Dieter Rams Designs

Just spent some time at the Dieter Rams exhibition at the Design Museum and I can now see not only why there were so many ‘Apple is the new Braun’ articles around the time they decided to get all perforated aluminium with their machines, but where the thinking behind the design comes from.

Rams led the Braun design team for 40 years and developed a powerful philosophical approach to design which is summed up in his ten principles of design.

Early portable tape machine (requires several strong people to carry)

  • Good design is innovative.
  • Good design makes a product useful.
  • Good design is aesthetic.
  • Good design makes a product understandable.
  • Good design is unobtrusive.
  • Good design is honest.
  • Good design is long-lasting.
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
  • Good design is environmentally friendly.
  • Good design is as little design as possible.

The range of items the Braun team applied these principles to was enormous, from toasters and cigarette lighters to tape machines, home film cameras, music systems and shavers. And the exhibition shows off many of them and you can see the realisation of the principles in the spartan design as well as the design vocabulary of the buttons and shapes that have become utterly iconic. It’s impressive how few of today’s products even begin to meet Rams’ principles.

And you can also see the effect Rams’ principles have had on modern industrial designers, not least Apple’s Johnathan Ive, whose commentaries on his designs echo Rams’ early experiences as a carpenter and artisan. In particular, how the design for the iPod epitomises much of what Rams was doing and thinking, much more so than the perforated aluminium Mac towers. It’s just a shame that, while they’ve got a new MacBook and iPod, they haven’t actually got any kind of quote from Ive himself.

Once we all dreamt of having hi-fi systems like this (with a record player and tape machine)

Overall, it’s a nice exhibition and the exposure to Rams’ principles is inspiring, but I would have liked to have more commentary on the development of the principles and when and how Rams came up with them. I’d also like to have had more of a direct link to current products that echo these principles, the one case of stuff they have is hardly enough to suggest a long-term legacy. Otherwise you’re left with a bit of a feeling that this is an exhibition about the past (and the past of Braun in particular), rather than one about a powerful design philosophy that is as relevant today as it ever was.

Stuff I Liked 2009 – iPhone apps

I don’t think it’s a secret that the last decade was all about the internet, and it’s possibly even less of a secret that the next year/decade is going to be about the mobile internet. Sure we’ve got a long way to go before our mobile ‘service providers’ can actually provide a halfway decent service (they’re still working on providing a mobile signal to large parts of West Sussex), but the groundwork has been done. Not least by the arrival of the iPhone. The revolutionary change in charging, so that you get unlimited data connection, meant that you didn’t constantly worry about being ripped off for actually daring to look at the internet while on the move, while the geolocation element meant that you could have a whole host of apps that gave you specific info based on where you were.

And that wasn’t all. In addition to being a great iPod and a vaguely OK phone (woefully crap reception in central London on O2), the iPhone is a mobile computer platform, which creates space for all those apps, some great, some useless and some so utterly pointless it’s a wonder anyone actually downloads them, let alone makes them. I’ve been thoroughly caning my iPhone for the last year, stuffing it with tons of apps many of which have lasted less than 24 hours. Now it’s time to sort them and find the ones worth keeping.

Best App

Jamie Oliver in his app

Jamie Oliver in his app

Fundamentally, I use my iPhone apps to take, manipulate and upload photos, Twitter, Tumblr and occasionally add to my WordPress blog, play games,organise and keep track of tasks, notes and stuff, do gym and sports routines, check social media, play around with music, play more games, get local information and, very occasionally do online shopping. So I’m kind of stunned that my best app for 2009 is all about cooking.

However, Jamie’s app, Jamie Oliver 20 Minute Meals,  puts pretty much all other info/instructional apps to shame – and here I’m talking about apps like the National Gallery’s Love Art and the Louvre’s, both of which are pretty decent. It looks like something that has actually been specifically designed for the iPhone and has had a load of thought put into it. It’s got a fair amount of good recipies (sure it could have more but that’s just quibbling), each of which has a ton of well presented info and is beautifully laid out with loads of photos. It’s got a shopping list area, which links seamlessly into the recipies as well as letting you add on your own items. But it also comes with a pile of excellent instructional videos that are pitched at exactly the right level for inept-but-enthusiastic cooks and will change the way you do your cooking. Personal favourite at the moment is the How To Cut Onions, but there’s basic advice about a whole load of things from chilies and buying fish to what you need in your kitchen and how to keep that chopping board in the same place. I’ve cooked more stuff from this app than I have from pretty much any of the other cooking books I’ve got, which is saying something. And it even tasted good.

Best Photo app

Along with being only an adequate phone (poor reception and the lack of a real button to let you hang up calls), the original iPhone has what can only be described as a shit pinhole camera. And it’s saying something for portability and the way it can link to sites like Flickr that I’ve totally ditched my 5Mb Ixus for this, but it’s also down to the way I can manipulate my photos prior to uploading them that makes all the difference. Now, I’ve used (and dumped) a load of image apps, but basically it boils down to two or three that I use all the time. For manipulating images I use Photogene (way better than the rather shit PS Mobile – hang your heads in shame Adobe), ColorSplash (for making those neat black and white with a little bit of colour images), Polarize (to make them look like polaroids) and TiltShift (to make those ‘lil people images). I have tried all those filter packages, but basically only CameraBag makes the grade and has any regular use. And for uploading I use Mobile Fotos (total connection to my Flickr content) and Pixelpipe (uploads to any/all my numerous social media sites). So it’s a tough choice pinpointing just one of them, but if I have to (and I have to) then my photo app for 2009 is Photogene as it’s the one I use first and always to correct the levels and colour of the original image.

Best Game app

This is a really tough one. Mainly because although I have spunked cash on way too  many games, I really don’t play them all that seriously, so most of those clever ports from Gameloft really don’t get the attention they possibly deserve and I’m not convinced that we’ve really seen a proper game done for the iPhone in the way that Jamie’s app or indeed Super Monkey Ball has been. Also gamewise, I’m more of a puzzle game type person than a swift-fingered action adventurer, so the bit in Assassin’s Creed where you have to carefully jump in a specific direction while double-tapping or something drives me into an uncontrolable frenzy of anger when I can’t do it and I tend to blank the game for a while afterwards to punish it. So based on a ‘how much do you actually play them’ test, my choice is down to Real Racing (way the best racing/driving game), Moonlight Majong and Sol Free Solitaire, with special mention to Sentinel 2, which the Boon really enjoy on a compulsive level. And, while it’s tempting to say none of them are really inspiring, I’d have to say that my best game app is Sol Free Solitaire. Hmmmmmmm.

Best Connection app

This is really what makes the whole mobile connection work. It’s not so much the provision of information that relates to where I am (step forward Time Out, FixMyStreet, Rightmove etc), but my ability to link what I’m doing to the digital world. And while apps that connect me to my cloud data are cool (iDisk, OmniFocus and Evernote), what really rocks is my ability to communicate instantly with the world. And this basically boils down to Twitter clients and other updating apps. Now I’ve tried a load of Twitter apps (Tweetie, Tweetdeck etc), but I’ve settled on Twitterific Pro as my client of choice. It’s simple, lets me do most of what I like and can track a variety of sources. The other updating apps let me link into my various social media spaces, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, WordPress and Tumblr. And while I have used the WordPress app to actually add new stuff to my blog, the ones I’ve really used on a regular basis are Tumblr (my site is essentially all about stupid stuff I’ve taken photos of), Pixelpipe (which lets me post photos to multiple sources) and Mobile Fotos (which is effectively my Flickr client). They’re all impressive and certainly increase my posting and interaction online, but my favourite has to be Mobile Fotos as it has completed that link between taking a photo (and manipulating it on my iPhone) and posting it directly to my Filckr account, and given me a level of instantaneous satisfaction that has meant my Ixus/Aperture combo now lies a distant second.

Best Music app

I have spent altogether too much cash on music apps, and I’m still not entirely convinced that the iPhone is a genuine music creation platform. Sure it packs way more potential than my first ever four-track (ahh the nostalgia of it), but it’s fucking tiny and fiddly and it’s hard to get stuff on and off it. They also suffer from the lack of any widely established space to share tunes and the built-in capacity to share them a la Flickr or Facebook – in fact I’m thinking that making music with the bloody thing is a right bad idea. But on we go… There are essentially 3 types of music making apps which have their own particular styles, some provide the music clips and make the process about messing with them and sequencing them (deadmau5’s app, iDrum and Looptastic), others find a super-complicated way of letting users add samples and rearrange them (Beatmaker), while the really extreme give you the world’s smallest piano to actually make music on (MusicStudio) albeit with a very limited number of different sounds. Now, they all work and some are great fun and I love iDrum Underworld, but it’s not really about making music, and while MusicStudio is, it’s bloody complicated and you need fingers as thin as matchsticks to really use it. So, based purely on the fact that I have actually used it to make some music at 4am one morning when I couldn’t sleep, my best music app is Beatmaker. To see whether it was actually worth it, check this out.

01 First Stab

Apps in 2010

So where are apps going to go? It’s clear that the keys to moving many apps forward are an understanding of location and the ability to share and possibly even collaborate on material with other users. And most apps are going to want to have some way of sharing with more than just Facebook and Twitter – if only to publicise the app. Apple needs to seriously upgrade the iPhone camera and the telcos are going to have to make 3G (and subsequent networks) actually work properly to enable us to really take advantage. And I’m probably going to have to upgrade my original iPhone.


Another neat little app for the iPhone, Colorspash is probabably the best £1.19 I’ve spent recently.
Colorsplash strips the colours from your iPhone photos, then lets you put it back in a finger painting style. Simple to use and with the best help system of any app I’ve played with, this is both powerful and fun to use. It is also highly versitile, allowing me to fine tune the feathers of The Diva’s boa.
There has been a growing trend for apps that make the iPhone into a truly creative platform – painting and photographic ones especially – and Colorsplash is a great,fun addition to these.

The Diva in performance mode

The Boys discover bottle throwing

Noise Annoys

I’ve been spending time tied down by my sequencer this weekend in the vain hope of being able to actually create a breakbeat of some sort that’s not uniformly shite. This is mainly in response to this post by Alex Buga describing the new Maschine by Native Instruments. Ever since Guitar Rig 2 allowed me to plug my guitar into my mac without any latency problems, I’ve been a big fan of NI, not least because Guitar Rig has meant I can throw away the 20 or so odd bits of guitar paraphenalia I’ve had cluttering up the front room and replace them with one nifty foot control. It even makes my guitar sound good.

Anyway, Maschine is a really cool looking ‘groove production studio’, which means it handles samples, sequencing and a bunch of other stuff, but I figured before I simply splashed out, a decision based solely on the ‘new and shiney’ qualities Maschine possesses, I really should actually try creating some beats or sequences using the stuff I already have. If only so I know that Maschine will make it all better later.

So I smash out some distorted concrete guitar noise and spend a bit of time getting to know Logic by putting a nice bassline on it. The bassline being inspired by John Carpenter’s music for Assault on Precinct 13, which aside from being a great ’70s movie (think crazed ASBO gang attack police station, no survivors) is featured on the back of the 7-inch sleeve of Killing Joke’s excellent Pssyche single. However the bassline isn’t quite right, so I have to mash it up with a certain amount (a lot) of Bitcrushing.

The result –‘John Carpenter Noise’

But that wasn’t really doing much on a sequencing level. So I started playing around on the built in Ultrabeat drum/sampler sequencer that’s built into Logic. The great thing here is that it comes with a whole load of rhythms and kits built in and a nifty little sequencer that’s really simple to use. And I’m playing around with this and I discover that you can drag the sequences from Ultrabeat on to ANY other midi controlled instrument. So a pattern that was originally for a hip hop kit can be dragged onto a saxophone instrument and the saxophone plays that pattern. This is great not just because the Ultrabeat sequencer is easier to manipulate than the normal Logic one, but because the rhythm patterns don’t bear any resemblance to melodies. And the most bizarre thing is that they actually end up sounding really neat, kind of like early 808 State.

I’m calling the result – ‘After Cubik by 808 State’

Now after an entire weekend of sequencing, I still don’t think I can entirely justify the £600 plus for Maschine quite yet. But a few more weeks and I may just have to get one….

OMFG It’s 1984 in a box

overview_hero2_image20090106Just been playing around with Apple’s new iLife package. Overall it comes off as a bit of a halfway house, only Garageband and iPhoto seem to have had any real work done to them, while iWeb and iMovie have barely been touched. However, the changes to both iPhoto and Garageband are pretty amazing.

Garageband, Apple’s basic, mass market music recording software, has had a whole new tutorial module attached, along with some upgrades to the guitar amps, but it’s the tutorials that are the outstanding thing. Although there aren’t very many of them – you can see it’s a tentative early days implementation – but what there is is pretty fantastic. You’ve got 9 lessons for both guitar and piano and each one lasts 5 – 10 minutes. You have a video lesson, complete with music notation and a mockup of either the piano keyboard or the guitar fretboard, then you can play a song along with prearranged accompaniment. So far I’m about halfway through both and I’ve learnt a couple of key things as well as being able to play Ode To Joy along with what sounds like a rather half arsed oompa band and some basic blues. It’s great. The tutor, Tim, is all Apple cool, but effective nonetheless and the format is great. The only downside is that there are so few lessons. I can see myself wanting more comprehensive ones pretty damn soon.

Actually that’s not the only downside. In keeping with its iTunes Store and the iPhone AppStore, Apple has launched a Lessons Store for these lessons, and while the initial ones are free, the idea is obviously to charge people for additional lessons, including lessons teaching you how to play ‘popular’ songs featuring the people who wrote them. And while I don’t have a fundamental problem with this, the current execution is terrible. You have to think that a supposedly hip company like Apple would have been able to sign up some proper stars, rather than the dross that’s featured here – Sting being the only one I even recognise. It’s a very short line up of, I guess, Gap style blands like Ben Fold. Again I suspect that this is a case of a featured rushed out slightly before its time. Next update let’s hope they bring us the likes of Radiohead etc. Also at £3.45 it’s a little too expensive.

The other major upgrade is iPhoto and I’m not sure whether to be amazed or afraid with its latest feature, Facial Recognition. To use it you identify a particular individual’s face (the programme’s intelligent enough to identify faces themselves) and iPhoto takes it from there, showing you additional images that it thinks might be that person. The more images of the person you identify, the better iPhoto gets at identifying them. I spent a lot of Saturday going through my images and I was gobsmacked. It’s a fantastic feature.

It is also profoundly scarey. Imagine, this is a consumer application that can go through my not inconsiderable iPhoto library in less than 10 minutes identifying all the faces (and admittedly some elbows, hands and other bits and pieces, but by and large faces). It’s then able to sort those faces based on my input confirming the identity of various people. And its suggestions are, pretty much, accurate, it’s able to separate me at various ages from my family at various ages and it throws up relatively few errors. And this is what consumers get. For less than £60.

Imagine what the spy community gets! Imagine how much more accurate and swift that software is. Imagine being able to scan, sort and identify an entire airport of users in seconds, being able to track people through traffic and security cameras, I used to think it was as unlikely as Tony Scott’s Enemy Of The State. Now, I’m not so sure.

And mapping people couldn’t be easier. Assuming I have a camera with GPS, iPhoto will even arrange my photos by location. So I can theoretically follow someone, identify them and have a series of photos that show where they’ve been going. And while I can see numerous great family uses for these features, they raise some sinister questions.

That O2 Un-experience

O2 says Fuck YouSo what would you do if you were trying to provide a ‘special offer’ to some of your most ardent, most evangelical customer? You know the kind who aren’t shy about coming forward and telling their friends what a bang up job you’re doing with that great piece of Apple kit that (currently) no one else can provide. The kind of early adopter people who appreciate technology and great design.

Personally speaking, I’d make some sort of effort, but then I’m not O2, the spanish telephone company that has the lock on the iPhone in the UK. They thought of a very special way of making their customers’ iPhone upgrade memorable. First you send them a text message at 8 in the morning telling them you’re offering them a special deal. It’s so special it’s a web only deal.. You tell them that it’s extremely limited and demand is expected to be high. You tell them it’s first come, first served. You direct them to a part of your website that is 3 clicks away from where they get to sign up. And then.

Your server crashes at 8:02.

How bad is that? Well. It’s pretty bad. Admittedly it’s not bad in a ‘Hover, we practically blew the company on that free flights offer’ way, but it is bad. Bad in so many other ways. Bad in a ‘we had a chance to marry our brand (which no one gives a toss about) with Apple’s (one of the world’s best brands) and we decided we’d rather stab our customers in their eyes than take the opportunity’ kind of way. Bad in a ‘aren’t we supposed to be, like, a telecoms company?’ kind of way. Bad in a ‘shouldn’t we have some idea of extendable server systems’ kind of way. Bad in a ‘do you think anyone will trust us to set up ANY kind of internet sort of thing EVER again’ kind of way. And very, very bad in a ‘do you think they’ll notice’ kind of way. Hmm, let’s ponder that last one. Nope, I think they’ll definitely notice. But just in case they don’t, let’s redirect them to look at our iPhone tarrifs, I mean they’re all only going to be EXISTING IPHONE CUSTOMERS. They’re only currently paying for the service, so they’ll probably have AN IDEA of your bloody tarrifs.

So O2, the telecoms company that thinks it’s better to sponsor the millennium dome than actually provide a, get this, mobile telephone service, this is how badly you’ve blown it. You’ve managed to convince ALL the early iPhone adopters in the UK that you’re systemically unable to live up to the Apple brand. You’ve managed to convince us that you know NOTHING about technology, NOTHING about the internet and NOTHING about your customers – except that apparently it’s OK to treat them like scum. You’ve managed to convert an opportunity into a catastrophe in a way that can only be described as self-inflicted. You’ve demonstrated an incompetence of planning that is somehow also deeply, deeply strategic. This is long term brand-nuking stuff. This is a well known major supermarket selling poisoned food manufactured in sweat shops by slaves to children and exposed in a popular Sunday tabloid. This is incompetence, ignorance and technical illiteracy as core brand values. This is ‘Ratners sells crap’, but sent by text message, individually to each of your customers. This is getting really, really, really close and personal with them and then, giving them a full-on blowback of your festering halitosis.

Compare and contrast with the Nike +, a partnership with Apple that worked for both partners, where Nike win a Palme d’Or at Cannes, while Apple reinforce the iPod as the natural choice for runners. Here Apple must be really pleased to work with people who can’t even keep a server running. I mean Apple only sells billions of tunes via iTunes and here’s its specialist mobile partner and they can’t even keep a website up. For the morning. This makes Apple look like twats for selecting this bunch of amateurs for their partners. Worse, it makes Apple look like stupid twats. It makes Jobs look like an asshole. And you’ve got to think, How long is he going to tolerate that?