Don’t Jump to Conclusions

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I like cars.

There are probably a lot of environmental reasons that I like them – relatives in the industry, a childhood spent riding a bike and wishing I had a car, that sort of thing – but there is also an underlying appreciation of what a car needs to do in order to be “successful”.  There isn’t  a singular definition of success, but we all know it when we experience it; and it is different for different people.

I have been lucky enough to be able to purchase cars that I have felt were successful – for me: a 1980 Range Rover, a 1999 Audi A6, a 2007 VW Touareg, a 2009 Land Rover LR3, a 2012 Ford Raptor, and a 2015 Golf GTI.  A couple of trends are pretty clear: one, we have certainly done our part in destroying the ozone with four of six vehicles in the SUV/truck category (to be fair, three of the four were purchased in Qatar where they were literally the difference between life and death, for a number of reasons).  The other trend is that half of our cars were VW/Audi Group cars.  I am going to focus on the latter trend, and not because I am embarrassed about our SUVs, as those who know me are well aware – I loved my truck:


No, I want to focus on the VW/Audi cars because perhaps the most important element of their success was their interiors – and, specifically, the materials used there.

If you’re a car person, the fact that Audi makes some of the best interiors in the business is not news to you.  This was made abundantly clear to me in 1999 when we purchased our “Andorra Red” A6.  I have no idea how the micronation is associated with a slightly too-purple red, but it is.  Problem was, I didn’t know then.  We were quite underwhelmed with our eggplant-mobile’s exterior.


What we came to realize, however, was that we absolutely loved the interior of the car: everything felt good, and everything worked with a purpose.  I think that I opened and closed the credit card tray (which I didn’t even know was a thing) about a hundred times, marveling at the damped mechanism’s slow delivery of the drawer.

There were “luxury” materials – leather and brushed metals – but the most striking thing was the absence of hard plastics.  All together, every surface was a pleasure to touch, they muted noise inside the cabin, and contributed to a structure that (until I smashed the windshield – which is another story) never squeaked or rattled.  Materials served their purpose as the true human “interface” of the car.  We loved to spend time in there – as the milage on the car would ultimately attest – so much so that we didn’t really care what the outside of the car looked like.

“Um, what’s the point?” I hear you ask . . .

The point of the article at the beginning is that there are very few women in the world of automotive design, and that “the vast majority of female car designers are employed doing decorating-type jobs.”  While the emphasis is mine, one would be hard-pressed not to see the descriptor as having a derogatory tone.

I don’t see Design as being a male or a female thing – good design is just good design.  Some vehicles are described as “butch” or “curvy” or “macho” or “graceful” – but don’t all of those appeal to men and women equally?  My issue is not with gender roles in car design.

My issue is with the dismissive tone given to the design of the interiors and the selection of finishes.  I would argue that this is perhaps THE most important selling point of the car to most people and – therefore – a critical role in any design team.  If that role is commanded by women, then they seem to be doing a great job of turning things around.

Over the last 10 years, the quality of interior finishes in all cars – even American cars – has improved tremendously.  Even Bob Lutz, one of the manliest men in the auto industry, recognized the importance of this: “The exterior sheet metal has to be absolutely perfect. And they want gorgeous interiors, where everything fits and the materials feel rich.”  There’s that word again – “feel”.

It’s not a color. It’s not a pattern.  It’s not even a design.  You can’t design tactile feel (in this case – don’t get me started on “haptic feedback screens“).  That’s all materials, and the better people know them, the better their products are.

Work is . . . work.

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NeoCon was almost a week ago.  Most “Design” people have Tweeted/Instagrammed/Snapchatted the pants off of the event already.  And I’m just getting my post up now.


I had originally scripted a grand, snarky criticism of all the companies at the fair who were – in my eyes – kowtowing to the Millennials with “hip” and “open” office furniture that made old people look silly.  After trying to substantiate my beliefs, I found that I couldn’t.

(Except the part about old people looking silly sitting on pods, in pods, or around pods.  That is still my opinion.)

When I looked into it, we Gen Xers are the smallest of recent generations (50 million), the Boomers (80 million) are on their way out, and the Millennials (75 million) are on their way up.  You don’t “kowtow” to the majority – you just sell things that they want to buy.

I had also thought that Millennial companies – and I was looking at Unicorns like Uber, Snapchat, and Dropbox – were tiny, engineering and marketing clubs in need of little furniture, and less creativity (they are already tremendously immature and self-importantly “creative” in my book).

Wrong again: Groupon has more than 10,000 employees, Uber almost 7,000, AirBnb 2,500.  Snapchat was closest to what I had expected, with around 300.

(This still doesn’t make it right – in my book – for AirBnB with 2,500 employees to have a bigger market capitalization than Hyatt and Hilton combined, when those two companies employ almost 275,000 people.  Yes, I get the whole “they have no overhead, no pensions, no limits” argument; but we wonder why there is wealth inequity and then we make people super-wealthy for creating companies that don’t create jobs.)

So, there are lots of young people in the workforce, and their companies are wealthy and employ (reasonably) large numbers of people.

Fine, make your hipster furniture for them.  I’m just a grumpy older guy with back problems who can’t sit on a perch that looks like the love-child of an antique shooting-stick and a ceremonial-groundbreaking shovel.


It was interesting to note, however, that Steelcase’s data – and they do data well – shows that most office workers are tied to decidedly non-hipster equipment: land lines and desktop computers.  Additionally, a recent article in Forbes highlights the wide range of employee ages that some offices will be catering to.

Let’s see those two factors work in this . . .


Something Neo at NeoCon

For a long time, companies have been trying to make carpet tile look like anything but carpet tile (I am all for this idea).  There have been concepts that looked to biomimicry, new shapes, and other ideas; but none of them really fooled anyone into thinking that the floor wasn’t carpet tile.

I think that Milliken finally nailed it.

At the show, they debuted Lapidus, which is a collection unlike any other I had seen.


As I mentioned to the rep, I wasn’t sure if I loved it or hated it, and I compared it to pre-distressed jeans (of which I am not a fan) just for good measure.  Either way, when you see this stuff on the floor, it does NOT look like carpet tile.

In addition to colors, there is a series of transition patterns that create what is the most naturally variated carpet surface that you’ll ever see.


My problem is, it – sort of – looks like old, worn carpet; but it’s not. The rep indicated that a recent client had chosen the finish instead of polished carpet in a space that was already loud, and needed some acoustic help.  This made perfect sense, as the carpet does give a very industrial feel, while providing a high level of polish at the same time.

As I departed the showroom, I mentioned that whether one likes it or not, the system was unlike anything else in the market.

Later, I went down to the Shaw showroom, and they had a totally similar product.  Figures.

(I’m not sure whether it was better to be fully invested in my naiveté, and come across as a huge fan – or sound a bit like I tell every company how great their stuff is . . .)

Probably the least relevant thing that I liked at NeoCon

You go to NeoCon to see furniture, to see rugs, to see textiles.

You don’t go to see props.

That said, one of the more interesting things I saw at the show were these books, used as – yes – props in the Koleksiyon showroom.


There was something wonderfully bland, yet interesting; same same but different; and, most of all, ghostly about these books.  Different shades of grey, different formats, no titles.  They were there, but they weren’t.

Turns out, they were all just bound collections of random Turkish newspaper scraps.


Can’t say why, but I really appreciated them.

“Did you ever notice . . .?”

OK, this will be my last post of this nature (for the moment).

You might have seen – 13 million other people did – a video about “transparent wood” out there on the interwebs:

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Don’t know about you, but while I have had plenty of those show-up-to-school-in-my-underwear dreams, I have never dreamed about transparent wood.

The fact is, it is neither “transparent” nor “wood”.  It might, however, be a very interesting development in materials – so why the completely bogus marketing effort?

Take one piece of wood, remove the lignin (evidently from a half-day boil), add epoxy, and what do you have?  My guess is that you have a reinforced piece of plastic that exhibits slightly better strength than the resin alone, and about half the clarity.

That ain’t Transparent Wood by a long stretch. Is it, however, something worth looking at?

Interestingly enough, lignin has been experimented with as a plastic replacement, among many other things.  On the other hand, natural fibers (fibres for those across the Pond) have also been extensively researched for their use as reinforcing elements.  Everything from carrot fibers to linen have been incorporated into numerous products.  The product in question is – sort of – burning the candle from both ends.

Could the lignin be used for other things?  Make a more efficient extraction process, and – maybe.

Could less inefficient materials be added to epoxy to add strength and allow for more transparency than this “transparent” alternative?  If a process can be created to get them into the resin in a cost-effective way – maybe.  I’m curious to see if the auto industry’s investigation of injection-molded carbon can lead to better, more natural options.

In the meantime – dream of sheep, not transparent wood . . .

Because no one takes a site seriously with an old post – not to mention only ONE old post.

In the world of materials, “proprietary mixture” is a common concept: if you tell the world what your material is actually made of, then they might simply use your recipe and make it cheaper.  If you and your company have spent many months/years and incalculable amounts of money in the development, testing, and marketing of a product, it is perfectly understandable that you wouldn’t want this to happen.

When it comes to “sustainable” or “green” materials, however, it is increasingly difficult to actually determine whether these labels can be assessed without some more information than is being provided.  Case in point, cristalplant.

At Salone this year, I stumbled upon (can you “stumble upon” something that is on the second floor?) an exhibition of pieces made from this material, which is purported to be a “sustainable”, “recyclable”, and “biobased” solid surface material.  With the number of people interested in these materials for both interior and exterior projects, this would – indeed – be a massive development.

I went to their site, and found many accounts of how practical the material was, how well it formed, and how designers love it.  I found that they have earned a GREENGUARD (kind of fun how the links are green, right . . . ?) certificate, but that is limited to VOC emissions.  This is good, but it doesn’t really say much: Corian® and Staron® are also GREENGUARD certified, so it isn’t even a point of differentiation.

As for the “recyclable” aspect, what does that mean?  Both Corian and Staron have lines that incorporate recycled content – is that the same here?  Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but grinding post-industrial waste into fill for new product is a thin definition of recyclability.

The most interesting part of the promotion, however, is the “biobased” angle: neither LG nor DuPont are claiming that any plants died (not in this millennium, at least) to make their products.  So, what sort of PLA, PHB, or PHA might be in there?

Here is where the transparency comes to a more translucent point: the BIOBASED link does – and this is a very good thing – explain that the material is “50% minerals and 50% polyester bio-resin”.

They go further to say that the mineral content is aluminum hydrate “recovered” from the “processing of Bauxite for the extraction of aluminium” (written by a Brit, no doubt).  I’m no metallurgist, but a quick read would seem to indicate that aluminum hydrate is the sole and intended point of processing bauxite.  So, not really “recovered” in the sustainable sense.

As for the 50% bio-resin, that is explained further with the following:  “30% of the resin previously of fossil origin has been replaced by polyesters of plant origin deriving from certified cultivations.”  This would indicate that the resin part is a 40/60 ratio of plant-derived plastic and garden-variety (ironically meaning not-from-the-garden) polyester.

This is further explained with the comment: “The material was certified in 2011 for its use of resins derived from vegetable starch and OGM-free maize; the material contains, in fact, more than 12% of these resins when the minimum requirement is normally 5%.”  The specification that the resin is derived from vegetable starch/maize would indicate that it is a PLA, which is good; but the percentage of material stated at “more than 12%” when the minimum is 5% makes little sense when they say that it is 30% in the big shouty numbers.  If half of the plant-derived plastic is plant-derived, what’s the rest of it?

Make no mistake: the fact that there is ANY plant-based plastic in a solid surface material is a good thing.  Less petroleum-based material is always a step in the right direction.  The material (according to the manufacturer) is also 30% lighter, which would also be a good thing.  In short – this should be a much better material than the competitors’ products, from a sustainability perspective.

Why can’t the information be clearer?

The times, they are a changing . . .


Taking advantage of all of the powers of numerology, I will be leaving/left my adoptive home of Doha, Qatar, on Friday, the 13th of May.

For six years, this tiny country delivered on the promise that greeted our arrival: Expect Amazing.  As our first, but hopefully not our last, expat experience, it was just that – Amazing.

To my friends, colleagues, and students – some of whom are all three – I thank you for your contribution to this experience.  I will never forget you, or Doha.

While the purpose of this site is ostensibly to provide me with a slightly less archaic email address than, I do hope to turn this space into something of value.  To someone.  Anyone.

Time will tell what happens, and – perhaps – it will also bring us together again.