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Archive for the ‘Design’ category

Innovation for the Fashion-impaired (Fanny packs save lives)

September 8th, 2012

I was strapping on my Fanny Pack (FP) last week, and my youngest (college-bound) daughter looked horrified …”Oh, my god Dad, whadaya doing?”, shes thinking, as she rolled her eyes upward.

Daughter #2 had less kinder words for me…”yeah , it’s practical, but it’s FUGLY Dad…”.

Designed for Practicality:  the Fanny Pack

Wikipedia’s definition is: is a small fabric pouch secured with a zipper and worn by use of a strap around the hips or waist.  They are also known as buffalo pouch, belly bag, belt pack, bum bag, banano, pochete, and moon bag (my favorite descriptor).

I maintain that The FP is one of the all-time great inventions for the male gender of the species.  Sure, bows and arrowheads were helpful, Chinese gunpowder was an impressive achievement, and even belts and suspenders helped keep us on the up-and-up.  But The FP solves many dilemmas for the modern male.  I fail to understand how this modern innovation has been killed by eye-rolling teens and dismissive spouses.

What’s in Your Fanny Pack?

My own FP allows me to:

  • remove the bulky wallet from back pocket
  • keep me from losing my umpteenth pair of sunglasses
  • hold my compact camera safely
  • contain bulky house/car keys  (they look horrible in pants pockets)
  • organize 4 sets of business cards (that’s right , four….don’t ask) for quick presentation
  • keep foreign currency organized, and hold various sizes of foreign money (I have traveled all over Europe and China without missing a Euro or a Yuen)
  • hold my iPhone safely, along with several iPhone peripherals
  • keep tickets, admissions and discount coupons organized
  • store maps freshly (I hate wrinkled/torn maps on an excursion through )
  • hide earphones and  – choose from among 3 types
  • iPad AC adapter  (that damn iPhone runs out of juice by mid-day if you REALLY use it properly)
  • keep hotel keys safely
  • hold loose change (keeps falling out of my pockets)

The FP is good for city use, sports workout use, travel, in-car coordination, airports, and weddings.

Oh sure, I could wear cargo shorts, but who wants to distribute this loot across my derrière?  Or, I could get a shoulder bag, but most are built for computers or iPads , not 3-dimensional items like keys, phones, wallet, or headphones.  And, in my case, that solution would clearly balloon over time to a 5-lb fiasco.

In short, the FP saves lives.

Excuses, excuses…

Need I say, as we get older, we are already testing the limits of our clothing – hanging on to old pants, jeans and shorts that USED TO fit (and what has happened?).  Who needs this additional bulk to highlight those few extra pounds we’ve gained.  The FP saves clothing.  It extends the use of those jeans we have from college years, those slacks that looked trim on our first job, those shorts that have been to Santa Cruz and back dozens of times…

Innovation trumped by fashion?

Why are  millions of men now suffering from innovation-deprivation at the expense of fashion? When is the last time you saw a woman without a purse, pocketbook, or shoulder bag nearby or on her body?  To be human is to juggle possessions no our bodies, to hold on to things that nobody else wants, and to walk on 2 legs, carrying our lives with us.

I noticed that many men are still wearing watches (look for a future blog post by me on the stupidity of this).  Our cell phones track the time better than most watches, and can display it in 20 different variations, voice-synthesis, any zone in the world, stop watch format, and timer.  Why are men still porting watches.  This is vanity at its worst.  Society has pushed these poor men to wear a watch that is no longer necesary, yet give away their Fanny Packs to good will.   This seems perversely reversed.

I can not make it in a foreign city without my FP. I cannot hit the gym properly without my FP.  I cannot go on a weekend trip to Napa without my FP.  The Fanny Pack has fallen pray to the fashions of the millennium .  It isn’t COOL to wear this anymore, I’m advised , or one could be dated back to the time of cavemen (or at least to the time of ABBA or the Bee Gees) .

Perhaps I’m getting old (or just losing too many sunglasses per week) but it seems to me that we’ve lost one of the greatest innovations know to man.  So, who will invent the next FP?  Will another “Wright Brothers” or serendipitous “click moment” occur for the fashion impaired.

I hope this happens in my lifetime.

In the meantime, roll your eyes all you want. I’m opting for practicality.

The New Garage Renaissance and emergence of C2B businesses

April 10th, 2010

As a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur and “mentor” capitalist , I like to look for bets in new spaces and keep on top of industry trends…and historically I’ve placed my bets on software- and Internet-oriented companies, with the occasional excursion into biotech, med device, or cleantech.

What’s caught my attention lately is a shift I perceive in manufacturing and hard-goods spaces - perhaps something set to become a revolution in the coming 10 years – one that could potentially lead some traditional venture capital away from software and back to manufacturing and hardware.

The revolution is in the global manufacturing space and in the ability of “micro-entrepreneurs” to design products from their home/garage, easily prototype their ideas, and eventually produce the products in small lots using a global supply chain that is available, for the most part, online.  This revolution has recently been enabled by a global marketplace (enabled by the Internet), 3D design and printing technology,  and a more flexible approach to manufacturing in the US, China and other parts of the world.

This was the “Old Paradigm” for producing physical products :  an inventor comes up with a concept – sends ideas or sketches to product design house which uses sophisticated CAD programs to design the blueprints for the product – then sends designs off to China to have a prototype build and shipped back. If prototype looked good, show to distributors/channels and take advance orders (or raise money for manufacturing on spec) and use advance orders to hire a manufacturing facility (in East) to produce first run of products. If first run sells out, expand capacity, take additional advance orders and make more goods.  Overall time to market – months or years.

The “New Paradigm” emerging is radically different:  inventors and designers anywhere in the world collaborate over the social net on new designs, and use crowd-sourcing to come up with the best ideas – then rapidly prototype their ideas using 3D printers.  The prototype is modified to match market needs and individual parts are ordered from a global smorgasbord of manufacturing options, assembly occurs in China or perhaps locally (“en garage“), and enough product to fulfill real-time need is producted in JIT fashion.  Products can be modified, customized in small batches. Overall time – weeks or months.

The recent Wired Magazine article by Editor in Chief Chris Anderson calls this new world of manufacturing, “The New Industrial Revolution”.  It’s democratized industry, combined with new ways to rapidly prototype and visualize solid-state models of ideas, and online approaches to open-sourcing just about any part, labor, or manufacturing process needed – right off the web. As Anderson puts it: “Atoms are the new bits“.  The diagram to the left is from the Wired article and spells out the New Paradigm.

You’ve  heard of B2C (business to consumer), and B2B (business to business) – well, this is “C2B” – Consumer to Business – millions of garage entrepreneurs who are close to the consumer , crowd-sourcing ideas for future products and THEN manufacturing them.

I spoke with Ross Stevens, world-renown designer who teaches at Victoria University of Wellington and has a passion for this new culture he calls the “Maker Revolution”. We looked at his way-cool website of design work that he and students at Victoria University are working on futures projects which you can see here.

Stevens, who teaches a course called “Materials & Processes”,  believes that in the coming years, we will be able to make or “print” just about anything we can conceptualize — right to our home  on a low-cost printer. Check out this company that Ross suggested I review:   Ponoko, based in SF calls itself: “a creative place where you can make your ideas real … and sell them to the world. The Ponoko website is like having your own personal workshop and factory … and online showroom to sell your designs.”

Other companies and sites I’ll be tracking in this “maker-market” space include:

  • Makerbot Industries – company makes open-source, low-cost 3D printers and has a great blog on the top of “garage Renaissance and 21st Century manufacturing”
  • Reprap wiki - intriguing community site for sharing “designs that create designs (or self-replicating machines)” – go hear to learn how to print a printer that can print another printer that can print another printer…well you get the idea.\
  • ThingyVerse – a site for sharing 3D printable design and connecting to the global supply chain
  • Panjiva Corp – one of the leading marketplaces for the global supply chain, particularly for small-lot work


After reflecting on this “new industrial revolution”, printers that print themselves, and the future of 3D design and small lot manufacturing, I have just one question:  when will they invent a 3D bakery printer that can print a truly great cup of coffee and top-notch bagel each morning for me?

Smart phone <--> Netbook: Innovation is Needed

November 19th, 2009

A “goldie-locks” battle is likely emerging in the space between “Netbook PC” and “smart-phone”.

My smart phone keeps getting smarter, and my portable computer keeps getting smaller….and there seems no point, soon, in my owning BOTH.

The Tablet Computer

I had a talk with a well-known CEO not too long ago…he, like myself, is an avid Tablet Computer user — I’ve been using one for 8 (that’s right “EIGHT”) years.  I like the visual element of it, and I love being able to cradle the computer in one arm, while “computing” in another. It is similar to the experience that a violinist must feel when converting from many years of playing the piano.violin2

But the Tablet computer lacks some of the advantages of a small netbook – first of all price is still sky-high:  $1500-2000+ for a good tablet.  $400 for a reasonably efficient netbook.

Second, there are times when we need to quickly get something written, or responded to, and the Tablet can be slow for these kinds of tasks.  Of course, if you like to draw, think visually, and use your hands in majestic ways, then the Tablet frees your mind and makes you an “Artifex” (Latin: “creator”).

The shrinking PC and the mighty smart-phone…the Goldie-Locks battle
Meanwhile, the little phone keeps getting more and more powerful thanks to Apple iPhone, Google Droid and others.  And, if you read Michael Arrington’s post on Nov 18th , you’ll find that the Google Phone has only been warming up.

But, from an innovation point of view, where the computer and the phone CONVERGE, something new in interface design has got to occur.  Because:

* the screen we all are carrying around for a computer is Too Large, and the screen we are carrying around for the smart phone is Too Small

* the Querty keyboard seems outdated and not of use in a form factor that can be carried on one’s person

* the typical screen is either too big (computer) or too small (smart phone) – we probably need one that expands to fit the need

What’s needed is the Goldie Locks of computer – something that is innovative in its UI and ergonomic design so that it is “just right” to a good many people.

I came across this video from an Israeli developer. It has the makings of something in the right direction ….

This prototype addresses the need for a new design or interface to the computer that is portable, expandable, versatile, and flexible – with some new approach to avoiding the traditional mouse, keyboard, and rigid screen.
Build me one!