“It is right that we should stand by and act on our principles; but not right to hold them in obstinate blindness, or retain them when proved to be erroneous.” MICHAEL FARADAY

The 15 Things Charles and Ray Eames Teach Us *

1. Keep good company

2. Notice the ordinary

3. Preserve the ephemeral

4. Design not for the elite but for the masses

5. Explain it to a child

6. Get lost in the content

7. Get to the heart of the matter

8. Never tolerate “O.K. anything.”

9. Remember your responsibility as a storyteller

10. Zoom out

11. Switch

12. Prototype it

13. Pun

14. Make design your life… and life, your design.

15. Leave something behind.

(* From: An essay by Keith Yamashita)
The Hannover Design Principles by William McDonough and Michael Braungart:

Insist on rights of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition.

Recognize interdependence. The elements of human design interact with and depend upon the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale. Expand design considerations to recognizing even distant effects.

Respect relationships between spirit and matter. Consider all aspects of human settlement including community, dwelling, industry and trade in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness.

Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems and their right to co-exist.

Create safe objects of long-term value. Do not burden future generations with requirements for maintenance or vigilant administration of potential danger due to the careless creation of products, processes or standards.

Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the full life-cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural systems, in which there is no waste.

Rely on natural energy flows. Human designs should, like the living world, derive their creative forces from perpetual solar income. Incorporate this energy efficiently and safely for responsible use.

Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat nature as a model and mentor, not as an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled.

Seek constant improvement by the sharing of knowledge. Encourage direct and open communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers and users to link long term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility, and re-establish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity.

The Principles of Design by Dieter Rams:

Good Design Is Innovative : The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

Good Design Makes a Product Useful : A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

Good Design Is Aesthetic : The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

Good Design Makes A Product Understandable : It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Good Design Is Unobtrusive : Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

Good Design Is Honest : It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept

Good Design Is Long-lasting : It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.

Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail : Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly : Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible : Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

The Principles of Design by Don Norman* :

Visibility – The more visible functions are, the more likely users will be able to know what to do next. Incontrast, when functions are “out of sight,” it makes them more difficult to find and know how to use.

Feedback – Feedback is about sending back information about what action has been done and what has been accomplished, allowing the person to continue with the activity. Various kinds of feedback are available for interaction design-audio, tactile, verbal, and combinations of these.

Constraints – The design concept of constraining refers to determining ways of restricting the kind of user interaction that can take place at a given moment. There are various ways this can be achieved.

Mapping – This refers to the relationship between controls and their effects in the world. Nearly all artifacts need some kind of mapping between controls and effects, whether it is a flashlight, car, power plant, or cockpit. An example of a good mapping between control and effect is the up and down arrows used to represent the up and down movement of the cursor, respectively, on a computer keyboard.

Consistency – This refers to designing interfaces to have similar operations and use similar elements for achieving similar tasks. In particular, a consistent interface is one that follows rules, such as using the same operation to select all objects. For example, a consistent operation is using the same input action to highlight any graphical object at the interface, such as always clicking the left mouse button. Inconsistent interfaces, on the other hand, allow exceptions to a rule.

Affordance – is a term used to refer to an attribute of an object that allows people to know how to use it. For example, a mouse button invites pushing (in so doing acting clicking) by the way it is physically constrained in its plastic shell. At a very simple level, to afford means “to give a clue”. When the affordances of a physical object are perceptually obvious it is easy to know how to interact with it.

(* Preece, J., Rogers, Y., Sharp, H. (2002), Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, New York: Wiley)


Through our community-curated platform for visual culture, we started observing a range of trends about thirty months ago. penccil is especially suited to an investigation into the creative industries as it is a global, user-curated platform, reflecting trends in design, architecture and the arts in realtime. Within these thirty months, we have have seen several dominant trends declining and new trends emerging.

Despite the global economic slowdown, design and art are as dynamic forms of expression as ever. The global slowdown did not impede the emergence of new design trends; just the opposite, we see a great variety of new approaches emerging.
However, the global slowdown is having an effect on the relationship between companies and designers. There is less interaction between corporations and designers, and more independent design production. The reason: Many corporate design departments, previously the vanguard of advanced design output, have been hit by slowing growth.

Products which created new growth markets by answering unmet needs – Sony’s Walkman in the eighties, Apple’s iPhone in the 2000’s – have reached ‘dominant design’ status where each new model sees only minor alterations. The smartphone market is a case in point. Previously a growth engine for companies such as HTC and Samsung, it is now a contested market where products have reached such a level of sameness that just a low price point can change the entire market – China’s Xiaomi is the premier example.
As a result, corporate design departments are innovating less, and hence exert less influence on the development of the design profession as a whole. Therefore we see more and more designers working outside of the corporate system, and more and more design products manufactured by designers themselves within new models of cooperation, production and sales.

There is also another change happening: The old systems of bringing creative production to the public are changing, giving way to new, more dynamic models.
It was once the role of curators and art editors to “sieve” through the work of designers and artists and to select the ones they found worthy of presenting. Creative practitioners which did not get “picked up” remained unknown. This system was dominated by a few gatekeepers whose likes and dislikes could make and break a creative career. To give just one example: Jean-Michel Basquiat, now considered a prime figure of American modern art, was notoriously ignored by the curators of his time.

penccil removes the barrier of entry for creative practitioners and curators alike. Taking the the individually curated blog a step further, in penccil everyone becomes a curator. We see creative practitioners, gallery owners, collectors and curators showcasing acutely relevant work.

The web disintermediates the gatekeeping systems behind the creative industries. The traditional roles of museums, publishers and curators are changing. Curators are not gatekeepers any more. They become mediators in between creative production, physical or virtual exhibition spaces, and new audiences. The increase in temporary, nearly improvised events – design days, art fairs, maker gatherings – confirms this trend.
“Making it” in the design and art worlds is now much less depending on traditional gatekeeping systems. We see many young designers who consider a presence on online platforms more important than other forms of presence, such as in galleries and museums.

The web has changed the creator-curator relationship also on the curating side: We see curators and editors turning to web platforms to find new talent.
Traditional systems of bringing creative output to markets and audiences are being reshuffled. By way of introducing more variety, reducing barriers to entry and enabling new forms of getting known, the web has added new dynamics to the creative industries despite the global economic slowdown.
In governments, funding for creative practitioners often depends on assessments of the quality of their work, bound to old systems depending on curator-gatekeepers and exposure in museums. As these models are becoming increasingly outmoded, funding mechanisms will need to change to reflect the actual value of creative work in the light of the new dynamics of creative careers.

For companies, understanding and implementing the look and feel of the times has become a vital skill. Today, ceative practitioners are creating the trends which are the lifeblood for companies tomorrow. However, corporate design or marketing departments and the creative industries and its dynamics are increasingly disconnected, making it harder for companies to understand what is happening “out there”.

It is reassuring that the creative industries are getting more dynamic, even in times of economic slowdown. Now companies and governments need to understand and act upon these new dynamics.

Big Data

Big Data. Most people have not seen it – Big Data are not public. But each of us is permanently producing it.
The idea of Big Data is simple – it is, in essence, an action recorder: It records and collects the actions of the users of a product and stores them in a database.
Facebook, for instance, knows what each one of its 1.4 billion users posted and liked. Within these 1.4 billion users, it knows who is connected to whom, who visits what, who likes what. It knows which other apps you use and websites you visit when you enter with your Facebook credentials.
When you post a message on Twitter, the website knows where you are, which device you use, which messages you look at, what you approve of and what you write. When you are using Uber, the service knows where you entered the car and where you left it. When you regularly use a loyalty card in the supermarket, the supermarket knows what food you usually eat. Google knows what you are searching for.
Big Data will become commonplace in most products – the ‘Internet of Things’. Already cars know the routes you drive, refrigerators can record food items and their expiry dates, and your mobile phone knows where you are right now.
Big Data are always data about people, made by people. People create the data for Big Data while they live their daily lives, drive to work, search the web, chat with friends and go shopping. Each of us permanently leaves traces which are recorded and stored by somebody.
Data is capital. Knowing as much as possible about the backgrounds, social circles, interests and opinions of consumers is the holy grail of marketing. Companies who accumulate Big Data – detailed datasets produced by their users – are accumulating assets which are considered highly valuable for companies. The commercial advantages of Big Data are apparent. But what does Big Data tell us about ourselves?
“What is man?” has been one of the fundamental questions of philosophy since Aristotle. Since the homo habilis, man seeked to explain man.Now, for the first time in human history, we know more about the daily lives of much of humanity than philosophers could ever have imagined.
What does that mean for the notion of man? What would philosophers and economists find out if they would have access to Facebook’s data of 1.4 billion people?
If this database would be queried by philosophers, would they find the homo expressivus (the expressive man described by Fichte)? Would they find the homo subjectivus (The self-aware man described by Descartes) or the homo humanus (The human man described by Cicero)?
Would economists find the homo oeconomicus, always looking to increase gain without limit, or the the homo habitualis, who stops looking for gain once he has reached an appropriate living situation?


Design, made by designers, is communicated to design recipients, the public, the users, to markets. In order to get there, design has to be communicated to deciders, managers and organisations using and producing design. How the communication between designers and managers takes place will determine the manager´s faith in a particular design and the subsequent fate of the design itself, as it is usually business managers who finally decide which design is to be produced. Thus business managers are inevitably the agents through which design becomes reality for the greater public.

Designers shape the culture of consumption and most of the artificial world which surrounds us. While business managers are the agents for making design a reality for the production/consumption cycle, designers shape the culture of consumption, the tangible (as in products) as well as the intangible (as in brands) appearance of organisations. Design influences the public which has a choice of either accepting or rejecting a design. This reaction again influences managers and designers when a new design is planned.
Bruce and Cooper describe that “regular communication (of management) with design” is one of the key factors of project success, besides clear project objectives, comprehensive design briefs, top-level commitment, sourcing of appropriate design skills and integration of design with other corporate activities. Jevnaeker states that communicating design repeatedly contributes to the design learning capability in organisations. Peter Bilak points out that “design does not exist in a vacuum. Its position depends on the system of relationships between commissioner, public and designer.”

While the design or design proposal is itself a communicating medium, the interpersonal communication between designers and managers must get the idea across, must make the design understandable and complement the message of the design. The loss of information and knowledge which occurs through poor communication skills and a lack of organisational support is a loss in potential market value. Design success depends on several settings within the organisation, such as the knowledge of the designer about the organisation and vice versa, the knowledge of external factors (markets trends, market knowledge), and the designers competence, talent, intuition, artistry, and imagination. However, the way concepts and solutions are communicated to the deciding managers is of paramount importance for getting a design through in the first place. Communication is the bottleneck through which the designer can make of break his project.

It could be assumed that designers should care for the communication with managers, and that managers have a great deal of interest in the people which shape the visible image of their organisations as it is expressed in products and brands. This is however often not so. Communication is often difficult as there are profound gaps between these two camps. Peter Gorb and Angela Dumas remark that “the design and management relationship appears to be at unease, ambiguous and unclear”. Designers and managers have different worldviews, live in different paradigms, behave and dress differently, work and communicate differently, and have different social abilities.

Workman describes differences between engineering design and marketing, and David Walker describes a range of differences between managers and designers: Different outlooks, different aims, different education and different styles of thought. While there are a lot of differences between designers and managers, they have at least one important aspect in common: They deal with problem-solving. The difference is in the approach, which can be personal, reflected in a personality type, or culturally induced.

The classical divide between analytic and sensual-perceptual skills (visual literacy, object manipulation) and professions is a historical-cultural development rather than a skill divide which is inscribed in our genes: Humans are, by evolution, made to solve fuzzy-perceptual-manipulative tasks and not logical-abstract ones. The cultural division starts with education, where numeracy and literacy are supported as core subjects, while visual literacy and tactile skills are not valued. This gap runs through higher education and right into organisations.
The reason for this preference of abstract-analytical thinking can be found in European history. The Logos, the art of logical reasoning, lies at the heart of Greek philosophy. In the period of European enlightenment, thinkers like Locke, Kant, Voltaire and Montesquieu found the analytical mind to be the very force setting people free from the power of the church. Hans Moravec, chief scientist at the Robotics Laboratory in Carnegie Mellon University and specialist in Artificial Intelligence, explains that this division of analytical and sensual abilities in humans is actually a paradox when the history of human evolution is considered:
”Computers were invented recently to mechanize tedious manual informational procedures. Such procedures were themselves invented only during the last ten millennia, as agricultural civilizations outgrew village-scale social instincts. The instincts arose in our hominid ancestors during several million years of life in the wild, and were themselves built on perceptual and motor mechanisms that had evolved in a vertebrate lineage spanning hundreds of millions of years. Bookkeeping and its elaborations exploit ancestral faculties for manipulating objects and following instructions. We recognize written symbols in the way our ancestors identified berries and mushrooms, operate pencils like they wielded hunting sticks, and learn to multiply and integrate by parts as they acquired village procedures for cooking and tent-making. Paperwork uses evolved skills, but in an unnaturally narrow and unforgiving way. Where our ancestors worked in complex visual, tactile and social settings, alert to subtle opportunities or threats, a clerk manipulates a handful of simple symbols on a featureless field. And while a dropped berry is of little consequence to a gatherer, a missed digit can invalidate a whole calculation. The peripheral alertness by which our ancestors survived is a distraction to a clerk. Attention to the texture of the paper, the smell of the ink, the shape of the symbols, the feel of the chair, the noise down the hall, digestive rumblings, family worries and so on can derail a procedure. Clerking is hard work more because of the preponderance of human mentation it must suppress than the tiny bit it uses effectively.”

Analytical abilities are a fairly recent acquisition of humans, and we are not very good at them. Moravec came to his conclusion by researching that robots and computers are able to analyse massive amounts of data in short time, while it is extremely difficult to make them react to fuzzy tasks and to sense their environment.

The division of fuzzy-sensual and analytical-logic is a cultural construction. While these differences can easily become an overused stereotype, the personal experiences of people who worked with designers often support this statement. Miklós Biró and Tibor Remzsö point out that engineering designers and business managers have basically different motivations. In their opinion, it is of strategic importance to explain the differences in motivations to both sides. Also Abbie Griffin and John Hauser describe that there are significant differences in communication patterns in new-product development teams among marketing, engineering and manufacturing and suggest that firms are distinctively more successful at new-product development if there is more communication between marketing, engineering, and manufacturing. Communication can be difficult even between members of the same professional group. The linkages between task and employee as described in the linkage of product architecture to organizational architecture do often not match. Griffin and Hauser identified differences in the behaviour of engineering teams designing modular components to that of engineering teams designing distributed components and found that development professionals often do not communicate even when their product components interact. On the other hand, teams can interact while their components do not share a direct interface. Similar boundaries are existing for instance in medicine: Medical Doctor Stefan Schreiber explains that medical doctors today still work within boundaries which are 400 years old, from a time when doctors segmented the human body into its organs. Genetics show that there are various connections in diseases which reach across the boundaries of organs. For instance, inflammations in the mouth tend to indicate that there is an inclination to inflammations in the intestinal tract, but the boundaries of medicine make it difficult to effectively help a patient: Inflammations in the mouth are the concern of dentists, while for inflammations in the digestive tract a patient has to go to another specialist. Thus, in a full third of patients these parallel symptoms remain unrecognised. The problem of communication is the problem of crossing boundaries – between and within professions and cultures. Also the designer-manager communication, in order to be beneficial for an organisation, has to cross the boundaries of different worldviews, attitudes and motivations.

The 5 C’s: Design skills for the near future

Since the first introduction of CAD and 3d modeling systems, code is behind most products. With generative design, the code becomes the design itself. Big data about user behaviour in combination with machine learning and adaptive production methods (Industry 4.0) will make highly personalized and adaptive design solutions the new normal. To master code, designers have to be able to write it.

With the Internet of Things, the division between interaction design and industrial design is about to disappear. A designer will have to know how to code, prototype, and build intelligent products with embedded applications. Start with Raspberry Pi, Arduino or Nanode.

Globalisation, the different speeds of civilizations and the increasing complexity of technology create a reality in which technological, social and environmental issues are getting increasingly intertwined. There are no simple solutions to complex problems. The ability to navigate complexity will be a key skill for the designer of the future.

In a globalized world, cultures can adapt, mix, or clash, and differences can be hard to handle. Deep-seated assumptions rooted in a designer’s own culture can lead to products which do not work in other cultures – psychologically or in terms of use. Openness, the ability to emphatize, and an understanding different cultures and users will be as important as understanding a wide range of technologies.

In a world of limited resources and climate change, in-depth knowledge of recycling technologies, biodegradable materials, and the ability to design for a circular economy – by considering disassembly and recycling already during the design process – will become a needed precondition. Designers will need to be able not only to conceive new products, but to plan the way these products are made, unmade, and recycled. What comes around goes around.

Super. Sneakers.

Original published on May 5, 2006.

The super-heroes in X-men are mutants, humans whose genetic codes have been altered by unknown means to add capabilities of warfare. One can produce lightning, another one kills people with a laser gaze, one can read thoughts, and one has retractable metal blades inserted in his hands. All of them, just as the super-hero iconography demands, have tight body-suits showing their athletic, or, if they are women, Playboy-mag standard bodies.

The super-human is the iconic ideal for ourselves, an image always near enough to create a subconscious striving and always far enough to render that striving vain. The super-human is living in constant warfare, there must always be an evil opponent, there is always the world to be saved.

The whole narrative, retold in millions of variations, depends on an evil opponent. Without opponent, there is no narrative, and the whole reason for a super-human existence would cease to exist. It is thus in the vital interest of super-humans to have evil opponents at their disposal – if there are none, new ones have to be created.

Super-humans need super-“gear”. There are super-bikes, super-cars, super-planes and super-suits; The super-man Superman wears his own “S” brand printed on his suit, Batman’s logo is projected onto the clouds of the nightly sky. The super-human is branded and depending on his tools and outfit – Superman, in “real” life a mediocre middle-class guy, becomes super only with his suit on and his glasses off.


And surely enough there is super-gear available to bring every mediocre middle-class person a bit closer to super-human status. It doesn´t quite make you fly like Superman, but it makes you nearly fly like Superman; it doesn’t quite make you jump and swing like Spiderman, but it makes you nearly jump and swing like Spiderman. And you don´t even have to know the secret headquarters of the various super-hero organisations. You can obtain this super-gear easily from the shopping center nearby, just go to the sneaker store.

Sneakers are named and designed to eliminate the last particle of the idea that they would in fact be shoes. Sneakers are not shoes. They are bikes (Hi Tec Enduro), airplanes (Nike Air Streak Spectrum Plus), drugs (Brooks Adrenaline GTS, Brooks Trance NXG), web browsers (Saucony Grid Web), space ships and outer space weapons (Mizuna Wave Spacer, Merrell Exotech, Adidas Supernova Control).

Sneakers are not shoes and they are not for walking. They are filled with gels, hexa-something structures, springs, artificial bones and acupuncture devices. They are super-gear for warfare in any terrain – in fact warfare with any terrain. If it is the rap warfare in the South Bronx, the fashion warfare in Manhattan, the warfare with suburban asphalt or the countryside terrain, the sneaker is designed to make you victorious.

In this narrative, the sneaker is the super-gear, the terrain is the evil opponent, and you are (nearly) the super-hero. As you are just nearly there, you don’t get your own super-hero brand, but at least you can obtain the magical might of the branded super-gear – now for only 299,90.

An object called “Supernova” cannot possibly look like a shoe. The plain surface of leather is historically loaded with the idea of a shoe. Thus the surface consists of fragmented patchworks of differently colored and structured derivates of the oil industry such as Nylon and PVC. Iconography has completely taken over the product: The sole is designed as if there are springs attached at the bottom of the shoe, creating the impression that you could move by jumping, the sneaker being a comic-strip version of an iconic symbol: Hermes’ winged shoe.

Sneaker designs, with their abundance of symbolic decoration pretending to have a technical reason, are the mannerisms of the post-industrial society. Super-gear production must be a mystery, an alchemistic-technological process supervised by shrewd designers and scientists in futuristic headquarters. Sneakers are supposed to be bionic extensions, genetically engineered for the constant super-human warfare of the 21st century.

We buy SUVs pretending to master every terrain, but we drive them on perfectly paved higways to our gated community. We wear sneakers which look like the outfit of super-heroes and super-athletes, but what we actually do in them is to walk around in air-conditioned shopping centers.