How often do you change your toothbrush?

We cannot know how often you pull a new brush from its wrapper, but statistics suggest that we in general do it way too seldom. The average Swede, for example, only changes brushes once or twice a year. The toothbrush manufacturers are of course hard at work to remedy this, and are spending millions of ad bucks in the process. So far, however, none of the big budgets (as far as we know) have produced an idea as simple and clever as Patrik Ström Widmark at have done. He has set up a simple website where he sells tooth brush subscriptions. With such a subscription you get one or more new and fresh toothbrushes in the mail each month. The brushes are available in soft or medium, and they are SEK 24:90 (approx. USD 3:60) a piece plus postage. Now, so far Patrik sell his toothbrushes in Sweden only, but we thought the rest of the world might like the idea anyway.brbr

“You web/print guys have it sooooo easy…”

The other day, the creative director at my company who is my counterpart on the print design side overheard a discussion between me and our digital senior art director and blurted out “You web guys have it sooooo easy!”

When we asked him why, he replied “You don’t have to spend so much time dealing with typography, kerning, widows, etc. because that stuff is not possible on the web.” Of course, our digital AD shot back “You print guys have it easier than we do because what ends up on the printed page is the same for everyone whereas we have to deal with varying monitors, fonts, browsers and bandwidth.”

Of course, being the only one of us three who has spent at least 8-9 years in the print world and then also in the interactive world (3 of those years overlapped the two worlds), I can honestly say there are unique challenges that designers in both worlds face. Having said that, I would say designers who design for the digital space have it a bit harder. Here’s why.

Designing for a moving target

Every designer, regardless of which medium they design for, faces their own unique sets of challenges. However interaction designers must also design for a medium in which the technology, expectations and user habits change every six months or so. Just think about some of the assumptions about user behavior from not even 7-8 years ago that were accepted as fact as far as the web is concerned:

  • Users will not put their credit cards into a web browser
  • Web users don’t want to spend much time on web sites, they want to get on and get off very quickly
  • Because of insufficient bandwidth, the web is a poor medium for video
  • There is no real application for television on the internet

There is much we know about how humans interact with the printed word on a page. While habits are shifting, we know a great deal about how humans interact with the medium of television. But just when we think we have human interaction on the internet pegged, a shift occurs. The increase in broadband access has created shifts in human behavior on the web that has turned what was once accepted conventional wisdom on its ear.

5 years ago, who could have predicted the YouTube phenomenon?

Who would have imagined, back in 2000, that Steve Jobs would become a major influence in the music industry?

Who would have imagined that on Friday at lunch hour in cubicles across America, employees would inhale sandwiches at their desks while catching up on “Grey’s Anatomy” on the web — for free?

And yet during this sea of constant change, interactive designers are expected not only to stay one step ahead of the curve but to do great work in the process. Of course, advances in browser technology and the movement of a great many web designers and web developers to adopt web standards has allowed web designers to exert more and more “print-like” features to HTML text than previously imagined, like leading (known as line-spacing), hanging bullets in list items, indented copy and initial caps.

Lovely web page design. Will it look just as good on my Blackberry?

Where this becomes tricky for the web designer is that the web is all about putting the control of the display of content into the hands of the user, rather than the designer. I have to admit, the print designer in me struggled with this for a long time. Print designers get paid to control the final display of printed content. Every copy of every printed material should look alike. The ink coverage, color intensity, registration and trapping on the very first brochure out of the carton had better look the same as the ink coverage, color intensity, registration and trapping on the very last brochure out of the carton or there will be hell to pay.

In the web world, while there needs to be a certain degree of uniformity of colors and layout, the expectation is that depending on which system and browser a user is on, that content will differ. The print designer in me saw this as a huge drawback until I saw the opportunity in it: the ability to deliver unique, interactive content to users on the web! You go from “Sh*t, what he sees on his computer is not exactly the same as what she sees on her computer” to “YES! What he sees on his computer is not exactly the same as what she sees on her computer!”

When I was doing print, how cool would it have been to offer up personalized brochure content for each user who viewed it, depending on their tastes, region or buying history? Better still, how cool would it be to simply and inexpensively tailor this content to be viewable by the visually-impaired? Those on mobile devices?

Today, we do that by lunch time.

Of course, being a print designer is no picnic either. 8 years ago, when I made the move 100% into the interactive world and left the print world behind for good, one of the things I was glad to leave behind was the late night press run. Or the inevitable call you get from a client, 2 months after printing thousands of materials, that a phone number has changed or a team member has left or changed positions and that now we must find a way to reflect these changes without incurring the costs of re-printing everything again.

And it’s not like printing technology has stood still in the last 10 – 15 years either. Digital and database-driven, short run printing has changed the way designers approach projects today as well. And certainly knowing that some things are probably better tackled on the web has changed the rationale for what gets printed and in what quantities.

Be that as it may, as a designer for the web I realize that what I’m really designing is human interaction on the web. And the only thing I know is that in 6 months — and most certainly in 6 years — a lot of what I accept as standard practice today will be changed. And I have to keep up with all of it, or start driving a cab.


Sunlight everywhere.

Using fiber optic wiring and specially developed solar panels and lighting fixtures, it is now possible to install sunlight even in some of the darkest rooms. Sunlight has many advantages over electrical lighting. One of them of course being that sunlight is virtually free once the apparatus has been paid for. An other that the human organism reacts favorably to natural light. The Swedish company Parans Daylight has developed a system with which solar light can be transported up to 3 stories (about 15 meters or 50 feet) via fiber optic cable and distributed through special lighting fixtures, designed to mimic the way light filters through foliage.brbr

Trash can with with solar powered compactor.

As we drink more and more soft-drinks, beers and bottled water, eat more junk food and read more free dailies, the trash mounts up in our cities. And to add to the mess, at least the people of Stockholm seem to have increasing difficulties in finding a suitable waste bin. If you do not believe us, visit Hötorget (a central city square) on a saturday- or sunday morning. It looks a lot like the picture on the left. The Stockholm City Council are currently running a pretty lame campaign to teach people to find the city’s trash cans, but this may be a better idea. This is BigBelly, the trash can with it’s own solar powered compactor. Thanks to the compactor, it can hold four times as much trash, and thanks to solar power it does not need any external power. The result? Well, according to a list of American cities that have bought and used the BigBellies, they have saved on trash collection costs and their streets are significantly cleaner. In our neck of the woods, it may work only in the summer, but on the other hand that is when the trash problem is the worst…brbr

Chain free bike with electrical assist.

American bicycle manufacturer Schwinn has released their 2007 line-up. Among the new bikes are two models with both chain-less shaft transmission and a small electrical assistance motor. The motor and battery is pretty well integrated in the design; the batteries placed under the baggage holder. The batteries will be a lithium polymer variant that Schwinn claims to be the lightest and most durable yet. One charge will last 60 miles. The price for these bikes will range from USD 1,499:- to USD 1,999:-.brbr

Wine taster’s glass with nose cut-out.

At first we did not know what to think. Is this for real or not? But after some research it seems to be kosher. Hammacher-Schlemmer are selling these wine glasses with the novel nose cut-out. And if you read the picture the same way we did, it looks like you are supposed to poke your schnozzle through the cut-out to really inhale the delicate aroma of the wine. But that is not the case, at least it is not the way H-S believes we are supposed to go about it. Their idea is that you turn the cut-out away from you when you sip. We still think our first instinctive interpretation is better. The glasses are USD 50:- a pop on Hammacher-Schlemmer.brbr

Bicycle bag with built-in lights.

We get quite a load of e-mail every day. Surprisingly many come from businesses in China, Korea or Taiwan. Firms that must have harvested the internet for addresses to sites they think will have an interest in their products. Mostly the mails are about stuff we have already written about (that is probably how they found us) but the other day was an exception, and we learned about a product we had never heard of before. A bike bag with an integrated light. The red parts seems to be something we in lack of a better term will venture to call flat LEDs. Batteries are kept inside the bag, of course. We do not know if, and where, these bags may be available for purchase, but we like the idea enough to post it anyway. The factory that makes the lighted bags (and a lot of other stuff) is apparently the Mustang Industrial Corp.brbr

The original stash sandal. And a stash sneaker.

At least that is what Matt Potts of Archport claims, and he does have a patent (US Patent 6,094,844) to back up his claim. Matt’s e-mail was probably prompted by our previous post on the stash sandals. If Matt’s company was indeed the first to incorporate a hidden pocket in shoes, it seems that someone liked the idea so much they decided to make their own version. And if that is not the ultimate praise, we don’t know what is. And besides, Archport makes stash sneakers, too. The Archport sandals and sneakers are available in different colors (tha sandals) from Archport or from Amazon at USD 42:45 (sandals-) and USD 79:95 (sneakers-).brbr

Socket Pocket for charging cell, PDA or iPod.

We have stumbled upon a n number of ideas for a holder for a charging mobile, PDA or iPod lately. For example these charging cradles who both are supposed to be attached to the actual wall power outlet. Or the Mobil Pit that does the same thing, but takes up more space. Today’s find looks to us to be a bit smarter still, since it lies flat to the wall. The Socket Pocket will replace the standard wall socket plate using the same screws. It is USD 15:- on Get Organized.brbr

Hopefully non-lethal prison pen.

Prisoners, at least in the US, seems to have a tendency of killing each other off for different reasons. The power of imagination when it comes to designing improvised weapons seems to have no limits, which has led prison authorities and designers to try to create everyday objects and tools that can not be transformed into weapons. One example is the no-shank toothbrush we have mentioned earlier, and here is another; the bending pen. The pen is supposed to be impossible to make into a weapon, and it is USD 10:- on the Spycatcher webshop.brbr