3D Printing

The never-ending celebration of 3D printing is grating. The technology has been around for a couple decades and it feels like old news to me but the current level of excitement has fevered. I guess the idea that before long you will be able to order things from Amazon and have them print in your home a few minutes later is a hypnotic vision for the future of commerce.  I read about 3D printed candy and printed shoes the other day (http://tinyurl.com/zqecncs) the candies looked unappetizingly weird and the footwear looked to be  goofy rejects from the Croc design team. No, my point in writing this has nothing to do with the aesthetics of 3D printed shoes or my perceived tastes of printed candy, but more along the lines of how the hype of 3D printing doesn’t sync-up with the realities of 3D printing. The imagined delivery speed and convenience are mesmerizingly futuristic and people seem to want to get onboard now even while realizing that it is still just a lot of hype. Maybe these 3D printing fans are just those looking to make up for their own personal strife for not buying into other technology when it was in its infancy. If I had a printer at my desk would I print myself a Reese’s peanut butter cup if I could? Maybe. Do people expect that this is possible? Maybe. As I stated earlier, the realities of 3D Printing feels a long way off to me but if it were possible there would surely be trade-offs. Is the premise of the excitement around the technology that people are willing to trade quality for speed? (http://tinyurl.com/zfuvb2q) Will this 3D printer consumer think,  “hey these shoes are hideous but I printed them myself at home”? Will we have the hilarious hashtag #pinterestfail replaced with #3Dprinterfail? The technology will evolve and improve to a level that will eventually include a wider variety of materials and will eventually offer real value for sure. And, yes I can already imagine a day not far off when a person can immediately print a disposable version of a lost car key or a medicine that just ran out in the middle of the night. Of course, these need-driven applications like these may not be as sensational as a 3D printed car (http://tinyurl.com/pakbeg5but they feel lot more worthy of discussion.

3D Printed Car

3D Printed Food

3D Printed Shoe


Medical Design May Be Dead

The idea of designing for medical products seems to be ever evolving. At one time there was a simple formula for designing both medical devices and pieces of diagnostic equipment: The designer took the concept, gave it a simple, clean and precise yet approachable form and then colored it light grey with accents of a surgical scrub blue-green and called it a design-masterpiece. Since then things have changed drastically. I wonder if with our population’s ever increasing health related issues and the need for health related products becoming such a part of people’s everyday, the approach to finding the most compelling design language has evolved to be more like designing any other consumer product. I suppose this has been a natural evolution and somewhat obvious since the use of things like blood pressure cuffs and aural thermometers have moved from strictly doctors offices to person’s living rooms and nightstands in the past decade or so.  Yes, the more I think about it, it does seem clear that, with more and more healthcare technology moving into the hands of the consumer so should the change  in the design language.  But there are other shifts that are less obvious and more difficult to explain. Not long ago I helped design a disposable surgical instrument and several of the surgeons expressed interest in having the handle look like a Mont Blanc pen. And, on another project several physicians thought it would be great to have their names scribed on the side of a similar disposable instrument—think childhood pencil with your name on it, except we are talking about a device that is intended to save a life. On a third project, the descriptors mentioned when discussing the ideal grip still included words like simple and precise with talk of making it look cool and distinctive. Even though they only hold the instrument briefly and in private they wanted to feel proud in doing so.  Of course, yes, there is confidence that comes from this pride and maybe we had just stumbled onto an especially egotistical group of physicians. I don’t know. However, on a sort of similar diagnostic equipment design project the physicians and the assistants felt the final form should be similar to that of an iphone. Some people just think everything should look like an iphone I suppose.


Color Forecasting

Hey kids! Do you know what time it is? It’s color-forecasting time!

Depending on the industry and retailer we are forecasting either Spring 2016 or Summer 2016. Not sure how you feel, but the fall predictions were a joke in my eyes and well, so were the previous seasons. At least all of the forecasting groups are in agreement. Wait. That’s a strange coincidence. I suppose this year’s forecast calls for another Fall of low saturation and minimal value contrast across all hues, with a chance of lame burnt oranges. So far, at least it seems to usual go that way. Yes, I imagine that these forecasting palettes are helpful for some industries. Industries like paint companies, certain segments of the fashion industry and maybe those designing for tabletop. Maybe this color forecast is helpful for the team at Crate and Barrel or those designers of consumer products like office supplies, toys, housewares and electronics when they don’t really factor in enough of the other facets that need to be considered when selecting a color. You know, like those little things like brand mission, points of difference and target demographic—I’d love to see Mattel launch a new Barbie Doll in a package colored in Oak Buff or Dried Herb. I am doubtful that any of this year’s color forecasting palette will appear at the store Hot Topic any time soon, but then again their palette is seriously limited, I guess black is implied?

The names are fun, although this seasons Cashmere Rose seems a bit close to Strawberry Ice; much closer than the names would indicate. It would make it all more complex but it might have more value if the palette factored in finishes too. A satin anodized variation of Marsala might be pretty sweet but I am not sure it would be appealing in high gloss. When we select colors with our clients we try to include finishes as well because they are so critical to how the product is perceived.  A perfect example of this can be seen in a category such as hair driers--loaded with everything from matte rubberized surfaces to fluorescent metallic. Of course, all the major brands are readily aware of the forecasted trends but their color selections tend to be driven more by brand story and aspiration than the soothsayers. The interesting part of color selection to me are the brands that are linked to a color but evolve subtly over time in finish, texture and hue. We were a small part of this exact kind of project with Kawasaki several years ago and the process of massaging the color and then maintaining it globally in production across a huge range of materials was amazing. That reminds me, looking at the pantone chart it appears that green is out entirely this fall.


Save the Jar?

I visited a friend at his office the other day. It’s one of those annoying Google inspired open space places with the obligatory pool table that no one will ever play. The friend I was visiting was drinking his water out of an old peanut butter jar. Don’t get me wrong, I like Chunky Teddy Bear Brand peanut butter and all, but I thought he looked like an idiot drinking from his new fandango glass jar with half the label still remaining on the outside surface. In case you were wondering, yes, it was salt-free peanut butter, which to me just sounds gross, but for someone like him was fitting. He actually seemed pretty impressed by his choice in stemware despite my opinion. He told me he had thrown away all the plastic in his kitchen and has decided to switch back to glass. Yes, I asked him if he threw away all his baggies and saran wrap too to which he didn’t respond. It turns out that this movement back to glass is a growing trend. Possibly it’s the fear of BPA, which is used in several plastics including polycarbonate and is also in the linings of almost all cans or possibly it’s just people trying to show off that they too enjoy a good all-natural salt-free peanut butter.

It seems strange that some households are steadily moving back to glass at the same time many major brands are moving from glass to plastic. Oddly, it seems like major brands of peanut butter were among the first to switch, come to think of it, maybe it was milk and orange juice. I can’t remember. After that, ketchup, mayonnaise, ice tea and pasta sauce switched from heavy fragile glass to durable light-weight plastic.  The change is still happening thanks to coatings and advances in polymers. I wonder when our hot sauces will change over or even our Worchestshire. I can’t help but also wonder what my friend will be drinking out of in the coming years as his selection of glass jars and bottles will surely dwindle, as major brands make the glass to plastic transition.

I found a story from a while ago in the Washington Post. It centers around an independent report stating that Plastic is more sustainable than glass in almost every way. I wonder how they factor in saving the jars for reuse. I have a basement full of baby food jars that are filled with screws, bolts, nuts and brads. That’s not really my point though, my point is that while plastic is better for the planet, isn’t it also just better in general? Glass seems to be a much cooler option to my hoarder-side but the features built around use pattern that are integrated into these new plastic packages are really useful and just seems sort of silly that we used to need to see how much Miracle Whip was left in the jar. My point is, these products take advantage of the switch from glass to plastic; not just in the change of material but they have used the change in material to create a better user experience including better grips, easier storage and cleaner dispensing.  The do this while also improving their presence at point-of-sale.


Sustainability is Too Difficult

It doesn’t seem like people are talking about sustainability anymore. Was the idea of eliminating negative environmental impact a fad? Did it just become boring? Maybe the word itself became to annoying and was replaced by more recently coined terms like “ethical consumerism” and “moral purchasing”? No, I did not make either of those terms up but they sure sound great and I wish I had. I used to think that we would know people were serious about sustainability and the effects of consumerism on our environment when NASCAR was banned. Yes, probably selfish for me to single out just one form of recreational fuel consumption. With that thinking, we may as well just eliminate both speed-boat and bicycle racing--have you seen all the cars that follow the cyclists? Nevertheless, the elimination of NASCAR as proof that we as consumers were finally realizing our environmental impact was just my thinking before I started enjoying NASCAR myself. So for now I feel ok about their fuel consumption

So, as a new NASCAR fan, my new thinking is if we, the consumers, are truly concerned for the environment we will eliminate all fireworks. Aren’t fireworks really just burning money anyways? And, where does all the stuff that blows up go?  Furthermore, I have never heard of a fireworks foundation or a ‘buy one box of fireworks and another box is donated to some impoverished child oversees’ gimmick. Then again, I don’t really enjoy fireworks so this too may be self-serving. Come to think of it, I don’t enjoy exercising either, so that may top my list too. Think about all the wasted energy we expend each and every year by people consuming calories just to hastily burn them off on treadmills and stationary bicycles? To think what we could do with all that captured energy.  Maybe there is something I can do to restart the conversation. I could prove I am taking sustainability seriously when I, myself, stop buying every new iPhone and iPad that comes out. We all know that all Apple stuff is basically crack in a technology form. A few years ago, I recall reading in the NYTimes that over 100 million phones end up in landfills every year.  I think the article also claimed the phones are shipped oversees and then separated into raw materials by children in India and these kids often get sick from doing this work. Now that I think about it, yes, not changing phones all the time seems almost a moral obligation of mine but damn those new phones are always so cool. As a consumer, that choice out of all should be the easiest yet it still feels like I am probably going to get the iphone7.

Isn’t the real answer to sustaining the planet obvious: fewer people consuming less stuff. But I do develop new products for a living, so the idea of fewer people buying fewer new things is unpleasant and, in fact makes me a little queasy. For obvious reasons, I want more consumers, and I want them buying all kinds of new things, but not bamboo things. Bamboo sucks.  PLA is pretty lame too. Come to think of it, this blog has me really thinking and it’s depressing on both the environmental and social morality fronts.  I am waiting for the return of optimism, next post.