HUH? Why is the kindle app telling me how much time I need to finish my book? That is not how I want to think about reading. I suppose it’s a small, but telling, indication of how our culture has changed. It makes me a little sad, but it’s also the price one pays for reading a book on a digital device. Sort of a Faustian bargain.
I was reading the actual paper version of the NYT this morning and was basically assaulted by the scent of perfume as I paged through one of the sections. Couldn’t figure out where the odor was coming from until I bent my head down to sniff an advertisement for…perfume. Blech. And then I was reminded of some razors I bought over the summer. They emitted a very pungent strawberry scent as soon as I removed them from the packaging. Again, I couldn’t initially figure out from where the aroma originated. And how had I missed the two little berries on the label? Something about this seems to have crossed a line. I’m still mulling over why it offends me. I did a little homework and found a story in the Times offering up various explanations (most of them pretty obvious, but still weird) as to why the last unscented bastion in our bathrooms has now succumbed to the forces of marketing.
We all know that design can present itself as superficial or substantive or, more often, it’s some combination of both. We also know that when marketing, instead of need or innovation, dictates change, we find ourselves in the greatest amount of trouble. Good design is when form, function and operation are all considered and realized. And, at least to me, really great design is the convergence of all those elements but with the added goal of deliberately paring down and eliminating all extraneous detail. What one is left with is the absolute essence of a thing. Design in the hands of someone like Steve Jobs (and, to give due credit, Jonathan Ive and the many who work at Apple) was anything but a trivial matter. He made certain that we were not given a choice of how to use his products. Those devices dictated purpose and habits and touch. And they made us intuit our actions. Each successive generation of designs strove to get at the heart of how we converse with our environment. Ask yourself, have you ever seen someone really roughing up an iPhone? Probably not, because the interface and the form and the sounds all conspire to tell us how to interact with the thing. I marvel at Apple’s designs in part because of how they force our behavior into being something other than what it is. They even go so far as to demand both patience and attention. The many distinct little noises emitted by one or another device, as a result of touching a button or maybe scrolling down on a menu, tell us exactly what’s going on so we know if our actions have affected a change. So, not only is the “thing” pared down, but we are as well. We become less haphazard in our choices. And we ultimately become more precise and economical in our gestures. And, in the end, I believe we are the better for it.
The French curves shown here are mine, and rarely used anymore. It makes me a little sad to think that’s the case because there is a certain joy and artfulness to using them. And more specifically, using them well. What got me to thinking about these was a quote I heard yesterday from a guy who manually charts the stock market. He said that “By doing something, you end up studying it.” And that pretty much holds true for drawing curves. Sometimes it’s a real struggle to get the curve you want and to make it fluid. And in that struggle, there is often an answer to the design.
Pre-answering machine. Pre-everything. Found at a long-since closed office supply shop on Howard Street in NYC.
My husband and I ordered take out the other night from the local Japanese restaurant. We ordered three rolls, hijiki, a green salad and some dumplings. When we were done cleaning up, I took a step back and really looked at the waste generated from all the containers used to transport our meal. I’ve done this before, but never been motivated to actually stop and think long enough to want to change my behavior regarding one of NY’s diehard habits. And then I did a quick and rough calculation: I figured that if they got just 30 take out orders a night, and multiplied that times the number of days in a week, weeks in a year and then times that by the number of Japanese restaurants in Brooklyn alone…I lost track when I hit 230,000 separate pieces of plastic. I started to feel dizzy and a little sick. Not to mention guilty. Basically, that is one shitload of plastic containers. There has got to be a better way! First of all, no more take out.
If one were to look at the dysfunction in our healthcare system through the lens of design, one could safely say that we are in deep deep trouble. I went to visit a close friend in the hospital this weekend, and I was aghast at all the cords and clip and tangles. There was absolutely no attention paid to aesthetics, much less usability, neither of which are insignificant or shallow, especially when one is ill or injured. My husband said it best: Hospitals aren’t designed for patients. They are designed for practitioners. I’m not even sure that is true.