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Jules Verne's train is back in stock


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This train is so cool! Although I was fortunate enough to pick one up last year (yet to really run it although I have had it converted to DCC), its almost an iconic statement of what can be done with train design that is seldom taken advantage of in train design.

 

Think about it...cars, buses, trucks, planes, ships....their design is determined by their function, while trains....well there are some limitations clearly, but why does a locomotive have to have a 'square' end? Why do EMU's start to look like buses when their are so many interesting alternatives?  I know the TGV/Shinkansens need to address serious aerodynamic issues (and I'm not ignoring other practical concerns with train design either), but I don't know if they have to look just like an airplane.  Trains are better than planes.  Let's act like it!

 

Anyway, hat's off to Nankai and the bold designers of this train!  While not everybody will love it- nor should they- I think its good to celebrate innovation and creativity in an industry that does little of this outside of behind the cabinet technology.

 

Okay, that's all I wanted to say.

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Krackel Hopper

There was a time when America took advantage of design.

 

The Union Pacific M-1000, Pennsy's GG1 locomotive, GM's AeroTrain, and the Pioneer Zephyr come to mind.

 

I have the Rapit pre-ordered and I'm waiting on the Yufuin no Mori pre-order before it ships!

 

The Rapit is certainly a bold statement, and I am glad Nankai was bold enough to accept it.

 

It is on my "must ride" list.

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I was going to touch on the concept of industrial design, but I'm too tired and sick these days to get in to a whole debate (hence my lack of posts these days)  IMHO, the GG1 was the pinnacle of American industrial design. While the Nakai airporter is a great example of how Japan still has a sense of industrial design, one does not have too look far to still see such creativity in styling in Japan.  just look at the latestest generation of airporters, such as the N'EX, the Haruka and the latest offering from Keisei (ala Skyliner) I would however agree that American industrial design takes a back seat to function. *cough EMDD SD70ACe.

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Most of the design these days in the US is done by pretty young designers who have been brought up on computers and most cant even sketch or draw. A friend teaches computer graphics for fine artists (ie make sure the fine artist get some exposure to computer techniques) at the Corcoran school of art here in dc. she always starts with the first assignment starting with the students sketching their graphic layout for the project on paper. her last few batches of students overwhelmingly refuse to sketch or draw and want to start on the computer. when she tells them the reasons for doing sketches they dont get it and most will literally refuse to do the had sketch saying they cant draw. THESE ARE FINE ART MAJORS!!!

 

we just finished some master planning for a large project and the architects on the project that were doing the architectural assessment were to do 2 building sketches after we had done dozens of conceptual sketches (all by hand in large format). they admitted (and were actually sort of proud of it) that neither of them (in their 40s) could draw and they would do the renderings in CAD. the rendering came back so bad in quality and concept (they did everything backwards to what all the conceptual planning had created, like they never listened to it or they just did the opposite of everything to try to be different and just stupid ideas) that they had to be chucked and the conceptual planning sketches were used instead. i think $6K out the window. the conceptual sketches, by the way, were so creative in how they were done, hand drawn on big sheets of paper on the wall that they captured the clients attention so much (all anyone ever sees these days is CAD renderings and fly-throughs on a powerpoint presentation) that the client went from thinking about a $500k small exhibit to looking at an $80M building. if we had had CAD style drawings in the conceptual phase it would have stayed at a $500k exhibit.

 

cost cutting in design departments has gutted them of anyone with any experience or who can actually sketch ideas out and play with them (of course these older folks cost more and are not of the ilk to just turn something out fast on the computer). the focus is on take this, modify it and get it out. if you start with the idea on the computer and with a pre conceived starting point you never have the chance to really design, which is really the search for the shape/idea/concept that is the best solution, all you get instead is a xerox of a xerox of a xerox. just look at most of our product design out there and you see this happening. walk through a large store and you will find very few things you would pick up and say now thats great design. most is pretty mundane stuff at best. go look at american faucets if you want to see really bad design these days.

 

i have long discussions on this topic with my design/work partner a lot. after one of them while we were on a business trip i was in the bathroom and for some reason i was looking at all the bathroom hardware and noticed that it all looked pretty big in scale. i have huge hands and it was almost too big for me. everything was just pudgie, any designer worth anything could easily see the places to trim some here and there to get nice lines, save metal and make the things look much nicer. so i started looking at hotel bathroom fixtures at different hotels i was in and all of them were like this (hotels update this stuff pretty often as its an easy and cheap way for the room to look updated, so you end up with pretty new stuff most of the time). it finally dawned on me that most of these designs for this sort of mass produced stuff was probably just reworks of last years designs and it was almost like every copy/revision added another layer making things pudgier. almost like what a multiple xerox does expanding the image slightly and fuzzing out all the detail lines!

 

cheers

 

jeff

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Two of my favorite trains were designed by non-traditional train designers. The Rapi:t was designed architect Hiroyuki Wakabayashi and the Keisei Sky Access train design and styling was overseen by fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto. I imagine most trains are designed by railway engineers.

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Its funny, I think we too often under-value 'design' and optimize everything for the 'practical'.  In recent years we've seen Apple take huge market share driven by its design, or look at the Mini-Cooper? The Dyson?  While each of these companies products had various costs/benefits or other positioning relative to competitive products, their designs ended up leveraging that value and have created modern icons.

 

Yeah, depressing that the GG1 and the other examples are over 50 years old.  Thanks goodness the Japanese haven't forgotten this.

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Actually attention to design and taking the time to play with it early on usually ends up with a better practical solution as well in the end. we put a lot of attention to design early on in our exhibits and its amazing the little practical benefits we find that pop up once things are coming together. when i have worked with groups that tend to have a system and their design is a very practical crank it out through their machine its usually just the opposite when things come together and all sorts of problems pop up. the systems designs also tend to require a lot of working drawings where as doing some good design up front and thinking it through then and you work with some good craft folks you can get away with a lot less in the way of drawings and instructions as the design flows through the process. almost seems a bit counter intuitive, but in experience it just works...

 

cheers

 

jeff

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I'm not normally a big fan of futuristic modern trains, but the Rapi:t is definitely the exception. The first time I saw it I burst out laughing, because I was so taken by the sheer exuberence of its design. It looks like fun!

 

And might I add a comment re the Pennsy GG1. While I agree it is one of the high points of US industrial design, my fondness for them has always been based on the their sheer physical grunt. They were built to last, they could pull like a dentist, and run like the wind. As beautiful as they undoubtedly are, their longevity and utility are what do it for me.

 

Cheers,

 

Mark.

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I would however agree that American industrial design takes a back seat to function. *cough EMDD SD70ACe.

 

Yes, I agree.  It seems Americans prefer the rugged, square jawed look, which says alot about their self-perception.   Same goes for other products, even extending into product names- Jeep Patriot, Dodge Avenger, Dodge Nitro et al (gee what is is about Chrysler product naming- you think they are marketing to the military).  Even Japanese-made products have their name changed in the US Market- The entry level/tyro Canon SLR is sold as the 450D (or whatever the current model number) in Europe, but it's the Rebel in the home of the brave. Oh, and in Japan, it's known as the Kiss (marketed to single women and young mothers with the catch copy "My first Kiss", i.e. my first SLR)- thus avoided like the plague by (male) railfans, who tend to lug around more expensive Canon marks or Nikon equipment.

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Weren't clay models once a mainstay of industrial design.

 

Yes, they were. Alvin Stauffers book "Pennsy Power" has photos of the clay wind-tunnel models of the G-motors, and streamlined K4 4-6-2s.

 

Cheers,

 

Mark.

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Thanks, I drive a Jeep Patriot.  ??? It's a Jeep, it looks like a Jeep. PArt of the reason why the Compass which is the exact same vehicle with the rounded sheet metal doesn't sell.

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Well, Marketing people get paid to come up with names that target certain groups (and in the ones you've noted, I think the group is 18-24 year-old males). But extrapolating from that to the self-image of the buyers as a whole is a bit of a stretch.

 

I drive a Subaru Outback, but a secret desire to be Crocodile Dundee (who actually featured in some of the ads for it) was not one of my reasons for buying it.

 

Getting back to the original topic, there's certainly less industrial design today (in the sense of esthetically-appealing design) than there used to be.  And the computer (and the ease it brings to modifying past designs) contributes to that, since the high cost of starting fresh is probably a big reason there are fewer fresh designs. Another factor is the high cost of labor; good design takes time, and designers who are actually creative are both rare and expensive (or at least, I presume they're expensive, I don't have personal experience with design or designers). Most companies are in a hurry to get new products out now, and see more value in a quick appearance change or adding a few knobs, than re-thinking the whole concept of the product.

 

Apple has certainly proved that there is economic value in using design to establish a brand identity. But some of that is that their identity is caught up in being different from everyone else (remember the "think different" ad campaign?). If their laptops looked like a Dell or a Sony, it would undercut that identity. Of course, some also comes from an intent to do "usable" designs (ergonomics), which most companies don't seem to think about at all.

 

But even if you had good industrial design, it's not likely to be applied to trains in the U.S., as they're seen as utilitarian machines by most people, and there isn't a competitive market to drive the people operating them to try to differentiate themselves from other trains. The GG1 was designed at a time when trains were popular transport in the same way cars are today, and rail companies were trying to differentiate themselves from competitors as being "more modern" and faster through streamlining and other design features.

 

Note that some of the most interesting designs in Japan are on the airport trains, which probably are trying to grab travellers who may be unused to the area, and looking for transport in a hurry. Something that makes one train stand out from others, or from a shuttle bus or taxi, has real marketing value in that environment.

 

Which is not to say the Japanese aren't aware of the marketing value of train appearances in other contexts.  Just look at all the "painted trains" or special excursion trains like the Black Ships train. But even there, most of the trains are "more of the same" in a design sense.

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Yes good design aint cheap, but in the end it does pay off. a well designed product can sell very well and usually saves in other less tangible places in the whole development process. apple (jobs specifically) has shown this to be true time and time again. its also a good look at Return On Investment but both the producing company and the customer. high ROI can come (and usually does) from higher priced items as they may cost a little more up front (ie apple computer), but the savings in other ways downstream more than pays for that directly and the indirect savings (rarely calculated in an ROI) can be very large and very dramatic in the whole spririt of the individual or company (think the 'priceless' amex concept).

 

the 20th century really drove us to a really horrible sort of GNP mentality that kept us only looking at the short term big spending numbers that requires expansion and higher use of resources to equal success. there is so much that is not taken into consideration in this kind of thinking and only leads us to very short term thinking and becoming stupid lemmings going over the edge (ie as evidenced by the recent financial crisis and looming resource crises).

 

valuing and paying for good design really falls into the category of long term thinking and thus is just not even considered in most modern business thinking. sad as its leading us down a road to destruction in so many ways...

 

one last thought from Ken's post is the word aesthetics. we use this a like clients about developing an Aesthetic Identity. this is the concept that you being very early on in the process to make sure your design at all levels meshes. it has to work at that level, but must also mesh with other levels well from the tiniest graphic to the fasteners you use for the handrails to the beams in the roof. its the idea that this attention to detail to not just make decisions in isolation pays off big time down the road with the user. again this is a very subtle but very important to connecting with the human heart with your design. again this connection is not quantifiable, but is critical for the 'priceless' connection. apple stores are a great example of this. while being pretty stark, they have a style that compliments the products well and showcases them (you remember the products when you walk out, not the store details). if you take a photo from any angle in the store to even under the tables, they all show this seamless aesthetic identity that scales through out the store. you can see how well this works by seeing how popular apple stores are to hang out in and sell higher priced items. but again its another aspect of design that is tossed most of the time nowdays and replaced with the term/process of branding where there is no design, just a whitewashing of everything to turn out things that become stupid and bland.

 

cheers

 

jeff

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which is why it is impossible to determine a Camry, an Accord from an Altima or a Mazda 6 at fifty feet anymore...

 

so true.

 

look what they did with the prius. that design was from an air tunnel for efficiency and then a good designer went over the lines and just tweeked it here and there so that the details and overall look was smooth, a process of selecting which of 20 slightly different curves was just right. over all it was a clean form, but car folks hated it as it did not have the current 'car' lines on it. hence the recent revision where they tried to just slap a bunch of car lines on it and jazz up the details like the lamps and it now looks like something that 5 guys did different traditional car parts in isolation then came together and glue them together on top of the older model prius. they also took the folks not liking the vertical shift bar on the dash so they put in a huge console between the driver and passenger side so a more normal shift lever could be placed like on more traditional cars. the space is now cramped and ruined even for smaller people. let alone anyone of larger stature... these changes were not designed, but just take the model, xerox it and just change it a bit and thus the result.

 

jeff

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