Building a Rhinoceros.

I’d like to introduce you all to the Flow Forwarding Rhino: coming soon to a network near you.

FF Rhino

Here it comes.

Flow Forwarding and the Rhino you see above you are just one small part of the software defined networking movement growing in the computer industry.

The Hardware Defined Network is an ecosystem that sells hardware — switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers, WAN optimizers. These products may have different names, but there’s no substantive difference in their underlying technology or function.

Stu Bailey

CTO, Infoblox

Read the full Wired Insights post.

Increasingly I find myself at the center of a network of very powerful computers: my phone, my iPad, laptop, desktop, etc.  All sorts of devices we own have some kind of microprocessor in them, busily tracking our virtual comings and goings, encouraging us to connect in some other way with the myriad of other networks out there. Even your average household appliance is now being equipped with computational power: this Samsung refrigerator, for example.

Samsung Fridge

This fridge will connect to Twitter.  It’s true.

You may not need your refrigerator to run apps at this point–but if you do, it’s available, because computer processing power is incredibly inexpensive.  Quite simply, it’s cheap to slap an Intel chip into any appliance.

The ready availability of such massive processing power was unfathomable when people first started imagining computer networks.  Most of the basic notions governing the way computers exchange information are, in fact, based on ideas developed for transmitting Morse code over telegraph wires. ((For an excellent explanation of this, I recommend the book Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzold.)) Think about that; all of our amazingly powerful computers talk to one another via processes and protocols with their roots in the 19th Century.

Many people believe that this no longer need be the case.  Companies like VMWare have introduced us to the idea that any piece of computer hardware can be replicated by software. An increasing number of Silicon Valley insiders – like Infoblox CTO Stu Bailey – are saying that it’s time to apply that to networking.

For many, the idea that there is no difference between a router and a firewall is as ludicrous as thinking that there is no difference between a refrigerator and a stove. But, when it comes to computers, it’s true. I’m no computer scientist, so I will not be able to explain this in technical terms.  But let me see if I can explain it using kitchen appliances as an example.

Most of us have toasters.  Toasters are designed to do one thing only: make toast.  You could, perhaps, make toast many other ways in your kitchen, but because your toaster is inexpensive and efficient, you can afford to have it be an independent device.

Imagine for a moment that your toaster is easily capable of heating your entire home. And, if you know how to use it right, it can also cut your grass, clean your gutters, and make sushi. To complete this thought, now imagine that every appliance in your kitchen–stove, fridge, coffee maker–is an equally powerful and adaptable machine.

This is essentially what’s going on in networking today.  Giant companies sell multi-purpose machines, capable of computing feats that a mere 10 years ago seemed like science fiction, to other giant companies – and insist they are only able to make toast.  There are roomfuls of these machines in every corporation taking care of the drudgery of getting bits of information from one place to another.  Most of their potential remains untapped; and a good portion of the established computer industry wants it to stay that way.

Bailey–and others who think like him, including the Open Networking Foundation–are working to unleash this untapped potential.  The Flow Forwarding Rhino is part of this larger movement. And here, at last, is where design comes into play.  Remember the “Intel Inside” campaign?

Flow Forwarding is a little like that Intel chip within another company’s computer.  We branded FF specifically to show users and programmers that Flow Forwarding was powerful and reliable enough to be part of the larger networking landscape to come.

FF Rhino wall graphic

It’s got weight.

The FF Rhino is probably never going to appear anywhere on a product that your average consumer will buy–and that’s OK.  That’s really not its job. But we’ve invested the time and thought into making sure that the Rhino has the communication tools it needs to take it as far as it can go.  And, where computers are concerned, it seems that we are just getting started.

Another Version of The Resumé

I had occasion to assemble another version of my resumé today.  This one plays up some marketing/advertising campaign work and lightens up on the exhibition work.  I also included some live links in the PDF to some of the things I’ve written – for Production Plus’ eZine Solutions By Design, for instance.  I haven’t written anything for Pro Plus since we parted ways in 2008 or so, but there are some fun articles there in the archives, like this one where I get a quote from Smokin’ Joe Frazier) and my theater reviews for Centerstage.com.

I really enjoy the process of putting together a fresh resumé.  It gives me a chance to revisit old work, re-evaluate it, think about what I learned from it, and how I can apply that to my work today.  Take a look at this one if you’d like.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them my way!  I welcome sound opinions and dialogue on anything I’ve designed.

JD-resume-Apr2013

 

Chicago Cutlery – Update.

Read the original knives post here.

I reached for a knife today to cut a tomato and came away from the block with the 62S.  It’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Chicago Cutlery 62S

It’s been pretty dull since it got here.

I’ve had trouble sharpening it, but I thought I’d give it one more shot today and see what happened.  Out came the whetstone; dutifully I set to grinding, then tried it on the tomato.

No change.  WTF?  I go back to grinding, pissed off a little, and I stop.  I feel the edge: dull.  Then I take one careful, slow swipe across the stone.

Zing! The edge is sharp!  Check out the 62S, cutting tomatoes LIKE A BOSS.

The 62S cutting tomatoes

Slowing down and paying attention FTW.

I learned something valuable today!  Turns out I had been grinding the blade away endlessly and not really noticing what I was doing.  One slow grind across the whetstone is all a good knife needs to get sharp.

Chicago Cutlery – Restored.

A set of handles standing upright within a grubby box of kitchen implements caught my eye while poking about a garage sale one day.

knives03

Some of the knives were scattered at the bottom of the box; and everything, including the block, was covered in a generous layer of old grease.  But it was indeed a set of Chicago Cutlery.  Many of the blades were poorly cared for, and some showed signs of active misuse.

But hell, they were One American Dollar™ for the whole set!  I scampered off with them and headed over to the local hardware store.  I don’t know a hell of a lot about knives, but I’ve always wanted to learn more; this seemed like a great opportunity.

The guy at the hardware store was impressed.  He pointed out that the rivets on the knives were brass.  “They stopped making these outta brass in like 1983,” he confided, “so these are great knives, from back when they just sold to butchers.”

I’m not sure he’s right about the latter factoid, but I like the sound of the brass rivets part.  And the timeline matches up well with the style of the logo:

Chicago Cutlery Logo

Honestly, how much more 1980 can you get? I can practically hear Steely Dan playing in the background.

That typeface? The woodburn? It doesn’t take a lot of graphic design research to smell 1979 on that one.

I left the hardware store with the assurance that I had indeed found a badass set of knives, and a bagful of new tools:

  • some steel wool (#00 grade)
  • lemon oil, to restore the handles
  • a whetstone
  • honing solution, to put on the whetstone
  • mineral oil, to restore and polish the blades.

Add to that some fine sandpaper of my own that I already had (220 grit, I think), and I was off to Elbow Grease Alley to sharpen up my new set of knives.

3 hours later:

knives02 knives01The wood turned out really nicely and feels solid in your hand.  And the knives are, for the most part, absolutely deadly sharp.  They cut tomatoes in razor thin slices.

Chicago Cutlery 61S photo

The 61S, kicking ass during my lunch today.

I’d love to learn more about these knives and how to use them.

  • What specific cut is each knife designed for?  What do the designations (61S and so forth) mean?
  • As y’all can see from the photo above, Knife 62S (the second from the bottom in the top photo) is blunted.  The tip was bent when I bought it, and it snapped off while I was trying to straighten it.  It is by far the dullest of the knives, virtually unusable.  I’m just starting to learn how to sharpen knives properly, and I haven’t been able to get this one sharp at all.  It’s beyond my capabilities at this point.  Any suggestions?
  • I’ve done absolutely zero research on Chicago Cutlery as a brand, but it would be fun to do a little logo research; figure out what typeface that is, where it came from, who designed it, etc.

The whole project took about 4 hours (trip to the hardware store included), and, hopefully, will lead to some more interesting learning about cooking, brand design, etc.  I’m looking forward to seeing what opens up.

Unleashed: by PETCO

This is Unleashed by PETCO, a store I designed for PETCO in 2009. One of the things I most appreciate about it is how fully realized it is. Nearly everything that Mike Lewis and I came up with was built and installed; we got the chance to reexamine every aspect of the retail experience and develop something that we both thought would really be a more friendly, pet-centric environment.

The Elusive Brand Experience and How to Get It

I love this ad campaign. A simple idea, well executed. I ask a deceptively simple question: why is it so good?

Dentyne's Make Face Time Campaign, by McCann Worldwide

Dentyne’s Make Face Time Campaign, by McCann Worldwide

Designers are key players in the world of advertising. It’s where many of us make all our money. The giants of our field all won major battles in that arena: Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Tibor Kalman, to name a few. Though I would not presume to place myself in such august company, I have worked for commercial firms and wrestled with advertising work, branding, and experience design in a corporate setting. I’d love to say that I could come up with something as good as McCann’s “Face Time” campaign. But how would I do it?

My design approach is, traditionally, to let the content speak for itself. If I understand the material, then communicating it to an audience through whatever medium I’m working in becomes almost a transparent process; the job sometimes feels like it’s flowing out of me. But frequently in the corporate advertising world, there is no content, in the traditional sense. There is no script, as in theater or film; there are no curators, filling volumes with text about artifacts or ideas. There is only the product, and the company that makes it. Frequently, the folks from the company are looking to the design world to define and shape the substance of the experience. They understand who their target audience is, and all about their brand and product, but look to designers to craft the messages.

It’s not a step I’m accustomed to. I understand, at an elementary level, the message is that the product/service is the best and people should purchase it. But ads with copy like, “WE ARE AWESOME,” or “BUY OUR STUFF BECAUSE IT’S THE BEST EVER” really do not make it to the public eye anymore. Clients expect more from someone who claims to be a hotshot designer–and rightly so. Advertising is a competitive and subtle world; there are wonderful ad campaigns and brand experiences out there. I know them when I see them, and I admire the specificity of the message. So where does that message come from?

In my readings and research, I recently came across this quote.

The new medium of brand experience is now people, not television.
– David Dernie, In Exhibition Design

In one phrase, David Dernie both encapsulated and completed my unformed thoughts about what it means to, as the oft touted phrase goes, “build a brand experience.” For me, it goes beyond television, though it certainly applies. The thing I respond to in ad in any medium is how the people in them feel. The more specific the ad hones in on that feeling, the more effective it is.

Consider this commercial, long considered to be a watershed in the world of automobile advertising:

(For more about this ad, and the Nick Drake book that talks about it, see John’s comment below.)

The ad speaks volumes, and not just because of Nick Drake’s marvelous “Pink Moon.” The ad is incredibly specific about the product and the people who use it. The look the young man in the back seat gives the young woman as she silently watches the night sky fly by, wind in her hair; the flash of the backup light; almost iconic images. The viewer instantly understands what kind of party the young foursome is pulling up to–and why they choose to pull away. When viewed through the lens of Dernie’s statement, the reason for the ad’s success becomes obvious.

In this statement I find a key, also, to understanding why I get that feeling of the medium becoming transparent. When the story is strong, the tricks and skills needed to manipulate the medium fall away as the audience folds into the experience. Listening to Nick Drake for the first time, one rarely wonders what kind of tape it was recorded on, or what Drake’s tuning on the guitar is, or even how skillful a player he is; one listens to the song. Likewise with any good design experience; both for the viewer and the creator, the problems of the medium are all smoothed away. Television and film, in its best moments, no longer merely fascinate us with what they can do; skillful camera work, direction, scripting, combined with the audience’s comfort level with receiving information in that form, have made the television a frictionless conduit for story.

This touches on McLuhan’s signature axiom, of course, of the medium being the message – and might go a long way to refuting it. What happens to a medium when both public and designer are so familiar with it that its novelty, and all the tricks it can be made to do, has worn off? In the past decade, we have seen this happen. The internet used to be a place about itself; merely to have a website or be “be online” was enough of a statement. No longer; we are all so familiar with the medium that we can now push it out of the way and receive the messages.

So what makes an ad good? When approaching my next project, I will pull Dernie’s lens from my pocket and look through it for the people within it. They, after all, are the touchstone for understanding the brand experience. The closer I can get to communicating the emotions, the more specific I can be about them, the more successful the ad.