It’s arrived

So it finally arrived.

After weeks of feverish anticipation, the day came when my iPad was delivered by FedEx, a full day ahead of when it could be bought in shops. Typically, I wasn’t there to receive it as I’d started my new job, but fortunately the girl was in and took receipt of the delivery.

If you’re a fanboy, then the anticipation of opening the packaging is as much a part of the user experience as using the damn thing and this was no exception. Over the years, Apple has definitely got skinnier with the packaging (remember the early iPod packaging, it was a work of art) but it still delivers everything you’d want from a packaging design – building anticipation for its contents and looking beautiful too.

The web is littered with box opening sequences for Mac products (and there’s none more exciting than Stephen Fry’s iPad opening sequence) so I won’t go there. Here’s a gratuitous shot of it anyway.

OK – but what is it like to actually use?

Firstly, the heft in the hand is remarkable. It just feels good. Well made. Long lasting. The aluminium case sets it apart from the iPhone and moves it up towards the Macbooks and gives it a cold, metallic sharpness that just feels right. The sharper edges too of the exterior case move it on. I expect next generation iPhone will follow these design cues.

After the initial excitement of gliding, swiping and sliding on the screen (just like the iPhone) then you kind of settle into a right – ‘what content can I get on here’ kind of mood. There’s some lovely free (and paid of course) stuff on the iPad store and I can see that just growing day by day. It’s the scale of the presentation and the crispness of the display that hits you when you’re looking at apps for the first time.

For instance, the marvel App which looks cool on the Iphone, looks awesome on the Ipad and that’s not hyperbole. The Wired magazine app really does feel like a whole new genre with embedded video, interactive ads and content that looks incredibly handsome and also linked smartly throughout. This mass of content has the tendency to overwhelm too, but I think that’s more to do with the new medium – after all, this was a paper based magazine where you just turned the pages, last time I looked.

Websites render differently and some are better than others with the Safari interface being different, it takes a little getting used to if you’re used to browsing on a laptop. The standard Apple Apps all look and feel great on the iPad too, as you’d expect, and the seamless connectivity with Itunes is definitely par for the course these days. I did think it took ages to hook it up for the first time and I had a few issues with downloads, but they’re sorted now.

One gripe – I have a lot of movies and content that I have downloaded on to my Apple TV (am I the only person who uses and enjoys this forgotten bit of kit?) and I just can’t get them on to the Ipad. I’ve paid for them, but can’t get them on to there, which seems wrong to be honest.

Quite a random post in terms of my experience so far with the Ipad but I think it sums up the user journey I’m on with it – excitement, anticipation, expectation, all tempered by the reality of everyday use and where it fits in my wide array of existing mac products. I think it does sit perfectly in between the iPhone and Macbook Pro and I’m already using the iPhone less for Apps like Tweetdeck which just work better on the iPad when you’re at home.

I think it will crystallise the use of each device and make them more about delivering great user experiences rather than making do with one device that does lots of things but not super well.

All in all, you can probably tell I’m happy with my iPad.

I just can’t wait to see what’s going to be designed and produced for it that will drive it forward just as the Apps have changed the iPhone from just a telephony device into something genre defying.

Wenlock & Mandeville

Perhaps given the furore surrounding the ill fated launch of the London 2012 logo, it was unsurprising to see that the mascots (two of them!) for the London Olympic Games were launched in a fairly low key way. I did find it a little bit weird to see the covers whipped off them on The One Show by Christine Bleakley, but on balance the tone of it was about right: populist and accessible.

But what about the mascots themselves?

As you would expect, there has been a lot of column inches expended on the shiny new characters and from what I can see, most of it is fairly positive. LOCOG (the people in charge of this aspect of the Games) have played it safe and who can blame them. I’ve been in meetings with them long after the dust had settled on the logo debacle and they still bear the emotional scars from it.

I remember seeing the ‘invitation to tender’ for the mascot (yes, that’s how these things work unfortunately) and I turned it down as I thought it would be a poisoned chalice for whoever gets the work. London agency Iris must have been around the block a few times before they came up with the chrome-clad duo and I bet they can tell a tale or two about it.

I was searching for a blistering personal opinion on the mascots and to be honest, I couldn’t find one. Which is good and bad. Good in that LOCOG haven’t dropped the ball and the launch of the mascots has gone relatively well and they have avoided another media catastrophe, bad in the sense that the mascots are a little bit dull I’m afraid.

Of course, they’re of their time and I quite liked the back story to the characters (although it’s a little bit overcooked) and I’m sure that the target audience for the mascot will certainly not be someone of my age. I think the digitally created mascots look up to the minute and modern and the animations look particularly good but the live action suited characters definitely look this side of iffy (but don’t they all).

In the pantheon of Olympic mascots, they’re certainly up near the top of a pretty dire and forgettable list. With still two years to go before the actual Games themselves, the mascots have got some time to get ‘bedded in’. Who knows, by the time the flame is lit and we’re all delirious with nationalistic pride, Wenlock and Mandeville might be as close to our collective British hearts as Cheryl Cole and Gazza.

Picking a crab

Some jobs in the kitchen require a little time and patience. Not usually something I hold a lot of truck with to be honest, but I do recognise that sometimes things are good for me.

Picking a crab is one of these tasks.

The first few crabs that you pick are seemingly fraught with danger and mystery – where are the ‘dead mans fingers’, what do they look like, can I eat this and what the hell is this gunk? But after a few attempts and the trusty River Cottage Fish Book as a companion, it’s plain sailing.

I find sitting at the table in the garden the perfect location – crab can be a very messy business, with shell pinging off the walls and work surfaces, resulting in complaints from the wife. But if the weather is fine, there’s no better way to spend an hour or so accompanied by a nice bottle of Rose.

Working methodically and carefully, the carapace is cleared of the brown (and tasty) meat and then it’s on to the abdomen. This is where the impatient pickers fall down I reckon, as there’s much white meat to be had in here but it really does require some careful wheedling to get it all out. Then it’s on to the claws which are satisfyingly cracked with a heavy knife before extracting the firm, sweet white meat.

By the time you’ve finished, you’ll have a good sized bowl of white meat and half a bowl of brown meat and you’ll be wearing the smug smile of a job well done. In this world of fast everything and instant gratification, it’s incredibly satisfying to take the time to pick your own crab.

And next time you see a dressed crab in a fishmongers or on the supermarket counter you’ll remark at how expensive it is and how little real meat is in there ‘plenty of egg to fill it out, no doubt’. The humble crab is the tastiest of all crustaceans in my opinion – finer than lobster, I believe – and we are blessed with a plentiful and easily available supply via Leeds Kirkgate market via Whitby.

Have a go. Arm yourself with a good guide of what to do, plenty of implements to winkle and wheedle every scrap of meat and a glass of something chilled and you’ve found the perfect way to spend a summer’s morning that will result in a job well done and a lunch to follow.

Handkerchief

I always have a handkerchief in my pocket.

I couldn’t tell you how it happened, but I suspect it has a lot to do with childhood hay fever which often reached epic proportions during exam times and Wimbledon fortnight. Mum would always press a freshly ironed square of white fabric into my hand and beacuse of this, I always get a little bit worried when I don’t carry one.

It’s a product from a bygone age and I like it. There’s nothing nicer when someone needs a tissue and you can pass them a freshly laundered handkerchief (equally there’s nothing worse than a used one). Buying them is more troublesome than you’d imagine – M&S have a reasonable selection, but they’re a bugger to find, tucked away in a dusty corner of menswear.

When running through the checklist of items before leaving the house, the handkerchief is the first thing I grab from the drawer, then its iphone, car keys etc. Writing this, it’s just struck me that the little square of white linen is almost like my comfort blanket and perhaps it is.

I felt moved to write this short post in praise of the hankie – for its link back to a time when things were very different, for its sheer eccentricity in the face of progress and just for being still around.

I’m not sure

I quite liked the old Waterstone’s logo. It had a bookish, intelligent style about it that clearly differentiated it from its competitors. And after Borders’ demise I think it became even more accurate in terms of the positioning of the brand.

I know book retailing in this day and age is a real minefield – I’m sure we all buy more books online than in a store and as a consequence, the stores are having a torrid time of it. That’s probably the main driver behind the rebrand of Waterstones.

But I’m still not sure.

They’ll have researched it to death. It’ll have a brand strategy so robust you could build a battleship on it. It’ll have been through countless rounds of design development until the marketing director will have signed it off.

Even so, I’m not convinced.

Respected branding agency Venture 3 in London are the outfit responsible for it (lots of ex Wolff Olins people there and it does look like some of WO’s recent brand projects, come to mention it) and although I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with what they’d done, it’s one of those ‘wish I’d had a go at that’ moments.

Another household name branding opportunity squandered or a piece of up to the minute, zeitgeist-capturing branding? You decide, but ultimately time will tell.

The power of good design

The new BBC television series High Street Dreams features a series of would be retail success stories, each with a product they’d like to bring to market. The first programme bodes well for the rest of the series I think with a young couple making wholesome burgers in their kitchen looking to expand and an extended Sikh family making hot sauce in their garden shed.

Of course it’s a television show and has to be inherently entertaining so we have to take a lot of it with a pinch of salt. But what it does do rather well is show the process of bringing a new product to market. The interesting bit for me is where they have to make their product look the part, so the retailer they pitch to will take them seriously and the consumers who test it will believe in it.

Highly respected retail brand and packaging experts Pearlfisher were handed the task to redesign Mr Singh’s hot chilli sauce. The current packaging was a mess and to be honest, it wouldn’t have taken much to improve it. But improve it they did, and the vastly improved design certainly played its part in high street retailer Asda agreeing to roll it out in a number of their stores nationally.

Here’s what it looked like before, with a confusing proliferation of messaging, illustrations and logos in a traditional bottle:

And here’s what the final version of the Pearlfisher packaging looked like – clean, powerful and distinctive:

Interestingly, the solution wasn’t exactly on brief in terms of the ‘family’ feel the client was looking for. But I think the brand experts quietly ignored that and designed a pack design that has bags of standout on the shelf and the distinctive Sikh turban (or is it a moustache?). Either way, it has lots of personality, wit and humour.

There was still quite a bit of work to be done with the messaging – is it a condiment sauce or a marinade – which came out when talking to consumers – but this seemed to be relatively simple to fix.

I was struck yet again by how dramatically the right creative can change and shape perceptions of a product, service or even person. When the brand and the product are aligned it becomes a very powerful thing.

But it’s always nice to see it so graphically and it was a real joy to see the connection between the Singh family and their new brand – you could tell by the looks on their faces that they loved it and connected with it immediately. I’m looking forward to seeing how they get on and hope consumers connect with it in the same way.

Thought for the day: Thursday