Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Charlie Rose wins Vincent Scully prize

This link also includes a link to his best architectural interviews.

Caltech Researchers Develop a Flexible Ceramic

An ingredient in flexible architecture....stay tuned for further developments.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Beware Faux Finishes

Just dug this out of my drafts folder... always relevant.

I loved this response to a lovely Wall Street Journal article about a faux finish artisan: "... and then the crappy manufacturing process turns it into photograph board and the beautiful pattern is repeated, repeated, repeated down to the tiniest detail." 

Beware manufacturers! The public is easily offended by phony faux finishes. Be judicious in how they are created and applied. Manufacturers are better off creating the "spirit" of whatever they are copying rather than an attempt at an exact copy down to every detail.


It has exactly been two year since I posted to this blog, admittedly my interests were elsewhere and life got in the way. Most importantly though, was that I ran into nothing that compelled me to post. Now I have, does this mean that the slumbering giant of our industry is awakening? I certainly hope so.

So what woke me up was the totally unexpected...a bathroom in a monastery turned bed and breakfast featured in an email from "Interior Design" magazine. The slideshow of 25 kitchens and baths featured a showstopper for me, a bathroom by Atelier Maia featuring their own handmade tile designs.

Maybe I had been supersaturated, in the past, but have yet to see anything as dramatic as these tiles in the entire tile industry.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How quickly do things change?

At a rapid pace, it seems.

An interesting
animated info-graphic shows the rapid rise and fall of CD sales over the last 30 years. No matter what industry you are in, technology affects your future, and time is of the essence like never before.

In hindsight, it is all too easy to see the trajectory of the music industry, but in looking into the future - not so much. If even pros professed not to see the results of liar balloon mortgages,(Although, I find that hard to believe) it is hard not be be caught up in the pleasant delusions of those upward trajectories even in the face of much contradictory evidence.

As a decision maker, it is important to keep constantly reality testing scenarios in planning sessions.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Soul of Retail

I've just returned from my annual trek to ICFF, (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) my overriding thought about it all is: despite the niche, niche world we live in, building brand is essential. As usual, ambling the streets of New York is so much more instructive of the trends - trends definitely come from the streets, retail is the latest instructor these days.

From the windows at Barney's and Bergdorf's that entice us to go to the Metropolitan Museum and see the Alexander McQueen show to Ralph Lauren's flagship stores on Madison Avenue, we see what is happening in the world. It is the trade shows that are fantasies today, and retail the reality.
Most recently, trends came from the streets, before that from the luxury markets, today the trends are firmly in the hands of the trend-forward retailers, they have the megaphones and are using them well - they have it all - storefronts, catalogs and online presence. The biggest coupe of all, came to someone who hardly needed it, a full hour on the last week of Oprah went to Ralph Lauren. If you have anything to do with retail furnishings and didn't see this show, beg, borrow or steal a copy of this show. It is a textbook on what makes for success in this business!

In this recent trip to New York, and the aisle after aisle of soullessness that is the contemporary design world, I fully understand the success of the Ralph Lauren brand and even the dark underworld appeal of Alexander McQueen. The recent royal wedding garb aside, these two represent the flip sides of the human soul - McQueen is all uncomfortable darkness, while Lauren with this season's laces and sheer fabrics in natural materials is about the light.
In our hyper-competitive world, it is possible for everyone to get the shape, line, color and texture of products relatively right. What these two gentlemen have done is superimpose their products with stories that resonate. Lauren entices us with the beauty of the familiar and comfortable, while McQueen shows us things that we think we have never even imagined as something that we would wear near our bodies - hair, feathers, horns, branches of trees; yet we do wear furs, wool, leather and sleep with feathers in our down comforters.

These men tell mythic stories that make us pay attention and that is ultimately their appeal. My bet is that the story of the comfortably familiar lightness will win, but the dark side, as always, is tempting and is influential.

The familiar: Natural fibers, leather, nostalgia and escaping to a world we create at home is the story that Ralph Lauren tells in his current home fashions.
Alexander McQueen in tartan plaid looks down on the netherworld he created in the windows of Bergdorf-Goodman.
High-end retail connects to the cultural landscape by promoting the Metropolitan's McQueen show.
Although lighter and brighter, McQueen's influence can be seen in the spring fashions in the windows of Ralph Lauren's flagship store with the Rhinelander mansion's reflection.
The streets of New York were jam-packed and as many people as were fascinated by these windows, and for those who think the middle has disappeared, ultimately the biggest crowds at retail were lined up outside the Aberchrombie and Fitch store waiting patiently for the privilege of going inside. The appeal of a beautiful human body in both image and reality trumps all. Creating a brand is all but essential in today's marketplace, and these are just a few of the success stories - examples of the soul that today is the essential component of brand and that many of the start-ups in both fashion and home furnishings would be smart to use as a how-to lesson.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Revolution or Evolution in the New Year?

Trends often change so subtly, as to be barely perceptible. Much has changed in the global culture in the past year, and as I sit inside during yet another snowstorm, I started asking myself - have last years ideas evolved enough at this point to change direction? I reviewed what I had written as important parts of the ideas inherent in hyper-authenticity and found them to be viable into the new year:
  • True to Origins and Self
  • True to Culture
  • True to Form
  • Larger than Life
  • Made by Hand
  • Sustainable
  • Raw and unaltered
  • Reclaimed, Recycled
What I realized is that the vast cultural changes actually create less changes in trends - people tend to stay with the tried and true as cultural changes swirl madly around them. So, the authentic and classic trends bring a sense of security and are actually reinforced by the massive cultural swings we have been experiencing. Any changes throughout this year will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The ipad may be revolutionary, but what we use it for are tried and true tasks. Just take a look at this article about David Hockney making art on his ipad.

Fractals in the design world

Surface detail from subBlue on Vimeo.

Another followup to the "Geometric" trend in my 2010 report - the explosion of fractals in art and design. This is a fantastic video, even showing some softened edges - not as harsh and edgy as all the straight edges that we have seen up until now. The scientist/designer,Tom Beddard's website promises to offer software to create your own fractal designs soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Emotional Marketing

Call it marketing, call it manipulation . . . as we learn more about the human brain - we also learn more about how we think and make decisions - be they buying, political, choice of friends or mates. Emotional marketing is being used effectively everyday in marketing. This article on the "bigthink" website looks at the process and shows some effective examples.

Has design overplayed its Hand?

As a design professional, I have always believed inherently that beauty and thereby good design enhance our quality of life. A recent New York Times article led me to seriously question my bias, as my mother lingers with final stage dementia in an assisted living facility with cloth tablecloths and napkins and constantly changing appropriately seasonal decorative accessories.

The article describes a New York facility called Beatitudes this way: "
The facility itself is institutional-looking, dowdy and “extremely outdated,” Ms. Mullan said. “It’s ugly,” said Jan Dougherty, director of family and community services at Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix. But “they’re probably doing some of the best work.” " They use common sense and the human touch to make their patients lives more bearable. That is something that "design" simply does not deliver on its own.

(For more on common sense watch Barry Schwartz's
Ted talk on Practical Wisdom. He has moved on from observing the consumer in the "Paradox of Choice" to observing the current human condition.)

The backlash to the emphasis on "design" seems to have begun in a subtle way. An article entitled
"De-emphasizing Design" on a hotel management website recommends a holistic approach to creating an environment rather than an emphasis on elaborate design - basically postulating that you can't put all your eggs in the "design" basket.

From the article: ". . . according to Howard Wolff, SVP with design firm WATG, people are moving past wanting things and instead crave the more tangible . . . moving from extravagance to experience, from conspicuous to conscientious consumption, from airs to authenticity, from could be anywhere to you are here, from green is good to green is gold and from trendy to timeless - waste not want not."

New Inspiration/Mosaics

The ancient domesticity of the Mediterranean basin has long fascinated me, what we learn about the thousands of year old living arrangements continues to inform our styles from Moshe Safdie's early condos which bring to mind hilltowns to the mosaics of Bisazza and Sicis. With each new find and subsequent exposure of the past, a new generation of companies and stylists again become inspired.

Metropolitan Museum currently has a show unveiling a trove of mosaics accidently discovered during road constuction near Tel Aviv in 1996. It will be interesting to watch how these detailed images will influence the new. (If you can't get to the show in time, read about it here.)

Aahh! Nostalgia

In 2010, as we moved into a new decade last year, I entitled my trend report "Memory Matters." The early reports this year are that memory matters more with every passing day. The New York Times Thursday home section, which has a particularly strong sense of the direction featured a Brooklyn store called Brook Farm General Store, a nostalgic home goods survival guide to today's 24/7 stressed out world.

As an antidote to minimalism the NY Times also features woven goods - the warm feel of an object matters as much as the look in creating a comfortable home environment. Judging by the antique rag rug pillows, another version of nostalgia reigns at
John Derian Company, from one turn-of-the- century to another - despite today's overly connected world - many of us crave the comforts of a home connected to the past.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to having a house full of rag rugs.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Do not walk on this carpet!

We make carpets designs graphic "carpets" with the most ordinary everyday things like pasta and plastic forks. Take a look at their work on their blog - it's great fun!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Throwing away years of beautiful excess - the "green" alternative

As I contemplate upgrading my computer, my office is still bulging at the seams, years after so much information has been placed online. How can that be? I have a collection of catalogs that are exquisitely designed with gorgeous images on top quality paper stock, and I just couldn't bear to part with them. As I spend more time with my avocation - photography, I need to make room and out these magazines and catalogs must go.

I think that part of the reason I hate to part with this bounty is that I know that the era of excess is "so" over. We will never see this quantity or quality of marketing materials again. It may even be valuable some day, but who has the room to store it all? I will miss it, but as with clothing - if I haven't looked at it in two years, it has to go. With my clothes - dropped off at Goodwill, I "imagine" they have an afterlife. With this printed material, the best afterlife I can hope for is newspaper stock.

In my cleaning frenzy, I found a green statement for ARPA USA that I wrote long before the exaggerations of the scientific community plying us with propaganda was discovered. It turned out not to be the propaganda that changed the world, but the economy. So here is the statment, more valid today than ever:

"The word “green” is on the tip of every tongue these days, the entire world wants to be eco-sensitive, but what they mean by “green” is complex and not at all clear - there are no common meanings or uniform standards within or across industries. “Global warming” has already been replaced by the phrase “climate change” because there is so much conflicting information. Yet, we know with certainty that our overburdened land fills, air quality, water scarcity, and energy costs must be addressed now. We can agree to the fact that we must preserve natural resources, avoid toxic emissions, and use materials that are durable and low maintenance. The entire construction industry has a major impact on environmental issues and ARPA considers the environmental impact in every new product development and manufacturing decision.

No one wants to “harm” the planet or leave a polluted and unlivable environment for future generations, so North America, seen as both the land of plenty and at the same time wasteful by the rest of the world, is finally doing some serious thinking about the real effects of their choices on the future of the planet. Environmental issues have always been different in Europe, with a higher population density throughout the continent - land, water and energy were always scarce and a heightened concern for air quality has been critical to the health of the entire population. ARPA was founded in this environment, so from its beginnings had a discipline and strong commitment to sustainability and resource efficiency. ARPA continually eliminates waste and makes improvements in raw material selection, manufacturing processes, packaging, and transportation. At the same time, equal consideration is given to the safety and sustainability of the product for the end-user.

In creating a green building the specifier and end-user also bear some responsibility. They must select appropriate materials and methods to minimize the overall environmental impact. How durable should the product be? How long will it be in use? What are the budget considerations? Does it affect the indoor air quality? How will it be maintained? What happens after its useful life? The wrong material choices can have considerable environmental impact. Tearing down a 10,000 square foot building instead of refurbishing it will cancel out the environmental saving of recycling millions of liquid containers. It is important to compare comprehensive life-cycle data in assessing a material for use in a particular setting.

The green building movement is just beginning to build a database of the life-cycle environmental impact of different materials and ARPA is one of the few manufacturers that have created an environmental profile for their products. Some natural materials appear to be green, while man-made materials are often overlooked - yet when comparing their life cycle costs, the resource-extraction and processing may make a natural material much less earth-friendly than a man-made material that can be used in its place.

The responsibility of building a more sustainable future falls equally on us all, and ARPA will continue to do their part in the future as they have in the past."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The consumer and his brain

Last year it was orange juice cartons, this year it was The Gap's new logo that laid a total goose egg with both the graphic arts community and consumers. There was much discussion and analysis over the proposed but never implemented new logo, with my favorite being the "New Scientist's" discussion of the neurological best practices that Gap broke with their new design. I only wish I could have been as articulate as this article or had these facts available when first seeing a new - which could only be described as awkward - logo a previous employer did implement many eons ago.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Color WOW

Canon Pixma: Bringing colour to life from Dentsu London on Vimeo.

If either color or photography fascinate you as much as they do me and you have a deep pockets promotional budget, then this video explaining Canon's new ad campaign will interest you. Delight in color is universal, and our neutral interior spaces, no doubt, are largely influenced by the prolific colors available in our media and devices. Everything that I see, points to this as a continuing trend. Without question, the challenge for finishes is to both stay neutral and be interesting enough to engage the design community and consumer.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Still too many choices!

It is the nature of design centers to offer lots and lots of choices, but I have to ask myself, at what point does it become too much? Recently I was in the Boston Design Center waiting to go to a presentation and looking for inspiration in a showroom. I have to admit, that I couldn't even get myself to pull back the racks, even the brochures of the Fall 2010 introductions couldn't entice me - until I saw the William Yeoward Aranjasa Collection - a refreshingly casual collection of stripes in subtle classic colors inspired by Spain, Norway and Sweden. The color palette and lifestyle photographs in the brochure are what drew my attention.

Did it make me smile because it reinforced one of my trend themes or because it was a beautiful fit for New England interiors? I suspect a little if both, and I will remember it for future projects, with my mind uncluttered by the racks of thousands of fabrics that I didn't bother to even take a look at.

This particular collection may have just touched on my personal taste, but I can't help but think that at least 3/4 of the products in any showroom are superfluous, and that even designers would welcome some type of editing. So many companies are reluctant to discontinue even the most outdated of products. I wonder whether anyone does the accounting on this? Design Centers are not retail stores, but all that excess stuff is confusing to customers that are used to the spare editing of a Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel. No one wants a fabric or tile showroom to look like these stores or a Home Depot, but being customer friendly is a win-win for all.

Interesting pespective on Materials

Vegans aside, who knew that the designer Christien Meindertsma has created such an interesting take on materials. Her perspective on the "pig" in PIG 0 5049 takes us to material use both in and beyond the built environment. I was hesitant to even look at this video until I realized that her crocheted rug was a part of my recent trend report. This thoughtful, creative and charming designer speaks to us with an interesting voice and her vision is one to watch in the future.

Market insights are now critical

Academic jargon aside, pay close attention to the McDonald's story in the Wharton marketing professor George Day's conversation about his recent book Strategy from the Outside In: Profiting from Customer Value. This conversation is timely, since in recessionary periods, the easy fixes are not as effective as in growth periods. It may seem obvious, but my past experience tells me that this topic needs constant reintroduction. I spent years with pressure to add more outlets to reach that monthly bottom line, rather than the entire management team taking a systemic look at what might create real growth. According to the article in Knowledge @ Wharton, Professor Day's research, the "outside in" approach to marketing is as rare as ever - an idea whose time comes again and again - renewed in every business cycle.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Conversation or noise?

I just attended a informative presentation on "social media" at the Boston Design Center given by the VP of Marketing for Kravet. (Kravet blog) Design fabric houses live in an extremely competitive environment, so I understand their engagement with social media; they are large enough to have a dedicated social media specialist on staff. While, as a blogger, I fully understand that social media is here is stay and will continue to be a more and more important part of every business conversation, I am not sure where the conversation begins and the noise ends. At this point, I perceive Twitter as noise . . . I truly don't get it . . . but the presenter and the panel of young designers spoke it its effectiveness. I suspect we are dealing with a generation gap here.

What is important, no matter who your customer, is not to let a conversation go on about you without you. So, if you are being talked about, be sure to get in on the conversation.

What I can report is the the doyenne's of the profession seated in the front row as well as the "young turks" were all dressed entirely in black. I have been going to this Design Center regularly since it opened and have never seen such a sea of black on the design community in Boston. (New York, always) Is this recession Black? I suspect I am reading this correctly, and that it means continued a traditional color palette in all things home furnishings as well.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Visualizing Color

This month's Wilsonart blog reminded me of my favorite places in New York - the Kremer Pigment store. They have a delightful collection of images on their website: Colors of Nature that communicate the essence of color and help their customers "see" the colors of the pigment collection in context. What a charming marketing tool!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Finding a bargain feels as good as sex

I am sure this headline gets readers, but who doesn't love a good bargain?

The Return of Wisdom and Common Sense

I don't know exactly when wisdom, in academic lingo, and common sense, from my perspective, left our culture. However, I can pinpoint exactly the moment I became aware of it - it was the day someone stood up in a national sales meeting and defined "Total Quality" for all the "dummies" in attendance. Shocked at the time, I had no idea what to make of this concept, which appeared to be common sense to me. Little did I know that things would go downhill from there. The culmination of these ideas was the use of "Six Sigma" for new product development in yet another company.

And now we are legislating for "dummies" as well, instead of encouraging common sense and rewarding wisdom, we are passing a plethora of unnecessary laws - but that is a merely personal musing - outside this blog conversation. It is happening more and more as this recession continues and there is less to take note of concerning the built environment.

Barry Schwartz inspired me with his book, "The Paradox of Choice" and now he is once again in the forefront of bringing wisdom
back to its proper place in our culture with this short lecture. A fiasco like the Wall Street meltdown could have been mitigated or avoided if more people had acted on principles of practical wisdom, Barry Schwartz argues. Here he gives diagnosis and prescription for a society that has, in part, lost touch with wisdom.

There are more small signs that wisdom is returning. 3M, the company that both survives and thrives, on new product innovation is featured in an article in
Forbes,"3M's Innovation Revival" and mentions how the executive brought in from GE had reduced their sales of new product from 30% to 21% overall in the year's that he ran the company with his heavy emphasis on "Six Sigma." Like ex-GE executives in building materials, his fixes were all short term. George Buckley, the new chairman and CEO has returned new products to their rightful place - back up to 30%. A wise man indeed!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fashion, Finishes and Art

Fashion Week has moved uptown and is now held at Lincoln Center instead of in a temporary tent. At the first Fashion Week to be held there, no one captured fashion as performance "art" better than Catherine Malandrino and Couture Snob captured the images. Her collection is also featured as wearable art on a Wall Street Journal blog.

What is even more intriguing is the article in the WSJ "Fashion as Art," where Virginia Postrel has an interesting take on the matter: "Fashion is shedding its cultural stigma. It is increasingly recognized as a significant cultural activity—indeed, one of the defining characteristics of our civilization."
That all sounds very noble, but what I see happening is the business has co-opted the concept of design with all the incessant talk of "design-thinking." So what are designers to do but designate themselves as ARTISTS.

And this connection to art is not lost on those that intent to stay trend forward in fashion end of the home furnishings business as well.
Silestone, the countertop surface manufacturer is sponsoring an exhibition opening this week at the Museum of Modern Art entitled: Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen.(Fast Company's design blog has a story and some great pictures from the show.)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lessons from Trader Joe's continued . . .

For me, it was love at first sight - that first time that I walked into a Trader Joe's store. I truly couldn't understand the gentleman that attended one of my presentations and took offense at my suggestion that there were lessons to be learned for our industry from this charming little food emporium. My main point was that the proliferation of product choices was overwhelming the consumer and that all retailers had to become "choice editors" for their customers in the future.

Not much is know about the inside working of what has become a food giant, but the current issue of
Fortune tells the story of their success as best as they can determine from sources other than the company itself. The big reveal is that Stonyfield makes their yogurt, but you have probably already figured that out if you have purchased both products. They sell double the number of dollars per square foot as Whole Foods, their nearest in-kind competitor - so who wouldn't want to take tips from Trader Joe's?