FOWD Day 2: Notes On Design – Brendan Dawes

May 15, 2012 Jonathan Berger

Brendan Dawes, hacker and interaction designer, trawled through his sketchbook to deliver an inspiring opening talk about his work, what inspires him, and some Rules for making. Full notes after the jump.

“It should remind you of something you’ve never seen before.”

  • finding beauty in the mundane

Paper clips from several countries.

  • BD collects paper clips: made from the same material, do the same job, but communicate different aesthetics

Life’s too short to own an ugly pencil

Obsess about the tools you use

I hate that phrase “A poor craftsman blames his tools”. I’d like to find who said that and bash him in the face with a beautifully-made hammer.

Blackwing 602: L30 on ebay. Chuck Jones used these.
Palomino Blackwing
Dixon Ticonderoga. Rahl Dahl wrote with these.

When you care at that level, you’re going to care about the things that come forth from these tools.

Innovation / Iterinnovation

Iteration as a craft or as a way to see new things. Instagram was an iteration on photo sharing, not an innovation.

  • Saul Bass titles for Vertigo in 1958. John Whitney created oscillating art that looked computer generated using Lissajous Curves.

  • BD started iterating on these. only 0.1 difference between each one. Sometimes you’ll go from an ornate design to a circle in one step. Lissajous Curves

  • Occasionally we’ll make beautiful things out of this iterative process.
  • This showed BD the importance of continuously making things.
  • What about the n+1 iteration? You’ll always run out of time and budget at some point. That’s a design constraint; embrace it.

Comma. Semicolon. Full stop.

Well designed objects are all imbued with good use of punctuation.

  • This includes physical objects, apps, whatever.
  • BD was designing packaging for a physical object. He got the box back and it opened too easily. By re-engineering the box so that there was a short pause in the opening, the experience of opening the box was enhanced. It was a 10mm engineering change.

Subtract to Add.

You know something’s finished not when there’s nothing left to add, but when there’s nothing left to take away.

Why can’t things be perfect at version 1? Why are we never done with things?

Created the accidental news explorer: search for a term, read an article, discover Related News, spiral out, end up somewhere you didn’t expect to be.

Spent two weeks adding a feature: suggested starting points (headlines). Usage increased 2%. Was it worth it? BD felt compelled to do an update because people feel as if an app is dead if its not being updated.

Make [pencil]. Make better [eraser].

I make for me.

Using lots of tools: altoids tins, keychain laser pointer, chumby, calipers, pencils, arduinos, breadboard.

Memory Box
His wife asked for L200 Christian Dior face cream for her birthday. He gave her a box that with an ardiuno and a small LCD screen that played back their text messages. Physical container for digital things.

Data by itself is not enough. Data needs poetry.

What if one button did one thing?
Laser-cut wooden box with an arduino and a display of the weather that peeks through the transparent button.

happiness machine
Device to print for happy thoughts on the internet.

Be Naive.

One of the makerbot founders said “If we were mechanical engineers, we would have known this was impossible and never tried it.”

BD has a makerbot and made a lot of crap. He also made some useful stuff: egg cups, headphone wrap to contain cord.

He doesn’t use a visual interface; it’s done all in code: OpenScad. Write code and it spits out a model.

Own what it is that makes you different (Aimee Mullin)

  • Aimee Mullin: fashion model, athlete, double amputee. Her story was featured on the Moth, “True stories told live, without notes”.

  • BD learned Bring to projects what makes you you, and celebrate that.

  • Watch this (don’t read the author):

  • Once you know who it is, it totally makes sense.

It took me a long time to get to the top of the Empire State Building. I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t happy. But all that was forgotten when I saw the view.

About the Author


MuchMusic, MTV and Virgin Live Are Now Mobile Friendly!
MuchMusic, MTV and Virgin Live Are Now Mobile Friendly!

Staying connected is more important now than ever before. We keep in touch with family, friends, our social...

FOWD Day 2: A Closer Look At Accessible Mobile App Design – Robin Christopherson
FOWD Day 2: A Closer Look At Accessible Mobile App Design – Robin Christopherson

"My name's Robin, and I can't see." This is one of the most moving talks I've ever seen at a technology co...

SpringOne 2021

Register Now