Penna – a retro bluetooth keyboard

 

In the pre-computer era, my father took a remote sales job that had him working out of the house in rural Connecticut. His company shipped him a large, elaborate machine which was an early version of an answering machine but the writing machine he bought was an refurbished Royal No. 10 .

Elegant in design, I marvelled at how it worked and the noise it made as the keys “thwacked” at the paper, impressing each letter into the page with the finality of the written word. The Royal produced correspondence.

Now on Kickstarter you can back a device that harkens back to the look and feel of those old manual typewriters. The Penna bluetooth keyboard is a thing of beauty.

A slot up top holds your tablet (iPad or Android) and low-power Bluetooth 4.2 allows the keyboard to operate off of two AA batteries and hold a charge up to six months on stand-by.

Check out the Kickstarter page for details. They’ve clearly spent a lot of time on getting the right look and feel. Chrome keycaps on the outside and high-quality Cherry keyswitches on the inside are all chosen for the best quality. The carriage return arm has been repurposed to record and play back custom macros.

People used to buy fountain pens, now they buy custom keyboards.

Elretron

Crib by Ford

When the little one refuses to go to bed, a common parental hack is to pop them in the car for a drive around town. The gentle purr of the engine and strobe of the passing streetlights will lull most infants to sleep giving mom and dad some R & R.

In what was either the product of an internal company hack day or elaborate April Fool’s joke, Ford España has come up with the perfect combination of design and technology to solve an age-old problem for drowsy parents of a newborn.

A speaker simulates the sound of your car and gimbels apparently rock the crib in the same way your car passes over bumps in the road. The LEDs that light up the rails to simulate streetlights passing by the windows is a brilliant touch but I think having a dedicated app to record your route and sync it to the crib is a bit much.

It’s still a prototype but sleep-deprived parents around the world have seen this and want one. Who knows, maybe Ford has tapped into a new line of business.

Apple Design Extends to Process

Like everyone else I too read through 17,000 word profile of Apple Design chief Jony Ive. It’s extensive and well worth your time if you want to get a sense of the scope of Apple’s vision and how they think about design.

What struck me most was the passage below which shows you just how much of a lead Apple has when it comes to it’s intellectual property. It’s not just the idea, it’s not even the physical design of their products, the materials or dimensions. Apple design IP extends to how their products are made, the speed and force with which the tools cut the metal.

“Years ago, you thought you’d fulfilled your responsibility, as a designer, if you could accurately define the form”—in drawings or a model. Now, Ive said, “our deliverable just begins with form.” The data that Apple now sends to a manufacturer include a tool’s tracking path, speed, and appropriate level of lubricant. Ive noted that the studio’s prototyping expertise creates the theoretical risk of beautiful dumb ideas.

Solve by Entertaining

Love this! Use technology to turn ordinary, functional objects into something that’s fun and interactive. Urban environments offer so many opportunities to shine a spotlight on individuals which can make someone’s day.

Also, the obligatory “making of” video below.

It’s all part of an advertising campaign for the Smart car, a brand that promotes “urban joy” and safety.

US Postal Service, Designed

GrandArmy USPS Poster

GrandArmy developed a total re-design of the USPS in-store experience. A robust three-bar layout system was applied to all materials, from menu-boards to hang tags to welcome signs to kiosks and so on. This system holds together a huge variety of collateral. Ancillary materials include emotive creed posters, window clings, a mobile app, and shipping box design.

Minimally Minimal

iSight

A couple of years ago, while living in Finland, I became very interested in physical design. During these years I read Minimally Minimal on a regular basis. Back then Andrew Kim was a student at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The way he wrote about product design was contagious. His observations celebrated good design’s attention to detail. When he got a new camera, his photos improved and he took great care to arrange the subject of his reviews in a way that showed an appreciation of form and function.

Andrew’s review of the 2011 Ford Fiesta (comparing its design motif to a Imperial Stormtrooper!) almost put me in one (until I found a used BMW 325i that was begging for a new owner).

Andrew Kim’s gorgeous photographs and one/two line captions are crisp & evocative. If you are interested in design, I highly recommend Minimally Minimal.

On Ephemera

Om Malik recently wrote about receipts as a design experience. He was writing about Square, the payments company, that is re-thinking the way people exchange currency. Square’s focus on design, particularly the receipt, is inspirational. They view commerce as a design challenge, not only the method by which a transaction happens but also the artifacts left behind from the transaction, the receipt.

In his post, Om quotes Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Square, on their approach,

One of the things that really excited us in the early days was the receipt, putting a very simple map on the receipt where the transaction took place, putting a business’s Twitter account, putting a big picture of what they just sold, a beautiful photograph of a cappuccino, just to make it feel like something that was a lot more tangible, and also a lot more focused around communication. In the early days we saw the receipt as this amazing, kind of often played down and often forgotten about communication channel. It kind of evolved our thinking, this is not about payments, this is about commerce, and the definition of commerce is the activity between buyers and sellers.

Back in the 90’s, I took a trip through pre-Euro Europe. One of the things that fascinated me were the receipts which I saw as vestiges of the experiences I had on my trip. The receipts were ephemera.

ephemera

I would collect the best ones and mail them back to my parents who kept them for my return. Om’s post reminded me of this collection so, over the weekend, I pulled out the old wooden wine crate that holds them and scanned a few to share.

As I pawed through the box of receipts, I ran across another box, a cigar box this time, filled with all the ticket stubs of every concert and sports event I’ve been to (as you can tell, I’m a bit of a hoarder of this stuff).

Each of these slips of paper bring back of flood of memories. While the ticket represents the details of a commercial transaction where money changed hands in return for an experience, important for record-keeping, they each expressed these details in their own unique way.

Each moment in time has been crystallized in time, a keepsake to be shared, a gift and celebration of a shared experience. I am thankful that Square is thinking of this in this age of e-tickets and am glad they encourage attention to this important detail.

The Interest in Pinterest

By now I would imagine you’ve all heard of Pinterest. The latest site to cater to our need to collect and curate the world around us has boiled down the act of clip-n-share to it’s most basic form, the image. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then the endless scroll of the Pinterest front page is the modern web’s newspaper.

The site has been around since 2010 but only recently has it jumped into the forefront after a lengthy nurturing period with the Etsy-crafter-design set. Their strategy was smart. Close attention to detail allowed the small team to grow the service naturally and allow the community to gain a voice. Since late last year the site has been growing by leaps and bounds as the Silicon Valley set has taken to the site in droves and driven user growth through the roof (52% growth from January to February to 17.8M uniques according to comScore).

Along with growth comes a host of real world problems. Spam, copyright complaints, user backlash one (affiliate links), and user backlash two (design changes). Even the US Army is on Pinterest. But the Pinterest folk are smart people. They’ll survive and if they do right by their core users, they’ll make it through. The service reminds me of the early days of flickr and I wish them the best of luck.

As a product guy, what is interesting to me is how the Pinterest design motif has popped up overnight. It’s almost as if every site out there is re-thinking itself and the designers all have dynamic grid filters on that only allow them to re-arrange content on the page into floating block-sized chunks. I would argue that what we’re seeing today is as significant as the AJAX-ification of the web we saw in 2005.

Several design trends are converging that are helping along the pintrification (gosh, I hope that doesn’t become a word) of the web.

Tablets – the tap and swipe interaction of tablet devices lends itself to interaction via the visual box metaphor we see today. As a navigation device, it’s a lot easier to tap on an image than a headline so why not make the thumbnail image the thing to click to open up an article?

Metro UI – When Microsoft put on their thinking caps to reinvent the phone ui for their Windows Phone 7, the Metro UI was their primary breakthrough. Inspired by transit system signage, the UI emphasized grouping similar tasks into squares so you would drill into related sub-tasks instead of scrolling through a hierarchical list of folders and files. This same UI is now being adopted in the next version of Microsoft Windows, Windows 8.

jQuery plugin Masonry – comments on a recent CNET article give credit to Masonry as the catalyst of many WordPress themes that took on the grid look.

CSS3 and Responsive Web Design – Since Ethan Marcotte’s manifesto in 2010, and thanks to the evangelism from sites such as Media Queries, we’re seeing more and more sites embrace responsive web design including, most famously, The Boston Globe and Good Magazine.

The conversion of all these trends & technologies will cause an explosion of dynamic grid designs this Summer. Like swoosh logos, rounded corners, brushed aluminum, and all the glossy icons that came before, this new trend will take the web by storm. If you’re interested in turning your own blog into a tablet friendly grid, check out Pressly or Onswipe and join the party.

If the growth trajectory of Pinterest is any indication, the service is off to a great start. Because of it’s growth and because imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, the dynamic grid is here to stay.

Pinterest doubled traffic to over 17M in February

 

Jack Dorsey the Zen Master

I had a great day yesterday at the GigaOM Roadmap conference. The agenda had a number of great speakers including Brian Cheskey of AirBnB and Tony Fadell of Nest, the red hot company that is re-defining what a thermostat should look like.

The thesis the conference explored is one that Om Malik (now my boss) has put forth a number of times. If you think of the steam engine as the PC of our age and the portable version of this technology, the locomotive, as the mobile phone, what does increasing bandwidth and the enabled mobility mean for society and businesses going forward?

Each speaker chipped away at this thesis with their own slant but Jack Dorsey, as he described how Twitter has enabled empathy on a global scale and how Square has removed the barriers of a Point-of-Sale system and the, “massive counter” that sits between a customer and the vendor, more than anyone else opened my eyes to the incredible transformation going on around us.

Yet, in light of all these incredible transformations, Dorsey challenged us to maintain a balance between the “sleek, modern perfection and the rustic, zen-like chaos” and to build products that maintain this “balance in-between”. He referenced the Japanese design aesthetic of wabi-sabi (if you want to read a great book about the topic, I highly recommend Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers).

In the end, Dorsey advised all product managers to guide themselves with these two principles.

  1. Simplification, work real hard to get technology down to its essence (of an interaction). Take away the “conceptual debris”
  2. Make things fun, remember to be human, relate, “have some whimsy” in your application and make it human.

The whole interview is worth a listen. I’ve embedded it below.

Watch live streaming video from gigaomroadmap at livestream.com