Conviction and Design

I saw in the news the other day that Apple’s own Jony Ive had been knighted and wanted to extend a firm congrats to him; he definitely deserves it.

Then I thought: Steve won’t be able to see it or celebrate with him.

And that made me sort of sad.

But it also spawned this long rabbit trail of other thoughts that I wanted to record here and hopefully they make sense and possibly even inspire. Conviction, as a general word, is a firmly held belief. In design, that might mean a particular idea or methodology and there creates this table of positions:

I use the word ‘spine’ perhaps crudely. I mean, the willpower or drive to make things happen or assert oneself. So you can be assertive with no clear goal or reason and that makes you a jerk, or if you have no purpose and no willpower you’re really not doing much of anything at all. If you’re filled with conviction as to what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ but don’t bother making things better (I fall into this trap) you’re just a critic (read: outspoken slob). But, there’s this epitome on the upper right. I’ve made the boxes all the same size but realistically, this corner would be the tiny peak on the large mountain of people out there. This is the box I would put the legends into. The people like Jobs and Ive and Eames and Rams and Corbu and even people like Newton and Galileo. These are people with the drive and gumption to  make things work, building on their held beliefs and convictions until they succeed or are thrown in jail (radicals ideas are rarely easily accepted).

This is where my bunny trail breaks down. A quote: “Don’t worry about people stealing an idea. If it’s original, you will have to ram it down their throats.” which is attributed to a bunch of different people, all of which to whom I apologize for it’s use here. The point is, I see a lot of designers with talent that hide their convictions and their ideas because of this false paranoia they surround themselves with. A truly great person, a true design hero just goes out and does it. Protect yourself legally, sure, but I want to encourage you to go out and be awesome instead of cowering in the corner (both physically and in my above table).

I realize, I’m just as guilty as anyone and these are things I write because I’m struggling through them as well. This blog is not a letter from the wise grandfather recalling what he did wrong – this blog is the friend who’s mistakes guide everyone around him.

I want to leave you with a poster made by Joey Roth, who is a young designer I deeply admire for his seemingly effortless ease in just going out and doing awesome work without hesitation:

So here’s to the crazy ones.

BST :: Sarif Lobby pt.3

If you’re following the Blender Supernoob Tutorials you’ve no doubt seen the monstrosity that are the first two parts. Rest assured, this one is short and sweet.

Unfortunately, I’ve also reached my Vimeo upload limit for this month, so you’ll have to wait until after the new year for the other parts. Just a few days.

In this episode: materials / textures / bump mapping, super basic DoF node info and useless blinky lights.

1966 DeTomaso Mangusta

I have no idea what that lady on the statue is doing.

I admit, I’ve never known about this car until now. I’m sure I’ve seen it before, but I’ve never actually known about it.

So, 1966 Giugiaro design with a name translating from Italian into ‘Mongoose’ and sounds to me like the Spanish ‘Me Gusta’ which of course is the modern meme meaning and translating to ‘I like it’ in English. And it’s well deserved. I do like it. It’s like the cross continental love child between Italian Lamborghini Miura and the American Ford GT – several years before they each came out. I wonder if there was some liberal ‘inspiration’ in the respective companies’ drafting rooms.

There’s an interesting seam on the crease where the rear quarter panels meet and it seems to be consistant between all the cars. I’m curious as to why that’s there if purposeful or, if a mistake, why they kept doing it in all the cars. It was a production car, but in very limited runs; apparently it didn’t handle very well in the real world of driving.

Either way. It’s gorgeous.

Photos via

Design Studios as Rock Bands or: How to Stay Startup

Lately I’ve been pondering a very simple question with a very complicated outcome: “What is a business?”

The question spawns from the recent wallstreet uprisings mixed with a healthy dose of reality as I’m faced with the world outside and how I want to go about looking for my own livelihood as I leave the protective womb that is school.

And, I’d thought about it briefly before, but I had a little thought that sort of paradigm shifted everything: bands don’t follow the rules. I mean, as businesses. They don’t ever really expand. You might gain some members or lose some members but at the core, they are a band together, not an empire. You can’t just keep hiring people into a band without some breakdown threshold of people count. But, there are different types of bands. Rock bands (for example) might have four people: guitar, bass, drums and vox. But then orchestras might have a 100 people each with various instruments and roles. They can be a strong group as led by their single director. The rock band might have a natural leader, but for the most part they are a classless organization.

So the lesson here, if it can be drawn, is that size indicates need for leadership. I look at – and have worked for – small design firms that might only have those four people but have a very centralized leader. It’s a snowball, where one person has an idea or a business plan and the skills to start it and the secondary and tertiary employees are either directly complimenting that skill set (be it more designers) or providing some further service (bookkeeping, marketing etc.) and more and more employees come and build up outer rings of service, all leading to that central first person. But then there’s this breakdown. At some point the organization changes into the hierarchy with leader > board > managers > employees (to simplify) instead of this circular ideal. It’s been said that Apple maintains this circular approach even with it’s monstrous size and thus maintains the start-up like communication between wings. So why doesn’t everybody take this approach? I suspect it has to do with the old style thinking that’s present in the generation that makes up the heads of these large companies. Remember, Apple is still quite young compared to, say, Sears. It’s hard to buck what is so entirely engrained in the company DNA and when the large companies started, that’s what the attitude was; power at the top that trickles down the pyramid.

But it’s tricky to implement that because unlike bands, your company will probably have to grow and with growth comes the need for communication between departments (and please, please integrate your departments. Again, see Apple) as well as that director in the middle. The entire orchestra can see him and hear each other. The entire rock band can see each other and hear each other. So I wonder if there isn’t something to be said for staying the rock band course. A core group of people deeply intuitive of each other all pushing for the common good of the group. Especially in design studios is this a seemingly practical business option. Sears can’t survive as four people, they’d never be able to staff all the stores and fulfill all the roles, whereas designers can stay small and be successful. I would look towards several industrial design groups as an example of this. IDEO is kind of the Rolling Stones with a long, varied career and relatively well known status without become a massive empire of business. Studios, like bands, don’t look for or need an empire to be ‘big’ (in the successful sense, not the pyramid sense) whereas other business (like retail) might.

And, as we’re learning with the super lean tech startups in the valley right now, staying small and agile can be a fantastic benefit. So, since we’re in the business that can afford to be this way, leverage it. I look at studios that try to expand so fast because they see this as success; building it big as a pyramid and not seeing the true reason they exist.

Blender Supernoob Tutorial :: Sarif Industries HQ Lobby

Two hours of me droning on about Blender and architecture and it’s still not nearly done.

So, I apologize.

In technical news this goes into materials, spot lights, glass, HDRi reflection mapping, arrays and other general modelling in a practical way.

It’s both really fast and incredibly slow, which is something I wish were better. I’m working on it – slowing down for the important bits and moving quickly (or eliminating altogether) the extraneous. Being a narrator is a lot harder than I thought it would be originally. More than anything I think I dislike my own voice. I suspect everyone sort of does a little bit. I wonder how George Clooney or the Bastion narrator feel when they hear their own voices.

That’s my new goal: narrate tutorials like the Bastion guy.

Anyway. More to come, completing this project.

Three Cubes Colliding – 3D Printed Kite

It almost looks unreal – like a camera tracking test or something to superimpose 3D geometry into a real shot. I like that sort of ethereal effect in design. There is a very small list of things that exist that you look at and wonder how the shapes arrived at that particular configuration. I don’t know too much about kites, so I’d be really interested how they figured out the triangle pattern they used.

In any event, it’s a really cool triumph of 3D printing being used in a practical, real world application instead of flimsy models that would later be cast in something stronger. If you can eliminate that 2nd step of the process and cut straight to strong, easily made materials it would have a really good impact on how we make everything in society.

Awesome work, Queen and Crawford


Blender Supernoob Tutorial :: HDRi Mapping

Boxing day and I’m making you guys (and gals) tutorials. What love!

It doesn’t have to be .hdr either. Any .jpg or image will do. More accurately this should be called ‘reflection mapping’ since it doesn’t have to be HDRi.

Next up: the long awaited lobby tutorial as we move more into architecture.

Sandisk Blade

We go doorcrashing every year on boxing day and although the past few years have been fruitless in the consumer sense, they’ve always been good in the nostalgic sense.

This year I bought a flash drive for a relatively normal price, mostly because I liked the design. As you can see above, the USB part is cast as the same part as the case making for a really clean, minimal product. It’s red on a textured black as is the usual Sandisk branding and has a nice curved shape that fits well holding it between your thumb and first finger. The plastic feels cheap and the whole thing is remarkably light (which, I suppose is good – I just like weighty things) but it’s adequate, and I would suggest it’s the perfect tradeoff between hefty overbuilt durability and easy to manufacture stamped out cost. Good design is long lasting, and I suspect that this would survive it’s natural life quite easily. So, in that sense it could be called well designed even if it feels wrong. The construction itself is precise and well done, the tolerances are very good for this price range of product and I’d call it sturdy – I don’t feel like I could crush it in my hand or anything.

Having just bought it I can’t comment on much more, but I imagine it’ll be a perfect addition to my growing collection of drives.

Stay Awesome

Take care out there.

Christmas Eve Soundtrack

To bake cookies to. Happy holidays!

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