Nest Learning Thermostat

Great Design

Saving energy is something every homeowner wants. Any product that can offer the chance to save money on energy bills is very desirable. The Nest Learning Thermostat is a great example of this. It is a market leader in smart thermostats and this blog post is going to look at the reasons behind its success. I have to admit now, I am slightly bias as I am lucky enough to have one of these installed in my flat. Not exactly what you would expect to find in a student flat but I’m not complaining.

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So first let’s answer the question that I’ve had many people ask me when visiting my flat. ‘What is that round thing on the wall?” To be fair I would also be intrigued by the futuristic looking ring that lights up as you approach it. According to Wikipedia, yes I actually had to look this up even though I own one, the nest is an “electronic, programmable, and self-learning Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat that optimises heating and cooling of homes and businesses to conserve energy”. To be fair that is exactly what it does. I feel like the best way to analyse this product is to look at its features.

I guess the main feature of the Nest, as suggested in the name, is it’s ability to learn how you live and adjust the temperature accordingly. It can build you a heating schedule after just one week of monitoring your lifestyle. This may seem a little creepy but it can tell when you’re out and will switch to eco mode. I don’t know about you, but when I first moved in I was a bit weirded out by the fact that my thermostat knew when I was out the flat based on sensors and my phone’s location. However I have to admit I was converted when I started to see benefits of this in the form of my energy bill. It also has a good balance because although it builds you a schedule, you can adjust it manually either on the thermostat itself or on the app. This helps to steer away from the idea of a robot taking control of your heating which would attract some controversy.

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The user interface is one of the main reasons I love this product. You can change the temperature easily by turning the ring. It’s hard to describe but it makes such a satisfying clicking noise. So satisfying that many of my friends like to play with it and set it to ridiculous temperatures which I don’t realise until I am roasting in my flat. The simple turning mechanism is such great design, it has just the right amount of resistance to not spin around too much but it turns so smoothly. Another cool feature of the user interface is it’s ability to sense when you are approaching/passing it. It’s like it reads your mind, you don’t even have to be that close, I just walk past, look at it and it lights up, showing me what the current temperature is. This is such a clever little feature, however, like many of the features, it’s really not necessary and a bit excessive but I guess that’s what makes the Nest stand out against it’s competitors.

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Another great feature of the Nest is ability to control it from an app. This may sound ridiculously lazy, like why would I use my phone to adjust the temperature when I could just get up and walk into the hall to adjust it manually, but what’s actually really useful is I can change the temperature of my flat from ANYWHERE. I have been guilty of using the app in lectures on a cold winters day when I want to return to a warm flat. It really is a luxury product, it isn’t necessary to be able to do that but I have to say it is a welcome feature.

Of course one of my favourite parts of the Nest is the leaf feature. You get rewarded a leaf every time your thermostat is set to ‘Eco Temperature’. This can happen automatically when you leave the house or you can set it yourself . ‘Eco Temperature’ is a low temperature which you can choose yourself, I think mine is at 17 degrees celcius. This helps you to save energy when it is a little warmer, It’s especially useful during those rare but appreciated heat waves we get in Scotland. Each month you get emailed a Home Report which tells you exactly how much energy you have used that month and on what days and what times. This is useful to keep track of how much energy you are using and makes you more aware when you may have been a bit generous to yourself with your heating. 

Nest say that an independent study showed that the thermostat saved people an average of 10% to 12% on heating bills. They also claim that in under 2 years the thermostat can pay for itself. I have to say I am not surprised by this, I have noticed a dramatic decrease in my energy bills since using the Nest. My flat has single glazing so it can be tricky to efficiently use energy, however the Nest does help a lot to prevent excessive use of the heating.

Overall I think the Nest is a very clever product. It’s aesthetic is so simple and unassuming but it’s technological capabilities are extensive. Although some of the features are a little over the top, they do make the nest a unique and special product to have integrated into your home. I believe it is a very forward looking design and benefits the user not only by saving them money, but making their daily life that little bit easier and adding an aspect of luxury to their lifestyle.

 

 

Totomoxtle

Great Design

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This is my last post from the London Design Festival, I promise. When walking around the Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition, the beautiful colours in a piece created by Fernando Laposse really caught my eye. Totomoxtle is a new material that has been created from husks of Mexican heirloom corn. These husks, which would normally go to waste, are peeled off the cob, ironed flat and glued onto backboard. The gorgeous autumnal colours from the corn really do make this material unique. The puzzle-like geometric pieces fit together to create a mesmerising pattern that you don’t often associate with natural materials.

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Although the aesthetics of this material are very appealing, what is even more rewarding is the motivation behind this project. As a community project, Totomoxtle is focussing on supporting traditional Mexican Farmers who have been hit hard by the introduction of genetically modified corn. I was clearly very unaware of the different breeds of corn, having only really come across the generic yellow cobs in the supermarket, so discovering the extensive rage of colours from deep red to almost white surprised me. These colours really highlight the diversity of corn as well as raising awareness of the hard times that are facing the Mexican corn industry.

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What I really love about the material Fernando Laposse has made is not only has he created some beautiful objects but he has also done it for a good cause. There’s nothing better than a win-win situation and Totomoxtle has certainly achieved this!

Biology of Metal

Great Design

I have to admit, most exhibitions that I visited during my time at the London Design Festival were featuring sustainable design. I worry that I can end up in a bit of an environmental bubble when it comes to design, so when I went along with some friends to see the ‘Biology of Metal’ in the Japan House it was a welcoming change from the other exhibitions I had seen that weekend. This exhibit wasn’t on my list of things to see and I had never really considered it as something that would be of interest to me. Metal craftsmanship is something I know very little about and as a result I had never really appreciated the beauty of it. This exhibition really opened my eyes to the great care and detail that goes into metalwork.

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The modern, sleek interior of the Japan House was rather impressive. The ground level consisted of a wonderful shop that I will talk about later on. Taking the spiral staircase positioned in the centre of the space, I found myself in the Biology of Metal exhibition. It was thoughtfully laid out, telling the story of the metalwork industry in the Tsubame-Sanjo area of Niigata Prefecture. The majority of objects on display consisted of tools. I really appreciated the ability to find beauty in such functional objects. I love how these tools were designed to last, to be cared for and passed down generation after generation. I believe it is so important to design a product thoughtfully and produce something that is high quality.

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Hidden amongst the large collection of tools were some beautifully crafted titanium tumblers, intended for use in the home. The vivid blue colour that reflected in the light really caught my eye and I was surprised to discover that this object had not in fact been coloured but was actually naturally formed by adjusting the thickness of the surface area, a very high skilled technique. Don’t get me wrong, the other tools did impress me, however I have to say I favoured the delicate, unique design of these tumblers. The idea of creating something to last was well encompassed here by using titanium with its high strength to weight ratio, allowing something to be delicate yet not easily breakable.

A highlight from my trip to the Japan House was when we witnessed a demonstration from a Japanese craftsman on how to sharpen a razor. The process was as refined as I’d expected after seeing the exhibition, involving a number of steps using different surfaces. I was astonished by the level of sharpness the man had achieved when he used a single hair to show the newly sharpened blade in use. He barely touched the hair and it just broke off with no resistance. It was satisfying to see that focussing on creating a high quality product really pays off.

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Wandering around the shop on the ground floor, I was mesmerised by the beautiful objects before me. I am really not a fan of shopping and would usually try and get in and out of a shop as quickly as possible, so I surprised myself when I found myself spending a long period of time just looking at the products on offer. I have to emphasise the fact I was just looking as unfortunately good quality, well crafted objects come with a very high price tag, one that is well beyond a student budget. I am not a materialistic person, yet I found myself tempted by these products. I think the main reason for this is you could really develop an emotional attachment with them. I could tell there was a story behind each one, that the person who made this had taken great care when creating it. I also appreciated the fact that although you would be digging deep in your pockets to buy these products, you would only be doing it once. They are designed for a lifetime and I really do believe that it is important to design to last.

PlasticScene

Great Design

I visited London a couple of weeks ago with my uni course for the London Design Festival. If I was to describe it in one word it would be overwhelming. I did do some research before to try and identify which exhibitions I would like to view and predictably for me I was instantly drawn to anything involving sustainable design. There was plenty of it. There has definitely been a sudden surge of interest in environmental issues recently. So I was not surprised to find a lot of exhibitions involving recycled plastic. Personally I am very passionate about plastic pollution, I do a lot of campaigning and I am part of a company that focusses solely on reducing the use of single-plastic in Glasgow. I could talk for days about the numerous plastic waste inspired designs I came across during the festival but I will hold myself back and pick one specific exhibition that I saw on my final day in London.

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PlasticScene was an exhibition held in one of the impressive Gasholder buildings in London. The well-lit space held a collection of very curious looking objects. Although each object was very unique they all had one thing in common, they were made out of waste plastic.

The first object to catch my eye was a bench glinting in the sunlight. I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibition during one of the rare moments of sunshine in what was overall a very wet weekend. What fascinated me about this design was how beautiful it was. It’s close resemblance to marble gave an impression of high quality and I was surprised to discover it was actually formed out of old, melted down CDs. The designer behind this masterpiece was Dirk Vander Kooij. I had actually already come across his work at the London Design Fair the day before in the Material of the Year exhibition, which was of course based on plastic waste. I really appreciate this work because it is making something that is naturally assumed to be unattractive, beautiful. I love how a waste material has been formed into something desirable and can actually compete with an equivalent design made of raw materials.

Another designer who’s creations stood out to me was Kim Markel. She had a gorgeous collection of ‘glow’ products, including vases and a chair. Thanks to the wonderful sunlight that had decided to enhance the glow of these objects, I really captured the essence of what she was trying to create with her translucent, reclaimed plastic. I thought these were lovely designs and really added to the space with their clever play on the light. Again I was very inspired by how she had managed to create such beautiful objects out of waste.

 

Standing out against these lovely objects was the more bizarre, alien-like work created by James Shaw. I have to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of the almost grotesque forms that had been created by extruding waste plastic. Don’t get me wrong, they were interesting and definitely unique, but I’d be in no rush to include them in the decor of my flat… Although they are not to my taste, I was still impressed by the use of waste plastic to create something very different, like nothing I’d seen before.

This is just a snapshot of the works that I saw in the PlasticScene exhibition but I think it sums up the general vibe of the work displayed there. It has definitely inspired me to explore the forms in which waste plastic can take and to create something beautiful out of what could have otherwise been polluting our oceans. In my opinion I am struggling to see negative in this type of work and I would therefore suggest this to be something I would consider as ‘great’ design.

What on Earth is “Great Design”?

Great Design

As you will have gathered from the title, this blog is all about what defines ‘great’ design. To be honest with you, I am not entirely sure what I would class as ‘great’ design. My passion for the environment definitely has a strong influence over my views. However, I will try my best not to let this blog just become a rant about how everything we create eventually ends up in landfill or even worse the oceans!! But I do believe it is a very important and relevant issue to explore when looking at the design of an object.

My biggest dilemma is my concern about the negative impact that the creation of unnecessary products is having on our planet, versus my love for beautiful, hand-crafted objects that may not have an obvious function but bring joy to people.

I think there’s a tricky balance between only buying products you really need and occasionally treating yourself to objects that bring you joy. I believe you’re allowed to enjoy life, just don’t be excessive in your consumption of the earth’s precious resources.

As you can probably tell, I have conflicted views… I am hoping throughout this blog I will come to some sort of conclusion on what I view as ‘great’ design.