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Consequences of the Rise of Design

On Tynan

I was walking through the mall a couple days ago. My path took me past a bunch of stores and kiosks, including the Nike Store. I walked past it and looked at their window display. They had a really nicely photographed poster and some cool looking shoes in a bunch of different colors. The store was beautiful and looked like a fun place to be. At the same time, their shoes aren't particularly great, they aren't actually innovative, and they're made of cheap materials. There are many shoe companies that are way lower quality than Nike, but I don't know if there are any with such a disparity between their presentation and the actual product.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this isn't just nike or most of the clothes in the mall-- it's how our culture works now. Back in the day, if you wanted a pair of shoes you'd go to a cobbler. He would design a pair for you, or use one of his existing designs, pick out some nice leather, and make you a pair of shoes. His design work, his execution, and his materials could all be leveraged about equally, so I'd guess that you'd tend to have either poorly designed shoes that are poorly executed and made of poor materials, or well designed shoes that were well executed and used good materials.

These days, things have changed. Design can be leveraged almost infinitely, which has changed the whole equation. Mass manufacturing ensures decent execution, but supplying top quality materials is difficult. A cobbler who makes a hundred pairs of shoes a year can take the time to pick out the best hides to get the best leather. That doesn't scale to making thousands of shoes a day, so material quality drops. Execution has become more consistent, but the benefits of cutting corners is magnified. Saving a penny on making a pair of shoes didn't matter to the cobblers, but it matters to Nike.

So these days, most of what people buy is well designed, decently and consistently executed, and uses relatively poor quality materials. In the mall I walked past a kiosk of phone cases. There were some that were blinged out. Pretty good design in that they fit perfectly on the phone the're meant for, the rows of fake diamonds are all uniform, etc.. Each one looks the same and is okay quality. But the materials are crap-- cheap plastic painted to look like metal covered in lackluster plastic "gems".


On Imported Blog

The past few years have brought fame to numerous music apps. Ranging from Pandora to Spotify, all of these websites cater to different niches of music listening. Pandora, for example, helps find listeners similar songs to artists/songs they like. Spotify, on the other hand, is an online equivalent of iTunes that has a built-in social feature to share playlists and songs.

Never have I ever, however, seen a site more innovative than Songza. Introduced to me by a good friend, it is simply ingenius. Based on which day of the week it is and what the time is, Songza suggests five different categories of activities most people are doing.

For example, I am writing this on Monday Night. The five activities it suggests are Bedtime, Love & Romance, Listening to Brand New Music, Studying (No Lyrics), and Unwinding. I chose the Listening to Brand New Music tab, which led me to choose between Top 40, Indie and Underground, Hip Hop / Rap, Electronic Dance, and Critically Acclaimed. Currently I am listening to "Today's Progressive House Hits," a subsection of the Electronic Dance category.

One of the things I love about Songza (and I've only been using it for a few hours) is that it is very customizable. After the activity, I have to choose the genre and then have the option to pick one of three options. It doesn't assume that I listen to a certain type of music. Songza gives me autonomy to choose the style of music to listen to but it the end puts out new music I have not heard and goes well with my current activity.

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