Light Wing Trainers, the Tyvek Shoe

I should just rename this from Acrylo Blog to Tyvek Blog – Your Source for Buying Tyvek Versions of Everything.

Look, shoes!

Which, I’m sad to say, I can’t endorse. They look lovely, yes, but let’s remember what happened to the lovely, brightly coloured wallet – unwashably dirty. Tyvek is a fibrous material and inevitably, things will get trapped in it’s texture. I love the stuff, it’s a fantastic way to construct things, but that’s how dirty something got from my sheltered pockets; imagine what it’ll look like after even a day on the street.

They also make a wallet for $11:

…which, I’d probably pay the extra $9 and buy another Slimfold. The snap seems awkward and annoying for no added benefit.

They’re made by Unbelievable Testing Laboratory and you can find the main Kickstarter here. I was searching for a good pun about these kicks being started by Kickstarter, but fortunately you’re safe for now; I’ve got nothing.

Prices for the shoes start at $50 which would be reasonable… for anything that we could assume would last longer than a few months. Again, the wallet barely made it a half year – shoes are far more abused. They might survive the folding and bending and stepping tests, but that’s not introducing all of the that real life incurs. The mud and the guts and the glory.

So. I don’t mean to be down on them. On the contrary I applaud the innovation and the execution. Time will tell the rest, and I wish them luck.


Red Bull F1 – Rhythm of the Factory

If anyone ever asks you what industrial design is – and they will – just show them this.

It’s sort of the epitome of our process, isn’t it? From drawing to prototyping to testing to building the final car or toaster or spoon or whatever. We build things. If we find something we can’t build, we invent a technology that can.

Shame about the livery though, the matte black air test model was gorgeous.

Smiles Per Hour

This idea has been developing in the back of my mind for a few months now and I’ve briefly alluded to it before. Nonetheless, it seems to warrant further exploration.

What if we measured design’s goodness in smiles brought to users – a concept I called “delight” in previous columns – instead of, say, profit or ownership. Ultimately, this is one side to the overarching question of “What should we design?” and it’s basis “What deserves to be in existence?”

Throughout school and my early career I was a very utilitarian designer, very minimal and very essential. There wasn’t much room for whimsy or self-possession in the design, it should be quiet and unobtrusive. In a perfect world there wouldn’t be anything but we would be able to complete any task we wanted. Since this was impossible, it was design’s job to get as close as possible. It was a Rams world moreso than an Eames one, and I say this in the philosophical sense more than the aesthetic one. The Eames couple made toys and had colourful windmills and fun, whereas Dieter was German and stark. It was a Japanese zen approach: the space should not be filled with things but people, and those people will mold the neutral space to their own preference. I still believe these things and will continue to fill my own world with these things, but my argument here is on behalf of the rest of the world.

Unlike physical sales where something is either sold or isn’t we have to extend the metaphor for smiles as a currency. We can think of debt as the opposite of money but anti-smiles are a more complex absence. There are three states: delight, neutral and frustration. The best designed things we marvel at, we delight in, the rest either elicits no response or actively gets in our way. Ideally, of course, we should be designing for the first, but a large majority of objects are the second: they exist and they serve – often well – our needs but we probably don’t really notice them in the positive sense either.

The reason I love this abstraction is it’s broad moral questions that relate humans to design. Questions that bring up, for only one example, things like guns. Not inherently bad and in fact smile granting when used in a range but when used against other people definitely rack up the anti-smile cost pretty quickly. Should they, then, exist as objects? There’d have to be a net balance of smiles gained v. smiles destroyed in every object that either justifies or damns it’s being. Granted, for most things it’d be obviously skewed: the existence of ice cream cones is something that – I’m assuming, at least – would be far closer to the delight end of the spectrum. A water bottle might not be an actively exciting thing, but nor are they actively destroying delight either. So then, there must be other, external factors to finally decide.

Usefulness has always been weighted heavily for me, as mentioned above, I’m an inherently practical person and an inherently practical designer. Water bottles, we can easily agree, are useful. The reductio ad absurdum being holding water in your cupped hands until you need a drink. This would be annoying at best and tragically difficult in reality. Driving and typing become impossible, as would basically everything else we do throughout the day. How many smiles do water bottles destroy? We could point to the life cycle analysis – the energy used to make them, the shipping costs, the stores that sell them, the re-usability, the recycling efficiency / landfill cost and so forth, but in the end we need a metric that correlates those things with humans’ actual lives and their delight level.

Now, this is all good in hypothetical thought. It’s good for imaginative philosophy in both design and humanist circles but in practice becomes impossibly complex to work out. Who’s to say there aren’t families living in landfills who’d delight in finding a good thrown out water bottle? What about the people in the town next to the landfill who anti-delight in seeing it grow closer to their house? Where do those things stack up and cancel out?

But maybe, just maybe, it’s another thing to think about when designing something. Not just cost analysis or profit margins, marketability or sustainability, something so simple as “Will this thing make more smiles than it breaks?”

Causas Externas Watches

So. Gorgeous.

Link. No apparent word on price, but I’ll be first in line for that red in black one.

Caring for Your New Designer

The following is an excerpt from the guide I’m writing:

Preparing Your Home for Your New Designer

Noting what kind of designer he or she is will be essential for setting up a comfortable environment for them. Is your designer a minimalist? A brutalist? Perhaps removing all furniture and covering every surface with board-formed concrete would be best. Are they a cross species half-artist? Perhaps leaving cords of sticks around for them to use in the construction of their nest would be ideal. No matter what type of designer they are, though, they’ll probably want some area in which to make a mess. This is called “a studio” and is essential for the ownership of any young designer. Although they’ll never admit it, most designers would like a little bit of softness in their life, so large, well worn patchwork quilts are often sold at local shops for them to snuggle with. (Any sort of bedding material will do, however). We suspect this has something to do with their occasional bouts of soul crushing loneliness, which is an ancestral thing left over from the cave dwelling designers of the olden times – around 1998.

Designer Ancestry

It’s believed that they first arrived on North American shores as stowaways on Viking ships. Scientists differ on true origin but we suspect they were either the weakest Vikings who couldn’t make it socially and were outcasted or perhaps very large marsupials who developed opposable thumbs and the ability to draw with Copic markets. In either case, try not to bring this up with your designer! They might relapse into more primal behaviour, listening to the musical stylings of The Skrillexes and/or barricading themselves inside their nest for weeks at a time.

I Think My Designer is Broken

What you’re finding is most likely just the effects of their introverted personality and is completely natural. Leave them alone for a few days and DO NOT attempt to console or cuddle them. Yelling seems ineffective as well, but gosh is it fun to watch them scurry in fear. They will likely retreat to the comforts of social networking to stay connected to people without actually having to deal with the dull and inane personalities of their followers (often mistakenly referred to as “friends”) – this is acceptable as long as the brooding index doesn’t get too high (and we recommend picking up a broodometer – they’re like, $5 and will save you a lot of grief).

My Designer is Filling My Spare Room with Chairs

Oh, you bought a furniture designer. Yes. Well. That is unfortunate. Maybe you should have read our other guide “Choosing the Right Designer” where we explicitly recommend against that. Much like their cousin breed called ‘Architects’, they are adorable when dressed up with those cute little black turtlenecks you can get but are terrible with children and insufferable dinner party guests. If you are looking for a much gentler species of designer, might we suggest a young Modernist?


With some careful attention to the proper care of your young designer, he or she will grow into a life-long companion and with the proper training, if you’re extremely lucky, might make some money to recoup the costs he / she has wreaked on your home. They might seem cute and harmless but trust us – no matter how much they beg – don’t feed them after midnight.

On Quality

As a foreword I want to reference two fantastic books. The first is one I’ve recommended and referenced before: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The second you can read for free and is by Frank Chimero, who you should already be fans of; read it here.

It’s sort of meta in how these two books talk about taking inspirations and adding momentum to get to somewhere new and I’m using them for just that. I’m taking these two dots and drawing a line between them. The first dealing with Quality and the second dealing with How and Why. I’m drawing further lines between these three subcategories, these aspects under Design itself.

I like design philosophy because it allows a lot of things normal ‘real’ philosophy doesn’t and often can’t. I’ve found in both reading and writing ‘real’ philosophy there’s this underlying gap between you thinking about these things and the things themselves. Not to suggest that the conclusions are dead ends but rather like an abrupt ending in the middle of a bridge – you can see the other side (the conclusion) but even if you can convince yourself that it’s there you find this gap in the middle that I would call the nebulousness of self-referencing ideas. The doublethink. We can hold these truths and thoughts and it’s good, but we never actually fully arrive there. It seems to me, anyway. Perhaps I’m just terrible with the existential.

So design philosophy sets up it’s own little sandbox to play in. It’s less concerned with itself. We can read and write it as a vehicle for the understanding of design, not for the understanding of design philosophy. It’s that sort of directness that closes the gap – ‘real’ philosophy gets lost in that loop because it’s inherently meta. Design is a great many things, but they’re still just grounded thoughts about, say, a process or a result. The grander questions just don’t apply in the same way. This reason, as much as any, is why I like it. It’s a practical philosophy.

Okay. So. Quality.

There’s a macro and a micro to each question that I find interesting. We can take individual pieces of, say, a car; someone might ask How this steel is bent and others might ask Why is it bent like that. These are important questions, certainly, on a micro level, but there’s also How it fits into the car and Why it’s required in the car. The Why is where we start seeing lots of soft answers. Maybe it’s aesthetic. Maybe it’s part of the chassis and holds everything together. We would agree that one is more important than the other, but our design focus isn’t always on the important one. Now we bring in economics. The consumer might choose a car based on how the steering wheel fits in the hand – do we focus on making the best steering wheel purely in order to sell cars? Do we focus on that piece of the chassis in order to make cars worth selling? But if we focus on the chassis and no one notices, does that inherently mean we’ve sacrificed on the part that would sell the car? And around and around we go. So on a micro scale we often get caught up in little eddies of thought. We must step out of the frame a bit.

Why do we make cars at all? Bigger.

Why do we make cities the way we do? Better.

Well, we have this mass of people and spaces in between these things we call buildings – which is where the people go to do things – and instead of running everywhere we’d like an easier way to travel. (This, of course, as a personal aside, is where I run into my general dislike for cars: when simplified to this level they make absolutely no sense at all. They only make sense in how they’ve evolved alongside the infrastructure such that to remove them would make for different and perhaps greater problems.) and so we start to see the why in macro sense: we need transportation over distances and cars offer (hopefully) more solution than problem. There must be some scale tipping goodness to them otherwise we wouldn’t continue using them. (This is false logic, just smile and nod; I’ll explain). Isn’t the goodness of something Quality? But we run into a semantic issue here. When we’re on the car lot kicking tires and say “That model is a quality car” we don’t mean that it’s generally more good than it is bad at getting us from building to building (the overarching goal), we mean that the pieces inside are good, are full of Quality. Macro and micro differences. (and this is where Zen fell short, I feel. So close, too. It went over the scale differences with subsets assemblies and how to define them, but never really covered the macro of the macro-micro Quality differences.)

It’s unfortunate that the language is the thing getting in the way. I wish, like Dr. Seuss, we could just make up words and introduce them globally around the community as the accepted new way of describing the subtle differences that get lumped into bigger words like Quality. Alas, we cannot and so I write pieces like these, to try and explain: the quality that something has can be the adjective describing it (say, it’s quality is dirty or red or soft) or it’s state (it’s quality is used or new) or it’s function (it’s quality is aesthetic or mechanical) or – and this is what Zen touched on – it’s intangible, unquantifiable ‘goodness’ (this car has quality – it’s well made or good).

The purpose of this rant is one of frustration, I suppose. I’m sad to see on /r/design or forums or wherever that people actually fight about such semantics. Such useless squabbles, in my opinion. Quality can mean all of these things. It’s just one of those words we haven’t properly broken up in English. A shame, I agree, but more of a shame is how vile people can be. And I know, this is the internet and all and as a citizen of it I’ve come to learn that some of these things are unavoidable (seriously, Youtube?). I just wish we didn’t have to fall to such barbarian measures. I mean, this isn’t religion. We’ve separated design philosophy from real philosophy and while there’s a middle in the venn diagram of overlap, it’s nothing to start wars over. I mean, you’re making posters. Calm down. Quality is both subjective and objective, critique will offend and that’s just as often good. I realize we as artists and designers tend to become personally attached to our work but to say that it’s quality is somehow reflective of your personal quality is not true nor fair.

I say these things as if I’ve been personally involved and I haven’t. I sit merely as a lurker and an armchair critic who seeks to moderate things a bit. I am, I suppose, a design apologist. My format is non-specific and quickly darting (especially in and out of scale), but I do hope that some snippets make sense.

To everyone: do good work. Work with pride but not vanity. Work with high Quality and with good qualities. Take strangers’ criticism as you would from a wise friend. The internet is often harsh, but fires make a forge. Not everyone else is right, but if you find yourself thinking that no one else is right, you probably need to re-evaluate. Be honest but kind, to yourself and everyone else. Hustle.

So go. Ignore the philosophy written by old buzzards like me and make your own work code. Do what you like, not what’s in fashion. Shake the system and ignore the petty semantics. You’ve got better things to do than respond to hate mail.

J+- Calculator

I often wonder / complain about why they don’t just design cheap things better. It’s really not that different from a manufacturing standpoint. I mean, the obvious answer is cost for designers and most manufacturers simply don’t care. Cheap stuff is cheap. Still, given the choice between this and the others on the shelf it was an easy choice – and for $4.49, I really couldn’t go wrong.

It’s just lovely. It’s made of the same cheap stamped plastic as every other calculator, but it doesn’t feel quite as cheap. The sheen is nice. It’s light and creaks slightly when twisted, as to be expected. Buttons are buttons and work well, the LCD screen is actually more dot-matrix than the traditional fair, which… doesn’t really effect much of anything. I don’t have any particular point to make except that it’s less than five dollars and I’m proud to keep it on my desk next to $1000+ milled aluminum computing hardware. It’s an accomplishment.

The only thing I would notice is that the viewing angle is pretty dismal. It’s not an issue for me since I keep it fairly close to me on my desk (so I look down on it more perpendicular), but I can see how the sharper angled screen found on other models would be an advantage for the long-reachers out there. That’s doing pretty good for such a cheap item.

Bought from Superstore, and while the J+- logo didn’t show up anything terribly useful on the internet, I suspect it’s some offshoot of the President’s Choice / No Name Brand since it was surrounded by the iconic yellow on other desk items. They’re doing really well for themselves – they also sell lovely black pencils in cardboard tubes and I really ought to buy some just to share the brilliant packaging.

Re: The Pantheon

I feel the need to elaborate a few more practical outcomes of the previously mentioned East / West divide.

The West will see the East’s idea of accepted transience as a sort of bum’s life. In accepting what is instead of striving for what could be, you are in effect making excuses for your laziness and  therefor aren’t a contributing part of society. This is partially true – if we were all 100% happy with simply what is, we would really never invent anything new or solve any problem with the famous “this could be better” inspiration we designers think so often. On the other hand, if we were all 100% strivers (and I think this is more true to our reality now) we would run into each other and counteract a lot of innovation with this silly notion of fame or overwhelming financial success.

The immediate example that comes to mind is patent trolling.

I use the word “silly” which implies my feeling for a thing. I’ve received outraged emails before that I’m biased. Well, yes. I am not a journalist and as such under no such obligation to unbias ‘truth’ (as if such a thing were to exist, anyway). With that said, my bias will often change and occasionally flip to the opposite completely over time.

But I do think it’s silly that someone or a company will have an awesome idea, spend all the money and time and effort to patent and… not do anything after. No attempt to actually make it or implement it. They wait instead for someone else to have the idea and make that awesome thing real, and then sue them for “infringement” walking away with money. It’s just, counter productive to society in favour of personal profit.

Does this make me anti-capitalist? Debatable. I would say in this example it shows that I value  the greater advancement of design (both as a physical and an ideal outcome) over mere personal gain, yes. I think a truly capitalist person would look at this as the ultimate way to make money without having to do anything besides predict future inventions and get there first. If money is the measure of success, then yes, this is a very successful practice.

Full circle: if that’s the West’s true pantheon, I would argue it’s corrupt. Is infamy the same as fame? Depends who you ask. The funny thing – the fickle thing – about fame is it inherently cannot be available to everyone. While everyone can learn to be content, not everyone can make themselves famous. As the number of famous people increases, the disparity between ‘fame’ and ‘non-fame’ lessens. Essentially, we could all say we’re all famous right now, but because everyone is, it’s not special at all. Now, you can re-read that entire paragraph and substitute the word ‘wealth’ for ‘fame’ and it’s the same thing. The pantheon of the West, it seems, is inherently unavailable. That is the point – you could be the person who rises over everyone around you.

Call me socialist if you want, but doesn’t that goal seem pretty messed up?

But it’s not about me, this is about design with me as an author-proxy.

Should design be socialist? And by that I mean, available for everyone? I’d say so. The Eames definitely would say so. Rams, given his economic time, would say so. The ultimate irony is the remnants of their legacy is the exact opposite: their works are inflated and expensive now because someone more recent decided that rarity implied disparity. Obviously I can’t point to Herman Miller as evil, but I do think the Eames would be disappointed if they were alive now.

Full circle #2: the pursuit of money is not evil in itself, but to put it before the greater good of design is selfish in the bad way. If it were not a status symbol thing as the West insists it should be, it would happen less. If there was some compromise in the middle that took the West’s ability to create new and awesome things and the East’s ability to allow it to be nameless and freely available, we’d be better off.

Next week: the Scandinavians do just that.

Blue Snowflake Mic

As I was saying.

It’s here! And gorgeous.

Quick and dirty audio test / mini review:


I’m so sorry it’s not embedded. I’m still not sure how to deal with that sort of thing short of adding yet another plugin. The podcasts proper will probably be using Youtube or some such service for streaming and then links to the .MP3 for downloading. In the meantime: horrendous workarounds.

Recorded with Quicktime on “meh” settings to keep the filesize reasonable. Compared to the old Nexxtech I’m very pleased. The other advantage is USB input doesn’t have the same sorts of line noise issues I was running into with the 3.5mm input – so, good to note.

I’m running out of excuses to avoid doing a proper show. I wonder if everyone hates the sound of their own voice played back…

$5 Best Made Axe Treatment

We’ve had this old hatchet as long as I can remember and I thought it time to give it some love.

Now, if you’re a regular reader you’ll probably recall that I rant and rave about Best Made Axes – they’re just gorgeous.

I happened to be at Home Depot for a different reason and wandered past the paint section. They sell little $5 bottles of sample interior house paint – the idea being you paint a section of the wall and decide if you like it – and I figured that’d be perfect for how much I needed. I had them mix up this “Pacific Coast” colour for me. It’s CIL brand eggshell, if that matters at all.

Best Made’s go higher up the handle, but I like the more minimal tip colour. Simply clean up the handle and dip it in however far you want. I should note that the sample bottle is way, way more than you’ll ever need. You could do hundreds of handles with one sample, if you really wanted. I’ll keep it around for other things; it’s a lovely colour. Multiple colours could just be done one over each other (waiting for the previous coat to dry, of course) or taped off.

Haven’t gotten a chance to test it in the wild, but just handling it now seems like it should stay for a good long while. I don’t foresee it being a fragile thing in any regard, but we’ll just have to wait.

And it gave me an excuse to use my stamp! I removed the print on the head though – didn’t look as good in person as I thought it might. Until I get a letter punch set I can’t do any text, but that’ll come eventually (hopefully I can get in on some more blacksmithing this summer).

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