I thought this was a delightfully odd graphic on the hand dryer in the bathroom of Hermann’s Jazz Club in Victoria:
The details they’ve chosen to include are so odd: the tiny buttocks below the overly-wide torso, the concavity in the upper chest, the queer position of the hand. And I especially like the stark roundness of the head, as if it could tip off and roll away at any moment.
And, because I’m an enormous nerd, the little hand dryer graphic looks like an RSS icon.
The company, Stiebel Eltron, has its roots in Germany. There’s something vaguely Euro in the design, isn’t there?
I randomly happened upon this little technology demo from Last.fm. It’s called Boffin, and, using Last.fm’s metadata, it generates a tag cloud out of your music collection. You click a couple of tags, click play and it provides yet another way to slice and dice one’s sprawling music archives. Here’s what mine looks like:
The top half of the cloud is more accurate than the bottom half. I’m not sure how much of my music is “hair metal approved”, and I’m pretty sure it’s over-representing the fraction of my collection that is Norwegian.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about. When you install and first run Boffin, it needs to scan your music collection. I have about 10,000 songs, so that took quite a while. During this process, however, Boffin displayed this lovely visualization of my music:
The YouTube-hosted screencast video is a bit sketchy, but you get the idea. It’s a totally unnecessary feature–actually useless, as it happens. But I found the cascading images of bands kind of hypnotizing. I really appreciated that the app designer when that extra step to make a very ordinary process–scanning your hard drive for music–a little remarkable.
Via this Wired promotion, I visited LivingHomes.net. They make great looking pre-fab, eco-friendly homes. I was immediately impressed by how they’d built their site. It’s totally Flashy Flash and the Flash bunch, but it’s artfully done and reasonably easy to navigate.
When you first visit the home page, you’re presented with a wonderful time-lapse video of light passing through a living room. It’s a subtle and brilliant approach, and a really pure expression of what architecture and interior design are all about. I was immediately reminded of a lovely time-lapse film of the Waterfall Building that entranced me as part of the Arthur Erickson exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
The tour is narrated by Steve Glenn, the company owner. He takes you on a friendly tour of his own home, pointing out the home’s features, but also cracking little jokes and pointing out the Lego he still has from his childhood. There are also plenty of visual cues to click and navigate through the tour.
It helps that the product itself–the homes–are gorgeous, but I was really impressed by the elegant, functional site design.
Their pricing is pretty steep, but I guess that’s what it costs to build a reasonably guilt-free home. Like so many of these cool, modern, prefab home companies, they’re based in the States. The duty to ship a house across the border makes it financially impractical, but we already know a local architect who does a lot of this style of work with prefab elements.
Last month I was at my friend’s place in France, doing some laundry. Her washing machine lit up like a cheap stereo, which struck me as awesomely French.
There was a dial on her washing machine with big numbers like 3000, 6000 and 1200. I believe these were measures of ‘tr/min’ (as per this photo of a washing machine brand called ‘Malice’). Is that ‘tour’, the French word for ‘turn’? It doesn’t really matter–I assumed it referred to revolutions per minute.
I was baffled as to what to set the machine for, and craved some less specific settings like “linen”, “wool” or “super-wash”. I’ve been doing laundry for over 20 years, and have no idea what speed the average washer barrel revolves at.
Is Five Right for Chicken?
Fast-forward to our villa here in Gozo. We’ve got a great gas range. Here are the controls for the oven:
That’s a timer on the left, and the temperature setting on the right. As you can see, you set the oven to a temperature between 1 and 8.
Here I have the reverse problem. I want less abstraction–I just want to set the damn thing to 375° to bake some chicken.
Set It to Totally Awesome, Please
The lesson is that my (and possible other’s) preferences change from device to device. I want more abstraction in my washing machine than my stove.
This is also true of software. iTunes has this hilarious setting called ‘Sound Enhancer’. It’s on a slider, and the online help says I can use this setting to “add depth and enliven the quality of your music”.
Why would anybody set this to ‘Low’? Why even bother with something called a ‘sound enhancer’? Why not just set it to ‘Totally Awesome’ under the hood and get rid of the user setting altogether?
On the other hand, I want really granular control when converting WAV to MP3–probably more control than iTunes offers out of the box.
The right approach, I think, is to organize the settings in noob-journeyman-expert groups, enabling users to remove layers of abstraction if they want. That’s easy enough in software, but far trickier in the kitchen and laundry room.
I really dig nice hotels. I’m a Taurus, and apparently that makes me a sucker for luxury. I like old school hotels, and I like nice post-modern ones, too.
We’re staying at the Novotel Budpaest Danube, a four-star hotel that’s right on the river in Buda, directly across from the Hungarian parliament. In actuality, it’s not a particularly remarkable hotel, but they’ve done it up nice. It’s a very modern, comfortable business hotel, with all the amenities you’d expect. The staff speak good English (certainly not a requirement, but handy) and have been very friendly and helpful.
At first glance, the location looks a little dubious. It’s seemingly central, but most of the cool stuff in Budapest is either up in Buda Castle or across the river in Pest. Happily, the hotel is two minutes away from both the excellent metro system and a tram line. We’re big believers in using public transport when we visit big cities–driving is usually stressful, frustrating and expensive–and so the location has worked really well for us.
I enjoy modern European hotels because they’re often full of cool, tiny design features which I haven’t seen before. I’m not one to peruse House & Home magazine, so these may seem unremarkable to everybody else.
I really dug the anti-steam mirror. I guess the hot water tubes are run behind the central portion of the glass, and it never steams up. I also liked the nifty sink, where the counter just kind of melts smoothly into the basin:
In the toilet room, I enjoyed another playful design element. In many parts of the world, they divide the toilet’s flushing mechanism into two buttons. This is a clever water conservation strategy, as you need less flushing water for, uh, number one than for number two.
In this bathroom, they’ve kind of exploded the scale of the button (which is usually the size of a loonie and embedded in the top of the basin), rendering them as two stainless steel bubbles on the wall. Cool, eh?
This is a great example of how clever designers rethink ordinary things and show them to us in a new way.
Via Derek, I read Jeff Croft’s a lengthy, fretful post about how ‘professional designers’ are being shafted by $30/hour amateurs. He wants to charge a lot more than $30/hour, apparently, but is disgusted by all the clients going to the ‘hacks’.
And yet they succeed. They continue to get jobs and they continue to roll out tag soup, tabled-based layouts with amateurish graphics full of Photoshop filters and all-Flash sites full of unnecessary and cheesy animation. They rip off well-made sites, stealing graphics and layouts and pawning them off as their own work to unsuspecting clients.
He subsequently makes the foolish suggestion of ‘some kind of professional body for our industry’. Right, because professional bodies in other industries tend to defend high standards and offer reliable service?
He’s written this post as if he’s the first professional in the world to suffer downward pressure on rates because of technological advancement and increased competition. He’s not, and he ought to go read about what, well, nearly every other industry has had to face at one time or another. Whinging isn’t going to help, and neither is a professional association or, Lord help me, web designers’ union.
Personally, sometimes I hire the $150/hour designer and sometimes I hire the $30/hour guy. Why? Because I know what differentiates the two, and I know when I need the hotshot and when I can make do with the hack.
This is hardly worth writing about, but you know, bear with me. I’ve written before about the shocking lameness of so many musician’s websites. It’s improving (though I don’t think MySpace is helping anybody–see also the immortal ZeFrank), but I’m still often presented with Nightmares of Poppy Flashness.
I visited her website, and was encouraged by the second link off the navigation bar:
Maybe it’s just the world I’m steeping in these days, but that second link sure looks like ‘Blog’ to me. As it turns out, it’s actually ‘Biog’.
I guess it’s a cultural difference (Rae is from Leeds), but over on this side of the Atlantic, I never see the term ‘biography’ abbreviated to ‘biog’. It’s always ‘bio’. ‘Biog’ is something you have to put up with in first year university.
Is ‘biog’ a common usage in the UK? I didn’t recognize it as such when I lived in Dublin for a couple of years (I know, not the UK, but close enough to get plenty of UK culture). Can any Brits comment?