32 Products from 2012 That Someone Else Thinks Are Great – Part 3

It’s the third post of our critique of co.design‘s list of 32 products from 2012 that they loved. Seriously, the third post about this list. Who comes up with 32 products in a list? That’s not a list, that’s an encyclopedia. Okay, it’s not really an encyclopedia. It’s just…a long list. I’m kind of glad we broke it down into 4 posts, because can you imagine a post talking about 32 different products? Oh, you can imagine it, because co.design did it? Gotcha.

Let’s begin, shall we? You can catch the first two posts here and here.

17. Formafantasma Craftica for Fendi — We say: what the f*** is this?!? Flawesome.

Furniture Created From Humble Animal Waste – Culturally, we (speaking loosely) revere certain animal products–leathers, skin, and furs–while other animal byproducts are thrown out with the trash. Tapped by Fendi to design a collection of furniture, Formafantasma used animal “waste” like bones, fish skins, and bladders to made high-design chairs and knives. “Searching underneath and above the sea, from the vegetal to the animal world, the installation offers a holistic view on leather as a material,” explained the designers.

Carl: This isn’t design, this is art. Not that there’s anything wrong with art, but let’s be real: do you really want to sit on a sea sponge strapped to the top of a stool made out of bones? These things are for display, not for use.

Zheng: If they ever made an Aquaman movie in Atlantis, this is what I expect all the furniture to look like. Along with mermen and mermaids jumping out of giant clam shells and buildings made of coral.


18. Scrabble Typography Edition by Andrew Capener — We say: Flawesome

The World’s Most Gorgeous Scrabble Set – Scrabble is a game of tradition. So it wasn’t without some trepidation that we looked upon this redesigned version by Andrew Capener. But we were pleasantly surprised: Capener’s pared down version does away with the gaudy colors and details of the standard version, and gives us a simplified walnut board that focuses on what’s really important: linguistically shaming your opponents.

Carl: I think this falls under the not-so-useful “luxury design” category, much like this axe. I don’t see why people were head-over-heels regarding this Scrabble set. Yeah, it “celebrates typography.” That’s great. It also makes it so I can’t clearly read the game tiles. And maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t that look creepy, in that “Hey, I kidnapped your girlfriend and here’s my ransom note”-kind of way? “O-N-E-M-I-L-L-I-O-N-D-O-L-L-A-R-S-O-R-S-H-E-D-I-E-S. Triple word score.”

Zheng: Reducing and simplifying has been a design philosophy that’s come in and out of favor as time rolls on. Right now, slick simple graphics means expensive rich-folk luxury goods. This might be a fun though exercise, but if you ever busted this baby out during a dinner party, everyone would think you’re a snobbish arrogant ass (unless all your friends are also snobbish arrogant asses. If so, carry on.) The typography just makes the words harder to read and form, and no color coding makes it more difficult to know where important areas are on the board. It’s the equivalent of replacing the black/white square on a chessboard with a black marble finish and white dots where the intersections are. Would it be classy? Maybe. Functional? Not so much.


19. Iva Jean cycling clothing for women — We say: Pretty Cool

Stylish Clothing For Lady Cyclists – The only worse look for a cyclist than a mud-skidmark is a ripped open shirt or pencil skirt–and let me tell you, these things happen when you’re hauling it to work. The founders of Iva Jean, a San Francisco company that makes commuting clothes for ladies, want to help. Their line of cyclist-friendly skirts and blouses incorporate incredibly simple design details to make them entirely workable by bike.

Carl: I think cycling specific clothing is great…except when you have to, you know, go to work. As someone who commuted to work and school for years via bicycle, there are usually only two options you have regarding clothing: 1) wear cycling clothing to ride, bring normal clothing with you, and change at work 2) wear normal clothes while riding. Option 2 doesn’t sound so bad, until you try it, and realize that normal clothing just doesn’t stretch or fit well when you’re riding. I was ecstatic when Betabrand released their Bike To Work Pants: casual pants with cycling clothing features such as reflective panels and reinforced areas. There was no longer a need to compromise while bike commuting. I’m glad someone thought of fulfilling this need for casual/dress bike clothing for women, because it’s not like guys are the only ones bike commuting.

Zheng: I wonder if solving an actual problem in a practical way will disqualify this from ‘design’ competitions. I mean, seriously, this is how you do it. A simple problem with an elegant and fairly inexpensive solution. Take this a step further and it’s really more of a system than a single product. On a side note, people must be going crazy over this in Portland: the city of bike hipsters.


20. Iguaneye Minimalist Shoes — We say: Meh

An Ultra-Minimal Shoe Inspired By Amazonian Runners – Minimal shoes certainly had a year! On the heels (so to speak) of the blockbuster book about runners in Mexico’s remote tribes, shoes that incorporated what we know about barefoot running became all the rage. The Kickstarter-backed Iguaneye offered runners something a bit different: a tire-like sole without any coverage on the rest of the foot. Inspired by Amazonian runners, it provides an alternative to other barefoot-inspired shoes.

Carl: It seems so many people are interested in footwear that mimics…not wearing footwear. Remember Nike Free? Those were designed to mimic barefoot running. There’s the creepy Vibram FiveFingers. And of course, who can forget mellow-pop-folk singer Jack Johnson’s own JJ Casuals? I don’t get it. I thought the main point of wearing shoes was to protect the feet, and keep us from injuring ourselves when walking on rough terrain. Personally, I don’t want barefoot-inspired, minimalist shoes, because stepping on rocks while barefoot really hurts. On the other hand, these Iguaneye shoes look great as women’s flats.

Zheng: I think the next natural evolution in this line of thinking is to either just glue some padding to the bottom of your feet or maybe spray-on shoes. I guess anyone who wears these shoes, like many of us, aren’t exactly hiking our way through the wilderness or beset by the pitfalls of construction work. Still, this isn’t particularly exciting. It’s like form-fitting flip flops. I’ve stepped on some rough stone, gravel, and other things in my life, including thumbtacks and nails so I’d give this shoe a pass.


21. Twine, a cloud-connected, wireless sensor — We say: Pretty Awesome

Twine, Your Gateway To The Internet Of Things, Finally Goes On Sale – One of the most hotly anticipated gadgets of the year, the Kickstarter-backed Twine finally went on sale this fall. For the uninitiated, Twine is a sensor that can measure temperature, moisture, position, and vibration, meaning that the savvy user can program it to send alerts and signals about specific events. For example, you can program a Twine sensor to text you when, say, someone enters your house, or any number of other prompts. It’s a real step towards the Internet of Things (aka Ubiquitous Computing) that we’ve been hearing so much about.

Carl: I’ve always wished that I could keep track of what’s happening at my home when I’m not around. Sure, I could get webcams, placed strategically around, but some things, you don’t need to see. Sometimes I think I need data. Okay, maybe I’m strange, but damn, wouldn’t it be cool if I could know the exact temperature of my refrigerator while I’m thousands of miles away, and have the temperature tweeted to me if it drops below 40 degrees? You can do that with Twine. You can gather all kinds of data with Twine, and have it notify you in a number of ways. I’m sure people are going to think of awesome ways to use this.

Zheng: I think it’s no secret of civilization that having information about the world at your finger tips can be pretty useful. That’s usually pretty hard to do. For most people, the internet and information technology is still vastly separate from most of their hardware. Sure your phone has googlemaps, but can it unlock your front door or start your oven? That day is coming and Twine is one practical albeit hacker-y step in that direction. Want to know if someone’s opened your storage closet that you rented out? Twine it. Do you actually own buildings and want to know if their basements are flooding? Twine it. I actually see this being useful as a modern ’emergency-case’ on the cheap (I’m sure there’s plenty of excellent and potentially more reliable systems out there if you can afford it, but that’s no reason not to have a cheap backup like this).


22. Decelerator Helmet by Lorenz Potthast — We say: This is stupidly flawesome.

A Helmet That Decelerates Reality – Ever wish you could slow down time? So did Lorenz Potthast, a young German interaction design student who designed a helmet that actually makes it happen. Well, kind of. Potthast used vvvv to build a program that takes video of your surroundings and slows it down, showing you the world in slow-mo via a small screen inside the helmet. The idea is to call attention to the increasingly hectic pace of the world around us, and hopefully, help us slow down a bit even (without the help of a gigantic mirrored helmet).

Carl: I wish this was some Daft Punk costume. But it’s not. It’s some art project masquerading as design. And it’s so awkward. You really need to watch the video. Have you ever talked on a phone, and heard a delayed echo of your own voice? It’s so distracting, that you don’t know what to say. Now imagine that happening with everything you see. Like I said, watch the video. Also, anyone interacting with the display on the outside, which shows what the helmet person is seeing, will only see themselves…since they’re standing right in front of the camera, interacting with the external screen.

Zheng: I can’t imagine how disorienting it is to use something like this that has pretty much no purpose. So the thing records what you see and slows it down for you, as though it were in slow motion. You’re not moving in slow motion, just what you see. So I guess…you know what, I don’t even know what to say. I think if I wanted a dose of vertigo like that, I’d just ride a roller coaster or go bungie jumping. I just don’t know what you learn from this art project. It doesn’t change how I perceive time at all; all it illustrates is that if you show people what they see in slow motion while they’re moving, they become disoriented and move around like a fish out of water, minus the twitchy muscle spasms from anoxia.


23. KiBiSi iFlash One Bicycle Light — We say: Maybe kinda okay

A Sleek Magnetic Bike Light, Built to Danish Standards – KiBiSi have brought a certain Scandinavian charm to dozens of everyday objects over the past few years, but their iFlash is particularly neat. The magnetic bike light was designed in response to a new Danish law that standardizes the quality of bike lights, from brightness to durability. Thanks to a permanent base and super-strong magnet clasps, they’re easy to keep track of, too.

Carl: Design supergroup KiBiSi is very familiar with bicycles and accesories: one of them founded Biomega. This is their response to the new Danish bicycle light standards that have been put in place. As an avid cyclist, I think these are…okay. It’s a novel concept, having a permanently attached mounting bracket, with the actual light attaching via magnets. That makes it easy to take with you, so no one steals them. However, I have a feeling that if the light can be easily detached from the mounting bracket, it can also be easily detached when riding, especially over bumpy terrain. Magnets can be strong, but how strong are these magnets? Also, the location of the rear light on the seat post may interfere with the rider’s upper leg/thigh while pedaling, which may knock off the light. I know this because I have a Knog Frog light on my bike that gets spun around the seat post whenever I go for a ride.

Zheng: I don’t really do any cycling, so I don’t have much to comment on this one. I like the idea of having magnets to attach things, but I don’t usually see that for anything that needs to remain secure; there could be a reason for that but I honestly don’t know.


24. Re-Ply reclining cardboard chair — We say: Flawesome

A Durable, Stylish Chair Made Of Cardboard – Re-Ply, a low-slung chair Kickstarted by San Francisco architect Dan Goldstein this year, is built from cardboard collected from business around the city. With a distinctly Eamesian profile, Re-Ply reversed the preciousness of high-design furniture by making it from recycled materials.

Carl: In one of my first design classes, we had a project where we had to design a chair out of one sheet of 4 ft x 8 ft corrugated cardboard. The other constraint was that the chair must be designed to be disassembled and a stored flat. That was quite a project, especially for a first year industrial design student. Some great designs came out of that class. I think those designs had more thought than this chair. This is a reclining chair frame that has cardboard attached instead of a plastic or fabric seat. Woo. Hoo.

Zheng: I guess this is alright; it’s not terribly exciting or stands out in anyway worthy of making news. It’s just cardboard on a metal frame; that might have been a novel idea 40 years ago but I think we’ve seen enough downcycle projects that this is hardly necessary. If you were a real environmentalist, you’re better off shredding the cardboard into new paper products or something. If you’re not a real environmentalist, I think you’d get more utility out of this to start a grill. I’m talking about with fire here.


Coming up in part 4 of our review of a a review list: an electric bicycle, a bendy phone charging cable, and a sphere of ice cream…