Wood CAR Prototype

Gorgeous, both the finished project and and process itself.

There’s something lovely about a craftsman, if you’ve ever just sat and watched one. Aged hands with surprising grace and dexterity from years of use. They grasps things differently. Watch them. The touch is a different thing, it’s tuned and refined and the interface between flesh and material is so pure and seamless. When working with tools or simply touching a surface the fingers know exactly where to stop and how to move. It’s practice of course – sheer repetition – but there’s something that falls short if you describe it like that. My appreciation for it is so much deeper and more subtle than that.

And it doesn’t matter if the above paragraph is read about man or machine, there’s a beauty to each. An outcome that boggles my mind even as I’ve seen it happen so many times. A fascination, I guess, with process.

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8-Bit Google Maps

A few days early of April Fools, but brilliant nonetheless. Google Maps, the charm dripping way.

Man, now I want to go play some Pokemon Yellow…

Goodbye, Penny

I’ve been saying this should happen for years, so imagine my delight when they finally go through with it. Canada won’t be minting any new pennies, eventually phasing them out of circulation altogether.

Hearing the news about my soon-worthless mountain of physical currency I rushed over and began sorting and counting. As it turns out these past two years have only given me 143 pennies. A dollar and a half. For that alone I’m reassured that the currency is more work than it’s worth. I organized the stacks as seen in the photo above into equivalent amounts – ten pennies = two nickels = 1 dime and so on. It really shows just how much weight and volume is wasted when compared to dimes. Nickels are on the fence for me; not really sure if I even want those around.

So, down with the penny! I’m all for it.

I do think, however, and I mentioned this on Twitter just now, that someone should organize a charity to take in everyone’s pennies and donate it to a good cause.

Austin Eastciders Gold Top

Yeah yeah, “Cider is a girl‘s drink” you say, snickering at me across the bar table. But truly, all of my associations with the word are of houndstooth tweed Jay Gatsby hats and fox hunting with a break-action over your vested shoulder in the rainy forests of Britain. The contrast there is the warmth of the heavy stone pub and ornate oak tables, fireplace roaring in the corner quelling off the pea fog.

So whatever.

Anyway, I’m sad to read that I won’t be sipping this any time soon since the curse of most small breweries is that they don’t ship very far outside their zone – so unless I fly to Austin, it seems slim. The packaging itself is brilliant. Screen printed bottles are, of course, held in the very highest esteem. That’s how they used to be done, and for good reason.

Artistic credit goes to Simon Walker, who’s done an absolutely perfect job recontextualizing an entire genre of drink. But, really, everything is he does is just dripping with talent, so I guess I shouldn’t act too surprised.

You can read a full interview with Ed Gibson, the main man, over on The Dieline which is also where the above photos are from. There’s also the Austin Eastciders main page for more product information.

Well done, gentlemen.

Death Clock

The perfect campy horror movie title, no doubt.

We were talking about it the other day: you have a set number of hours in your life. We all know this. We don’t like to think about it, but it’s nonetheless a fact: no one gets out alive.

As a Canadian male my life expectancy is about 81 years. 710046 hours. Getting to this point right now took up about 168315 of them. That leaves me with 693233 left.

Depressing.

And, since waking up this morning about three and a half of them have slipped by, forever removed.

But I don’t see this as much a gloom and doom as a reminder of how valuable time itself is. Time isn’t money – money is time. How much would somebody have to pay you to take one of those hours off your counter? You only have a limited amount of them. $1000? $100? Or… $9.50? Minimum wage.

There’s been a lot of existentialist thought going on in the past few weeks with my rapidly upcoming graduation and that ejection from the womb of academia, and I guess that’s what it comes down to for me. Sure, I could be a doctor or a lawyer and make ridiculous amounts of money per hour, but it I hate what I do, what’s the point? Like, all that money just goes into trying to live at the end of your life – trying to undo all the damage you did working like a mad man the first chunk of your life. It’s bizarre to me.

And the Dalai Lama too, apparently:

“Man.

Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money.
Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present;
the result being that he does not live in the present or the future;
he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

I’d like to construct a giant hourglass, with enough sand to last until my theoretical death, and put it on a shelf or somewhere where I can always see it. A reminder. Both to hustle, but also to live. To be awesome. Not about houses or cars or show boats. About taking each of those hours and making something awesome out of them.

And, if I live to see the day when it eventually runs out of sand I can watch that last grain fall and laugh, because I’ve then beaten the average. In a fate of cruel irony, moments later I’d be struck by a heart attack or something and that’d be okay, because I’d still have gotten that much more out of life. And that moment would be awesome.

Thoughts on Cereal Boxes

The best part about being a designer isn’t the lavish lifestyle. Nay, the piles of money and fast cars get boring after a while. I once bought Norway just because I could and peacefully ruled it for a number of years, but they too became bored after I designed solutions for all of their problems. Alas.

No. But seriously, one of the things I love most is asking ‘why’ because – and especially with made things – there’s usually a reason if you keep digging further.

I was eating cereal (gold leafed Apple Cheerios) and curious as to where the box shapes came from. They’re incredibly thin, but tall and wide instead. I reasoned that they’d get a better volume to surface area ratio if the boxes were made more even across the edges. With the minimization of material to internal space, they’d save cardboard and that means weight and cost and in the end streamline a variety of costs throughout the journey between factory and grocer’s shelf.

So why do they do it?

And I thought about it for a time and although it’s obvious now looking back, I didn’t realize it until I was in the store buying more – the flatter the front face of the box is, the more advertising it can display. Each box is it’s own mini billboard, so it stands to reason that you’d want to maximize that.

Logistically, the shipping and packaging advantages are probably negligible when compared to the effect of sheer size in a crowded, finite shelf area.

Part two of this is an open question I’m still debating:

Eye level is really important when putting things on shelves. That’s the primo spot for merchandise and brands pay more for it when negotiating for products, we know this, but I wonder if cereal’s “eye level” isn’t actually lower because the target market for sugary cereals is younger. They want the kids to take the boxes off the shelves to submit into mommy’s cart. The data is inconclusive and depending on which store you go to (I’ve looked a couple since I had the thought) you might find that each brand has a chunk that takes up the full height (so that that whole strip is the same type all the way up and down) but is relatively skinny down the shelflength.

Anyway. I don’t claim to have any answers, but those are some observations and an interesting topic to question.

Interview with Jeffrey Matthias of Furnlab

So, Jeffrey, tell us a bit about yourself / how did you first get into design?

During my time at Ohio State (1997-2001) working on a degree in sculpture, I kept finding myself leaning more and more towards furniture design. Sadly, my profs didn’t tell me that there was an entire program geared towards that one building over, and instead just pushed me to refocus on more conceptual and less functional work.

After I graduated, I started getting one-off furniture into galleries, but the prices were always a barrier to entry for the people who really seemed to like my style. I ended up focusing on how to build simpler designs in ways that I could produce multiples relatively quickly and affordably. When I told my sister-in-law that designing for production was way more fun than actually making the stuff, she arranged a tour for me of Fitch, the company where she did copywriting, and introduced me to the world of industrial design.

Alas, I had just finished my 2nd degree, in automotive technology, and didn’t have the money or the drive to jump right back into school. So I continued to work on projects on the side while trying to make a living doing just about everything else.

It wasn’t until 2007 that I was thinking about going back to school for an MBA that my wife asked me if I shouldn’t be thinking about something more creative. That got me to remember my previous dreams of studying industrial design. Going back to school filled in all the gaps between the skills I already had, and introduced me to the world of 3D CAD, which has been a life changer.

Could you describe your approach and philosophy to design?
As far as aesthetics and products, I try to bring something new to everything I do. I want as diverse a portfolio as I can get. If I have designed something, the next project is an opportunity to try something different, within the confines of the client’s desires, of course.

As for work that I do under my own name or my label, FurnLab, I work to make most of what I do open source. I focus heavily on CNC processes, whether 3D printing, laser cutting, or a router. I figure if I can look at other people’s work and cough up my own versions, there certainly isn’t anything preventing someone with access to the same gear from doing the same to my designs. Instead of spending my time obsessed with protecting my idea, I’d rather be working on the next project.

So I make my work available and just restrict commercial use. If someone likes something I’ve made, let them build it. Who knows, maybe they’ll give me some feedback or make some awesome improvements.

What do you love the most about the open source world?
People who understand the concept are very positive and supportive of the work. Open Source implies that you can make changes to your design down the road without implying your previous version is flawed or the the new one is the final iteration. I’m still evolving one of my oldest designs, The Mod, which is about 11 years old now.

I have more ideas than I have time to develop. The open source concept allows me to develop an idea as fully as I can within my budgetary and time constraints and put it out there for the world to see/enjoy without having to make the promise that it is a perfect design, just a worthwhile idea.

I love feeling like a pioneer. There is plenty of open source software, but beyond Thingiverse and its audience, most people have never heard of the idea of an open design for a physical object/product.

What do you hate the most about the open source world?
Ha! Explaining to friends and family that I’m not sinking my career by giving away my best ideas. I restrict commercial reproduction on my designs, but it still seems risky to them. The funny thing is that my brother used to work for the Eclipse Foundation, one of the biggest open source software organizations, and no one seemed to bat an eye. There just isn’t the same kind of precedent for open source product design.

The documentation. Even an 85% developed idea still requires documentation and this is where I am the worst. I have about 4 or 5 fairly complete designs that I haven’t made available simply because I haven’t found the time to provide documentation/instructions and I don’t feel right putting out a DXF without any additional information. My most recent product, Xylotones, are Half-tone images cut on a CNC machine. The individual products are custom and I’m still scratching my head about how to open source the work.

What’s the hardest thing about what you do?
Did I mention the documentation?

As far as consulting work, there is always something the client wants that you either dislike or are pretty sure won’t work but can’t talk them out of.

Getting strangers to understand open source is pretty difficult. I mean, if I can’t get my own family to fully understand, well, a 3 minute introduction typically leads to more questions than understanding.

As I mentioned, sometime I have trouble figuring out how exactly to open up a design.

If you had any advice for young designers, what would it be?
Draw, draw, draw. I don’t care if it is is pen/paper or digitally. There is absolutely no replacement for good drawing skills. Furniture design is one of the few places where you can get away with mediocre drawing skills, but you have to be good at what you do to overcome it. 3D modeling will never be as fast as sketching for throwing out quick ideas. Do no let your equipment be an excuse to no draw. I’ve got friends whose napkin drawings make my best Wacom work look like a kindergartner’s work. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but, you get the point.

If you could instantly change anything about our society, what would you change?
Planned obsolescence and the culture around it. I wish we still designed things to last, be repaired/upgraded, and be treasured. Sadly, people are not willing to pay higher prices for well-built things because they expect to replace them sooner than later. The cost of hitting the prices that they are willing to pay takes an incredible toll on our environment, and on the quality and timelessness of design.

Describe your favorite colour using only nouns.
Yikes! 1st gen Porsche 911, 1970s VWs, clementines, construction cones, discontinued iPad Smart Covers…

Filthy Media Corporate Identity

I’m not sure if it’s just the mix of my favorite things (matte black with gloss black embossing) or that that blue colour happens to be what I’ve been running with lately or what, but this is lovely.

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Datsun Logo

If you cruise car news sites you’ll probably have heard that they’re reviving the Datsun brand. The news is bittersweet for me because I’m a huge fan of the past work and all the faux-nostalgia that comes with it but I’d hate to see it driven into the ground with generic new stuff. I really don’t mind Kia, but that’s sort of what comes to mind when I imagine what the new Datsun will end up like.

Secondly, and perhaps most forebodingly, the new logo above there is atrocious and is exactly the move to banal, boring predictable rubbish.

Some word association. There’s a song which is fitting for two reasons: a) it features the word Datsun right in the title, but b) because it actually was a song I played a lot in my old Japanese car a few summers ago, when the sun fell hot onto the seats and we sat by the river enjoying the breeze. There’s something in the word that’s just dusty and well used and loved and black leather seats cracked from years of some young couple adventuring and going on road trips down endless roads. There’s that gold that you see on the old Firebirds and sometimes crossed over into the land of JDM – this , really, is the colour scheme of beautiful old cars. From Countach to Esprit there’s just something classic about that. It harkens to the dark alleys just behind the neon lights, when streets lit up with auburn glow and gangs had dance offs instead of shooting one another because everything was classy like that. There’s a bit of space where my “memory” composed of the stories I’ve heard and movies seen bleed together, as if people were playing Micheal Jackson’s Beat It in such a car though they are ten years apart. The guy’s vest at 0:54 is that diamond stitch leather, which is what a 260Z’s seats should be made of (as should the Countach’s). The people who lived through the era will laugh at my such loose associations, but I even lump the early Daft Punk soundtrack into there, reminded by the intro to the Electroma – that Ferrari 412 could easily be replaced by the Fairlady styling.

But in the end, it’s a faded thing. Those gold stripes aren’t shiny and the black has softened with time. It’s grown beautiful because of it’s age. The leather smells of dust and warmth and the interior is that most comfortable form of stifling. The kind where you can’t breathe but smile because it’s summer. Your leather jacket squeaks a bit when you get in, sitting low in the buckets. It’s not a plastic FOB but a simple metal key in the ignition, springing with anticipation. The music player winds to life and those classic synth lines from the 70’s / 80’s resound as you set off into the horizon fire.

Will the new cars encompass these things? Nah. And maybe that’s alright. Some kid waxing poetic about isn’t going to change anything and nor do I expect it to. I’m sad to see the direction set off in this way, and it’s a brand that has those memories in a lot of people’s mind to play off of, but in the end the goal and duty of the brand was to provide decent cars that were affordable and if they can inject that into this market I fully support them. In the end, that is a far nobler cause than any mere aesthetic.

So, best of luck out there, however you end up doing it. Even if the old style is dead, may the old goals remain. Make something good and in such a way that everyone can afford it.

In defense of targeted ads

I don’t have any ad-related photos, so, uh, here’s something completely different.

This shouldn’t turn into a rant, but I warn you now, it could go off on tangents.

Today I was walking home from class and thinking about the advertising around. I thought back to Banksy’s brilliant sentiments regarding billboards and immediately my designer mind went down the path of how to make them better. “I know!” I thought “Why don’t we make them so they recognize you and show you things that’s you’d like.” and then I thought “Wait. That’s ridiculous. That’s what Google does already and everyone’s against it.”

But then, why?

Like, truly, erase everything you know about ads and think about this hypothetical: You’re browsing around these websites. Your Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Reddit or whatever, your news sites and TV shows and billboards on the side of the road, they all have this box of content. What if all of that content was the best thing you could think of – not ads, but whatever you wanted. What would that look like? My initial response, personally, would for them to just be flat colours. A few white, maybe a couple 80% grey, some bright orange or green or that teal-ish blue that I love so much. So, that’d be cool. But maybe… boring? What if they could show me cool things. What if – and remember, not ads – they were just like, cool cars and adorable kittens and bits of my favorite movies. Pretty neat. Okay. But I’ve already seen those things, old hat. What if they could take all those things I love and then show me new things. That’s pretty much what I’m doing when I spend hours just cruising around looking for new things anyway. Like, what if those billboards were showing the next thing on my RSS reader, so it integrates into my lifestyle instead of purposefully sitting down to read it. For one thing, I’d crash my car into everything trying to read them, but that’s the idea – it’d be so compelling.

Okay. But what if those cool, compelling articles and things were products (really, it would be hard not to be) that you could buy.

“But Brennan, wait!” you cry out “Those would be… ads” you say, with mock horror. Exactly.

What if the ads around you were so attuned to you, so compelling and so cool that you would actually – heaven forbid – be interested in them. Crazy talk, I know.

And that’s why I’m in full support of intense targeted advertising. I want them to know what I like so they can serve me. Banksy says they own you and that’s true, but that’s spam – things that don’t apply to you. Do I as a male ever need to see lady deodorant ads? No. That’s the spam that clutters up my field of view. Would I be the poorest person in the world if every ad was a product from The Black Workshop? Yeah. I’d be tripping over myself to give them my money, because it’s exactly what I want.

So don’t say it with such disdain. The alternative is them advertising to the mass and general appeal which rarely relates to you. I’d much rather be excited and interested in the things presented.

I mean, it’s not like they’re just going to stop advertising randomly, right?


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