It has been a while since my last blog post, and for the last few months I’ve been wanting to write an entry here on design – on its importance, and on how it is Muyshondt products are crafted.
People, left to their own devices, generally imitate one another. In lighting, this is rampant, with a large pile of offerings that all look similar on the outside, are largely the same on the inside, and are made almost exclusively on the premise of being low quality, cheap, and tacticool – typically rife with useless extraneous design features, and often covered in gratuitous amounts of knurling.
It should come as no surprise that I hate this. It’s easy to take a tube and knurl it end to end; it’s easy to add in all sorts of shapes and forms, and silly things like “crenelated strike bezels” to cater to the false notion that someday you’re going to beat someone to death with a flashlight. In general, such products are selling a fantasy that has little bearing on actual reality, and have more focus on a silly story than they do on actual design and performance.
My premise in design is different. I feel strongly that design is only done right when it’s minimal, subtle, and elegant. The question is never about how much you can add, but how much can simplify something to achieve elegant, functional forms; useful and intuitive interfaces; and pairing all of this with high caliber electronics and excellent materials to ensure that what results is more than merely the sum of its parts.
If you have kept up with my work for the last several years, you’ll have noticed that 2016 has been a unique year, marking 10 years in business, but also, a marked shift in my designs. Starting with the Aeon Mk. III, and continuing with the Maus Mk. I, and the upcoming Flieger Mk. I designs, I have sought to create new forms that haven’t before been seen in lighting. I have worked to create designs that are pleasing to behold, while maintaining usability.
I say that the Maus is an exercise in precise minimalism, but this is true for the Aeon and Flieger as well. The lights are no bigger than they need to be. The features present serve a well-defined purpose – there are no frivolous aesthetics to detract from the cleanliness of the design, or distract from the use of the product; each detail is intentional, and the result of multiple design iterations done expressly to marry form and function properly.
My selection of LEDs, and my choices in electronic design, are done in such a way as to maximize performance and usability. What I mean by this is actual performance, not performance-on-paper or marketing gimmicks.
There are manufacturers who quote entirely outrageous output figures, and simultaneously claim long runtimes, which grossly misrepresent the performance of the products they sell. As an example – if you have a light that produces “500 lumens”, for a few seconds when you turn it on, followed by three minutes of diminishing brightness that stabilizes at around 200 lumens, is it really a 500 lumen light? If you claim a long runtime, without expressing that constant brightness is not maintained during that time, is this really an accurate representation of the product?
I don’t like these games, done purely for the sake of marketing, that are intended to dupe consumers into a purchase by appealing to the base notion of “more is better”, because of a lack of understanding on the part of the customer of the technical details regarding the design proper, as well as the physical aspects of the response of the human eye to light intensity.
The human eye responds to light in a non-linear manner. You’ll note that when you turn on a light in the dark, when your eyes are dilated, it’s uncomfortable, and seems exceptionally bright until your iris constricts – the eye reduces the amount of light it lets in as brightness increases. This effect applies to all forms of lighting design (and a lot of other natural systems as well – we become less sensitive to sound the louder it gets, too).
Accordingly, in order to see a visible difference in output of around 2x, you have to have an actual difference in output of around 10x. What this means in practical terms is that if you have a 100 lumen light, to have something appear twice as bright, you’d need a 1000 lumen light. Perhaps more importantly, it also means that lights can be designed with more modest outputs while improving color rendition and runtime performance, without sacrificing much actual performance.
This is the reason why a light like the Maus is able to be as small as it is, and still have performance that rivals much larger torches. It’s why I can select an LED for the Flieger that gives plenty of output and a nice beam color, and still have excellent performance (and why I refuse to replace an LED with a slightly brighter cool white version that would give me a marketing advantage for lumens figures, but substantially nerf use of the torch in practice). It’s why I’m able to design lights that don’t overheat and damage the LEDs or burn people, because they’re being driven far too hard for their lack of available thermal mass.
It’s why I’m able to design lights that strike a true balance of performance, size, and features, that are sorely lacking from a less sophisticated approach of “more”, at any cost.
The point (at least my point), in creating any product, is to achieve some level of functional elegance. To be able to achieve a high degree of technical performance, such that the product in itself is useful. A useful technical solution in itself, is not a complete product however – it is, perhaps, the core of a product, but nothing more.
The design of a product is an art form. It determines how it is that a person reacts to, interacts with, and ultimately sees and feels the product. It is an absolutely vital aspect in design – one that very few people do well, and on that, in and of itself, is completely useless.
A form without function serves no purpose and a function without form is largely unusable.
It is only when both are properly done – when every technical detail is well executed, and when every artistic element is accounted for, that a design is done well; when art and technology are merged in such a way that the design becomes “transparent” – where technical obfuscation becomes invisible and the design as a whole becomes entirely secondary to the use of the product itself.
This is exceedingly difficult to do right. Most people are artistic, or technical – not both – and most have a lack of understanding (and sometimes an outright disdain) for the other.
I work towards making sure my products are examples of Transparent Design; that they achieve some modicum of success at bridging the technical, and the artistic, to create compelling forms that work well.
When it comes to the technical I try to create a blend of features and performance that are substantive and have real world value and applications, and that are well balanced. That the performance metrics I optimize for have a functional purpose to them, and not one for purely marketing.
When it comes to the artistic I actively work on new forms for use in my designs, and seek out inspiration from nature, architecture, and many other fields, to try to craft designs that are both unique and compelling in their own right, that help to take what is technical and elevate it into something eminently functional.
The electric torches released in 2016 are the start of a new line of products from Muyshondt, and serve as the foundational elements from a design perspective both for torches, and other products yet to come. I am greatly appreciative of all of your support for the last several years, and am looking forward to creating much more for you in the coming years.