February 2011

Monthly Archive

Rule 3: Good Design Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

Posted by on 11 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Design, Rules

Okay, I know, this totally sounds like the previous Rule.  But it’s not.  Rule 2 talks about ubiquity of design.  This rule talks about the need for good design to consider its environment.  In The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman makes the point that car radios should be designed with the fact that the radio should be controllable without needing to look at the controls, obviously because you’re driving at 65+ mph and probably shouldn’t be fiddling with your radio controls just so you can turn on your Easy Listening.

I have a TV stand.  It’s good.  I’ll post a picture when I get a chance.  It’s by no means the end-all-be-all of TV stands. But what makes it a good TV stand as opposed to using say, a sturdy box or a coffee table?

Well, the features that strikes me the most and most relevant to this conversation is adjustable shelving (ooo!) and an extremely accessible back (aaaaah!).  That’s it.  It doesn’t need to be complicated design, it just needs to be relevant design.

For what we’re talking about, the adjustable shelves accommodate the various consoles and peripherals that I keep for use with the TV.  Simple enough.  But more useful than a box.

The design of my TV stand is that the top roughly looks like a trapezoid sitting on top of a rectangle.   It was originally designed for a CRT TV, which is why it has such a large amount of space.  As it stands now, it fits my flat screen TV on the back, leaving some table space for various knick knacks.  The smaller side faces the wall, which means that the angled sections give easy access to cabling along the back.  I’ve had far too many TV stands either try to cram all the cabling through a 2 inch hole, or the back of the TV stand is completely blocked off.  And while some TV stands (or a coffee table) do have an open back, their sides don’t have an angled access point, making for some contortioning of the hands just to get to the cables, much less manipulate them.

The shape of my TV stand if looked from above.
And if it were a tray instead of a TV stand.
Oh, Google Image Search, how you’ve failed me.

Obviously, I have an unhealthy obsession with my TV stand.  But the point remains, Good Design Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum.

You want another example?  Okay, here’s a good one.  Think about your fridge.  Open the doors.  Which way do they open?  Do the doors block the flow of traffic?  Does the door opening face an adjacent counter?  Why would that matter?  You tell me.

Oh, and I thought I was done for the night, but I just came across this article for a public toilet.  With regards to our discussion, the material used for the piping is in keeping with the city ‘aesthetic’, the pipes themselves are hard to vandalize, and are durable and cheap, all good qualities for the purpose of a public outdoor toilet.

My favorite corkscrew

Posted by on 06 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Design, Kitchen Utensils, product eval

My favorite corkscrew, hereafter known as Corkscrew A.
Every once in a while, you come across a device that is sublime in form and function.  While I can’t say definitively that this is the best corkscrew in the world, I can say that it is indeed my favorite corkscrew.  
I like gadgety stuff, but I need to weigh gadgety vs kludgey. 
What makes this corkscrew so good?  It’s subtle.
A lesser corkscrew, Corkscrew B.
Teflon coated screw for easy entry into the cork. Finger grips on the left just feel good in the hand.  The part where you rest against the bottle’s mouth to open?  There’s actually TWO ridges.  The style of sommelier’s style corkscrew (Corkscrew B) that I usually come across usually only has ONE ridge, making it difficult to leverage the cork out of the bottle once the corkscrew is in place.  Additionally, those two ridges have a small pin, so that when the closer ridge is being used, the farther ridge can be moved out of the way as necessary.
Corkscrew A has a form factor that when it’s completely closed, it’s still very easy to open bottles, without the added bulk of a large mouth.  Call it a personal preference, but I find that Corkscrew A sits in the pocket much better than Corkscrew B.
Caw caw! I have wings!
“But Russ? What about those neat wing style corkscrews?  What about them indeed?  What I find is that they’re intuitive to use, but very difficult to store and keep handy.  Honestly though, sometimes I find them a little awkward in the actual operation since it feels like you need three hands to secure it on the bottle and turn the corkscrew into the cork.  Sure they’re neat for what they do and people like to paint the arms in neat ways or make them into robot arms, but for my tastes, it takes up a lot of space for something that Corkscrew A does in a smaller space.

Finally, there’s the cost.  It’s a simple device, it’s elegant in operation, and it’s cheap.  Under 10 bucks.  More complicated style wine openers can cost upwards of 40 bucks or more and not work nearly as well.

The only thing I can think of at the moment to improve on the design would be to put a guide ridge where I could rest the top of the bottle so that the knife cut at a uniform height on the foil.

But that really is a minor gripe considering how well this tool functions.

Rule 2: Design is Everywhere.

Posted by on 05 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Design, Rules

This second rule is so obvious, I had considered making it Rule 1.  But the very fact that the first rule is so effective that causes this second rule to be forgotten.

If good design is transparent, then it’s easy to overlook how prevalent design is.

Stop what you’re doing right now (reading) and look around the room (or where ever it is that you like to compute).  Look at every light, table fixture, chair, sofa, box, and thing that you can see.  Pick one.  Like that weird lamp sitting off to the right of you.  No, not that one, the other one.

Deconstruct it.  Well, in your mind.   It’s not very practical for you to take it apart right now (although, at some point, maybe we will).  The base of the lamp was made a certain way, a certain radius, a certain weight.  The plugs are positioned off of it in just a certain way.  The light is made a certain material, the stand is so many inches tall, the light itself hangs just a certain way and shines the light at just a certain angle.

Someone consciously (hopefully) made all those decisions.  That’s essentially design.

Look at another object.  Someone designed that.

And that other one cluttering up the room?  Someone designed that too.

Every time you bang your knee on a table leg, that’s someone’s design at work.

Every item you interact with that occupies space or even if it just occupies a portion of your mind has a design.

Design is everywhere.