Category Archives: Uncategorized

Office – The lowly coffee stirrer

I think the round plastic coffee stirrer is kind of dumb. Its shape makes it terrible at creating enough turbulence to actually stir coffee (often requiring two, especially for something like hot chocolate) and it’s little bit of a waste.

For class, we were asked to breathe new life into an object we discard daily, and to think about how to improve it. Plastic bags were given as the example, and I chose coffee stirrers. After cutting, stretching, tearing, melting, twisting and tying coffee stirrers, I came up with a few uses. Here are a couple:

The first was decorative office plants:

And a brush/pen combo for cleaning out keyboard debris:

 

Then I got to thinking, why not combine two products in one? Sweetener + coffee stirrer, thereby eliminating the waste of the sugar packet. My concept product of a sweetener-filled coffee stirrer with a breakable end was created by melting the ends and perforating one end to make it easy to break.

And my computer mock-up:


Click for PDF

The little “paddles” help break the end off as well as stir the liquid.

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Energy – Wind Power


Photo by Charles Cook on flickr

I think wind power is terrific.

On an ICE Express train trip a couple years ago from Berlin to Heidelberg, I gazed, fixated, out the windows at the distant wind farms. The turbines were spinning peacefully in a field. Many parts of the world have accepted wind farms as parts of their landscape, strangely beautiful and peaceful, and also symbolic of a better, cleaner future.

As the US struggles with a shift in the way we produce energy, there is a large opportunity for “benevolent” capitalism to play a hand in greening the States. Yesterday, billionaire T. Boone announced a wind farm that will provide enough electricity initially for 300,000 homes, a number which is expected grow to 1.2 million by 2015. Not only that, but people willing to place turbines on their property will receive royalties of about 20K annually.

Paying people to put turbines on their property is a good idea in a country where money talks.

Wind has downsides in how flexible it is to locate, as well as resistance from communities about perceived visual disruption. It has been used in the United States, mostly, in large tracts of remote land. But some companies are developing small-scale wind that runs more quietly and is visually attractive enough to bring turbines to public places.  Quiet Revolution, for instance, makes a vertical-axis turbine which is safer and more flexible, and can even be placed on top of city buildings, where the wind is turbulent.

As the price of fuel-based energy continues to skyrocket, renewable energy will become more and more attractive. It can’t happen soon enough. And it will be much more pleasant to drive (or, perhaps, pass by high-speed train) by than this:

Office – Phoning Better


An old design for a new generation of phones. (Click to enlarge)

[XFR] [4] [3] [0] [LINE #]

I think that’s the key combination to join two calls.

I think.

Either way, it’s absurdly arcane.

I can kind of see the XFR part. Presumably, that stands for “transfer,” which in some twisted way makes sense, because you’re, um, transferring two calls together, or something. But seriously, what kind of significance could the number 430 possibly have? (Wikipedia: it was the year Feng Ba abdicated as the emperor of the Northern Yan, which was vying for control of China. Hmm…) What committee came up with this number? (“So we all agree, 430, we think this is an intuitive and logical number to have to dial to make a conference call happen.”) My guess is that there was a little bit too much 420 being passed around.

I’m not sure what phone system they were using on the other side Tuesday afternoon. Either way, they tried fruitlessly for at least 10 minutes to join all five parties together. After repeatedly dropping at least one party, we eventually settled on three, deeming the other two “not important enough” to keep trying. Now that’s business efficiency, folks.

The point is: It shouldn’t be this hard.

This is true for so many things we encounter on a daily basis that have obviously had no thought go into the user experience whatsoever. Swiping a MetroCard? Shouldn’t be this hard. Adding a contact to your cell phone? Shouldn’t be this hard. Getting a person on the phone with technical support instead of talking to a know-nothing computerized voice? Shouldn’t be this hard. Reading the labels on prescription bottles? Shouldn’t be this hard. Doing taxes? Shouldn’t be this hard. (But I digress…)

The truth is, there are some dial-in conference call systems that work fine. Someone sets it up, then you call in with a PIN code to a service that puts you in the conference. Great.

But really, it’s time for the office phone, as we know it, to go the way of the dinosaur. There’s no point, when virtually every desk has a computer and virtually every computer is hooked up to high-speed internet. Instead, let’s create a handset/wireless/video accessory and a software application to match.

Here’s my design for a new generation of office phones. They would be semi-independent of the computer—that is, if the computer was off (or crashed), the call would simply be forwarded to your cell. The idea, then, is that while in the office, the phone’s interface would be almost entirely through the computer, a là Skype. This would allow more flexibility, user-friendliness, and power than any office phone. So when joining five parties, you could click a button on the computer, rather than enter in some key combination and, perhaps, sacrificing a goat. 

A nicety of a software application would be the ability to set up the software to forward calls immediately to your cell phone, or to ask the calling party if they would like to either leave a voicemail or a be forwarded to your cell phone. This would eliminate the problem of trying multiple phone numbers. 

The software would allow you to see when your colleagues are available, busy, or on the phone:


A mock-up of the computer interface.

I wanted the design off the phone itself to “get back to basics.” No longer an independent device, the point of the next-generation office voice appliance is simplicity of functionality—it serves as an input and output of voice and video and nothing more. The design itself is an update of the design of some of the first phones ever made. 

 
Old vs. new

The phone has absolutely no buttons. Lift the wireless handset to answer, place it back on the stand to hang up. To activate the speakerphone, put the handset face down on the table. An accelerometer detects the placement and turns on the loudspeaker, turning it into an instant teleconferencing device. To turn speakerphone off, just pick the handset back up. The handset itself is held onto the base using magnets and is charged inductively, like a toothbrush. As for the camera, twist the lens to close the aperture for ensured privacy. 

Features. Click to enlarge.
Feature diagram. (Click to enlarge.)

A phone shouldn’t be a device to battle with. It should do what it’s supposed to do, no fuss, no muss. 

Ed: The Gas Tax Holiday

Let me wander a little bit off topic to talk about the Gas Tax Holiday.  I don’t want to wander too far into politics, but I have to give kudos to Senator Obama for boldly opposing it despite the fact that many Americans will perceive it to mean he wants them to have expensive gas (how elitist!)

I drive only for work or when I am home on vacation. Most of the time, my ride is 600-feet long, seats hundreds, tops out at about 50 miles per hour, weighs many tons, uses enough energy to light Buffalo… yet is surprisingly efficient considering.

First, the average amount of money saved under the plan is about $30 per family. By car ownership standards, this is a drop in the bucket. It’s less than 1/2 a tank of ONE refill. Now consider insurance, maintenance, tolls, parking, gas… if you can afford those things, $30 is not going to be the difference between eating and not.

Now consider this. Gas prices remain as high as they do because although people are driving somewhat less, there are still a ton of people purchasing gas at the current prices. Exxon had its best quarter ever with a whopping $10.9 billion profits. (Hope you’re not eating lunch.) With that in mind, let’s take a look at an Econ 101 chart:

If the government artificially lowers the price of gas, then the demand (blue line) will grow (shift right). Guess what that means? The prices will go right back up. So now we’ve taken away tax money that is used to invest in YOUR community towards things like infrastructure repair, and used it to line the pockets of the oil companies. Hey, maybe next quarter Exxon can have a $14 billion profit!

Here’s what Clinton had to say about it:

I’m not going to put in my lot with economists… Elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantages the vast majority of Americans.

Yeah! What do the economists know? Seriously?

Car culture in America is deeply entrenched, so much so that people resort to illogical arguments (or simply ignoring the facts like Clinton). Cries that Congestion Pricing in New York City would harm the middle class was disingenous, considering the overall cost of parking in Manhattan in the first place is so outrageously expensive (over $600 a month at a garage near me) that anyone who is driving in is WEALTHY. Period! Poor people are not driving into Manhattan! Admittedly, CP had its problems–for one, people who don’t have access to transit need better Park-and-Ride facilities at transit stations first.

Honestly, what is up with the acceptance by the MSM and general populace of doublespeak and logical fallacies in modern politics?

It’s all part of a slow and painful realization that the era of cheap oil is over. An 18 cents per gallon tax break for 3 months that will eat jobs and infrastructure improvements is not going to change this. What will revitalize this country is a massive Federal infrastructure overhaul program providing jobs, research, innovation, and investment that, at long last, rebuilds and reconnects the country with dependable, safe, multimodal, ecological, and efficient transportation. It’s how all of our existing infrastructure came to be, but it’s literally falling apart and its based on dated thinking. Obama’s call to invest in the rail system instead of a nonsensical tax break is a nice one, but it’s not thinking big enough. As long as politicians pander to their constituents or simply do not have a clue, this country will continue to languish and fall behind as the rest of the developed world moves forward. This is our chance.

Off to School

Hi friends,

There’s been quite a delay between posts—I’ve been traveling for business and for pleasure. 

I will be attending a summer pre-grad course in Industrial Design here in New York City. It starts in two weeks and I’ll post my work here. 

In the meantime, I am working on some new posts and will update soon! I spent about 15 minutes today with another firm trying to get a conference call set up properly, so I’m thinking especially about how clumsy office phones are. 

Coffee — My Starbucks Idea

I grew up in the greater Boston area. Around those parts, we live on Dunkin’ Donuts. Sure, we’ll go to Starbucks when we want something a little fancy, but for regular ol’ joe on the go, nothing beats Dunkin’ Donuts home brew.

Since moving to New York, I’ve become a little bit more of a coffee snob. I own an Italian espresso maker, and my favorite beans are from Haiti. I have my favorite local cafés around the city that serve amazing coffee. But I still have a special place in my heart for Dunkin’.

That’s why I was so thrilled to hear that Starbuck’s new roast announced today, Pike Place, tastes a lot like Dunkin’. Starbuck’s regular coffee has historically been consistently awful, tasting as if the beans have been cremated and the remaining ashes brewed.

What I’ll never be thrilled about are the lines at Starbucks. Which is why I propose that Starbucks form an “express” line for those ordering plain coffee or hot water with a tea bag. So instead of waiting behind people ordering their half-caf non-fat extra-foam grande soy latte extra hot with room and hibiscus syrup and a vegan biscotti, you can stand right up and get… coffee. And the world keeps turning.

I’m sure my idea isn’t unique. I’d just love to see it implemented. Isn’t it great when companies listen?

Update: It’s definitely an improvement, but I still prefer DD. Also, I think I’m going to take a shot at redesigning their lid, as I only narrowly avoided soaking my shirt while walking with a cup of it down the sidewalk.

Cutting the Ribbon

My ultimate goal is to improve the thousands of things we interact with daily. This blog will explore how that might be done. 

I’ll also post design news, photographs, and reviews of products from a design standpoint. 

I hope you’ll find it informative and enjoyable!