Friday, November 26, 2010

The Critic makes Stuff too...

If you need a little extra sparkle for your home this holiday season - check out my Etsy store at:

Delightful little ornaments made with clever materials - these flakes look delicate but they're made of shatterproof rubber. I love making products. Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

10 Great Tools in Time for Christmas

You can get a special tool for anything these days - every small task has it's own glorified gadget - but with a good set of basics on hand you won't need 'em. With the work I do we have a lot of tools around, and here are some of my favorite, multitasking right-hand tools that are worth the storage space:

When it comes to a drill, don't waste your time with a lightweight. This is a tool to invest in, with a model like the DeWalt pictured, as a good one will last years and a cheap one most likely won't have the muscle you need. To accompany the drill - skip the infinite socket sets and extend your reach with a chuck extender like this one from Lee Valley:A handy Husky hex wrench set is the best stocking stuffer - never worry about keeping or better yet finding the many allen wrenches that enter our lives, and treat yourself to a nice round handle to hold onto at the same time. Measure twice, cut once - a speed square is still one of the most useful tools to have around - and it does double duty for arts and crafts.Any all-in-one tool kit will come with a basic wrench. That's a guaranteed way to loose some skin when you try to pry out an offending piece of hardware. Invest in a Vise Grip (this one's under $10)- you'll never use your old pliers again.

Downsize old worn-out screwdrivers (yes they do wear out!) with a multi-bit ratcheting screwdriver like this one from Stanley, and get yourself a good old-fashioned level. Laser levels are pretty, but they often don't fit your application. A standard level is an excellent straightedge as well for cuts and routing. Chisels may also seem like an antiquated suggestion, but you'd be amazed how often you just need to knock a little bit off something to make it fit. Without a power sander, jigsaw, or sawzaw that may take an eternity - simple handheld chisels can take out most of the obstacles you'll encounter.Spare your fingers from a bashing with simple quick-release clamps. Any surface can become a worktop, but it's hard to hold what you're working on in place without a clamp or two. Clamps make your dining table roughly equivalent to a full-fledged workbench.Finally, for the handy person who has it all - give them a great way to store it. Tools are only helpful if you can find them! I prefer a mobile wheeled cart with plenty of shallow drawers for easy sighting of the tool you seek. Happy building!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Get Ready for Earthv2.0

This is a little bit of a stretch for what I normally write about, but the news just too darn exciting! There's a "100%" chance that another planet out there can support life - no biggie, i know - but for the first time we know where it is! Now we just have to get there...maybe a minor in aerospace engineering is well warranted, ID students! "Design what people need" is a mantra I prescribe to - and the challenges of intersolar-system research and travel will be one of the most exciting and imperative challenges on the table for designers for centuries to come.

Read more here!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mobi-Mats Take You There

Who isn't familiar with the hot-as-hell sand shuffle? Trying to walk quickly while your flops fling sand and fly off your feet, with the ten bags you're carrying cutting into your shoulders and your common sense screaming Get Off This Sand NOW!!!! Mobi-mats change this entire experience. Now you can stroll or roll(handicap friendly!) down to the cooler parts of the sand, with no damage to the beaches....LOVE IT!!For more on the beach mats in particular, check out their parks&recs site. The mats can also be found on mobile airstrips and anywhere else you need a walkway in a heartbeat. Check out the construction detail - how often have you thought about using woven solutions?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Brabantia Continues to Reinvigorate Basics

Some of you may be familiar with Brabantia trashcans, commonly found at BB&B. Williams Sonoma is now promoting a new ironing board by Brabantia, and I like what I see. They continue to reinvigorate products that many companies write off as low-margin or commodities. The design features on this ironing board make it a product worth owning.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

After China, Where to?

This may not be news to companies already migrating out of China, but the momentum of change seems to be picking up...

Where once low-tech factories and scant wages were welcomed in a China eager to escape isolation and poverty, workers are now demanding a bigger share of the profits. The government, meanwhile, is pushing foreign companies to make investments in areas it believes will create greater wealth for China, like high technology.

Many companies are striving to stay profitable by shifting factories to cheaper areas farther inland or to other developing countries, and a few are even resuming production in the West.

"China is going to go through a very dramatic period. The big companies are starting to exit. We all see the writing on the wall," said Rick Goodwin, a China trade veteran of 22 years, whose company links foreign buyers with Chinese suppliers.

"I have 15 major clients. My job is to give the best advice I can give. I tell it like it is. I tell them, put your helmet on, it's going to get ugly," said Goodwin, who says dissatisfied workers and hard-to-predict exchange rates are his top worries.

Read the full article here, and consider that if the mainstream media is talking about the end of cheap China, the time was yesterday to look for newly affordable options Stateside.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cardboard: not Just for Boxes Anymore

Designer greats have been making cool mod furniture out of cardboard for decades. Usually, it's a little pricey for cardboard - you're buying the design philosophy more than the item. But there are some cool things being made out of cardboard these days that are fun and affordable:
Studio David Grass produces some affordable and attractive furniture like this sweet stoolCardboard Design makes all manner of products, but my favorite are their kid's playhouses. My own little rocketeer has enjoyed his for years :)
You can also find lots of affordable kids items, like these adorable chairs & table on Orange Onions.

And then again, you can quite easily make your own stuff! Sites like TreeHugger and Instructables give you great links and step by step directions to put your pile of cardboard to good use - give it a second life as toys and furniture good for guilt-free wear and tear.

[Pictured above, Foldaway Bookshop featured on Fubiz]

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Part Two: Tools that Help You ENJOY Cooking!

I hear you! You need an excuse to buy more stuff for your kitchen! I'm ready and able to enable...
Cookie scoops, like these classic stainless steel beauties from Norpro, will change your feelings about baking cookies. We all love cookies, but making 24-48 little balls is not the most gratifying task. The scoops keep your hands free, fill the sheet pan in 2 minutes, and perfectly portion the dough for even, round cookies.
Keeping with the stainless theme, shallow metal prep bowls like these by WINCO have more uses than you can imagine. They aren't deep like mixing bowls, but generously sized and shallow to make mixing pasta, salad, meatloaf, and everything else a breeze. Plus, they're a bargain from restaurant supply stores.If you've never tried keeping your spices in a drawer, it'll change your world. You can read all the labels at once and quickly find and replace what you're looking for. I'm still waiting for more stylish options to emerge, but for now these by Dial provide the best fit for existing drawers and bottles.
This is the best can opener I've ever used. And I've tested, cut up, and redesigned dozens of them over the years. This one locks in place for secure use and compact storage and it NEVER slips. Yet again, OXO transforms a frustrating task into a pleasurable one.Treat your self to an attractive oil cruet like this one from Mario Batali's line. Too often our counters are crowded with bulky oil bottles for cooking. Grab a couple of cruets, color coded or labeled, and transform your countertop into a sleek cook's station.

Catch up on Part One here!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Verdict: Water Bottle Buddies are...

If your dog craves crunching water bottles, these toys are for you. Water Bottle Buddies like those sold by Kyjen provide an adorable sleeve for your water bottle, protecting your dog from bottle shards. When the bottle's shot, toss it in the recycling bin.

The Good: I love anything that reuses the things we discard. Plus, you're eliminating stuffing from hitting the trash bin. Cuteness, economically priced under $10.

The Bad: These aren't as durable as they should be. Westminster Pet Products makes the sleeves you see below, which are extremely durable but could stand an infusion of cuteness.
The Verdict: Can someone please marry the two? Nylon sleeves should be able to achieve both cuteness and durability. Then this product would be truly excellent.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shameful Marketing Ploy or Fashion Genius?

Yep. Denim Diapers. You really are seeing that. My gut reaction is to sink this product, but I'm trying to take a step back into the target's mindset. There are lots of people who let their kids run around in just a diaper all day - I may not be one of them, but this product doesn't appeal to me. Maybe it will appeal to them?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Price of "Made in the USA"

I know most people wonder if buying "Made in the USA" really matters. It can seem like it's just another marketing ploy. It's also really hard to walk away from a similar item that costs hundreds of dollars less, just to buy a homegrown product.

Viking, the makers of those gigantic shiny ranges, has been hard-hit by the economic slowdown and the slow migration away from domestic products. They're diversifying their business to try to survive - offering matching cabinets and cooking classes to try to stay in your lives. The one thing they can't do is explain to consumers that there really is a difference between imported and domestic products. You can't see it, but I can, and here are some things you should question before you buy a cheaper model:
  • Is that really metal? Cheaper models use plastic coated with metal, much less durable
  • How thick is that metal? If you don't like dents, you might want to ask how thick the sheet metal is - in other words, what gauge is this metal? Thicker is better for safety and durability. Similarly, you want thicker gauge wire for the racks inside a range.
  • Are those buttons for real? Thin shiny plastic panels won't look so hot in a few years, physical switches are always a plus.
  • How serious is the hardware? Look at the door hinge. Big thick metal parts are better than thin or even plastic parts. The oven door is a common failure point for ranges.
If you take the time to become familiar with some of these terms and materials, the differences between high and low-end will become apparent. Often a cheaper model will save money upfront, but the pricier model will last significantly longer. Hopefully, there will always be a place for Made in the USA, and Viking for one says they're going to "build in America no matter what."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Snobject: SodaStream brings the Power of the Bubbly to you

My husband had a serious habit - he drank in the morning, throughout the day and the evening - he was and remains a seltzer fanatic. Then we brought the Sodastream into his life and now he's a changed man - he can make his own seltzer for a fraction of the cost and without tearing through seemingly millions of plastic bottles to get his fix. I highly, highly recommend it!

Also, for those of you wondering, the CO2 cartridges are exchanged at any store carrying the products - for $14.99 you get a recycled cylinder and yours is sent back to the company. That's $14.99 for ~65 bottles of whatever carbonated treat tickles your fancy. Again, highly recommended.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kenmore follows Chevy

Remember when Chevy said they'd launch 10 new cars in 20 months and everyone was amazed when they did it? They reaped the rewards too with double the web traffic, 98% dealer participation and a huge jump in sales. Kenmore is hoping to achieve the same thing - only they're launching 450 new products in 2010.

Granted, most corporations of their size can and do launch hundreds of new products each year, but Kenmore isn't just branching into new markets. They seem to be launching a top-to-bottom rebrand, with every product tweaked at least a little. Some products even seem to be new thinking - I'm super excited to start seeing some reviews on the Dishwashers, Clothes Washers and Dryers. They seem to offer some new features that required some new tools and assembly lines - a huge commitment on Kenmore's production scale.

Marketwatch covers the story in lots of detail, and though it does mentions "clean modern style" about a hundred times, there seems to be some good thinking here. Hopefully there are a bunch of American designers who finally got their hands on these products that have such a huge impact on day to day life - maybe they'll snatch the ball out everyone else's hands, much like Chevy did with the American Revolution, the 7th most recalled car campaign ever.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wow. Trash as FUEL!

I may be waaaaay behind the times, but I really didn't know about this yet: European countries, Denmark in particular, are building trash incinerators to generate electricity and heat (we did too 15yrs ago but have not embraced newer cleaner technology). And it's completely clean. Cleaner than burning wood in your own fireplace! It's one of those fascinating, frustrating articles for those with common sense. I may have lived in NYC but I don't understand Bloomberg's negative reaction to the technology when the city produces 10,500 tons of waste A DAY!!! Read the NY Times article to learn how trash can solve it's own problems.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Snobject: Yummy Fiskars Mower just in time for SPRING!

A push mower to desire from Fiskars - The Momentum Reel Mower. Another great application of the basic fly wheel - I haven't gotten a taste yet but I'm eager to see if it delivers that effortless sense of power. Also, are those mainly plastic housings? Could be a concern for long-term durability, which is a mainstay of the classic push mowers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This week's Winner for Ugliest Packaging

Skintimate shave gel - if the brand name doesn't make you feel icky the packaging probably will. It's exhausting to see so many companies try to make "cool, different" packaging. I can just imagine the Marketing VP exclaiming that they need something New, Fresh!!!! And what they end up with is this hot mess. Offers nothing to the user and may even confuse them or turn them off. Try solving people's problems with your packaging next time and skip the New, Fresh! You'll actually end up with that which you seek.

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, March 22, 2010

Snobject: TAGA, and yes, I want one.

This is obviously created by and for mommies and daddies who hate looking like tools with the 5 million things they have to cart around for the kiddies. Thank you for simplifying the mess!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dominos Fesses Up...

...and I LOVE it! They're admitting their old pizza was crap so that you'll give the new stuff a chance.

Check out the full article here, but this quote pretty much sums it all up:
"The old days of trying to spin things simply doesn't work anymore," President Patrick Doyle, who will become CEO in March, told The Associated Press in an interview. "Great brands going forward are going to have a level of honesty and transparency that hasn't been seen before."
Please, let this succeed and educate the other American companies who are still looking to squeeze margins and pull fast ones on customers in order to save their bottom lines.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What is TRASH, really?

My son put two and two together the other day and asked me, "Mommy, where does the trash GO?" Good question. I explained what I do know about the modern trash system, and he seemed fine with that. Later on he asked me who lives at the "landfill." My earlier explanation must have conjured up images of a town on top of a giant mountain of landfill, in an awful country called Trashland, where people don't throw anything away because they live with it all.

Well, the sad truth is that place does exist, here and there hidden in areas people don't visit on purpose. There are some people who have to live with the refuse the rest of us create, often in poorer parts of the world. That's such a depressing thought that it really motivates me on a daily basis to do the right thing. After a decade in product development, privileged to the dirty secrets behind making, selling and trashing the things we use, this is the bottom line:
Don't bring it into your home: buy less, avoid packaging and bags, use refillable systems and concentrates, make your own when possible (cleaning products for example), provide restaurants with your own containers for leftovers or takeout (recycling is imperfect, do it but don't rely on it - reducing is the best policy!)

Don't let it leave your home: reuse anything durable (get creative, list things you need and things you have and see what matches!), compost, garbage disposal, use as many glass, metal, ceramic, and wood products as you can (especially food storage containers like my favorite Pyrex shown below)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

"Momtrepreneurs" a Sign of the Times

Cottage industries are popping up all around us as the unemployment rate continues to increase. Many, many people are asking themselves that question we all face at one point or another, "what do I really want to do?"

The answer for many of us involves bringing something new into the world, rather than answering to someone else's beck and call. Putting something new into the world takes guts, determination, some financial risk and a lot of faith. But don't let that discourage you, because lots of people are doing it right now and finding tremendous success. Remember, if you have a need chances are many other people share it with you....and they're just waiting for you to solve their problems for them.

A great example, from a self-described "momtrepreneur" is the Bath Luve line of baby bath products - specifically the original Luve washcloths designed to cover and warm a baby while in the bath. A simple, intuitive and easy to produce item that connects with parents in an instant at retail - a great strategy for a startup. This mom took advantage of her experience as a consumer and it will most likely translate into success, unlike companies who enter markets with which they have no real connection. A lesson for the future of business = be true to your passions, for only then will you offer consumers a product that connects with theirs!