March 27, 2006

More Cardboard Houses

What, is cardboard the new concrete? I ain't giving up my granite countertop, though.

Remember that way-overpriced cardboard house from DWR? Well, here are a few more design-laden cardboard houses from Isa Toys in Brasil:

Photo of the Isa Toys cardboard castle

Best one is this kind of retro ("EAMES ERA!!!" in eBay-speak) Moon Rocket:

Photo of the Isa Toys cardboard moon rocket

I don't think these things even use Mr. McGroovy's rivets, either.

The best idea for making structures with cardboard boxes that I've heard was from ol' codger Ranger Rick Tscherne--the former Army sarge who lives in Italy off the proceeds from his "Ranger Digest" booklets. Rick suggests filling empty boxes used for Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) cases, (which are made of some truly heavy duty cardboard) with sand and then stacking them up instead of sandbags.

Photo of the a case of MREs

If you used a plastic-coated cardboard, or the coroplast stuff used to make US post office bins and the like, you could make some pretty hefty structures.

Ranger Rick also teaches you how to make a porta-potti out of an MRE box in one of the aforementioned Ranger Digest booklets, kind of taking Paperpod's cardboard chair a bit little further...

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June 16, 2005

Time Value of Money

The latest DWR Newsletter profiles designer Jens Risom, who helped bring the Danish design aesthetic to the uncouth US. DWR's interview with Risom had some interesting economic tidbits:

JR: I wanted to be doing furniture design, but I started doing textile design for Dan Cooper. That was fine, but Hans Knoll offered me a job that paid more than $45 a week, which was my salary at that time, so I went to work with Hans.

RF: I guess your furniture cost less at that time as well.

JR: Well, the chair that you are selling was sold for $21 in 1942.

Ok. $21 in 1942 dollars is $263.51 in 2005 dollars, thanks to the wonderful Inflation Calculator. But the aforementioned chair is priced in DWR's catalog at $632.

Ouch! That's some gross margins. Or is it the "intrinsic value of design" that we keep hearing about? How Apple can charge so much more for those elegant white polycarbonate boxes than some mom and pop storefront slamming Intel chips into a Taiwan OEM barebones case?

Oh yeah. Apple's gone over to Intel too. What is the world coming to?

(parked this post in Design as it stems from a DWR newsletter, but it's really about Economics...)

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April 05, 2005

Scenario Planning

A colleague asked me about references to Scenario Planning. I dredged up what I remembered from years ago and pointed him to some references--posting here so I can call 'em up easier later.

* * *

Scenario planning comes from political types and the oil industry, of all places. The text I read when we were trying to sell facilitated planning sessions was pretty good:

Schwartz's The Art of the Long View

There are some other books that I've heard are good but I haven't read them:

Van der Heijden's Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation

I actually have this book somewhere but they're buried under a ton of junk in my garage.

Lindgren's Scenario Planning: The Link Between Future and Strategy

Never got around to reading Lindgren's book, but it's supposed to be more of a how-to than the other two texts.

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February 23, 2005

Visualizing thesaurus entries as a spectrum

We were searching for just the right word to use in a preso the other day--how you describe the process of integrating a foreign team into the corporate culture? I started at "indoctrinated" and then worked backward to a more buzzword-compliant term ("Office Space", anyone?).

What if your handy-dandy thesaurus (thesauri?) displayed choices as a spectrum?

Of course, on what criteria would you build the scale? Most offensive to least offensive? Most high-falutin' (no, that is not a town in Iraq) to most down-to-earth?

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May 14, 2004

Sticky sites in Brick and Mortar Retailing

When I was a dot-com consultant, "sticky" was still an in-vogue term. What would keep a visitor coming back when there are just so many other cool things (Paris Hilton, beheadings, rotting meat) to view on the Web?

A couple of California retailers are taking the "sticky" idea a bit further--by handing out stickers to customers. Kudos to Trader Joe's and In-n-Out Burger. (Yum! Meat!) Nothing like free stickers to keep this dad coming back to the same store.

I'm sure many of my former dot-com Colleagues (capitalized to emphasize Scient-speak) wouldn't care, but for the father of a 2-year old, stickers are the bomb! It never fails to amaze me how a graphic on a slip of paper with some adhesive can keep a kid busy for so long.

And of course, each can be a self-contained advertisement that will be conveniently tacked up somewhere by the little kiddies. Not a bad way to get cheap dissemination and placement of an ad message, huh?

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April 16, 2004

Small Multiples done wrong

One page I noticed on the nicely laid out DeLaEspada site is their All Products page. At first glance, this looks like a good example of Tufte's "small multiples" guideline--provide thumbnails of like items so viewers can compare and contrast without much work.

But the images used are mixed up--there's some "in use" images scaled down to thumbnail size, some "product only" images that show just the product with a transparent background, and some schematic floorplan diagrams for sofa sectionals and the like.

This kind of defeats the small multiples principle--some of the "in use" thumbs, probably reused from the print/Web catalogs, are scaled down so much that you can't distinguish the product from the background. Like this one.

Now don't get me wrong--I think their stuff is fantastic. Too pricey for me, but heck, I'm still using my bachelor pad furniture 10 years after moving out of my apt.

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DWR and DeLaEspada

Design Within Reach's email newsletter is actually welcome spam, especially compared to the enlarge-your-penis/buy-generic-viagra/get-a-cheap-mortgage emails I get. The latest edition actually gives free plugs to the new Fillmore store's neighbors, of which one is the London furniture store DeLaEspada.

Now this is kind of interesting--DWR is basically sending traffic to a company that could be thought of as a competitor. Is this a Microsoft-like overture of "good will", throwing the poor unsuspecting incumbent a bone before the DWR juggernaut steals all their customers? DeLaEspada is similar to many of the other vendors in DWR's catalog--their "warm modern" wood furniture reminds me of the giant Eames chess piece stools DWR sells.

Makes me wish I took woodshop instead of metalshop as a kid.

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March 11, 2004

Defensive Design for the Web

Looks promising, especially on their Website for the book. I wonder what they say about Help. Guess I'll have to order the damn thing.

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March 10, 2004

Compared to What: Subways

Fakeisthenewreal compares subway maps from different metro areas. Very Tufte.

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February 11, 2004 is Funky

So I'm eating at my desk again, this time a pop-top Campbell's Chunky Soup nuked in the breakroom microwave. Halfway through my lunch, I decide to find out just how bad this slop is for me. Naturally, I had already chucked the can in the recycle bin. So, I surf over to the aptly-named for nutritional information.

Where is it? There's everything but the facts, ma'am.

Not only did they leave out the kind of content 90% of users would expect to find at a food company Website, but the navigation sucks. The only way I could find to get back to the corporate home page was to click the copyright text in the page footer.

The Search box doesn't help, because it's really "Recipe Search". Yes, it's labeled as such, but aren't we conditioned (hello, Pavlov?) to type a string into any field labeled "search" on Web pages these days, and expect something useful? Why not just buy a real search engine and offer the user the ability to constrain the search domain to just recipes--or scan the entire site?

I do have a great new tagline for them, though: "...just like Mom used to open...". Although I'll be honest, my Ma cooked up real homemade soup for me. I can proudly state that I serve up miso soup from scratch (none of those little packets, thank you very much) for my kid. Wish I had some of that for today's lunch, though.

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December 08, 2003

Dystopian Diagrams: Mark Lombardi

I just learned of the NYC art exhibit by one Mark Lombardi, the artist who charted the myriad links between political figures, criminals, and the worlds' most wanted man, in a series of elegant, intricate diagrams:

Detail of BNL, Reagan, Bush, & Thatcher and the Arming of Iraq, ca. 1983-91

Lombardi, it is said, created these diagrams using just the news media as an information source. Yet they were detailed enough for the FBI to get interested, dropping by the Whitney a few weeks after 9/11.

I guess this is another reason why NYC kicks our butt in terms of artistic vision. They have guys like Lombardi. Our talent is spent designing a better hat for Mike Meyer's Cat.

Then again, Lombardi killed himself in 2000. Would he have had a different outlook living in the land of sun, sand, and Baywatch?

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November 25, 2003

TRIZ...not just for kids

At Scient, everyone got indoctrinated with the "Innovation Workshop", a two-day seminar based on the work of Min Basadur. Scient had tried to distinguish itself from the pack of eBusiness integrators (SapRazLanViaProxiFirstXL) by claiming status as "The eBusiness Systems Innovator". I'm sure Chris "Category? Invent a New Category!" Lochhead was behind that one.

The Basadur-based workshop used a "Diverge | Converge" framework--similar to the stormin'-then-normin' idea we're all used to. Van Oech, DeBono, Gardner, etc. all tout similar processes.

So I just "discovered" TRIZ: Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. Way back in the 1940s, a Soviet patent examiner named Genrich S. Altshuller figured out that all inventive solutions have common principles. Forty, to be exact. Applying these principles to your problem suggests new insights, upon which one or two might be the aha! (in the Gardner sense) you need.

Most of the attention on TRIZ has been from the TQM folks. Us old-school IEs, who grew up with Taguchi and QFD, who carried laminated cards of Deming's 14 points in our wallets, dig this stuff.

Turns out that Business 2.0 did an article last June on TRIZ. I hope they're teaching it in IE schools these days.

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September 10, 2003

Tufte: Powerpoint is Evil

Tufte promotes his new buy-online essay in the latest Wired.

One of my close friends is QA manager on Power Point--I wonder what he thinks of the article?

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September 08, 2003

What time is it?


Cool Flash piece of the day. Too bad those electronic photo frames can't serve up Flash-ed Web pages--this would look nifty in my dining room.

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September 04, 2003

My new subway map mug

I received the greatest souvenir the other day--an NYC subway map mug. This brings my subway map mug collection up to a colossal number of three.

Subway maps are one of the design world's greatest contributions to everyday life. The London Underground map is always touted as a milestone in information design, and is the subject of my first souvenir coffee mug.

Then, I was in Toronto for a convention, and spotted their subway map on a mug--with all of two lines (Green and Yellow). Thus the collection was born.

In Paris, I had to settle for a metro map t-shirt at Le Marche Aux Puces. I guess those little demitasse cups don't have enough space for the map.

And, I've been to NYC a zillion times, and never found a subway map mug--but I have one now. Woo hoo!

Misc. subway map links, for the curious and geeky:

MetaMap: Metadata standards explained via a subway map.

nyc bloggers Find your friendly blogger by subway map stop.

The Subway Site Subway maps from around the world

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August 25, 2003

Bad, Broken Designs

Way back in college, I took Stu Parsons' course on Human Factors Engineering. Prof. Parsons was one of the investigators for 3 Mile Island--probably one of the worst consequences of human error in this country. His photo of beer tap handles used on the control board of a nuke plant (used later by Don Norman in POET) still sticks in my mind today.

There's a lot of folks compiling such examples on the Web:

Mark Hurst's This is Broken:

Good Experience: This Is Broken

Michael Darnell's Bad Human Factors Designs:

Bad Human Factors Designs

These anecdotes are always great for pulling out of your...hat (ahem) in a meeting with knuckleheaded folks.

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August 21, 2003

"Total Customer Experience"

The company I work for nowadays is embarking on a new corporate mandate: "Total Customer Experience". As someone who has been working, in one way or another, in Web CE for the past few years, I found the choice of labels intriguing.

For our execs, TCE seems more customer satisfaction oriented rather than experience-oriented. I would label their stuff "Customer Support +". But you can't blame them for trying.

Tog, of course, finds a way to illustrate TCE quite nicely: AskTog: Think Globally, Act Globally.

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August 20, 2003


So the Meet the Makers guy is starting a new blog--where the referrer gets the same prize as the lucky winner. Alvey says, "...if the winner gets a truck, the person (blog) who refers them gets a truck".

Pretty nifty take on the whole affiliate marketing thing. Now only if Amazon would send me the same thing everyone buys through the Usability Toolbox...

Of course, this thing could go too far. For example, what if Good Vibrations did the same thing?

Blogstakes presents: Free BrowserCam for a Year

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July 26, 2003

The Not So Big House

I've been reading Sarah Susanka's books, The Not So Big House and Creating the Not So Big House. These books promote a design philosophy contrary to the "more is better" school--they promote finesse along with form and function.

So much of my work as an information architect has been influenced by the constraints of the Net; bandwidth, search engine optimization, etc. Real-world architecture also always has constraints: the nature of the building site, local codes and ordinances, and most often, the depth of the owner's pocketbook.

Susanka's books are perfect for those of us who live in crazy housing markets like Silicon Valley. You can't find a big lot to build on anymore, and even the small lots are too expensive. When a starter "fixer upper" home costs half a million dollars, you look for ways to optimize your design.

The other book on home design I revere is, naturally, Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings, by Edward Morse. Kevin Driscoll, my boss at Netscape, told me about it. So many ideas, so little time.

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