American Design Journal

June 28, 2010

Product Transparency

Filed under: Industrial Design,Made in the U.S.A. — americandesign @ 11:07 pm

Perhaps the more people know about the source of their products, the better choices they will make for themselves, their families, our planet and America. Rob Walker’s column kicks off the discussion in the NYT


December 11, 2009

Distracted Driving: Not Just Your Phone’s Fault

Filed under: Industrial Design,Object Culture — americandesign @ 6:12 am

Having moved back into the city recently, I am in closer and more frequent contact to the persistent high levels of distracted driving as cities and states struggle to pass and enforce laws to literally curb this activity.  NYT recently reported that industry heavily promoted the car phone despite being aware of its inherent risks.

I began asking myself how car design itself perhaps contributes to distraction from the road. When I first moved to San Francisco, a friend lent me his 1975 Gran Torino to get around town. This beast of a machine required a presence of mind and hands on the wheel and did not afford much room for extraneous activity beyond tapping at the push button AM radio. Despite power steering and adequate suspension, one could still feel the pavement slapping beneath the steel belted radials and hear plenty of engine and road noise which kept the driver well connected to the road, the environment and the other vehicles. You could actually smell the gasoline in the carburetor as you stepped on the accelerator. Indeed, these factors had a lot to do with making driving fun. If nothing else, it kept you in the moment and actively manning the vehicle. This effect is even more pronounced on a motorcycle or bicycle.

Anyone who rides a “bike” in the city knows that the experience far exceeds a nice breeze in your face and ample cool factor. The unadulterated connection to the road is an inherent risk but also an important advantage to riders. Higher POV from the saddle, uninhibited peripheral vision and faster stopping times (especially on bicycles) allow riders to better read the road. The open cockpit also allows riders to hear approaching vehicles from behind ( I often don’t even need to look for cars behind me) in order stay out of harms way.

As car design progressed since the days of Detroit muscle we enjoyed developments in handling, sound dampening and braking while enjoying new technologies like secondary restraining systems, Dolby 5.1, OnStar and GPS. In the best cases, these improvements do make driving easier and safer for operators, but they also may impart a false sense of safety around other vehicles and in the worst case, isolate drivers from real hazards that they need to be aware of.

For example, the high-shoulder line trend in car design is a far cry from the wide open cab of, say, the AMC Pacer, and limits visibility to small portals that are more reminiscent of a tank than a touring vehicle. Narrowed sight lines force the driver to rely more upon carefully placed mirrors.

Here’s another example. Have you ever gotten behind the wheel of an unfamiliar car and glanced down at the speedometer only to discover that you are going a lot faster than you thought? With highly reduced road, wind and engine noise, you have much less feedback on what is happening on the road, you have to rely solely upon the control panel and the trees whizzing past to gauge your speed.

Back up cameras are now both affordable and convenient to wire into dash mounted LCD monitors. Enough said here.

While all of these feature sets make some things safer and more comfortable for drivers and surely meet current safety regulations for visibility, the end result is akin to a pilot landing a plane by instruments. Don’t you feel a little better knowing that the captain can actually see the runway when coming in? Drivers, cyclist and pedestrians would all greatly benefit from some additional form of feedback, audible or otherwise, that is disappearing from the drivers seat and leaving room for other distractions to creep in.

November 2, 2009

‘Green Design’ fails to impress NYT readers

Filed under: Design for the other 90%,Industrial Design — americandesign @ 5:42 pm

In yesterday’s NY Times, Allison Arieff covered some new product offerings, specifically a petro-alternative molded product made with soy based plastic.  Surprisingly, the readers comments were mostly critical of the story.  Citing hunger concerns, monoculture and soil degradation issues, the readers demonstrated that they are now seeing the inter-connectedness of food systems, product manufacturing and greater social and political problems that confront us.  This speaks volumes to how far we’ve come in just the last few years.  No longer can manufacturers and designers simply launch a product that meets some arbitrary green standard and win design awards.  This is ultimately good for all of us, designer and consumer alike.

October 26, 2009

It’s been a while, I know…

Filed under: Industrial Design — americandesign @ 5:03 am

Probably the single most important event in American design since we last signed on 18 months ago–that long? –  is the recognition given to American making and design by the incoming President Obama during his inaugural address:

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

We hope that this call is an inspirational one to those who endeavor in these fields and one that is backed by serious policy that enables American manufacturing and design on both large and small scales.

The other big news during the past year is the growth of the Designers Accord, founded in 2007, that seeks to educate and affect design legislation around environmental and humanitarian issues. Their approach is a methodical one that hopes to codify best practices shared among its corporate, educational and practitioner membership.

February 23, 2008

Martin Guitars

Filed under: Made in the U.S.A. — americandesign @ 6:24 pm


The New York Times takes us on an interactive tour of the 175 year-old guitar manufacturer, C.F. Martin & Co. With current production at about 200 guitars a day, the 200,000 ft. sq. Pennsylvania facility is a model of domestic manufacturing quality and sustainability. This report highlights some of the technical innovations that distinguish this quality instrument and the amazing level of craft that has developed over nearly 2 centuries.

Full story here

February 21, 2008


Filed under: Design for the Collaborative Workspace — americandesign @ 1:03 pm

In today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Ilana DeBare, covers this growing trend in shared workspaces citing community as one of the most appealing factors in joining one of the Bay Area’s clubs. Read our interview with Neil Goldberg from Work Club here. Full SFGate story here.

February 20, 2008

MOMA – Design & The Elastic Mind

Filed under: Industrial Design — americandesign @ 12:50 pm

Paola Antonielli brings us a new design exhibit at the MOMA opening next week:

In the past few decades, individuals have experienced dramatic changes in some of the most established dimensions of human life: time, space, matter, and individuality. Working across several time zones, traveling with relative ease between satellite maps and nanoscale images, gleefully drowning in information, acting fast in order to preserve some slow downtime, people cope daily with dozens of changes in scale. Minds adapt and acquire enough elasticity to be able to synthesize such abundance. One of design’s most fundamental tasks is to stand between revolutions and life, and to help people deal with change.

Core77 has a sneak peek….

Local Agriculture and Good Design

Filed under: Uncategorized — americandesign @ 12:38 pm

An article in the N.Y. Times Dining & Wine section describes a resurgence of local dairies around the US. These operations are comparatively unregulated yet deliver superior product over large factory farms. They are accountable within their community to clients who are their neighbors (as well as a few big city restaurateurs). This downsized market space allows for the kind of customer feedback, time-to-market and quality control that is lost on the global scale. We’ve seen similar movements in brewing, bicycle making as well as sustainable architecture.

Read the article here

February 18, 2008

North American Handmade Bicycle Show

Filed under: Made in the U.S.A. — americandesign @ 9:42 pm


Recently held in Portland, OR, the 4th Annual North American Handmade Bicycle Show, bodes well for the small manufacturer and designer. Over 150 exhibitors and 7000 attendees at this the largest show to date. Seminars covered everything from materials to marketing and of course there were thousands of cool bikes…

Learn more here

Secondary education and the future of design

Filed under: Made in the U.S.A. — americandesign @ 9:37 am


How can we expect to inspire design in the US when funding and programs divert students away from critical early experiences?

Martin Linder, designer and friend of ADJ has focused design education where it most lacks, in high schools where design, production and technology are no longer being taught. iDO and similar programs at the community college level serve to spark interest in design, manufacturing and inspire future designers.

Read more at SF Gate...

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