Tag Archives: Design

How a Dumb-Phone Made the Smartphone Smarter: Finding Humanity in Product Design

ProductYVR: Ghost in the Machine

ProductYVR’s inaugural gathering saw a presentation by Kharis O’Connell, Director of User Experience at Global Mechanic and Creative Design Lead for Nokia. Kharis was here to talk to us about how a very small product with a very small feature set created a very large disruption within a very large company.

Pull Tomorrow from Yesterday

During O’Connell’s tenure, Nokia was at a crossroads. The ultrageeky N900 had failed to oust the iPhone from its place in customers’ hearts. Indeed, it was perhaps-patronizingly deemed too complicated for the American market, which probably says more about the phone than the market. Why would you produce something that you’d then turn around and deem “too complicated”?

Kharis and his colleagues reckoned the problem wasn’t the feature set of the phone, but how it was presented. How could the creative team strip away those layers of obfuscation to reconnect person to person, getting back to the entire point of a mobile phone?

Kharis turned to an unlikely inspiration: John’s Phone, easily the most stripped-down mobile phone imaginable. No touchscreen. No front-facing screen at all, in fact. No voicemail, no text messaging, no apps, no nothing; nothing except a keypad and the person on the other end of the call.

John's Phone: Beautifully simple.
Yeah, that’s it. Beautifully simple.

John’s Phone looks like a cross between a pager and a garage-door opener. The buttons go *click*. The slim screen at the top tells you which numbers you punched in, but not the number of the incoming call. You’re suddenly back in the early Eighties. You get an address book. A paper address book, with a few paper-based games thrown in. Don’t worry, though, because John’s Phone comes with a little pen. There’s a message section: tear out a page with a hand-scribbled note and pass it to a lover or friend.

Beauty is in the Eye…

We found ourselves marveling at this device, curious at how we’d feel if were sent back to a mode of communication last seen during our adolescence.

After a month of using only John’s Phone, Kharis and his colleagues came back to the table with a new outlook on how a smartphone fits into our lives. It’s not a showcase of raw computing power, but a tool to help us stay close to people that matter.

The result was the Nokia N9: the same guts as its predecessor, with a much more people-friendly interface.

The Object Lesson

After Kharis’ presentation, we split into groups to discuss the pros and cons of a simple handset like John’s phone. Unsurprisingly, many of the same features were perceived as both pro and con, depending on who was looking at it. We judge a product first with our feelings, and then with our brains.

Kharis O’Connell left us with this message before we all headed down the road for a nightcap: Nokia is no longer making phones… but John’s Phone still is.

ProductYVR was presented by the Holon Group, and held at the Railtown offices of domain7.  If you’re interested in the humanity in technology (and the technology in humanity), keep an eye on the Holon Group’s Twitter feed.

Bear Paws: Vancouver Designer Provides Perfect Winter Gift

Vancouver Designer Solved Your Christmas Shopping Problem with Stellar Knitted Goods

Your holiday shopping dilemma is now a thing of the past, thanks to Larry Designs. Friend and Vancouver designer Terri Potratz opened her studio to show off her latest creations, and they’re truly unique. D0 you like knitted wool and alpaca (supernaturally warm on a cold winter’s day)? Do you like Lykke Li videos? Do you like Labyrinth?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then you’ll love what Terri’s cooking up. As you can see below, she’s bringing some serious chunkiness and texture, as well as some stellar shapes.

You will not find anything like this in a department store, and you’ll be surprised by how affordable Larry’s wares are; especially considering that these creations are spawned right here in Vancouver, and all by hand.

Wear Bear Paws!

Glad I attended the Larry Mistletoe Mixer… I walked away with my very own set of bear paws. They’ll look really cool with a sportcoat, and are much warmer than my old pair of fingerless gloves. Classier-lookin’, too.

The wearer can dig his or her fingers into the knitted knots of wool to warm up (or to relieve stress, like making fists with your feet in deep carpet).

I Got Bear Paws

Simon and Simon

Larry Designs, Vancouver



Trotify: Turn Your Bicycle into a Horse

I Feel the Need… the Need for Steed!

The brilliant folks at Original Content London, a creative studio in Shoreditch, have solved an age-old problem: what if you want the experience of riding a horse, but all you have is a bicycle?

Meet Trotify: the old-school wooden device that gives your bike the power to make a jaunty clip-clopping sound as you navigate the roads and alleys of your city. The horsey noisemakers: two halves of a coconut, no doubt inspired by Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Do not adjust your set: Original Content London’s advert for Trotify fails to show the device making the clip-clop sound… which would surely be the point of going through the trouble of shooting the commercial in the first place. Here’s a follow: up: Trotify in the wild.

Is Trotify Real?

Yes, Trotify is a real product: Original Content London is selling it on their site, with a claimed ship date of March 2013. You can also get a t-shirt if you’re not willing to commit to the soon-to-be-annoying clip-clop of colliding coconuts.

Trotify comes as a flat-packed template, with punch-out parts. (Is it BYO coconut?). If 1,000 people pony up £25, then Trotify becomes a reality.

Note that the sound might drive pedestrians crazy: there’s no telling what they might do.

Real Jet Trash: Furniture from Plane Parts

Nothing Says ‘International Jet Trash’ Like Airplane-Parts Furniture

This is more like it. I like the DC-9 Airplane Desk, pictured below. The red stripe makes it go faster. The 747 engine-cowling bed just screms “porn shoot”, but with an air of industrial class.

How about an airline-galley bar? You can wheel it around during the course of a party. Plastic cups not included.

There’s also an ejector-seat barstool.

It’s all breathtakingly expensive, of course: just a picture frame from Moto Art will set you back between $245 and $500… imagine what a DC-9 desk must cost.

Motoart, via Boing Boing.



The Normann-Copenhagen Blue Plane is My Co-Pilot (Jordan’s Android Home Screen)

The Blue Plane & Friends: My Android Home Screen

I rock the Normann-Copenhagen Blue Plane as my Android wallpaper. That way it’s always there for me when adventure calls.

Hey, Normann-Copenhagen designers: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: make Blue Plane cufflinks, and I’ll rock them.

Blue Plane, At Your Service

Now that I look at it out of context, I think my phone desktop says a lot about me. That I can take screenshots means I’ve rooted the phone using Androot, but I’m not yet motivated enough to install a custom ROM. Eventually I’ll upgrade to Froyo so I can run apps from the SD card.

I like the ease of Google Maps, but hate the featureless Google Email program. I prefer K-9 Mail, with its group actions and Doctor Who icon. I use Useful Switchers to obsessively check battery life and spare memory, as well as for the cool flashlight feature. Task Manager also helps me manage the Motorola XT720’s horrendous battery life.

The regular clock wasn’t cool enough for me, so I had to rock Retro Clock.

Twicca is my go-to Twitter client: I’ve tried a bunch, and settled on Twicca after Twidroyd got smacked down (Twidroyd’s back now, but I haven’t switched back: Twicca is just as good). Twicca and Twidroyd are the only two Android Twitter apps that I even like.

FX Camera is for when I get those hipster twinges. Springpad is my sorely-underused note-taking app. The Facebook app is fairly self-explanatory. I also have at least two public-transport tracking apps for cities in which I don’t live. I had Angry Birds, but deleted it: the time was right to put down the slingshot.

This post started with the Blue Plane, and ended with geekiness. Let’s just gaze upon the Blue Plane again in all its sleek, simple glory…