Conversations from the cutting edge of independent design and hardware. Every week Stephan Ango and his guests demystify the world of design, manufacturing, crowd-funding, retail and more.
Dec. 4, 2014
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of visiting the offices of Automatic where I met co-founder Ljuba Miljkovic. They are the makers of a clever system for monitoring your car using an app and a small device that plugs into the OBD port. We get into its benefits and how they brought it to market.
Ljuba and I also dig into the challenges of bringing tech products to retail, especially how to approach designing point-of-purchase displays. Automatic can already be found at Apple Stores and Best Buy, but as software enters every part of our lives we discuss what retailers such as Home Depot are doing to keep up.
Finally, we end with a few ideas around the future of cars. With major companies vying for various parts of the car experience (Apple, Google, Uber, Lyft, etc), and excitement around the self-driving car, we ask ourselves on what time scale these changes will take place. I was reminded of the Max Planck quote: "A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." We can only hope it will be faster than that.
Why we built the Link
Jawbone's report on the Napa Earthquake
Automatic on IFTTT
Nov. 21, 2014
My guest on this episode is Nick Evans, the founder of Tile. Tile is making an elegant Bluetooth-powered tracker that helps you find lost items.
While the idea is simple, executing it with this level of polish and minimalism is always a challenge. On the show we discuss some of the decisions that led to Tile's industrial design, as well as the challenges of crowd-funding the project via a self-hosted campaign. We compare some of the pros and cons of Kickstarter versus options such as Tilt and Selfstarter.
Nick and I also chat about FCC regulations, and what we hope to see from carriers as the internet of things develops. Amazon's Whispernet is an early example of how devices like the e-ink Kindle can benefit from low-bandwidth connections. Opening up such a network to startups would have a profound impact on the types of devices that can be designed.
Finally, our conversation was also an opportunity to discuss some of the new collaborations Tile is launching, such as their integration with Blunt Umbrellas.
Sept. 23, 2014
Brent Bushnell, co-founder and CEO of Two Bit Circus is my guest on this episode. One of the most prolific entrepreneurs and tinkerers I know, Brent has been creating interactive installations for years and has assembled them into a travelling carnival that kicks off next month in Los Angeles (tickets are still available).
We retrace Brent's childhood growing up with his father Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese's, and how that inspired his mission to reinvigorate STEAM education at Two Bit Circus.
Along the way, Brent has been involved in many amazing projects, developing early touch-based interactive technology with the restaurant chain uWink, as well as installations for the LA-based event series Mindshare, making a giant Rube Goldberg machine for OK Go and other incredible machines during his time at Syyn Labs.
This was an incredibly fun conversation. I hope you'll enjoy it too.
May 19, 2014
Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz are the founders of Exo, a company that makes protein bars with cricket flour. While it might sound gross at first, eating insects is common practice for most people around the world. There are lots of good reasons why: they're more sustainably grown than livestock, they're high in protein and properly prepared they can truly be delicious.
The idea came on my radar a couple of years ago with a spec packaging project from design students at the Royal College of Art in London. Maybe it's my background in zoology, maybe it's the wild diversity of diets I've seen living in Los Angeles, but the concept made sense to me instantly. When Exo's Kickstarter campaign went live, I jumped at the occasion to support this effort, and give cricket protein a try.
What Gabi and Greg have come up with, is a flour made from crickets that have been frozen, roasted and milled. The resulting flour is mild tasting, and gluten-free by definition. They've combined this flour with other natural ingredients to create protein bars that I can personally say are some of the most delicious I've tasted.
There's a chocolate flavor, a peanut butter and jelly, and a gingerbread-inspired flavor. All three were excellent.
As someone who enjoys treating themselves to steak or sushi, I've often considered the ethical and environmental issues surrounding meat. One of my favorite essays on the topic comes from the introduction to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's exceptional River Cottage Meat Book, in which he methodically defends eating meat, without looking to antagonize vegetarians. Read it, if you ever get a chance.
I'm convinced that over the next couple of decades, insect protein will grow to become an important part of the Western diet. To some degree it has to, in order to keep up with our demand for protein, and increased standards for animal husbandry (see the controversies over California's 2008 Prop 2)). Soy and pea-based "meat-substitutes" such as Beyond Meat, will only take us so far in balancing our diet away from livestock... but that's a topic for another post.
As you can imagine, the process of bringing a cricket-based product to market has been a challenge. From sourcing crickets, to finding a contract-manufacturer who would handle them, and developing a recipe with Kyle Connaughton of The Fat Duck, we discuss how Exo navigated their first run of protein bars.
Also mentioned on the show: Little Herds, a wonderful nonprofit organization promoting the use of edible insects.
May 12, 2014
This week I'm joined by Owen Gee, founder of Commodity. The company has developed a delightful collection of colognes and perfumes, available online through a home try-on process reminiscent of Warby Parker.
Like myself and previous guest Andrew Kim, Owen is a graduate of Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Shortly after graduating, he joined Ferroconcrete, a lauded branding agency in Los Angeles. Founded by Yo Santosa (yet another ACCD alum), the agency quickly established an impressive roster of clients including TBS, TNT and Pinkberry. Ferroconcrete also became an incubator for projects such as Fruute, and eventually Commodity.
As you might expect, the sophisticated branding behind Commodity came naturally to Owen and his team, but the process of bringing these fragrances to market took much more than that. On the show we explore their experience funding the project on Kickstarter, the challenges and benefits of a bottled product, the process of creating an authoritative yet friendly brand, and unpacking the complex world of cosmetic chemistry.
Mentioned on the show:
IFTTT and Zapier, two
clever ways to link online services together
April 7, 2014
This week I'm joined by three of the designers on FiftyThree's hardware team: Jon Harris, John Ikeda and Hauke Gentzkow.
FiftyThree is probably best known for Paper, an intuitive and beautifully designed sketching app for iPad. Many of the company's founding team members are ex-Microsofties who participated in developing the Xbox, Zune and the fatefully mothballed Courier tablet.
Its latest product, the Pencil stylus, connects to the app via Bluetooth and works with the humanistic simplicity we've come to expect from FiftyThree.
On the show we discuss how to build intuitive, accessible products by starting with the experience and how that design philosophy has led FiftyThree to create a wonderful ecosystem of software, hardware and services.
We cover some of the team's extensive background at Microsoft, the challenges of making hardware in small versus large companies, some of the pros and cons of crowdfunding and more. Enjoy!
Mentioned on the show:
Adobe's Project Mighty and Napoleon
Microsoft's High Performance Touch (YouTube)
Why Shrinkwrap a Cucumber? (Amazon)
March 11, 2014
I met Adam Vollmer, founder of Faraday Bikes a few months ago and was lucky enough to ride a prototype of their beautiful electric bicycle, the Faraday Porteur.
On the show we discuss turning what started as a side-project at IDEO into a Kickstarter campaign, and finally a fully-fledged, shipping product.
As you can imagine, it's a product that involves hundreds of parts, made all over the world. Adam and I dive deep into the challenges of sourcing parts, using tools such as Alibaba and working with a complex supply chain.
Faraday Bikes also made a recent appearance at CES 2014. We discuss the benefits of trade shows, Indiegogo's booth, and how this flows into their marketing strategy for 2014.
Steve Jobs' "Bicycle for the mind" (YouTube)
Safety bicycle (Wikipedia)
Michael Faraday (Wikipedia)
Dec. 12, 2013
This week we explore the intersection of food and technology with Bam Suppipat, co-founder of Nomiku.
Nomiku are the makers of a radically simple immersion circulator, an easy way to precisely cook many of your favorite foods. The device makes sous-vide cooking accessible to anyone, bringing a staple of high-end cuisine into the home.
The team behind Nomiku participated in the HAXLR8R program's first graduating class, a new accelerator for hardware startups based in Shenzhen, China. Bam tells us about his experience with the program and how it flowed into Nomiku's highly successful Kickstarter campaign, which raised over $586K.
From there we discuss how food and science interact, some of the seminal works including Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, Modernist Cuisine and how new tools and techniques are leading us towards more scientific, predictable ways to cook.
Finally we end with a brief primer on UL certification), and the unexpected challenges of bringing an electric product to market.
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold
Alton Brown's Good Eats mostly free to watch for Amazon Prime subscribers
Bag Soak Eat
Design to Matter
Nov. 30, 2013
Why is our show called You Can't Eat Bits for Breakfast? On this episode I'm joined by Jesse Genet, my coconspirator at Lumi, and originator of the phrase.
Together we discuss the early experiences that led Jesse towards an entrepreneurial and creative life, her penchant for classic cars, lessons on competition from Buffalo Bill and why it's important to make physical things.
We end by contemplating an article by Geoffrey Miller entitled Why We Haven't Met Any Aliens in which he discusses the idea that by the time a civilization becomes advanced enough to visit another planet, it has the ability to virtually simulate the experience in more instantly gratifying way.
As esoteric as it might sound, this theory is a reminder that there is so much left to discover and create in the world of atoms.
Our interview on The New Disruptors
Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson
Henry Ford's autobiography
Buffalo Bill's autobiography
Why We Haven't Met Any Aliens by Geoffrey Miller
Nov. 25, 2013
I'm joined by Andrew Kim, a good friend and one of my favorite young designers. Together we discuss the importance of harmony and attention to detail in design.
You might know Andrew from his branding exercise redesigning Microsoft. This 3-day project garnered remarkable traction online and eventually helped him land a job designing hardware at Xbox. Microsoft recently profiled Andrew shining a spotlight on some of his earliest work, including the Ecocoke project, and how it has flowed into his excellent blog Minimally Minimal and recently, 90°, his book on knolling.
One of the things I've always appreciated about Andrew is his keen sense of observation. Spend a few minutes reading his blog and you'll begin to understand how he visually deconstructs a product into lines, shapes and colors, the sum of which can be called form language.
Why is form language important? Our conversation was a reminder that participating in mass production is a responsibility to create elegant, harmonious designs that contribute to society, rather than add to the cacophony.