Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Material world

New materials allow new designs. The Financial Times reported on the Materials Library at King’s College London
Materials libraries are one of the newest and most intriguing manifestations of materials science, which is itself a relatively new term to describe an age-old discipline – the study of the relationship between the molecular structure of materials and their perceptible physical properties, such as hardness, softness, flexibility or brittleness. In the past, the study of materials fell under metallurgy, chemistry and solid-state physics. But in the last half-century, with more new materials being created than in all previous history, their sheer variety – plastics, semiconductors, biomaterials – could no longer be understood merely within the classical disciplines.

Take Aerogel: the world’s lightest solid consists of 99.8 per cent air and looks like a vague, hazy mass. And yet despite its insubstantial nature, it is remarkably strong; and because of its ability to nullify convection, conduction and radiation, it also happens to be the best insulator in the world. Sitting next to the Aerogel is its thermal opposite, a piece of aluminium nitride, which is such an effective conductor of heat that if you grasp a blunt wafer of it in your hand, the warmth of your body alone allows it to cut through ice.

Read the whole article: "A library of the world’s most unusual compounds" by George Pendle.

Thanks to Boing Boing

Photo from Tanakawho's Flickr stream, used by Creative Commons permission

Monday, December 14, 2009

Should design be a policy priority?

Allison Arieff for the NY Times wrote"Designs on Policy"

Design touches all sectors of our daily life, and increasing awareness of that reality can result in tremendous benefit for all. Is design about aesthetics? Of course it is, but that’s just one of its many facets. Design can save time, money and one’s sanity. It can simplify use, enhance enjoyment, and keep us safe and well. I believe the National Design Policy can help to tangibly illustrate design’s value and help to keep it from being reduced to an afterthought, that “denim patch on a satin dress” Beirut is talking about.

Some designers I spoke to are less than thrilled with the whole design policy idea. An architect said emphatically, “Good design needs no spokesperson, needs no voice other than itself.” Yet I’m not convinced that’s always the case. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be living in, as I’ve heard one homeowner describe it, “a house with a Spanish Gothic front”, or driving Pontiac Aztecs through poorly designed intersections, and signing on for balloon payments, among countless examples. Design doesn’t need good PR; it needs to be recognized as essential to good practice. Anything that can help facilitate the importance of design as part of larger systems thinking is a positive.

She writes frequently on design for the New York Times Opinionator section

Thanks to Patrik for suggesting this.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Details matter

Dustin Curtis posts on Disney's sound system.
"To get the original audio system at Disney World to work, engineers simply attached large speakers to several hundred light-posts randomly scattered throughout the park. ... [T]here is actually a minor flaw with this system. Because the speakers are placed on arbitrarily-positioned light-posts throughout the park, the volume of the music slightly fluctuates as visitors walk along pathways. As they get closer to a speaker, the music gets louder, and as they walk away, it gets quieter."

Although no one complained about this, Disney re-engineered the park's sound.
"Today, as you walk through Disney World, the volume of the ambient music does not change. Ever. More than 15,000 speakers have been positioned using complex algorithms to ensure that the sound plays within a range of just a couple decibels throughout the entire park. It is quite a technical feat acoustically, electrically, and mathematically."

Read the whole post at

Photo by Joe Penniston used under Creative Commons

Thanks to Boing Boing