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Industrial Design

  • I came across some lovely photos of some vintage Herman Miller pieces today (h/t @architeckure on Threads). This lead me down a rabbit hole of the designer at Herman Miller who created these workstations.

    The man behind the desk (so to speak), is George Nelson. He was a lead industrial designer at Herman Miller from 1945 to 1954. Sometime before that, he was an avid design writer. He contributed to magazines like Architectural Forum and in later years, published several books on architecture and design thinking.

    In 1959, Nelson and others designed and built the “Comprehensive Shelving System,” the CSS as it were — this pre-dates the Dieter Rams Vitsoe Shelving System by a few years

    Nelson’s contributions to mid-century decor and Herman Miller’s aesthetic remain steadfast and important. His workstations and office furniture are astounding.

    His sofa designs, home decor and other furnishing are still being sold to this day. Here’s a few items from Herman Miller’s online catalog dedicated to Nelson:

    Timeless design, exceptional dedication to craft and details. Here’s to you George ❤️

  • The iPhone has no doubt been a crazy success since the early days. But how did the iPhone end up being such a success? Speculation, rumors and the lack of a design-first company in the market left Apple wide-open to squeeze into a already crowding market of cell phones and catalyze the smartphone industry into the behemoth that it is today. It took years of research, iteration and trial and error to produce the first iPhones. Apple was prototyping devices in secrecy with fabricators in China as early as 2005 with Foxconn and Pegatron. Looking back, we can see the design lineage and early ideas that were afoot in the company.

    Early on, there was a bet that the clickwheel, an invention of the successful iPod could be re-used in the iPhone. Thanks to @DongleBookPro, and (a few others over the years), we have some interesting images of late Acorns OS. Apple installed numerous diagnostic tools on these devices such as fabricator diagnostics, carrier and engineering diagnostic UI. Hap Plain of Cult of Mac put together this video showing just how rudimentary some of these early P-series iPhones worked here:

    The rudimentary touch-operated Acorn OS that ran on these prototypes eventually were refined and became the much beloved iOS. For further reading I recommend 9to5mac’s piece on the history behind Acorn OS and how it came to be.

  • From Stereogum:

    It’s weird to think that, in the years before the Walkman, there was no way to listen to music privately while out in public. There were ways to bring music with you — on transistor radios, on boom boxes, on car stereos — but they forced you to subject everyone around you to that music, as well. The Walkman freed us up. It allowed us to make music more a part of our lives, to build our own private soundworlds. It was a transformative invention, one of the few that utterly upended the way we listen to music. Soon enough, more and more portable cassette players would hit the market, and the price fortunately dropped. But no matter which company made them, we still used the word “Walkman” to describe them.

    Only looking backward, can we appreciate how far we’ve come. It truly changed how we listened to music. We might not refer to our music players as Walkmans anymore, but in a sense — we still do. A simple progression of design thinking over the years reveals my favorite Bruno Munari’s maxim:

    An arrow can lose its feathers but not its point.

    Bruno Munari, Design as Art.
  • From The Verge:

    Apple’s chief design officer Jonathan Ive is departing the company, bringing an end to a tenure spent crafting some of technology’s most influential products, including the iPhone. Ive is leaving his official role at Apple “to form an independent design company which will count Apple among its primary clients.” The company is called LoveFrom, and Ive will be joined by famed designer Marc Newsom on the new venture. Despite stepping down from his executive position, Ive and Apple both claim he will still work “on a range of projects with Apple.”

    Wow. Remarkable.

    So, right out of the gates — I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing for Apple, nor do I think this is a bad thing for Jony (but that’s a given, more on that later). Basically, the best product design talent on Earth, just spun-off from Apple to do their own thing. Awesome!

    This of course, has happened before with Apple. I suppose there was Esslinger and Frog Design in the beginning. There was TBWA\Chiat\Day after that. Then, there was that one time when Huge founded a wholly controlled subsidiary, called Elephant whose only client was Apple. Ok, so the last one wasn’t exactly an exodus from Apple, but I suppose now, we have LoveFrom to add to the roster.

    I have a feeling that this has something to do with Project Titan, which in of itself, is a fascinating project at Apple. But allow me to elaborate. First off, Jony Ive is special to Apple. He’s not compensated the same as everyone else. His salary is a closely held secret, apparently prior to Steve Jobs passing, he insured Ive would remain incentivized to stay at Apple. So his exit strikes me as odd. Fortune writes:

    According to Apple, Ive is exempt from SEC rules because he’s not what the commission calls a “Section 16” employee. Despite his title—chief design officer—the company does not classify him as a director or officer of the company.

    The only hint I could find about how much Ive might be making comes from Leander Kahney’s 2013 biography Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products. Summarizing a couple of British newspaper stories published in early 2011, after Ive had reportedly threatened to quit, Kahney writes:

    “To cement his connection with Apple, the company reportedly paid Jony a $30 million bonus and offered him shares worth a further $25 million. At the time, Jony’s personal fortune was estimated at $130 million.”

    Secondly, Project Titan was/is immense. The pressures are high, the margins are low, the R&D is insane — I’m sure everyone involved on Titan are getting spread pretty thin. The acquisitions have only just begun, and there still isn’t a viable (or marketable) product yet. I’m sure there’s no bad blood between Jony and Apple, mainly because, there’s a press release from Apple. That’s pretty telling. Even more telling is that this news story didn’t leak. At all. But Titan feels like a project that exudes a lot of friction. Jony doesn’t do friction. Which is my guess as to why he’s exiting now, rather than later.

    Moreover, he couldn’t stay at Apple forever. That’s for certain, and he’s not getting any younger — so operating in a consultation capacity has its upsides: flexible goals, focused deadlines, and focused creative work. Oh yeah, not a whole lot of friction if you play your cards right. I will continue to expect nothing short of excellence from Apple in the coming years. But, I have to say I didn’t see this coming (or at least not this soon anyways). I always figured Jony would retire and run a design studio in his later years.

    But overall, I’m glad to see Alan Dye and Evans Hankey are sticking around too (I guess Cook is delegating responsibility to Jeff Williams, I wonder how long that will last, that doesn’t seem very Apple to me either) — At any rate, I would be gravely concerned if Alan left during this departure. He’s also some been around Apple for a while. I’m looking forward to see what Alan brings to this new structure, but it’s weird having a Chief of Design vacancy. So yeah, I’m genuinely excited to see what comes out of LoveFrom. Not just what it produces with Apple.

    As for Apple, I’m sure they’ll keep on spinning without Ive:

  • From Lost Type Co-op:

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    A lovely, light-hearted typeface. Full of spirit and originality. Glistening with nostalgia, but full of energy. Lost Type Co-op describes it as:

    A recognizably crisp, bold, and contemporary choice for all of your editorial, fashionable, intellectual, and satirical typesetting needs. Designed by Dave Bailey, and available now, only from The Lost Type Co‑op.

    So much fun. Get it here, pay what you want for personal use.