Category Archives: Design

Design: Google’s “Dragonscale” solar roofs

For the last few years I’ve been curiously watching what I affectionately call “nerd terrariums” being erected on Google’s main campus. Now the team behind their unique roof designs is providing some insight into how they work:

These panels coupled with the pavilion-like rooflines let us capture the power of the sun from multiple angles. Unlike a flat roof, which generates peak power at the same time of the day, our dragonscale solar skin will generate power during an extended amount of daylight hours… When up-and-running, Charleston East and Bay View will have about 7 megawatts of installed renewable power—generating roughly 40% of their energy needs.

Four construction team members install BIPV at Google’s Bay View office development.

Check out a quick overview—literally:

Plus Code addresses make the world more navigable

Finding my grandmother’s home in Ireland was one of the weirder adventures I’ve experienced. Directions were literally “Go to the post office and ask for directions.” This worked in 1984, but we visited again in 2007, the P.O. was defunct, so we literally had to ask some random neighbor on the road—who of course knew the way!

Much of the world similarly operates without the kind of street names & addresses most of us take for granted, and Google and others are working to enable Plus Code addresses to help people get around. Check out how it works:

Google writes,

Previously, creating addresses for an entire town or village could take years. Address Maker shortens this time to as little as a few weeks — helping under-addressed communities get on the map quickly, while also reducing costs. Address Maker allows organizations to easily assign addresses and add missing roads, all while making sure they work seamlessly in Google Maps and Maps APIs. Governments and NGOs in The Gambia, Kenya, India, South Africa and the U.S. are already using Address Maker, with more partners on the way. If you’re part of a local government or NGO and think Address Maker could help your community, reach out to us here g.co/maps/addressmaker.

Design details of the Blackbird

I know it’s a little OT for this blog, but as I’m always fascinated with clever little design solutions, I really enjoyed this detailed look at the iconic SR-71 Blackbird. I had no idea about things like it having a little periscope, or that its turn radius is so great that pivoting 180º at speed would necessitate covering the distance between Dayton, Ohio & and Chicago (!). Enjoy:

Come help me design The Future!

I’m incredibly excited to say that my team has just opened a really rare role to design AI-first experiences. From the job listing:

Together, we are working to inspire and empower the next generation of creatives. You will play an integral part, designing and prototyping exciting new product experiences that take full advantage of the latest AI technology from Adobe research. We’ll work iteratively to design, prototype, and test novel creative experiences, develop a deep understanding of user needs and craft new AI-first creative tools that empower users in entirely new and unimagined ways.

Your challenge is to help us pioneer AI-first creation experiences by creating novel experiences that are intuitive, empowering and first of kind.

By necessity that’s a little vague, but trust me, this stuff is wild (check out some of what I’ve been posting in the AI/ML category here), and I need a badass fellow explorer. I really want a partner who’s excited to have a full seat at the table alongside product & eng (i.e. you’re in the opposite of a service relationship where we just chuck things over the wall and say “make this pretty!”), and who’s excited to rapidly visualize a lot of ideas that we’ll test together.

We are at a fascinating inflection point, where computers learn to see more like people & can thus deliver new expressive superpowers. There will be many dead ends & many challenging ethical questions that need your careful consideration—but as Larry Page might say, it’s all “uncomfortably exciting.” 🔥

If you might be the partner we need, please get in touch via the form above, and feel free to share this opportunity with anyone who might be a great fit. Thanks!

Google taps (heh) Project Jacquard to improve accessibility

It’s always cool to see people using tech to help make the world more accessible to everyone:

This research inspired us to use Jacquard technology to create a soft, interactive patch or sleeve that allows people to access digital, health and security services with simple gestures. This woven technology can be worn or positioned on a variety of surfaces and locations, adjusting to the needs of each individual. 

We teamed up with Garrison Redd, a Para powerlifter and advocate in the disability community, to test this new idea. 

UI Faces enables easy avatar insertion

As I obviously have synthetic faces on my mind, here’s a rather cool tool for finding diverse images of people and adding them to design layouts:

UI Faces aggregates thousands of avatars which you can carefully filter to create your perfect personas or just generate random avatars.

Each avatar is tagged with age, gender, emotion and hair color using the Microsoft’s Face API, providing easier filtration and sorting.

Here’s how it integrates into Adobe XD:

Design: Why Monorails almost never work out

I was such a die-hard Apple dead-ender in the 90’s that I’d often fruitlessly pitch Macs anyone who’d listen (any many who wouldn’t). My roommate would listen to my rants about the vile inelegance of Windows, then gently shake his head and say, “Look, I get it. But the Mac is like a monorail: it’s sleek, it’s beautiful, and it’s just stuck on some little loop.” Then off he went to buy a new gaming PC.

This funny, informative video explains the actual mechanics & economics that explain why such “futuristic” designs have rarely made sense in the real world. Check it out.

Design: Dunking on Dubai

“A strange mixture between Futurama & Evil Los Angeles… The worst of urban planning and capitalism, plus some slavery for good measure. Welcome to Dubai, everyone.”

This darkly funny piece presents some eye-opening info on a petrodollar playground literally sinking into the sea. Along the way it draws comparisons to past misallocations of every sort of capital (e.g. as in Communist Romania, “Smooth-brained dictator + construction = dumb shit.”

I should hasten to say that I have never visited Dubai & don’t know of any connection with anyone connected with it.

“How many robots does it take to run a grocery store?”

A few years ago I found myself wasting my life in the bowels of Google’s enterprise apps group. (How & why that happened is a long, salty story—but like everything good & bad, the chapter passed.) In the course of that we found ourselves talking with IT folks at Ocado, a company that’s transformed from grocery shopping into the provider of really interesting robotics. Check out this rather eye-popping demonstration of how their bots fulfill orders at crazy speed:

[Via Dave Musgrave]

The Story Behind the Theme Song to ‘Seinfeld‘

It’s a little OT for this blog, but I really enjoyed this article as a discussion of design—of using art to solve problems.

I told Jerry, “It sounds more like a sound design issue than a music assignment. So, how about this? We treat the Seinfeld theme song as if your voice telling jokes is the melody, the jokes you tell are the lyrics and my job is to accompany you in a musical way that does not interfere with the audio of you telling jokes.

Also great:

Warren Littlefield had the unfortunate job of telling Larry, “I don’t like the music. It’s distracting, it’s weird, it’s annoying!” And as soon as he said the word annoying, Larry David just lit up. Like, “Really? Annoying? Cool!” Because if you know Larry, if you watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, that’s what he loves most, to annoy you! That’s his brand of comedy. 

Now, enjoy (?) Seinfeld meeting Kendrick Lamar:

Animation: Gmunk & Light

I’ve admired the motion graphics of Bradley Munkowitz since my design days in the 90’s (!), and I enjoyed this insight into one of his most recent creations:

What I didn’t know until now is that he collaborated with the folks at Bot & Dolly—who created the brilliant work below before getting acquired by Google and, as best I can tell, having their talent completely wasted there 😭.

Brickit scans Legos & suggests creations 🤯

OMG—I’m away from our brick piles & thus can’t yet try this myself, but I can’t wait to take it for a spin. As PetaPixel explains:

If you have a giant pile of LEGO bricks and are in need of ideas on what to build, Brickit is an amazing app that was made just for you. It uses a powerful AI camera to rapidly scan your LEGO bricks and then suggest fun little projects you can build with what you have.

Here’s a short 30-second demo showing how the app works — prepare to have your mind blown:

Titles: “The Punisher”

Even if I weren’t, to my surprise, watching the Netflix series The Punisher and liking it way more than I expected, I’d be a sucker for this kind of beautiful title sequence:

I have the show to thank for introducing me to this brutal Tom Waits banger, which comes equipped with its own surrealist nightmare of a video:

Lego introduces Adidas shelltoes

Oh my God.

LEGO has officially announced the new LEGO adidas Originals Superstar (10282) which will be available starting on July 1. The shoe has 731 pieces and will retail for $79.99. In the ongoing collaboration with adidas, LEGO has recreated the iconic Superstar sneaker in brick form. Instead of the regular LEGO packaging, the set will actually come in a shoebox for authenticity and even the laces on it are real.

Design: The “Supersonic Booze Carrier”

I’ve always said that when—not if—I die in a fiery crash alongside Moffett Field, it’ll be because I was rubbernecking at some cool plane or other (e.g. the immense Antonov An-124), and you’ll remember this and say, “Well, he did at least call his shot.”

Suffice it to say I’m a huge plane nerd with a special soft spot for exotic (to me) ex-Soviet aircraft. I therefore especially enjoyed this revealing look into the Tu-22, whose alcohol-based air conditioning system made it a huge hit with aircrews (that is, when it wasn’t killing them via things like its downward-firing ejection seats!). Even if planes aren’t your jam, I think you’ll find the segment on how the alcohol became currency really interesting.

Illustrator & InDesign get big boosts on Apple Silicon

On an epic dog walk this morning, Old Man Nack™ took his son through the long & winding history of Intel vs. Motorola, x86 vs. PPC, CISC vs. RISC, toasted bunny suits, the shock of Apple’s move to Intel (Marklar!), and my lasting pride in delivering the Photoshop CS3 public beta to give Mac users native performance six months early.

As luck would have it, Adobe has some happy news to share about the latest hardware evolution:

Today, we’re thrilled to announce that Illustrator and InDesign will run natively on Apple Silicon devices. While users have been able to continue to use the tool on M1 Macs during this period, today’s development means a considerable boost in speed and performance. Overall, Illustrator users will see a 65 percent increase in performance on an M1 Mac, versus Intel builds — InDesign users will see similar gains, with a 59 percent improvement on overall performance on Apple Silicon. […]

These releases will start to roll out to customers starting today and will be available to all customers across the globe soon.

Check out the post for full details.

Design: Split-flap signs

I’ve long loved the weird mechanical purring of those flappy-letter signs one sees (or at least used to see) in train stations & similar venues, but I haven’t felt like throwing down the better part of three grand to own a Vestaboard. Now maker Scott Bezek is working on an open-source project for making such signs at home, combining simple materials and code. In case you’d never peeked inside such a mechanism (and really, why would you have?) and are curious, here’s how they work:

And here, for some reason, are six oddly satisfying minutes of a sign spelling out four-letter words:

Google’s “Play a Kandinsky”: Synesthesia FTW

“What if you could hear color?” asks with Play a Kandinsky, an interactive machine learning experiment created by Google Arts & Culture and Centre Pompidou. “Explore Vassily Kandinsky’s synesthesia and ‘play’ his pioneering masterpiece, Yellow-Red-Blue, with the help of machine learning.”

DesignTaxi writes,

Visitors are guided to click on different colors in an animated canvas. There, they’ll learn what each hue represented to the artist—yellow sounded like trumpets to him, red was the color of violins playing, and looking at blue would elicit a melody of organs in his head.

Adobe enhances Photoshop, Illustrator cloud collaboration

One of my very earliest interactions with Adobe—in 1999, I believe, before I worked there—a PM called me with questions about how my design team collaborated across offices. Now 20+ years later I find myself married to an Adobe PM charged with enhancing just that. 😌

Check out some of the latest progress they’re making with PS, AI, and the mobile drawing app Fresco:

Invite to Edit in Photoshop, Illustrator and Fresco

The Invite to Edit feature in Photoshop, Illustrator, and Fresco allows asynchronous editing on all surfaces across the desktop, iPad, and iPhone (Fresco). Now collaborators can edit a shared cloud document, one at a time. Just save your .PSD or .AI files as cloud documents and send invitations for others to edit them. You can also edit files that have been shared with you. In addition, you can access your shared cloud documents on assets.adobe.com and the Creative Cloud Desktop app.

The Verge adds some helpful details:

Collaborators will not be able to work on the file live alongside you, but they will be able to open up your work, make changes of their own, save it, and have those changes sync back to your machine. If someone is already editing the file, the new user be given the choice to either make a copy or wait until the current editor is finished. It’s not quite Google Docs-style editing for Photoshop, but it should be easier than emailing a file back and forth.

An epic 50,000-Lego sculpture 🌊

Jumpei Mitsui‘s work is staggering. Colossal writes,

During the course of 400 hours, Mitsui snapped together 50,000 cobalt and white LEGO into an undulating wave that mimics the original woodblock print.

To recreate this iconic work in three-dimensions, Mitsui studied videos of waves crashing and pored over academic papers on the topic. He then sketched a detailed model before assembling the textured water, three boats, and Mount Fuji that span more than five feet.

The Lego Colosseum looks amazing

I’ll admit that for some reason I didn’t pay much attention to this new set (the largest-ever by sheer number of bricks) when it emerged a few weeks ago. My history-loving wife took a shine to it, however, and the short vid below shows off an incredible level of detail (those columns tho) and thoughtfulness:

“Motusphera” kinetic chandelier

Hey gang—I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. I really enjoyed getting away from the computer & spending time shivering with the fam out in gold country. 😌

Anyway, to ease back into posting, here’s a beautiful piece of work from creator Phil Letorneau:

Of the piece he writes, “100 stainless steel mirror-finish spheres suspended by nigh-invisible filament. Each sphere can be positioned independently to 0.05mm precision.” For more details check out this interesting Twitter thread:

Amazing shots capture BMW’s electric wing suit

Does this thing seem like the absolute best use of BMW’s R&D resources? Uhh… but hey, check out some wild camera angles & dramatic fly-bys:

Design Taxi writes,

The electric wingsuit is equipped with a rig on the chest, which provides an output of 15kW. This delivery is then split among two 7.5kW carbon impellers that can spin at the speed of 25,000 RPM and produce a thrust for around five minutes.

Adobe MAX starts tomorrow, and you can attend for free

From Conan O’Brien to Tyler the Creator* to (of course) tons of deep dives into creative tech, Adobe has organized quite the line-up:

Make plans to join us for a uniquely immersive and engaging digital experience, guaranteed to inspire. Three full days of luminary speakers, celebrity appearances, musical performances, global collaborative art projects, and 350+ sessions — and all at no cost.

You can build your session list here. Looking forward to learning a lot this week!

*I’m reminded of Alec Baldwin as Tony Bennett talking about “Wiz Khalifa and Imagine Dragons—what a great, great, random pairing.” I can’t find that episode online, so what the heck, enjoy this one.