Why Aren’t Animated Gifs Used for More Practical Purposes?

by Joseph Flaherty on February 16, 2014

Gifs have become a fixture of the web, transformed Buzzfeed into a major media entity, and brought countless millions of hours of joy to bored office drones the world over. There’s a gif search engine and a service that will turn these little moments of web zen into IRL animated pictures.

So why aren’t these miniature animations used more widely for practical purposes? Do any ecommerce sites use animated gifs to show off the unique features of a product? How about replacing turgid instructional guides with gif-tastic help pages? Animated images are a perfect midpoint between static images and full on video content, but are rarely used for productive purposes, with a few exceptions.

DIY.org, a kid friendly site that aims to transform little video gamers into latter day scouts uses the art form to highlight the physicality of their merit badges:


This simple animation shows off the unique feature of an Medieval book that can be read six different ways in three seconds while a highly produced video might take thirty seconds to do the same.


Despite their obvious utility, these catchy little cartoons are relegated to cat pics and epic fails. Why? Are they prematurely dismissed as low brow? Does the larger file size make them a poor fit for an increasingly mobile web? Is the technical challenge of creating them too high?

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Crazy Design Fuses 3-D Printer With an Etch-a-Sketch

by Joseph Flaherty on January 1, 2014


Hot on the heels of the 3Doodler—the 3-D printer/hot glue gun hybrid that raised $2,344,134 on Kickstarter last year—comes Gather 3D, a fun mashup of the classic Etch-a-Sketch and an old school MakerBot.


The device doesn’t require a computer or CAD files, the print head is entirely controlled by a pair of knobs that control the X/Z-axes and buttons that increment the height of the hot end.


The resolution leaves a little something to be desired, but the same can be said of traditional Etch-a-Sketches, not to mention many low-cost 3-D printers, and at least Gather 3D provides a souvenir of all the hard work.


The knobby interface belies a traditional technology load out. An Arduino processes the analog input and three servo motors control the movements of the printhead. USB Ports on the side of the controller suggest the system could eventually be upgraded to function like a more traditional 3-D Printer.


While it may seem like a goofy idea, designer Pierre Papet has done a great job making the concept seem realistic with hip, colorful, and minimal packaging. The burnt MDF feels more like a nod to maker culture than a side effect of sub-par manufacturing techniques.


Link Roundup — Book Lamps, PillPack, and OCD

by Joseph Flaherty on February 27, 2013

1.Take In a Little Light Reading With This Book-Inspired Lamp


My latest post for Wired.com about a San Francisco-based architect who developed a collapsible, book shaped, lamp. The book concept is a little forced and using the idea of using  it as an emergency light (as demonstrated in the Kickstarter video) is a bit far fetched, but the stunning photography and versatility of the design have helped it raise over $340,000 with more than two weeks remaining.

2. PillPack.com Rethinking Mail Order Pharmacy

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Most designers don’t want to get their hands dirty with the world of regulation or industrial robotics, but the team at PillPack.com has written a new prescription that helps medicine go down much easier. Instead of fumbling with half a dozen bottles or buying one of those tacky “day of the week” pill boxes, PillPack puts all your prescriptions in personalized packets organized by time of day. It’s a simple, but potentially transformative, idea.

The company hasn’t officially launched yet, but is participating in the TechStars incubator and has a chance to massively change the way we take our medicine. Sign up for their mailing list, they’re one to watch.

3. Photos of Neatly Arranged Collections


Portland Photographer Jim Golden shoots pictures of neatly arranged collections that capture the compulsive character of their curators. Prints start at $90.00, a fraction of the price of starting your own collection.

HT: Nick de la Mare


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Link Roundup, Medieval Manuscripts, Farm Hacks, and Laqueristas

by Joseph Flaherty on February 26, 2013

1. Medieval Bookbinding apl-g-1320004_1

Alexandra Gillespie is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, focused on English and medieval studies. She’s an expert on medieval manuscripts, early printed books, and is keeping a blog on medieval bookbinding techniques.

HT: Tim O’Reilly

2. The Reports of Retail’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated

Fred Destin, a Boston area VC, has a comprehensive post that pokes some holes in Marc Andreessen’s software is eating the world/death of retail. Basically, while retail has some structural problems, ecommerce faces plenty of headwinds as well.

HT: Nate Murray

3. Farm Hack

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Farm Hacks is 4H for the internet age — Young farmers getting together to talk shop, gelding.

HT: Tim O’Reilly

4. Laqueristas


There is a community of 26,773 Redditors focused on exploring the art of nail polish. While many would dismiss it as frivalous, 2012 saw $768MM in sales and 70% category growth. As with Pinterest and the Cricut, this is a booming DIY category that doesn’t get much focus.

Photo Credit: RainbowCutie


Writing for Wired.com!

by Joseph Flaherty on February 24, 2013

In April of 2012 I joined Wired.com writing for the newly launched “Design” section which is focused on the emerging trends that are redefining what it means to be a designer. It’s been an awesome experience, but I’ve neglected this blog for almost a year and want to change that.

Many of the things I used to write about here are now my focus at Wired, so I’ll be reorienting the subjects I cover while keeping the big themes intact. Here’s what you can expect on this blog:

Retail and Video: The 3-D printer and related developments are going to continue to have a profound impact on the world of design. As more retail sales go to Amazon, Kickstarter, other ecommerce vendors there is going to be a lot of vacant retail space.

There will also be more “noise” and a search for new communication channels. I think the most important development to come in world of DIY is not a new type of 3-D Printer, but the next Apple TV.

Links: Many of my favorite blogs use the “link post” as a regular feature. I love getting exposed to a few links with a bit of analysis and hope you will too (We also curate a lot of these over at Wired Design in the “Elsewhere” section).

Opinions and Edge Cases: I’ll also be using this space as a collection point for random data points and percolating ideas that aren’t yet full stories.

If you liked the type of posts I wrote about 3-D printers and other fab subjects, definitely check out my stuff at Wired.com (or on my Twitter feed). It’s definitely better written and more thoroughly researched 🙂

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented and shared over the past five years and I hope you’ll stick around for the next five!


The Making of Paranorman Ebook

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Paranorman was produced using thousands of 3-D printed models. Laika, the studio behind the additive fabrication animation, has created a free ebook that gives some behind the scenes perspective on how plaster powder produced a popular picture.

Why Brits Lagged Behind Americans in Gadget Adoption

During the middle of the 20th century, Americans had a 10, 20, to 30 year lead in gadget ownership over our British buddies.  Megan McArdle has some theories as to why.

Nine Real Life Pokemon Characters


Bizarre looking animals that would be right at home in the Pokemon universe.

Algorithmic Orange Juice

Fascinating story about how Coca-Cola engineers it’s Minute Maid Orange Juice.

“is definitely one of the most complex applications of business analytics. It requires analyzing up to 1 quintillion decision variables to consistently deliver the optimal blend, despite the whims of Mother Nature.”

The Black Book model includes detailed data about the myriad flavors—more than 600 in all—that make up an orange, and consumer preferences. Those data are matched to a profile detailing acidity, sweetness, and other attributes of each batch of raw juice. The algorithm then tells Coke how to blend batches to replicate a certain taste and consistency, right down to pulp content.

Also, there is an entire book about orange juice — Squeezed: What You Don’t Know About Orange Juice.

Unpainted Action Figures


One reason 3-D printers won’t be a viable replacement for most manufactured goods — Painting and surface decoration are incredibly important. This great gallery shows what iconic action figures look like before they’re painted in the trademark color schemes. Via.


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Links: Board Games, Shivs, & Sparkfun

December 29, 2012

1. Penny Arcade reports on the secrets of successful Kickstarter campaigns — ones that deliver on time, not those that raise a bunch of money and keep backers hanging. 2. “As Seen on YouTube” — Epic Meal Time is turning their fratty food show into a line of cooking gear. 3. Straight Line Designs does amazing things with […]

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Maker Bookmarks, Foodie Edition – Atul Gawande, Duff Goldman, and Johnny Cupcakes

August 14, 2012

1. Could the medical system learn from one of the industries most responsible for the spike in chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes? Surgeon and author Atul Gawande thinks so and beautifully explains how in this New Yorker piece about what hospitals could learn from the Cheesecake Factory. Saved room for dessert? Here is Dr. […]

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Maker Bookmarks – TangiBot, Dribbble, MIT Routers, and Drudge’s Drones

August 11, 2012

1. Controversy over the TangiBot, a fork of MakerBot’s Industries open source Replicator 3D printer. 2. Great presentation by the co-founder of Dribbble about the exclusive design site’s start. Most interesting part is how they recruited super star designers to set the tone for the community. Having Dan C(SS)ederholm and sweet Tshirts help (see slides […]

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Technology makes everything pretty – even cardboard boxes

March 4, 2012

There is no better proof that we are living in a golden age of design than the fact that a simple cardboard box can be an object d’art. Over the past 18 months “Subscription Ecommerce” has become a popular segment of the online shopping market and brought forth a renaissance in the craft of corrugation. For those unfamiliar […]

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