Google Glass’ Big Lesson

Posted by Robert Weitz on August 7, 2014 1:25 PM

We recently attended the Wearable Tech LA Conference to get a brand’s eye view of the wearable tech revolution. This is technology that attaches to our bodies that can sense, inform, augment, stimulate and even heal us.


The atmosphere at the WTLA was electric with ideation, a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory of gear and toys, a meeting of brilliant humanistic hyper-technologists and a window on a magical future. Bracelets, eyewear, shoes, gloves, rings, shirts, patches, LED scarves that dazzle, sensors of all kinds, and things that are surgically implanted—all of which connect to our bodies.


As soon as something is connected to your body, it changes from being a tool to being jewelry or clothing, which are very personal and emotional. I believe that the caustic, sometimes violent, emotions associated with Google Glass is a learning moment in the evolution of wearable technology.

bringlassI found it interesting that the presence of Google Glass in a social setting tends to put people on edge. Why? I think it’s due to a design flaw: a gap in the human connection.


Our ability to pick up minor asymmetries in faces is a survival mechanism that warns us of danger, and informs us as to what others are thinking and feeling. For instance, we can tell when a dog is happy or angry.

Google Glass is asymmetrical in the place where we look to establish trust! OK, I buy the cultural baggage and clash of demographics, but this was a design failure that makers of wearable tech need to heed—design matters. That doesn’t mean you can’t have asymmetry, but know that it means something.


Companies that bring wearable technologies to market should follow Apple’s lead and hire designers who are sensitive to the nuance of taste, fashion and human fetish. I’m pleased that many of the exhibitors and panelists at the Wearable Tech LA Conference have either addressed the human connection, or are aware that it’s the next phase. I, for one, can’t wait for that to happen!

The Truth about the Truth

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 14, 2014 8:00 AM

Brand experts tout authenticity, great story telling and the importance of staying true to your brand’s promise. How do we accomplish being authentic in a commercial environment that is crowded with conflicting promises and ephemeral truths? Manufacturers all promise impeccable quality, politicians promise lofty attainments, and food companies promise gratification. But all of our tastes are different and we’re all moved by different cultural symbols, style and media. We all have our own truths when it comes to our emotions, and emotions drive brands.


Brand strategists and marketers address this issue by focusing on well-defined market segments. To a marketer, “the truth” is defined by the tastes and values of your customers. A brand should be a cultural leader, and for the first time brands are hearing from their community 24 hours a day, everyday. The best brands create a kind of Jobsian “reality distortion field” that sets the tone for a culture formed by the tastes of  your community. Each brand creates an argument for their own existence, and if they can get a buy-in from their community, the whole formula works.

Objective truth is a fleeting butterfly influenced by a point of view, state of mind and predisposition. The truths of branding are consensual, collaborative and community-based. In highly competitive or exclusive markets, brand leaders need to clearly communicate their value, while working with their customers to define the relative truths of the marketplace.

Startups Need Brands Too!

Posted by Robert Weitz on June 4, 2014 9:58 AM

As a partner at Fahrenheit Studio, I have worked with a number of companies who are in transition. Most of our clients have been around and are looking to improve how they are perceived. They’re interested in boosting sales or making their company more attractive to a prospective partner, investor or buyer. Startups today, on the other hand, often shun branding as an ancillary expense reserved only for the well-funded or profitable ventures.

In today’s “shark tank” environment, startups are vying for investment capital, recognition and credibility in crowded, muddy waters. But if they all use the same sales pitch, $300 logos and website templates, it becomes a blur to their audience or potential investors. Your idea might be revolutionary, but if you aren’t noticed and you don’t seem any different from other entrepreneurs, why should anyone care?


Galileo Galilei is commonly credited for inventing the telescope, but he did not. Ever heard of Hans Lipperhey? He did invent the telescope, but Galileo was a great orator and went in front of the Venetian senate to explain how the telescope could be used to connect with incoming trade ships and be used by the navy for defense. Galileo told the telescope’s story and showed everyone how it was relevant.

If you want to be noticed, you will have to tell a story and project an image that stands out and resonates with your market or potential investors. Branding offers startups an edge that will help you get noticed and convince people that you have credibility and that you’re an important and valuable venture.

Apple’s iOS 7′s Design Is Nostalgic About the Future

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 10, 2013 12:34 PM

I’m going to try to simplify a controversy that has started with the unveiling of Apple’s latest mobile operating system iOS 7 and will undoubtedly heat up once people get a chance to play with it and discover how usable, how fun or how frustrating the actual user experience is. Cliff Kuang’s article - The Design Battle Behind Apple’s iOS 7 in Wired does a great job explaining the nature of the collision inside Apple between the old interface style and the new design of iOS 7. It seems that there has been a long standing schism at Apple between the humanistic user interface designers and the purist modern industrial designers.

Skeoumorphism Replaced By Simplicity In Layers

Skeoumorphism Replaced By Simplicity In Layers

Since the inception of personal computers, engineers and designers have looked to the analog past for ways to help you and I understand how to navigate and operate a new kind of machine that is not like a rotary phone, an envelope or a smiling human face. Also designers—especially those who were interested in integrating the computer into our daily life—searched for ways to help us connect emotionally with these new alien machines that seemed cold and distant. So these humanistic designers adopted a philosophy of design that, once it was technically possible, imitated natural materials and known formats like the yellow notepad or the address book bound in fine leather.

Mac-IconsProponents of skeuomorphism tell us that familiar objects and materials help you connect with and know how to use buttons and interface elements, and that the familiarity helps create an emotional bond. Leather, yellow pads, dial telephones make us feel warm and fuzzy because they remind us of another happier, more familiar time. So, the skeuomorphites had a good point—the fake leather and 3D looking buttons made the iPhone look and feel like a real object rather than a flat, cold bunch of lines and spaces. Conventions that we took from the pre-iPhone world helped us re-orient ourselves to a new way of doing things.


To a purist, maybe one of the purest designers, Jony Ive, skeuomorphism must have been like putting monster truck tires on his Porsche. When you are steeped in modernism and worship at the alter of Dieter Rams, faux leather and fake highlights are not for you. Why look to the past when you are busy inventing the future?

Most people today have a smart phone, are familiar with its intrinsic functionality. Young people barely remember rotary phones, yellow pads or leather bound address books. The next generations of iPhone users don’t need reminders of a time they have never experienced, and they no longer have to get oriented to the device.

So why did Jony Ive want to get rid of skeoumorphism? Better display technology makes transparent 3D display possible. This makes the screen much more usable if the screen is not cluttered. The problem is that you need to get rid of all the 3D-looking stuff in order to use the new 3D layers or you will get mud.

My firm, Fahrenheit Studio, has designed many user interfaces for the web, applications and mobile. While 3D layers provide tremendous opportunities for quick access in a small area, they can get very muddy and cluttered, especially when you have a bunch of faux reflections, leather textures, and rotary phones that pop off the page. Every media type has rules of execution, and layers require clarity and simplicity.

Complexity = Mud for layered interface design.

But don’t confuse simplicity with simplistic. The 3D layers don’t need fake textures to be gorgeous and rich. The simple interplay of line and form can be as warm but hopefully will not be fuzzy. Modern architecture, industrial and product design has always stood for simplicity and clarity, and except for its venture into skeoumorphic design, Apple has been a leader in modern product design. While there were many excellent reasons for the skeuomorphism of old, the new interface fixes an inconsistency in the Apple brand and reconnects it with simple, clean, materially-honest modern industrial design.

Form Follows Function – A Truism That Isn’t True

Posted by Robert Weitz on March 21, 2013 11:25 AM

Put two or more designers, or one journalist and a designer, in a room and the subject of form and function inevitably comes up. “Form follows function” has always made me uncomfortable. As a craftsman/designer, I have found that form and function exists as a flow rather than a causal relationship.

The discussion of form and function in modern times has its origins in the nascent industrial education system forming in Europe in the late 19th century. Differing schools of thought touted either “classical orders” or a return to agrarian regional design. The latter as represented by Ruskin and Morris’ Arts and Crafts and the European Art Nouveau movements were primary influences on one of the fathers of modern design, Louis Sullivan.

Transom Ornament—Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building—Louis Sullivan


Fallingwater or Kaufmann Residence—Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935

“Form follows function” is based on “Form ever follows function,” a quote from Louis Sullivan’s Autobiography of an Idea. It was an era were iconography and narrative so overshadowed functional concerns that buildings and objects were expensive, dark and inhuman. I have no doubt that Sullivan and his protégé Frank Lloyd Wright sought to bring the delicate dance of form and function back into balance and harmony.

Both of their works and writings celebrate an organic, fluid relationship between form and function. Form follows function implies a causal relationship between form and function, where form ever follows function implies a delicate balance and a need for both to be emphasized.

Both Sullivan and Wright knew that they were creating iconography as well as shelter and that the iconography came first. Both also came under critical fire for faking technology in order to demonstrate their ideological principles. Function often accommodates form.

As a craftsman/designer, I am constantly doing a delicate dance between form and function—form exists hand and hand with function.

The chicken and the egg are always evolving!

What came first the chicken or the egg? The answer is obscured by the question. Neither came first. There was a long evolutionary process that resulted in a chicken. A chicken and an egg are the same thing at a different level of development!

When I am designing or building, I might pick up a stick and its function and form will do a little dance of intention, discovery, accident and imagination. That stick might morph from a window picket, to chopsticks, to a glue applicator and later to kindling. Even the most mechanical design process is often driven by poetry, craft, fetish, technological prejudice and budgets. I have been in many design meetings when faced with daunting technical challenges, we opted to break our backs to preserve intangibles like joy or lightness.

The Uffizi Gallery—Designed to function as offices and converted to a museum.


Saint Peter’s Basilica—Function: To be sublime!

Poetry and narrative are a primary cause for even the most rudimentary seemingly practical designs. Poetry and narrative are the most important aspect of any design. People will go to great lengths to celebrate their culture with their buildings, cities, churches and objects. Emotional connection to form usually overrides functional imperatives, even when the original use changes.

Corinthian dentils were ornamental elements that emulate structural elements of older temples

Architectural history is resplendent with examples of form forcing function. Ancient cultures often keep the design details of their traditional culture even though their building technology had advanced significantly. Stone elements would be fashioned to emulate the wooden structural elements of the older buildings.

Colonialism’s failure to adapt their form to the functions of nature resulted in rapid deterioration

Colonial architecture was constructed using details and architectural typologies that crumbled because the weather and materials were completely different than Europe’s. When I design, I dream and I analyze, but the line blurs as to what is driving what?

“Form ever follows function” allows us to start with our emotions, gesture or happenstance and create designs where we can conceive of something that is completely impossible and somehow figure out how to make it function. This relationship of form and function has always inspired and troubled me—form for form’s sake is close to my heart, but I make objects and interactive systems that must function well. Our online projects are highly responsive to the communities they serve and the form is driven directly by their emotions.

I found this eloquent article in the NY Times The Demise of ‘Form Follows Function’ when I was checking to see what Louis Sullivan actually said. Alice Rawsthorn tells this story in more detail and explains how the relationship between these two old friends will get even blurrier in the world of cyber environments and real-time networks.

Brands That Try Harder

Posted by Robert Weitz on January 28, 2013 3:48 PM

Just as the perfect marketing system can illuminate brands that are worthy of your trust, they can also convince you to buy something that is not trustworthy.

The snazzy slogans, white-cloaked scientific experts, and the phony “proof” that elevated brands into the upper spheres of our trust no longer works, and listing irrelevant benefits doesn’t fool anyone in the post-Google information age.

Red Bull Bus

We are more sophisticated. If someone tells us that Wonder Bread “Builds Bodies in 12 Ways”, most of us know that other breads build bodies in millions of ways and the tagline is meaningless. There are so many brands, and such a limited range of language that is compliant and appropriate for advertisers to use that listing benefits or trashing your competitors is for the most part completely ineffective.

So how does a brand wow and capture the hearts of consumers when their products have iffy or negative value? Sure, energy drinks, cigarettes, and junk food have their benefits and provide us with a jolt or momentary satisfaction, but the main thing we get out of buying into one of these brands is a sense of belonging. That is why companies that make addictive consumables put so much muscle into brand building.

Red Bull Bus




Red Bull, Coke, Pepsi all promise belonging. They build a lavish culture that makes you feel part of something huge. Massive trucks, hot sexy people, memorable music and characters along with celebrity connections can be had by simply buying a 6-pack of bubbly black sugar water and caffeine. There is a good body of evidence to be considered that links excessive consumption of sugary caffeine drinks to a plethora of health issues including obesity. It’s ironic that while the brands promise belonging when you consume lots of their beverage, you will most likely become fat and be marginalized.

Not that this kind of branding is completely negative—it provides an intricate, elaborate, and imaginative cultural backdrop for musical talent, artists and bus painters (and might even help provide some culture where there would be none). But do we want Red Bull, Coke, and Pepsi telling our kids they need to drink sugar water to be part of something? And do we want that something to be bad for their health?

Water Powered Jet Pack Powers A Brand Awareness Campaign

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 29, 2012 2:46 PM

Dylan and I were walking down by the water in Venice, California, when she proved once and for all that her contact lens enhanced eyesight beats my old fashion 20/20. “Check out that guy up in the sky!” In a couple of steps, I realized that either we both had sunstroke or there was, in fact, a guy up in the sky.

Like someone looking up and attracting a crowd on a NYC street corner, this guy was getting the attention of only a handful of people, since it was a Thursday in a quiet part of the Marina. But, he caught Dylan’s augmented eye, and we happened to have an iPhone, so we rushed over and he played to our camera.

As I filmed, Dylan asked a handsome, talkative young fellow what this was all about. He happened to have a handout and story ready to fill us in on how many gallons per second the contraption put out, and also that they were introducing a new carbonated alcoholic beverage named AIR.

Wow, spectacle advertising without a crowd!!! With little effort, he put me to work for him. He knows that no matter who I am, I’ll probably rush home and get this onto YouTube, Facebook, or maybe even a branding and design blog. This is a good example of how little it takes to create brand awareness, if you know your media and are imaginative.

Spectacle is a fabulous way to create brand awareness. It is as old as the Pyramids, but it no longer has to attract hordes or chanting crazies – All it takes is one augmented eye with a Vimeo or Youtube account.

So – Where Do We Begin?

Posted by Robert Weitz on May 29, 2012 9:45 AM

The two questions that haunts every human endeavor is “Where do I begin?” and “Where do I end?” When do I choose to disrupt and impose my will on a situation, and when do I back off and let nature take its course? The boundaries constraining beginnings and endings, while sometimes very clear, can more often be a source of great pain and dissention.

I had a beautiful moment some years back when I ran into a brilliant, self-doubting environmental reconstruction professional. I wanted to visit the Seven Sacred Pools at the end of the Hana Highway on Maui. Dylan and I braved violent weather like they hadn’t seen in 27 years that included hail and washed-out roads. We arrived at the Seven Sacred Pools at 9am.

We were the only visitors around, and a guy who looked like Willie Nelson in a park ranger’s outfit approached us. After some chatting that got serious and deep quick, he offered to take us to see the Seven Sacred Pools. About halfway down the trail, we realized that he needed someone to philosophize with and was relieved to have bright people to unload his woes. He was responsible for the oversight of the restoration of the Seven Sacred Pools. He had been since his service in Vietnam, and had received a PhD in biology, specializing in environmental reconstruction. What was getting him was “Where do I begin?” and “Where do I end?”.

He explained that while the Seven Sacred Pools was, in his opinion, a great success, he pointed to other projects he directed that caused ruination. These included protecting an endangered local deer that eventually defoliated a large swath because they no longer had the right mix of predation and survival. He saw the Seven Sacred Pools as a metaphor for a question that will have to be asked all over the planet. During the initial survey of the pre-existing conditions, they found out that the immigrant Polynesians had altered the Pools, and that those interlopers had planted a lot of the current foliage some 400 years earlier. So, what should they be restoring the Pools back to?

With brands, this gets wildly complex—Where do I begin? Where do I end? I have done brands for startups, makeovers for established brands, and brand extensions for new products and services. Today’s brands are often complex, multilayered and interdependent, so change is expensive.

Communication systems, social networking and advertising are getting more powerful, and companies are finding that they have to adjust their entire branding program to accommodate a technology that has quickly dominated their sector. If there’s a platform like Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook or Twitter that has been adopted by most users in your industry, you may be forced to adapt your entire way of expressing your brand so that you look best on that platform.

Your logo identity, the story that you tell, and the image you choose to represent your company may not be right for the kind of media that’s in the marketplace. While it looked great in print, it may be horrible for new media applications. Also, your technical back-end might be old and poorly integrated. A brand that wants to exude confidence and trustworthiness must be consistent at every touch.

As we all know, there are situations where we can do a few minor adjustments and greatly improve a forest, a home or a brand. But there are also situations where getting rid of the old and ushering in a revolution makes sense. Most situations require a careful mixture of destroying and building. Patching will often result in loss of brand equity, while careful crafting and planning are what it takes to create a healthy brand and keep it alive.

A Brand is a Very Emotional Thing

Posted by Robert Weitz on November 17, 2011 8:15 AM

Logos are a very important part of building a living brand. They are too easy to do for beginners, and too difficult for masters! They are completely misunderstood by most people, and they have the power to drive countries to war, inspire immense humanity or great irony. Put the wrong 2 symbols together and one might become so offended that they take physical action to remedy the situation!

So much emotion and storytelling can be packed into a logo that just by seeing it, we are willing to trust our lives, fortunes or happiness when they are present. Some logo symbols like the red cross are so powerful that they allow a vehicle to enter a hot war zone and not be blown to pieces. What is it about these singular symbols that evoke such emotion, and commands such attention, that it will sometimes weigh more than a life or a country’s well-being?

First let’s talk about form, and then let’s talk about how the owner of the symbol sees it, and how the user sees the same symbol. If they align you have success, if they don’t you have symbols that are meaningless, convey the wrong things, or out and out lie! Having designed many, many corporate and personal logo identities, I have seen the thought process people try to go through and all of the potentially bad moves and silly assumptions. So here are some of my observations:

  1. The back-story means little or nothing to the consumer/user.
  2. The most important thing is that the logo is clear, easy to understand, and looks good in every media it will appear in/on.
  3. Forget about the owner’s favorite colors, fonts, animals, or that he/she likes turnip shapes. What is important is that the brand and logo identity touches and connects with the intended audience.

There are back-stories to the symbols we anoint to stand for our ideas, but they are either post-rationalizations or often opaque to the everyday follower or customer. The weakest logo designs try to tell the story directly, while the most powerful stand for great stories.

They allow us to condense our understanding of  a story into a tiny compressed form. That’s why these symbols and logos are so powerful. Symbols and logo identities that try to explicitly tell a story can work, but the story is rarely evident or interesting to the user. The symbol is an efficient, compact way of storing the feeling people have about you in general. So, when companies like Toyota have reputation failures, the symbol that stood for safety and reliability becomes sadly ironic, and all that story works against them.

I’ll leave you with a sobering thought: If we mix any of the above logos and symbols in an insensitive way, we could evoke emotions that would drive people to kill and destroy, or at least sue or prosecute. Conversely, the right combination of symbols or logos could result in peace and reconciliation, or great commercial success. In future postings, I will go into some of my ideas about the power, mystery, humanity and usefulness of logo identities and how they work, don’t work, or act silly and spoil everything!


Rube Goldberg Tells a Story

Posted by Robert Weitz on August 30, 2011 11:54 AM

Do you want to impress people with your view of the world? Do you want to tell them that you are bold or inventive? Then do something creative and smart!

Here are 4 lovely examples of storytelling that is a “set-up.” In other words, a mechanism is set up to—once set in motion—tell a moving story of cause and effect that has all the elements of a drama or animated sequence. After you watch each one, ask yourself: What feeling do I have about the filmmakers, and what story are they telling? The mother of all of these, The Way Things Go by Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss, inspired many followers. Its story is more meaningful than ever.

Similar in narrative and physical setup (so much so that Fischli and Weiss threatened Honda with legal action), “The Power of Dreams” by the agency Wieden+Kennedy is an expensive, brilliantly-executed ad that has a singular message: “Isn’t it nice when things just work,” which is intoned by radio celebrity Garrison Keillor. This is done in 2 takes and took months to figure out and execute. It was very expensive and is still driving traffic and brand exposure…it worked!

Next is something different but still echoes the joyful, technologically crazy, wildly expressive creation of Fischli and Weiss, and picks up on the brilliant production values of the Honda ad. The Sony Bravia ad “Balls” by Fallon UK is a meticulously executed set-up meant to thrill and fill our hearts with an irrepressible childlike joy. It compels us to dwell on the fact that the Bravia is brighter, more exciting, and a step above everyone else.

The final spot is so perfect. It is not for a major brand, it was probably made with the understanding that the Honda and the Sony commercial continues to be passed around without an end in sight. It will probably outlive the Bravia brand, and will amuse and spread Sony and Honda’s message for who knows how long? I would imagine that a lot of sweat equity went into this since the brand makes wood products.

Appropriately, the tune is “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J.S. Bach because with such a convincing story told, everyone of us should be desiring a Touch Wood smartphone! Clients, fans and lovers are rarely seduced by a list of benefits, but light some candles, pour some wine, put on some music, and then wait and see what happens.