Design Subject Matter

Trivia question: Where is Einstein's brain today? Sketching and diagraming are very important tools for the designer. This hasn't changed for centuries. Cavemen drew pictures, Einstein drew formulas, designers draw everything you can imagine. There is a clever site where you can pretend to be Einstein at the board, totally hilarious. Drawing is a tool for both communication and problem solving. One of the traps that many designers today fall into is the desire to run to a computer to solve a design problem. Not so fast. Never under estimate the power of the traditional methods.  One of my favorites is the blackboard. When I was about 8 years old my dad put a good sized blackboard in the garage for my artistic endeavors and doodling early design project details for things like Cub Scout assignments. I followed his lead by screwing an even larger blackboard to the wall in my own garage for my sons to use. I bought it a the Mayo Clinic surplus equipment store for a whopping 8 dollars.  I ended up using it as much as they did. Some things never change I guess. When I first started working at IBM back in the 80's I had a huge blackboard in my office that was well over four feet wide and eight feet tall. It was a floor to ceiling statement of creativity. What a wonderful way to draw...

Continue reading “It’s Black and White?”

 Barbour International Jacket A recent trip to participate in a vintage off road motorcycle race prompted me to write another of my design classic blog postings. Riding vintage race bikes through the woods in the cool of the morning brings out the best in riders and their riding gear.  Many of the participants elect to wear period gear to further enhance the experience of the event. I personally draw the line at critical protective equipment like helmets or boots, but vintage jackets are certainly fair game. One of my favorites is the Barbour International Jacket. First introduced into production in 1936 this British masterpiece of design is both stylish and utilitarian. Thankfully, the jacket is still available in it's original form some 73 years later.  Steve McQueen at the 1964 ISDT astride his Triumph The Barbour International was worn by every British National Motorcycle Team from 1936-1977. At the T.T. Isle of Man Race in 1965 over 95% of all competitors wore a Barbour International, no matter what country they represented. This jacket is clearly part of motorcycle history and can be seen on many of the all time greats. Steve McQueen even wore one in the 1964 ISDT competition where he was part of  team USA. The event was held in East...

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Weekend Update Megapixel Giant Touch Map Touch interfaces seem to be showing up on more and more products.  ATM machines, elevators, GPS navigational devices, airplane seat mounted displays, gas pumps, airport check in kiosks, phones and even television news programming are exploiting this rapidly evolving interaction model.  SNL's Weekend Update couldn't resist spoofing the use of  giant screen multitouch interfaces during the 2008 election. Remember back in the late 70's when SNL spoofed a newly introduced twin bladed razor by suggesting one with 3 blades? Now you can really shave with one that has 5.  Although it's easy to poke fun at some of the more gratuitous uses of touch, when done right it can be a very simple and useful way to interact with a device. Was this really a breakthrough design? My first  experience with a touch interface was in an elevator that was sporting some new fangled "buttons" that didn't move. You just lightly touched the button area and your selection glowed with an eery orange frame. As I recall, they worked based on sensing body heat. Believe it or not they could even be activated by breathing heavily on them. Don't ask me how I know that. Not too much of a game changer in the user experience department. ...

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 T400s control design with  microphone mute indicator illuminated Over the last 17 years we have continued to evolve the method of controlling  important functions such as speaker volume and mute.  Historically, these controls have been delicate sliders, embedded in the keyboard as a Fn fucntion,  domed shiny black buttons,  domed matte silver buttons, and most recently a black segmented bar as found on the X300 series. I'm sure everyone has favorites from their stable of outdated ThinkPads. With the proposed introduction of  new ThinkPad platforms comes the opportunity to once again revisit these controls. This time things were a bit different. There was a desire within the  team to further optimize the  T400s for voice over IP use.  VOIP,  as it in known within the industry,  continues to grow in popularity. I find myself on more and more late night conference calls using applications that transmit sound and video to a broad audience of participants. With this increased focus on VOIP came the requirement to add a mute microphone control.  What telephone doesn't have this feature anymore? One of the design problems created by adding a mute microphone button was that now we had to deal with even more  controls in a very constrained space. Increasing the overall size of the product to add a single button is just not done. Without a new idea we would end up with a row of...

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 Detail of the T400s tactile cue feature Touchpad texture has gone relatively unnoticed in the world of ThinkPad design, and perhaps the industry in general.  TrackPoint fans still wonder why we include a pad at all, and would not likely contemplate the advantage a texture could create for those who use them. If you are a pad user, and there are a lot out there, you know that the feel of the pad and the boundries of the pad are both important considerations.  No pad user wants to look to find the pad, they want to feel it while looking at the screen. The desire to thin down the T400s required us to use a totally flush pad. That means no raised borders to define the active area. We were literally on the hunt for fractions of a millimeter. Even the X300 pad was allowed to be recessed by a fraction of a millimeter. This flush requirement neccesitated that we needed to create a new tactile means of locating the pad and its boundries. The  texture we introduced on the T400s was inspired by several things. One of them was the innovative yellow paving blocks used in Japanese train stations and sidewalks to guide or warn visually impaired pedestrians.  Every time I visit Japan I am intrigued by these blocks. The square Tenji block  system was invented in Japan by Seiichi Miyake in 1965 and...

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