Fill the void

Simpsons and Family Guy both started as traditional cel animation, 4:3 aspect ratio cartoons. Eventually they went digital paint and ink and to a wider 16:9 aspect ratio. I don’t think either show has looked as good as they did before the transition and I couldn’t figure out exactly why. BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty and most anime series look great in 16:9 and hair thin outlines.

The difference is that neither show was really designed for a larger screen. They had to adapt as technology (TVs) improved. Essentially both shows got a lot more real-estate, but didn’t fill it with anything. Artistically the Simpsons residence looks more or less the same as it did when the show debuted in the late eighties. Peter Griffin still wears the same clothing as he did in 2001.

Copying and pasting from an old format to a new one rarely works out well without proper changes and design.

What’s the cost of bad design?

I regularly visit a small shopping center which has numerous design issues, but one of them stands out. A busy side entrance has sliding doors which are attached to a motion sensor. The sensor itself is fine, but it’s positioned incorrectly. If you approach the door from an angle, nothing happens. The doors stay shut. If you walk backwards and attempt to trigger the sensor, still nothing. Only if you do a proper double take and walk directly towards the doors, open sesame.

Most shoppers who can’t get in, end up either using another door or wait until someone walks out so the the doors open. The cost for the user is minor stress and irritation. The cost for the business is having staff deal with someone who was just made feel stupid by a door. Stressful interactions lead to more sickdays.

However, some just turn away and go shop somewhere else. For those selected few, the cost of bad design is literal: they will spend their money elsewhere.


Bad design

A great way to stay safe is to include everything in your design. All the data, all the buttons and all the terms. The user not accomplishing their goals is their fault, not yours. I mean, you did provide all the facts.

Bad design is laziness and covering your ass. Good design is knowing what to leave out, what to highlight and taking the risk that maybe you’re wrong on something.

Accessories, accessories, accessories

Buy any Android phone, even one of the more popular ones, and you’ll struggle to find accessories for it. The retailer might have a few different cases and a screen protector, but that’s it. If it’s a model that stopped receiving updates 6 months ago, fuhgdeddaboutit.

Walk into any supermarket and they have iPhone accessories for the 5, 6 and 7 models. There are all kinds of grips, holsters and gadgets that are iPhone exclusive. Not only is the iPhone user base massive, but it’s easy to keep stock when there are only 4 or 6 variations (instead of 400 to 600) to take into consideration.

Companies which create iconic, recognizable, design products don’t inundate the market with dozens of variations trying to cater to everyone. They focus on solving problems their way, to their tribe and ignore the noise. That’s why Apple sold over 260 iPhones while you were reading this post.

Tools at an arms reach

Having the right tools to do your job is important. Equally important is having them as accessible as possible.

If your job is to get fit, and your gym is a 30 minute drive away, are you going to do it? Maybe, but the harder it is for you to get to the gym, the less likely you are to go there. Same thing with learning to play a guitar or picking up a new language. If every time you want to play the guitar you have to go get it from the basement, chances are you’re too “tired” to do it. Instead, hang the guitar on the living room wall so it’s the first thing you see after you plop on the couch.

This applies to everything. Make start doing effortless as possible and you’re much more likely to succeed.


Why fire extinguishers are red

I was browsing Facebook and came across a designer fire extinguisher: Phoenix by Jalo Helsinki. It’s sleek, stylish and designed by Oiva Toikka, a Finnish designer famous for working with glass. It blends seamlessly into any designer kitchen. The question is, should a fire extinguisher blend into its surroundings? 

If I buy this fire extinguisher and put it in my kitchen next to the stove, I know it’s a fire extinguisher. But if I’m having a house party, and I’m in the toilet while one of my guests sets something on fire, would they know it’s a fire extinguisher?

One of Don Norman’s user-centered design principles is “making things visible“. The user should be able to know what something is and what you can do with it, just by looking. I’m not saying a fire extinguisher should look ugly and red, I’m saying it should look like a fire extinguisher.


P.S. Jalo Helsinki also makes other designer fire safety related products such as smoke alarms and fire blankets. They look great and I would be happy to have them in my house.

Which way is up?

My success ratio of using square Post- it notes is about 90%. Nine times out of ten, I get it right. One time out of ten, I get it wrong. How do I mess up using Post it notes? I forget to check which side the glue is on. No, I don’t stick my pen in the sticky, failure of an adhesive. I hold the block of notes at 90, 180 or 270 degrees in the wrong angle as I start writing.

The obvious solution is to be more mindful when writing notes. The less obvious solution is for 3M to start selling square Post-it notes with glue in all four corners.


A different type of luxury

Here’s a list of things that realtors consider luxurious: Marble tabletops, swimming pools, garages, bathtubs with televisions. Spacious. Designer furniture. Great views. A tall wall around the property. Location. Private security. A doorman. Shiny faucets which look like tiny version of the Niagara waterfalls after you’ve figured out how to turn them on.

Here’s a list of things that I consider luxurious: Clean, fresh, great tasting tap water which comes at an even pressure (hot or cold). Good access to public transit. Fast unlimited Internet. Exposed brick walls. Location. Decent sound insulation. Friendly neighbors. Victorian, Jugend or compact modern Japanese architecture that make me want to take pictures of my building and frame them.

Notice the overlap?


“Beam me up, Scotty”

I have to correct a tragic misconception about Kirk’s communicator from Star Trek (that little box Kirk and Spock use to call the Enterprise from the planet’s surface).

It always gets compared to a mobile phone because modern phones are much smaller. It’s become a future prediction gone wrong, much like flying cars or food in pill form. However, people don’t take in consideration what these devices actually do: one relies entirely on a massive network of antennae and the other singlehandedly messages an orbiting spaceship thousands of miles away. Personally I think they got it wrong, but exactly the opposite way. That communicator should probably look more like a Mobira Cityman than a flip phone.


I buy the bottle, not the water

VOSS is my favorite brand of bottled water. Not that I could distinguish the taste from Evian, store brand or even plain tap water. It’s my favorite because of the bottle. VOSS is sold in tall, sleek and sturdy glass bottles, which are great for re-filling with tap water. I love the way it looks on my desk. I love holding it in my hands. I love that I can’t crumble it in my hands and have to buy a new one (I did however recently drop one on the floor and broke the plastic cap). I love the glass mouthpiece which makes the water taste more fresh somehow. I love that I never gather a pile of them on my desk and wonder which one to use.

Having great design in your life doesn’t have to be expensive. Surround yourself with well designed, aesthetic items and notice how much pleasure they bring.