December 12, 2019

When less is not more: How typefaces are swinging away from peak minimalist

It seems we’ve hit a point where “less is actually less,” at least with regards to typography in brands. We take a look at the re-emergence of more embellished typefaces in a market that’s likely had enough of peak minimalism.

How we got here

Eliza Brooke for Vox points out the association between minimalist design (and typefaces) with the expediency offered by lifestyle start-ups: “Rather than being descriptive of the product itself, startup minimalism indicates how that product will be purchased and delivered to the shopper: digitally, easily, inexpensively, and with a smile,” she says. “It promises no bullshit and no imposition on your busy schedule.”

It could be said that this level of approachability, which Rachel Hawley describes as “creepy cheerfulness” wasn’t just the doing of new, then-exciting start-ups but a series of factors that followed bigger shifts in technology and culture:

  • The Biggest Players Move: Visual rebrands of big companies such as Google and Facebook in the mid-2010s generated ripples that led newcomers and competitors alike to follow suit.
  • Mobile-first: Simpler fonts are often associated with designing for mobile experiences.
  • Load Times: Likewise, simpler elements mean less information to load and therefore, faster load times on devices.
  • Effort: No one’s saying that sans serif fonts are always easier to develop, but the absence of serifs, representing an entirely new set of design decisions, certainly streamlines the process a little more — especially when your competitors and the rest of the industry are doing the same.
  • Effort: It’s not just the companies that are demanding simplicity in visual language. Howard Belk explained the association customers have, in between simple messaging and the honesty of the company they’re interacting with. For this reason, branding that’s visually easy to process gives assurances to customers having difficulty making sense of a complex world.

What is Didone?

Didones are a category of typeface that emerged in the late 18th century but was not coined until the ‘50s. The name combines the surnames of famous typefounders Firmin Didot and Giambattista Bodoni. This category is characterized by:

  • Serifs: Serif typefaces have embellishments at the end of the strokes in their letters (as opposed to sans-serif typefaces like the ones used on this website). Didones have long narrow serifs.
  • Contrast: Didone has a strong contrast between thick and thin strokes.
  • Vertical weight axis: Vertical strokes tend to be thicker.
  • Modern: They were and are considered more “modern” due to their simplified and relatively unadorned appearance, especially in contrast to the Old Styles that were more defined by the hand lettering styles of scribes.

Despite its long history, Didone’s are still in use, including the eponymous typefaces Didot and Bodoni. Modern typefaces like Didones represent a more complete departure from the typefaces that resembled the handwritten tradition such as Old Style (also called humanist).

The pendulum swings back

Hawley chalks the return of Didones to several factors that accompany the transition away from Peak Minimalism:

  • Luxury: the re-introduction of embellishments with Didones adds a sense of luxury and sophistication to the brand that’s being promoted with the typeface.
  • Startups and Youth: Hawley notes the emergence of Didones for new companies and start-ups marketed toward millennials such as wine club Winc.
  • Gender: Similarly, Didones have been appearing in the logos of brands marketed towards women including clothing retailer Modcloth and Flesh, a shade-inclusive makeup brand.

As the shift in the opposite direction continues, we think it’s likely more brands will return to reflecting their brand, what they’re selling and the audiences they’re targeting in their choice of typefaces (being more specific).

The Takeaway

While this analysis only looks at Didones, only one category of typeface, we’ve noticed other brands seek to visually design themselves with typefaces that buck the stripped-down minimalist trend we saw at the beginning of the decade until now.

This could mean keeping the same minimalist typeface albeit with bolder, louder fonts, drawing from the past with typeface families that are time-tested or doing something completely different with custom typefaces or hand-drawn branding.

Unsurprisingly, when a given “look” or style becomes so popular that the market becomes saturated to the point it becomes the new normal, it becomes that much more important for a brand to stand out and for a more refreshing human touch to come back to the visual language. As Hawley puts it:

“Within the broader minimalist framework, however, ornate flourishes such as that of the Didones sate their viewers’ need for a reprieve from the visual austerity of the past decade, and the political austerity for which it has served as the default style. Sitting on the train, I found myself captivated by an advertisement for mattresses I can’t afford, of all things, simply because its typography injected a moment of beauty into a day spent being bombarded by advertisements that, with rare exceptions, look more or less the same.”

November 28, 2019

On the Need to Diversify Standardized Visuals and "Re-Image" the World

Whether we realize it or not, widely copied and distributed visual elements like graphics and photos represent and shape our consciousness. With the rise of diverse emoji, there’s never been more momentum to give these “standard” visuals a much-needed update.

Sharing the Space is Important

Icons are distilled representations of reality, usually used to efficiently communicate and be easily recognized in highly visible places. Copied and distributed often enough, they repeatedly influence our consciousness, both online and off.

“Space also includes the digital world, which unlike physical space, is theoretically limitless.The digital realm is governed by an audience’s access and attention, and value is determined by the reach and visibility of competing content,” says Erika Kim, head curator for the Noun Project. “Quality representation and visibility in these spaces — especially public or highly visible space — implies legitimacy and value, which translates to influence.”

In her article on gendered depictions of different jobs and roles in icons, she lists three ways graphic designers can even the playing field:

1. Make equal depictions in terms of quantity and quality: Male and female equivalents of a given role such as astronaut, as well as even application of design principles to avoid unintended meaning (which elements are larger, in front, or placed in a position of authority or power?)

2. Appropriate depictions:  Aside from ending the blatant perpetuation of outdated stereotypes (say, anachronistic or inappropriate depictions of women in certain jobs), Kim encourages creating less commonly seen depictions that challenge rigid gender roles.

3. Meta Data: Consistency in the titles and tags between variations on a common image. For instance, a male and female icon titled as “business person” would have similar tags or synonyms such as ‘manager’, ‘leader’ and the like instead of a different set of meta data for each.

It’s a big lift, but it’s not that heavy

If the popularization of emoji is any indication, similar updates in diversity to standardized assets are quantum leaps, stepping stones or no big deal at all, depending on who you ask. After emojis became more widespread beyond Japan with Apple’s iOS 5 in 2011, the world adapted to using the icons in addition to just text and the more basic emoticon.

After Apple introduced racially diverse emoji in 2015, there were concerns over whether they would be abused or introduce new problems into a space that didn’t have them before. That said, some studies have shown they’ve been largely used as intended and have been a net positive for inclusiveness. Just like the many special characters than your computer is capable of producing (you’ve never heard of the interrobang‽), even if you don’t need to use them, someone else most certainly does.

Similarly, having images that represent the diverse people in the real world means a lot to those traditionally excluded from these spaces. For one, TONL is a stock photography company that features culturally diverse people. But more importantly, it represents both a demand for that diversity from paying customers, but also that there’s still room for change in seemingly calcified symbols representing objective truths.

The Takeaway

Whether it’s emoji or stock assets like photos, footage, icons and graphics, these elements are intended for wide distribution and can appear at multiple corners of online spaces, shaping our collective consciousness. This analysis isn’t the end-all be-all take on how to approach diversity in standardized visuals, and there are likely to be hurdles and friction on the way, but we recognize the need for that diversity and that the updating process is long overdue. The ever-shifting ways in which we communicate about a complex world is going to require more nuance, and that can only be conveyed by having greater diversity in our visual choices.

August 1, 2019

Still Sounds About Right—The Need for Audio Feedback from Devices


If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Put another way, if a phone receives a call and the phone is set to silent, does it make an action? Of course it does—whether we can hear it or not. Device sounds, although we still might not pay them much attention, have been giving us the feedback we need for decades, even as tech becomes less and less mechanical.

Thomas McMullan spoke with developers and musicians to understand how the sounds of our machines (those that sound to represent activity) evolved and where they’re going.


  • Jim Reekes: Behind some of Apple’s most iconic audio effects. Used a recording of his old camera for the screenshot sound on Macs. The association between that sound and cameras persists today—even for people who only use digital ones.
  • Ken Kato: Composed the Windows 98 theme, sound designer for Halo 4 with 343 Industries, and current audio director for the VR studio Drifter Entertainment.
  • Steve Milton: Co-founder of Listen, a “sensory experience” company responsible for the sound design of apps including Skype and Tinder.
  • Becoming Real: London-based electronic musician.
  • Lindsay Corstorphine: Music facilitator and band member of Sauna Youth.

Their Quotes

  • Jim Reekes: “Audio is still ignored for the most part. Part of the problem is how good design is invisible.”
  • Ken Kato: “When I made (the Windows 98 bootup sound), Microsoft started out with about 20 sound designers, and there was a little contest, like a league competition. We went up against each other making sounds, and then a committee would choose which sound they liked.”
  • Steve Milton: “The biggest and most obvious is the shift away from skeuomorphic sound. Early sounds would attempt to mimic or sample the real world — quacks, pianos, trash, etc. But as the visual design moved away from skeuomorphism, we also start to hear more abstract expressions, sonically.”
  • Becoming Real: “Machines have become quieter, smaller, less noticeable, as the importance isn’t so much what the technology looks like — it’s how it can perform for us.”
  • Lindsay Corstorphine: “Recently, I’d say sound design has become less ostentatious and more functional, but with a hint of sentimentality for a mechanical past.”

Why this matters

In a previous analysis on usability, we referenced Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for Interface design, which were created in 1994 but remain relevant to this day. The first on the list is “visibility of system status” where the system gives users feedback on what is going on. Following up after that is “match between system and the real world,” which means, “The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases, and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.”

We can apply this principle to why we still need very tangible signs from machines that, as they get more advanced, produce fewer and fewer sounds when they function. Custom tones help us differentiate messages from different contacts.

Haptic feedback, like vibrations, can do the same or simply lets us know when we fail to unlock our phone with our fingerprints. These are the machine-made “words” that we require to understand for context, but rather than come up with completely original sounds or icons it can be easier to re-use designs that draw existing associations developed through time. We don’t use floppy disks anymore, but the image is often used as the icon for the ‘save’ button in apps and the one-dot-to-two-dot ‘share’ icon has now joined that collective memory.

In the same way, we associate non-verbal sounds like the shutter with photo taking, rapid beeping with timers or alarms, honking with cars, and the sad trombone with failure or disappointment. For now, the associations persist because we still have a “match between system and the real world.”

What sounds right now might not tomorrow

Reekes raises an interesting premise of customizing the sounds of our silent electric cars of the future much like we would the ringtone. As Milton said, the sounds being produced are no longer based on real-world counterparts but are created from zeroes in a digital space.

As the sonic signature of machines changes as their mechanical parts decrease, we might see a greater need for new sounds to stand in and give feedback, and users and sound designers will become less bound by a longing for the past and any obligation to stick to history. We might end up eventually retiring the iconic shutter sound and only come to recognize some new never-before-heard tone instead.

July 22, 2019

Dark Patterns Get You To Buy Things You Don't Want

Dark patterns on the web are bad for consumers

Dark patterns, a practice that uses sketchy UX to trick users into making unintended decisions, are nothing new and pollute many e-commerce sites across the net. If you’ve ever booked a flight online, you’ve probably seen callouts informing you that only a few seats were left, a great way to increase your purchasing urgency. Chances are though, the flight is not anywhere near fully booked, and you’ve been suckered into making quick decisions. These UX techniques are becoming even more prevalent, often to the detriment of consumers.

Dark patterns deceive consumers

Dark patterns are a byproduct of proactive and often nefarious human designs. Companies seek to maximize profits by nature and employ many techniques that can legally achieve this end. Web designers leverage their understanding of online habits with behavioral patterns to optimize certain responses. Major tech companies have enlisted the help of behaviorists and gambling experts to redesign apps in the past as a means of increasing engagement. Casinos are regulated entities—apps and online shopping stores are not. However, consumers are none the wiser, often acting upon false stimuli to make brash decisions out of fear of missing out on deals. Many concerned parties are now paying attention.

Regulators are on the prowl

In an environment of heightened scrutiny, regulators are keeping tabs on a wide number of tech companies. Facebook comes to mind as it looks to expand its e-commerce capabilities, especially through payment initiatives like Libra. Regulatory bodies exist to protect consumers from abuses, including dark patterns like those you see across e-commerce websites. One problem remains: how can regulators properly address what is a dark pattern, and what is deemed acceptable? In addition, how can consumers better protect themselves to avoid falling into these traps? This will be a long battle, especially given how slow regulators both pick up on abuses and enact laws.

Result chasing lead to dark patterns

Where do we draw the line between crafty salesmanship and shady user manipulation? Perhaps this is subjective, but dark patterns are a systemic result of bad incentives. E-commerce sites track an array of metrics, though some are more salient than others. You’ll often hear about Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) or Average Order Value (AOV), data-points that all platforms seek to improve. How do sites achieve these targets? Either through cutthroat pricing or dubious techniques, tricking consumers into buying items they either don’t want or need. Companies create urgency by creating false discounts, fake purchases, and fake reviews. In addition, achieving such goals lead to unintended and negative consequences. By selling more stuff, especially stuff we don’t need, we deplete resources in the name of growth. These dark patterns supercharge metrics like GMV and AOV, but subsequently, lead to more long-term problems.

A creative solution?

The ultimate goal is to protect and better inform consumers. There is nothing wrong with optimizing e-commerce stores, so long as the techniques are honest and transparent. Since businesses generally have no incentive to do so, how can consumers fight back? One way would be to simply boycott firms that use such techniques. Consumers can and do band together to make their voices heard—we could expect a similar response if companies keep abusing these processes. In addition, some e-commerce platforms can highlight their sales processes and responsible practices to entice shoppers, reaping the benefits through stronger engagement. Until then, consumers will just need to keep their eyes peeled.

July 11, 2019

How will immersive new media push the evolution of usability?

Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design (1994) remain relevant today even for UI in modern software, websites, apps and even video games. We’re no stranger to these guidelines being bent or broken for artistic or commercial merit, but how will the playing field change when the interfaces they were designed for eventually evolve to become us?

The Original Heuristics

For reference, heuristics are “any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method, not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, logical, or rational, but instead sufficient for reaching an immediate goal.” These can also be used to decrease the cognitive load on a person to speed decision-making. Here is a brief summary of Nielsen’s original 10:

  • Visibility of system status: The system gives users feedback about what is going on.
  • Match between system and the real world: The system favors language and concepts familiar to the user and real-world conventions.
  • User control and freedom: Users have the freedom to undo or exit functions executed by mistake.
  • Consistency and standards: No guesswork as to whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing.
  • Error prevention: Careful design that eliminates the potential for errors.
  • Recognition rather than recall: Visuals are used extensively and instructions accessible to minimize the user’s memory load.
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use: Expert users can access accelerators, unseen to novices, that speed up interaction.
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design: Information provided is inconspicuous, relevant and efficient.
  • Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors: Errors identified in plain language (no codes), and constructive solutions are offered.
  • Help and documentation: Easy to search, focused on completing the user’s task and of appropriate length.

The spectrum of immersiveness and user agency

While the above guidelines make perfect sense, developers have always interpreted or flouted them for commercial, artistic or other intentions in social media, video games, apps, websites or any other kind of interactive software.

For one, some games such as Wild West-themed Red Dead Redemption 2 offer the option of switching off the heads-up display (HUD) that includes the map, meaning players have to rely on landmarks and directions from non-player characters to find their way (just like we used to).

If you’ve mistakenly clicked into a 3rd party site when simply trying to clear a pop-up ad, there’s a good chance you’ve gotten a taste of Dark UX to use a less colorful term. Some are not as downright manipulative to squeeze that one-time action out of you, but rather are a combination of more subtle interface design decisions meant to loosen our purse strings or keep us engaged with—or dependent on—a given digital medium.

Depending on the creator’s intentions, we the users will find ourselves falling somewhere on a spectrum with every digital medium we experience, where total unconscious immersion lies at one end and complete freedom and control at the other.

Tomorrow’s interfaces and the blurring of reality

As we get closer to developing better and better media forms that involve the user on a deeper level, many of the above heuristics may become locked to certain benchmarks and inseparably merged as part of a new standard for user experience: total immersion.

Nielsen’s original usability heuristics were created in 1994 and certainly remain relevant beyond the software they were intended for originally. Today, the boundaries between software, apps and websites are constantly being blurred depending on how and how much the user can interact with them. Even though we’ve come a long way from a time when the only input devices were mouse and keyboard, and we’re still busy exploring the potential of capacitive surfaces beyond the touch screen, the interface and user remain separated at the hands.

But because the 10 heuristics have always favored the user anyway—their end goal is to reduce cognitive load and ease decision making—the interface will eventually do away with separate peripherals and the user will become the input device.

When eye movements, speech, and even thought become an industry standard input for interfaces, we’re going to reach a point where the usability of all apps, sites and software is going to be evaluated on the by-then increased user expectations (for example “the program responds quickly to my gestures in the air, moves the displayed area with my eye movements or pauses when my mind is focused elsewhere.”)

By this time, anything that delays this or responds in a non-intuitive way will effectively “break” the immersion, violating several heuristics in one fell swoop and thus affect a program’s usability—what we’d currently call “buggy” or laggy controls.

Art and industry

Regardless of whether an app, program, game or simulation is for commercial or artistic purposes, a creator’s goal is always strong user engagement whether that be evaluated in how often they revisit it or how long they spend with it. Just as long-form journalism, feature length films and perhaps eventually even podcasts decline in popularity, creators need to keep asking themselves how their respective arts and industries might change as attention spans shift and shrink while the path of least resistance shortens.

When VR and other yet to be defined new mediums reach a high enough standard to become widespread and normalized in our everyday lives (we’re getting there), we will have to figure out how we address the divide between this world and the creator’s. Photographer, artist and VR filmmaker Julia Leeb uses VR to so that her audiences can experience the terror of war in an uncomfortable but physically safe manner. What are the implications of future artists that remove user agency to execute their visions? How will industry standards evolve to address Dark UX in commercial VR apps? Should we establish upper limits—a “no go” zone—for how immersive something can be? Or will we simply treat new mediums as just another field of rabbit holes, each of which we impressionable humans can get lost in, as we have tended to do?

You might say we’ve watched one episode of Black Mirror too many, but it never hurts to be mindful of how we use the new things we create, but also how we can be used by them in return.

June 6, 2019

Yasunori Fujikawa discusses ONFAdd's approach to product design for an evolving world

At first glance, ONFadd appears as a product brand focused on technical function. The predominately black tones give off a utilitarian angle. But beneath the surface is a much larger play at hand.

ONFAdd is part of a larger agency, known as NEWPEACE, which at its core tackles cultural pillars in flux including politics, gender, travel, and more. Each product exists as a potential solution to a challenge identified by the ONFAdd team including storage, clothing, and accessory lines. We connected with ONFAdd’s Yasunori Fujikawa for insight into the brand, its structure and how they view their contribution to the changing world and traveling lifestyle many are adopting.

See ONFAdd’s whole product line over at their site.

How did the idea for ONFAdd begin?

The catalyst was one of our team members who hates carrying bags around took it on himself to prototype a “bag that can only hold a MacBook Air.”

It was conceptualized as “hands-free, light-weight,” but this was also reinforced with elements of traditional Japanese considerations towards mobility, which helped us to realize our first collection “Inspired by Japanese culture.”

Since then, we’ve taken the theme of “mobility” beyond just Japan. It wasn’t meant as some lofty abstract concept, but rather starting from your immediate needs and making your own product to fit those needs.

What are your thoughts on the future of work and travel?

Aside from technological progress (especially mobile cloud-based AI), there’s going to be a few important changes to the context of work headed our way:

  • Diminished need for a “dedicated workspace”
  • Diminished need for people who can only judge in a “yes/no” logical framework
  • Greater need for people who can work creatively within different paradigms

Travel will be a key means of achieving that. People come up with new things by going to different places, walking through them and intermingling with communities and knowledge that’s accumulated through history. I think this is how we go about “making the world a better place” in that work starts to resemble travel for leisure and travel for leisure starts to resemble work. Eventually, the two will merge to the point they’re like any other “human activity.”

Can you tell me a bit about the sister agency? How does ONFAdd interact with that?

ONFAdd is a division of a company called NEWPEACE and its mission is to update an outdated society.

NEWPEACE is a made up of a group of small teams tasked with accomplishing that through a different theme including love, gender, politics, ideology, housing, food, education, sports, etc. Within the scope of these themes, team members conduct both client work and their own businesses.

ONFAdd is actually positioned as a company within a team whose theme is “dwelling.” One of the conditions for each theme, essentially each team, is that there has to be more than one business in it. For people trying to update the world, I think it’s important both internally and externally to commit to risk-taking using your own company. Externally it shows to a client that you’re responsible and prepared, while internally, you learn more and accumulate more knowledge about the client you can share, which makes things more efficient.

How do you come up with products? What is your process?

A vision of the world you want to create, a certain function, material, social trend, traditions from around the world and things like that can all be starting points. Oftentimes, it starts with whatever inspirations the members in charge of product design have, but sometimes it stems from something an external partner brings up. Beyond that, the general product development workflow stays basically the same: you source materials, make the first prototype, and then balance function, meaning, and economics through three rounds of prototyping.

How many of your solutions are based on traditional problems (i.e. traveling or carrying heavy items vs. digital problems)?

Our team members all have a strong interest in solving “universal” problems. Because we’re also a product-based brand, for the time being, most of our approaches are naturally geared toward realizing physical goals. So building on those two points, we’ll be looking to solve a lot of traditional problems regardless of if that problem is an old one with a long history. Rain Socks, which emerged with yesterday’s rare sneaker boom comes to mind, That concept ended up solving the fairly traditional problem of shoes getting wet in the rain, but the catalyst of the idea is quite modern.

Do you think there’s a Japanese approach to how ONFAdd solves problems? What is that process like?

We think of things subtractively. When you have a lot of problems you want to solve at the same time, you don’t achieve that by increasing the number of functions, but instead keeping its physical nature and shape as abstract and simple as possible so it can be used in more ways. That would be the most Japanese approach, I think. During product development, the design gets simpler and simpler and we rarely add features after the first sample.

What has been the most interesting product you’ve designed so far?

We emphasize the following factors with our items:

  • Hackable: It can be used to “hack” existing systems in a way that makes it more convenient for you as opposed to the original intended usage.
  • Adaptable: It’s open to change and flexibly adapts to us and our environments and situations without assuming a single correct answer.
  • Scaled Back: It distances itself from the value system of “more is more and bigger is better” and focuses on capturing the richness you find at the edge of one’s imagination.

Of the items that fit the above that many of our members like, it would probably be the Rain Socks. What started as conveniently-sized foot covers for chemical plants that also increased the durability of the soles effectively became an essential item for sneakerheads. I would say that makes it a perfect case that fulfills those requirements. At the very least, it’s an interesting product even if you just look at the sales and market response.

Do you think about some product’s lifelines? For example, the rain socks only last for 10 km which some have said isn’t very sustainable.

The team definitely recognizes that sustainability is a premise that can’t be ignored. I think brands that don’t care about that now will eventually be seen as uncool from an ethics standpoint. Most of our items are about as robust as other brands, so I don’t think the life cycle is necessarily short. However, for products that touch the ground and where the primary goal is to keep shoes clean, it’s hard to match the durability of other items, but we’d definitely like to keep improving in terms of durability and adopting environmentally friendly materials.

What types of products do you want to explore in the future?

We’re currently developing a line of super basic bags catered to a lifestyle in motion that isn’t fixed in place. The plan is to make this line the go-to for the pioneers of the segment. We hope to create the durability and timelessness that will keep it at the forefront of culture even 100 years from now, much like Louis Vuitton was when travel for leisure evolved to become part of our culture.

What’s been the most challenging part about ONFAdd?

I would say creating a culture and a brand that can carry that culture far enough to become a world-view. While I’m satisfied with the system we created and all the cool things we were able to create from it in such a short period, I feel that unless we don’t continue to strengthen the link between our product development philosophy and the target market, it’ll be hard to create the big shift in society we want. As we look to become the first choice of the people pushing society forward and create a new future with them, we need to become the brand that can communicate what that’s going to look like.

Do you think that ONFAdd only creates solutions for bigger problems in society like capitalism, unaffordable homes, or a lack of permanent jobs?

Strictly speaking, it’s not that we’re not concerned with how “big” the problem is so much as we’re a lot more interested in how great the benefit to society will be if we come up with solutions.

April 10, 2019

Iceland's At10 creates bioplastics from animal byproducts

At10 Iceland bioplastics packaging

At10, an Icelandic design studio, wants to change your relationship with packaging. Instead of relying on traditional single use plastics, the company makes gelatin-based packaging which incorporates the whole animal as part of the process. This means that all facets become edible, including the packaging itself.

At10 creates Bioplastic Skin

At10’s innovation solves two core problems:

  • It utilizes all facets of the animal and reduces waste
  • It limits the usage of single-use plastics

We could definitely use a whole lot less packaging. As global warming and environmental destruction continue, more companies are turning to alternatives to limit our carbon footprint. We’ve also highlighted firms like Exo and Tiny Farms who leverage new protein sources like insects which reduces environmental impact significantly. Initiatives like Bioplastic Skin and others alike rekindle our relationship with both consumption and the animal itself. As the At10 points out, “This material should not come across as unsavory or repellent in any way, on the contrary, the hope is that people can appreciate the poetic gesture of putting an animal back into its skin and serving it that way to people.”

Though the thought of eating an animal served in an animal maybe be unappealing to you, perhaps these new systems will focus our attention back towards making more sustainable decisions.

March 27, 2019

O2O2 is pioneering "facewear" with a data-driven solution for clean air

Respirator and Pollution Mask

New Zealand’s pristine land and air are home to Ilya Vensky, Jerry Mauger, and Dan Bowden, founders of O2O2. But it was problems far from home that brought them together and led them to the formation of O2O2.

The human-first company is a modern solution for addressing air quality. Each of the three found a common interest in improving the quality of air. Most are familiar with the cheap masks with the elastic bands which provide a less than ideal performance outcome. Each co-founder’s unique problems led them to create a new solution built from the ground up. Ilya Vensky’s experiences were particularly critical. While living in China, his expecting wife mysteriously fell ill. Upon moving his family back to New Zealand, the symptoms subsided. Likewise, Dan Bowden’s experiences cycling in London and the health issues around commuting left him searching for solutions. The third piece of the puzzle honed in on problems on movie sets. Jerry Mauger spent considerable time in this environment and realized a traditional mask wasn’t effective. Three different experiences culminated in O2O2, a new category they’ve dubbed “facewear.”

In the formative stages of the company, it only took a few shorts to conceptualize and establish the brand’s underpinnings. O2O2’s core goal is to build a company that provides a more humanistic solution towards improving air quality. Their work sits at the intersection of both solving immediate and future challenges. The immediacy of it is to create clean, fresh air for the wearer. But a data layer provides the opportunity for users to monitor and track air quality recordings. This data collection has the potential for shifts in both behavior and public policy. It’s undeniable that O2O2’s current design conjures up memories of Google’s failed attempts at wearable tech with their glasses. The current iteration of the design isn’t a seamless integration into one’s life. Not yet anyways. There’s a certain performative aspect to it. However, it should be seen as a more technically-advanced approach to air purification and a process be likened to that of an F1 race car. We hold a firm belief in that performance in itself is an aesthetic. Looking past the designs, at some point, those developments will be more affordable, more efficient, and most importantly, accepted. The dystopian undertones are superficially hard to ignore. The belief is that O2O2 can usher in a new relationship between society and the data around air quality. These are compounding outcomes that won’t leave you breathless.

We were initially introduced to O2O2 through our friends at IISE, who collaborated with the company through a special unit. Surprisingly, fashion and its human-driven design make for a perfect partnership for O2O2. We spoke with Dan Bowden to gain some insights into the brand, its relationship with design as a platform, and how there’s more than the eye can see with the initial models.

For more information, head over to their website.

O2O2 facewear girl city

What kind of company is O2O2?

I think it’s something new. We’re a human company first and foremost, with technology that serves a purpose. But I’d hate to think of us a technology company. We’re trying to solve a problem through humanistic form and function. We’re also not fashion nor a wearable. It’s in this hazy intersection of technology, fashion, and wearables. It’s an unusual space and unique space to be in.

How did the idea come about to create your own segment? It sounds challenging.

When we first came out with this idea, everyone went “well, you’re a mask or a respirator.” Everybody had a certain ethos behind how they solved that problem. We purposefully set out to carve out own territory. You have eyewear, footwear, now how about “facewear?” It’s a brand-new solution and it’s re-purposing an existing, tried, and failed technology.

O2O2 facewear guy model

How does it work?

In short, we create a high localized pocket of slightly pressurized clean air in front of the nose and mouth. We achieve this through the use of fans on either side of the face, which pull the polluted air through an active nanofiber cleaning it in the process. This now clean air is propelled, colliding in front of the nose and mouth. When air collides, it is a higher air pressure than the ambient environment. By creating this pocket of slightly pressurized clean air, no polluted air can enter – it’s a little like the clean air manufacturing facilities, but a personalized, portable air system.

What makes O2O2 different than what’s currently on the market?

We have independent validation from our partners at the Auckland University of Technology of the performance improvements. We’re keen to hold back on the magnitude improvement over current technologies until we are closer to launch. Other than to say, it’s very, very good.

The reason for the material improvement is that traditional masks/respirators have two variables at play: 1. filtration and 2. the seal. The filtration is the easy part and we have world best in this sphere. But we don’t need the seal. The seal is the hardest item for traditional technologies because every face is different, every face moves, faces sweat, faces grow hair all of these things mean an imperfect seal. We’re simply removing the most flawed of only two variables.

Of course, that doesn’t even mention the more human benefits such as no more smudged makeup, the ability to have a facial hair, no more fogging for people who wear glasses and no more re-breathing of hot air you exhaled—where traditional masks trap the air you just exhaled, we don’t have any trapped air, quite the opposite.

O2O2 facewear sunglasses girl

One thing that’s interesting is how you’ve layered on a technological data layer. Can you explain how that works?

There are two parts to the data. It comes as a result of what we’re producing naturally by providing the best protection against airborne pollution and pathogens. There’s data around making your personal life better and then there’s the data set around making the community and society better. Regarding your own life, we can collect data around respiration rate and volume. That’s similar to a digital health device. Overall, it can help diagnose diseases and enhance your fitness, it’s not about collecting data for data’s sake. The second part of the data is to create something that enables citizen science. Not only are you collecting data on where you’re wearing the device but the pollution on the streets. If you’re affected by pollution, you’re collecting data to solve a problem. It’s a personal connection to a problem and a personal ability to know what’s happening in society. An example, if your city has changed over to electric buses, and all of a sudden the pollution has gone down by 30%, you’ll be able to see that on a very personal level.

Amidst all the controversies around data collection, what’s the O2O2 perspective?

We see a lot of these tech companies collecting data, but for what purpose? That really doesn’t sit well with us. We want to enable people and enable societies to collect data that can effect change in your daily routine. You control your own data on a society basis. It’s data that can you can put in front of the politicians to hopefully force change.

Backstage girl model O2O2

The mask and its design itself is unlike what most people are used to. What are some challenges in making it more mainstream?

What you see now is a blank canvas where collaborators and human designers can change the form and function. We own a platform, not a specific design. Just like a pair of sunglasses have a basic form with two lenses, two arms, and a nose bridge, for us we have the same potential. We know how to create the technical solution around it with the nanofibers, the fan, and shield. But after that, there’s amazing design freedom. We’re looking to work with awesome collaborators from around the world who can envision the future of this product. It’s not going to be what it is today in five years from now.

That’s an interesting way of looking at it. Consumers often have a misguided perception that what they see is what you’ll see in five years. To treat it as a platform invites a lot of potential.

The design solution is very human-driven. The typical mask is a tight seal around the mouth and nose. It means it can be difficult to speak to another person. You can’t smile at your son or daughter. It makes facial hair, glasses, and make-up cumbersome. In the medical market, somebody who is sick is subjected to a dehumanizing experience of being shut off from the world. Even if a doctor and a patient may not speak the same language, they can both speak the language of smiles. If you’re solving those human problems, you’ve got this huge amount of design freedom.

O2O2 IISE model girl runway

How does the role of partnership and collaboration such as fashion play into the bigger picture?

We had the opportunity to work with industrial and technology designers. But they don’t really understand the human form and they don’t work with the human body as much. If this platform is going to have a human design element, we’ve got to work with people who understand this and that’s fashion. It will be core to what we’re doing. If you look at the human body, the most prominent and valuable part is the face. If we went out and started to do this overly tech sort of thing, we’d run into problems quickly. We must work with people who genuinely understand that.

What have been some of the most pleasant surprises along the O2O2 journey?

It’s how much people have wanted to make a change and how much people are willing to do good. You get very cynical when you are coming from the business world. But when you show them a proposition where you can smile at their daughter, they can live without fear of air pollution, they do want to help and contribute.

Before starting O2O2, what did you think the journey would be and what has been the reality?

There’s this glorified version of what starting a company and being an entrepreneur is. It’s been a lot more challenging for me personally that would have ever expected. We are designing something from the molecular level upwards. We’ve got legal, regulatory, and fashion challenges. It’s a really hard thing to do from all aspects of science. What’s been pleasant is what you show people the vision, you can bring people from multi-disciplinary groups whether it’s fashion, Korean manufacturers, to New Zealand Nanotechnologists and Brooklyn-based cyclists. It’s rewarding when you can bring all these people together to solve these problems.

March 23, 2019

Ruined by Design is a book documenting the destructive history of design and how designers can fix their mess

Design continues to be a powerful tool that spans every part of our lives. Our interactions include consumer products and user experiences, to hidden forces such as algorithms. A new book by Mike Monteiro (of Mule Design Studio) titled Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It, investigates the damaging impact of design.

According to Monteiro, design has been ruthlessly efficient. The world is working as intended based on the conscious decisions of designers. But the outcomes have been disastrous. It’s now time for designers to reclaim their roles as gatekeepers for the sake of a better world.

Why we’re interested

Design has been lauded as a solution to all problems. But depending on context, we’ve received limited upside. The task of repurposing the focus of design towards positive outcomes is daunting. It’s our hope that his book brings clarity into the changes and applications we can make to better the narrative.

Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It is available for Kindle pre-order on Amazon for USD 10. The paperback version will release on April 12.


The world is working exactly as designed.

The combustion engine which is destroying our planet’s atmosphere and rapidly making it inhospitable is working exactly as we designed it. Guns, which lead to so much death, work exactly as they’re designed to work. And every time we “improve” their design, they get better at killing. Facebook’s privacy settings, which have outed gay teens to their conservative parents, are working exactly as designed. Their “real names” initiative, which makes it easier for stalkers to re-find their victims, is working exactly as designed. Twitter’s toxicity and lack of civil discourse is working exactly as it’s designed to work.

The world is working exactly as designed. And it’s not working very well. Which means we need to do a better job of designing it. Design is a craft with an amazing amount of power. The power to choose. The power to influence. As designers, we need to see ourselves as gatekeepers of what we are bringing into the world, and what we choose not to bring into the world. Design is a craft with responsibility. The responsibility to help create a better world for all.

Design is also a craft with a lot of blood on its hands. Every cigarette ad is on us. Every gun is on us. Every ballot that a voter cannot understand is on us. Every time social network’s interface allows a stalker to find their victim, that’s on us. The monsters we unleash into the world will carry your name.

This book will make you see that design is a political act. What we choose to design is a political act. Who we choose to work for is a political act. Who we choose to work with is a political act. And, most importantly, the people we’ve excluded from these decisions is the biggest (and stupidest) political act we’ve made as a society.

If you’re a designer, this book might make you angry. It should make you angry. But it will also give you the tools you need to make better decisions. You will learn how to evaluate the potential benefits and harm of what you’re working on. You’ll learn how to present your concerns. You’ll learn the importance of building and working with diverse teams who can approach problems from multiple points-of-view. You’ll learn how to make a case using data and good storytelling. You’ll learn to say NO in a way that’ll make people listen. But mostly, this book will fill you with the confidence to do the job the way you always wanted to be able to do it. This book will help you understand your responsibilities.

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