The original 1989 Bat-boots designed by Tinker Hatfield for Tim Burton’s Batman. As the story goes, Nike had a deal going with Warner Bros and wanted in on what would no doubt be one of the blockbusters of the year. Producer Jon Peters had initially proposed to use the Batsuit for a bit of product placement but lead costume director Bob Ringwood opposed it on the ground that 80s sportswear wasn’t going to fit in with the film’s 1940s look, as a compromise he suggested that Nike take care of the boots design instead. Ringwood was particularily fond of the 1988 Air Trainer SC (now Air Trainer III) and so Tinker Hatfield was brought in to turn his original design into boots. Working from a plaster cast of Michael Keaton’s calves, Hatfield made 18 pairs of knee-high leather-and-polyurethane boots complete with shin guards and instep armors. Unsurprisingly, the film features several detailed shots of the shoes.
The boots were a hit with Keaton and his stuntmen and Hatfield was brought back to work on Batman Returns two years later. Since the cost of creating new boots from scratch was estimated at $20,000, Hatfield decided to start once again with an existing design and customized a pair of 1991 Air Jordan VI (incidentally, some elements of the Jordan VI design are said to have been inspired by Hatfield’s work on the original Bat-boot).
Jay Nelson: The Golden Gate is an electric camper car measuring 96”x54”x64”. Made with fiberglass, epoxy resin, plywood, glass, bike parts and electric motor. The vehicle can drive 10 miles on a charge and goes up to 20 mph. The interior has a kitchen with sink, stove, cooler, storage cubbies, toilet, a bed and storage below the bed. All of the controls are in the steering wheel. The driver sits cross legged while operating the vehicle.
The first step is to build a skeleton. While building the skeleton I make somewhat final decisions about what the shape will be. As I’m building I play with the form adding and subtracting pieces of the skeleton. Then I cover the skeleton with plywood. Next I fill all the cracks with filler and sand all the edges clean. After that I fiberglass it. When the fiberglass dries I cut holes for all the windows and build in windows and waterproof.
I have a pet peeve when it comes to describing design (or any kind of creative work). The word “timeless” makes my skin crawl, like that scene in Indiana Jones where he has the snakes and creepy crawlies all over him and he’s all like “Oh God! Snakes!” but you totally saw it coming because he said he hated snakes maybe ten minutes before that.
Allow me to complain in bulleted points:
I read an iPhone app review earlier this week that said the app’s design was “timeless.” And I went, “Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.” The app was quite pretty. And Lord knows there’s plenty of good things about iPhones, apps, stores, and design. But an iPhone app is about as timeless as an ice cream cone given to a chimp on a hot day.
It irks me that we’re throwing around the word “timeless” all willy-nilly. At this point, “timeless” is hyperbole for something with a shelf-life of a couple years. This bag of Doritos? Timeless.
Our sense of time is all out of whack. When people link to older blog posts and articles, they’ll maybe call it “timeless” or say some other inane thing like, “Old, but good!” Two years old isn’t old! A two-year-old can’t even wipe his own ass.
Let me let you in on a little secret: if you are hearing about something old, it is almost certainly good. Why? Because nobody wants to talk about shitty old stuff, but lots of people still talk about shitty new stuff, because they are still trying to figure out if it is shitty or not. The past wasn’t better, we just forgot about all the shitty shit.
Ironically, most timeless design looks like it came from the 1962 Graphis Annual. It’s good stuff worth mimicking, but it sure isn’t timeless.
I think “words” mean “things.” So when you say something is “timeless,” do you really mean it is not affected by the passage of time or changes in fashion? Would it spoil your day to say that timeless design is currently in fashion? (That doesn’t even make sense.) Regardless, perhaps you truly mean to say that a design is fundamentally sound, or that it is sturdy, or well-built. All great things.
Why is timeless design always the goal? What’s wrong with making something look like it was made when it was made? Why do designers all of a sudden want to exist outside of time, like Scott Bakula in Quantum Leap? We’re already thirteen years into the 21st century, and I still don’t know what the hell is going on. One day you’re playing laser tag, the next Google’s making spy glasses to secretly record video of all your hot air balloon rides.
Other people: can you help me understand what is happening in this world of ours? I want to know what technology is doing to my brain. How do I stay human in a digital world? I want to understand what all this technology does to my expectations of myself, other people, and the world. None of this is timeless. These problems are right now.
Some might say that this blog’s design has some “timeless” qualities. I will let you in on a secret: I am lazy. I want to make as few decisions as possible, but I want those choices to be good ones. I don’t add cruft, because I’d have to make the cruft so that I could add it. And then I’d have to decide where it would go, when all I really want to do is find that chimp with the ice cream cone and hang out with him.
Thank you for reading my measured critique. Have a timeless day.
The original ThinkPad design is the product of a collaboration between IBM and Germany’s ‘other industrial designer’ Richard Sapper. Sapper suggested a design inspired by the traditional black-lacquered bento boxes (Shōkadō bentō), a refined object concealing well though out insides (the lunch beautifully and orderly arranged in compartments) that would “reveal its nature only when you open it.” Sapper had previously developed a similar idea with the Cubo transistor radio (1965) and the ST201 TV set (1969) for Italian electronics company Brionvega and the Microsplit 520 stopwatch (1974) for Heuer, three variations on the “black box” theme that still look surprisingly modern despite their age.
Since the introduction of the Thinkpad 20 years ago, the fundamental design has remained almost unchanged, a phenomenon unheard of in the laptop industry. And If the ThinkPad might appear dated today, its introduction in 1992 didn’t go unnoticed. The all black chassis went against industry standards (the German DIN standard prohibited the use of any color other than off-white for office products for fear it might cause eye strain, the disclaimer “Not for Office Use” was slapped on to all German-sold models). Similarly, the Thinkpad signature red TrackPoint was originally refused by IBM (the color red was strictly reserved for emergency power off switches) who pushed for black instead. Sapper, however, saw the use of the color red as critical to call attention to the pointing device right in the middle of an all black keyboard. The presence of bright red details was also a discreet signature that Sapper had incorporated into several of his previous designs. As a workaround, the color was finally changed to purple the first year, Sapper reintroduced the red TrackPoint the following year.
"I’ve always drawn the body in motion, even from being a really little kid", says Aitor.
As he says this, the designer sits in his East London studio with the evidence of his expression scribbled onto every spare sheet of paper. “Drawing is the one thing that I’ve always done; it’s the one constant”, he says.
This consistency is remarkable because in the past six years the Argentine-born designer has witnessed a great deal of change. Heading up his fledgling brand, New Object Research, Aitor has aimed to re-engineer clothing design from first principles, taking nothing for granted while creating a set of design archetypes that fly in the face of conventional fashion thinking.
The results have been nothing short of astounding, but to better understand Aitor and his work you should turn your attention to the characters that leap from every white space in his office, straining sinews as they contort in angular motion. Encoded within these lines you can read Aitor’s story, witness his development, and begin to appreciate the innate understanding of anatomy that underpins his design.
Clues to the origin of Aitor’s drawing style come from his childhood.
"Up to the age of 7 I was surrounded by medical books because my mum was training to be a doctor", he says. "Sadly she didn’t end up being a doctor because we pretty much escaped Argentina in 1987 when it was collapsing".
Despite the personal upheaval this fascination with anatomy stayed with Aitor, who name checks the technical drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci and the illustrations associated with Dutch anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus as early influences.
"I’m interested in contorting the human anatomy to a point where it is interesting", says Aitor, musing on his drawing style, "to where I can see the tension in the shoulder or the face. I want it to imagine how the pose would feel if you were in it".
Aitor has cultivated a unique drawing style and within his kinetic characters you can see an anatomical precision that points back to his formative years. More significantly, it is this innate appreciation of natural movement that has then bled through from his illustration into his design work.
"If you look at my drawing", Aitor says, pointing to an example, "look how prominent the shoulder is. It’s such a pivotal point of the human anatomy and in clothing it’s eradicated. The shoulder is just what happens when the sleeve meets the body".
"From the beginning of my work, it is about solving the fundamental problem of making two-dimensional pieces of fabric work on the very three-dimensional thing that is the human body."
For a designer so in tune with anatomy and the range of human motion, the eradication of the shoulder revealed how the conventions of pattern cutting are weighted towards mass production rather than function, something Aitor encountered first hand when studying fashion at Manchester University.
"Knowledge was dictated to you", he says. "You were given a pattern cutting book and told to follow pages 13 to 28, then you’ll have a shirt. It was like an instruction manual".
The prescriptive nature of fashion education jarred with Aitor’s design sensibilities and his questioning nature. Mirroring the freedom offered by a blank sheet of paper, Aitor wanted the opportunity to find his own solutions.
This is exactly what he went on to do, approaching each problem with the methodical mind-set of a product designer. One of his first tasks was to painstakingly engineer a new system to better accommodate the shoulder in all its rotational glory.
"It took eight years to finalise the arm hole", Aitor says, going into detail about the numerous panels and sections that combine to create his shoulder construction. "I could do an exhibition of pieces just about the chronological evolution of the armhole."
Eight years for one element may sound excessive, but Aitor is playing the long game, engaging in what he calls “branding through construction”. Breaking through the jargon, this means that an Aitor Throup seam or shoulder is recognisable because of its unique structure.
"Now we apply it to everything", he says, referring back to his shoulder, "we never have to think about armholes again. Ultimately what I love is that you can look on a rail and you don’t need to look at the brand or the swing tag – it’s that shoulder."
Talking with Aitor you realise what an analytical thinker he is: everything is considered, measured and backed up by reason, which he calls “the biggest word”.
"Somewhere along my MA at the Royal College of Art, my sketch book became filled with as much writing as drawing" he says. "I started questioning everything and if I couldn’t explain anything I’d feel like an idiot."
"The one constant thing between my art and my product design work is that you can’t put pencil to paper until you have information: you need your limitations, you need your brief. Then it all becomes a process - the solutions become dictated purely by what the problem is."
Earlier we mentioned the freedom offered by a blank sheet of paper, but for Aitor real innovation must be driven by a process, starting with a point of origin, otherwise you are in the realm of abstract expression.
Once, Aitor’s drawing represented the wishful doodling of a young man sketching interesting characters, or bringing to life jackets that he’d love to own, now, as a mature designer, drawing is another tool at his disposal – another pencil in the pencil box.
Finally, Aitor hints at another reason why art and product design are such close companions. It comes from a mutual restlessness, a desire to do better, and the realisation that every project is open ended.
"A true artist’s output throughout his career is never what he wanted to achieve", says Aitor. "They’re little experiments, little symptoms of his process to try and get to that thing he’s trying to achieve – it just leaves a trail of exploration".
It seems that just as no artist will ever produce the definitive work of art, no product designer will produce the definitive chair or sweatshirt. “What I’m accepting is: perfection is impossible to achieve, definitely in a six month period”, says Aitor, explaining why his choses to work outside of the artificial six month cycle of the fashion industry. “The closest you can get then, is to build a business model that allows you to improve on an on-going basis.”
Little by little, Aitor is finessing his designs until they are ready to be released into the world. Slowly shading areas and adding lines to thoughts and concepts sketched out long ago, he allows himself the luxury of time, knowing that it will help him create products that stand the test of time. If this means spending eight years developing an armhole or a new zip system, so be it.
It seems that, as for an artist, a product designer’s work is never done.
Two branches of the U.S. military are locked in a property battle worthy of Google and Apple.
By D.B. GRADY l The Atlantic Jan.17, 2013
Military combat uniforms have two purposes: to camouflage soldiers, and to hold together in rugged conditions. It stands to reason that there’s only one “best” pattern, and one best stitching and manufacture. It should follow that when such a uniform is developed, the entire military should transition to it.
In 2002, the Marine Corps adopted a digital camouflage pattern called MARPAT. Rigorous field-testing proved that it was more effective than the splotched woodland pattern in use at the time, and the Combat Utility Uniform (of which it was a part) was a striking change for such a conservative institution.
Not to be outdone, the Army drew up digital plans of its own, and in 2005 issued a redesigned combat uniform in a “universal camouflage pattern” (UCP). Three years after the Marines made the change, four years after the invasion of Afghanistan, and two years after the invasion of Iraq, you might think the Army would have been loaded with data on how best to camouflage soldiers in known combat zones. You would be wrong.
In fact, not only did the Army dismiss the requirements of the operating environments, but it also literally chose the poorest performing pattern of its field tests. The “universal” in UCP refers to jungle, desert, and urban environments. In designing a uniform for wear in every environment, it designed a uniform that was effective in none.
As for durability, not long after the Army combat uniform appeared in Iraq, soldiers discovered that the uniform’s crotch seams were prone to ripping open on the battlefield. Rather than fix the problem, however, the Army simply shipped more boxes of defective uniforms to supply sergeants. Stitching techniques were revisited the following year, and in 2007, uniforms already in circulation were tailored to compensate for the frustrating and distracting deficiency.
As it would turn out, MultiCam — a pattern that the Army had originally passed over in favor of the universal pattern — was discovered to work quite well in Afghanistan. The Army began issuing MultiCam combat uniforms to deployed soldiers, but continued (and continues to this day) peddling universal pattern combat uniforms to soldiers stateside — a combat uniform that will never again be used in combat.
Such dysfunction is not unique to the Army. MARPAT was a success not only in function, but also in adding distinction to the Marines wearing it. Naturally the Air Force wanted in on that action, and set about to make its own mark on the camouflage world. It’s first choice? A Vietnam-era blue tiger-stripe pattern. (You know, to blend in with the trees on Pandora.)
After an outcry in the ranks, the leadership settled on a color scheme slightly more subdued. The new uniform did, however, have the benefit of being “winter weight" only, which was just perfect for service in Iraq.
The Marine Corps has remained loyal to the effective MARPAT, and rightfully so. But when the Navy decided to migrate to a digital pattern three years ago, it chose a desert scheme a few shades too close to that of the Marines, and the Corps balked. The Navy has since restricted its digital desert pattern to Special Warfare units. (The Marine Corps has also warned the Army against infringing on its design.) Essentially, the branches of the U.S. military are now engaged in the same intellectual property battle as Google and Apple.
To make matters worse, the new Navy Working Uniform has been found to be highly flammable, and “will burn robustly” if exposed to fire. In fact, it turns into a “sticky molten material.”
Nobody expects the military to make smart financial decisions. While the six-hundred-dollar hammer was a myth, such boondoggles as the F-35 joint strike fighter are very real. And while it is the world’s best jet for fighting Transformers or supporting Iron Man, it is the worst for modern, non-computer-generated battlefields. (The Air Force isn’t exactly flying a lot of sorties against the Taliban fighter jets.)
But everyone should expect and demand that the Defense Department purchase durable combat uniforms printed with the most effective camouflage pattern. Only the galactic stupidity of the Pentagon would allow inferior concealment in the name of public relations and marketing, which is what this uniform arms race amounts to. Each branch wants its members to have a distinct appearance, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Such matters should, however, be confined to dress uniforms. As a matter of camouflage in hostile areas, a standard combat uniform across the branches is the only sane option.
From a financial perspective, it makes sense as well. Four combat uniforms require distinct accouterments and gear, to say nothing of manufacturing times and transportation overseas. If standards are an issue, I’ll offer a baseline: a pattern that blends into the relevant operating environment; stitching that doesn’t rip at the crotch; material that doesn’t melt onto the skin. And the Pentagon should leave the embarrassing copyright battles to the smartphone industry. I’d like to think the United States military has more pressing things to worry about.