Industry commentary - IQ July

It’s been a while, but it’s good to be back here blogging again at Nomensa. With this in mind, what can you be expecting from this opening encounter? 

Well, I’ve gone for a blog loosely based upon a juxtaposition of the past and the future. Or, if you want something more dramatic, a theme which revolves around a ‘perfect collision of the old and the new’.

So, having rummaged through the archives of news past and present, let’s get this blog turning.

Google Glass 2.0, looking forward to the future with rose tinted specs?

I’m going to kick off with some news from our friends at Google. 

Rumours are currently circulating as to Google’s intentions behind their recent filing of a body of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) documentation. From what we understand the documentation contains references to both Bluetooth and Wi-fi functionality. Reference is also made to a device under the name ‘GG1’. Is this a give away or just a clever ploy? I guess time will tell.

(Image credit: Ted Eytan)

Tony Faddell, the Nest man who recently did to thermostats what Apple did to home computing some years before, is now on board to drive redesign and launch. From a design perspective, at least, all looks to be in good hands. 

If the rumours and assumptions turn out to be true, it’ll be interesting to see the source of Google’s rekindled confidence and what their vision for the future of the CKA (currently known as) GG1 will be. 

It’s undoubtedly a tough brief, but if anyone can crack it then sounds like they’ve got the right person for the job.

I could make a humorous reference to framing the opportunity, but I won’t. All I can say is that I hope they’ve looked closely at their goals and are taking an appropriate long view. 

There, done it.

Blind ambition

Now close your eyes. But, before you do, just take a few seconds to look around you to absorb what you see. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re sitting at home, on the bus or train or in a coffee shop, go on just go do it. So, close your eyes now,  slowly count to 10 and open them again. 


 Good, now think a little about what you’ve just experienced and read on.

First a question,  ‘How does a 16 mile cross-country run followed by a 50 mile mountain hike sound to you?'  Is it your idea of a perfect way to spend time away from the desk or your epitome of ‘hell on earth’?’

Either way, this isn’t just the itinerary of any ordinary person. This one is the property of Frenchman Clement Gass. Gass is virtually blind. 

(Image credit: True New Zealand Adventure)

Doing the work we as designers do (and I use that word ‘designer’ deliberately as we all are designers), we can sometimes forget the impact it can have on the lives of others.

It’s stories like this that help to keep things real and reinforce our sense of collective purpose. After all, it’s never about design, it’s about what it empowers people to do and achieve, however heroic the aim and ambition. 

When reading about Gass’ exploits over the weekend, I couldn’t help but be transported back to the stories around the installation of fresh water-pumps in African villages. These pumps have afforded opportunities for young females to attend school rather than spend numerous hours of their waking day trudging for miles in pursuit of ‘clean’ water.

Gass, himself sums up his own experience nicely when he says it’s ‘really opened up the world to me. You can go off on your own and have an adventure.’

The ‘it’ in question is his new smartphone app, ‘Navi’, developed by researchers at Strasbourg University’s Sports Science Department

Delivering razor-sharp GSP accuracy recently allowed Gass and a team of fellow totally or partially-sighted walkers to navigate a path across the mountainous Vosges region in north east France. 

The downside is that all GSP co-ordinates have to be carefully entered into a supporting systesm by sighted individuals. 

Now, if that’s ever a worth crowd-sourced data entry activity (for example, cast your minds back to the protein folding initiative ‘Foldit’) then, I don’t know what is.

As they say, every journey starts with small steps.

Selling the real experience virtually

As someone who is currently researching into visual story-telling with a view towards writing an article on the subject later this year (shameless plug), articles revolving around the usage of imagery to convey and sell an experience are capturing my attention right now.

You could say, pictures are talking to me and I’m listening intently to what they have to say!

So, when I heard Airbnb were launching a dedicated app for larger mobile devices, I was intrigued to find out more.

(Image credit: Cameron Norman)

Whilst the app offers little new in functionality and features from its existing smartphone counterpart, great store is placed on the usage of photography in the new app. 

Alex Schleifer, Airbnb’s chief of design explained that the app is deliberately designed to have the feel of a magazine spread or glossy coffee table book (nice!)

Understanding how people explore new environs and cities in a virtual environment played a large part in informing Airbnb’s decision-making. Whilst the app is only available on ipad and Android for now, future Windows as well as wearables are very much ‘on the table’ for consideration too.

So, check in and check out the new experience when you get the chance.

 ‘Back to the future’, a retrospective look at today’s technology over 25 years ago

Picture the scene. It’s 1989 and Marty aka Michael J Fox, dons a pair of self-lacing trainers (a shameless product placement on the part of Nike) in that iconic film ‘Back to the Future’. 

If only I’d paid more attention at the time. With the trainers set to become a reality later this year, courtesy of Nike’s patent acceptance for a power lacing system granted in July 2014, let me take you back to look at some of the other movie moments which have sense become ‘less future’ and ‘more now’.

(Image credit: Guian Bolisay)

Well,  there’s a plethora of digital-enabled devices, ranging from smartglass (cue Google Glass and Occulus Rift), fingerprint recognition for door entry and general biometric security, TV-video calls, tablet PCs. And, probably my most favourite of all, the scene where a kid in the film makes reference to playing video games like playing with a baby’s toy, cue Xbox Kinect.

Or, taking another view, was it the film that helped to inspire future thinking amongst emergent designers and thinkers of the day?

 If so, they must have been paying more attention than I did. Back then my focus would have been on setting a good impression for my date or ensuring I got my fair share of pop-corn, or maybe even both. 1989 seems so long ago and yet, strangely familiar at the same time. 

Thanks Marty and to Yohana Desta for posting the original article which acted as the inspiration for this article post!

Letting go of the past and building a sustainable future

And so, let’s now draw this edition of IQ to a close with another more distant, childhood memory. One of little brightly-coloured bricks and worlds constructed from the imagination by both little and big fingers in households the world over. 

Why, of course, it has to be Lego. As the son of a petro-chemical scientist, I guess it’s slightly ironic that I never stopped to think about what exactly was in those little bricks, manipulated by my increasingly dexterous hands.  

(Image credit: Mr. T in DC)

Even today, as a full-grown adult and proud dad of a son brought up on those same little plastic bricks, I can’t help but linger at the Lego aisle in the local toy store. 

As someone who also has a strong love and interest in architecture, Lego’s series of iconic architectural buildings never fails to draw wistful glances from me each time I pass by the Lego section.

Well, enough looking back at those fond memories. Lego has announced a break with the past.

By 2030 it’s intending to produce its entire stock of bricks from an alternative to their current oil-based thermoplastic polymer, Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, chemical formula; (C8H8)x· (C4H6)y·(C3H3N)z), or simply ABS for short. 

Lego has calculated that around two-thirds of its total carbon footprint is derived from upstream processes, most notably those associated with the extraction and refinement of oil used to construct its plastic components.

To meet the challenge, Lego is investing some $150 million in a new sustainable materials facility, planned for opening in 2016. It also plans to hire a further 100 members of staff to focus on sourcing the appropriate new raw materials for both toys and packaging.

Lego’s press office promises however that the bricks will still look and feel the same, just that they won’t be derived from oil-based sources. 

With 60 billion bricks out-turned every year, that’s no mean task. But, in the words of the Lego movie, this could be an ‘awesome’ move. 

Either way I’m sure Vitruvius would have approved.