International Design Conference, Manila

I was honored to have been invited to give the closing keynote presentation at the Design Center of the Philippines’ First International Design Conference, focused on design thinking. It was a packed room of business leaders and designers (as far as I can tell around 300 people.) Natalia Bednarek opened the final session with “8 Signs You May Not Be Design Thinking.” My talk discussed present and future directions in design and its impact.

Side discussions with Rhea Matute, Executive Director of the Design Center of the Philippines, and others centered on how can we brand and position the Philippines. Despite an incredibly diverse array of high quality products, many of them hand-crafted by expert artisans throughout the country, does the phrase “Made in the Philippines” elicit any positive thoughts? Brand thinking can be applied to companies, organizations, and celebrities – but also to political movements, social causes, cities and countries.


I’m starting my third week of a 2-month appointment as”Visiting Professor” in the Industrial Design department at KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) in Daejeon, South Korea. Topics I’ll be covering over the 8-week course will include data visualization, quantitative methods in design research, statistics, basics of biomechanics, design and behavior, and design and gender. I’m pretty much settled in at this point, I’ll post more over the next few weeks.

Guitar Pickups 101

Following up on my speaker article in Premier Guitar magazine’s July 2017 issue is this August 2017 article explaining how guitar pickups work, Guitar Pickups 101.

Pickups are based on the same basic principles as speakers – how coils of wire, placed in the vicinity of magnets, behave. The fundamental principles are 5th grade science stuff. However, the type of magnet, the copper windings on the coil, the effect of mirror-imaging two coils in some pickup designs to cancel unwanted hum, and the varied arrangements of the components in different pickup designs all make a difference in sound performance. As does the type of guitar strings.

Illustrations this time were relative easy – colorize (and color code) various pickup patent drawings.

Gimlet Media’s “Design For All” podcast

Thanks Katelyn Bogucki and Cristina Quinn for including me in Gimlet Creative’s .future podcast series, sponsored by Microsoft. Along with my thoughts, the Design For All episode includes discussions on Inclusive Design in tech with Angela Glover Blackwell (Founder of PolicyLink,) Jenny Lay-Flurrie  (Chief Accessibility officer at Microsoft,) Sean Marihugh (Escalation Engineer at Microsoft,) Crystal Jones (Escalation Engineer at Microsoft,) and Erin Williams (Senior Supportability Program Manager at Microsoft.)

The subtitle for the episode: “How designing technology with people with disabilities in mind makes it better for everyone.”

Jordan Jackson’s “Branded” podcast

Jordan Jackson has been creating insightful podcasts on the topic of branding. I’m happy to have been asked to record one of them with him. It’s titled The Power Of Purpose, When Executed Through Promise.

The discussion falls under Jordan’s theme for the series: “As new technology encroaches upon all aspects of our lives, and changes the nature of how all businesses operate, brand building will have to adapt.”


Speakers 101: Premier Guitar

For the July 2017 issue of Premier Guitar magazine I was asked to write an article explaining the basics of speaker design (All About Speakers.)

Guitar amplifier speakers are quite different from those for audio amplifiers. Speakers intended for listening to recorded music are designed to produce an even response across a wide frequency spectrum. Their goal is to accurately reproduce the sound the artists and engineers intended you to hear, without coloring it in any way. Clearly and without distortion.

In contrast guitar speakers are designed to add character. An ability to smoothly break up into distortion, for instance, can be desirable. Each speaker component—the cone, the surround (which attaches the cone to the frame), the spider (which holds the voice coil in place), the voice coil, and the magnet—affects the speaker’s tonal character in some unique way

For audio or guitar, the article discusses their history and explains the function of each component. And their effect on tonal characteristics.

London’s Johnston100 typeface

Johnston100 screenshoot_St Johns Wood copy

Great look at, and revamp of, London’s 100-year-old Johnston100 typeface. Interesting how that typeface quietly defines the look of the entire city and city services, and has been doing so for 100 years. It’s getting an update, thanks to Nadine Chahine and company at Monotype. Additions include a hashtag (#), apparently not in frequent use in the early 1900s, a few modifications, and the addition of a number of thinner typeface weights. If you’re interested in type, London, or both, here’s Monotype’s article and video.

Death of the Supermarket, or Why I Never Buy Sugar-free Jell-O. HOW Design Live, Atlanta

HOW 2016_Dan_IMG_3710_sm

The HOW Design Live conference took place in in Atlanta this year. I participated in a double-session with a few other members of the  SVA Masters in Branding faculty. With me were Debbie Millman (hosting the double-session discussions), Sem Devillart, Tom Guarriello and Richard Shear. Our topic: Death of the Supermarket. My topic – Why I Never Buy Sugar-free Jell-O. The quick answer – because my supermarket feels obligated to let me know it costs $45 a pound. The longer answer – supermarkets aren’t nearly as relevant as other entities in our lives. Based on their own descriptions, many consider themselves to be less about the food business, and more about shipping and stock. Which made sense in the distant past, because it’s how they came to be – but many have failed to evolve. They are suffering for it, including the 156 year old Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (a.k.a. A&P), who met its demise last year.

Apparently this is a hot topic – our session went on for two straight hours, the room was packed, and I don’t think anyone left! If you attended, thanks for coming. Hope to continue the conversation.

Six predictions about the future of design

NASA earth image cropped

The world of design is changing rapidly. The practice of design – not as quickly. The methods we typically use to design things today are based on decades-old practices. (I have project plans from the 1980s to prove that – I save a lot of things.)

Following is a list of six things that I believe are about to change the world of design. Some are starting to happen already, others are long overdue:

1. In the future, designers will know things.

2. We’ll add metrics to design.

3. Advertising and marketing budgets will be diverted to design.

4. We’ll return to basics in understanding people – psychology and physical ergonomics.

5. Females will re-think the fields of design and engineering.

6. We’ll see an exponentially increasing demand for better design, worldwide.


1. In the future, designers will know things.

In the 1980s, how to design something was important. Designers introduced new (and valuable) methods to improve products and help embellish a line of goods. The approach to design was helpful to many companies at the time.

Today we all know, globally, how to design something. The process of design has become a commodity. The value now is in knowing what to design, and why. To evolve designers need to base value on knowledge, not process. We need experts in design, not simply designers who can fill a slot in a project planning spreadsheet. Knowledge in design will be its future.

2. We’ll add metrics to design.

In past practice most designers have avoided any form of measure in their design work. Quantification is typically not something taught in design schools, therefore, not something that a majority of designers even know how approach. Yet we’re all trying to innovate. It’s hard to imagine running a lab, or learning anything, if we’re not measuring things.

Quantification, or data visualization, can take many forms. There’s lots of opportunity to advance our knowledge in design if we can get better at this understanding. Not to mention the fact that early quantification will not only give design ideas more credibility, it will enable design teams to push forward with more confidence, in more far-reaching directions.

3. Advertising and marketing budgets will be diverted to design.

There was probably a time in the world (before my time) that designers would invent something, then hire a marketing group to promote it. With the 1950s advent of television advertising, that got turned around. Companies needed something to advertise. And whether the product was new or not, at least in advertisements it had to look new. Marketing groups started hiring designers. Designers became stylists.

The internet, our go-to medium today, has been changing that. Product messaging is no longer coming from the top down, it’s coming from the bottom up, because we now own the media. Through blogs, Amazon reviews, discussion groups and all forms of social media, we’re advising each other about what to buy, and which brands and organizations deserve our allegiance.

With this phenomenon showing no sign of letting-up, companies are embracing design. They are setting up design and innovation centers, and hiring some of the best designers available. Advertising budgets, which historically have been exponentially greater than our paltry design budgets, are being diverted to design. Design is the new advertising.

4. We’ll return to basics in understanding people – psychology and physical ergonomics.

Lots of designers, and design schools, tout the idea that they are all about understanding people. Yet when I ask if they provide any background or courses in biomechanics or psychology, their answer is “no.” Biomechanics is the study of how the body works, Psychology covers cognition, the brain’s thought processes. If they’re not versed in the body or the brain, then it’s not clear exactly what part of “understanding people” they are about.

As physical and emotional needs are to be met, and as design becomes less about “what” and more about “why,” this is certain to change. Understanding the basics will be essential.

5. Females will re-think the fields of design and engineering.

The way we design something, unto itself, is a design. The fields of engineering and design, and the work cultures that have emerged, are based on the way males would engineer or design something. Naturally, since males dominated those professions for decades. The result is often a feeling of discomfort or uneasiness by females working in those environments. While the gender ratio in engineering and design schools is roughly 50-50, in practice the ratio is more like 20-80 – many females drop out.

Change is inevitable. There are too many females emerging from STEM initiatives in schools (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for those male-generated cultures to continue. That change may not take place as a slow evolution – my sense is that female engineers and designers looking to change the world will be too impatient for that. I’m thinking it will happen quickly, we’ll see female-lead practices that will have significant impact on the testosterone-laced cultures that have developed within these fields.

6. We’ll see an exponentially increasing demand for better design, worldwide.

I’ve been advising a major consumer electronics company on the future of their products. They have always considered their competition to be other companies that manufacture the same items – for instance, televisions. My advice was different. Their competition is everything else in an individual consumer’s life with which they interface. That person may only own one television – but he or she using websites, microwave ovens, audio equipment, hi-tech thermostats, smart phones – an array of products that can set a high standard for design and usability. They are the competition, and the products by which other products or services will be judged.

This appreciation of design is happening worldwide. Many countries I’m working with, for instance, are seeing the emergence of lower-income social classes. As more people in those populations begin to see or experience well designed items, the more they are realizing that other things in their lives have potential to be equally well-designed.

This is good news for designers and engineers, if they can respond appropriately, since this realization that things-can-be-better will assure new opportunities, worldwide, for many years to come.




Cannes Lions: Product Design
and the Lucky Iron Fish


I was thrilled to have served as jury president last month in the newly-formed Product Design category at Cannes Lions. First I need to thank the jury members, who were absolutely great to work and hang out with: Defne Koz, (Italy/USA), Gen Suzuki (Japan ), Jonas Pettersson (Sweden), Leonardo Massarelli (Brazil),  Priscilla Shunmugam (Singapore), Ruth Berktold (Germany), Samuel Wilkinson (UK) and Tobias van Schneider (USA). If you ever get a chance to choose members for a design award program, choose them!

The Cannes Lions event is more than 60 years old, historically celebrating the best in advertising. The product design category was initiated last year (I was a jury member last year.) As such, the event seems to be a well kept secret among product designers – but that will no doubt change over time. We had approximately 280 entries this year, most coming from ad or marketing agencies more familiar with Cannes Lions. Winning a Gold Lion Award at the event means a lot in that industry, and even more so winning the Grand Prix, for which there is just one awarded per category. Because of that the entrants tend to submit a single, unchanged entry into multiple categories, hoping to win at least one. This severely affects our ability to properly judge an entry in the product design category. The jury got a marketing pitch, but not the design story. In fact, we were certain in some cases that the entrants in the product design category never even consulted with the designers. Doing so would have helped us (and them) a lot. The entrants are kept secret from the jury, to prevent any bias in the judging, so while we don’t know for sure, it was extremely obvious from the lack of design-relevant information that they provided.

The entry we ultimately chose for the Grand Prix was a surprise even to the jury I think, although we were unanimous in the decision. In the midst of an event that showcases the latest technology in film, video and digital, we chose something as low-tech as can be imagined. We selected the Lucky Iron Fish, a cast iron fish that is having proven success in alleviating the iron deficiency in the diet of the people of Cambodia. The prominent metal for cooking vessels in Cambodia is aluminum. Encouraging people to add a block of cast iron to the pot while cooking had limited effect – they didn’t do it. However, casting it into the shape of a fish, a symbol of luck, changed that. We feel this is an outstanding example of the power of design to affect behavior and improve people’s lives.

Credit for the award goes to Gavin Armstrong (CEO) and Lucky Iron Fish. A misdirected credit to Geometry Global, in Dubai, the marketing group that entered the Cannes Lions submission, caused a bit of a stir on the internet, although it was unintentional on their part and the credit was resolved the next day. A video providing more information is here:  Lucky Iron Fish: A Simple Solution to a Global Problem

Thanks ArtsHub! Ten designers who are changing the world

ArtsHub logo

Thanks Deborah Stone and ArtsHub for including me in the 10 Designers article!

Ten designers who are changing the world

I’m in great company, including:

Leah Heiss: Making jewellery that saves lives:
John Bielenberg: Designing communities
David Webster: Helping people walk again
Kelo Kebu: Visualising history
David Berman: Improving access for the blind
Adrian Paterson: Identifying criminals
Alain Le Quernec: Campaigning for human rights
Adrian MacGregor: Rethinking cities
John Maeda: Making life simpler

Bangladesh Brand Forum Seminar, April 18 2015: Rethinking Marketing

Bangladesh Brand Forum banner


On April 18 I’ll be speaking at the Bangladesh Brand Forum’s Rethinking Marketing seminar in Dhaka.

From the BBF site: “2015 is a critical year for Bangladesh. On the one hand, the year, unfortunately, started with major political conflict which is still affecting businesses and their projected growth. On the other hand, philosophy of marketing is being reinvented – due to the influence of digital and increased engagement of consumers and people. The exponential growth of online activities – from adopting a smartphone to opening a social media page to buying and selling online – Bangladesh is seeing a growth of consumer activities like never before. During such a challenging yet opportune time, the focus for every business is delivering sustainable growth. And that growth is only feasible when the businesses and brands are designed around people, when marketing is outside-in.

Flying Lessons

gossamer condor v2

As brilliant as Paul MacCready’s Gossamer Condor was in design, the way it was designed may have been equally as brilliant. Made of Mylar, the team was able to quickly repair damages and make modifications following a crash. So yes, they crashed, but they also instantly corrected. That was 1977. How many of us are taking that approach today, making quick iterations part of our strategy, to see what will fly?

I’m glad you asked – here’s a link to a post I wrote on the topic in PMP News: Flying Lessons

Innovation: 9 Things to stop doing…

Forbes 9 Things article photo

Thanks Nadja Sayej for the article that appeared in Forbes, Dan Formosa On 9 Things to Stop Doing in Innovation. Following up on Google’s “nine principles for innovation,” here’s my list:

1. Stop designing things for old people
2. Stop saying “ethnography”
3. Stop making things simple
4. Stop coming up with answers
5. Stop listening to your customers
6. Stop talking to yourself
7. Stop fantasizing about women
8. Stop being so qualitative
9. Stop using so many Post-It Notes


Innovation4All, Oslo


4B Innovation4All blog photo_1680Had fun giving a talk, and running two workshops with Mike Jones at the Innovation4All conference in Oslo last week. Thanks to the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture, and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at RCA in London for hosting the conference. The photo above shows Onny Eikhaug kicking off the conference.

I posted an article about the conference on the 4B site ( – here’s the link: Being Nice at the Innovation4All Conference in Oslo.

Why can’t we be more like Google?

Google logo_top half

Here’s a link to a blog post on innovation that I wrote for PMP News (Pharmaceutical and Medical Packaging): Why Can’t We Be More Like Google? It’s easy to find out how Google innovates – just Google it. Google’s Chief Social Evangelist Gopi Kallayil reveals nine principles for innovation:

1. Innovation comes from anywhere.
2. Focus on the user.
3. Aim to be ten times better.
4. Bet on technical insights.
5. Ship and iterate.
6. Give employees 20 percent time.
7. Default to open processes.
8. Fail well.
9. Have a mission that matters.

Nine simple, but extremely difficult, steps. There’s more in the PMP link above. For Kallayil’s complete 58-minute talk, click here: YouTube: Google’s 9 Principles for Innovation.

Raw for the Oceans wins Grand Prix at Cannes Lions

Screenshot 2014-06-24 11.35.34 Did I mention the award winners at Cannes Lions last week? We awarded the Grand Prix to G-Star Raw “Raw For The Oceans,” a clothing collection using a form of denim made from recycled plastic found in the ocean. G-Star Raw created it in collaboration with Pharrell Williams and Bionic Yarn. Other winners were Samsung’s “Food Showcase” refrigerator, Samsung’s “Galaxy Core Advance,” “Central Park Conservancy Receptacles” by Landor Associates New York,“Freedom Candles” for Amnesty International by Ogilvy & Mather London, Kano’s “Kano Kit” by MAP London, Not Impossible Labs’ “Project Daniel,” LELOi AB’s Ora Personal Massager, and Nest’s Learning Thermostat.

They can all be seen on Fast Company’s page: G-Star Raw “Raw For The Oceans” Wins Product Design Grand Prix At Cannes.


Inside the First-Ever Product Design Jury at Cannes


Here’s my article in AdAge, discussing the Cannes Lions jury gig. Lots of great designs were entered. Unfortunately, many suffered from a poor entry submission. They made the mistake of trying to sell us their products, rather than tell us about their designs. Or tell us why they deserve a design award. Still, a great showing for the Cannes Lions Product Design Award program’s inaugural year.

AdAge article



Cannes Lions

Cannes Lions photo

Just returned from the Cannes Lions festival in France. While this 61 year old program has historically been focused on advertising, this year marks the first time they have included a “product design” category in the program. My thoughts on why this makes sense – because big companies no longer own the media. We don’t buy things according to what companies tell us. It’s not the ads or marketing campaigns that represent the brand, the best that can do is boast their intent. But it’s the actual products and services that define the brand. And since we (as in “we the people”) now control the media, it’s our own messages that we refer to when making a purchase, buy-in decision, decision to join or to donate.


The turnout for the product design program was pretty good – approximately 200 entries in many different categories. And interesting selection for the jurors – talking cat collars to flying cars. Of the 200 entries, we were encouraged by the organizers to limit to awards to around seven. That included seven “Lions” and one Grand Prix.” Final selections involved some triage.

Working Backwards | PMP News

pmpnews_logoThe way we work obviously has a tremendous effect on what we ultimately produce. Yet many of us – designers, engineers and other members of product and package development teams – can fall into a work routine that in itself may be ready for a redesign. On that note, here’s a link to a blog post I wrote for the PMP News site (Pharmaceutical and Medical Packaging News). The post points to a YouTube video of Steve Jobs, from 1997, with a discussion that is still very relevant! Check out his “working backwards” quote, well into the video and just beyond the 52:00 mark.

Apple / Steve Jobs video, 1997

Working Backwards, PMP News

2014 New York Design Awards

2014 New York Design Awards logo

Happy to be on the jury for the 2014 New York Design Awards. Congratulations to all the winners at the award ceremony held at Steelcase last night. To get to the site and see the 2014 winners of the award, click here. This is the first year this program has been held in New York, and the response, judging from the number of entries, was great. Especially interesting was the wide range of entries. And the range of people and companies who entered – from start-ups to mega-corporations.


Unwound: Fishman’s “Fluence” guitar pickup – my article in Premier Guitar

Premier Guitar Fluence article pg1 200W

The team at Fishman Acoustic Amplification goes electric – developing Fluence, a pickup system that does away with traditional copper coil windings, instead “printing” windings for super-consistant results. Between that, their method for controlling the pull of the magnets, and equalizing the output signal, they have managed to consistently replicate the sounds coming from best pickups they could find. In addition, cable length and guitar volume have no affect on the tone – while eliminating hum! This is a radical departure from traditional guitar pickups, and the first true innovation in the 80 years since George Beauchamp developed the first electric guitar pickup for Rickenbacker. The article, my third for Premier Guitar magazine, is out in this month’s (Feb 2014) issue.

In addition to the print version the article can be seen online here: Unwound: Fishman Rethinks the Electric Guitar Pickup


A Brief History of Tremolo: Premier Guitar

premierguitar201311 tremolo cover 200W

What do Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, The Staple Singers, Nancy Sinatra, the 1939 World’s Fair and a 16th century organ in Italy have in common? They are all discussed in my second article for Premier Guitar magazine, A Brief History of Tremolo, appearing in the November 2013 issue. Tremolo, an oscillation in volume, is a “natural” effect for many instruments. Move a bow on a violin back and fourth while holding a note and you’ll hear it. But what about guitar? Not possible by any normal means – only when you electrify things. Who was first?

The online version (click above) also contains links to some YouTube videos.

Medical Packaging Innovation blog


Over the last few months I’ve been writing a series of blogs for Medical Packaging Innovation. My posts are here: MPI: Dan Formosa. The site is new, just started up earlier this year. Some lively discussions are going on. For my topics, the definition of “technology” elicited quite a bit of discussion (is it “technology” if no one can use it?) Or whether your product is male or female (the product itself, not the people using it – that thought seemed to cause confusion for a few people.)

If you get a chance check out all the posts on the site – some great people are blogging there. Comments are closed here on my site (been getting too much spam, need to fix that), but when you get to the MPI site, leave comments!

May 21 2104 Update: Medical Packaging Innovation has been rechristened, becoming Medical Packaging Community. My posts are scattered throughout the pages. To find them faster you can try searching Google with:
“dan formosa site:”


How Tube Amps Work: Premier Guitar

Premier Guitar August 2013 cover xsm


Happy to have written, illustrated and photographed the cover story of this month’s (August 2013) issue of Premier Guitar magazine. The article gives a part-by-part description of tube amp technology using my favorite amp, a 1960’s Vox AC4. It traces the guitar signal through every component, from pickup to speaker. And it gets into a not-overly-technical description of electrons, current flow and the basic operation of vacuum tubes.

In addition to print, an online version is here:

How Tube Amps Work

Also, if following along here is the original Vox AC4 schematic mentioned in the article.

Special thanks to Mitch Colby ( and Tim Schroeder ( for their technical assistance with the article.

Include 2013, Hong Kong

Include Asia 2013 logo sm


I was in Hong Kong earlier this month giving a talk and workshop at the Include Asia 2013 conference. Usually held in London, the conference focuses on design for all – it was a first for Hong Kong. My keynote talk covered a range of topics, but with the underlying idea that “questioning everything” is a pretty good first step in innovation.

The workshop was titled Body & Mind. I ran it with Steve Wilcox, head of Design Science in Philadelphia. Steve’s Ph.D. is in cognitive psychology, mine is in biomechanics. There is, unfortunately, not enough of either being taught in design schools. For the 40 participants in the workshop this was apparently an introductory exposure to either topic. Of course, if you are going to design for all, basic (or extended) knowledge in these areas will help immensely.

Thanks to everyone who attended the conference and the workshop. In addition to the conference presentations, it was great seeing (and having a chance to hang out with) the RCA crowd again.