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Posted in good design by hemmant jha on December 31, 2009

As the beginning of a new decade draws near, perhaps it is time again to ask : what is good design?

Is good design uber resolved, painstakingly detailed and meticulously crafted? Did the team of designers, engineers, marketeers and support staff work like a seamless, well organized and purposeful machine – all for the purpose of providing you, dear consumer, with the ultimate experience? And for providing MOMA with another tidbit for their permanent collection? That’s certainly one way of looking at it – and if that’s the question you asked, you’re right. After all, there’s not much of that kind of good stuff floating around – it’s the product of tough, painstaking work by genuinely talented people, of which there are few.

A prime example from recent production is the stainless steel iPod Shuffle. We’re not talking about the regular aluminum kind, which has the gravitas of a paper clip, however adorable it might otherwise be. We’re talking about the limited production, only-available-at-brick-and-mortar+online Apple stores, hewn from solid stainless steel version. It’s a little jewel that deserves a display area on the winter collar of every self-respecting design aficionado.

Is a workman’s tool an example of good design? After all, isn’t something that’s superbly utilitarian also a fabulous design object? Absolutely. Products by Braun and Snap-on come to mind. Leica and Ricoh too.

What of design that does not appear to be well resolved – something that might have been put together with just basic knowledge of Illustrator? Something humble?

Not Martha Argerich playing Bach, but a happy drunk at a bar piano?

XEX vs. Sushi Ota?

The parts might not fit together too well, proportions might be a bit off, sometimes too much info, sometimes too little. But magically enough, the product manages to convey exactly what it needs to, in spades. It’s not intimidating – after all, you could have designed it [shades of Palin here]. But you do get it – it is endearing, it is compelling – and it is readily and happily purchased. Is it good design if success is a chance occurrence instead of planned certainty [ha]?

Take a look at the example below – Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, and decide for yourself. Was the somewhat unfinished nature of the packaging the intended look? Is it a product of canny design and marketing, or of part-time help from a friendly neighbor? Whatever the intent or process, it just plain works. And isn’t that what really matters?

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Posted in things we like by hemmant jha on December 28, 2009

Ito En tea.

The benevolent, smiling face of the ever aglow Dr. Andrew Weil peeks out of the backs of  the diminutive cans of Ito En unsweetened tea, tucked away on shelves bursting with wholesome goodness [at your local Whole Foods, possibly elsewhere].

Celebrity endorsements usually have the reverse effect around here – product reinstated on shelf, we walk by. In this instance, that proved difficult – the package was small and attractive like other examples of Japanese design, the message was clear and compelling. Depending on type of tea, one imbibes 171mg of Polyphenols or 152mg of Catechin. When the drudgery of whatever you’re doing gets to you, grab a can.

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Posted in GRD, things we like by hemmant jha on December 24, 2009

French Fries.

Strips of potato fried in deep fat. Not quite as simple as it sounds – the fewer the ingredients, the more important their quality and the process.

How are they made? Follow this link.

Why do McDonald’s fries taste so good? Follow this link.

Who has the best fries? In LA. In NYC [still looking]. In Chicago.

Seen below : when the stars are aligned just right, Whole Foods fries can be quite special.

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Posted in tools of the trade by hemmant jha on December 21, 2009

Building muscle one two-finger scroll at a time.

I have slim and flexible fingers. Not given to needless physical activity like working out or climbing mountains, this author has made enough lifestyle choices that have allowed said fingers to remain slender and supple. And I’m hypermobile. These digits are perfect tools for fine artwork and penmanship, the manufacture, assembly and disassembly of electronic or mechanical devices – anything that requires a high degree of precision.

Having remained comfortable with these digits for so long, it was more than a little disconcerting to notice that the first two fingers of my right and left hands no longer looked like they belonged to the same person. Not horribly disfigured or anything, but quite obviously different in appearance and feel. The two digits in question on the right hand are more muscular and firm. Gone was the supple flex, replaced by a somewhat robust rigidity. Could it be the incessant tapping away on the keyboard? Unlikely, since I use both hands and more than just two fingers to type.

It’s the two-finger scroll on my Macbook Pro. During the last 3 years, I’ve used the two-finger scroll for everything from web browsing to Illustrator and Photoshop – it’s a marvelous and indispensable tool that, once experienced, one cannot do without.

Fans of Asterix and Obelisk will remember the comic book where the duo participates in the Olympics, only to compete against athletes honed for the express purpose of excelling at one sport [and one sport only]. My condition brings to mind the champion javelin thrower who had one scrawny arm, while the other ballooned with muscle – at this rate, that’s where I will be very soon. Has anyone else noticed anything similar?

Stay tuned for periodic updates.

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Posted in GR1s, the world around us, tokyo by hemmant jha on December 18, 2009
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