Sunday, September 27, 2009

Miami Vices

Delightful Americana on display

Persistence pays off! Months of angling to score a trip to the USA, and I line up three weeks in Miami and Texas, with brief stops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Miami was host to this year's annual IDSA conference - a meeting of minds and bodies from the Industrial Design Society of America. I expected great things - the finest brains in the industry, a broad cross-section of consultancies, in-housers and orbiting services, and five days in one of the most cosmopolitan style-spots in the Americas. The scene was set for some challenging debate about the future of the industry, questions around our changing roles as creative thinkers, and reflection on some of the global macro-trends shaping the planet.

But before all that, a brief Architectural interlude:


In order to at least slightly offset some of the crushing 12-hour jetlag, I arrived a day early, and set about taking in as much of the delightful Art-Deco district as possible. In their infinite wisdom, the area narrowly escaped complete destruction in the 80s at the hands of imaginative hotel developers, and we are today left with a superb slice of kitsch Americana that cannot fail to warm the soul in its bright hopefulness.

Add into the mix a large Latino population (fronted by our own Cuban-Miamian, Pedro), large quantities of aerospace-grade silicon, 22-inch rimmed cruisers and loud loud music ... and you have yourself a rather efficient distraction from the more mundane activities at the conference.

Balmy. Barmy.

Cavalier Attitude

I did also see the place in the daytime, honest.

Post-modern postcards

Several of the hotels kept classic cars on-hand to tempt gullible photographers into stopping for over-priced coffees. Which, worked just great.

Heydays in the sun

There were new Camaros and Mustangs everywhere, but none of them challenges the considered delicacy of the original, if you ask me. The new ones just seem like they were designed as toys, and scaled up accordingly, which may have been true.

The style extends to the interior of the local restaurants, which in many cases seem untouched from the 50s.

But enough of the tourist attractions - back to the conference, and some man-sized debate about ... oh ... everyone is by the pool?

A theme emerges. Perhaps different from the one envisaged by the organisers.

Friday night Ocean Drive showmanship.

In the first days of the conference, I endeavoured to attend as many sessions as I could, constructing a buffet of strategy, techniques and more out-there subjects like how the Human Genome Project could effect design. I have to say, however, that I had a sinking realisation that the sessions were not as meaty as I was expecting, and that in actual fact, the people that I wanted to meet, and the people that I wanted to spend more time with were all creating their own buffet, and only dipping into the sessions that most piqued their interest.

The Pedromobile!

And indeed, the most memorable events were those extra-curricular activities that had Pedro leading us a merry- dance through the back streets of Miami, ending up one night at a most delightful little bistro in Little Haiti. A Jamaican restaurant. Run by a pair of Indians. Cooking Indian-Jamaican fusion food out the back of a local store; complete with riot screen, security cameras and cans of Red Stripe to wash it down with.


Roti + Jerk Chicken = Yum

Washed down with some delicious glucose-delivery syrups

The tips jar was in no danger of walking off

Pedro bonds with the locals

Team Miami.

Big brother.

Time to leave.

So what of the conference? I went expecting to professionally broaden my mind. For that, I was disappointed. The dialogue I expected to see - the rise of China, commoditisation of design, the role user-interface and software design, the notions around Design Thinking - simply were not successfully addressed; at least in the main sessions. There was a faint whiff in the air of self-congratulatory 1980s excess, and a blissful ignorance of the realities that face our profession. John Kolko of Frog Design pretty much nailed it in his article "End of an Era", which sums up many of my own thoughts. You have to take it with a grain of salt - if there is one thing Frog seems able to do, it is talk the big talk. Indeed, Frog, Smart, Ideo and others are positioning themselves 'above' basic ID, and aligning themselves alongside the Andersons and McKinseys of the world, which I am not totally convinced by yet. I find it interesting that the 'conversation' that is driving ID is one of business, rather than a more philosophical skew, as-per architecture.

Above and beyond this, however, I met up with colleagues and old friends, made new friends and contacts, and took away some great memories.


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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Dell Design

Here I am after my first week as Industrial Design Manager at Dell ... I am completely shattered right now, but more as a result of two cats moaning outside my window at stupid o'clock in the morning last night.

It's been a crazy busy few weeks and I have some serious catching up to do with friends and family back home - so, sorry if I seem to be neglecting some of you - you are all seriously on my mind ... Joanne and Ele especially!

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Casio Exilim S10 Press Conference

One of my designers, Alfie, designed a neat little camera case for Casio and the launch of the Exilim S10 (apparently the world's skinniest camera), and the other week it went on sale. As part of our package, we assisted in the press conference, so I got a chance to strut my stuff on stage again and do some more speaking. It was pretty good fun, and particularly interesting to meet some of the Japanese company's senior management, who they wheeled out to flash for the cameras.

Flanked by a disarmingly handsome show host, I attempted to look serious when talking about our inspiration.

Paparazzi - I was more interested in their kit for much of the time!

Super duper Chinese style models show off the kit

Update: Some TV coverage ...

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Monday, December 17, 2007


Keeping my feet on the ground in Tianjin

The research wagon sets out for northern China, and we set our sights upon Tianjin - a city not too far away from Beijing. I was pleasantly surprised by the place, seeing as it had been populated by various Europeans at the start of the twentieth century, and they had left a decent legacy of colonial buildings and handsome streets. Although there were few actual attractions to speak of, it was really an interesting location and a notch more 'Chinese' than Shanghai or Beijing. It must be said that it is still unlikely that I have seen the 'real' China after my forays onto the mainland. None the less, interesting enough to entertain us for a few days of business.

The handsome side streets west of the city centre were packed with vendors selling classic Chinese tat. Sadly, no Christmas presents were found! But this was perhaps due to the very cold weather.

Old boys play games in the streets, away from their wives (much like Taipei!).

Somewhat reminiscent of the Hutongs in Beijing

This guy was one of the most characterful people I met - down from the north in Hubei, he ran a Xinzhuang (need to check) BBQ that just pumped out the best lamb kebabs ... after a tip from Lars in Shanghai, I now seek out these chaps. Killer, every time... and worth returning to! This type of BBQ can be seen on the streets quite regularly.

... which we did, when Alfie arrived a day later (with beer added).

The guy insisted we take a photo together, but then entirely lost interest when I suggested I send it to him ... he thought I should just give it to him the next time I see him!

And why was I seeking out the street food? After recommendations from several people, I was to check out the internationally famous 'Gou Bu Li' dumpling restaurant. The name (狗不理)comes from a story of the original owner who used to cook dumplings of astoundingly poor quality. Some say, the quality was so bad that when he dropped one, even dogs would not eat it ... hence 'Even Dogs Wouldn't' as a name. When this happened, he went away and learnt from a great master (I am somewhat making this up) and came back to great acclaim, but the name stuck.

Walk in and taste the food... and well, the only thing I would add is that 'Even Rich Dogs Wouldn't', as they were pretty bland and very expensive. The photos of George Bush Sr. and various Chinese dignitaries didn't help me change my mind.

'Even Dogs Wouldn't'

Rows of electric bikes, which are ubiquitous in China

After a day of seeing the same shops and hearing the same blaring music, I happened upon a Starbucks opposite a rather an attractive old Church. Clearly, this was what all the other foreigners in Tianjin thought too, and I bumped into a pair of fresh-faced English teachers who pointed me towards a couple of night spots. Well, 'the' night spot...

Dubbed 'Alibabas' it is down a dark, dark street, down a dark, dark lane, behind an unassuming door and a large piece of carpet... the only place to hang out for those living in Tianjin, it was none the less lively and fun enough to return with Chinese people in tow.

Reflecting on religion

New friends

The Liverpool match

Entertainment from our Chinese hosts takes rather a different form, and mainly revolves around displays of taste and wealth. Lunch on the Saturday consisted of one of the local banquet restaurants, and in typical tourist fashion I went around taking photos of everything moving... which it turns out is quite a lot!

The welcoming committee

Yes, that is a turtle, and yes, it probably has a price on it for cooking

Delicious frogs

I'll take the snake in Black Bean Sauce... seriously

Charming location in front of the freeway... with good parking. China and Korea often seems to have this sort of hazy light that is quite hard to describe.

Great views.

And to top off our 'cultural research' we went to check out the tallest tower in Tianjin, and a building that has clearly seen better days since opening in 1991. There was almost nobody there, and I for one felt particularly fidgety at this height!

The 'TianTa' (天塔)- China's scariest building

My guides walked straight out onto the glass-floored deck. Normally, I think I would have no problems doing this, but my whole body only wanted to do one thing, and that was to go DOWN, away from this shaky, rickety building with wobbly floors and bumpy elevators.

It's very traditional for lovers to put locks onto the gratings of such buildings to signify their love for one another. With this symbolic gesture, the lock then spends the rest of its life looking out across the pollution of northern China ...

In this photo you can definitely SEE the pollution just hanging in the air - and today was not a bad day. Combine it with the dust storms coming from the ever dustier north, and you can palpably taste the air whenever you step outside. So, even sunny days are reduced to hazy, foggy experiences which leave you squinting into the grey distance, dry of lip and scratchy of eye.

And as an industrial designer actually making these goods, I have to feel a major pang of guilt when I experience it.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Seoul Man

(I have been waiting to use that title for months)

As part of the mega project, I flew into Korea for a few more days of research. Since I am presently sitting in HK airport, one week in the future, and am recovering from a somewhat hectic few weeks, my words might do less justice than my pictures. The overriding impression this time was certainly "blimey is it cold!"

Our guide Luisa took us to the 'Secret Garden' in Seoul, and as the sun began to set the place was really ablaze in the sunlight. In this shot, you see where the King's subjects line up, according to their status.

Spot where the kids poke through the paper 'windows' - in the years before glass this is how they let light into the buildings. And yes, they might have to change them several times a year - perhaps this is also why the art of paper-making is still so much more prevalent in the East.


Really rather magical rooms

One of the few glass buildings in the complex, this later building also has a chimney... it's the kitchen.

... and the underfloor heating for the King's quarters exits to the side.

Even his pooh gets sorted out (and sifted through to check his health!)

Nice windows everywhere.

Our guide was a designer herself, so she was able to point out the major differences in architectural style in Korea, as opposed to Japan or China. The main thing, she claimed, is that the arches of the roofs are more gently arched, and often the colours and materials put to use are more natural in feel.

Flexible space! All the rooms are totally open plan, and flexible depending on the time of year or what they are needed for. The planks that are lifted up here are used to allow air to flow through in the summer time (no need in sub-zero temperatures), and provide shade.

More windows. I'll stop soon, promise.

Windows of windows... even though the quarters are small, the windows make everything feel bigger.

... and meeting up with Dan on the final night was great (my neighbour from when I was a kid).... but I'll be seeing him next weekend anyway (okay, I'll tell the truth... in two days time).

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