Smart Cup or Empty Vessyl?

On Comedy Central’s Colbert Report last week, Stephen Colbert questioned the marketing strategy behind the new Vessyl Smart Cup produced by San Francisco-based startup Mark One. Designed by Yves Behar of fuseproject, the Vessyl is a digital cup with molecular analysis sensors that display the exact content and calorie count of the beverage within. In terms of attractive design and ingenious technology, the Vessyl is spot on. But to Colbert’s point: is there really a mass market need for it, especially at a cost of $199 per cup? Market research is a critical pillar of product development; without it, what you end up with is a geeky “parlor trick” that draws ooohs and aaahs, but few sales.

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Visual Feast: The Art of Produce Displays

Of all the sections in a supermarket that have design display potential, the produce section is number one. Unlike branded packaged products such as cereal, ice cream and canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables are set out loose without wrappers. They come in bright colors, different shapes, textures and sizes, and change frequently with the season. Speaking personally, I tend to judge the quality of a supermarket by the freshness and diversity of its produce. Nothing is a greater turnoff than limp leafy greens and overripe brown bananas. Artfully arranged displays emphasize the natural beauty of the fruits and vegetables, help shoppers instantly see the difference between each item to quickly pick out the red leaf lettuce from the Bibb, the onions from the radish, the bitter melon from the cucumber, etc. The marvels of nature’s bounty are a joy to explore. With a little effort at design, the produce section can become the star attraction of any food market. Shown here are a display of chard and bell peppers (photo by tretorn) from ICA in Tyresö, Sweden, and a display (photo by cool hand lucas) from Zupan’s in Portland, Oregon.

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From Performance Art to Practical Application

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.

Kome: The Art of Rice

The exhibition poster features the ancient Chinese character for kome.

A fascinating exhibit is currently on display at 21_21 Design Sight in Midtown Tokyo. Created by renowned Japanese designer Taku Satoh and anthropologist Shinichi Takemura, “Kome: The Art of Rice” presents 35 design pieces by leading Japanese artists and experts in rice cultivation. What makes this show so intriguing is that a food staple as humble as a grain of rice (or “kome” as the Japanese call it) could be shown with such aesthetic sensitivity and with such a thoughtful exploration of the role that rice played in the historical, cultural and spiritual traditions of Japan.

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Hyundai’s Hyper-Matrix Block Party

At the Expo 2012 in Korea, Hyundai Motor Group staged a mind-blowing display using a controller area network (CAN) called mechatronic. This is a message-based protocol originally designed for automotive applications and now also used in areas such as industrial automation and medical equipment. Hyundai’s Hyper-Matrix installation was designed by Seoul media arts firm Jonpasang. In just two months, the team built a mammoth three-sided display out of thousands of Styrofoam blocks that could be manipulated like pixels.The 11-inch cubes were driven by 3,375 customized actuators and stepping motors that moved the blocks back and forth according to a specially prescribed program. The high-speed data transfer program constantly reconfigured the cubes to create a mesmerizing show.

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How Not to Brand a Country, but Succeed Anyway

The occasion of America’s Independence Day on July 4th offers a good time to reflect on how the Star-Spangled Banner became the official flag of the nation. It all started back in 1777. A ragtag army of American colonists was engaged in a fierce battle for independence from Great Britain. Designing an aesthetically pleasing flag to represent themselves was the last thing on their mind. Outnumbered, outspent and outmaneuvered, the Continental Congress had more urgent matters to deal with.

But an emissary from a pro-colonist Native American tribe forced Congress to act by requesting a banner of sorts to display so that scouts would not come under “friendly fire” while on missions for the Continental Army. To prove they were willing to “pay” for such a flag, the emissary included three strings of wampum. Congress hastily put a flag design on its agenda, and 11 days later: “RESOLVED: that the flag of the United states be 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be 13 stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” This resolution was one of many passed that day. The committee obviously didn’t give the matter much thought, but “borrowed” liberally from several sources, including the Sons of Liberty red-and-white “stripes of rebellion” banner and the 13-star blue canton of the New Hampshire Green Mountain Boys and Rhode Island Continental Regiment.

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