Pixel City

Oh look, another blog about design and technology

I never would have guessed that these companies shared a typeface.

Apple, Reebok, and Trapper Keeper. Who knew?

logos

Via 512pixels.

How to Design a TV Show

OK, that's not really what this article is about, but the design stuff is my favorite part.

Siskel and Ebert had switched to sitting in movie theater seats—slightly angled, 18 inches apart—to a mock balcony, a kind of belvedere from which they could surveil all of moviedom. This created a narrative frame for the reviews. They were critics playing moviegoers, who discussed films as they were shown to them; it gave the show its sitcom quality, which became a central part of its appeal... In order to sustain the illusion, Siskel and Ebert would turn their heads in the direction of the screen after introducing a clip, as though they were watching it alongside the viewer... It read as inclusive; the camera always positioned the viewer either in a seat close to the hosts, or in an impossible spot just leaning over the balcony railing.

I totally want some of this material.

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it.

"You expect to see the hills and all you can see … it's like black, like a hole, like there's nothing there. It just looks so strange," said Ben Jensen, the firm's chief technical officer.

"Beats" Design

Congratulations to the design firm Ammunition for helping grow Beats from nothing* in 2006 to a $3 billion purchase by Apple in 2014. Never let it be said that you can't get anywhere with a stick-and-ball letter for your logo. Thanks to Ammunition for this great look into their work. (And thanks to Daring Fireball for letting me know that Ammunition exists.)

Beats logo wireframe

* OK, I guess they had a few million from Dre to start... but other than that — nothing. :-)

Birth of the Mall

Long and detailed (of course) story from The New Yorker about malls, by Malcom Gladwell.

Then he looked up and pointed to the second floor of the mall. The handrails were transparent. “We don’t want anything to disrupt the view,” Taubman said. If you’re walking on the first level, he explained, you have to be able, at all times, to have an unimpeded line of sight not just to the stores in front of you but also to the stores on the second level. The idea is to overcome what Taubman likes to call “threshold resistance,” which is the physical and psychological barrier that stands between a shopper and the inside of a store. “You buy something because it is available and attractive,” Taubman said. “You can’t have any obstacles.

Chicken nugget design?

Of course!

Designing a Taco

The inside story of the Taco Bell/Doritos marriage. The idea is pretty simple; this story is all about the execution. It's full of sweet, sincere, unintentionally hilarious lines like "To tackle this huge challenge, for months we shared know-how between the technical teams at Frito-Lay and Taco Bell" and "We had teams of engineers working day and night to get the seasoner working", but also interesting stuff like...

"When you buy a bag of Doritos and you open it, and some of the corners are broken off, you're probably not going to be that mad, because they're still Doritos," Gomez says. "But if our taco shells are broken in transit or in the restaurants, we can't do anything with them. That was a big obstacle for us. How do we make these shells chip-like, but also be able to ship them and still be able to build a taco without having them break?"

Design (and manufacturing) is all about constraints.

a picture of a taco

"No compromise" design

Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows division at Microsoft, wrote this piece about the design of Windows 8, which mixes Microsoft's new "Metro" design style for mobile devices with the regular desktop version Windows. He says, 4 times in 4 different ways, "Our goal was a no compromise design." But there is no such thing, becauyse all design is compromise. Joel Spolsky wrote this great article in 2006 and he explains it very simply, with an example of designing a trashcan for use on a city sidewalk:

It has to be pretty light, because the dustboys, er, sanitation engineers come by and they have to pick it up to dump the trash in the garbage truck. Oh, and it has to be heavy, or it will blow away in the wind or get knocked over... It has to be really big. People throw away a lot of trash throughout the day and at a busy intersection if you don't make it big enough, it overflows and garbage goes everywhere... Oh, also, it needs to be pretty small, because otherwise it's going to take up room on the sidewalk... Ok, light, heavy, big, and small. What else. It should be closed on the top, so rubbish doesn't fly away in the wind. It should be open on the top, so it's easy to throw things away... Notice a trend? When you're designing something, you often have a lot of conflicting constraints. In fact, that's a key part of design: resolving all of these conflicting goals.

Steven Sinofsky:

Windows 8 brings together all the power and flexibility you have in your PC today with the ability to immerse yourself in a Metro style experience. You don’t have to compromise! ... you can seamlessly switch between Metro style apps and the improved Windows desktop.

When he says "no compromise", what he means is "we left everything in", which is very much a compromise. How can he not see that he's already made a ton of compromises? More features means more complexity. More disk space is used by the system. More things running at once hurts battery life. Putting in more battery to bring the life back makes the device heavier. Etc etc etc. He is, quite simply, 100% wrong. Design is nothing but compromise."No compromise" design simply doesn't exist. It's like non-wet water.

Pen Design

Low-tech Skilcraft pens endure in a high-tech world

The original design — brass ink tube, plastic barrel not shorter than 4 5/8 inches, ball of 94 percent tungsten carbide and 6 percent cobalt — has changed little over the decades... The original 16-page specifications for the pen are still in force: It must be able to write continuously for a mile and in temperatures up to 160 degrees and down to 40 degrees below zero.

Juice design? Of course!

It's easy to not think about the fact that juice companies can somehow make juice that tastes the same all year. Sadly, it's heavily processed and then re-flavored. Even the brands that are advertised as "natural", aren't. Still, it's interesting to see a little of how this happens, if also a bit sad.

After the oranges are squeezed, the juice is stored in giant holding tanks and, critically, the oxygen is removed from them. That essentially allows the liquid to keep (for up to a year) without spoiling — but that liquid that we think of as orange juice tastes nothing like the Tropicana OJ that comes out of the carton. In fact, it's quite flavorless. So, the industry uses "flavor packs" to re-flavor the de-oxygenated orange juice... Juice companies therefore hire flavor and fragrance companies, the same ones that formulate perfumes for Dior and Calvin Klein, to engineer flavor packs to add back to the juice to make it taste fresh. Flavor packs aren't listed as an ingredient on the label because technically they are derived from orange essence and oil. Yet those in the industry will tell you that the flavor packs, whether made for reconstituted or pasteurized orange juice, resemble nothing found in nature. The packs added to juice earmarked for the North American market tend to contain high amounts of ethyl butyrate, a chemical in the fragrance of fresh squeezed orange juice that, juice companies have discovered, Americans favor... Since they're made from by-products that originated in oranges, they can be added to the orange juice without being considered an "ingredient," despite the fact that they are chemically altered.