Paper Machines

Anyone from Hallmark that might be reading this, raise your hand if you remember “T-Ink” from 2004 and the products Hallmark produced for less than a year with the technology? T-Ink had so much potential and it simply withered and died on the vine. The T-Ink project was one of the first things I worked on when I returned to Hallmark. It was such a cool product, and could have been huge if they could have figured out how to market it better. Fast forward to 2017 and check out Papier Machine from French Designers Marion Pinaffo and Raphaël Pluvinage.

Papier Machine is a set of 13 paper-made electronic toys. Each piece of paper can be cut and folded and assembled into the final toy. Another intriguing component of Papier Machine is that while there are instructions that come with the kit, the steps are not clear cut. According to Pinaffo and Pluvinage they still want users to interpret the instructions themselves, opening up the pathway to more possibilities, especially for kids.


Like T-Ink, the printed paper is equipped with reactive, conductive, and thermosensitive inks, which actually complete the electronic circuits and allow the toys to function. The toys are designed for kids of all ages and don’t require any special tools, skills or training. The designers want Papier MAchine to be all about fun, and exploration.  The 13 toys can create multiple projects that include Switches, a Gyroscope, Playing Track, Writing Track, Tilt Switch, Humidity Sensor, Wind Sensor, Mass Sensor, Power Reverser, Photoresistor, and Color Sensor. Pretty cool if you ask me.

Behold The Shape of Sound.

Right now the only stereo system I have in my house is a Polk Audio Woodbourne system and it does a great job filling my smallish house with music streamed from my phone or tablet. I like it because it looks amazing, has a small footprint, good quality audio output, and only one cord. I hate wires. The thing is, I think I’m going to have to start saving for an upgrade because I just saw B&O’s BeoSound Shape, and I’m in love with the design of it. I haven’t heard it, I haven’t seen it in person, but the photos and the video look pretty slick.



BeoSound Shape is the design-driven solution to the prevailing issue of poor room acoustics in open multifunctional spaces. The damper tiles absorb sound waves rather than reflecting them, which not only improves your music experience but also actively improves the entire acoustic atmosphere in the room even when the system is switched off.

At the heart of the system are BeoSound Core, a connectivity hub hidden in one of the tiles that have the hardware for AirPlay, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth 4.1, and support for Bang & Olufsen’s very own BeoLink system. The BeoSound Core also has wired inputs for Ethernet or line-in functionality, although the primary focus is on wireless streaming. A base kit starts at roughly $4,266 and includes eight tiles which include four speakers, two sound-absorbing acoustic dampeners, one amplifier, and one housing for the Core. The system is expandable up to 11 amplifier units each of which can support four speaker tiles, for a total of 44 if you need to fill a larger space.

Is it a good value for the money? Probably not. I know for a fact that for 4500 bucks you could pit together a sound system that blows this away, but that isn’t why I am interested. I want this because it doesn’t look like a stereo. Because there are endless custom configurations. And because my old broken down ears aren’t going to be able to hear that much of a perceivable difference. I really love the concept, and execution of this.



Minimalist Design in the Lampion Vacuum Amp For Your iPad.


Danish audio maker Låmpion has released a new tube amplifier designed by Stefan Radev. The minimalist tube amplifier is one stylish piece of hardware with a clean aesthetic blending aluminum, wood, and glass to create a clean, simple, functional design. The amp is compatible with both Apple and Android devices and can be used with  stand alone audio equipment as well.


There is something timeless about the look of this object, and it feels like the design team really took into account how the amp will look when paired with an iPhone or an iPad. The rounded edges and materials mirror what is going on with the Apple products so well, and the look of the build quality screams premium audio. The design team  applied a well balanced choice of proportions, materials, and accents to create the clean look of this amplifier without introducing to much technological clutter.


Beyond the look, this amp  is solid on specs as well featuring two twenty watt custom tube driven amps, with a frequency response of 5Hz to 50Khz, multiple inputs ranging from RCA output, micro USB input, WiFi audio, an Apple Lighting dock connector, 1/4 inch headphone jack as well as mini jacks.

No word on pricing and availability, but I suspect this will be Europe only and carry a hefty price tag when it’s all said and done.



lampion-hybrid-vacuum-tube-amplifier-by-stefan-radev5 lampion-hybrid-vacuum-tube-amplifier-by-stefan-radev4

Trix Are For More Than Just Kids.

A few years ago I worked on a design project that was built around a technology called T-Ink. Basically the way it worked was, you printed a circuit board onto a paper surface, the circuit board was connected to low power lights and speakers. When you touched parts of the printed design you completed the circuit and things would light up and make noise. The project never went anywhere do to costs and other hurdles, but it is nice to see that similar technologies not only still exist but they have improved upon them.

Fulton Innovation has developed a system using induction power to create a series of cereal boxes for General Mills that light up in stages to create an eye-catching effect on store shelves. The technology is called eCoupled, and this application is only a demo at this time, but I guarantee you this is going to be rolling out over the next year to store shelves near you.

While I am more of a fan of creating more green packaging, something recyclable, I can see this having a massive impact on the package design industry, or the stationary/greeting card industry. It opens the doors to a number of new, low-cost applications that extend the base products visual appeal.


Some of the Best in Design for 2009

As the year winds down I decided to try to put together a best of design 2009 post. This is turning out to be tougher than I thought. The reason is, there is so much good design work that came out in the last year how could I possibly narrow it down to a list that would fit on e page. So I think what I am going to do is a series of posts over the course of the next 5 days that will try to highlight some of the best of the best. And while these objects will be stacked in a numbered order, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one thing is better than the other. Different designs have different purposes you know. So in no particular order, these are designs that had an impact on me for a variety of reasons.

Human-Centered Design Toolkit. Designers; Tatyana Mamut, Jessica Hastings, Fidel Calderon, Scott Tong, and Sandy Speicher, IDEO (U.S.). The Human-Centered Design Toolkit empowers NGOs and social enterprises in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to address smallholder farmer needs. The toolkit (comprising print and online elements) leads groups through a process of fieldwork and data analysis, idea generation and prototyping, and implementation planning. Ultimately, the kit and the open-source effort it inspired work to better the lives of those in the developing world surviving on less than $2 a day.

Soundbulb. Designers: Hoang M Nguyen, Poom Puttorngul & Anh Nguyen. This is a concept for a wireless speaker that is housed in and combined with a LED light source. Although just a concept, the possibilities of this are really pretty amazing. The parts of the SoundBulb are replaceable and can be upgraded from time to time.

Concrete Block Humidifier. Designer: Sang Jang Lee. A slab of concrete with a bit of gadgetry gets us this Concrete Block Humidifier, which works with an all-important weight sensor. This is to ensure that a dry, empty bowl gets automatically switched off. The choice of concrete as a base was deliberate says the designer, because the material has the unique character of absorbing and evaporating water rapidly.

Interactive Tiles. Designers: Soo-Jin Chou, Young-Hee Cho, Young-Kuk Oh, Oh-Jae Kwon & Kue-Hoo Hwang.  The I-Quad Interactive Tile, uses tile shaped LED electronic boards held together by a simple frame and interacts with external devices via USB or wireless. Each tile is capable of a low-res, almost dot matrix-like resolution. Essentially anything can be displayed across these tiles; from communication, entertainment, even ambient lighting.

Eko Stoplight. Designer; Damjan Stankovic. This is an LED stoplight that has a countdown meter built-in to let motorist know how much time is left before the light changes. It’s such a simple idea, you wonder why it wasn’t thought of before.

Banq Restaurant, Boston. Design by Office dA. The interior of Banq gets your head swirling with its banyan tree-inspired aesthetic. The interior is made up of curved layers of birch plywood that  form an abstract wooden canopy that helps with the acoustics of the room.

Coffee.It’ espresso maker. Designer; Wiel Arets for Alessi. Architect Wiel Arets added to Alessi’s collection of home appliances with a sturdy and wonderfully stylish espresso coffee maker. Made from glossy stainless steel with a black plastic lid and a generously proportioned ergonomic handle, the ‘Coffee.It’ comes in two sizes – for three and six cups. It’s simple, elegant and practical.

two-tiered table. Designer; Industrial Facility. Designed for Herman Miller, this table has simple clean lines and can function as a desk as well. The cantilevered second level adds a level of fun and function to a very utilitarian object.

Hitachi UltarThin LCD. Designer; Hitachi. Hitachi’s UltraThin 1.5 Series LCD is probably the most beautiful flat-panel TV you’ve ever seen. Not only is it impossibly thin (1.5-inches, hence the name), but its graceful angles and curves are stunning even when the picture is off.

Samsung  BDP 4600 Blue Ray Player.  Designers; Jaehyung Kim, Yunje Kang, and Koungwon Park, Samsung Electronics. There is no reason that a piece of home theater equipment has to be a conservative black box. Samsung’s BDP 4600 is a prime example of this. WiFi connected, Netflix downloading super sleek beauty shown right here.

13 inch MacBook. Designers; Industrial Design Team, Apple (U.S.). At only 0.95-inches tall and weighing just 4.5 pounds, the 13-inch, full-featured, aluminum MacBook is a compact and durable notebook. Featuring the new NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor, MacBook delivers outstanding 3D game play on a consumer notebook, with up to five times faster graphics performance than the previous generation.

Project Masiluleke Home HIV Test Kit. Designers; frog design (U.S.). The Project Masiluleke Home HIV Test Kit was designed to make HIV testing in South Africa a comfortable and familiar process. It combines mobile support with off-the-shelf, saliva-based diagnostics. The test, with copy written in both English and Zulu, is available free of charge and is intended for private use in the home and outside of the traditional health-care infrastructure. Not only that the package design is just wonderful to look at.

BTS1 Dual Cook Oven. Designers; Kang-Doo Kim, Joo-Hee Lee, Seon-Ju Lee, Chan-Young Lee and Ji-Young Shin, Samsung Electronics. The BTS1 electric oven provides the functionality of two ovens in the space of one. The divider, composed of two steel plates with a layer of air in between, means that users can cook one large dish and a small dish in a small space or two dishes with different cooking requirements at the same time. The divider plate blocks the flow of heat and smells between the two cooking spaces.

Teneo Storage Furniture. Ayse Birsel, Bibi Seck, Birsel + Seck. I love this stuff and I want it for my own office. Teneo is a storage system for everything that doesn’t fit on your computer: books, papers, files, other technology devices, personal items. The system’s 20 parts can be combined to make more than 80 products, including credenzas, easels, lecterns, book and project carts, and supply islands.

Design Friday. Let’s Kick Out The Jams With Dieter Rams!

Christmas is on Friday this year, so Design Friday is on Thursday, because I am not blogging on Christmas.
When I was around ten or so, I was at a friend’s house, we were hanging out and he had just purchased the latest Who album. He wanted to listen to it and I was game, but the thing that stuck with me more than any of the music on the record, was his dad’s Braun Stereo, and how absolutely cool it looked. That stereo hands down was one of the coolest pieces of design I think I have ever seen. Minimal, white with wooden accents, analog gauges, sleek, modern and timeless. Sheer perfection. Ever since then I have wanted a classic Braun Stereo designed by Dieter Rams.

DIETER RAMS (1932-), head of design at Braun from 1960 through the mid 1980’s, emerged as one of the most influential industrial designers of the late 20th century by defining an elegant, legible, and rigorous visual design language for Braun’s products.. His rules were simple:

Good design is innovative.

Good design makes a product useful.

Good design is aesthetic.

Good design makes a product understandable.

Good design is unobtrusive.

Good design is honest.

Good design is long-lasting.

Good design is thorough down to the last detail.

Good design is environmentally friendly.

Good design is as little design as possible.

The ten principles listed above define  Dieter Rams’ approach to  design. Each of the products he has worked on over the last forty years with Braun, have an unerringly elegant and supremely versatile manner about them. Stereo units were always made in modular sizes to be stacked vertically or horizontally. Buttons, switches and dials were reduced to a visual minimum and arranged in an orderly logical manner. Rams even devised a system of color coding for Braun’s products, which were always made from a neutral pallet, in shades of white and grey with natural wooden trim. The only splash of color was applied to the switches and dials on the units.

Rams’ primary objective was to design useful products which would be easy to use. Yet he achieved much more through the formal elegance and technical virtuosity of his work. Rams’ designs always looked clean and effortless with an exquisite simplicity born from rigorous tests and experiments with new materials, and an obsessive attention to detail which ensured that each piece appeared flawlessly coherent. Dieter Rams is still an enduring inspiration for younger designers all over the world, most notably Jasper Morrison, and Jonathan Ive, who have both acknowledged his influence in their work at Rowenta and Apple.

Dieter Rams, born in Wiesbaden Germany in 1932  loved to watch his grandfather at work as a carpenter and briefly interrupted his study of architecture and interior design at the local art school in the late 1940s to become an apprentice carpenter. After graduating from art school Rams joined an architects’ office in Frankfurt in 1951 and, four years later, was employed by Braun as an architect and interior designer.

Braun was founded in Frankfurt in 1921 by the engineer Max Braun, the company had a solid  reputation for engineering and for developing new products, including the first combined radio and phonograph. After Max’s death in 1951, his sons Artur and Erwin took charge and repositioned Braun to benefit from the expansion of the post World War II consumer electronics market. This was a time of rapid technological change when manufacturers were harnessing the engineering advances made in the defence industry during World War II to develop new electronic products for consumers. It was also a time of changing taste as consumers moved from more traditional design looks to what would be known as Mid-Century Modern, and The International style.

The first wirelesses, gramophones and television sets had been hidden inside wooden cabinets to resemble traditional furniture, but the new generation of post-war consumers had lost their parents’ feelings about technology, and saw it as an exciting symbol of progress and change. Realising that the styling of their products needed to become more sophisticated, in 1954 the Braun brothers asked the tutors of the recently founded Ulm School of Design to advise them on product design and recruited a new design team including Dieter Rams.

When he arrived at Braun, Rams applied his architectural skills to the design of exhibition sets and offices, but became increasingly interested in industrial and product design. In 1956 he worked with the Ulm tutor Hans Gugelot on the development of the SK4 radio and record player. Abandoning the traditional wooden cabinet, they devised an unapologetically industrial metal case for the SK4 with two pale wooden sides. The operating panel was positioned on the top next to the turntable, rather than hidden away at the side. Originally the cover was to have been made of metal, but it vibrated too much in tests and was replaced with transparent plexiglass which exposed the mechanics of the record player. Rather than being repulsed by the sight of electrical apparatus, consumers considered it chic and transparent lids soon became an industry standard. The plastic lid also gave the SK4 its nickname – “Snow White’s Coffin”.

As Rams continued to work he refined the design language he and Gugelot had adopted for the SK4, and with the following year’s introduction of the Atelier 1 hi-fi system and L1 loud speakers he began to solidify his signature style. Until then stereo systems had consisted of single units with integrated speakers, but Rams separated the speakers to make the receiver unit more compact. Subsequent developments in stereophonic technology guaranteed that this too would soon became a standard that has carried through even to today. Rams was determined to develop a coherent ‘family’ of products for Braun, he designed the Atelier 1 and L1 in the same proportions as the SK4. Consequently they could be used together with the L1 by being added to the SK4 to amplify its sound. All of the units had the same design materials and proportions. When placed together they function as a beautiful family of components that are unobtrusive and quietly elegant.

Not only was Rams determined to ensure that Braun’s products were easy to use, he wanted people to enjoy using them. This meant that each audio product had to be perfectly attuned to the type of music which was popular at the time. As musical taste changed throughout the 1960s, with the growing popularity of rock, pop, folk and then electronic music, Braun’s engineers constantly strove to adapt. When the LE1 electrostatic loudspeaker was launched in 1960, on the eve of the pop revolution, musical taste was still fairly conventional and the engineers’ objective was to produce a clear, transparent sound for jazz and classical music. Rams façaded the speakers with super-light membranes as a visual allusion to the clarity of the LE1’s sound while presenting it as a proud symbol of engineering innovation.

In 1962 Rams was appointed to the position of Design Director for Braun’s team of talented young designers. Having established its own design resource, the company became progressively less reliant on advice from the Ulm tutors. Instead Rams divided the responsibility for the development of different products among the young designers in his team. Gerd A. Müller was responsible for household products and Roland Weigend for scales, model-making and product graphics; while Rams concentrated on radios, record players, lighting and projectors.

With the development during the 1960s  of new transistor technologies. Braun began replacing the large, hot radio tubes which, until then, were required to produce high quality sound. Transistors enabled Braun to develop smaller cleaner audio products with large top surfaces on which Rams could arrange the buttons, dials and other operating elements in a logical ordered, legible composition. An excellent example is Rams 1962 Audio 1 radio and record player. With this unit Rams for the first time  designed a complete set of modular components, including the L45 speaker and TG60 tape recorder. All the units, except the record player, could be displayed horizontally and vertically or wall-mounted. This was a ground-breaking concept that was later followed by other stereo giants like Bang and Olufsen.

By 1963, when Rams developed the TS45 control unit, TG60 tape recorder and L450 loudspeaker, He had perfected the visual design system for Braun design in terms of structure and color. Each unit was exactly the same size to give the user maximum flexibility in deciding how to combine and display them, either vertically or horizontally. In terms of color coding, the steel plate case of each audio unit was in white or charcoal grey with an aluminium cover lid. The operating elements were pale or dark grey except for the green on/off switch. Adhering to this visual design system ensured that, at a time when technology was changing rapidly, consumers could be confident of learning how to use each new Braun product quickly and efficiently. His design principles for usability are still applied today by companies like Apple.

By the mid-1960s, Rams’ design style was regarded as the apex of modernity. Braun electronics were Sought-after by fashionable consumers, Braun’s products were even celebrated in the work of the British pop artist Richard Hamilton, who played with the company’s logo by replicating it as ‘Brown’ and ‘Hamilton’.
The direction of Dieter Rams’ work was still dictated by technology, and in 1965 he abandoned the glacial style that had proved so successful by replacing the pale base colour with black by coating each side of the units of the new Studio 1000 hi-fi system, except the front, with anthracite-coloured structured lacquer. Marking the development of high fidelity – or hi-fi – technology, the black bases made audio units look denser and more compact illustrating their technical strength. Rams was also able to seal the units with unobtrusive elongated and rounded aluminium strips, rather than screws making them even more striking and minimalist. He then enlarged the knobs and switches of the units to suit the darker palette. Based on Dieter Rams design changes and influence over the industry, black dominated consumer electronics design for the next thirty years.
Dieter Rams remained design director of Braun until 1995 when he was succeeded by Peter Schneider. During his forty years at Braun, he developed products to be manufactured at vast scale and used daily by millions of people, yet he remained as provocative and questioning as ever in his quest for “good design”.
“I think that good designers must always be avant-gardists, always one step ahead of the times,”. “They should – and must – question everything generally thought to be obvious. They must have an intuition for people’s changing attitudes. For the reality in which they live, for their dreams, their desires, their worries, their needs, their living habits. They must also be able to assess realistically the opportunities and bounds of technology.” Rams said in a speech to the Braun supervisory board in 1980