"Our interest is in technology and engineering and design, and as a family business, we are able to keep the focus and philosophy there. We’re able to think very long-term, to develop technology that might be 20 to 25 years away. We can afford to do it. We can afford to make mistakes without anyone being sacked. We can take a long-term view of everything." ... Last year, the company broke ground on a more than $400 million technology campus adjacent to the Malmesbury headquarters. When it is completed next year, it will house 3,000 designers and engineers. Already, the company has brought in hundreds of software and computer hardware specialists and tripled the size of its engineering staff. The company currently funnels $2.5 million into R&D every week ... In coming months, the technology campus will serve as a launching pad for a range of new verticals, some of which Dyson has disclosed (robotics), some of which seem imminent (the Sakti3 investment appears to indicate a further interest in household electronics), and some of which are entirely classified. ... In the 15 years Dyson spent painstakingly perfecting the 360 Eye, a range of autonomous floor cleaners have entered the market, including iRobot’s Roomba and several models from Samsung. Dyson says that the 360 Eye will offer better suction, more advanced sensors, and longer-lasting battery life than its competitors. Still, in a sense, the device is illustrative of the challenges Dyson faces as it attempts to expand into categories already thick with deep-pocketed rivals: What happens when a company accustomed to being hailed for its innovations decides to play catch-up?
It’s OK if you haven’t heard of it. The very concept of a blowout isn’t familiar to all women, and it’s largely foreign to men. ... Since opening its first salon in 2010, Drybar has become to blowouts what Starbucks is to coffee. It didn’t invent the blowout but has played a singular role in making them a thing. Like America’s biggest coffee chain, it has obsessed over everything from music to its shelf displays and maintained the kind of fine-grained control over its outlets that is only possible by owning most of them — only about 20% of Drybars are run by franchisees. The result is a carefully honed experience for customers, one that more and more women are willing to pay generously for. ... Drybar has grown fast: The company said it will make more than $100 million in sales in 2016 and will end the year with 75 salons in tony metropolitan markets, up from 61 today. About a quarter of its revenue will come from selling branded hair-care tools and products ... While the company envisions 300 to 400 Drybars in the U.S. in the long run, an escalating number of competitors believe they can do exactly what it is doing — perhaps even better. Canada’s Blo operates 50 salons and plans to end the year with 70 using an all-franchise model. ... Others pepper the nation, from small chains like Rachel Zoe’s DreamDry and Halo in the San Francisco Bay Area, to stand-alones with cutesy names like Haute Air, Pouf, and Hairports.
Harris is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience. As the co‑founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group, he is trying to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices. ... While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” ... we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us. ... He studied computer science at Stanford while interning at Apple, then embarked on a master’s degree at Stanford, where he joined the Persuasive Technology Lab. Run by the experimental psychologist B. J. Fogg, the lab has earned a cultlike following among entrepreneurs hoping to master Fogg’s principles of “behavior design”—a euphemism for what sometimes amounts to building software that nudges us toward the habits a company seeks to instill. ... Sites foster a sort of distracted lingering partly by lumping multiple services together.
In theory, the redesign begins with a problem. The problem might be specific or systemic or subjective. A logo makes a company’s image feel out of date. A familiar household object has been overtaken by new technology. A service has become too confusing for new users. And so on. The world is, after all, full of problems. ... The human desire to solve problems fuels brand-new inventions too: The wheel, for example, eased conveyance significantly. But the redesign tends to address problems with, or caused by, dimensions of the human-designed world, and identifying such problems may be the designer’s most crucial skill. Redesigns fail when they address the wrong problem — or something that really wasn’t a problem in the first place. While progress may entail change, change does not necessarily guarantee progress. But a clever redesign, one that addresses the right problem in an intelligent fashion, improves the world, if just by a bit. ... the platonic ideal of the redesign: A designer sees a problem, proposes a solution, makes a difference. Such tidy narratives fuel a reigning ideology in which every object, symbol or pool of information is just another design problem awaiting some solution. The thermostat, the fire extinguisher, the toothbrush, the car dashboard — all have been redesigned, whether anybody was clamoring for their alteration or not.
Lego is an idea as much as it is a toy; if you try hard enough, you can fit the entire story of the last century of child’s play and the hopes and desires of every parent into one of its 9.6-millimeter-tall rectangular plastic bricks. Molded in a thermoplastic polymer, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, Legos are known for their durability, which is why you can pull out the 30-year-old Legos stashed in your parents’ basement and, dated color schemes aside, they’ll be the same as they ever were. Not only will they look the same, but they will fit together with every other one Lego has ever made, even those going back to 1949, when a Danish toy-maker named Ole Kirk Kristiansen made his first plastic brick. Lego calls it the System of Play, and it is both a manufacturing principle, allowing the company to reuse the same molds to make infinite new sets, and a play proposition: The more bricks you own, the more you can build. ... Like all 6,500 Lego elements — cubes, rectangles, octagons, wheel beds, arches, even the tiny semi-circular hands of yellow mini-figures — the standard brick has a variation of just 0.004 millimeters, which means Legos are more precisely crafted than your coffeemaker, your television, even your iPhone. ... By 2003, the company was on the brink of financial collapse, just three years after Fortune had named it “Toy of the Century.” ... In Lego lore, the crisis provoked a companywide soul search. And where the soul was located was in the brick. Henceforth, the brick would be the center of everything it did, toy trends be damned. ... play researchers argued that toys should foster more open-ended creativity and exploration — toys that forced the child to do the work, like Lego.
Why do people like what they like? It is one of the oldest questions of philosophy and aesthetics. Ancient thinkers inclined to mysticism proposed that a “golden ratio”—about 1.62 to 1, as in, for instance, the dimensions of a rectangle—could explain the visual perfection of objects like sunflowers and Greek temples. Other thinkers were deeply skeptical: David Hume, the 18th-century philosopher, considered the search for formulas to be absurd, because the perception of beauty was purely subjective, residing in individuals, not in the fabric of the universe. “To seek the real beauty, or real deformity,” he said, “is as fruitless an enquiry, as to pretend to ascertain the real sweet or real bitter.” ... Over time, science took up the mystery. In the 1960s, the psychologist Robert Zajonc conducted a series of experiments where he showed subjects nonsense words, random shapes, and Chinese-like characters and asked them which they preferred. In study after study, people reliably gravitated toward the words and shapes they’d seen the most. Their preference was for familiarity. ... This discovery was known as the “mere-exposure effect,” and it is one of the sturdiest findings in modern psychology. ... People get tired of even their favorite songs and movies. They develop deep skepticism about overfamiliar buzzwords. ... A surprise seems to work best when it contains some element of familiarity. ... On the one hand, Hekkert told me, humans seek familiarity, because it makes them feel safe. On the other hand, people are charged by the thrill of a challenge, powered by a pioneer lust. This battle between familiarity and discovery affects us “on every level,” Hekkert says—not just our preferences for pictures and songs, but also our preferences for ideas and even people. ... The power of these eureka moments isn’t bound to arts and culture. It’s a force in the academic world as well. Scientists and philosophers are exquisitely sensitive to the advantage of ideas that already enjoy broad familiarity.
Then, last June, the renovation team discovered Ketra, an LED lighting startup from Austin that promised some pretty big things. ... The first was what Ketra calls “natural light”: white light sources that imperceptibly change their color and intensity throughout the day to mimic the lighting conditions outside. The second was an extreme degree of control. Ketra lights could be wirelessly grouped into zones of any number of lights that could all be separately adjusted via custom software on a wall panel, computer, or phone. The third was precision. Each Ketra bulb contained a patented sensor that measured its own color 360 times a minute to make sure the light being produced was the light being requested. Ketra was selling precisely measured, nature-approximating light, accessible throughout the massive office at the press of a button. ... who really needs them? Being all things to all people doesn’t come cheap. A single Ketra bulb costs about $100. ... before you can sell millions of dollars of high-tech lighting to some of the world’s biggest companies, you have to convince them that there is a very big problem with their light. ... At the heart of Ketra’s tech is an LED chip capable of temperature-optical feedback, which senses heat and color output in real time and adjusts itself according to that data.
Nothing about Smith or the simple design of the sneaker itself — neither has changed much since 1971 — explains how Adidas was able to sell 7 million pairs by 1985. Or how that number had grown to 22 million pairs by 1988. Or why Footwear News named it the first-ever Shoe of the Year in 2014. Or how it surpassed 50 million shoes sold as of 2016. Or how the sneaker grew far beyond its start as a technical athletic shoe and became a fashion brand, its basic blank slate evolving and taking on new meaning and purpose. ... The sneakers weren’t even designed with Smith in mind. Adidas heir Horst Dassler made them in 1965 for the French tennis player Robert Haillet. ... It was the most technically advanced tennis sneaker of its time, one of the first made of leather in a field of canvas, with a herringbone bottom designed for use on clay courts.
Over the course of his career, the aristocrat of American architects, who turns 100 on April 26, has drawn on a dazzling range of influences, from Chinese gardens to ancient Colorado cliff dwellings to the fountain in a Cairo mosque. He blended the austere modernism of the Bauhaus with opulent Beaux-Arts classicism, technological daredevilry with reverence for precedent and a minute study of the past. ... Born a banker’s son in Shanghai, Pei arrived at MIT in 1935 as an engineering student and later attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design. By the time he was done with his studies, the Japanese had gone to war with China and bombed Pearl Harbor. He was not going home anytime soon — not, as it turned out, until 1974.
His company, he said, had “grown like a weed.” His workforce had increased significantly over a decade, coming to fill more than 100 buildings as workers created one blockbuster product after another. To consolidate his employees, he wanted to create a new campus, a verdant landscape where the border between nature and building would be blurred. Unlike other corporate campuses, which he found “pretty boring,” this would feature as its centerpiece a master structure, shaped like a circle, that would hold 12,000 employees. “It’s a pretty amazing building,” he told them. “It’s a little like a spaceship landed.” ... Inside the 755-foot tunnel, the white tiles along the wall gleam like a recently installed high-end bathroom; it’s what the Lincoln Tunnel must have looked like the day it opened, before the first smudge of soot sullied its walls. ... They describe the level of attention devoted to every detail, the willingness to search the earth for the right materials, and the obstacles overcome to achieve perfection, all of which would make sense for an actual Apple consumer product, where production expenses could be amortized over millions of units. But the Ring is a 2.8-million-square-foot one-off, eight years in the making and with a customer base of 12,000. How can anyone justify this spectacular effort?
Over the past 18 months, a five-year-old consortium of furniture manufacturers and design firms called BeOriginal Americas has been training US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers to distinguish real Eames, Starck, and Mies van der Rohe designs from fakes, among others. It’s working: According to CBP’s Intellectual Property Rights Seizure Statistics report (pdf, p.5), in 2016, customs officials confiscated 42 shipments of unauthorized replicas worth an estimated $4.2 million. ... But they’re up against a vast knock-off industry. Labeled with nice-sounding terms like “reproduction,”replica,” or “homage,” many designer chairs in offices, hotel lobbies, airports, restaurants and even big furniture stores are actually unauthorized copies. And while a knock-off Eames or Barcelona chair might seem like a harmless, budget-friendly addition to your living room, these illegal knockoffs threaten the economy and the environment, and erode the very meaning of design.