Artefact Camera Futura wins I.D. Best of Show Award

Posted on Jan 27, 2012 in Awards, Industrial Design, Interaction Design


I am really proud of this one: Camera Futura has been selected for the “Best of Show Award” at the 2012 I.D. Annual Design Review.

Googlerola

Posted on Aug 18, 2011 in Design Strategy, Industrial Design, Opinion, Research, Trends


Since Monday’s announcement of Google’s multi-billion-dollar acquisition of Motorola, the media has been buzzing on what is the largest deal in Google’s history. While Google continues to reiterate that it is a protective move that allows using Moto’s patents to protect its Android OS from anti-competitive threats, it is fascinating to speculate about the fate of all players involved. So what might be next for “Googlerola”, for its partners and competitors, for Android and – last but not least – for the consumer?

Reading the media reaction to Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility, it becomes clear that the move is not solely “defensive” as Google’s PR machine is trying to suggest. Sure, after losing the 6,000+ Nortel-patents to the Apple-Microsoft-led consortium just a little over a month ago, Motorola’s intellectual property of some 17,000 patents comes as a welcome infusion for Android, but more importantly Googlerola will now be able to build truly market-leading mobile devices that finally deliver a fully integrated Android hardware and software experience.

While it might be too early to sell your Google shares, not all is good in Mountain View: Google has just increased its workforce from 30,000 to 50,000 employees and has acquired 90+ low-margin hardware factories in an information-centric world that it dominates.

More importantly, beyond the mere numbers, it will be challenging for the search-giant to cope with the obvious looming cultural clash that might in the end tip the scales.

Android Partners and Competitors

Upon acquisition of Android, Google founded the Open Handset Alliance – “a consortium of 80 hardware, software, and telecommunication companies” (Wikipedia), the most important device manufacturers of which certainly have reason to feel threatened by Googlerola. The suspiciouslyuniform partner responses seem to spell trouble:

 “We welcome today’s news, which demonstrates Googles deep commitment to defending Android, its partners, and the ecosystem.”
JK Shin, President, Samsung Mobile

“We welcome the news of today’s acquisition, which demonstrates that Google is deeply committed to defending Android, its partners, and the entire ecosystem.”
Peter Chou, CEO, HTC

“I welcome Google’s commitment to defending Android and its partners.”
Bert Nordberg, CEO, Sony Ericsson

“We welcome Google’s commitment to defending Android and its partners.”
Jong-Seok Park, CEO, LG Mobile

Even before the news broke, Nokia’s stance against Android (and for Windows Phone), HP’s attempt at reviving Palm’s WebOS and Samsung’s move to create their own “Bada” OS late last year raised quite a few eyebrows.

While Nokia yet has to deliver a Windows Phone product, the Finnish market leader detailedaspects of their plans for the platform today. Samsung has shipped an estimated quarter of its 20 million smartphone shipments in Q2 powered by Bada (with a year-by-year growth rate of 355%!). Furthermore, two days after Google’s big shopping spree, Samsung’s chairman Lee Kun-hee demands from its company to “enhance its software prowess”. Wow!

So now that Samsung is showing that it can work and others are in the midst of trying, what keeps the LG’s and HTC’s and Sony Ericsson’s from attempting the same – especially now that Google has turned into a full-fledged competitor?

And what about Microsoft? As of today, they are the sole provider of a mobile operating system that does not come with integrated hardware and will have to figure out how to play in the mobile space once again. Maybe it’s time to produce some Redmond-designed phones?

The previously stale mobile phone market is suddenly fresh and exciting again and I expect the players to reevaluate their strategies and to react to the changed situation with enthusiastic new plans.

The Android Platform

I am wondering what the move means for Android as a market-leading platform that seems to dominate with “quantity” rather than “quality” (think: number of features, manufacturers, carriers, handsets).

Not even three years after the release of HTC’s “Dream”, Android feels more bloated and obese than Windows ever managed to become (“Longhorns” never were the most nimble of animals).

Android is extremely fragmented and doesn’t allow for much differentiation between Google’s partners (read: competitors), unless they inflate customize their flavor of the operating system even more.

There is certainly some word of caution in historic attempts to integrate hardware and software in this arena: Steve Jobs stopped the “Apple Clone” program after his return to Cupertino at the end of the 90′s, Microsoft never built their own laptops and Nokia’s acquisition of Symbian marked the beginning of the demise of that operating system. According to asymco’s Horace Dediu, “This is classic channel conflict and never ends well.”

Android will certainly not fade away, and it will probably not lose its market leading position either. However, the acquisition might however strengthen some competitors and will spark others to appear in the arena.

The Consumer

So what’s in it for us? Gizmodo is quick to point out “Samsung, HTC, et al, are going to need another avenue of attack, since Motorola branded products are going to theoretically have a major advantage”.

All these possible “avenues” are what will make Google’s acquisition of Motorola so interesting in the coming months and I strongly believe that the event will act as a catalyst in the development of a multitude of new and improved mobile products.

Paraphrasing JK Shin, Peter Chou, Bert Nordberg and Jong-Seok Park “I welcome the news” and hope that in the end the consumer will win.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Cameras Connect

Posted on Mar 14, 2011 in Design Strategy, Industrial Design, Opinion, Research, Trends


Wireless LAN, Bluetooth, GPS, compasses and other receivers are a given with mobile phones – these components not only help to interconnect different devices and untether the overall use experience, they also connect users to each other through the use of social media. Users will demand for this experience to transcend beyond the realm of their mobile phones. While the traditional camera model has been simply to capture images, post-processing, sharing, and other activities will find their way into digital cameras.

The full report shows you how mobile connected services centered on photos are growing, early designs for new camera connectivity that will soon be commonplace like WiFi, GPS, and battery charging, and new device relationships allowing remote control.

Cameras Connect

Rich with examples, all Artefact Reports also include conclusions about business opportunities and exercises you can use to understand how this trend may affect your products and services.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Artefact and UW: “There’s A Thing For That”

Posted on Jan 3, 2011 in Education, Industrial Design


I initiated, planned and led a collaboration between the University of Washington’s Design Department and Artefact. Combining Artefact’s expertise and interest in both industrial design and interaction design, Artefact wanted to both task the students with the exploration of “interactive objects” as well as to challenge the status quo and current presumption that every daily need “there’s an app for that.”
We posted two articles here and here that talk about the project in a little more depth.

What your digital camera will do… three years from now.

Posted on Nov 10, 2010 in Design Strategy, Industrial Design, Opinion, Research


In our previous post on the topic, we argued that for the future of digital photography we see big opportunities within the three areas of redefined product architecture, connectivity and the integration of hardware and software. We arrived at these assumptions by evaluating the current digital photography market as well as neighboring market segments, by taking a closer look at the history of photography and by observing common trends in digital technology.

In looking ahead at what this will mean for the development of digital photography, we must also take the photographer into account and deliberate how to best add value for the user. This quickly leads us to looking at the basic, foundational propositions of image capturing, and the essential question:

At the same time as we are looking at what lies ahead in terms of technology, we are deliberating on how to best add value for the user, which quickly leads us to looking at the basic, foundational propositions of image capturing, by asking

“What is photography all about?”

Mankind has always been fascinated by the topic, mainly due to three basic human interests that we all share:

1. Remembering
Said photographer Aaron Siskind: “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”

Capturing the moment to remember it has always been one of the main motivations and desires, be it in writing, drawing or through photographic images. No matter if the memories are staged or spontaneous, photography helps us to remember events, mood, atmosphere, location and – last but not least – the people involved.

2. Self-expression
Sometimes, just capturing the moment isn’t enough – and photographers turn into artists that creatively express themselves, generate a certain mood using photography or use the photos they have taken as a basis for post-processing.

In analog photography these goals were accomplished with ink, paint, airbrush or a simple “pointed scraping tool” as it was used in Polaroid Art, where the photographer dissects and then scratches the emulsion of their instant photos to create a desired effect.

Nowadays there is a slew of digital tools available, most importantly Photoshop on the desktop and mobile offerings such as iPhone-favorite Hipstamatic.

3. Sharing
No matter the purpose – memories or art – photography always wanted to be shared. This was first accomplished using prints. In today’s connected world, this desire is illustrated through the abundance of digital photo frames and such online services as Flickr and Picasa.

What would the ideal camera need to accomplish?

Traditionally, the mastery of technology helped us take great photos: Knowing how to focus with a rangefinder or how to apply the “Sunny 16 rule” were once essential to photography.

In today’s world of ubiquitous camera-equipped cell phones and affordable point-and-shoot devices however, one does not need to understand the basics. Instead, there is not much more to photography than pushing the shutter button. Or is there?

Professional systems still rely heavily on the vocabulary and techniques of old, since these undoubtedly deliver results.

But what about the rest of us? The ones that the camera industry sees as “prosumers”? The following two ads – both interestingly about Micro-Four-Thirds cameras – capture the spirit of these products rather concisely:
Kevin Spacey does not want to be “that camera guy“, instead this artist is taking great photos without being a great photographer.

Aspiring photographers are given tools that are in-between the point-and-shoot world and the professional product world. The products promise to unite what is best about the two categories – high quality glass and sensors and an unrivaled ease-of-use. Yet, the so-called prosumer cameras do not bridge the two worlds.
Painting a vision for the future, we believe that the ideal prosumer camera will be characterized by the following three attributes:

1. Precision
Professional cameras as well as photography have always been associated with accuracy: finding the moment when light and subject feel “just right”, framing the shot and then exposing the photographic medium for the right amount of time and with the right amount of light.
The ideal “prosumer” camera will maintain these characteristic traits by presenting the user with precise controls – both in terms of hardware and software – that will facilitate the taking of the “perfect picture”.

2. Ease of use
Kevin Spacey has a point: if an aspiring photographer does not want to be “that camera guy”, his device should comply, by offering simple point-and-shoot-like options. On top of that, when the user demands it, the prosumer camera of the future will offer complete control. This allows the user to grow, experiment and develop additional skill.
The camera will unlock new capabilities through modular extendable hardware and software that will provide additional tools for creative expression.

3. Empowerment
The camera of the future will be a platform for aspiring photographers, one that guides and assists in the pursuit of great photography and helps one to become better at it. This will be accomplished both through an adaptive and integrated user interface, as well as through a network of users that will enable photographers to learn from each other.

Stay tuned – in our upcoming post, we will describe how these ideas and opinions are translated into a product.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Digital Photography, where will you go? (or why aren’t you there yet?)


As one would expect from any self-respecting creative consultancy, Artefact has a deep interest in photography. For some of us it is a hobby we are passionate about, for others it is a social or creative tool, some actually earn decent income on the side with it.

This leads to a lively conversation (and sometimes spirited debate) about the topic and we thought we’d let you in on our conversation. We will do this in the form of a series of blog posts: We aim to assess and analyze both the history and the status quo of photography, discuss areas of opportunity for the industry and – after having outlined our point of view on the topic, share our thoughts on what we consider could be a compelling product for the aspiring hobbyist in the year 2013.

Cycles of Disruptive and Sustaining Innovation

Invented nearly 200 years ago, the camera industry took it’s first series of experimental steps during the 19th century. After William Fox Talbot invented the positive/negative process in 1816, the first color photograph by James Clerk Maxwell was shown in 1861 and the Kodak Brownie made photography accessible to the masses at the end of the 1800′s.

The introduction of standards like the 35mm format and the 135 film cartridge after the turn of the century led to market growth and a commoditization of the technology started in the 1950’s with the release of cameras like the Agfa Optima and Kodak’s Instamatic. In most recent years, the industry changed from film to digital.

During this history one can clearly see alternating waves of disruptive and sustaining innovation: times where the introduction of new technology opened up photography to new users, followed by periods of more sustaining progress, where incremental improvements and price drops dominated the market.

The digital age has caused a major shift in the industry. It has fundamentally changed who the major players in the industry are by wiping out film. It has taken photofinishing out of the (specialty) store and brought it into our homes. Since the cost per picture has been reduced to zero, the volume of pictures we take has increased by an order of magnitude which gives rise to new tools. Where we used to share pictures only in person, we now share them online.

Yet for all these changes, digital photography has not sparked the transformational change it could have brought for the photographer. It has not yet changed how we take photographs.

Product Architecture and Technology: The Status Quo

Over the years, different form factors have been explored. The industry has now settled on two stable architectures: cameras with and cameras without interchangeable lenses.

The former segment is comprised of single lens reflex cameras and the – currently very “hot” – EVIL systems.

For the most part, cameras with non-interchangeable lenses could be categorized as point-and-shoot devices, even though that term does not do justice to cameras such as the Leica X1 or the Fujifilm FinePix X100.
Today’s digital cameras feature sufficiently high resolutions and the technical challenges of the past (such as low-light capabilities, vignetting, etc.) are constantly being improved.

Author and camera expert Erwin Puts sums it up nicely in his review of the recent Photokina 2010: “We have now the situation that every camera produces image quality that is better than what you need and even a small EOS 550 can create quality that is not that far removed from what you get with a 1Ds.”

All in all, the manufacturers work on incremental and predictable improvement of proven systems bringing these closer and closer to perfection, yet hesitate to truly innovate. We cannot but agree with Puts who provokingly states, that “A vision for photography would be nice too.”

Digital Technology’s Impact (and Lack Thereof)

Critically looking at the past two decades in which the photographic medium has gone through a tectonic shift from film to digital, it is somewhat surprising that the impact on photography as a whole is not as vigorous as it could be: While the post-processing has been altered with the advent of digital technology, the act of taking photos has remained the same for the past 100 years. The most significant change is that photographers are now looking at an LCD screen instead of through a viewfinder.

We find this rather disappointing and think that there are both technology potential as well as untapped user needs that could spark a disruptive change.

The Grass on the other Side of the Fence

Where do the camera industry’s prospects lie? On the search for a point of view, some might say it is too easy to point to other industries, but let’s go there just for clues: mobile consumer electronics have embraced new technologies and opportunities more enthusiastically than the static camera industry.

Mobile electronics leverage wireless connectivity and make extensive use of sensors (e.g. location, proximity). They take advantage of the integration of software and hardware, and blur the boundaries between still and video functionality.

For these reasons today’s smart phones are in many ways the better image capturing device. Traditional camera manufacturers will face greater pressure and threat of obsolescence from increasingly capable camera-enabled mobile devices. Not surprisingly, mobile phone giant Nokia has been the world’s largest producer of cameras for the past number of years.

Opportunities

To sum things up, based on our observations, we see missed opportunities in three main areas:

  • Product architecture: To date, the shift from film to digital has created merely incremental changes – what other opportunities still exist?
  • Connectivity: most of our electronic devices are connected, why not the camera? The digital camera of the future will be linked in multiple ways, allowing for photography devices to communicate with each other and with “the cloud”.
  • HW/SW integration: In most technology areas, hardware and software combine to produce better results and better experiences. Camera manufacturers cannot afford to continue to only use software as an “afterthought”. Going forward, hardware and software must be integrated into a tightly knitted system and great user experience.

“Now what does all this mean?” you might ask. The three areas highlighted above will enable exciting new possibilities and novel use scenarios for photographers. And we will get back to these after looking both at the user needs and wants, as well as guidelines for an ideal camera in the next part of this series.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

IDSWest Vancouver

Posted on Oct 17, 2010 in Industrial Design, Trade Shows


On a trip to Vancouver to extend my H1 visa, I happened to be in town not only to catch up with old friends, but also to visit the excellent Vancouver Interior Design Show, that is being held in the impressive Vancouver Convention Center.

It was great to attend a show that follows a parallel path to the industrial design and consumer electronics events that I am used to visiting and I feel thoroughly inspired!

Every Conference should be held in Miami

Posted on Sep 26, 2009 in Conferences, Industrial Design

Fernd, Peter, and I attended the IDSA International Conference in Miami and were having the greatest time there!

We received the IDEA Awards for Carbon’s Pathway Jetstream System and Nanopoint Microfluidics Controller projects, participated in a few great lectures, mingled with our designer friends, and – most importantly – managed to “bobb” in the lukewarm waters of the Atlantic Ocean for a moment or two…

Seattle – Hamburg – Dubai – New York – Seattle

Less than two weeks after returning from Taiwan, I embarked on another intercontinental trip, this time strictly for business. A collaboration between Carbon Design, Artefact and Panasonic Avionics around the future of inflight entertainment took Martijn and I on a crazy trip through three continents in order to experience different inflight entertainment systems with different airlines and to visit the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.

Our first stop was the trade show in Hamburg and we also crammed in a few internal work sessions in the “Hansestadt”. Before heading out for the second leg of our trip, we had an afternoon off, took a stroll through the stunning “Speicherstadt” and discovered the “Prototyp” Auto Museum, where we spent a few hours exploring the exhibition…

Our business trip’s second stop took Martijn and me into the United Arab Emirates and the city of Dubai – an area and a city that always fascinated me. While we had a three day stay in town, our time was mostly spent on work. We did however manage to escape for two afternoons to explore the city and to participate in a desert safari.
Weighing our options for the former activity with the hotel’s front desk, we found that “leisure” in the desert city more than in any other place on the planet equals “shopping”, as there seemingly is nothing else to do in Dubai and the options given by the hotel were somewhat monotonous…

Q: “What else can we do except for visiting shopping malls?”
A: “Well, not much… but every mall has its own flavor.”

Vegas on steroids. Great.

Admittedly, there is no other shopping mall on the planet where one can visit an indoor ski resort, but I found the lack of culture and history in the dusty city combined with a generally inhumane and little hospitable urban planning and the obvious slavery-like conditions of Dubai’s poorest simply disgusting.

While I still had hopes to find the romantics of 1001 night in the desert safari, I was also disappointed here, as the tour consisted out of several caravans of around a dozen jeeps each driving around in the sand dunes, just to stop at absolutely insignificant points for a few minutes and then to continue on to another little ride until the final destination, a very touristy “desert camp” featuring a few tired looking camels, shops selling overpriced Dutch beer and gimmicky souvenirs and a little inspiring belly dancer from the Philippines…

How to best summarize my first impressions… or the lack thereof?

If it wasn’t for the incredible man-made structures, built on the backs of hundreds of thousands of men deprived of human rights, Dubai would be an utterly uninteresting and boring place in the middle of nowhere. With all its ongoing and completed constructions the town is well worth a one-day visit.