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Original Grain watches: The nature of the modern watch expressed perfectly

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A watch is certainly a fashion accessory. Today, it is common to carry a phone and easily get by without a watch and probably most of you already do exactly that. Still, I enjoy watches. My watch battery died last week and I decided I wasn’t in a hurry to replace it and didn’t need to grab a backup. I decided to go without a watch and see if I really cared.


I missed my watch more than I expected. Perhaps most of my generation, and certainly those of the next generations, won’t really feel the sense of loss that I felt without one, but for me it was tangible. I did get my battery replaced earlier this week and have felt so much more comfortable since.


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It is in this context that I came across a new watch company called Original Grain that launched on Kickstarter yesterday (yes, I’m addicted to KS now).



Original Grain is introducing 3 watches that combine wood and the metal components for a hybrid solution. They say it is to address the chief issue with all-wooden watches where the watch is too lightweight and doesn’t “have that real-watch feel.” I haven’t worn a wooden like that, but I do wear a thin Skagen lately so I don’t mind a lightweight timepiece. Still, I like that they are taking a fresh approach and with a purpose to improve the wooden watch experience.


Another thing I really appreciate about their approach is that they have anchored their designs to the environment that has inspired them. The founder is from the Pacific Northwest and currently lives in Hong Kong. One of the color schemes echoes the Pacific Northwest with matte black stainless steel with a contrasting green sandalwood Contemporary-styled face and accents. The Rosewood design features bright stainless steel with dark rosewood classic-styled face and accents. A third is inspired by Southern California with matte black stainless steel and a light Maple face.


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Even the packaging echoes their clash of natural and modern design. The box planned for their watch line is an all-natural bamboo eco-friendly clamshell with a laser-etched Original Grain logo.


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Finally, I really appreciate the level of attention to the story that goes into their presentation about these watches. I love that they have invested so much attention to the designs, tell the history of their story, explain their brand identity and cultural roots clearly, and appeal to me to join them in their journey to improve wooden watch design. In the end, I wouldn’t be interested if I didn’t genuinely find the product appealing, but these other experience elements create a more emotional and attractive product offering. I find myself wanting to tap into the level of style, class and originality that they emote in their video and introduction.


I believe that they have nailed the formula for providing a unique and distinctive modern accessory backed with a story and culture. The future for fashion accessories is bright.


I haven’t pledged my support just yet, but an Original Grain watch will have to go on the birthday wish list… if I can just decide which design I like the best.


(hint: It’s the Green Sandalwood PNW)


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First Look: Sony PlayStation 4. Any Game Changers?

ImageSony held a special conference last night to introduce the new PlayStation 4. I think the most notable thing about the conference is that they failed to actually introduce the console. Sony didn’t show the console hardware and they didn’t announce any pricing or availability. I’m not really sure they even confirmed the name or anything. After all, Sony’s webpage simply says “PlayStation: See the Future” and directs Twitter traffic to the #playstation2013 tag
So, what did we see that matters?
There’s the mundane and expected:
  • Lot’s of studios working on great games.
  • x86 chip, 8GB RAM, huge hard drive, etc.
  • Camera.
  • Social gaming network
There’s the Questionable:
  • Can’t play your old Playstation games, streaming only
  • Touchpad on the controller – bad location and what’s the point
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There’s the New and Notable:
  • DualShock 4 controller finally gets some curves and comfort.
  • Continue games on PS Vita portable console (if you have one)
  • A “Share” button right on the controller
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I Spotted One Experience Delight:
  • I love the instant Suspend and Resume from a power key on the DualShock 4. That definitely reflects modern computing appliances like smartphones and tablets, but it is not a game-changer by itself.
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I hope there is much more to come from Sony on this generation. I don’t think instant on/off is enough to stand out. I do understand that the serious console gaming market is really about the games. Sony is delivering in that area and the games looked impressive. Still, they held out on showing the console design itself at the Introduction. Why?
Images from Sony and Kotaku.com

Articulate Wallets: Another great product design accelerated by Kickstarter

I came across a Kickstarter project that caught my interest. The Articulate Wallet is a sleekly designed new leather wallet that adds a new twist to the traditional wallet.
Articulate Wallet
You can visit their Articulate Wallet Kickstarter project and see more of their story, but the key is their effort to combine the best of the wallet and money clip:
We took all the great features of wallets and money clips and put them into one affordable, stylish,and sleek leather design.
articulate outsides
articulate insides
There are two unique approaches that I really like in their design:
  1. Elastic bands instead of leather pockets
  2. Special slide out pocket for most-used credit/debit card.
Fewer Pockets
The simple single-fold design minimizes the amount of leather and material in the wallet itself. Also, the simple ‘X’ bands of elastic hold a small stack of cards on each side to allow you to carry multiple cards in minimal space. They would still be fairly easy to access. I just hope that they have done a good job choosing elastic that will hold up to the wear and retain it’s elasticity for a few years. This improvement applies to the very most common use case for the wallet – sitting in the pocket. Suddenly, your wallet is smaller in the pocket, less noticable, less uncomfortable. It also improves the closely related use cases of removing the wallet from a pocket and returning it there.
articulate x slot
Perfect Pocket
Besides the wide cash pocket, there is only one other pocket in the Articulate wallet. It’s on the outside of the wallet and it’s designed to give you quick access to your most used credit or debit card. Once you place a card in the wallet, you can slide it part way out the side of the wallet by accessing it from a slot in the pocket. Simply extend the card, swipe it for payment and slide it back securely in the pocket. If this works as promised, it’s a game changer for wallet design. I would love not having to open my wallet to swipe my credit card several times a day. It totally streamlines one of the most common use cases for a wallet – accessing the primary credit card.
articulate slide
An Experience Designed Product
I always enjoy seeing an example where someone has been inventive in improving a common object in a way that genuinely considers common use cases for the product. In this case, they have minimized the wallet toward a couple of really important use cases, pocket storage and credit card access. Some other use cases may be less-realized (no family photos, no fanning of cards for quick recognition, no ‘secret’ pockets, etc.), but for those that care only about the key functions, this will be a welcome trade-off.
I also have to give props to Kickstarter for giving these 2 college guys a chance to see their product idea through to reality. They have been able to take the project from design stage and meet the minimum order quantity with their supplier by leveraging the crowd-funding power of a Kickstarter project. Kudos, guys!
Anyone else interested in the Articulate Wallet? What do you think?

Taco Ocho: Experience Design Wins and Losses

I love tacos! I’m a Texan, so that shouldn’t be a shock to anyone. Foursquare has rewarded me for exploring the Mexican food category above all others. As such, I’m always on the lookout for a great taco place and pretty judgmental about my taco options. Today, I lunched at Taco Ocho in Richardson with Michael (blogs at MuCraft ) and finally tried the eighth taco flavor that I hadn’t tried before.

Taco Ocho is a locally-owned shop in a small commercial strip center near the office. I have been going there pretty regularly for about a year and a half since they opened in the late spring of 2011. It is definitely among my favorite taco shops and I have frequently run into friends there or encounter a nearly full dining room, so it seems pretty popular.

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Approach and Navigation
Taco Ocho has a very tried-and-true structure to greet customers once arriving at the restaurant. There is an open corner location with windows across the front, allowing a peek inside and plenty of light once entered. For a first visit, I really want to see inside and know that I won’t be surprised or feel trapped once I’m inside the shop. They have a handrail to separate the line on the left as you come in the entrance, so it is very obvious where to enter the line. A large board menu is above the counter, making it fairly easy to start making some selections. There could be some better signage to help entice and direct first time visitors with a bit more sense of what the experience will be.

The left wall has a large mural of a Spanish mission with sunrays that provides a hint of the Latin cultural basis for the restaurant and also a bold and lively precedent to the experience.

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Menu
Taco Ocho has divided their menu into 3 simple categories:
Tostadas – Vegetarian “salads” served on a flat, crispy corn tortilla base
Tacos – Flour or corn tortillas filled with meat and/or veggies
Tortas – Latin grilled sandwiches made with bollilo bread

Each category offers eight (or, ehm, ocho) pre-defined combinations. This is a pretty balanced number of options, allowing for some choice but not overwhelming even on the first visit. The drink options are pretty limited with a few bottled sodas, fountain drinks and tea. I was glad to discover crushed ice from the dispenser – always a bonus in my book.

Learning Curve
The simple approach and the limited menu makes a pretty shallow learning curve for Taco Ocho. You won’t struggle to avoid standing out as a newbie, even on the first visit. Plus, most of the choices are good, so feel free to experiment and try. They will even offer suggestions if you ask.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much depth to the menu or experience. I always get 2 tacos, and enjoy mixing among the choices. However, since there is very little room for customization or personalization, there doesn’t seem to be much depth to discover here on repeat visits. Today, I completed my sampling of tacos, so I have nothing left to explore there.

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Immersion & Place
I think Ocho has an interesting place. The restaurant has mostly modern ‘industrial’ decor with metal chair, flat white tables, pendant lights, a red brick wall, and concrete floors. The food itself has deep latin and Mexican roots, but also has that same sense of modernism, with refried black beans, rice seasoned with cilantro and corn, and small light tortilla chips the standard sides for a taco plate. Overall, I think that Taco Ocho achieves it’s ‘mission’ in the interior design, providing a modern, trendy feel.

The decor has a couple of drawbacks that seriously diminishes the immersion of the experience. First, on multiple occasions, I have sat is a spot directly under the air conditioner vent and it is blowing a strong current across my food and me. I have even changed seats to avoid this during summer months. Second,they use pagers to let you know when the food is ready. This is a small place and I wish they would just bring food out so that I don’t have to interrupt and get back up to fetch food. Finally, with all of the hard surfaces and tight tables, the noise level is excruciating during most lunchtimes. It’s not a pleasant place to sit and enjoy a thoughtful conversation. Each time, I’m anxious to get up and go as soon as I finish eating. On the surface, this may seem to serve Ocho’s interests in freeing a table, but I would argue that I’m more likely to skip it over on a day that I’m not up for the noise and it costs them my business at times. Each time, I’m as happy to leave, hearing the door close and experience the relative quiet of a busy street, as I was to arrive.

As a professional in product design, I notice that this is a specific use case that they have neglected. They have done a great job on the food and visual decor, but the practical value of relaxed comfort while there has been neglected or overlooked by the owner. Maybe they didn’t consider that they are not just offering food, but for many, a social experience with their friends or family.

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Predictability & Variety
Taco Ocho definitely leans more toward predictability than variety. I have tried all of their tacos and have liked all of the choices, but definitely have my favorites. Latin Love has shredded beef, refried beans, and fried plantains. I love the sweet and savory taste of this taco on corn tortilla and order it almost every time. It’s only flaw is that it almost always is runny and a bit messy (unless it’s too dry which is worse). Chicken Elote is smoked chipotle chicken with corn, cheese and cilantro. This one sounded mundane, but I really like the balance of spices in the chicken. Cabo Fish is beer-battered or grilled fish with jicama slaw and a chipotle cream sauce. Hard to beat a tasty fish taco like theirs.

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The variety is harder to come by unless you are happy between the 3 options they have. I have only ordered tacos so far, and definitely want to try some of the others, but I wish that I could mix up some of the options to create some taco choices of my own. Or, failing open options, I wish that Ocho would offer special features from time to time to keep things fresh and interesting. It seems they are strong on the ‘taco’ and limited by the ‘ocho’.

They do have special Mexico City Street Tacos on ‘Taco Tuesday’, but I haven’t tried them yet, so I need to make an effort to aim for that some week. Variety is definitely a miss for us fans that have been coming since the opening.

The Payoff
Whenever I evaluate a product or service from an experience perspective, I always ask, “What is the Payoff?” For Taco Ocho, this one is pretty easy. They offer a unique and tasty taco with enough variety to appeal to many tastes. They have room to improve their overall experience design and menu, but it still rates highly with me.

Have you been to Taco Ocho? What do you think?

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