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Samsung unveils Galaxy Gear

September 5, 2013

Samsung have unveiled their wrist-baed communicator, or watch-phone and were clearly intent on beating Apple if rumours are believed.

The Guardian’s Tech provided decent coverage.

As attractive and useful as it seemed in the movies however, I’m not convinced there’s strong consumer demand for such a device. Until floating cameras or holographic projection, the big problem is how to avoid giving your caller an unflattering view up your nose. Maybe there’s nothing in those rumours after all.

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Microsoft & Nokia – A good time for change

September 5, 2013

ms&nokia_logos

Just one day after the biggest corporate deal ever – Vodafone’s selling of its 45% stake in Verizon, Microsoft announced its acquisition of Nokia’s mobile phone business. By far the smaller deal of the two, this is undoubtedly the most intruiging.

It’s difficult not to to feel some ambivelance about the world’s formerly largest PC company acquiring the previously dominant and preeminent mobile phone manufacturer. As market share dwindles, it’s a timely deal and could, if handled correctly provide a real alternative to the current iOS-Android hegemony. Ultimately however, as it stands this deal demonstrates not how far Apple, Google and Samsung have advanced, but how far both Microsoft and Nokia have fallen. The markets seem to echo this sentiment, with Nokia’s shares understandably jumping 35% while MS’s fell more than 5%.

To technology observers Microsoft’s difficulties are hardly surprising, but Nokia’s fall is still massively disappointing. I well remember owning a red 8210 during ‘web 1.0’ – by far the coolest phone in the world back then. But for too many years to remember, I’ve been continually amazed at how slow MS seems to move, let alone advance. If ever there was an allegory for a giant, lumbering tech dinosaur Microsoft is the living embodiment.

What next?

Microsoft must surely change, and change massively. Steve Balmer has always been bullish, as CEOs  invariably feel compelled to be. The trouble is, I don’t think anyone at Microsoft truly understands how far they’ve fallen, and the level and extent of change required to get them back on top. Steve Ballmer’s departure is a great start, and combined with the Nokia mobile acquisition provides a fabulous opportunity to effect real change. They’ve got the brains and presumably intent, but do they have the stomach and the will? History does not paint a flattering picture.

The problem with many corporate behemoths is that they tend to implement marketing selectively,  as and when (they think) they need it. This is because they embrace the traditional paradigm of R&D, design and manufacture. Then market. it’s a compartmentalised process that worked perfectly for many years, but is irreconcilable today. This is evident in the way Microsoft, in particular, market their products. There’s no cohesiveness, no big picture, no plan and no continuity. There’s no brand architecture…no design language. Rightly or wrongly, Microsoft is perceived as a company that lumbers through technological applications, responding to emerging markets instead of defining them, creating and innovating. Doggedly hanging onto old business models, because of their revenue generating lifeblood is Microsoft’s biggest problem. Poisoning new ventures, such as their Surface with this same old thinking is another. Why would I contemplate buying a “non-professional ” Surface when there’s a Pro model? What does that make me, a Surface “Amateur” user? A lightweight? A student? A child perhaps? These are major purchases that people research, and ineffably calling something a ‘Pro’ isn’t helpful – it just makes everything else in the range sound inherently flawed. If you create  a range of products, deferential them from within. Don’t superficially cripple them.

They just don’t seem to get it. This embarrassingly naff sales and marketing strategy is what got them into trouble in the first place. And then there’s the name, composed of two archaic contractions that sound utterly outmoded to today’s generation. “Micro” as in microcomputer and “Soft” as in software, a term which nobody outside professionals such as myself uses anymore. I’m not suggesting a name change to, say, “SmallApp”, but something of-the-moment yet forward looking, unique yet timeless. Heck, even IBM’s abbreviated nomenclature works, because its meaning is still relevant today, even if their function has shifted dramatically.

At the semantic and lexicological level, where the terms “apple” and “google” are so powerful, it’s even worse, comprising two words of obvious negative attributions in tiny and squidgy.

The solution for Microsoft isn’t one of better marketing, or responding better and faster to the challenges and agendas set by Apple and Google. It’s about defining who they are, and who they want to be. Massive change needs to be effected in whatever form that’s required, be it a name change and abandonment of everything decrepid. Keep the stuff that pays, but compartmentalise it in a way that sustains identity and promises continued quality, not clogging up the new stuff. Only then will they be able to shape and influence the future. To matter again, as love them or hate them they once did. There’s never been a better time for change.

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Who said Apple can’t innovate?

June 20, 2013

newmacpro

Among the many highlights of Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference (which incidentally sold out in 17 seconds) one particular moment stood out. No, it wasn’t iOS 7 or OS X Mavericks. Or even the beautifully designed Tron-esque Mac Pro. It was Phil Schiller’s comment on the unveiling of this seductive and much anticipated new workstation – …”Can’t innovate anymore my ass!”

Among all the usual plaudits, what a brilliant moment of unabashed alacrity from Phil – Apple’s head of worldwide marketing.

Sometimes short (and blunt) really is sweet.

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British Design Legend dies

April 19, 2013

Sad to hear today the passing of graphic designer Storm Thorgerson, who is most widely know for his Pink Floyd album cover designs.

Like many accomplished designers he was passionate about his work and quite a character. I can still vividly recall as a young boy studying the design of Dark Side of The Moon, trying to interpret some apparently obvious yet elusive, hidden meaning. Listening to the album (on headphones!) brought me closer, but of course I was still young. It was perhaps, his most famous piece of work and possibly one of the most iconic album covers of all time.

He will be missed, but his striking, beautiful and often surreal work is indelibly stamped upon British culture.
Obituaries:
The Guardian – Storm Thorgerson dies aged 69
The Telegraph – Storm Thorgeson: Pink Floyd album cover design dies

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American Airlines redesign

March 9, 2013

The redesigned AA logo

Image courtesy of American Airlines

Of everything that’s been said about the American Airways’ redesign, I believe it’s Massimo Vignelli’s observations that are the most informed, commenting in Creative Review. Vignelli of course created the classic design which stood for over 40 years. In my opinion the type is modern and reaffirming but I’m unsure about the eagle tail fin.

Redesigning an icon is never easy. An icon is more than graphic design alone can invoke , it’s heritage. Tampering with that is brave but risky.

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Road sign design: Update #2

March 9, 2013

At the risk of appearing to be completely distracted by cars and road signs, yet another pertinent  item on road sign design caught my eye in the Telegraph. This time it’s the wrong font being used in signs and in particular variable speed limit signs. Drivers may have a case to appeal against signs that do not comply with the TSRG (Traffic Signs and General Directions 2002).

Transport Medium, Heavy and Motorway are the prescribed fonts for road sign design. These are beautiful, egalitarian, utilitarian sans serif faces, which take visual cues from Gill Sans; not entirely dissimilar to London Transport’s Johnston in that respect. Interestingly, I note that Henrik Kubel and Margaret Calvert have updated the typeface.

Regarding appeals, I suspect if the greater driving public knew the extent to which road signs were not ‘properly’ deployed, there would be far more appeals and worse driving in general.

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Road sign design: Update #1

March 9, 2013

Loathe as I am to direct readers to the error-prone Daily Mail, this story about ‘baffling’ road signs caught my eye. Despite, or perhaps in spite of my experience in road sign design, I have often felt that employing abstract symbolism to rapidly convey vital information is just plain odd.

Proponents argue that all drivers are required to learn the Highway Code and thus familiarise themselves with this lexicon. However, I would argue that acquired learning whilst necessary, should be underpinned by common intuition. This would surely result in more signs being understood at conscious and sub-concious/subliminal levels. Road signs, and more importantly the design metaphors they employ should be routinely evaluated, particularly in an environment where vehicle cabins and technology mean greater driver distraction. Of course continual updating is self defeating, but minimising abstract design conventions would naturally reduce cognitive dissonance.

Maybe it’s time road sign design employed modern usability testing?