British Product Designer
1929 - present
Species: Diverse Consultant
Most famous for: High speed train, Black Cab Taxi, Park-o-Meter, Postbox, Parker Pens, Kodak Instamatic, co-founding Pentagram.
Silly fact: Didn’t have enough time to make a full prototype for one of his clients - so he just made half of it and stuck it on a mirror. He got the job.
Badass Quote: “The starting point of a design is the belief that I can design something better”
Does he stereotypically touch his own face in photos?
People have always made stuff. To create is a fundamental human activity. Why is there now a phenomenon called the Maker Movement?
Unprecedented access to high tech tooling. Shared fabrication workshops. Fablabs, Techshops, Makerspaces, GE Garages, Makerspaces.
High speed sharing. The internet. A huge social web for sharing ideas. We see things and we get inspired. Things don’t even have to be explicitly shared under open licenses - it is human nature to simply see things, get inspired and build upon them.
Social making - The rise of Makerspaces and Hackerspaces. People coming together under one roof to do projects, exchange information and make things.
Crowdfunding - Previously if you needed money to make an idea come to life you’d have to go to your family if they were rich, or pitch to venture capitalists. To make a product viable it’d often need some sort of token patent. Not any more. Enter crowdfunding - Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Crowdrise etc
You don’t need a physical shop or any of the traditional trade or retail agreements. Sell stuff you’ve made from the comfort of your own home via online shops such as Etsy, Tindie and Shapeways.
Paraphrased from a talk by Sabrina Merlo “The Popularisation of Open Hardware” at Makerfaire UK 2014 Newcastle
Had great craic exhibiting some stuff at Makerfaire in Newcastle last weekend.
Our humble stand! We were there as Artschool I/O - a group for hackers and makers at the Glasgow School of Art.
We exhibited some of our latest work - a motion controlled foosball goalkeeper by Roy Shearer, some flexible wooden ringbinders by myself, and a digital flute by Kyle McAslan.
(This is not a bong). Kyle McAslan with his digital flute. It uses a length of pipe, a ping pong ball, a DC motor from a CD player, an Arduino clone called a Teensy, and a few thumbtacks - and makes beautiful MIDI music when connected to a laptop. The proprietary equivalent of this by Yamaha costs around £500. Get involved here
Area C from the perspective of our stall. We had neighbours from Ultimaker 3D Printers, Hitchen Hackspace, and Cinehack (great guys to grab a pint with).
The place was huge, and had activities for all ages.
There was a robot wars arena. What more do you want!
Shapeways was there, with lots of cutting edge 3D printed objects in high resolution plastic, metal and ceramic.
This little rig takes your photo then draws your face in a matter of seconds. Robotic art - interesting!
Nearly everything at the Makerfaire was Open Source - meaning that anyone can use, modify, make or sell their own. This leads to high levels of friendly competition and innovation.
Some of the exhibits from Ultimaker! The multicoloured parts caught my eye, as well as the ability to print a roller chain all in a single print, without requiring assembly.
A special project from the BBC R&D department - an open source radio
One of my personal favourites - a stall by MSRaynford and Just Add Sharks - lots of cool laser cutting stuff.
Sabrina Merlo, the Program Director of Makerfaire, talking about the popularisation of Open Hardware.
Marc Newson has designed a myriad of products, from watches to cars, dish racks to spaceship interiors.
He is somewhat controversial, in that some of his most well known pieces of work are more sculptural than functional.
"With great power comes great responsibility"
So does a great designer that spends his time designing “arty” products demonstrate a lack of responsibility?
For the Lockheed Lounge functionality was never the purpose - it was always intended to be sculptural. Whilst I think artistic product design can sometimes get carried away (especially with regard to the price tag), it is always valuable. Products like these can advance society forward just as much as strictly functional ones - by inspiring people, and by getting people to think about things in different and deeper ways.
There is also the ethical issue that the workers manufacturing some of his products are unlikely to be able to afford them. I think this is pretty unfair. It also puts Newson on a pedestal and plays down the importance of the team around him that has enabled the products to be successful. Product design is always a team effort and should be treated as such by the media.
Yet we have similar issues everywhere. People making Nike shoes or iPhones in factories are unlikely to be able to afford the product they are manufacturing. This is a societal norm - something that is widely accepted. But just because an issue is widespread, does not mean it is right.
Despite this, there are many aspects to Newson’s process that are admirable. Here is a list of things that I really liked:
He likes taking shit apart. A habit shared by many designers and engineers. Aside from gaining knowledge of how things work, which can then be usefully applied when designing products, it also encourages repair rather than disposal.
He will tackle any problem or redesign large or small.
"Design is the language. The object and scale do not matter"
Newson doesn’t sit around. “I’m not happy with the way things are. A lot of it is driven by anger and frustration.” He uses his frustration with the world the way it is to power meaningful and corrective action. He doesn’t just sit there.
Doesn’t read instruction manuals.
You shouldn’t have to. Things should imply their use.
Designs without prior conceptions.
Newson keeps his ideas fresh by ignoring the self imposed boundaries that the industry has set themselves. Whether its that car seats are fixed in place (Ford car redesign) or that windows are dependent on gravity (spaceship interior featuring portholes on the floor, walls and ceiling - because in zero G the floor, wall and ceiling are the same thing).
Anti-consumerism. Although he designs material goods, Newson believes that people should focus on gaining knowledge, rather than objects.
Believes that good designers need to be geeks.
To get something just right designers often need to be slightly obsessive enough to pay attention to the little details. And it actually really helps to have a lot of geeky peripheral knowledge - it enables the mind to form links and be more creative.
"Good designers are geeks. Bad designers are not. Geeks are interested with the minutae of how things work. If you’re not, then how can you really know what you’re doing?"
They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are “The Advertisers” and they are laughing at you.
You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.
Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.
You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.
Check out Marc Newson: Urban Spaceman, an interesting documentary on the eclectic designer who’s drawn up plans for everything from kitchen accesories to spacecraft.
^ The obligatory “designer touching their face” shot. It is a well established fact that “If you’re a designer, you ain’t shit if you don’t touch your face in photographs”. See Designers Touching Their Faces for more.
There’s a lot to be said about Newson, and that’s been covered by a lot of people. But the thing that really struck me in relation to Open Design is the reason why he designs - starting at 7:15 in Part 2/5.
Anger. Frustration with the world as it is.
I thought, welllll, its not just rockstar designer Marc Newson who feels this, its everyone.
We get angry when things are confusing or don’t work quite right. We probably want to give the people responsible a good kicking, then make them fix it - so that no-one else should suffer the same rubbish design.
Amongst the anger is a brief moment of selflessness in there - something that improves the situation for everyone. It’s a beautiful human psychological trait. For a brief glimmering moment, there is potential for users to give insightful design feedback and suggestions.
I find this really interesting. Companies pay tremendous amounts of money for design consultancies to figure out what is frustrating about their products. How do design companies actually do that? Interviewing and observing users of the product.
How about the users tell the companies themselves? In that brief moment of frustration, we have no problem giving constructive criticism for free. Can we co-create, instead of simply consuming? Can companies fling open their doors and actually communicate with users? Can the dark side of design be harnessed?
There are some strategies emerging to do so:
More and more systems are emerging for collecting user feedback and insights, not just for websites and apps, but for using physical products too.
So although Newson may be a superstar designer, he’s not alone in being largely motivated by anger. I suppose what differs him from the masses is he has the necessary tools to do something when he feels exasperated. But now, the digital age is opening up the design process, giving everyone the power to design and improve products. If something frustrates us, we don’t have to wallow in our anger, powerless. We can harness that frustration and take meaningful steps to improve the situation.
And in doing so, we might just discover the other side of design - the joy of creation.
Digital notetaking in the future will be useful for a wide variety of people, whether student, business professional, writer, designer or artist.
The advantages of a digital notetaker
Digital textbooks - infinitely lighter!
Ability to put in a page where there was previously nothing
Merging, organisation of notes
Easy to insert pictures and other media into notes to aid understanding
Collaboration and sharing
Backup, security of files
Current devices though, are absolute crap. It’ll be a few years before digital notetaking really takes off.
Ideas for the design of digital writers:
Texture - It would be nice to replicate the feel of writing on paper, rather than a horrible slippery glass feeling. This affects handwriting.
Pressure sensitivity - Need to get this perfect. Some tablets are already using these.
Accuracy - Where the user places the pen should be where the “ink” comes out. The glass gap in current devices creates a parallax effect when viewing from a side angle - not acceptable.
Speed - Should look like ink is actually flowing from the nib of the pen - not lagging behind it by a few millimetres
Palm rejection - Current devices that state they feature palm rejection havn’t got this quite right - users often end up pressing random buttons anyway. The Samsung Note actually has an options popup button exactly where your palm rests. Not good enough - needs to work the same way a piece of paper offers palm rejection!
Interaction - Currently, there are loads of options menus and buttons. Surely there are more intuitive ways to interact when changing pen.
In-document navigation - Better ways to quickly flip through a document - as if it were a physical notebook.
Multiple documents - similarly, it should be incredibly easy to handle, open, find, and switch between multiple documents.
Collaboration and sharing - there is huge potential for GoogleDocs style collaboration for annotating documents - could be especially useful for textbooks. Missed a lecture? Just check out what your classmates have written.
Simplicity - Paper is simple and minimal. The focus is on content. Let’s move away from menus and buttons.