Diego Rodriguez, an inspirational member of the IDEO family, is working through 21 design principles he believes in on his blog, Metacool. Go check them out, it’s worth it.

Number six talks about living life in a way which gives you the tools to feed off the constraints of a difficult problem rather than be afraid of them:

Innovation needs to happen at the intersection of desirability, viability, and feasibility.  These three elements make up the legs of a proverbial stool called “it’ll work in the world.”  Too many innovation initiatives focus on only one or two, much to their detriment.  For example, creating something without regard for its feasibility out in the world is not unlike designing a bridge without regard to the existence of gravity: it might work, but the likelihood of it being a reliable, safe, means of transport will be greatly diminished.  And while it might be tempting to “really be creative” by ignoring constraints, a wiser approach is to view constraints as liberating.

The best designs are those which attack a set of constraints head on to create something that can operate within them. That’s why I was so inspired by Ernie Schenk’s book, “The Houdini Solution”, which is full of techniques for thinking inside the box.

For what it’s worth, I think this is such an important principle that it can be separated from the idea of “T-shaped” people, which is wonderful in itself (particularly for how little explanation it needs to be grokked).

All that said, I have to thank Diego for putting me on to the work of Santiago Calatrava who he uses to illustrate his point. The Chords Bridge, pictured above, is a stunning example of elegance which dances on the fine line between beauty, structural integrity (this design is apparently not the most structurally efficient) and of course cost.

This kind of structure can only be built by really understanding the limits of all those dimensions.



Walking around Lisbon, you see plenty of witty and awesome graffiti pieces (particularly in the Alfama and Santos districts). Done well, it adds a great touch of personality to the city and looks fantastic – just look at advertisers and the art world drooling over the work of guys like Banksy

However, the debate over whether it is vandalism or art continues, with some evidence that it encourages crime (the “Broken Windows” idea) and of course the fact that much of it, like the tags scrawled in marker pen, looks awful.

The UK’s Department of Transport has some pretty in-depth research here on why and how to reduce graffiti, with case studies of graffiti on trains in New York, and around the UK and Holland. Last year, the Design Against Crime Research Centre held a seminar to better understand it. Someone even came up with a “Graffiti Report Card” to shame the bad.

Is graffiti art or vandalism? That really depends on whether only the best makes it on to the walls.

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Into the breach steps Art Building, which takes building or renovation sites and has up and coming young artists put colossal up pieces on the scaffolding.

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It’s nice to see property developers sponsoring this kind of art, and regardless of the merits of the projects themselves (the first is supposed to be a tapeworm), the city is far better off with than without. There are three projects so far:

Vitrine – Joana Vasconcelos
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War/Work – Tiago Batista
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Peek to Heaven – Lucas Mila
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I love street art, and would love to live in a city where graffiti is part of the culture, and where the good stuff get celebrated. What do you think?

Here’s some more from the streets of Lisbon.

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Yesterday I showed some awesome signage from Lisbon’s Museu Colecção Berardo’s which was engaging, witty and fit perfectly with the character of a modern art museum.

This is the opposite.

Imagine that something horrible has just happened to you, and you depsperately need urgent medical attention. How would you feel if you rushed to the hospital and were directed to the emergency room by a series of signs which looked like this:



The signs are incongruent with the clean, clinical, highly professional feeling that a hospital needs to project to make patients feel safe and respect the authority of the staff. They don’t inspire confidence.

In fact, the hospital is fine and modern. The irony is that directly below these delapidated signs is a smaller, bright red piece of top quality signage in what seems to be the world’s most ubiquitous font: Helvetica.

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The last two posts (about the Cervejaria Trindade and Museu Colecção Berardo) were about how the most utilitarian objects need not pass unnoticed. They can be made to have a charm of their own which helps communicate the personality of their surroundings.

This shows how much damage they can do when poorly thought through.


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Next up is some cool signage at the Museu Colecção Berardo’s in Lisbon’s Belém area. 

As with the Cervejaria this is an example of injecting wit and character into something that usually only gets an afterthought.

What’s better. This (from the Oceanarium, also in Lisbon)?

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Or this:

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It’s clear which one is more likely to engage the audience.

And what about these reinterpretations of the humble toilet wo/man?

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Even the floor numbering gets in on the act, showing you the number and the contents of the floor in a single chunk of typography.

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As Jonathan Miller says, art is about “making the negligible considerable”, which this goes some way to doing. A great set of designs and particularly appropriate for a gallery of modern art, although it would be wonderful if utilitarian details were always this stimulating.

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Continuing the series of good designs noticed in Lisbon (after the Santos Design District yesterday), is the Cervejaria Trindade, essentially a beer hall in a convent. From Frommer’s guide:

Cervejaria Trindade is a combination German beer hall and Portuguese tavern. In operation since 1836, it’s the oldest tavern in Lisbon, owned by the brewers of Sagres beer. It was built on the foundations of the 13th-century Convento dos Frades Tinos, which was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. Surrounded by walls tiled with Portuguese scenes, you can order tasty little steaks and heaps of crisp french-fried potatoes. Many Portuguese diners prefer the bife na frigideira (steak with mustard sauce and a fried egg, served in a clay frying pan). But the tavern also features shellfish; the house specialties are ameijoas (clams) à Trindade and giant prawns. For dessert, try a slice of queijo da serra (cheese from the mountains) and coffee. (link)

The food was awesome, although it’s worth warning that they describe as “light” a steak sauce that consists entirely of beer and butter.

The place is also known for its azulejos (traditional Portugues decorative tiles), pictured below.

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The decoration, service and generally expected trappings are up there with the best. However, what sets it apart from other places with equal amounts of character and history to tell is its menu, a big leather bound book with oodles of character. It’s a great example of supporting a brand with excellent design in a usually neglected place.

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Want a steak, why not order the:

Rump Steak A La Trindade – From the parts of the rump cut with mastery and art by Brother Butcher, comes this intensely flavourful tender steak. (emphasis mine)

The copywriting’s nod to Brother Butcher, the choice of paper, the script font and dropped cap which nods to old monastic tradition of illustrated manuscripts all help to bring the restaurant’s history back to the fore.

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The seafood menu brings to mind medieval bestiaries.

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And my favourite touch, the illustrations which separate each section of the menu.

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The reason this is interesting is that the menu is often delegated to an almost utilitarian function in even the finest restaurants, forgetting that a good meal is as much about the overall experience and story the place tells as the food (a contentious statement for the foodies amongst you, I’m sure).

The Cervejaria goes out of its way to remind you of its history in a lighthearted way, which works particularly well in a place that wants to appeal to tourists who delight in this kind of cheesy/authentic storytelling. A different, more subtle approach might suit a restaurant with an equally interesting story but a less populist angle (even the most fine food focused restaurants may have an unusual story to tell).

What matters is using every channel available to get the story across. A good design should wear its personality on its sleeve so people can better understand what makes it tick and how it get there. This is what allows people relate to it, make an emotional connection and perhaps identify themselves in it.

One of the highest achievements of a design is for people to feel that they are expressing a part of themselves by using it.

More pictures after the break.

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The first and most obvious sign of design in Lisbon, so a good one to start with in this series of daily posts on the snippets of good design caught in Lisbon this Easter.

On 6th Dec 2005 a chunk of the Santos area to the West of the city centre was rebranded the Santos Design District giving a united front to the the design stores which had been moving into the old industrial area since the 80s, local marketing and design agencies, and the nearly four thousand creative industry students at the IADE, UAL and ETIC.


The area is packed with design stores stocking classic design furniture (by names like Eames, Prouvé, Gehry and brands like Vitra and Herman Miller) and all the objects and books (Phaidon features heavily) that go with. Several have even joined together to create the SSD Smile Card, a common discount card and online store.

To name a few worth exploring: Paris-Sete (the driver behind the district according to Blue Design, a local design magazine), Domo, Ligne Roset and Steinwall. Start in this area.


So far, the district has helped to put Santos on the map as a hub for design and also organises events every few months, most recently to celebrate its third birthday, when shops stayed open late and offered special discounts. Good design has also trickled into the nightlife (from GoLisbon blog):


Following the new theme of the neighborhood, you’ll find places where the décor is just as interesting as the food. A favorite is Estado Liquido. Better known for it sushi, it also features a sleek minimalist space with some Asian touches, and it also doubles as a bar/lounge. If you’re not a fan of sushi and want to try something more local, head to Cop’3. It’s another tastefully designed space serving innovative versions of traditional Portuguese dishes. You’ll find it in Largo Vitorino Damasio, the same square where the bar Left is located. It’s a hip hangout that Wallpaper* magazine singled out for being “stylish and relaxed,” that’s also a great place for drinks to the sounds of the guest DJs.

This is what the main square looks like:



So what’s next? Gustavo Brito, founder of Paris-Sete, gave a few in his intereview with Blue Design: a “design lab” to incubate the experiments of the 4,000 local students, a “design shuttle bus” linking Lisbon’s art museums, free wi-fi in the area’s public spaces and a permanent space for a “design garage sale” of selected pieces.

It’s great to see a group of like minded individuals putting the infrastructure in place to help a community of designers and creatives thrive. It is not enough to be neighbours if you don’t also get to know each other.

Where else are similar associations happening?

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m normally based in London (any readers in Shepherds Bush?).

Right now I’m travelling around Lisbon so I’ll be reporting back starting Wednesday with a series of daily posts on the design details I’ve been catching in this lovely city.

Stay tuned, and subscribe if you don’t want to miss out!