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Minimally Minimal
August 3, 2014 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Minimally Minimal, a blog by visual designer Andrew Kim.

Previously featured on Metafilter for his student project The Next Microsoft, a speculative redesign of Microsoft's visual identity; Kim was subsequently hired by Microsoft where he works on "confidential, large scale future products".

Minimally Minimal is his blog of design discussion, photography, and product reviews. A few favorites:
on skeuomorphism:
This is thatForm vs function vs intentionPlastic leather
the Nissan Cube:
First impressions3000 milesManifestation of culture
iconic audio products:
Braun SK55Sony Walkman TPS-L2
Apple retrospectives:
iPod miniApple iSightApple Pro Mouse
photo essays:
Kubrick at LACMANYC | 01NYC | 02
posted by We had a deal, Kyle (21 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very interesting blog, thanks.

That said, his focus seems a bit monomaniacal at times, at the expense of accuracy. For example, in the form vs. function link, he erroneously claims that the Pentax K-5 has a plastic body. Nope, wrong. Magnesium body. Also, while I appreciate his observation that the Nikon V1 is a good-looking camera whose design looks to the future, it's worth contemplating how much worse it is ergonomically than the Olympus EM-5 and Pentax K-5 he compares it to.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:30 PM on August 3


That said, I wish the EM-5 had followed the lead of even the Panasonic L-1. Now that's a good-looking camera.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:35 PM on August 3


I was looking for a review of the Apple iPod Hi-Fi a few months ago (hey, so I want to own everything Apple has ever made; sue me) and I found this site. Such a nice, thoughtful collection of stuff. Great photos, too. Thanks for the reminder.
posted by littlerobothead at 7:36 PM on August 3


This guy has a good eye and fantastic taste, but I wonder if his analysis isn't a little too... minimal?
Still though, I'm really enjoying this blog, and as a designer there's certainly some food for thought in here.
posted by Flashman at 7:44 PM on August 3


This was surprisingly good! I thought it was going to be a joke, but no, he does serious reviews with decent pictures.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:55 PM on August 3


This is pretty good. The mind boggles at the level of hipster you have to be to take photos with your new phone of all sorts of retro phones you have laying about (and your retro phones display photos of old clock radios and whatnot).
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 12:09 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


Just very, very thorough.
posted by flippant at 12:27 AM on August 4


I find his style a bit breathless and reminiscent of Jony Ive, but the photos sure are pretty.
posted by smackfu at 4:38 AM on August 4


Now I want a Mercedes SLK.
posted by valkane at 4:38 AM on August 4


If you’re a regular consumer of rice and have ever tried to buy a rice cooker, you know how difficult it is to find one with an inoffensive design. Everything, and I mean it - everything - in the market is utter trash. There’s plenty of functionally brilliant machines out there but they’re universally hideous. Take a look at Zojirushi's or even worse, Cuckoo’s offerings and it'll be hard to restrain from vomitting.
I feel the blog doesn't really capture the essence of his work.
I'd much prefer it in the more natural audio presentation.

( the soft monotone of a Homicide detective reading from a hand-written notebook; a recently splintered door frame in the background. )

I keed!! I keed!! it's a beautiful site
posted by fullerine at 5:47 AM on August 4


I can't argue against the love for good design, but good design goes beyond form and extends to function as well. The Apple Pro mouse for example. Yes, it's pretty. But the Mac in our lab that came with one now has an ugly black secondhand USB mouse plugged into it, because everyone hated using the buttonless mouse. When every program requires context menu use, having to hold down a modifier key to trigger the context menu is a no-go, especially for people used to using another OS. His review of the mouse consists of dozens of lovingly framed and lit photos, gushing over the clear shell, and zero discussion of how well it actually worked for end users. He also had a throwaway comment about how the LED was "a bit much" without seeming to recognize that the red LED he is disparaging seems to be light showing through from the sensor that is integral to how the mouse actually works, and not a design element added just for fun. The intense focus on the look of things is useful and needs to be part of the discussion leading to development of new items, but it can't be done at the expense of ignoring the purpose of the item in question.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:49 AM on August 4 [5 favorites]


Definitely an interesting topic that he doesn't really address: how can something with so much effort put into the design ultimately fail as a product? You see the same thing in the iPod Hi-Fi review: lots of discussion about the amazing product at an aesthetic level, but then one paragraph near the end about how the sound is actually kind of crap.
posted by smackfu at 6:03 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


The intense focus on the look of things is useful and needs to be part of the discussion leading to development of new items, but it can't be done at the expense of ignoring the purpose of the item in question.

I love the site and I value his commentary. But...

Yes, this. It's striking in some of his reviews when he just blasts right past some critical functional issue. For example, in the iPod Hi-Fi review, he notes that the sound quality is questionable, but then he tries to lampshade that by saying that it has something to do with how it's meant for casual, social lounging. No, don't try to justify it! This was a mistake! (Or, is he just trying to elucidate why they chose to accept the limitations they did accept? It doesn't sound like that kind of criticism, though...)

When he lauds the "heroic" stance of the iPod when docked, he handwaves away the fact that, since he doesn't have kids, he doesn't have to worry about how fragile the arrangement seems. This is even squarely a design issue, and it's a failure.

Similar criticisms go for the bit where he's comparing the V1 to the EM-5 and the K-5. I understand his design criticisms, but he doesn't go deep enough to try to see why people so often "look to the past", especially for physical objects which are used as tools. The V1 looks good, but it was also much larger than it should have been, and it handled oddly. These are design problems! Contrast that with *why* the design of the "vanilla" K-5 has remained so constant, from the K-7 to the K-3: it handles beautifully. IMHO, it looks great doing so, just on its own terms. He's a good photographer himself, but many photographers work differently than he does: they actually do need physical buttons and dials in predictable places. One can't help but feel that people like this guy are why some cameras force you to fiddle with menus to, say, change the ISO.

Yes, the EM-5 could have been more creatively designed from an aesthetic perspective, but it's worth considering *why* the EVF got its own SLR-style hump: that space also accommodates the accessory port, so there was going to be a bulge there anyhow, bigger than the V1's bulge. Their options were limited to keep it both functional and reasonably attractive. Within those limitations, what were the better options? Consider how much better the EM -1 looks, not by getting rid of the hump, but just through better proportions. Also consider how many of the more "creatively"-designed cameras, such as the Pentax K-01, the Olympus E-330, and the Panasonic L-1, are often flops: sleekness often compromises function.

(Sidenote: the best-looking DSLR ever was the Olympus E-420. I'm not sure what the most attractive mirrorless camera is yet. The EM-1 and the A6000 are both very nice.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:04 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


When he lauds the "heroic" stance of the iPod when docked, he handwaves away the fact that, since he doesn't have kids, he doesn't have to worry about how fragile the arrangement seems. This is even squarely a design issue, and it's a failure.

Our floor-to-ceiling bookshelves must suffer from design failure, because they allowed the kids to pull books off them when they were little, until we stopped keeping books on the lower shelves. The books themselves are very poorly designed, with all those flimsy pages that can be torn out or drawn on in crayon. Our crockery can't withstand being dropped on the kitchen tiles by small children - terrible design, plastic cups and plates work much better. Our couch hasn't handled being used as a trampoline every night just before bedtime when the kids go berserk, even though WE'VE PUT AN ACTUAL TRAMPOLINE IN YOUR BEDROOM YOU TWO, GO AND JUMP ON THAT.

My fifth generation iPod is still going strong, though, even though it's a year older than our eldest, and even though it sits in a dock sometimes, tempting fate. There are a couple of scratches at the top of the screen from when he bit it when he was two, but all in all it's been pretty robust.
posted by rory at 8:09 AM on August 4


The context is: "People were worried that they might break the iPod off. Maybe it's because I don't have kids but the placement doesn't bother me. I actually like the way it makes the iPod the center of attention, giving it a heroic stance. "
posted by smackfu at 8:21 AM on August 4


Right, and it's the phrase in context which bugs me. Even just from a pure visual design perspective, the iPod's position appears to be unnecessarily fragile. I find it curious that he seems to value the "heroic stance" over the other concerns raised by the design.

It's not just that kids could wreak havoc with it. Obviously, kids can wreak havoc with pretty much anything. It's just that he seems strangely uncritical towards what is IMHO a genuinely mistaken design choice for a home appliance.

The kids remark makes his thinking seem a little strange. Whether or not you personally have kids, a designer does typically have to think about what such an object would look like in a house with kids, or anybody else who could bump into the object, etc. The device doesn't have to be made of totally childproof Nerf as a result, but there does need to be some basic consideration that the device doesn't look like it could go "crunch" with such little effort.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:29 AM on August 4


On balance I'm enjoying his blog. But there are things in every post that irk me. Like in this review of the Nissan:
The Cube is 4" shorter than the Ford Fiesta yet it provides an exponential amount of cargo space.
I have taken high school math so I can tell you that's not a thing.
posted by Monochrome at 8:53 AM on August 4 [2 favorites]


a designer does typically have to think about what such an object would look like in a house with kids

But most households don't contain young children. Why should appearing childproof be more of a priority than other design considerations? Especially for a piece of hifi equipment, which is best kept out of reach of little kids whatever brand it is.

There are plenty of products and services that make no concession to kids at all. Not everything has to.
posted by rory at 9:05 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


But most households don't contain young children. Why should appearing childproof be more of a priority than other design considerations? Especially for a piece of hifi equipment, which is best kept out of reach of little kids whatever brand it is.

It's not just about kids, though. If anything, that's what makes his invocation of children seem a bit odder. The HiFi's visual design suggested unnecessary fragility. For many people, their eye was drawn towards the iPod and how apparently easily one could snap it off. Contrast with the Braun SK55, which is physically a more delicate piece of audio equipment, and yet it appears to be solid and sturdy, while also being visually pleasing and true to its own delicacy.

Anyway, I'm not going to go back and forth about it, but the point is that, for somebody who is obviously so talented and thoughtful when it comes to design, his appraisal of the iPod HiFi seems odd. It's telling that people didn't really copy that aspect of the HiFi's design. People prefer to see iPod docks where there is some sort of backing for the iPod, or where the base itself seems smaller, so that it doesn't just seem like a Chiclet glued to a cinder block.

...

I have taken high school math so I can tell you that's not a thing.

I had a similar moment of pedantry when he said, of the NEX-5's sensor, that "[p]hysically, it's the same size as a APS-C sensor." That's because...it is an APS-C sensor. The physical size is what it makes it so. His blog is otherwise so thorough and professional-looking. Quirks like that stand out as a result.

...

I feel bad that all of my comments have been criticisms, because really this blog is quite brilliant. I just don't have much to add to the good posts.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:28 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Muji should sponsor Indianapolis 500 race cars and Tour de France riders.
Actually, they could probably just say they do. "See? There's our non logo."
posted by Chitownfats at 12:29 PM on August 4 [1 favorite]


Yeah, his review of the Cube glosses over the enormous blind spots you must get from those pillars, just because he really likes the rounded window thing.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:30 PM on August 4


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