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Apple MacWorld CAPS125-jpgJonathan Ive (1967- ) is a British industrial designer at Apple Computers. He designed the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone, helping to change Apple’s fortunes. He designed the computer that I write this on. He should be a household name, an icon of our age, but few know who he is.

He does not design the computer parts themselves – the chips and programs and so on – but how they are put together into something that people can use.

The best example of this is the iPod. It was hardly the first music player or even MP3 player. But not only has the iPod taken over that market, it has made that market: it made music players a part of everyday life. And that is because of Ive’s design and the way he thinks about design.

Ive is driven by two ideas:

  1. Make it simpler: Take out anything that does not absolutely have to be there, in how it looks and in how it works. In designing the iPod he was able to get it down to five buttons and a scroll wheel. What is more, from the way it looks you do not even know about four of the buttons at first. That is no accident.
  2. Make it better: Make it not only better – simpler and cooler looking – than what is currently being sold but make it better than itself: do not stop, keep going, keep pushing. That is why when the iPod first appeared in the marketplace it was not just somewhat better than other players, it was on a whole other level.

You also need the courage throw away designs that you feel deep down are no good and start all over again.

One of the main things that have kept computers and things made out of computers, like music players and mobile phones, from being more widely accepted is that they are not simple: there are too many choices of what to do next, some of them leading to bad outcomes!

The fault lies not in computers or in people but in the lack of good design in between. Most companies do not give it enough attention.

So Ive’s aim is not only to make things simpler to use but to make them more inviting by the way they look. He does that partly by giving them a clean look and by his use of colour.

Ive grew up in Chingford in London, the son of a silversmith. He studied design at Northumbria University and worked for Tangerine, a London design company. One of their customers was Apple. He felt he could have more say in Apple’s designs if he worked for them, so in 1992 he joined Apple. By 1998 he had become the head of design.

Ive likes to dress in black. He drives an Aston Martin, often works 70 hours a week and makes about $2,000,000 a year (150,000 crowns). He is worth every penny.

– Abagond, 2009, 2016.

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nathaniel_wyethNathaniel Wyeth (1911-1990) is the American inventor who gave the world the plastic Coke bottle.  That was in the 1970s. Before then Coke and other soft drinks came in glass bottles, which you can still see in some places, like Greece.

plasticbottlesPlastic is lighter and does not break or burst easily. But, of course, it does not easily return to the earth: while most of the stuff we produce can only last for up to 500 years, a plastic bottle can last for a million years! Yes. Thus recycling. The plastic bottles of New York in the landfills of Staten Island will long outlast its buildings.

Wyeth started working on how to make a plastic bottle at DuPont in 1967. It took him three years to get something that worked. At first he tried using the plastic that washing machine soap is sold in. That swells up: it is not strong enough for a soft drink, which has to be stored in a pressurized form or it will taste flat. In time he found that polyethylene terephthalate was the right sort of plastic, now also known as PET or Plastic #1.

In addition to the right kind of plastic, he was the first one to discover two tricks: he worked out how to blow the bottle and fill it in one step and, later in the 1970s, how to make the bottle in one piece, not two.

His American patent is number 3,733,309: “Biaxially Oriented Poly(ethy.ene terephthalate) Bottle”. He applied for it in 1970, it was issued on May 15th 1973.

He has other inventions too, finding ways to use plastic where metal or glass or other things were once used. Because of him cars are now partly made out of plastic!

He worked by trial and error, never giving up. His early plastic bottles looked terrible, but he said, “If I hadn’t used those mistakes as stepping stones, I would have never invented anything.” By finding out what did not work, he could find out what did.

Whenever he came up with an idea, however strange, he wrote it down on a piece of paper and put it in a box. Every now and then he would empty the box and read through them. (That is what gave me the idea for the Suggestions page on this blog!).

Wyeth got a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania and went to work for General Motors, where his uncle worked.  In 1936 he came to DuPont. He worked his way up the engineering ranks and by 1963 he became its first Engineering Fellow, which meant he could work on whatever he liked. In 1976 he retired.

Wyeth grew up west of Philadelphia in a family of artists and painters. But from an early age he showed a love of machines not art, taking apart clocks to make other things.

If the name Wyeth sounds familiar that is because of Nathaniel’s far more famous brother, the painter Andrew Wyeth, who gave us “Christina’s World” in 1948, one of the most famous American paintings ever.

christinasworld

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