Friday, October 19, 2012

Design for crowds

Krystal D'Costa writes on The Story of Grand Central Station and the Taming of the Crowd for Scientific American.

Each of these changes was meant to remind the people that they were indeed individuals despite their place in the Crowd, and as individuals they still had social roles and responsibilities to fulfill. Moreover, these changes synchronized the Crowd by putting people through the same paces at the same points. But perhaps the most significant change would come from the architectural firm Warren and Wetmore. A deadly collision in 1902 preceded public demand for an even safer, more accessible terminal. Warren and Wetmore won the bid for reconstruction, and the plan they produced included galleries, which added yet another transition area but, more importantly, rendered the Crowd into a spectacle.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Housing design

Polis writes on Urban Housing Design, identifying these seven important elements:

1. Proximity 
 "Internal proximity can make a community feel sheltered..."

2. Enclosure
 "...courtyards are more enclosed than fenceless yards, creating interior space without ceilings..."

3. Scale
  "Smaller buildings tend to be associated with comfort..."

4. Accessibility
 "Amenities include public transportation, shopping areas, kindergartens, parks and libraries."

5. Materials
  "Certain materials hold up especially well over time, from visual and/or structural perspectives, and they are not always the most expensive."

6. Additions
 "...trees, parking lots, benches, playgrounds and sports facilities — serve as shared resources..."

7. Style
 "Structural variations and details can add visual interest or aversion."

Read the post at:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Remote design

Slate magazine writes on the history of the remote control and awful design.

There's an excess of buttons ... —92 of them, to be exact, arranged on my nightstand in rubbery rows, seven different colors' worth, with overlapping labels that range in tone from clear and aggressive ("POWER," "FREEZE") to meek and mysterious ("SUR," "NAVI"). Following the model of usability expert Jakob Nielsen, I counted up the buttons I've actually pressed—not the ones I've pressed most often, but the ones I've pressed, period. The number was 34. I had a surplus of nearly five dozen.

So why should my television, a simple device that's not so interactive, spread so much clutter and confusion? Imagine if there were a separate door for each shelf of your refrigerator, and each of those doors had its own combination lock. That's the state of the modern entertainment center, and the hand-held devices we use to manipulate it. The remote control was supposed to make life easier, but instead it's led us into a labyrinth of bad design. How did we get here, and where are we going?

Read the whole article at:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Retail seduction

Lifehacker reports on several recent articles on store design.
From the pleasant music to the choice of floor tiles, retail stores are cleverly designed to do one thing: make you spend money. Here are some of the marketing tactics you should know about so you can shop with a clear head.
How the Apple Store gets customers to touch the machines (and why) (from a Forbes article.)

Pricing gimmicks (from Smart Money)

Defend yourself from manipulative marketing tactics (from Men's Health.)

Read the whole post at

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Better bottles

Slate magazine writes on more environmentally-friendly plastic bottles

The differences aren’t merely aesthetic. Making the 2005 bottle required 14.6 grams of resin. The 2012 bottle uses only 9.2 grams of resin. (Plastic is a general term describing a moldable material. The plastic in many water and soft drink bottles is made of PET—a specific type of resin.) “We used to go through 600 million pounds of resin each year,” says Jeffery. “Today, even though we’re making more bottles because the business has grown, we use 400 million pounds of resin.”
That’s less material waste (and, by the way, note the smaller label on the 2012 bottle, which conserves paper). It also leads to less energy waste. The resin for each bottle starts out shaped like a test tube, before a machine heats it and blows in air to stretch it out. With less resin in each bottle, it takes less heat and air to stretch the bottle into shape. “That’s an immediate 10 percent energy savings on the bottle itself,” says Jeffery. And the company’s machines produce 1,200 bottles every minute.
The lighter weight of the finished bottles also reduces the carbon footprint of the trucks that transport them.

Read the whole article at:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Web typograhy

Simon Pascal Klein writes on the Top 10 dos and don’ts of Web Typography

1. Apply no more than three typefaces per design (or page)
2. Set headlines large and invitingly, at the top of the page
3. Size body copy 14px+
4. Ensure a good text to background contrast
5. Apply stress and emphasis discreetly
6. Do not set continuous text in full capitals
7. Give the type space to breathe; set ample measures and leading
8. Be wary of fonts not designed for screen use
9. Ensure webfont assets are subsetted and cached
10. Don’t use Comic Sans

Read more at the original article.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Design before plastic

Wired reports on What Common Objects Used to Be Made Of

“Plastic is so new, Freinkel began, that among all the objects preserved in the sunken Titanic, none are synthetic plastic, because there was hardly any available in 1912."

“Looking for new markets, the marketers discovered disposability—disposable cups for drink vending machines, disposable diapers (“Said to be responsible for the baby boom“), Bic lighters, soda bottles, medical syringes, and the infinite market of packaging. Americans consume 300 pounds of plastic a year. The variety of plastics we use are a problem for recycling, because they have to be sorted by hand."

The short article summarizes a talk by Susan Freinkel.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Xerox, Apple, and Innovation

Malcolm Gladwell on Creation Myth: Xerox PARC, Apple, and the truth about innovation in the New Yorker

Xerox is famous in tech circles for inventing the personal computer but failing to successfully market it. Gladwell explores this story and shows that Xerox did profit from its PC research by inventing the laser printer.

The whole article is definitely worth reading. Here are couple of quotes to get started:

“Jobs went to Xerox PARC on a Wednesday or a Thursday, and I saw him on the Friday afternoon,” Hovey recalled. “I had a series of ideas that I wanted to bounce off him, and I barely got two words out of my mouth when he said, ‘No, no, no, you’ve got to do a mouse.’ I was, like, ‘What’s a mouse?’ I didn’t have a clue. So he explains it, and he says, ‘You know, [the Xerox mouse] is a mouse that cost three hundred dollars to build and it breaks within two weeks. Here’s your design spec: Our mouse needs to be manufacturable for less than fifteen bucks. It needs to not fail for a couple of years, and I want to be able to use it on Formica and my bluejeans.’

The difference between direct and indirect manipulation—between three buttons and one button, three hundred dollars and fifteen dollars, and a roller ball supported by ball bearings and a free-rolling ball—is not trivial. It is the difference between something intended for experts, which is what Xerox PARC had in mind, and something that’s appropriate for a mass audience, which is what Apple had in mind.

Read the whole article at

Friday, March 30, 2012

Five Common PowerPoint Mistakes

Brad Phipps posted on the The Five Most Common PowerPoint Mistakes

1. Too Many Slides
2. Too Many Words
3. Pointless animations
4. Not Enough Graphics
5. Complicated Visuals

Read the post at

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Curious History of “Tribal” Prints

Slate Magazine writes on The Curious History of “Tribal” Prints: How the Dutch peddle Indonesian-inspired designs to West Africa. It presents an interesting history on the origin of currently fashionable "tribal" prints.

"In the meantime, Europeans were hard at work figuring out how to manufacture their own versions of batik, with the intention of flooding the market in Indonesia with cheaper, machine-made versions of the cloths (the handmade versions were labor-intensive and expensive). Finally, at the end of the 19th century, a Belgian printer developed a method for applying resin to both sides of a cotton cloth, and the machine-made wax-print fabric was born.

But there was a problem: The machine-made version of these cloths developed a crackling effect—a series of small lines, dots, and imperfections where the resin cracked and dye seeped through—that didn’t appeal to Indonesian batik purists. In need of a market for the new textiles, the Dutch turned to West Africa. As it turned out, West Africans were actually partial to these imperfections: They appreciated the fact that no two bolts of cloth were identical. The West African fondness for this effect was so pronounced that Dutch wax manufacturers still program those imperfections into the printing process today, long after the actual mechanical limitation has been resolved."

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Why clothing sizes make no sense

Julia Felsenthal writes in Slate Magazine on A Size 2 Is a Size 2 Is a Size 8.

The ASTM recommendations have evolved over time to accommodate a very real trend: vanity sizing. Women don’t want to know their real size, so manufacturers re-label bigger sizes with smaller numbers. In 1958, for example, a size 8 corresponded with a bust of 31 inches, a waist of 23.5 inches and a hip girth of 32.5 inches. In ASTM’s 2008 standards, a size 8 had increased by five to six inches in each of those three measurements, becoming the rough equivalent of a size 14 or 16 in 1958. We can see size inflation happening over shorter time spans as well; a size 2 in the 2011 ASTM standard falls between a 1995 standard size 4 and 6. (This may also explain why smaller sizes are constantly invented. The 1958 standard listed 8 as its smallest size. The 1995 ASTM standard listed a size 2. In 2011, ASTM lists a standard for size 00.)

[...] a private organization called the Textile Clothing Technology Corporation conducted the first widespread study of American women’s bodies since O’Brien and Shelton, called SizeUSA. They installed body scanners at 13 different locations across the country and, over the course of about a month, scanned the bodies of almost 11,000 people between the ages of 18 and 80. The main finding, says Boorady, who was involved with the study, is that people are bigger than ever. The study also distinguished five to seven distinct body shapes for women, as opposed to the single hourglass ideal that has long determined the proportions of clothing (and which only 8 percent of American women have). Boorady says the results mean “it would be extremely difficult to come up with a single sizing system.”

[...] in 1986, the Times reported on manufacturers’ resistance to the development of ASTM standards. “The Laura Ashley woman is different from the Liz Claiborne woman, who is different from the woman whom Calvin Klein envisions,” opined the article’s author, who then quoted a designer saying, “Fit is a type of identity.”
There is something to this. My sense of brand loyalty is as much about the way a designer’s clothes fit as how they look. I [Ms Felsenthal] do pretty well with J.Crew sweaters, Urban Outfitters jeans, and Frye boots—because those have become, after years of trial and error, my brands. If these companies suddenly changed their sizes to adhere to some synthetic average of the American female form, I’d feel annoyed—even indignant.

The article is an interesting introduction to an intriguing topic, one that combines design, statistics, economics, business, and psychology.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


The Oatmeal presents "How to make your shopping cart suck less" Vulgarly amusing advice on design.