Category Archives: Great Design

Great Design

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle?

Mr. Sandman

Victor Mr. Sandman
Was “Mr. Sandman” the nom de guerre of Victor?

Mr. Sandman had a few kills in his day.  So many in fact, that the metal parts became twisted and bent to the point the trap was unusable.

To make matters worse, we now favor more human methods (live traps), and best of all, finding and sealing up old rodent entryways.  But Mr. Sandman has moved on as well.  He’s reinvented himself as a sanding block (after going through the dishwasher several times).  Not a bad move on his part.

Sanding Block

Great Design

One Shot, One Kill, Plus Some Swagger

The Sniper movie franchise has been wrung out like a dirty rag containing just a few more drops of water.  After having seen the original Sniper film, I was somewhat disappointed when I heard all the sequels were bad.

Which is why, after seeing the box cover for Sniper: Legacy, I couldn’t stop laughing, and yet also half-wanted to see this film.

The main reason for these mixed emotions was Tom Berenger wearing a baseball cap half-sideways in the field.  This, coupled with the official tagline (“Like Father Like Son”), made it priceless.

Sniper Box Cover I

The unexpected swagger with the baseball cap implied Tom Berenger had finally ascended to the level of sniper deity.  He was so good at his job, he was now taking out his targets with style.  This was something new.  This was something fresh!  And not only that – we couldn’t tell for sure – but it looked like he wasn’t necessarily interested in passing the torch to any of his descendants!  Maybe not a figurative torch anyway.

But alas, a second box cover revealed the truth.  Tom Berenger was actually wearing some sort of fisherman’s hat.  And if you clip that image at just the right spot, it produced what looked to be a half-sideways baseball cap.

Sniper Box Cover II

Was this clever editing designed to produce different images that might appeal to different demographics?  Riding, perhaps, right on the edge of Gestalt Theory?  If I had to guess, probably not.  But at the same time I can’t rule it out.

Gestalt Theory. Composition by Impronta on September 29, 2011.
Gestalt Theory. Composition by Impronta on September 29, 2011.


Great Design

An Item That Really Sells Itself

Three rows of frozen fruit on the top shelf of my freezer.
Three rows of frozen fruit on the top shelf of my freezer.

I had just dropped off a bin or two of old household items for donation at the local Goodwill center.  Afterwards, I checked out their inventory inside the store, and by chance I stumbled upon an item for sale which I had never even heard of: Yonanas.

There are very few things, and even fewer products, that I am unabashedly enthusiastic about.  Yonanas is one of them!  I will unabashedly promote Yonanas to family and friends.  The name sounds a little goofy, but trust me, you need to get one of these machines.  The way it works is extremely simple.

  1. Freeze any type of fruit you like.
  2. When you so desire, take the frozen fruit out and let it thaw for about 15 minutes.
  3. Turn the Yonanas machine on and put the fruit or fruit combinations down the machine’s chute.
  4. Out comes something reminiscent of soft-serve ice cream, but with ingredients that consist purely of fruit and nothing else.  There are no other ingredients.
Yonanas product image on Amazon showing a strawberry and bananas combination.  I can tell you that the picture is accurate.
Yonanas product image on Amazon showing a strawberry and bananas combination.  I can tell you that the picture is accurate.

Simply put, this is fruit reimagined.  My fruit of choice is bananas, but eating them in frozen form, for some reason, is twice as good.  And when some bananas are losing their ripeness and I know I won’t get around to eating them, I just put them in the freezer.  No more waste.

If you had to sell one thing for a living, this would be the thing.  Every house should have one.  Restaurants should sell this as a desert.  I say these things in full sincerity.

Every single thing about this product is simple.  The ingredients are whatever fruit you feel like buying at the store and trying out.  The process of making it is simple.  The time involved is almost non-existent.  The final product itself is simple.  Anyone who can eat ice cream can eat Yonanas.  Children who are given Yonanas will probably like it as much if not more than ice cream, and will probably think it is ice cream.

Arguably, it’s also a healthier desert.  Eating fruit is said to provide many health benefits, plus this is arguably healthier than other deserts with extra added ingredients you can’t even pronounce.  At the very least, it’s as healthy as eating fruit.  If you eat fruit, this is exactly the same thing.  What you put into the Yonanas machine is what you get out.

And finally, as if that weren’t enough, your freezer actually runs more efficiently when it’s packed with more items. The more fruit you freeze, the more energy efficient your freezer becomes.

My Yonanas machine has positioned itself as a first-class, always-out kitchen appliance.
My Yonanas machine has positioned itself as a first-class, always-out kitchen appliance.

One word of warning.  Many fruits are rich in sugar.  If you do a search on Google for something like bananas sugar, you’ll get a customized search result that will tell you how much sugar is in a particular type of fruit.  All of that said, for various reasons, some believe that the sugar in fruit is less of a health concern than the sugar that’s added to most processed foods.

And here’s a final piece of advice that may be useful.  They say that people should not only watch the volume of sugar that they consume, but also the velocity in which they consume it.  In other words, when someone is savoring their Yonanas desert slowly, that’s probably optimal health-wise.

Give Yonanas a try!  People who have taken the plunge have come back to us and reported that it was a great decision.  And just as a basic disclaimer, I have no financial interest in this product, nor any connection to Dole, the company that makes it.

Great Design

Rhyming With The World

We’re going to take two trips at the same time.  One through time and one through an ecological life cycle.  Both will be through vignettes and neither will be linear.

– Gone To Texas –

Cow hoof prints in cement. One of the last remaining artifacts from the old Van Berg dairy farm.
Cow hoof prints in cement.  One of the last remaining artifacts from the old Van Berg dairy farm.

Even though my great-grandfather hailed from Nebraska, his first name was extremely Scandinavian.  This may have been a contributing factor in his decision to only go by his initials.  He did this so much so, in fact, that even friends and family had no idea what his actual name was.

He came to Texas to work on the expansion of the existing irrigation system.  What they were working on would allow more water from the Rio Grande River to be channeled northwards.  More water would reach more farm fields, and I believed it helped the cities as well.

He eventually started a dairy farm as a side business. His son, my grandfather, disliked it so much that he dismantled it almost immediately after inheriting it.  And so, many old dairy farm structures were either torn down or left to eventually disintegrate on their own.  As a result, our property tends to have pieces of very old lumber laying around, and we haven’t ever had a good use for them.

– Brand Management –

I would call it “rhyming with the world”.  It’s a phrase I found in a book, but in the book they call it “rhyming with nature”.  Let’s be honest – doing something with “nature” sounds kind of passé doesn’t it?  It sounds like you have to find a tie-die shirt and a headband to get in.  But “rhyming with the world”?  That sounds like something exotic!  Maybe some sort of never-to-be-forgotten trip to the Caribbean.  Branding is always important, don’t you think?

Now, to illustrate a different point, what if instead of calling it “rhyming with the world”, we called it “organizational efficiency”?  That almost kind of sounds like something a Fortune 500 company might employ.  How about “operational effectiveness”?  That sounds like it might involve some kind of modern military strategy.  “Harmony of motion”?  Perhaps that’s distinctly Aikido.  It’s all the exact same thing, just in different contexts: maximizing efficiency.  (Sometimes, to reach this optimal efficiency, you must find a solution that may not be the first item on everyone’s brainstorming list!)

– Humans, Everything Else, And Life And Death –

A still from the film Aliens.
A still from the film Aliens.

In Aliens, Ripley brazenly and shamelessly betrays the queen alien in a classic deal gone bad.  After being given everything she had wanted, Ripley breaks her tacit agreement with the queen alien.  She blows away the queen, along with all of her eggs, pointlessly, for no reason other than malice.  This is the glorification of anthropocentrism.  (Nearly 20 years after James Cameron shot this scene, it still stands as one of the most unique and one of the best film sequences ever produced.)

Strange as it may sound, this film scene is something of a guilty pleasure.  I am anthropocentric, and this scene is a personal reminder of my own anthropocentricity.  Proof that my worldview holds humans to be preeminent.  In fact, my views on global ecology, and my general desire to not inflict harm on other life unnecessarily, is actually just an extension of this worldview.  It is the way that I, for various anthropocentric reasons, personally choose to exercise free will as an anthropocentric agent.

Global ecology and the role we play in it isn’t an abstract academic exercise.  For example, in Australia, finding out the daily UV index is a life and death matter.  The state of the ozone layer around Australia is so bad now that skin cancer there is described as an epidemic.  Some estimate that one in two, or an almost unbelievable two in three, Australians will contract skin cancer in their lifetime.  If humans truly are supreme, then they will surely keep this world, the collective human home, in order.

– Open Your Eyes –

There is a useful mental exercise where someone is shown something, and then that person is asked what they see.  They are supposed to guess what the object is for, or think up additional and perhaps non-intuitive uses for it.  (This is actually a regular segment on Ask This Old House, but in truth I believe I first saw something like it in an old Adrian Lyne production.)

So, what do you see?

Newspapers and Packing Materials

Looks like some discarded paper products – newspapers and packing materials.  In other words, trash, or perhaps paper recycling if we were being good global citizens.  There are surely many secondary uses for something like this.  I’ll give you my answer on this in just a second.

What do you see?

Texas Ebony Seed Pods 1

These are seed pods from the Texas Ebony tree.  It stands to reason that the Texas Ebony trees in my yard are the very distant descendants of ancient Texas Ebony trees.  Trees that probably stood here in this very same region, perhaps in a tranquil near silence, before humans were ever here.  Just as today, their seed pods would have fallen everywhere and would have almost been a nuisance had anyone been here to care.  My answer on this, too, in just a second.

Texas Weeds 1

The above picture is your only clue.  It may help you deduce where I’m going with part of this.  The clue is this: Near-useless weeds are endemic in South Texas just like they are endemic in many other places.  There are many ways you can try to manage or eliminate them…

Texas Ebony Seeds Pods 2

What if we harnessed the shape and size of Texas Ebony seed pods by placing them and the newspaper down over weed growth? Then you would have a semi-permanent weed barrier, and best of all, it would have style. To me, this is an instance of perfect South Texas Style.  Truly, this is something that cannot be bought. You can’t buy this weed barrier at Home Depot or Lowe’s.  If you’re in the U.S., you have to be in South Texas to get it, and when you go to get it, there’s usually an abundance waiting for you.

The newspapers will break down over time, but that’s OK.  Their purpose is actually two-fold.  First, depending on how much you put down, the newspapers all but guarantee the existing weeds will die.  Otherwise, it will be a huge struggle keeping them from pushing through the second weed barrier (in this case, seed pods).  Second, they buy you time.  We didn’t want to have to round up two or three layers of seed pods all at once for our various yard projects.  The newspapers allow you to incrementally add that second weed barrier without having to deal with new weed growth.

Putting Texas Ebony seed pods to work!  As you can see, we have one or two more layers to go.
Putting Texas Ebony seed pods to work!  As you can see, we have one or two more layers to go.

One reason, in particular, we want to place weed barriers around trees and small structures is that we want to be able to cut every blade of grass or every weed with a lawn mower, and not have to bring out another tool to deal with the remaining weeds that are right up against the tree or structure.

Getting closer to the beginning, we have several bamboo plants.  Bamboo can be used for a lot of things!  Some of its uses include food, structures, and weapons.

Bamboo Crater

We have dug out a small crater right next to one of our bamboo plants.  We route some of our graywater to this crater so it can be better utilized.  (The ideal design for such a crater would be a bowl-like, concave impression with the bamboo plant right in the middle.  However, for various reasons, we chose to do it this way.)

Chipped Wood and Bamboo

One other great bamboo use stems from the fact it is very easy to put through a chipper and turn into fine-grained bamboo pieces.  These chips are a great second-level weed barrier.  More bamboo growth will give us more ammunition to snuff out more weeds.  This is pretty good holistic efficiency.

But what about that huge crater?  It’s not very appealing to have a huge hold in the middle of your yard!

Bamboo Crater With Van Berg Dairy Farm Board Walkway

Now back at the very beginning, we take some of that old lumber, saw it down to size, and cover the crater so we can walk over it.

The old Van Berg dairy farm lives on.


South Texas 1

South Texas 2

South Texas 3

Great Design

The Dimensions Of Reach

Coronado Sets Out to the North by Frederic Remington, circa 1890s.  At its peak, The Viceroyalty of New Spain reached from what is now southwest Canada all the way down to what is now the top of South America.  Other Spanish viceroyalties, comprising the larger Spanish empire, would eventually cover a large portion of the entire Western Hemisphere.  In the spring of 1541, Coronado's epic expedition would reach the heart of the Great Plains.  Although fated for catastrophe, the expedition would result in a rich set of discoveries.
Coronado Sets Out to the North by Frederic Remington, circa 1890s.  At its peak, The Viceroyalty of New Spain reached from what is now southwest Canada all the way down to what is now the top of South America.  Other Spanish viceroyalties, comprising the larger Spanish empire, would eventually cover a large portion of the entire Western Hemisphere.  In the spring of 1541, Coronado’s epic expedition would reach the heart of the Great Plains.  Although fated for catastrophe, the expedition would result in a rich set of discoveries.

You’d figure that since I grew up on the southern U.S. border, and that since parts of my family had lived there since the days of New Spain, I might know a thing or two about Spanish.  But, to borrow a rhetorical device from one of the Godfather films, even surrounded by Spanish speakers, the Spanish language never did penetrate my soul.  Spanish always had a way of becoming like white noise to my ears.  Still thinking back, since the days of my childhood I can remember the prolific José Feliciano’s Feliz Navidad being played on the radio right around the holiday season.  I had heard it so many times, I stopped noticing when it was on.  Like any song you’ve heard many times, it too was like white noise.

This past holiday season, Feliz Navidad came on the radio, and suddenly it was as if a violent bolt of lightning had struck me.  Stopped dead in my tracks, I had a random moment of insight.  After a second or two, I realized this was an ingenious song!  And a little while later, I started to wonder if this might possibly be the most ingenious song ever recorded!

Could Feliz Navidad really be the most ingenious song ever recorded?

Yes, I believe so!  And the more you think about it, the more reasons there seem to be.

First, we can talk about the “reach” that this song has, but that’s actually too simple.  We are not doing it justice unless we really examine the dimensions of reach that this song traverses.  There are at least five dimensions of reach that this song explores, and conquers, with the final dimensions being essentially uncharted, and additionally, not perceivable!

    • Obviously, the song can be understood by both English and Spanish speakers.  This makes for a huge worldwide audience.
    • The song has chronological reach by always being relevant and timely for the holiday season.  It stands on the pillars of Christmas and New Year’s, and it’s unlikely these will fall off the face of the earth any time soon.  It reaches forward across time and into the future.
    • The song has reach across all ages.  This song is as suitable to a group of senior citizens as it is to a group of five-year-olds.
    • The song has a very powerful reach into the recesses of the mind.  Many people have a large collection of Christmas memories, especially from when they were young.  They’re usually sitting there untarnished by time.
    • The last dimension of reach is soul-to-soul reach.  When you hear a song, do you really believe that the artist means what he is saying?  Sometimes it’s yes, and sometimes it’s no, and sometimes it’s somewhere in between.  And sometimes the words get in the way.  In Feliz Navidad, I believe the words are the perfect vehicle and the perfect medium for José Feliciano to express something heartfelt, to express something he really means, and to express something he really wishes.  This is more rare than you’d think.

    Second, this song is amazingly simple.  While some ingenuity is complex, the hallmark of genius is simplicity.  There are a grand total of 20 uniquely used words in this song.  You can count them in your head.  The number of uniquely used sentences in this song is… one, expressed in two different languages.  There are so few words and so few sentences, in fact, that it’s actually impossible for them to get in the way of what Feliciano is trying to say.

    And there are other things too, not the least of which is the fact that this song was and still is very successful, and so I imagine it has been very profitable for Feliciano.  But perhaps the proof in the pudding is that it’s also been covered by a very large number of artists across different musical genres and languages.  Kind and unassuming, it doesn’t push hard ideological lines, nor does it demand that you even become a polyglot.  And, it’s an educational song.  If you know English or Spanish, but not both, you can learn a holiday greeting in the language that you don’t know.  Since the days of my youth, I knew how to say “Merry Christmas” in Spanish.

    In more recent times, there’s been further opportunities for education.  For instance, the way Feliciano appears to say “Mucha Gracia” at the end of the video in this post, instead of “Muchas Gracias”, is the common Puerto Rican dialect, which is Andalusian Spanish and is still spoken that way by people in Seville, Spain.  I’m still trying to learn Spanish.

Great Design

Health Is Everything

I haven’t seen an ad this good in a while:

New CVS marketing campaign.  This was a "skyscraper" ad I saw recently.
New CVS marketing campaign.  This was a “skyscraper” ad I saw recently.

I think it’s a high caliber design because it’s simple and it exhibits integrity, or at least it presents itself as having integrity, which is probably close enough.  The truth is, it’s very difficult for a company to have this level of integrity.  Any design which puts that on display will tend to catch your eye and you will tend to remember it.

If you wanted to be a perfectionist, you would probably remove the ‘Learn More’ hyperlink at the very bottom.  It takes away while adding nothing.  Clicking on the ad itself should take you to the exact same destination.  Removing that text makes the ad more simple.

Great Design

“Old Fashioned” Health Care By Elvis?

I drive by this billboard often.  I’ll tell you what my gut reaction was the first time I saw it.  To be completely honest, I thought the owners of this company were totally insane.

But as time went on, I realized I was actually warming up to it for some reason.  I just couldn’t figure out why!  On the surface, this is a zany billboard advertising some kind of health care service that is somehow old fashioned, and as far as I can tell, one of the proprietors is dressed up like Elvis.  How could this possibly work?

I now believe it is successful on multiple levels.

The first level is simply that people are used to medical experiences that are cold, sterile, and even painful.  In contrast, Vicki and Chad aren’t wearing suits or hospital gear, and they have genuine smiles on their faces.  This might be low-tech,  but it works.  I honestly believe they care.  The color scheme, especially the pink, also works to this effect.  It feels welcoming.  Maybe they could achieve the same effect without the 1950s Elvis theme, but this very theme imbues them with it the most, which leads me to the second level.

The second level is something deeper and much more complex.  I believe people, deep down, yearn for “Golden Eras”.  Even if they consciously know that these eras were sometimes barely different from any other, the eras still possess some intangible magic.  Whether it’s Augustan Rome or the post-World War II United States, the mere concept of these individual periods automatically convey a number of emotions and ideas.  And while I can’t possibly list them all, near the top of the list we would surely find stability, prosperity, and that classic trait, quality.  So, I believe the message of Elvis and old fashioned has probably triggered some kind of (most likely subconscious) switch in my mind anchored to the popular concept of the post-World War II U.S., circa 1950s.  As a result, I have a newfound affinity for this business.

The good ol' days?
The good ol’ days?

The third level is that it’s out of the ordinary.  Therefore I remember it, which of course is the major goal of advertising.

Just as a basic disclaimer, I have absolutely no affiliation with Vicki Roy Home Health Care, nor have I heard of any reports or reviews of their service.  I’ve simply come to the conclusion that their marketing is well done.

Great Design

New To Me: In Gmail, Folders Are Labels And Labels Are Folders

This definitively solves a general problem I had been wanting to find a solution to for quite some time.  The solution is extremely simple, and kudos to whoever put it together.  (I don’t know if Gmail was the first to solve this and I almost assume they weren’t.  They’re just the first ones I’ve happened to see using it.)

The problem is what to do when you want a folder system to organize your information hierarchically, and you also want a tagging/labeling system so that each piece of information can also have multiple descriptors assigned to it, but you don’t want to keep the two systems in sync manually.  The solution is to treat folders as labels and vice versa.  The big implication is that if you apply multiple labels to a piece of information, that piece of information then exists in multiple folders.   If you delete it from one of those folders, the corresponding label is also removed.

Gmail folders are labels