Sunday, August 21, 2005

excuse me, do you know me?

I had a surreal only-near-silicon-valley moment last Saturday. It was almost like finding a long lost relative.

We were in Tahoe over the weekend for a wedding, and at the local playground I saw that one of the other dads was wearing a shirt that said "Battery Ventures" on the sleeve. I stared and stared, and finally as we were leaving I had to go up to him:

"Hi, I'm sorry but I noticed your shirt says Battery Ventures on it. Do you work there?"

"Yes, I do," says the BV Dad.

"Do you know Larry -----?"

"Yes, I do, are you, ... ?"

"Actually, I don't know him at all, but we share the same name. And every time I google myself, he always comes up first- Larry ----- of Battery Ventures!"

BV Dad, and the other folks in earshot, break into laughter. "Well," says BV Dad, "Larry's a great guy."

"I know! And, he's got a great name! Well, next time you see him, tell him the other Larry ----- says hi!"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

simplicity, design, and corn

[Update August 17] Totally cool, these cornholders I worked on for Zyliss were just reviewed in the New York Times, two weeks after my blog entry. Coincidence? You decide.

From the article:

"How is a corn holder like a sock? No, this is not the first line of an absurdist joke. The serious answer, courtesy of the product development team at Zyliss USA, a kitchen tools maker, is that neither item is useful on its own. Just as socks come in pairs, so too must corn holders; lifting a cob with a single holder can end only in frustration.

"Mr. Gerber says that many parents have praised the product, not only because it lessens the chances of a painful poke, but also because it provides entertainment value. "It's a little bit of a toy," he said. "You have it in your hands, and you have to pull it apart and then put it together."

"In this way, too, corn holders are rather like socks. Anyone who has ever turned a tube sock into a cheerful puppet can attest to that."

[original post: Aug 2, 2005] My goal in designing a product is simplicity. Perhaps because I spent years doing engineering on robots and satellites, I've really come to appreciate not overdoing a thing. Instead, I'd rather distill an idea into its most deceptively basic incarnation, so that it stays true to what it was designed to be, and doesn't try to be something else.

Simple doesn't mean easy. Often, you have to start with complex solutions, and then reduce them down to simplicity.
A good case study: the corn holders IDEO designed for Zyliss. These corn holders do just two things: First, of course, they hold ears of corn. Second, they nest together in pairs when not being used. That's it. They don't try to look like corn. They dont try to look classic, or cute, or gadgety. They don't give you a rubber grip, because, really, it's corn. They just hold the corn when you need them to, and nest together when you're done.

Why nest in pairs? I imagined my toddler digging thru the kitchen knick-knack drawer, poking his little fingers on inconsiderate corn holders. I needed a way for corn holders not to be so dangerous. Nesting these holders hides the sharp ends of the prongs. This is great for fingers, small and large. It turns out that nesting these corn holders in pairs also helps organization: matched pairs stay together, no odd bit left in the drawer.

My first idea was for each corn holder's prongs to flip in and out, like a pocket knife. But, even with only three or four parts, there were too many extra parts and motions in hiding and revealing the prongs. Same with other 'actions' to collapse the holders like little machines. Who wants something as simple as a corn holder to become as complex as a corkscrew?

The idea to nest the holders came after. Much simpler: No moving parts. By adding features in the plastic body of one holder to accept the prongs of the other, you could tuck away the sharp points, without adding any new parts or complexity. This was the right path, the appropriate amount of simplicity.

Our industrial designer took the concept and improved on it. He gave it an elegant form, echoing the purposeful design language of our previous work with Zyliss. We also moved the nesting feature to the core of the form, simplifying the concept even more. When nested, each holder completely hides the prongs of its mate. The pair is secure, and complete. Its simple form conveys this fact.

Just this afternoon, I heard a talk from one of our London designers about some work they've recently done for a well known Italian brand. Simplicity was the key phrase she used as well, to describe the design intent of their work. It's definitely one continuing theme in the IDEO aesthetic.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

autobiography, not mine.

It's nice finding a bite-sized piece of good writing. Just enough to center you for the afternoon. Here's a slice of autobiography from Chicken Fried Life. I wish I had the skills to take a snapshot of my life like this...


Probably the best time in summer is when the tomatoes begin to ripen. Huge beautiful tomatoes, lined up, ready for the next meal. We have enough coming in now that we can have them three times a day, if we choose to. My favorite way to eat them is in tomato sandwiches.

I'm sitting here at the computer, still dark outside, the workweek begins soon. There's still a lot of uncertainty surrounding my job. While I'm there I try not to think about it. I try to only focus on the task I'm doing, and block out everything else. Then we hit some downtime, and my anxieties about the future start to build again. I hope things pick up this week. I need the overtime just to break even. We've run through all our savings, this is the bottom of the barrel and there's nothing left to scrape.

My son was online last night, checking apartment prices in the suburbs just north of Los Angeles. If we can get everything arranged properly, we can move out there in a few of years. A few as in 4 or 5. We want to be sensible about this and have some money saved beforehand. Not do it the way I did when I was 17, hide some money in my boots and light out with no plans. We're also looking at separate small apartments. I can't see buying a house out there unless I win the lottery. (I try, but unsuccessfully). And as much as I enjoy his companionship at home now, little birds leave the nest eventually.

Great stuff.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Freddy & Ma & Marpat

(left: marpat = state of the art camo for marines)

Two more clothes-related links, otherwise completely unrelated.

An ex-colleage of mine and his sister are starting a fashion label, Freddy&Ma, and blogging about it.

I've been intrigued by camouflage since being into army men as a kid. On my drooling camo wishlist is this wicked expensive tome on Disruptive Pattern Material.

Buisness Week had a link to this cool primer on the current state of The Art of Camo at (of all places) the website of the American Institute of Graphic Arts. From the article:

Despite its functionalist status, camo has always had style—and art. Camouflage attracts modernists raised to believe that ornament is crime. Camo ornaments legally, you might say—its pattern has a job to do. Artists and fashion designers have long played off camouflage. Many used bright fluorescent colors instead of dull natural ones. Andy Warhol's camouflage portraits, done late in his life, employed this strategy. (One recurrent fashion joke about camouflage is the perennial camo bikini, a play on concealment and revelation.)

Camo's history became a parable of a wider truth: that the design of even the most functional object—and camo would seem to live and die by its function—inevitably becomes artistic and sytlistic