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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Nothing Cheesy About These Ads

These commercials aren’t selling what you think they do. They were created by London-based John Nolan Studio/Robot Factory, which boasts an impressive portfolio of film assignments including “Dr. Who” and “Where the Wild Things Are.” The Nolan’s Cheese and Nolan’s Nuts brands don’t exist, but John Nolan’s animatronic design and FX services do, and the videos show off the firm’s talent and capabilities quite effectively – little wonder that they went viral online. The cheese video came out first, and a nutty variation of the idea followed.

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UCLA Extension’s Masters of Design

The covers of most university catalogs typically show photos of the campus or students lounging around the quad, or just present a plain typographic title. The covers for the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Extension catalog are an exception to the norm. Since 1990, they have featured the works of several of the world’s best-known graphic designers, beginning with Paul Rand.

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A Thermostat That Works Like an iPod

If this thermostat looks like something that Apple would have designed had it been interested in home heating, there’s a reason. Tony Fadell, who conceived of the iPod and then went on to work on the iPhone while at Apple (he left in 2008), came up with this household device through his own company, Nest Labs. The clean Apple aesthetic and intuitive ease-of-use are evident in the Nest Learning Thermostat. The temperature is displayed in bright, clear numerals, and the rim ring acts as the dial. The LCD-lit center turns red if you are raising the temperature and shows blue if you are lowering it. A green leaf appears under the number to indicate a setting for optimal energy savings. Not only that, the Nest programs itself, using software to analyze and track your usage patterns over time. Once it learns your preferences, it adjusts itself automatically, and even turns itself down to the “Away” mode, if it doesn’t sense any movement in the house. The Nest also comes with a mobile app that lets you change the temperature and schedule remotely by laptop, smartphone or pad.

Programmable thermostats, even ones that can be controlled remotely, are not new to the marketplace. What makes Nest exceptional is that it is designed for the user. You don’t have to squint to read the temperature gauge or gnash your teeth when trying to figure out the instructions to get it to do all the things that the ads promise it can do. It doesn’t try to impress consumers by displaying the complex engineering of the product. That’s more intimidating than impressive. What good design does best is create an interface with the user that makes the complex simple. Given the large number of consumers (including me) who don’t know how to program their existing thermostats, a device that is pleasing to view and as easy to use as an iPod is a welcome advance.

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