Posts tagged “design firm”

Designer Gods

Disclosure/disclaimer – I teach in the Industrial Design program at CCA, where Yves Behar is the co-chair.

This Wired article may not be the most egregious example, but it was the one that tipped things for me. It describes the work of fuseproject on the $100 laptop. But like many articles about fuseproject, and indeed many articles about design firms in general, it casts the firm as the manifestation of a single person’s talent, skllls, and vision. I don’t know how they work at fuseproject; I would imagine you’ve got to be pretty damn good to get a job there (given the reputation and output of the firm). This management of public image using Yves exclusively may be part of a deliberate attempt to build a brand around an individual, it may be ego, it may accurately represent how things work. I’m working hard not to make too many unfounded assumptions.

As soon as they accepted the challenge, Béhar and a handful of his 28 staffers began a stretch of late nights at the studio, sketching shapes on tracing paper. They reviewed 20 or 30 models that other designers had proposed at various points in the project. They gave special attention to Design Continuum’s original version, a boxy green laptop with a prominent power crank.

“There were too many parts flapping around, too many open places. It wasn’t realistic,” Béhar says. “It should be compact and sealed, like a suitcase. And it should really look and feel different. It shouldn’t look like something for business that’s been colored for kids.” (That’s more than an aesthetic concern: An unmistakable, childlike design will be the laptop’s only real defense against theft and resale.)

“My temptation as a designer was to explore a lot of options,” Béhar says. He looked into electronic ink displays, which run on very low power and could allow for smaller, lighter batteries. (The laptop must be light, since kids are meant to carry it everywhere.) He liked the idea of a soft keyboard, connected to the screen with something called a living hinge (think of the way a cap attaches to a shampoo bottle), which would be cheap and practically indestructible. But E Ink technology is not mature enough, and kids who have no desks at school would find a floppy hinge awkward to balance in their laps. Besides, the laptop was supposed to roll off an assembly line at Quanta, the world’s largest laptop manufacturer, by the end of 2006. He had to move quickly. “A lot of concept ideas I eliminated pretty early on,” Béhar says.

Figuring out how to protect everything from dust and moisture was harder. Béhar replaced the traditional keyboard on Design Continuum’s model with a sealed rubber one and built a sensor right into the palm rest to eliminate the seam between it and the trackpad found on a regular laptop. Other problems: The USB ports were exposed to the elements, and a pair of radio antennas had to stay outside the machine. (The Media Lab wanted the antennas to have a half-mile range for building a city- or village-wide mesh network, with each laptop acting as a node.) Solving one problem solved the other: Béhar turned the antennas into a pair of playful “ears”that swivel up for reception or down to cover the laptop’s naked ports.

“Everything on the laptop serves at least two purposes,” he says.

In March, Béhar’s team presented two models to the One Laptop per Child panel of researchers, engineers, and former Media Labbers. Members of the Design Continuum team also presented two versions. Only one design would survive to a final round of revisions. After Béhar showed off his work, he wandered out to the hall for a glass of water. Fifteen minutes later, he walked back into the room and was greeted with a round of applause.

At least there is an acknowledgement of this as a team effort in a couple of places. But the writer (and Yves himself) attributes decisions and actions to Behar alone.

Contrast this with a piece of Kevin Smith’s My Boring Ass Life

My apologies for the lack of updates, but we’ve been pretty fucking busy. Week 3 is wrapped, and tomorrow, we start our second to last week on the show. Both cast and crew continue to dazzle. I continue to dream about getting more sleep, as I spend all day on set, then lock myself in the editing room ’til usually two or three in the morning. I may be sleepy, but I’ve cut every frame of film we’ve shot already, resulting in one hour of the movie completely assembled. The simultaneous-to-shooting editorial has been tremendously helpful in allowing us to go back to scenes and shoot any missing pieces I didn’t know we’d need, or allow me to revisit scenes I feel need a bit more (or less) detail. If you’re ever gonna make a flick, cut it (yourself) while you’re shooting, kids; you won’t regret it.

We went an extra day last week, shooting on Saturday to get Lee on his “Earl”-free day. The Randal/Lance showdown is a real highlight of the flick, but the award for scene-of-the-week goes to Mewes. When you see the film, you’ll know what I mean.

If you’ve seen Smith interviewed (or giving those entertaining convention or college campus talks), he surprisingly uses “we” to refer to the filmmaking process. He will also use “I” regularly to talk about writing or other things he alone does, but he seems to have made a conscious choice to keep language collective and plural as much as possible.

It’s certainly apples and oranges and I think it’s too easy to draw ridiculously simplistic conclusions from the comparision here. I think the contrast is interesting, however, because it suggests that either way of presenting the creative head is not the only way it can or needs to be done.

[Additionally, I thought the Wired piece was blogworthy because it offers the rare-for-press snippy stuff that always goes around designer conferences around which firm screwed up this for that client and who came in and saved ’em. I always hear those stories but never see ’em in print.]


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