Monday, November 29, 2010

Dangerous Design

They're a staple novelty at every tourist destination around the world. Do people actually use this item or is it just placed on a mantle? Maybe its in a cupboard for when house guests invade the home they can witness where you've travelled? The function of this item is pretty self-explanitory, with the only differences between each other being the exterior aesthetics, maybe even encompassing sculptural properties. However, signs abound with warnings and disclaimers describing this item as hazardous to a person's health. Why would someone purchase something fully aware of the risk it poses to the user's health?

The shot glass is a common item in every airport, hotel, and resort gift shop. What can possibly be so dangerous about a small, stout shot glass other than potentially shattering? The artwork on the exterior of these novelty shot glasses are created using lead based paint. Why? I have no idea. You would think that in this day and age an alternative choice to this harmful paint would be utilized but for some reason this lead based paint in used on a monumental scale. I haven't done too much traveling in my young age but from the locales I've travelled to, a good amount of these shot glasses are elaborately and colorfully adorned with this toxic substance.

I believe the manufacturers of these shot glasses are fully aware of the harm they can potentially cause in a future user of their product yet production continues without hesitation to cease assembly. I was even in the UC Davis bookstore and came across shot glasses with a sign warning the consumer of the lead paint included with the product as well as the side effects that can develop from its use.

A way to bypass the risk altogether is to just resist the urge to purchase this novelty. If worst comes to worst and you absolutely need to have this memento from the far away land you're visiting, purchase a shot glass with as little exterior paint as possible. Shot glasses that are engraved rather than painted reduce the risk of lead poisoning dramatically.

So please, drink responsibly.

Utopian Design

All design is meant to innovate what came before, right? The seemingly endless furniture of Ikea is meant to replicate the simplicity of classic Scandinavian designs. The ergonomic kitchenware in a house evolves from the basic tool designs from the stone age. What came before, in all regard of design, has now been altered for the better. Now there are several exceptions which encompass timeless capabilities, for example the wheel; the formula for which will always remain intact. We can thank the wheel, however, for a design which has yet to be placed into production but designs for which have been made public for years now.

The plans for a high-speed rail system between northern California and southern California is all but a realization of an inevitability if all the cards fall in all the right places. This form of transportation promises safe and efficient travel from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles in less than three hours. This train allows the population an alternative to flight and/or a tedious drive well over seven hours. A regular passenger train can be taken but would have to make stops along it's route, all along the while traveling at a far reduced speed compared to this high-speed train.

I remember walking from class to class at my junior college a couple years back and having spokespeople for this proposed idea stop me in my tracks and ask for donations to make this utopian dream become a reality. I have yet to hear anything in the news about construction commencing but the website provided,, includes a plethora of information on the idea.

This high-speed rail would be a true utopian innovation in the world of design, allowing California to connect it's northern and southern regions in less than three hours. People frightened of flight and too impatient for a long car ride would deem this proposition a step in the right direction for uniting this golden state.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Color: Sports Teams

Regardless of which sport is taken into account, a team's colors are what differentiate one from the other. These colors aren't arbitrarily chosen but actually meticulously decided upon in order to accentuate a team amongst it's competition. College sports are more color-heavy when using terms such as complimentary hues and whatnot. They're everywhere. The students and fans in the stands proudly exhibit their love for the team in effervescent tones all the while cheering until their voice-box explodes.

A school which comes to mind right away is the University of Florida, with the mascot being the Gators. Their primary color of royal blue is complimented by their secondary color of orange. Each color emphasizes the other to an astronomical effect. The hordes of orange and blue fans in the stands only reinforces the argument. The fact that the interior of the team's football stadium, nicknamed "The Swamp" is completely orange is not just to accentuate the secondary color, but on a bright sunny day, the orange facade of the stadium is complimented by the bluish hue of the sky.

Another team where complimentary colors are utilized is in the world of basketball. The Los Angeles Lakers' color scheme of purple and gold are another example of great design choice. This team, as well as the Gators, have been around for numerous decades and have stuck to their colors to prove that these complimentary themes are long-lasting.

Using the primary colors along with their compliments only accentuates that primary color further, allowing it to stand out even more so compared to a black or white compliment. These teams are only a brief sample of effective color schemes. Every sports team in the nation has their own identity involving their primary and secondary color, and more often than not the most successful themes get copied and duplicated. This only reinforces the idea that a successful color scheme can hopefully bring a team good fortune. Worst comes to worst, the team will at least look good losing.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Ergonomics of Design: Xbox 360 Controller

Anyone who has worked in the retail industry is familiar with the saying, "the customer is always right." This phrase is synonymous with any business regardless of the target audience or demographic; whatever the customer wants, the customer gets. It's a simple concept whereas consumers have the ultimate say in how a company produces their certain product or service. In the world of ergonomics, the customer and/or user of the product rank number one. The comfort coupled with the overall functionality of the product, especially within the workplace, make for an inspiring design choice. Understanding and listening to the potential users enable a manufacturer to create not just what is wanted, but what is needed.

When Microsoft's Xbox first hit shelves in 2001, the controller(black) which accompanied the console was an absolute eyesore and way too robust to literally wrap both the user's hands around. When Microsoft released the Xbox's successor in 2005, the Xbox 360, the controller(white) corrected all that was wrong with it's predecessor. Gone was the outdated button layout and overall colossal-ness of the old controller, and in came a fresh new design which not only allows for complete functionality but incredible comfort for lengthy game sessions.

This product is incredibly safe. One hazard, and maybe the only hazard being that it's an electronic device, is the risk of electrocution, but I've never heard of such an occurrence. My controller in particular uses batteries as it's primary source of power, the battery cartridge is positioned in the rear of the controller, out of the way when in use by the player. Now unless the two AA batteries in the controller explode, I should be alright.

I can easily spend a couple hours in the video game world at a time. Anything longer than that, my eyes begin to get irritated, my foot may fall asleep, but never have my hands been affected from an extended amount of time playing video games. The controller is symmetrical in it's design with two equally contoured handles on either side, allowing for a decent grip on the controller with both hands regardless if the user is right-handed or a southpaw.

A good product design can only go so far, though. Using the product with ease is always wanted from a designer yet not always accomplished. In this case, despite the size of the hands of the user, the layout of the buttons and analog sticks are positioned in such a way where the thumbs and index fingers can reach them all without strain. Of course the effects the buttons have will vary with each game, but the layout of the controller remains the same, easy to use regardless of which game is in the console.

The Xbox 360 controller performs wonderfully. I have yet to have any problems with the one I currently own. However, my brother threw my other one in a bout of frustration and damaged the internal vibration device which rumbles corresponding to what happens within a game. But besides that event, the controller puts up with numerous hours of use without a sign of wear, except for maybe a few drops of perspiration from the user. Other than that, the 360 controller stands up to the competition making this controller the fan favorite among video game users.

The controller itself looks fantastic. The overall white scheme with silver/grey accents adds to its futuristic and modern style. The primary buttons of use are all color coordinated as well, utilizing the green(A), red(B), blue(X) and yellow(Y) hues to differentiate the buttons from any of their competitors.

The Xbox 360 controller incorporates functionality with incredible comfort allowing for endless hours of  enjoyability. It's safe to say that Microsoft learned from what it did wrong with this controller's predecessor and corrected it substantially. This is a prime example of keeping the user in mind when designing a product for mass production, knowing that a wide variety of people will use this item, and satisfying every single one of them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A's to San Jose?

The legitimacy of how true this concept may be is up for debate and the endless amounts of rumors which have been thrown around only lead to more loopholes. The reality of the Oakland Athletics major league baseball franchise moving to the south bay is the most concrete information known about the future of the team. I've heard that the team would move to Fremont several years ago but nothing has happened since then, and now as of late August the designs for a new stadium in San Jose have been leaked.

The plans for this new stadium are a major upgrade from the team's current ballpark, then again, a field similar to the one from Sandlot triumphs over the A's current concrete confines in Oakland. Alliteration aside, this stadium does a lot right, but also a lot wrong. The size alone of the stadium's plan is appropriate for the offerings of downtown San Jose, yet would be the smallest in all of baseball. The stadium is equally curvilinear as it is rectilinear. The curvature of the stadium accentuates the road below it, as well does the rectangular roofing does the outfield walls.

The color scheme amongst the stadium reflects that of the team itself, which is expected. The dark green of the bleachers and stands mirror the primary color of the team, while the relatively small third deck is of a yellow hue, contributing to the team's secondary color. The ballpark also incorporates a view to the outside world behind the centerfield fence, a feature definitely lacking at the coliseum in Oakland.

This stadium may be a step in the right direction for this franchise. While construction has yet to begin, being that these are only plans that have yet to be approved, this stadium is something to look forward to. Hopefully this will encourage fans to attend some games and support this team which has had abysmal attendance numbers for several years now. This stadium cannot be constructed soon enough, as Athletics fanatics are forever eager to once again root on their beloved ball club and return to national prominence.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Word & Image: What Will People Know?

A year ago at my junior college I was enrolled in a class that dealt with the technical aspect of Adobe Photoshop. I was a complete novice at the time, maybe working with photoshop for only a handful of weeks before this project was assigned. The instructor gave each student a song by Neil Young entitled "After the Garden". Utilizing a line from the song with an interpretation using image how we see fit, we had to describe what we heard. Being open-ended, I decided to think of how to encapsulate the song within an image. It wasn't easy.

The song basically discusses what life would be like after another war. A concept all too familiar amongst our nation. I began to brainstorm how exactly to capture the song. A ying-yang came to mind for some reason, a visual symbol of balance. The song deals with war and it's humble offerings as I tried to think of how a ying-yang can represent that with little success. The finished ying-yang came out well after superimposing the orange/red half onto a photograph of Earth. The left side is rifled with happiness and jubilation while the right side is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, depicting scenes of terror and violence.

The phrase near the top of the image summarizes the collage. If the populace is aware of such evil throughout the world, then whey are we always so happy? We will not get brought down by the seemingly endless threat of diabolical schemes, we will become strong, as we have proven. We come together, as the left side depicts, countless ethnicities flood the page, all smiling. What will people know?

Word & Image: Children of Men

Arguably one of my favorite movies of all time, Children of Men encapsulates a reality without a future, literally. A child hasn't been born for almost two decades and humanity is beginning to lose hope, a concept which has eluded the world for far too long. This motion picture is an absolute masterpiece, winning numerous awards for it's breathtaking cinematography in 2007. Not only does the movie shine on the big screen, but so too does it's advertising/marketing campaign. I'm aware this will strike confusion in many since this movie is still flying under the radar. With that being said, how have it's promotional method been so successful?

I remember watching the trailer for Children of Men in the theaters and was immediately anticipating it's release. I also recall noticing promotional materials, such as billboards and posters, beginning to populate urban areas. They aren't difficult to miss with such taglines as, "The future's a thing of the past" and "The last one to die please turn out the light". These advertisements utilized completely white backgrounds with unkempt, stenciled lettering, most likely to give the effect of spray painted graffiti. The title of the movie in the bottom right of the posters incorporates a similar font, keeping true to the relationship between the taglines and the overall dark theme of the film.

This marketing strategy is risky, relying heavily on a simple phrase to put people in the theaters. Not only do the tones of the phrases make you think, but the font also evokes a sense of disturbance where the only available answer lies in actually viewing a screening, or having a friend give you a synopsis, but where's the fun in that?

Children of Men is a film of hope, yet you might not be able to tell from the posters. However, the posters are what put people in the seats. It worked on me.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Deep in the Woods

The University of Oregon has a reputation for outlandish design, I think a couple years back the football team had ten different variations of their on-field jersey, some hits, some misses. Jerseys are one thing, they're worn for a few hours then placed back into circulation until they need to be worn next, maybe never worn again at all. Their basketball jerseys aren't nearly as loud as their football counterparts, but that may be because the basketball court itself may take the shine away from the jerseys.

The new basketball court design is unlike anything ever witnessed before. Traditionalists may not like this new rendition but those from the pacific northwest will. The new court design emphasizes the lush forests of the region, as well as paying homage to Oregon's lone 1939 championship basketball team, back then nicknamed "The Tall Firs".

Oregon fans and players will revel in the addition of this court as their now iconic home turf while opposing teams and players may find new reasons to fear this team, especially with this elaborate flooring. The tagline "Deep in the Woods" rests underneath the school's main athletic logo while the tall firs crowd the outer perimeter of the entire court, only making space for the center of the court, where the main logo is most legible.

The colors of Oregon are green and gold, yet the color pallet chosen for the floor's design do not resemble any familiar hues of any of the school's sports teams, rather the floor resembles the region which the school is situated. The originality of this design is straight awe-inspiring. However, only time will tell if Oregon basketball will reign supreme amongst the nation, because their arena floor definitely will.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Kinetic Typography

The concept of kinetic typography is unique. Imagine a monologue from your favorite movie. Remove the visuals but keep the audio. Insert type where the visuals once were, moving and shifting across the screen. This coming together of motion graphics and type is known as kinetic typography, a phenomenon which I have only recently discovered yet cannot get enough of.

The ability to manipulate font and text eludes to an entirely new way to view scenes, speeches, and even music videos. I've easily viewed dozens of these creations, all disparate. Each video puts a completely different spin on an overly-watched scene, for example from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" below.

I love working with type. I can spend hours in Adobe Illustrator meticulously choosing fonts and arranging letters until satisfied. Kinetic Typography allows these creations to come to life. I have yet to produce one of these videos but will soon try since I know of many monologues where kinetic typography will only enhance an otherwise immaculate scene.

These concoctions are fun to watch. To see the type dance around the screen is unlike anything else. Type isn't the only ingredient in these videos, however. Images can be placed at certain points during the speech for emphasis or to just switch things up a bit. Whatever the case may be, I highly recommend checking out your favorite feature film monologues on youtube by typing in the movie title followed by "kinetic typography". Chances are that somebody, somewhere, has done it.

Gillette Fusion

What induces brand loyalty? Does the reputation of a product coincide with its design and functionality? Consumers need that which serves a purpose, and they want what they necessarily do not need, for leisure, for instance. Some companies urge to focus on one of these aspects yet the successful ones focus on both, achieving loyalty from consumers just by doing their job. By creating an immaculate product where form and function adhere to one another, brand loyalty is automatic.

The Gillette Fusion razor is a product where my loyalty rests. I started shaving some years ago and didn't really have a preference in a specific brand, just as long as it got the job done. I would sift through the disposables and even use my older brother's without his knowledge. I watched a commercial of the Gillette Fusion a while back and figured I need to make an upgrade, and possibly have a razor I can call my own.

The chrome finish with vivid royal blue rubber grips placed conveniently along the handle allow for increased comfort compared to the plastic disposables. Orange accents also highlight the brand's color scheme on the object, utilizing the blue's compliment. The blue grips are soft and enable my fingers to rest along the handle with comfort. Also, the weight of the razor adds to the durability which it promises. I've had the same razor for years, of course switching out the blades when needed with a conveniently placed 'release' button which releases the blades from the handle, literally popping the blades off the handle and into the trash bin.

This razor has been a great investment and proved the statement, 'you get what you pay for'. The Gillette company designed this product with the consumer in mind, with me in mind; and it's very much appreciated.