I found the coolest patent design while looking for something entirely unrelated – an 1895 Kinetoscope, also called the Viviscope. The diagrams are wonderful.
Technology as art – the Viviscope by W. C. Farnum, Arlington, Vermont
A kinetoscope was a forerunner of moving pictures machines. They allowed the viewer to watch moving images through a tube or window.
In it, a strip of film was passed rapidly between a lens and an electric light bulb while the viewer peered through a peephole. Behind the peephole was a spinning wheel with a narrow slit that acted as a shutter, permitting a momentary view of each of the 46 frames passing in front of the shutter every second. The result was a lifelike representation of persons and objects in motion. Kinetoscope | Definition, Inventors, History, & Facts | Britannica
The original concept was developed by Thomas Edison, but the work in making a functioning kinetoscope was done by William Kennedy Dickson. Edison, in typical Edison style, took sole credit for its creation, although historians tend to see it as a collaborative effort. Dickson finished work on the kinetoscope by 1892 and Edison patented the work shortly afterwards.
There were several kinetoscope patents filed in the late 1890s, but this one by William Carleton Farnum was the best looking of the lot. Now, that doesn’t mean it would have been functional. But as far as technology as art goes, this one is stunning. The diagrams show a far better attention to detail than many I see during my patent searches.
Patent No. 547,775 was granted to Farnum on Oct. 15, 1895. He envisioned the kinetoscope as a new method for advertising. His design utilized what he called a “transfer roller” to move the pictures instead of mirrors used in other kinetoscope designs.
…wave-movement is applied through the medium of a flexible band which encircles the periphery of a cylinder, so that the slack loop is taken up on a roller, which I have called a “transfer roller,’ and by it can be carried completely around the cylinder very much as the tides move around the earth, and as the wave takes
Diagram of the Kinescope roller
When I tried to find information on the inventor nothing came up in my searches, until I turned to European sources and there it was, a working Farnum’s Viviscope.
Not only are the design schematics fameworthy, but the entire machine is a work of art. It was manufactured by Elias Bernard Koopman of New York, 50 Union Square, N. Y. Koopman was one of the founders of American Mutoscope and Biograph Company and is known for his contributions to early cinema. One of the other founders of was William Kennedy Dickson, the same man who worked for Edison. Dickson left Edison’s company shortly after creating the kinetoscope and started the American Mutoscope. It’s an interesting bit of intersecting cinema history,
The Viviscope consisted of a hand driven geared mechanism working on a vertical spindle mounted in a hollow column, attached to the base. Fixed to the top of the column was a platform, having a shallow tin cylinder. An arm carrying a roller fixed to its longest end, was attached to the vertical spindle, which imparted the necessary movement to the paper figure bands and passed each successive picture in the form of a loop, in front of the viewing aperture. The strips of pictures were somewhat similar to those used in the zoetrope, with the exception that the two ends were joined together to form an endless band, and by placing one of these bands of pictures in correct position on the instrument and turning the handle the figures were shipped in rapid sequence from one phase of movement to the next, and when viewed through the framed opening, apparent movement could be observed. It is interesting to read the patent specification of the Viviscope, as the inventor claims for the application of its use as being eminently suitable for advertising purposes in railway trains and for exhibition purposes. There were also suggested different forms, amongst which was a rather elaborate multiple instrument, but it achieved no commercial success”
(Will Day, manuscript, 25,000 Years to Trap a Shadow, archives Cinémathèque française).
“It achieved no commercial success” answered one of the questions I had while researching the machine – what happened to the design? There was quite a bit of competition and despite making it off the drawing board, never found a market. Farnum patented one or two other devices and then seems to have disappeared off the pages of history.
If you like the design, check out the t-shirt, “1895 Kinetoscope – Antique cameras and film” T-shirt by BitterGrounds | Redbubble. The clean lines in the schematic are appealing and work well on ts etc. Yes, this is a shameless plug for my Redbubble store. Many of these old patents are beautiful and worthy of remembering and celebrating. There is a vibrancy and excitement to the inventions that is contagious.
Technology as art
If you enjoyed this article, I have more early patents here: Articles About History Of Tech | Bitter Grounds Magazine I tend to wander all over the technology map looking for intriguing designs. You never know what will pop up.
Cheers for now.
For over a decade I’ve avoided Photoshop’s pen tools. The struggles I’ve encountered using them have been, well, monumental. And embarrassingly frustrating. You can do wonderful things with pen tool such as take a muddy, mundane sketch and create a beautiful image with sharp, clean lines.
I had a breakthrough last week ago. I finally figured out why I struggled with them. My problem turns out to be basic. I have no sense of left/right, horizontal/vertical, clockwise/counterclockwise. If you ask me to turn counterclockwise, I stop and envision a clock face first. My brain tells me the left is -> that way. You get the picture. I’ve always known this. But it wasn’t until last week that I realised this was the root of the problem.
Those mildly quirky bits of how my brain processes certain things turns into a hinderance when working onscreen. I can’t anticipate which direction a curved too will go. I struggle to flip things and end up going through all the options before hitting the correct one. It’s impossible to work on autopilot because I need to think through every move. So, I sat down and devised a solution.
Why was it such an issue? I’ve gotten along without figuring out how to use shapes and the pen tool until now. It boils down to this – I can’t stand not figuring out how something works. I did, in fact, fire up pen tools every now and then, over the years. Frustration was the result. When I began playing around with cleaning up old patents, so they were viewable, I realised now was the time to tackle pen tools. They offered the only way of getting the crisp lines I wanted.
The line tool is basic enough. I just get impatient and oft times don’t line things up correctly. It’s the old issue of horizontal vs vertical flip and nudge a little to the right or left. So, I sat down with the Antoinette Flyer and used it to discipline myself into getting lines even and laid down properly. Old airplanes were wonders of straight lines and cables, so it was the perfect thing to work with. Wheels were easy – the shape tools took care of that.
The propeller was problematic. I initially thought I could fudge my way through using the freehand pencil tool. It was a disaster. I wandered over to YouTube and watched a couple videos on using pen tools and that’s when I had an epiphany. Pen tools are about understanding directions. I spent a frustrating hour trying to get the curves right for the propeller and thought this isn’t going to work without someone standing over my shoulder yelling “the other left”. Little post it notes turned into the next best thing. I often have left / right notes on my screen when I’m running through a tutorial with a customer. I stuck them back on, included notes on horizontal / vertical, etc. All the little directional indicators I needed.
The propeller looked ok.
Now I felt frisky and time for more lessons with pen tools
Here’s the original patent.
I found it in the form of a velocipede – bicycle for we mere mortals. they were nicknamed Penny Farthings. Getting all the bends correct and using different line thicknesses to create a shadow effect was a challenge. I’m a little embarrassed to admit, it took me around 8 hours to get them right. I drew them and erased over and over until I got the basics down on how the pen adjust lines.
Here’s the line drawing of the above Penny Farthing
Pen Tools and Shapes were ideal for this
Yes, it did take a lot of work to get the little curves correct but worth the effort. I looked at the sketch and thought it was time to elevate it to the next level.
Pen tools and a bit of colour
A bit of colour elevated the line drawing
I can already see ways of improving the image with a bit of free hand highlighting. That’ll take practice but will be fun. This little patent sketch is now poster worthy. And yes, I turned this into merch. How could I not? I’m now trolling through old patents looking for other ideas to work with. This challenges my brain on so many levels. It’s exhausting but fulfilling.
Wander over by clicking this link -> Bittergrounds.Redbubble to see how it looks on different things. When you get there, click on the Cycles category. I’ve been busy over at the store. Lots of things coming and going as I fuss with designs. So have fun, let me know what you think. Remember, anything you buy goes to supporting this website.
Check out my first pen tools sketch of the Antoinette Flyer mentioned above:
Cleaning up a magnificent 1908 Antoinette Flyer schematic
The Austrian post office outdid themselves in October with a stamp that perfectly symbolizes 2020.
Remember – stay one baby elephant away
That is a piece of toilet paper and it’s a legitimate Austrian stamp. The design perfectly describes what all of us think about the year so far. In case you are struggling with the stamp, the point is to emphasis distances. It’s a little reminder to stay 1 meter or 1 baby elephant away from others to help prevent the spread of Covid.
It isn’t marked as sold out on the Austrian Post website, so if you are interested, you can still buy it here. If you are looking for out-of-the-box designs this is a find. It’s a semi-postal block, screen printed on toilet paper. It’s currently selling for €5.50 and is one of those stamps that makes me wonder if it will become a hot collectable in the future. It certainly is fascinating, from both a design and historical perspective.
Marion Füllerer, designer Oct. 2020 Austrian stamp
The designer, Marion Füllerer describes the stamp on her website:
Im Auftrag der Österreichischen Post AG entstand dieser Briefmarkenblock auf Klopapier um die besondere Corona-Zeit fest zu halten. Klopapier wurde in Österreich zu Beginn der Pandemie zur Mangelware. Der Babyelefant ist das österreichische Symbol für den Sicherheitsabstand
On behalf of the Austrian Post AG, this stamp block was created on toilet paper to capture the special Corona period. At the beginning of the pandemic, toilet paper became a scarce commodity in Austria. The baby elephant is the Austrian symbol for the safety distance.
Marion Füllerer Wir Gestalten
Stamps have been printed on a variety of materials over the years, but this is the first on toilet paper. It is symbolic, as many countries experienced an irrational run on items like toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. The stamp takes a lighthearted poke at the initial panic when Covid-19 hit yet still maintains a serious “be safe” tone.
The designer was quite brave in using toilet paper for this Austrian stamp. I’ve read a few criticisms about it, calling it in bad taste, but it isn’t. It’s the stamp for Covid-19. It’s been a tough year all around and an injection of humour certainly helps. As well, this simple, clean design is soothing. Lots of white space, clear symbols, easy to understand and amusing. I love it.
I’m going to keep an eye open for future stamps by Marion Füllerer and have added her to my spreadsheet of stamp designers to watch. The spreadsheet is coming along slowly and when I get it a bit more organized, I’ll share it with you.
I’ve included this post in both the Design and Stamp categories. The more I explore who designs the stamps, the greater my appreciation has been of the incredible tiny works of art produced by unsung heroes of philately. So many of us collect stamps but rarely give pause to the people who put their heart and souls into creating them. Hence the slight shift in some of my articles in putting a light on the creators, not just the topic.
Don’t forget, like this page on Facebook or Twitter (links below) if you want to see the latest articles as they are published. I will be publishing a list of all post offices in the world along with links to their stores and in some cases, their online catalogues made available to the public. I’m about 1/3 of the way through the list. It takes a lot of time to find working links because not all post offices make it easy to find newsletters and lists of available stamps. I’m aiming to have it up, in spreadsheet format, by the end of this week.
In the meantime, later everyone. Let me know if you managed to buy this Austrian stamp.
Design fails come in many forms, print, web design, logo mistakes and items we use in our everyday lives. People often think design means the visuals in signage or web sites, but every human made thing you see and use in your life started out as a design. Whether it succeeds or not depends on many variables.
Something as basic as a laundry soap bottle is rarely considered problematic. For years, we shook our laundry soap out in powder form. Then came the bottles of liquid soap. People lugged down cups to measure out the proper amount of soap needed, screwed the cap back on and didn’t give the bottle a second thought.
Basic design success of the liquid laundry bottle
Then some smart spark thought why not turn the lid into a measuring cup. Brilliant. As a bonus, the new cup lid also allowed excess liquid to slid back down into the bottle. So, there are 2 design features that work.
Design fails that do a disservice to people with sight impairments
The suspects are lined up
The lid is frustrating for anyone with sight impairments. This is a textbook example of a great idea and bad follow through. You must have damned good vision to spot the measurement marks inside. Let’s look at one such cap:
This was taken with a macro setting on my camera
Look inside most lids and you’ll see the levels for light, medium and heavy loads, all nicely laid out. The design fail is the lack of differentiation on the lines. They are all the same colour, making it difficult to see. In this particular lid complicates the problem with the ridged design, which makes seeing the numbers more difficult.
The above image is the lid from Arm and Hammer liquid soap. Nice lid. Doesn’t drip. Can’t see the lines unless I get my nose right into the cup. Or use a macro setting on my camera and then adjust the brightness on the image. Someone with good vision would be able to make out the numbers, but let me tell you, I have to take off my glasses and stick my nose into the cup before I can see them. Basic design sense should tell the designer to make the lines standout. A bit of contrasting colour would do the trick. Blue cup; bright red lines and numbers.
Bigger design fail is the fabric softener lid
And here is the worst culprit.
The design fail on this is monumental. Did you spot the issue? Someone put thought into making the measurements easier to use. Levels one and five are visible. Although to someone with severe vision problems it would still be difficult to read. Again, contrasting colours would be helpful. If you want two and three, you’ll have to guestimate the amount. Those numbers are hidden behind the heavy rim. If you look inside the cup, things are a little easier to read than the blue on blue. Unless I’m in a decently lit room, I struggle to see the two and three numbers when peering inside. I’ve taken to drawing black lines on the lid so I can see them.
Many use a measuring cup instead of the lid, which speaks volumes of the design fail built into the little plastic caps. If a user can’t read the markings without a struggle or rigging something to see them, then the design is a failure. My mom, for instance, could never see the markings, which meant a lot of wasted soap over the years.
Before you scoff and say this is a trivial matter, let me stop you. If you have issues seeing, the use of contrasting colours goes a long way in decreasing the frustration level and quickly improves the usability of an item. Making the laundry caps more user friendly wouldn’t be a big a leap for any company to make. It does mean people in charge have to think beyond the suburban housewife mythos. The lack of accommodation, after decades of use, is depressing. Aging eyes cannot see those nearly invisible lines. Nor can people with vision impairments.
While researching this article, I ran across a few sites that offered tips on seeing the measurements. They recommended the marker on the inside idea, that I mentioned. Another common tip is to put masking tape on the outside at each level mark. Well, this only works if you can hold the cap up to a light source and guestimate. I found this method inefficient.
Viable solutions to this design failure
There are a few solutions.
- Highlight the levels with a contrasting colour
- Make the lids clear (a few companies do this) with strong levels outlined on the inside and outside
- Although a bit messy, give the lines noticeable ridges so people can slip a finger into the cup and feel when the soap hits the level
A reusable solution to the basic design fails built into laundry caps
If there’s a designer out there, how about creating a cup that lets out a ding sound? You know, one ding for light loads, 2 dings for medium loads and 3 dings for heavy loads. Can’t be that hard to build a reusable cup with a little microchip embedded inside to detect liquid levels.
I’ll end with 2 links that offer some thoughts on vision accommodation issues.
Check out Motion Spot. It offers a bit of insight into designing for vision impairment. Motion Spot magazine did the layout for World Site Day. It presents solid ideas to accommodate vision issues.
And finally, the official website for World Sight Day.
More than a billion people cannot see well, because they don’t have access to glasses. Over 3 out of 4 of the world’s vision impaired are avoidably so. What can be done to arrest this unconscionable fact? First, arm yourself with your country’s prevalence data and Eye Health system information–the number of trained eye health personnel, your country’s plans to tackle blindness. World Site Day website
I sat for at least 5 min, chin on hand, pondering an ad that popped up on my Facebook page. I cocked my head a few times and thought “dear, oh dear, oh dear, where was their proof reader?”
I’m having a mini debate with myself whether the choice of font was deliberate or just unfortunate and someone didn’t spot the obvious. I had to read the product writeup to find out the name is Ripple not Nipple. My brain simply couldn’t process the first letter as “r”. And, to be brutally honest the font makes the product a little off putting. Not quite sure I want a bottle of nipples sitting in my fridge.