Apple’s fall rollout of new products isn’t welcome news for some of us still adjusting to the iPhone 5 and getting the feel of the iPad we got last Christmas. Many of us who grew up in the analog age view every electronic upgrade as stressful and disruptive. Innovation for innovation’s sake isn’t always welcome Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. Millennials, born thinking of their opposable thumbs as digital operating devices, don’t understand that “intuitive” is a relative and generational term. Which brings me to this classic comedy sketch created for Norwegian TV a few years back.
A team at the Harvard Innovation Lab undertook a project to reveal how desktops have evolved since the first personal computer appeared 35 years ago. Photographed by dougthomsen.tv and engineered by anton georgiev, the video version below shows how office necessities (e.g., Rolodex, reference books, hand-held calculators) have gone from the actual to the virtual, from physical objects to digital apps. The video, as seen on Designboom.com, is a fascinating look at how technology has transformed office tasks. It also suggests that offices of the future should be redesigned accordingly. Corporations once filled vast high rises with thousands of employees, hundreds of file cabinets and office equipment, and rows of clerical help to handle all kinds of paperwork. Today “offices” are essentially portable. Workers don’t have to be tethered to their desks. They can stuff their laptop and mobile phone in their backpacks and set up shop anywhere. So, what is the purpose of gathering employees into a single workspace? What kind of furniture and equipment will make workers more productive and more collaborative? With so many documents stored in the clouds instead of in metal file cabinets, can the physical office layout be sized to take up less square footage? It’s time to occupy no more space than we really need.
This promo could just as easily have been made to promote printing papers, instead of IKEA’s 2015 home furnishings catalog. Created by BBH Asia Pacific, the IKEA marketing video channels the Apple brand persona in style and tone with its uncluttered, plain white background and its wide-eyed, uncynical spokesman explaining the amazing features of IKEA’s bookbook catalog – touch interface, eternal battery life, instant loading with zero lag, fully charged, no cables, expandable interface, preinstalled content, touch browsing, fast scrolling, easy bookmark and sharing capabilities, and voice activated password protection. The bookbook has everything you’ve ever desired in a modern information delivery system. So simple, so portable, so intuitive, it’s a wonder that Apple hadn’t thought of it before. But let’s give credit where it is truly due – to Gutenberg and medieval bookmakers. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the “wheel”; he invented an elegant means to adapt the desirable features of print to a digital platform. The attributes that consumers seek in an information delivery device have been around for at least 600 years, and tech giants have spent the last several decades trying to replicate the kind of ease-of-use offered by paper.
A Woman Comes Back to Work After 30 Years Away…
When Adobe Illustrator was being released back in 1987, skeptics abounded and the designers who would most benefit from the vector graphic software were most leery that it would destroy the profession. Adobe co-founder John Warnock remembers, “Everybody said, ‘You’re going to ruin good design because now anybody can do it.’” But Warnock believed differently, “The cream rises to the top. The creativity is in the designer. The creativity is in the person who uses the tools.” This brief documentary by Terry Hemphill and produced and directed by Ami Capen looks at how Adobe Illustrator transformed the world of design, so much so that younger designers today can’t fathom what it was like to work with leaky Rapidograph pens, rubdown text and other labor-intensive tools. That’s history recounted by aging designers who want to describe the hardship they endured and how lucky today’s generation is to live in the age of digital graphics.
How do you make herbs and spices tantalizing on a visual and auditory level? Asked by Schwartz Flavour Shots to create an ad that turned its seasonings into a complete sensory experience, Grey London unleashed Schwartz herbs and spices in an explosion of colors choreographed to a classical arrangement by M.J. Cole of Soho Music. Directed by Partizan’s Chris Cairns, the Schwartz Flavour Shots commercial used pyrotechnic designers to trigger 140 separate explosions of spices. Several sacks of black peppercorn, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, ginger, cumin seeds, chili and coriander were synchronized to blast off on cue to the notes and chords of Cole’s piano score. Filmed at Pinewood Studios in the UK, the commercial had to be shot in one take. The final result was an exciting visual feast.
Until now, 3-D mapping has largely been used to project dazzling special effects onto the facade of buildings at outdoor events. The display of colored lights, towering cascading images and shadows of dancing giants enthralled crowds. But as awesome as these performances were, they felt random and experimental, a new invention that had potential but, as yet, no defined purpose beyond a gee-whiz demonstration of its possibilities. That’s why this 3-D court projection produced by Virginia-based Quince Imaging in partnership with the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team is so interesting. It uses 3-D mapping to enhance the excitement by integrating it into its regular program. Using a combination of 3-D mapping techniques and video content produced by the Cavaliers’ QTV team and Think Media, Quince transformed the court surface and surrounding screens into an immersive video environment. The system was comprised of 16 HD projectors, creating a pixel space of 3600×1878.
Less than a decade ago, a billboard was essentially a printed image blown up to a gargantuan size. The picture didn’t move, respond to what was happening in the environment around it, nor interact with passersby. How times have changed, and with it, the types of skills designers need to execute their ideas. Even printed pieces are not static anymore, what with the option of Augmented Reality movement and sound.
Stopp of Stockholm produced this subway billboard for a Swedish cosmetic line called Apolosophy by Apotek Hjärtat. Connecting ultra-sonic sensors to the billboard screen, Stopp made what appeared to be a “still photograph” of a young model come alive. Calibrated to react to arriving trains but not to passing passengers, the sensors made it look like the breeze from the passing trains were tousling the model’s hair. After the train went by, the model returned to her “still” repose. What a delightfully simple idea and brilliant use of technology.
Anthimos Xenos in Athens, Greece, produced this animated introduction for the Greek environmental television network, EcoNews. For the 30-second video, Xenos served as art and creative director, motion designer and 3-D animator, and completed the project from start to finish in one month. Music and sound compositing was by Xenakis Lefteris and additional direction by Nikos Tsimouris. In February 2013, Xenos founded his own firm, Darling Creative Motion, in Athens, to focus on TV branding and advertising.
When evaluating the visibility of a logo design, most designers consider how it will look in all kinds of situations — printed on advertisements, cast in metal, embossed on letterhead, foil-stamped on packaging, blown up to a mega-size for environmental signage, etc. Logos for apps, however, are different. The most important test is how the mark will look at less than a quarter-inch high when viewed on a smartphone or laptop screen. Here’s a quiz to see if you can name these app brands, shown here larger than they are normally seen.
How do you grab the attention of jaded creative directors? By arousing their curiosity. In a campaign for Kontor, a dance music label in Germany, Ogilvy Deutschland developed a “Back to Vinyl” direct mail piece that used high-tech gimmickry to promote the new Boris Dlugosch release. Ad agency recipients got a large flat package that contained a vinyl record inside, instead of the usual CD or USB. The vinyl came with instructions to place the record on the printed turntable on the back of the envelope, then activate the QR code with a smart phone. Recipients could listen to the latest Dlugosch track and “move” the needle to play other tracks as well or to contact Kontor via the connect icon. Needless to say, the vinyl promo often became the talk of the office and didn’t get thrown away.
Clocking in at two minutes, this Honda commercial would be a very expensive ad buy on prime-time TV, but thanks to the accessibility of YouTube and Vimeo, audiences are seeking it out online. The Honda “Hands” ad starts with a cog, just like its award-winning Cog commercial (see July 24 post below). This time Honda teamed with Wieden + Kennedy London to “celebrate the curiosity of Honda engineers” who have made Honda the world’s largest engine manufacturer and racing company since it was founded in 1948. Through “slight of hand” and brilliant animation, the cog morphs into a dazzling array of products, from motorcycles and jet planes to solar-powered cars and robots. The making of this video, directed by Smith & Foulkes and Nexus Productions, is a technological feat in itself. For brands that think they don’t have the budget for such an ambitious production, consider this: Is it better to do something middle-of-the-road and run it on prime time TV or to create something awesomely original that people will “google” to see on their own. If it is good, it will go viral.
Over the year, Rube Goldberg-type devices have popped up in a diverse array of TV commercials, from a promo for the “Elementary” mystery series, an ad for Beneful dog food, and the 2003 classic “Cog” film for Honda Accord. Unlike commercials that demonstrate or tout the product outright, these get their message across in the most tangential way. There is no story line, no spokesperson pointing out product features, not even a lot of voiceover commentary. But the viewer’s attention is riveted to the commercial and the product it is trying to sell.
Just who was this Rube Goldberg? And how did his crazy inventions inspire 21st century advertising creatives to design TV commercials to market their products so circuitously? Let me introduce you. Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was an engineer-turned-cartoonist whose primary cartoon character was one Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, an inventor of gadgets that accomplished the simplest tasks in the most complicated, elaborate roundabout way. For those unfamiliar with how Goldberg started a chain reaction of copycat inventors, here’s an example. Goldberg’s cartoon above explains Professor Butts and his Self-Operating Napkin, which was activated when a) the soup spoon was raised to the mouth, pulling a string, b) which jerked a ladle, c) tossing up the cracker inside, d) past a parrot, e) causing the parrot to leap for the cracker, f) thereby, tilting the perch, g) which tipped a bowl of seeds into a pail, h) which, due to its added weight, pulled a cord, i) which ignited a cigarette lighter, j) setting off a rocket, k) which caused a sickle l) to cut a string, and m) freeing a pendulum and causing an attached napkin to swing back and forth, wiping the diner’s mouth.
Two things to learn from this video: 1) No matter how fascinating the subject, nearly all videos benefit from a voiceover narrative and an appropriate soundtrack, both lacking here. 2) Although the term “industrial design” did not emerge until the 20th century, the design and engineering skills to produce incredible objects that utilized the principles of applied science and engineering existed long before then. Centuries before CAD systems and 3-D modeling devices, Abraham Roentgen (1711-1793) and his son, David (1743-1807), made ingeniously engineered and mechanically complex cabinetry that incorporated drawers that opened automatically at the touch of a button, hidden compartments, and drop-down writing surfaces – all behind elegantly decorated panels. This walnut-veneered masterpiece was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia in the late 18th century and is housed today in the Kunstgewerbe museum in Berlin.
This skit from “Burnistoun,” the comedy sketch show broadcast by BBC Scotland, reminds me of all the devices that, at first, seem like marvelous inventions, but still need work. An example is a recent exchange with that annoying automated iPhone twit, Siri. She keeps calling me “Del-fiend-E,” even though I’ve corrected her multiple times. Last week I asked Siri for the cross street of Gump’s, San Francisco’s venerable luxury home décor and jewelry store. Everybody in the Bay Area knows the 150-year-old Gump’s — except Siri. She said, “There are three dumps in San Francisco, which one do you want?” I enunciated more slowly, spelling out G-u-m-p-’s. She ignored me and started telling me the addresses of the local dumps. I finally asked a passerby for directions.
It looks like a gigantic tumbleweed rolling across the plain, but its purpose is deadly serious. Massoud Hansani, a designer and Afghan refugee, created a landmine detonator as his final graduate design project at the Design Academy in Eidenhoven, the Netherlands. For Hassani, whose native Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, a minesweeper seemed like a practical object that would be in widespread demand. According to the UN, more than 110 million active mines are scattered across 70 countries, with an equal number stockpiled waiting to be planted.