Archive for ‘Design’ Category

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!

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.