Monday, October 31, 2005

IDEO and frog design

IDEO and frog design are my favorite design houses. They also just happen to have done work for Apple. Hmmm ... I wonder how that sort of thing happens.

IDEO, being the premier (at least in reputation) design house out there, has branched out beyond just designing products: they advise corporations on how to innovate. And God knows that corporations, run by people wearing drab suits and colorful nooses, need to learn a bit about innovation. Take a look again at IDEO's home page: sparse, elegant, focusing on their design process rather than products. That's good design right there. One of the pictures also shows them, if you give it more than a cursory glance, having fun. Design and creativity often involve having fun. "Fun" is used here in a very broad sense, implying deep, complete immersion, allowing the process to take over your being, becoming a part of the mighty flow it generates. Pablo Picasso, while painting his La Guernica was probably very moved and distressed by what happened, but he was "having fun" in the sense that he probably gave himself self up to powerful emotions, and let them lead him forward.

Elegance and Design

Under Steve Jobs' fanatical regime, Apple products have always been characterized by elegance. Elegance often refers to an aesthetically pleasing quality which is a subjective estimation of something. But in the fields of mathematics and engineering, elegance refers to simplicity and parsimony; an elegant solution is often at once brilliant and simple. It is brilliant AND simple because it makes on exclaim, "why didn't I think of that?!" The solution is obvious once one is shown the way, and is often, from then on, seen as the only way it could have been done.

Apple's designs incorporate little or no fluff -- take the iPod for instance -- and yet are both beautiful to behold as well as functionally easy to use. As Matthew pointed out in class, such simplicity and beauty which seems obvious in retrospect is often the consequence of tremendous effort.

The first Powerbook -- PB100 -- took a complex configuration of laptop and externally clamped trackball and turned that into the "obvious solution" of integrating the trackball into the keyboard itself, and creating a palm rest as a bonus. The same sort of thinking can be observed in the way the Pages word processor incorporates a whole lot of what might have been separate toolbars into just one "inspector". That solution now seems "obvious" and yet one that appears to have never occurred to the towering intellects that inhabit the Microsoft campus.

It is interesting how most other vendors try to mask their poverty of design with different colors, textures, shapes and other non-functional attribues; In Apple's designs it is virtually impossible to find even one feature that does not serve some functional (as opposed to merely ornamental) purpose. This is the way Mother Nature goes about the design process.

This leads us to a Golden Rule: after an initial set of design processes, remove from your design everything aspect that is not absolutely necessary. Each and every little part of your design has to be justified or killed. This might seem risky, but IT projects get delayed and ultimately cancelled often because of the developer's inability to stop designing.

Design, innovation, and technology, all in one neat package

Is it possible to have a favorite Mac? Well, until the next favorite happens, my favorite happens to be the "desklamp" or "Luxo Jr." iMac. I love the iMac for a number of reasons. There has never been a computer that looks anything like it, before, or since. This was the second, or maybe third generation iMac. Who could have ever thought of creating a computer by connecting a hemisphere to a rectangle through a gleaming, articulated, pantographic shaft? Besides looking different from anything else, it is very elegant. Furthermore, Luxo Jr. iMac is superb from a Human Factors perspective -- the monitor can be moved vertically several inches and can be tilted along a horizontal as well a vertical axis.

The Luxo Jr. iMac is as perfect a blend of design, innovation, and computer technology as is ever likely to happen. Thanks for leaving your iMac in my care for the year, Marcy. It brightens up my office like nothing on earth. Besides attracting Martians and other aliens.


What is design? To design means to organize, give structure or form to something in a deliberate, purposeful manner. The St. Louis archway and the Eiffel Tower are well recognized forms that were deliberately designed. So were the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Gizeh and the Bamiyan Buddha. The Grand Canyon of Colorado is definitely a recognizable form which was created by the flow of water and wind over millennia. Nevertheless, it was formed by the forces of nature and involved countless unplanned events. There was no deliberation and purposeful action involved, other than Mother Nature going about her business. The Grand Canyon, therefore, was not designed. Other than by Mother Nature. Hmmmm ....

The Apple Macintosh

Any blog purporting to be about design, innovation, and technology must inevitably make some reference to the Apple Macintosh. Some might allege that an appreciation of the Mac propels one involuntarily into a discussion of design, innovation, and technology. So, perhaps a love for the Mac becomes an excuse for setting up blog to discuss D, I, and T. So, what's your point, eh?

A new blog is born

I will be posting here news, thoughts, ideas about three things close to my heart: design, innovation, and digital (and maybe other) technologies that tickle my fancy. Feel free to add your ideas and comments. Murli