Design

San Diego’s New Modern Lifeguard Towers

I took a long bike ride around north county San Diego last week to get more practice using my new camera. I came across a cluster of retired lifeguard towers on Ponto Beach. It was a little sad to see these once-proud icons of the beach dethroned from on high.

The new towers have a unique look and I haven’t decided if I like them yet. The color is as obnoxious as a blue port-a-potty that I can only hope will fade under the California sun. What can I say about that shape? With the towers closed for the winter, it looks slightly menacing with those weird angles.  I’m curious to see how the towers change when they’re in full bloom this summer.

The Smart Fortwo Passion

The Smart car is finally in the US! I’ve followed this little car since I first saw it eight years ago on the narrow streets of Rome. I learned from an the Italians that it was a collaborate project from Mercedes Benz and Swatch, the fabulous watchmaker known in the US for its vibrantly styled wristwatches in the mid 1980s.

I was seven years old when the Swatch watch craze shook up my hometown. In hindsight, my fascination with those brightly colored watches hinted to my future career in design. It sounds a little silly, but I had a “designer’s crush” on those watches. I was fascinated with every detail…I couldn’t get enough. I could stand and stare at those watches for hours. (I particularly loved the watches with the graffiti-influenced characters by second-wave pop artist Keith Haring, whose influence you can see in my work today.)

A few years ago I was listening to an NPR story celebrating BB King’s 80th birthday. There’s a point in the story where BB King describes the joy of putting on a set of new guitar strings:

“That’s the time when I am so motivated, when the strings sound fresh. The tone is–I don’t know the word–but it’s so pleasing to my ears.”

If you listen to the story, you can hear the passion in his voice as he closes the sentence. He’s a musician and I’m a designer, but we both know what it’s like to be hypnotized by what is inherently beautiful. And when I first spotted the Smart car parked on a cobblestone street in an ancient alley in Rome, I knew I was looking at something special.

So you can understand why I’m so excited that the Smart car is now in America. There’s a dealership not far from my house, so I’ve seen many of these cars zipping around streets and through the neighborhoods. It looks like everyone is having fun, but I had to do some research to see if the car has what it takes to compete with traditional cars…

The Bad

Writer Eric A. Taub offered convincing review of the Smart Fortwo Passion in The New York Times. You can read the full review on NYTimes.com, but here are my favorites parts:

Uncanny good looks:

“…its shape and colors draws admirers as if it were the latest gadget from Apple.”

Bad handling:

“Rounding curves on city streets, the body roll was pronounced, causing a friend to reflexively grab the dash. When accelerating, the dreadful 5-speed automated manual transmission shifts awkwardly and slowly. It may be enough to make you reach for the Dramamine: the engine temporarily slows as the car is about to upshift, jerking the driver forward and then back with each shift. Several times, my wife threatened to walk home.”

Underwhelming gas mileage:

“In the mileage department, the Smart also failed to live up to expectations. Even with its tiny engine, the two tankfuls of gas consumed while I had the car worked out to readings of only 30 and 34 miles a gallon. That was less than the 36 m.p.g. E.P.A. rating for combined city/highway driving, and certainly not “amazing” as Smart’s press materials proclaim.”

The Good

All that bad news is enough to discourage buyers. But I read some good news on Autoblog.com this morning:

IIHS President, Adrian Lund, made it clear that normally bigger and heavier vehicles are the safer choice, “but among the smallest cars, the engineers of the Smart did their homework and designed a high level of safety into a very small package.”

I found it amusing that the car even looks cute when it’s getting smashed up, almost like bad guy that you just killed on Super Mario Brothers. I almost expect the car to flicker a few times and then disappear…

Lookout Jeep: The Hummer HX Concept

After discovering Hummer was going to make an H3 Truck, I found that Hummer was hoping to move in on the Jeep Wrangler with a small convertible SUV. I can’t imagine a cooler way to get to the beach…


Tougher than nails. Notice that the door panels bevel out; most Hummer body panels are deliberately flat. I love the exposed hinges on the doors and bolt heads on the fenders.


With the roof panels removed, there’s enough room for a surf board. My guess is the slotted vent near the windshield base is an air intake for the engine. This allows the SUV to drive in deep water without the engine inhaling water.


Don’t miss the rugged details of the hood.


A loaded gun.


If I would’ve stuck with Industrial Design as a career, this is the type of drawing I would be doing for a living. I’m kinda jealous.


Halo? Anyone? I think Hummer knows who their demographic will be for the HX.