The Great Smartwatch Shoot Out

Posted on Sep 9, 2015 in Industrial Design, Interaction Design, Opinion, Trends

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When Apple enters into a new market, it attracts a storm of attention, both for itself and the category as a whole. Things were no different following the announcement of the Apple Watch. In the second quarter of 2015, the wearables market exploded with 223.2% growth and Apple is now number two in the category after Fitbit.

With all the noise and excitement, one persistent question remains: “what does it do and why would I buy one?” So far, the best case in favor of smartwatches is that they help you keep your phone in your pocket. When the device is on your wrist, you can stay in the moment, thus avoiding those rude pauses in conversation when you pull out your phone to check your latest call, text or tweet.

But how far can you actually push this idea? How many tasks can you perform on a smartwatch only? At what point does the watch fail, finally forcing you to dig out your phone? Which smartwatch offers the best overall experience?

With so many choices, there is no shortage of reviews and technical comparisons out there, but all they do is compare the specs. Artefact set out to compare the experiences in a head-to-head Smartwatch Shoot Out.

The Rules

There were four contestants: Tom, wearing the Moto 360, Jon, strapping up with the Apple Watch, Neeti, the control contestant, was working with a regular smartphone and just to keep it interesting, I was using an analog watch.

We were given a set of tasks to complete, which were sent from Artefact HQ via text, voice and email. I had all of my instructions in the form of a printed list and I recorded my tasks using only pen and paper.

We scored 10 points for successfully completing each task. While each contestant could use their smartphone to complete a task, 5 points were deducted from their score each time they did. The person who completed all of the tasks in the shortest amount of time was also awarded 10 bonus points.

Watch the video below to see who came out on top:

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

2015? You Mean We’re in the Future?

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Those of you who know that I am quoting Marty McFly with the above headline, also know that he will land in Hill Valley, California, at 4:29 pm, on Wednesday, October 21st, 2015.

“Our” 2015 is utterly different from the one that Robert Zemeckis sketched out in the “Back to the Future” series: there are no self-lacing sneakers (but kudos, Nike, you’re even more awesome than Zemeckis imagined!), working hoverboards are being sold by Lexus, instead of Mattel, and how on earth could they miss out on predicting Facebook in 1985?

30 years later, we are again – or still – discussing “The Future of the Future” at this year’s IDSA conference that just wrapped up in Seattle. We are trying to anticipate how the role of industrial design can play a role in the future of innovation. We are working to map out the type of skills the next generation of designers will need to bring to the table to advance the state of the art of the objects that surround us.

There is a strong interdependence between trends and design. The former influences both the design profession and the results it produces. By shaping experiences and changing behaviors, the latter in turn sparks new trends. Taking stock of where we are headed, six technological, social and economic trends stand out for their potential to impact design and demand new sets of skills and capabilities that industrial designers must acquire and cultivate in order for the industry to remain relevant in the years ahead.

Technology

Building the Internet of each and every thing

Consumer products that we will design – may they target Millennials or other users – are more likely than not going to be part of the ever-growing and much-discussed Internet of Things.

Connected objects have started to help us with tasks that nobody wants to perform, like vacuuming our homes or cleaning our gutters. Some products even “come with skills,” self driving cars promise to operate safer than any person would, smart appliances automatically cook our food to perfection and connected drones act as cameramen, consistently framing and filming their subjects to provide footage from the perspective of a third person… ehm… thing.

Connected products offer much broader value propositions, which means we need to change the processes used to define these objects beyond their immediate form and function. Unlike the old-fashioned toothbrush, a smart toothbrush aims to change behavior, so the design team behind it has to truly understand what motivates us in order to be able to create an object that delivers on its promise in a way that will be considered a positive outcome.

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Rethinking everyday objects is a new frontier for technology designers. The Internet of Everything, together with our demand for easy and intuitive experiences with technology leads us to the Design of Everything – objects that fell outside of our expertise area before like furniture, buildings, toys and educational tools, are suddenly becoming a ripe opportunity for us.If someone had told me a few years ago that we would be designing a piece of jewelry, a backpack, a device for the visually impaired, I wouldn’t have believed them. In a way, sensors have become the “Open Sesame” magic that provides access to a bottomless barrel of design opportunities.

Consumerization of technology inevitably leads to consumerization in the industrial space, creating opportunities to finally make a difference in areas like manufacturing and industrial automation, where industrial design has largely been an afterthought.

Shaping helpful homes

Home, hearth, heart. We want to come home to a warm house, one where we can enjoy our family lives in safety, a house that is rich with the experiences we love and that is connected to the people we care about, both at home and afar.

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Facilitated by broadband saturation and increased connectivity through smart phones and sensors, every major company – from Intel to Qualcomm – showcases their “smart home” at events like CES. Their systems aim to provide improved comfort, energy efficiency, and security in our homes by helping to control heating and air conditioning, lighting, entertainment, door locks, and to monitor things like activity or air quality in the home. Knowing that Alphabet bought Nest for $3.2 billion dollars and squinting at this ever-increasing product landscape, one could be led to believe that home automation has reached its peak, but when you think about it, how many people do you know that have a truly smart home? And what is the overall experience for those who are getting closer to achieving that state? As exciting as the space is, several factors are slowing down adoption:

  • Lack of future proof standards: For a lot of us, our home is the biggest investment we would make in our lives. Yet, with strong competition among vendors like ZigBeeZ-Wave, or Insteon, each pushing for their individual standards, none of them is truly future-proof, which limits adoption rates by consumers. Design has to be the advocate for the consumer and in the early stages of product development has to ensure that new systems are created “open” so that new products play nicely with one another, regardless of where they originated from. In this Wild West era of standards, design has to be the advocate for the consumer, ensuring in the early stages of product development that the new systems are created “open”, so that new products play nicely with one another, regardless of where they originated from.
  • Early adopter value and price: System components are fairly costly, especially when measured against the value that they propose: replacing 20 light switches in a home with Belkin WeMoswitches would cost $1,000 and allow users to turn connected light bulbs on or off from wherever they are, set lighting schedules, or control them via IFTTT recipes. Yet, none of these features is a “must have” or has a “want” factor for many customers and the high expenses for this type of gadgetry certainly limit the penetration of home automation. As designers, our role and opportunity is to define a meaningful value proposition that will drive adoption. Nest’s thermostat is a great example for such a product. While it may be slightly more expensive than some of the competition, it promises to learn its user’s behavior and can thus reduce the size of their utility bills.
  • My smart home is not my castle: The idea that your home is your castle is no longer applicable when it can be hacked and the data it generates extracted and used by others. It is easy to envision a future where everything is connected, while turning a blind eye to the potential abuse that this will inadvertently bring. If big corporations and even governments can be hacked, a connected home that allows remote access can be as well. What happens if someone gains illegal access to your CCTV cameras, your smoke detectors, or your smart door lock? Design, again, needs to be the voice of reason, resisting the temptation to create technology products just because we can. And this may mean that a “physical token” a.k.a. “keys,” may still be the most secure option when it comes to locking our homes.

Traditional industrial design skills around the definition of shapes, colors, and materials remain relevant for the connected home. Yet, to retain the emotional connection and meaning of the home while we bring all this technology in it, we need to develop skills that go beyond traditional formgiving capabilities. We need to help find the answers to the big questions and link products directly to improvements in safety, comfort, or our relationships with family and friends.

Making real wearables

Another subcategory of the “Internet of Things” ripe to shake things up for industrial design is wearables. Wearable devices exchange data with services or other connected objects, and promise to improve your health and fitnessrecord your lifemake work easierhelp you find thingscommunicate more efficiently, etc. Yet, despite claims of personalized experiences and meaningful value, most of the products in this category are still primarily devices, in which technology plays a central and very visible role.

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Looking back a decade, when desktop computing became truly mobile with the first smartphones, the instinct was to “just shrink it”. We ended up with miniature keyboards, reduced file systems, and portable pointing devices. Apple heralded a paradigm shift in how we think about mobile experiences, when it removed all these items and created something new entirely with the first iPhone. Looking at wearable technology today, it seems to me that we have forgotten the lessons we learned back then, as we are shrinking screens, interfaces, and information structures once again to create “smaller mobile phones” to be strapped onto our bodies.

Rather than incrementally innovating, we have to reinvent the paradigm once again, focusing on small interfaces that provide less information and output. These interfaces should emphasize brevity if touch interaction is used, and can introduce new ways of interacting with technologies, such as in-air-gestures or voice.

Ultimately, for wearable technology to be truly successful, it cannot result simply in “devices,” in that it has to truly emulate other items that we wear – it has to be as timeless as a piece of jewelry, and it has to be small and affordable enough to be embedded into each and every shirt we have in our closets.

Industrial designers must resist the temptation to “objectify” each and every superpower that wearable technology gives us and turn us all into “Batmen of the new millennium.” Rather, we have to learn the skills and adapt the mindset of – gasp – fashion and jewelry designers to truly create “wearables,” that are not simply “devices.”

Building the world of tomorrow with contemporary tools

The emergence of industrial design can be directly linked to the industrial revolution more than a century ago. An increasingly urban population had different consumption needs than its rural counterpart, and industrial manufacture was a set of tools that could be used to satisfy these needs. Industrial design connected the two counterparts and helped to develop a new vocabulary of form and function, one that evolved the output of the craftsmen of the past.

One hundred years later, our needs, wants, and our consumption patterns have changed – the Millennials for one, are not satisfied with aesthetically pleasing, functional objects. And while much of this change cannot be addressed by the industrial design craft itself (more on that later), I find it striking that products are still being manufactured in the same ways as they were decades ago.

Emerging manufacturing techniques, such as CNC machining, laser cutting, and 3D printing have all found a firm spot in our design process. We use them to build proof-of-concept prototypes or one-offs, yet they have not changed how we think about the physical artifacts that we help to ship.

While industrial design has enabled CNC machining to become a process feasible for mass manufacture of consumer electronics, I am still waiting for 3D printing to be used to produce commercial products on a large scale. The advantages could be groundbreaking: mass customization, rapid implementation of improvements over the course of a product’s lifecycle, crowd-sourced adaptations of parts, just to name a few.

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Ultimately however, 3D printing has the potential to free the industrial design craft from traditional mass manufacturing constraints; draft angles, and undercuts will be things of the past, and there is – once again – the chance to develop a fresh formal vocabulary, and to shape products exactly the way they should be.

Society

Helping Millennials save the world

In the spirit of user-centered design, let’s start with the people we are ultimately working for – the ones that live, work and play with our creations day in and day out. And now that we are looking at potential consumers, let’s focus on a user group that has sparked the creation of such products as the selfie stick.

“Millennials” are more narcissistic than the Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers before them – hence the selfie stick – but they are also much more optimistic, connected, and most importantly for design, they believe that every individual can make a difference. In Zemeckis’ 2015, they’d be the first to buy a car that runs on a banana peel and half a can of beer.

While it is debatable whether design can change the world, I believe that Millennials and their desire to impact the world is something that Design can capitalize on, by shaping products that connect a vision for a better future with the ones that desire it.

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The first step to conceiving such products is to thoroughly understand the context of these consumers, and while younger designers inherently understand the needs and wants of “Generation Me,” older folks will have to practice empathy more than ever before. Thinking about the impact of our designs becomes not only a moral imperative, but a business one, as the next generation of consumers equate the quality of the experience with the impact the product or service has on the environment, culture, and society.

Economy

Designing objects to be shared

Riding on the wave of services like Airbnb and Uber that incentivize consumers to share transportation and accommodation capacity with others, similar offerings have been sprawling: Bitlock enables cyclists to share their bikes, and city dwellers in the U.S. are able to take a Breatherin someone else’s space. Elsewhere on this planet, in Sweden, five people can buy and share an Audi and pedestrians in rainy Hong Kong can take a stroll underneath someone else’s umbrella.

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This, of course, makes total sense in the affluent world we live in. Design can certainly help to identify new types of objects and spaces to be added to the “Sharing Economy,” from leisure equipment to household appliances. But in doing so, we need to consider human nature and our sense of ownership in order to guide the conversation around what items consumers will want to share. We also need to evolve products to really work for multiple users. What, for example, would a car need to look like if it was meant to be shared by five people that happen to live in the same neighborhood?

Much more interesting than the above, however, will be the answer to the question: How will the Sharing Economy shape what we do? We currently live in a world where objects like cars or consumer electronics are designed with an obsession about the most intricate of details.

Enabled by an incredible amount of manufacturing know-how, we create things too delicate and fragile to be shared. Leading manufacturers continue to push the envelope towards ever more sophisticated forms, details and finishes that result in the most amazing products for “me” in the 20th Century. I believe that industrial design will need to become an advocate to “do the right thing” and design for “us” in the 21st Century.

So what’s next for industrial design?

Remaining too attached to the “industrial” part of our profession can be detrimental to our future. While our work will continue to be produced, using industrial methods – old and new – we cannot be overly focused on the aspect of sculpture that our profession has traditionally encompassed.

Consumers and enterprises alike will not purchase objects just because they’re nicely shaped and perform their essential functions: these aspects of industrial design have become table stakes. Regardless of our classical designer training, we need to think about the end-to-end user experience or otherwise run the risk of becoming ”designosaurs.”

More than ever before industrial design cannot exist in a vacuum. Each connected device – from your couch to your fitness bracelet, the hospital room to your wallet – demands we think about connected experiences. The shape and form of our design impacts the object’s meaning as much as the underlying software architecture and the services that can be built on top of it. In a sense, industrial design becomes the ultimate platform on which to build tangible experiences that connect the physical and digital worlds.

Unless someone hands us some sort of 2050 design almanac, we cannot predict the future, so all of this may seem like a challenging task. But unlike Zemeckis’ “Back to the Future” production crew, we don’t have to design for what may be in 30 years, but can instead focus on what’s immediately down the road.

Oh wait…

“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

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This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Biking To Work

Posted on Apr 21, 2015 in Career, Travel

It’s Bike Month Challenge again soon, and while I’ll be missing the first couple of days of biking in May, I’m excited about my summer commute, even though it’s gotten quite a bit longer with our office moving into Seattle’s Pioneer Square District.
My new commute is a bit over 12km (7.6 miles) and shows the gritty side of Seattle, even though it starts in middle-class Ballard. From there, I am crossing Lake Washington Ship Canal via busy Ballard Bridge and pass by the industrial Balmer Rail Yard. I am then entering may favorite part, Elliot Bay Trail, which takes me along Seattle’s waterfront and past Olympic Sculpture Park into the gigantic construction site, that is the Pioneer Square District.
Check out the above hyperlapse and compare this to my commute through Taipei’s northernmost district Beitou 12 years ago

At UW’s Design Career Fair 2015

Posted on Apr 1, 2015 in Education, Speaking

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Repeating last year’s appearance, I had the honor of introducing Artefact to a new crop of senior’s at the University of Washington’s Division of Design second Career Fair today.

After Digital Kitchen’s Matthew Mulder, Physio Control’s Sena Janky, Josh Kornfeld of Tactile, and I spoke about our respective firms, students had the chance to present their work to over a dozen of potential employers, among them, Artefact.

I spoke with quite a few students and am quite impressed, both by the portfolios I reviewed, as well as by the professionalism with which the work was presented… and just like last year, the event’s organization was impeccable.

I look forward to the 2016 edition!

Lytro Illum in the media

Posted on Jun 27, 2014 in Media

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With the first LYTRO ILLUM cameras soon to be shipped to the photographers that preordered the camera, I wanted to summarize some of the media buzz of the past few months here on my blog… and it has been crazy!

The coolest exposure that the Illum received was probably Joshua Topolsky introducing the camera to Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. Many other media outlets focused (pun intended) on the product’s extraordinary design. Engadget’s Nicole Lee writes:

And what a design it is. The Lytro Illum looks like something out of a museum or a designer piece from a Parisian fashion house. It’s a sleek and stylish thing, with a unibody magnesium chassis that’s attached to a gorgeous anodized aluminum lens barrel equipped with both zoom and focusing rings.

Also David Pierce of the Verge likes the Illum:

It’s big, with a wide round lens and a large grip, but it weighs less than 2 pounds and is perfectly comfortable in my hands. Its back face is slanted, like someone chopped off part of a larger camera to form this one.

Slashgear’s Chris Davies calls the product “a menacing stealth-black camera”, while Les Shu of Digital Trends finds that “the sleek, wedge-shaped body suggests it’s anything but traditional” and Harry McCracken of Time Magazine really understands who the Illum is designed for: “the Illum targets what the company calls ‘creative pioneers,’ which it defines as professionals and passionate amateurs who are serious about staying on the cutting edge of storytelling technology.”

As one would expect, the Illum’s angled design caught the attention of many writers. Wired’s Matt Honan explains

The angled touchscreen is designed for photography where you’re less likely to be holding a camera directly up in front of your face.

Mashable’s Pete Pachal talks about the inspiration of this aspect of the product:

The back LCD is angled downward. Lytro designed it that way because the camera doesn’t have a viewfinder. The company found that when people take photos using just an LCD screen, they tend to hold the camera below their eye level, so slanting the back came naturally. Helpfully, the display is also on an articulating arm.

Last but not least, Todd Bishop of Geekwire feels that other cameras will follow suit:

expect to see much more of this angle in all sorts of cameras in the future. The reason, of course, is that we’re increasingly holding cameras (and smartphone cameras) away from our bodies and looking at larger displays, not pressing the tiny viewfinder up to our eyes. So an upward tilt makes a ton of sense.

In the bigger scheme of the product development effort behind Lytro Illum, Artefact’s industrial design involvement was fairly brief, yet Wired’s Liz Stinson was interested in hearing about our design process and Core77’s Rain Noe spoke with Artefact’s co-founder Gavin Kelly and I about our work on the product, and I was selected to being Geekwire’s Geek of the Week, due to my role in the design process of Illum… and being that geek, I simply cannot wait to receiving my own Illum and to putting it through its paces.

[Update, August 3, 2014]

Now that Lytro Illum is shipping, some journalists had the chance to review the product in person, and the feedback regarding the product’s industrial design has been very favorable.

Writes David Pierce of The Verge:

There’s also no mistaking it for any other camera. Partly because its slanted back (designed so you can see the screen while you hold the camera at chest-level) gives the Illum a vaguely aggressive look, like it’s coming for you and your loved ones. Partly because the matte gray body with blue accents looks like it maybe fell from a spaceship or was lifted from the set of Battlestar Galactica. The Illum is big, bulky, and almost intimidating. I love the way it looks.

Wall Street Journal’s Geoffrey A. Fowler observes:

When I walked around with the Illum, the camera’s near-futuristic lines prompted bystanders to compliment it.

Artefact at UW Design Career Fair 2014

Posted on Mar 16, 2014 in Education, Speaking

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For the first time, the University of Washington’s Division of Design will host a Career Fair and looking at the talent that has come from the department in recent years, I am excited to be part of the event. It will be held this coming Wednesday, March 19th, between 2:30pm and 4:00pm at the HUB South Ballroom.

Artefact will not only have a booth at the fair, but will also participate in the “Speaker Series” prior to the event. I’ll be opening the day with an introduction to Artefact and my talk will be followed by Tactile’s Josh Kornfeld, Teague’s Travis Lonigan, Steve Kaneko of Microsoft, and Tom Hobbs of Facebook.

The Speaker Series will take place between 12.30pm and 2.20pm in 291 PACCAR Hall and I look forward to it!

What the press says about Intel North Cape

Posted on Dec 11, 2013 in Industrial Design, Media

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Intel’s “North Cape” detachable tablet reference design had been introduced at CES in January of 2013 and it did garner quite some buzz…

Different media outlets focused on different aspects of North Cape, and I wanted to take a moment to review what the press had to say about the product over the past few months:

Laptop Mag talked about the fact that this is a reference design and expressed their hope that the product would make it to market:

As a reference design, North Cape is meant to inspire OEMs rather than become a shipping product, though Intel said that it’s possible one will adopt this design. We hope they’ll take the hint.

Mashable was certainly excited about seeing the prototype at CES in Las Vegas:

Intel Shows the Awesome Laptop You’ll Be Using Next Year

The Verge clearly saw the value that North Cape’s Smart Frame adds to the product:

Smart Frame sounds like a gimmick, but when you see how narrow the bezel is around North Cape’s screen, you can understand why people might want some more free space for their thumbs.

Laptop focused mainly on the aesthetics of the product… and it sure sounds as if they liked what they saw:

A system that reminded us of a spaceship from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’

Seattle Tour Guide

Posted on Aug 8, 2013 in Opinion, Travel

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After my very successful guides for first-time travelers to Frankfurt and Taipei, it is about time to write one up for my new home in the “Northbest”: I am enjoying this city, its beautiful hinterland and the Washington coastline tremendously and have rather frequently been showing friends and family around – so I thought I’d share some of my Seattle favorites here:

Sightseeing

Seattle Center and Sculpture Park


An absolute must for the first-time visitor to Seattle is obviously the Space Needle at “Seattle Center” – the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. If you happen to be in downtown, take the Monorail to go there and if you’re at the Center, there’s lots to do besides climbing the Space Needle. On rainy days, you can visit the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum, or the Pacific Science Center, or catch a show at Seattle Children’s Theatre or Pacific Northwest Ballet or the 3D IMAX Theater. If you have time and the weather is nice, take a walk to the Olympic Sculpture Park by the waterfront.

Downtown, Waterfront, Kerry Park

Pike Place Market is probably the second most popular tourist destination in Seattle, followed closely by the Seattle Underground Tour that gives hilarious peeks into the Northwest’s adventurous and hysterical pioneer days. If you’re in downtown, make sure to visit the Rem Koolhaas-designed Seattle Public Library and take the time to visit little Kerry Park in Seattle’s Queen Anne district. It is located above “Seattle Center” and offers spectacular views on the Needle, downtown, Mt. Rainier and Puget Sound – this scenery is exceptionally beautiful in the afternoon light of of a sunny day.
If you’re up there already, make sure to walk to the equally small Marshall Park a few blocks west of Kerry Park to catch some stunning views of Puget Sound, Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Pensinsula. Don’t miss the tiny, but romantic Parsons Garden on your way.

More City Parks

Volunteer Park is located on Capitol Hill and offers great views to Downtown and Puget Sound, especially from the water tower that is located at its south corner – in the adjacent Lake View Cemetery, you can find Bruce Lee‘s gravesite. To get a different view onto downtown, check out Gas Works Park.
If you want to “get out of town without actually getting out of town“, Discovery Park’s 534 acres of nature invite to more extensive walks or hikes along the shores of Puget Sound, all within the city limits of Seattle. On your way back into town, you can stop by Ballard Locks and check out the salmon ladder there – both Discovery Park and the locks are best visited on sunny afternoons.
Do you happen to be in Seattle in the spring? Go and see the cherry blossoms in bloom at the intersection of King Lane & Pierce Lane on the University of Washington campus.
Here in the summer? Go kayaking on Lake Union and through the Arboretum and reward yourself with some hearty Mexican food at Agua Verde or take a dip in Lake Washington at Madison Park Beach.

Museums
Seattle offers a pretty decent selection of museums: Seattle Art MuseumFrye Art MuseumSeattle Asian Art MuseumBurke Museum of Natural History and CultureMuseum of Flight, or Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. Entrance to all of these museums is free in the evening of the first Thursday of every month.
Not really a museum, but very interesting nonetheless is the Boeing Factory tour about 45 minutes north of Seattle in Everett.
Here’s a Google Map with all of the above sights…

Wining and Dining

Seattle offers a vast variety of restaurants. Among my favorite Northwest/seafood places to eat are Ivar’s Salmon House and Ray’s Boathouse – they offer great views of Lake Union and Puget Sound, respectively. Other seafood alternatives are Coastal Kitchen, with a regularly changing coastal region inspiring their cuisine, or The Walrus and The Carpenter, if you happen to be into oysters.
To get your Asian food fix, visit Shiro’s for the most authentic Sushi in town or Nishino that rivals Shiro’s in quality, but feels a bit more “westernized”. And since we’re talking about Asian food already, if you love Taiwanese cuisine like I do, you’ll want to go to Din Tai Fung, Facing East or Henry’s Taiwan Kitchen.
While I am not a vegetarian, I love Café Flora’s food and cannot but recommend Harvest Vine‘s spanish tapas for both brunch and dinner.
Coffee shops, you ask…? There are too many to mention… the ones that I like most are Java Bean, Volunteer Park Café, Wheelhouse Coffee, Bauhaus, and Espresso Vivace.

Live Music

I am not the avid concert-goer I once was, yet I occasionally still enjoy a show at Neumos or the Tractor Tavern

Shopping

Being the biggest “shopping grump” that I know, I am probably not the best person to ask for advice here, but let me try:
While Downtown, Northgate and University Village host the usual chains, Fremont and Ballard offer quite a few smaller boutiques that carry locally made products…  and if you happen to be there, why not plan to visit on a Sunday to join the fun Fremont and Ballard farmer’s markets or dine in one of the many restaurants there.
If you are into binge-shopping, you could drive 40 minutes north for a shopping spree in the gigantic Seattle Premium Outlets…?

Hiking and Skiing

As I have said in my intro, the great outdoors in the “Northbest” are truly amazing! If you visit in the winter, go skiing, tubing or snowshoeing on Snoqualmie PassStevens Pass, or on Crystal Mountain.
And if you happen to be here in the summer, why not go on one of the over 3,000 hikes that the Washington Trails Association‘s has listed? Ask me for some tips…

An evening project

Posted on Jul 14, 2013 in Industrial Design, Research

Well… here’s a design project that – at least in my eyes – does not really qualify to be shown off in this website’s Portfolio section… still, I wanted to share it and so it ended up here on the blog: a 3D-printed iPhone car holder.

With the recent updates to the iOS Maps and Google Maps Applications I found my iPhone 5 replacing my trusted Garmin nüvi inside my car. Unless I have been going on a remote hike where no cellphone network was available, the iPhone’s connectivity, speed, and its speech interface often made it the navigator of my choice. The only problem was, that I never knew where to put it while driving, unless I bothered my co-pilot to hold the phone for me. So I decided that it was time to buy a car holder for my shiny iPhone 5. My two criteria were pretty straight-forward:

  • I wanted a simple device that would visually not be overly distracting, one without too many mechanical features that could break
  • The holder should mount without a suction cup (so it’d not leave traces on the windshield) and preferably be fixed, using my car’s dashboard vents.

An extensive online search yielded no results, probably due to the fact that phone holders typically have to fit a wide variety of cars, phones, and mounting scenarios, where what I wanted was a very specific solution on all three fronts. And since we just received our little Solidoodle 3D printer at Artefact, I thought, I’d do something with it and design an iPhone 5 holder specifically for my 2008 GTI.

After two failed prototypes, I found the perfect mix between stability and simplicity and had fine-tuned the viewing angle of my design. It slides easily into the dashboard vents and a hook prevents it from falling out. I opted to add five pieces of 0.5mm thick fabric (shown in red in one of the above illustrations) to protect my precious phone from scratching.

I have been using the holder for a few months now and really like it, so I thought I’d share it here as well as on Thingiverse.

For printing on our little Solidoodle, I broke the product into four parts and the files contain 3D data both of the Solidoodle-version, as well as of the complete object – maybe you can find a better way to deconstruct and print it…? Feel free to share and/or to modify the design and let me know what you think!

iPhone 5 Car Holder 2008 Volkswagen GTI

Want to work in the U.S.?

Posted on Mar 12, 2013 in Career


Before you continue down this page, dear reader, I would like to point you to this website’s disclaimer page, and highlight the fact that the following is by no means a replacement for legal advise. Please be mindful that I am but a mere layman of the subject matter that I am discussing here and that the following is only a personal account of my experience immigrating into the United States…

After working in this country for almost five years on an H-1B visa, I have now acquired a Green Card last year. Woot Woot!

Since I am often approached by foreign designers, and sometimes share the story of my immigration with them, I thought it was time to recapitulate the legal process I went through here on this site.
If you are looking to work in the U.S. as a foreign national and don’t have an existing work visa or a green card, there are several ways to acquire a work visa for you. As far as I know, the most common one – which happens to be the route that I took – is the H1B visa. You have to find a prospective employer that is willing to sponsor this process: Beyond the single fact that they offer you a job, they will most likely also help you by providing the services of an immigration attorney, and support the case financially by paying the appropriate visa application fees… in my case, Carbon Design happened to be the sponsor for the H1B visa.

My current employer Artefact has also done this for several designers and I know of other firms – both smaller design offices and larger corporations – that have gone through this process for foreign employees.

There are a few catches, though with the H1B visa application process:
1. Applications can be filed, beginning on April 1st of each year.
2. The U.S. government approves a maximum of 65,000 H1B visas awarded per year. Once this H1B visa cap is reached, no new applications can be filed during that particular year.
3. Visa applications are usually approved after 4-6 months.

In my case, the visa cap for the fiscal year 2008 was reached on the first day of the application process, April 1, 2007. In fact, over 150,000 H1B applications had been filed by midday and a lottery was used to determine whether or not I could work in the U.S. While the H1B visa cap reach date varied greatly over the past decade, to be on the safe side, you should consider to applying early.

My visa had been granted in September of 2007 and I began work in the States on January 3rd of the following year. For this year, a company that is interested in hiring you, can begin the application process in April, and you could only begin to work in the U.S. at some point between August to October. The H1B visa is valid for an initial three years, and extendable to six. After that period is over, you would have to apply for a Green Card if you wanted to continue to work stateside…