Photo Credits: Shinola

Photo Credits: Shinola

Over the weekend I finally got around to snapping photos of the home and office products I designed for Shinola. Shout outs to the team at Astro Studio and the work we've done together. These were among the last few products I lead and directed before joining Playground. I'll post those soon.

Shinola is one of those brands that has very a distinctive design language due to their history with watches. As a designers this is an advantage, the advantage is you've got some of your work cut out for you. Aesthetic mood boards, colors, materials and finishes can be drawn from their watches. But, now you're stuck applying just a skin job. You're not innovating, not creating something brand new, you're just applying an existing look onto their future products. It almost reminds me of those college assignments where you're tasked to choose a brand and study it, then apply it's aesthetics onto some consumer electronic, like a toaster. For a project like this, I think If you're mimicking every detail like you're plagiarizing is a mistake. One thing I learned from working with Shinola is how invaluable it is to be a versatile designer. Cheesy reference, but what an environment is to a chameleon, should be what every project is to the designer. You adapt but it's never the same environment twice. The design challenges was to nod to their rich history, but pivot just enough to retain characteristics of the brand and show them what the future may look like.  

It was challenging for David and I to adapt our personal aesthetics to the outlets. Aesthetically I'm more of the hard and crisp-lines, machined surfaces, and future tech kinda guy. So naturally you can see how Shinola's soft, classic american heritage styling can be challenging.  It's the complete opposite of what I'm used to. Laser crisp edges now abandoned for round bubbly details. I think the design turned out quite successful. Staying true to my style I kept the edges tight but introduced a pillowed top to keep things soft. I treated the radius near the base a bit looser and tighten it up toward the top as a nod to the past. Here are photos of the final products, you can pick them up at a shinola store near you.

Shout outs to Shinola, Astro Studios and my great friends David Whetstone and Sean Missal for the creative support on this and many other programs. 


Firstly we'd like to say. It's a blessing and a curse to drive trends and create things for a living. As creators It's our jobs to be conscious about the things we make. Especially in this day and age, where coffee machines come in hundreds of options, and each doing the same damn thing. Listened to The Minimalists episode "Creating." I especially love @ 16 min 20 sec. They compare the creative process to the tourettic person along the subway line. The person is yelling to themselves or at a wall. We've all seen this person. Yes, this person is creating a ton of content. Yes, this person is gaining a ton of attention, but is that content worthwhile? Is the content fruitful? Is he/she creating something meaningful, and for the better good of the world, or is he/she creating the same damn noise everyone else is? #foodforthought  


Of the release our favorite is the copper color-way. We still prefer the Adidas Yeezy V1 (turtle-dove) over the V2 design. What do you think?




If you haven't noticed by now design is a subjective trade. Similar to our taste in music. You and I are unique because we're individually influenced, and we classify good design differently. So how can we identify if our design is good? Cause what's good to you, may not be as seductive to me. Kanye West said a line that resonates here. "For me, first of all, dopeness is what I like the most." Kanye's dopeness is loaded with personal introspection. Again, it's subjective. If I may dissect, he's tying all of his personal experiences, idea of taste, visual appeal and constructive criticism to articulate something intuitively dope to him. Keyword, himself. Simply saying dope may be misleading to the untrained eye. Because what's dope to him, may not be dope to you. If we formulate dopeness, it means 3 things:  aesthetics, crafted intention, and unwavering confidence. Good design is the sum of all three.


Own a look like Picasso owns Cubism and stick to it. Be consistent in applying the look. If you're working with a family of things, define a common style to tie them all together. It's best practice to choose a look that fits your project, and retain it all the way through. I'm not asking you to stick to one style for the rest of your career. Just stick to one style for the rest of your project. Visually it'll be perceived as aesthetic confidence. You'll thank me later. In the industry we call this Design Language. In the long term try other design languages. The best designers adapt different styles over time.

Crafted Intention

Good design is not just good looking objects. Having a beautiful object but a weak idea, is like building a skyline with shit foundation. It's a tall tale with a weak plot. Eventually it folds into itself. You'll be surprise how far a strong and deliberate idea goes. Seth Godin said it best "No one is asking you to be that person who invent something that never exist before." I believe the best designers identify a problem space, finds the solutions that already exist, and bring them together. For example camera phones. At some point in history it became cumbersome to lug around a film camera, and rolls, and rolls of film. At a one-point someone saw the opportunity to combine the camera with a memory card, and inspired a shift in camera technology. Cameras became smaller, thinner, and lighter. Small enough that at another point it became cumbersome to lug around a digital camera and a cell phone. Someone saw the opportunity to combine the digital camera and cellphone, and inspired a shift in smartphone technology. We're not asking you to design something that never exist before. Truthfully we are curators of the present, we identify the problems we live with today, we orchestrate and combine solutions that already exist, therefore we design for the future. This is how you build strong ideas. Qualify it with real world science, the more realistic the science the stronger the idea. 

Unwavering Confidence

Lastly be your number one fan. Like Kanye, loves Kanye. Be proud of what you produce, and don't produce anything you're not proud of. Unfortunately there is lots of vanity in being a designer.  Yes, be humble but also be bad-ass. You have a to command a level of respect for your designs. Companies hire you for your subjective opinions. Have confident in your work, because If you're unsure so will your cleint and audience.

Marie Forleo X Seth Godin

If not now then when? In 5 to ten years. What will you regret?

" Bigger isn't the point. More isn't the point. Are there bad ideas out there? Yes, there are a tons of bad ideas. Not all ideas are equality good. Finding a thing that works is sufficient.? That's the challenge. Entrepreneurs for example. too many entrepreneurs think that there is a prize for originality.  There is no prize for originality. At ALL. You should steal another persons idea. You should bring something that works in Detroit and bring it to Cleveland. Because you don't have to worry about apologizing... There are so many places that we need more of something...No one is asking you to be that person who invent something that never exist before... We are asking you to do, is choose to matter, and align with who you want to be. "



What kind of things have you sketched this month?

October is a fun month for creatives like us. It's especially fun for those who love to put ink to paper. This month implores us to doodle. Besides the expected thumbnail, chicken scratch, interpretive sketch we scribble at work in-order to quickly communicate an idea. We rarely draw for fun anymore. Thus far we've skipped a few days. But, in general we think we're building a pretty good collection. Check it out.

For those of you that are not familiar with Inktober. Inktober is when creatives (you don't have to be talented) draw one thing each day of October using traditional ink tools. It could be many things if you'd like.


AXIS, Now in Portfolio

Axis controller built for the design sprint @ CCA. 

Many of you have asked us to load the AXIS online. Axis is a gaming controller we designed for the "CTRL+S" workshop. What started as a quick 2 hour CAD exercise. Mainly for talking points about our model making process. Turned into a fun little portfolio project. We're super stoked about this, because we've been MIA from blogging for awhile. Sorry. 

We're going to refine the model making presentation used @ CCA Saturday, and will upload it here in the next day. 

Gordon Murray The Mclaren F1 Designer

For this month's tech-talk we invite designer Gordan Murray to come talk cars, design, and career atPlayground. Gordan designs formula one cars for a living. He's a true mechanical thinker. I'd say he's more engineer minded than industrial design, but he does an amazing job at mixing science with art in creating innovative solutions. Gordon is famous for the iconic McLaren F1. A car that revolutionized many standards in modern cars today. The F1 introduced new techs such as: carbon fiber construction, automated rear spoiler, and ground control. Innovative for its time, but are things we take for-granted today. Currently Gordon continues to design. He's developed a lighter, more stronger chassis technology called iStream. Check it out here.

To me It's fascinating to hear other designers share their process. A common philosophy I hear often is: Fail. Fail a lot. Fail often. But learn from your failures and adjust as you move forward. I've taken a photo of my notebook as Gordon spoke. I'm honored to meet him and happy he signed and complimented my poor sketches. 

Doodle of Gordon and some of his quotes during the tech talk.
Gordan Laughing at the Doodle in Hoang M Nguyen Sketch book.
Hoang sharing the quotes he liked from the tech talk. 
Gordan signs Hoang M Nguyen sketch book. 


We love stalking Adweek for inspiration. A huge part of being an industrial designer is to pitch ideas. Sell a dream, a vision to a clients. The best way to do this I think, is through story telling. Industrial design isn't just about drawing awesome shit, CAD'ing sex appeal and cool aesthetics. To us its about capturing a clients DNA. Telling them who they are. Then telling them who/what they can become. It's more important than the final product. Lay the ground work before building the building.  More and more we've realized that integrating a good analytical eye into our design process goes a long way. Be empathetic to who they are historically. Innovation is building upon the past.  

Today I watched a Nike ad called "Unlimited You" -- My immediate reaction was... I thought "Just Do it" was already amazing. Cudos to Weiden & Kennedy for  this one. They've captured the essence of "Just Do It" Then pushed the brand beyond it. I love it. 

from good to great

I've been reading the book From Good to Great by Jim Collins. Like most popular informative books. The content often feel obvious. Yet it strikes me that we often overlook or under practice the values and work ethics given in these books. In one of the chapters I read this line:

"Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out is largely a matter of conscious choices." --Jim Collins

I'm reminded of Malcom Gladwell's ten thousand hours of practice. Its true. Greatness is evidence of making proper decisions, and long hours of obsession and practice.  Eventually you'll go from one whom appreciates to one who's a connoisseur. Are you good or great?