and design-thinking gains further traction, the bandwidth of the client and consultant relationship has to change.

I’m no expert in running a consulting business, being out of that side of the industry for more than 7 years. Ironically though, I think this break has helped me to see the differences between then and now. So without further adieu, here are my thoughts on the 4 business models that will be the way forward for design consultancies.

1) What is in a Name? That which we call a Designer

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…
From Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

A sometime now the design industry has been heading towards is a 360-degree holistic approach to design. As such design disciplines (industrial, product, graphics, UI etc.) are all merging to ensure that the solution to the proposition is a consistent one.

Therefore multidisciplinary designers with the ability to move between disciplines can be a lucrative one. Many of the design superstars have embraced this early on, and are now reaping the benefits from projects that range from interiors to art.

An interesting thing to consider is how to sell such services? Do we still call ourselves designers? What about calling designers, artists or strategists instead? The answer probably has to do with your target clients and what they understand as what you do. Calling myself a Design Strategist got me nowhere, so I’ve settled on Design Director instead. I am directing a kind of traffic, no?

2) Design Alliances

My new friend had a better name for this. He calls it the “Design Mafia.” I chuckled at the thought of how accurate his description could be. The advantage of strength in numbers cannot be underestimated while at the same time keeping overheads low. However this often leads to outsiders looking in with disdain, as designers can be rather incestuous if they want to.

On a more positive note, as non-traditional buyers of design, such as the people at City Hall or Non-Profits organizations, start to require the services of designers, we will find more and more designers banding together to grab that big deal or solve those wicked problems.

When I first got out, I was amazed at how easily design alliances can be found in the industry. Architects and communication designers coming together to design better retail spaces or even industrial designers and advertising agencies collaborating on sustainable packaging designs. The variations of such (official and unofficial) alliances are endless and only limited to what the client wants.

Speaking of clients, I was also surprised to find out how clients, especially the smaller companies, readily accept such a way of working. No one can do it all, and if you could, you would either be lying or charging too much. The days of a designer doing it all and managing the entire process are long gone.

3) Decentralized Collaborative Teams

Further from my previous point, alliances can also be found on a smaller level in design teams responsible for design execution. Furthermore with the power of the Internet, these people don’t all have to be in the same country. Scott Belsky calls this “distributed creative production“. Many clients or partners I have spoken to, even from big name brands, accept this as the norm. This essentially means you are able to build the best possible team for the job.

This is quite a change in mindset. When I first got out of school, industrial designers were required to have a range of skill sets to be employable. This means as designer would need to be able to be creative, do market research, communicate well verbally and by sketch, resolve designs in 3D CAD, and perhaps even roll with engineering. Something not every designer can do well.

With a distributed creative production process, design consultancies can cherry pick the right talent who has the best skills for the job. This also keeps overheads low, as there is no need to have these specialized designers on staff, as their skills may not be required all the time. I expect leaner boutique consultancies lead by experienced facilitators and design managers backed by extensive networks.

On the other side of the fence, I am expecting more and more brands to bring talent in-house to lead the design function and be responsible for well-guarded strategic design or brand related activities. To keep cost low, down stream realization is often outsourced and this means strong freelancers with specialties have a role to play. A number of large Fortune 500 brands are already adopting this model, but I expect the numbers to increase in the coming years, as the value of design is better understood by more businesses.

Other than managing my boutique design agency, I am often engaged individually to support businesses or design consultancies running strategic programs that require extensive client management, or in projects that require business strategies to be communicated to designers. My ability to make complex design issues simple and translate it in to a language people can understand is my powerful unique selling proposition, especially when used to bridge the gap between design and business.

4) Integrated Partnership

This last model is a business model that I am actually experimenting and developing at Design Sojourn. It is not entirely new, as the integrated partnership model can find its roots in the design retainer model.

A design retainer model can often be found in companies who have a mature understanding of the value of design and the processes required to create it. Great examples include such as Bang & Olufsen and Alessi. Design retainers have an opportunity to work with a company in a long-term relationship allowing their efforts to have maximum impact. Often this relationship focuses on a mutual understanding of each other’s needs with profits, while still important, would come in secondary.

Unfortunately, this model is rarely successful because many companies often see design as an execution activity. Furthermore, as these companies likely do not fully understand design’s value, they would naturally see retainers as an incurred cost with little returns.

I think we are at a time where a hybrid version of a retainer model could work. As mentioned earlier in this article, the promise of design has changed, for one it demands that design needs to be better integrated within an organization to be 100% successful.

As such, there is a need for an initial lengthy relationship-building period where design advice can and should be dispensed freely. The only trouble with this model (I’m still fine tuning it as we speak) is that it requires a lot of time, often with little visibility of any returns for the designer. The trick is to figure out which leads are the ones to pursue and which are the ones that are difficult to convert. Perhaps a good start is to stop calling your clients clients, but to call them partners instead?

The Consumer Electronics Industry is Ugly

Design Articles
Jan 26, 2011

I’m sure all of you have noticed the huge flood of tablet computers in this year’s 2011 CES event in Las Vegas. Not only was it part of my dinner conversation some nights ago, it was followed up the next morning with the News announcing that 80 new tablet models (and counting) were released at CES. As a friend aptly put, it looked like companies were obliged to announce their own version of the iPad just so that they could get a slice of the pie. I fully agreed with him in between mouthfuls of Parma ham pizza.

Though I love the consumer electronics (CE) industry, I really dislike these shows, in particular the CES. These shows remind me how ugly the industry can be, and this year was no exception. A few years ago the big buzz was flat screen televisions, then a year later was super thin flat screens driven by OLED technology. Last year it was 3D (which still gets my vote for the most useless specification that everyone wants), and this year is all about tablet computers.

It is a vicious cycle.

Every year the cycle is the same. First, a huge new product/innovation trend appears and the financial numbers are staggering or predicted to be so. Then suddenly everybody who is anybody is jumping on the bandwagon trying to get a slice of the pie. As with such mass industry movements into a market, bothering on hysteria, this pie or market share logically starts to shrinks exponentially (I’m guessing) with every product launch.

This huge jump in competition would also mean that these consumer electronics companies would have to spend a lot money to steal some kind of market share in the hope to make their business plans viable. As you can see for yourself, the results are looking dismal and I’m not holding my breath to see which brand will be the first to drop their tablet line.

The reality is that nobody has a very clear product offering. If you scan the CES tablet launches, you will find the availability of many different tablet screen sizes; multi-touch or stylus control or both; and not to mention every possible design archetype or hybrid combination (dock, slide, standalone, detachable keyboard etc) that can exist between a smart phone and a laptop.

Furthermore, it is sad to see a number of well-known brands take a shotgun approach in this market by releasing products in as many archetype combinations as possible. Perhaps they are thinking that hopefully 1 or 2 propositions will stick? Regardless, it looks like many of these brands don’t know what they or their end consumers (not retailers) want. This begs me to ask if some of that development money could have been better spent elsewhere, on say a focused consumer insights exercise?

More observations.

1) Tablets running standard laptop/desktop user interfaces with icons or menus sized large enough for only mouse arrows instead of fingers. How can this still be happening? Lets design the hardware and not the software shall we?

2) One of the more interesting archetypes to come out of CES 2011 is the convertible tablet to laptop solution. This should satisfy my observations on the differences between tablet (“stand to use”) vs. Macbook Air or Netbook (“sit to use”) use scenarios. However, it looks like all convertible tablets are just too heavy to use as they range from 2.2 to 3.4 pounds. People are already complaining that the iPad, at 1.6 pounds, is too heavy! A good prototype test should have highlighted this, however I’m not surprised this slipped through, as it is always a mad rush for CES.

3) More is not more. As expected, tablet manufacturers a piling on the spec with different combinations of CPU/RAM/SSD. I was also shocked to find HDMI ports proudly marketed. So I’m going to sit on my couch, hook up to my blu-ray player or video camera via a HDMI cable so that I can watch HD movies on my tablet? Maybe I’m missing the fact that these tablets are powerful enough to edit and create HD content, thus requiring HDMI to stream it the other way? Again I’m not surprised. Most CE companies would have seen their competition include a HDMI port in their offering and decided that they should do so as well, just in case.

What did the strategies of the tablet brands miss?

The iPad is by no means a perfect product, but there is a lot that can be learnt from the product and its execution. While tablets are not a new concept or product, Apple was the first company to successfully designed it with a mass-market appeal. Even if the iPad was a tech product, it has now moved from geek only and into the mainstream. The geek crowd is not as big as the rest of the world, so why are tablet manufacturers still pushing spec?

In typical Apple fashion, they have created a great product and successfully launched it. As a result, Apple essentially owns the tablet market and had full first mover advantage. This means there is very little innovation left in the proposition for the rest of us. It is now time to look at incremental innovation and attack areas where Apple are weaker at or cannot fully reach. We know that people who buy tablets do not rank specification highly in their decision making process, and thus adding another 5 hours of battery life to the product will not get you your flood of buyers. So the thing to do instead is to focus your incremental innovation, via a user centered design process and see if you can create a product for a particular persona or scenario of use.

Finally, do CE companies think that consumers are not informed on what they are purchasing? I’m sure there might still be some uninformed consumers around, but they are a dying breed. That the last recession taught us is that consumers are now more prudent and will likely be buying the best product they can afford. Seeing that an iPad does not cost that much more, what makes these tablet manufacturers think that people will go for their product instead?


Let me close this article with this statement. I’m not out for blood or looking for a mud-slinging match. I have many dear friends in the consumer electronics industry and have immense respect for what they do. However what I like to point out is the industry is sick and there is little the players in the industry can do about it. For the sake of everyone’s well being, I’m not sure how much more the industry can sustain this vicious cycle

It is plain obvious that the consumer electronics giants have the money and are not adverse in spending it. Therefore I feel great pity whenever I see huge amounts of resources spent on nothing more than gaining market share. We should ask if these resources could have been better spent on something else? Or perhaps this time their business plan should have read Do Nothing?

4 Vital Tips for Surviving an Industry where Good Design is Abundant

Design Articles
Jan 03, 2011

Good design and designers everywhere, just browse the Internet and you will see.

From the comfort of your laptop you can consume the hottest cars, furniture, digital cameras, laptops or mobile phones etc. Sure there are some great designs, but the rest of the majority are getting pretty good. Moreover where there is good design, there are also good designers.

The ease of the Internet has ushered in a new era where it is easy for good designers to shine. The pervasive Internet has allowed designers their moment of glory by giving them a level of exposure unheard of in the past. Just look at the myriad of portfolio sites out there such as Behance or Coroflot and you can quickly see who the good designers are.

The great thing about this is the overall level of design will continual to improve. Designers will continue to push each other, with each great piece of work setting a benchmark by which another designer can aspire to beat.

Unfortunately, there is a flip side to this story. I foresee a time where good design will become ubiquitous or even, I day say, expected. A number of industries are already demanding this. In addition, if you consider the number of aspiring designers (You are 14, and sketching cars?) wanting to get into design, or the large volumes of design graduates the schools are churning out, the competition for work, projects and even jobs will become harder and harder.

Scott Belsky calls this phenomenon Creative Meritocracy.

Imagine a world where the best ideas have the best chance to succeed. No more favoritism that places the wrong people on creative projects. Cut out the middlemen that arbitrarily recommend cost-efficient talent over the most deserving talent. Forget the corporate nepotism that appoints leaders based on relationships over merit. Every individual, team, and industry would benefit from a world where the most talented people got the most opportunity.

While I think Scott’s view on corporate nepotism a little over zealous, (I know of cases, but I don’t think it is as rife in the design industry as he thinks) I concur with his belief that Creative Meritocracy is something that has arisen from the openness created by the internet and has created a level playing field where the best talents can rise to the top.

And indeed it has.

But what does this mean to a designer like you and me? On one hand good design or talent is becoming more visible and better understood, but on the other, it is most likely that designers will have to struggle in a hyper-competitive industry.

So how do we get ahead? Surprisingly the old school principles still apply. The Internet changes things, but not everything.

1) Have great articulation skills

I did not use “communication skills” because that is really the end result of what we want. It is not so much what we communicate is how we communicate. Talk long enough and people will eventually understand what you mean. What I’m looking at instead is the ability to get a point across quickly, convincingly and succinctly, in other words, to articulate.

Articulation is often used in the context of words or the ability to speak well. In design this needs to also extend into presentation skills. This can include how you layout your presentation boards, picking choice angles to present the best aspects of the design, or crafting your pitch etc.

It is necessary to not only come up with a good design but also present it well.

2) Able to understand the true value of their designs

While aesthetics is an important factor, Design is not about making something look good. Design or designing is where problems get solved, and this is where the value of design resides. Therefore it is important for designers to constantly remember their design briefs and to ensure that their designs fulfill or achieve those objectives. We are not designing in a vacuum!

In concept and student work, the objective of a design is pretty straightforward. However in commercial circumstances, objectives are often varied and multi-fold. For example, does your design solve an environmental problem? Is the design supposed to make the business money? Perhaps it is about increasing brand awareness, or maybe it is about increasing market share? Worst still, it could be all of the above!

In time to come commercially aware designers will be more in demand, if they are not already.

3) Ability to explain what we do and how we do it

At a recent client meeting, my suspicions of a competitive bid were confirmed. Quickly appraising the situation, I sat down with the client and went through in detail what our strengths were, what we were going to do for them and how we were going to do it (i.e. the design process).

I found out at the end of the meeting that my clients were very happy with our pitch. Our other competitor had a more branded design process but did not spend the time to explain to my clients what it meant to them.

The designer who can explain the design process or what he does in a simple and effective manner is going to win the day. Designers today have a far wider influence than before, therefore the context of how a design is created matters more than ever.

Build Great Relationships

I was talking to a friend the other day and he recounted an experience meeting with the head of Kartell. Let’s call him Mr. Kartell, shall we?

My friend is pretty entrepreneurial and had prepared a portfolio of furniture designs to show Mr. Kartell, in an off chance that he might want to produce one.

Mr. Kartell took a look at the designs, commented that the designs were great and even shared what he liked about them. However, as quickly as it started, he went back to consuming his dinner.

Unperturbed, my friend asked if Mr. Kartell would be interested to produce any of his designs. Mr. Kartell declined the offer.

When probed he replied, “Good design is abundant, but good relationships not so much”. Good design is all around (not surprising by now right?), and good design is also something the designers Kartell works with are also able to do.

However, the designers he has worked with, some of which for many years, have an added advantage of having built up a great relationship with him and the company. It would be a big challenge, requiring both time and money, to build a relationship from scratch with a new designer. Most designers forget this and thinking that a good design will stand on its own. But a design is only part of the story; there is still a business to run and more work to be done down stream.

Who knows if the story is true, but if we take the story at face value, we can see that building great relationships between designer and client, or even between designers is very important. When all else is equal (or even when it is not), this is the key deciding factor between you and your competition.

While this point seems contrary to Creative Meritocracy, building relationships is actually not about favoritism or nepotism but about practicality. Building a good relationship means both parties understand each other well, how they work, and each other’s expectations of what needs to be done. From a business point of view this means less fuss and getting the work done quickly and efficiently.

But believe you me; this is still a tentative hold. Relationships need to be maintained, because the moment someone comes around bigger, better, faster, cheaper etc. it could be downhill from there.


What about you? Do you notice it getting harder to compete with other designers for work, jobs and projects? If that is the case, how do you make a difference? I would love to hear your thoughts?

Thoughts and Insights on the New MacBook Air (2010)

Design Articles
Dec 24, 2010

MacBook Air 2010 Taper

My decision to buy a new 13″ MacBook Air (2010) was quite an arduous one. I went through rounds of intensive research before I decided to take the plunge. I must have read every MacBook Air review out there, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Due to popular demand, I decided to share my purchasing decision process as well as some post-purchase insights on the design and usability of the MacBook Air after I put it thought its paces.

In preparation for this article, I took copious notes on my thoughts of the MacBook Air (both good and bad). These notes have been transcribed into this article and should also reflect my MacBook Air’s chronology of use.


Lets start with a bit of a background. I’m currently using, what I call, a MacBook masquerading as a MacBook Pro. Now more than 2 years old, it was the first generation 13″ MacBook that was launched with the Aluminum Unibody. The only difference at that time between a MacBook and a Pro was the Pro had a faster processor, SD Card slot and a backlit keyboard. My MacBook has a 2GHz processor with 2GB of Ram and runs like a tank (abet a sluggish one) despite falling on and deforming its corner. So technically, I did not really need a new laptop.

MacBook Air on Lap

I had notice recently that Design Sojourn Consulting was taking me on the road quite a lot. I found I was working in varied environments such as Starbucks, corner of benches, and even PC friendly design studios. In this scenario of use, my MacBook was not hitting the mark in both the laptop’s weight and battery life. Therefore in October 2010, when Steve Jobs introduced a super thin, light and fast Laptop, I was very intrigued. After playing with it at the store, I decided to really think carefully if a MacBook Air (MBA) was for me.

My first question was what would I use an MBA for, especially if I still have a fully functioning laptop? Furthermore what size should I get, the 11″ or the 13″? I ran the question by my friends on Twitter and a surprising number of people suggested I go for the 11″, especially if I still had a functioning laptop.

The majority of reviews concluded that the 11″ would be a good satellite or 2nd/3rd computer and the 13″ should be seen as your replacement machine. I found these conclusions to be partially true and I bucked the trend by buying a 13″ MacBook Air instead.


When I finally went to the Apple store to make my purchase, I had two scenarios in mind:

1) As suggested by the reviews, I would buy the 11″ and use it as a satellite or a portable extension of my 13″ MacBook.

2) I buy the 13″ MBA as a replacement for my aging 13″ MacBook. Once I move the data over, I’ll Bootcamp my old MacBook to run Windows for CAD (Rhino 3D).

After speaking to the ever-knowledgeable Apple Geniuses, I ended up somewhere in-between the two scenarios. I decided that my new 13″ MBA was going to be a “serious satellite” as I needed the MBA to run Photoshop on the go. It seems the 11″ will struggle with Photoshop, so say the Geniuses.

Furthermore after spending some time at the store playing with MBAs, I found the screen size of the 11″ just too small to use comfortably. The problem is the 16:9 high-resolution display which packs in more pixels that a 13″ MacBook/Pro horizontally. As a result, everything gets much smaller. For example, the standard fonts sizes on webpages, document icons and toolbars etc., they all get smaller. I did not want to be changing the zoom presets on the programs every time I use them.

You will find that it is hard to gauge the shrinkage as the demo computers are running full screen slide shows all the time! I’m not sure about you but I’m struggling with short sightedness and I’m not planning to risk what’s left of my eyesight by working daily on 11″. The 13″ also has a similar shrinkage problem, but the larger physical size helps alleviate the problem.

Despite the screen size and resolution issue, I still seriously considered the 11″ until the very end. But what actually swung me was the perceived value of what I was purchasing. My initial gut feel was that the 64GB Solid State Hard-drive was not enough for all my data. So I’ll need an 11” with a 128GB SSD. On that note, I discovered that for US$100 more, I could get a larger 13″ screen, faster processor, longer battery life and a SD Card slot!


I decided to run my spanking new MacBook Air like an iPad on steroids. This meant keeping the OS light and fast. This was also in anticipation of the new MacOS Lion where the boundaries between MacOS and iOS would be blurred. Finally, instead of migrating my files and software over from my old MacBook, I adopted a policy of installing programs or moving data only when I needed to.

I started the ball rolling with a stripped down Firefox browser to maintain the speed. I converted most of the plugin add-ons into native apps running on the Mac. I guess the only reason why I stuck with Firefox was to sync the bookmarks from my browser on my old MacBook. Other programs I installed were; Dropbox to share files, Evernote for note clipping, WriteRoom for writing, and AppCleaner for maintenance. I also installed Notify as a replacement to the Gmail Manager Firefox plugin, as that plugin made Firefox a resource hog.

I was all happy and dandy with the simplicity of it all! There were no folders/files getting in the way and Apps to bog down the system. So in my first week, my MacBook Air became a very focused tool for Getting Things Done!

I was originally happy to use for updates but after a week later, I broke down and installed Tweet Deck with its Adobe Air overhead. I needed to speed tweet and single column solutions like Twitteriffic did not work for me. To catch up on my RSS feeds, I installed Reeder for the Mac. This allowed me to remove the Feedly Firefox plugin I usually use. I rounded all this up by installing Photoshop, Illustrator and Office for Mac.

The Nitty Gritty

1) I have to say that the MacBook Air is a piece of sublime industrial design. Most of you have probably drawn the same conclusion so there is no real point talking about the industrial design in detail. But one thing I will point out, is that the forward sloping wedge section is a huge evolution in the laptop archetype. If anything, the tapered wedge makes this laptop better than anything on the market and worth the “Apple Tax”. This wedge now makes the transition between the tabletop to laptop almost seamless. This also means our wrists do not suffer from the uncomfortable edges of the thicker aluminum Unibody. Regardless, the MacBook Air makes the MacBook Pro Unibody positively chunky.

MacBook Air Wrist Rest

2) The Solid State Drive (SSD) allocates memory like a USB thumb drive or memory stick. This means all data has a 10-20% overhead as compared to a regular Hard-Disk Drive. This is something to consider if you want to see if your memory footprint of your current laptop can fit into a MBA’s SSD. On that note, I’m glad I stretched for a 128GB as the MacOS takes up about 15GB. A MacBook Air with a 64GB SSD would have made me nervous.

3) Those who claim that the 11″ MBA can be a replacement for an iPad, may need to rethink that statement. I carried my 13″ MBA around in a sleeve for a day and it was brilliant weight wise. However, even though it is very portable, it is not a “stand and snack” device, but rather a “sit and use” device. The clamshell laptop archetype is the issue here as opposed to the slate/tablet archetype where you can interface directly on the surface without dealing with a moving hinge. Even though my MBA is a 13″, I would imagine it would still be a difficult task for a person to stand, hold the 11″ laptop in one hand and type with the other.

Macbook Unibody Flaw pop open

4) Unlike the hinge problems of early Unibody Macs, when the MBA stands on its side (on the hinge) the cover does not annoyingly pop open (above). This is quite important as when my old Macbook sits in a carry bag vertically, the open cover picks up a lot of fluff. (Edit: I just had a piece of flesh from my palm pinched painfully between the covers as I was pulling it out of a bag.) The MBA feels like it has a magnetic contact strip that holds the cover and bottom together.

5) Having a USB port on both sides is a very good idea. I now do not have a cluster of cables hanging off one side of my laptop.

6) I had high hopes for the SD Card slot. I had planned for an SD Card to live in that slot to provide for additional memory backup. I even went out to buy the biggest card I could find. To my horror, 1/3 of the SD Card actually sticks out of the slot. That 1/3 is great for pulling it out, but not good for leaving it in there semi-permanently. I wish the slot had a “push-push” type SD card mechanism.

7) I miss having an Infrared receiver. This means I cannot use the Apple Remote Control to manage my slideshows. I still have not figured out a work around yet.

8) I miss the power LED that “breaths” on standby as I often can’t remember if I put it to standby or turned it off. Another issue is that without the LED you would not know if the machine was starting up until screen comes on. Furthermore as the screen takes about 2 seconds to turn on, you would not know how long to hold the power button down for. While the start up is pretty quick about 3-5 seconds, the world seems to go into “bullet time” while I wait for the screen to start up. Lately, as I install more software, the boot up time is starting to get longer and longer. 3 seconds when it was brand new, 5 seconds after my first set of software. 10 seconds after I installed Adobe Air, Adobe Photoshop and Office. Fortunately the shut down time has not change and is still a zippy 3 seconds.

9) I don’t miss the Ethernet slot as I have WiFi. But I would miss it if I did not have another computer with an Ethernet slot to do things like tweaking my router.

10) I don’t miss the optical drive. But I do feel hindered that I can’t install Photoshop from my DVD-Rom. I copied the entire archive on to the SSD and installed it locally. This probably left a huge data gap on my hard drive when I deleted the archive.

11) The “chicklet” keyboard keys are firm and with enough travel for typing comfort. Quite surprising for keys living on such a thin housing. I hope that the keys do not become, like my Unibody MacBook, wobbly with age.

12) Battery life promises approximately 7 hours for the 13”. I manage to get a consistent 6-hour run if I restrict my activities to opening program and closing windows and WiFi internet work. After calibrating the battery, I get my MBA to start fully charged at around 7 hours. If I am catching up on online flash movies, the battery indicator drops to between 4-5 hours. This is still much better than my old MacBook with gives me 3 hours for online flash movies.

13) I mange to get the CPU cooling fan to run while I was downloading and updating the OS. The bottom of the MBA does get warm and even hot in certain areas, but it is not as bad as my Unibody MacBook. The fan sounds like a crowded room, observed from a distance away.

14) The performance of the MBA is really fast and responsive. Programs load faster than my Macbook and everything you heard about the response time of the MBA is true. In a freshly booted environment, Photoshop CS3 takes 5 seconds to load on the MBA, compared to 20 seconds on my old MacBook. App switching on Expose (I had 9 windows/programs open) is instantaneous. Do note that even though my 13” MBA moves faster than my old MacBook, the specifications are quite similar. The Solid State Drive has to be the key-differentiating factor. To date, I’ve not seen the beach ball spin for more than a second and claims that the MBA is an (almost) instant on/load/use system are quite accurate.

15) I’m planning to eventually get Sketchbook Pro installed and see if I can use the track pad as a drawing tablet.


Steve Jobs: What if a Macbook and iPad hooked up?
Steve Jobs: What if a Macbook and iPad hooked up?

The MBA is a worthy addition to the MacBook product line up. The entry level MacBook promises a competitive price, the MacBook Pro sells on performance and the MacBook Air fights on portability. I have always said that Apple, as a market leader, runs a defensive marketing strategy by filling up the gaps in their product line. This allows Apple to protect their range from competitors coming up with niche or credible alternatives.

Depending on the economies of scale, I dare say that the Macbook Air could eventually merge or take over the line of entry level Macbooks. This is because I do foresee that my MBA could eventually take over my old MacBook. Furthermore computing sufficiency and Moore’s Law would likely mean that the majority of consumers would not need a faster CPU for most of their computing needs. Plus Jobs did hint that the MacBook Air was the future of laptops.

I don’t think the MBA will eat into iPad sales nor replace it. Both products have different uses. An iPad focuses on media consumption and a MBA focuses on media creation. Most consumers will be split between the two, with a small group owning both devices. With the next MacOS Lion taking the first steps of blurring the boundaries with iOS, I’m curious to see how far up the MacBook bloodline the iPad “DNA” will go.

All in all, I would recommend the MacBook Air to anyone, and in particular the 13” version. The 13” version is neither much heavier nor less portable than the 11”, however it is far more comfortable to use. One word of caution though, you should carefully think how the MBA, or any Apple product for that matter, fits into your lifestyle. If you already own a number of Apple products (say an iPad and a MacBook Pro), every time Apple introduces a new product to fill in a gap, the usage scenarios will start to overlap more and more. This means Apple products can end up doubling up in use and you could end up paying extra for a feature or function you don’t really need.

Wow! This article has gotten longer than I even expected. I hope you enjoyed my detailed insights on the new MacBook Air and if you have any additional questions, please feel free to leave a comment below?