Design and Innovation Daily

The films of Charles and Ray Eames

Posted in art, culture, designers, philosophy by Dan on March 8, 2010

Michael Neault wrote a wonderful piece on the films of Charles and Ray Eames, a prolific pair of designers who made a profound impact on design during the 20th century. Noting that the Eames’ films receive less attention than their work in industrial design, architecture, photography, and other areas, Neault discusses the unique artistry of their films, the role of the films within the history of design, and the meaning of the films in terms of the Eames’ philosophy of design.

Carl DiSalvo recently commented on the Eames’ films, looking at the films as “meditations on objects.” Along with that, he posted the film “Lounge Chair Assembly” (1956).

Another film available online is this advertisement for the Polaroid SX-70, the landmark instant camera. The film is a beautiful example of the Eames’ style. Also worth noting is the way the film reflects a systems view of the camera, moving between user and manufacturer, presenting the camera as a technological object, as a useful object, and as a meaningful part of a user’s life.

More from Interaction10

Posted in culture, interaction design, philosophy, product design, theory, user experience by Dan on February 26, 2010

Picking up on yesterday’s topic, here are a few more highlights from Interaction10, the recent conference on interaction design. Talks at the conference presented an interesting mix of theoretical and practical insights into design (and not just interaction design).

Yesterday, I pointed to summaries of the talks from the first day of the conference. Johnny Holland Magazine also published summaries from the second and third days (their server was down last time I checked, so here are Google’s cached versions of the articles from day 2 and day 3).

On day 2, Ezio Manzini discussed the role of digital platforms in the economies and communities of the future. Christropher Fahey gave an even more fascinating (and perhaps bold) presentation about the humanization of technology, which implies that technology will become more human-like without replacing or replicating humans; in addition to the overview in the above article, take a look at his slides. From day 3, Dan Hill’s talk is interesting because he brings the subject of urban design into the context of interaction design—similar concepts applied to very different time frames.

Since I wrote yesterday’s post, I also found the slides from Nathan Shedroff’s talk about the forms and roles of meaning in experiences and designed experiences. The slides can be downloaded from Shedroff’s website.

I highly recommend Nicolas Nova’s reflections on the conference. He pieced together many of the theoretical elements of the talks and made an interesting comparison of the design models that appeared throughout the conference.

Sarah Mitchell traced a few of the core themes from the talks and posted photos of her notes.

Finally, Dave Malouf, interaction design professor at SCAD, wrote a compelling (if cryptic) piece about the importance of social responsibility and even activism in interaction design.

David Airey on letterpress; Decision-Based Design

Posted in culture, graphic design, interaction design, theory by Dan on January 25, 2010

In a post about letterpress (an early printing technique used from the time of Gutenberg up to the beginning of the 20th century), graphic designer David Airey shared a video about Hatch Show Print: a 130-year old letterpress shop which has preserved the old printing techniques as well as the associated design styles for many decades: Hatch Show Print

On a completely unrelated topic, Dan Brown republished a 2005 article in which he describes an unusual approach to software design. Instead of using functional specifications, information architecture, or user personas as the main drivers of the design process, Brown focused on the large and complex set of decisions that users must make while using the software; he treated the software as a system built primarily to support the users’ decision-making: “Decision-Based Design.”

Ritual in innovation; the story of the ribbon

Posted in culture, methodology, user experience, user interface by Dan on January 8, 2010

Bruce Nussbaum wrote some interesting thoughts on the role of ritual in technology and innovation. “I was once nearly thrown out of a brainstorming session at IDEO and it marked me for life.” His brief post: “The Ritualization of Creation—The Role of Ritual In Innovation.”

For your weekend viewing, here’s an interesting presentation from 2008: Jensen Harris, a user interface designer at Microsoft, talks about the process of developing the ribbon in Microsoft Office 2007. Back when Microsoft began developing the next version of Office in 2003, their team found that, while Office was fairly complete in its range of features, the user interface was insufficient for the software’s complexity: “The user interface was failing our users.” Harris and his team set out to reimagine, redesign, and evaluate the interface.

In the presentation, from the MIX conference in 2008, Harris describes the design process for the ribbon, including some of the team’s iterations, prototypes, and mistakes. Video, audio, and slides from the presentation are available on his blog. Although the video is a bit long, and even though “Microsoft” connotes “boring” for some, watch at least the first 4 minutes to get a taste; it contains valuable insights and design lessons.

Here’s the blog post: The Story of the Ribbon

What do you think?

Posted in culture, information by Dan on December 21, 2009

DIDaily has been running for a little over six weeks. Finally, the number of posts (30 as of this post) is growing faster than the number of categories (now 24); the blog has a small but sure readership; I’ve found a good format for the blog as I’ve moved from the “roundup” idea to thematic posts that are more coherent; and I’ve discovered that it’s a little bit harder to keep up with my RSS feeds and come up with blog-worthy content every weekday than I initially thought it would be.

In a couple days this blog will go on a temporary hiatus for the holidays. Before then, I want to ask for your feedback:

  • What do you think?
  • In general, is DIDaily worth reading? From what I’ve written so far, which kind of content has been valuable, and which hasn’t?
  • How often do you read DIDaily? If not every day, is that because you don’t have time to read it every day, or because the headlines don’t always look interesting?

I’d love to hear from you—feel free to leave a comment on the blog, or send an email to designdaily at

Now, for today’s promised links:

Saturday’s “Today” by Eric Baker presented a collection of cigarette cards, which were collectible cards that would come in cigarettes packages during the 19th and early 20th centuries. His article as well as the New York Public Library’s digital gallery of cigarette cards are an interesting window into the culture, marketing, and graphic design of the times.

Cultural context: app design and restaurant menus

Posted in culture, graphic design, theory by Dan on December 16, 2009

I’m always fascinated by the complexity of the interdependence of technology and cultural context. I touched on this last week when I talked about TV, web, and music, but entertainment isn’t the only place where social and business contexts define what’s appropriate in a design.

Jack Moffett wrote yesterday about the forces which affect the features that are included (and excluded) in a tool as simple as a note-taking application. This excerpt from an upcoming book by William Poundstone reveals how the layout and graphic design of a restaurant menu is determined by the way the restaurant wants the customers to perceive the prices.

On the other hand, Scott Berkun’s criticism of a particular interactive visualization shows us that the expectation for “whizzy fun visuals” sometimes competes with the effectiveness of the visualization as a communication tool.

Where else do these sorts of expectations conflict with each other?

Documentary film: Good Copy Bad Copy

Posted in culture by Dan on December 11, 2009

On a tangent to yesterday’s post, I want to recommend the documentary Good Copy Bad Copy for your weekend viewing. The film travels from the U.S. to Sweden to Nigera to Brazil, exploring the many cultural dimensions of sampling, remixing, piracy, and copyright law. Going far beyond the conflict between record companies and consumers—the story we usually hear about in the U.S.—the documentary explores the many (more than two) perspectives on the issue and builds a new understanding of what it means to “copy.”

Good Copy Bad Copy can be viewed at If you’d rather own it, you can download it legally as a torrent. (The torrent link on the website is broken, but it can be found elsewhere.)

TV vs. Web; the Amen Break

Posted in culture, theory by Dan on December 10, 2009

In a recent post on Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox (a column in which he posts summaries of his valuable usability research findings and advice), he compares the differences between the way media is consumed on TV and on the web. Even if it’s not relevant to your work, the comparison is an interesting reflection of the way content, hardware, process of consumption, form of experience, and social context all determine and depend on each other.

A couple days ago I heard a track by Wax Tailor, “Once Upon A Past”, which cleverly samples audio from a short documentary about the Amen Break, produced by Nate Harrison. Can I Get An Amen? “unfolds a critical perspective of perhaps the most sampled drum beat in the history of recorded music,” exploring its role in the development of hip hop and electronic music and its implications for copyright law and the world of art. Like the TV vs. web discussion, it also addresses the relationships between technology, culture, and the transformation of content (that is, music). You can watch the 18-minute documentary here, but if the QuickTime file disagrees with you, it’s also on YouTube.

I’ll be back with more on that topic tomorrow.