Dustin Curtis


Page 3

Seven Years

Despite being the cheapest usable tablet on the market, and although the Kindle is already one of its best selling items, Amazon cut the price of the Kindle Fire HD today from $199 to $169. At that price, it’s almost impossible to imagine any profit at all; when it was released in late 2012, some speculated that the cost of materials and manufacturing alone amounted to more than $185.

It’s easy to imagine the strategy here–that Amazon expects to make money on digital content sales–but, historically, the numbers behind that strategy haven’t panned out. With billions of dollars in content sales, Apple still claims to run the iTunes store at “practically break even.” What makes Amazon think it can pull a profit when even Apple can’t?

While trying to figure out what Jeff Bezos is thinking, I remembered something he told the New York Times in 2011:

“If everything you do needs to work on...

Continue reading →


The hardware looks much better in person than I expected. In fact, I would even say it looks good. The industrial design is solid, and though it is being manufactured in small batches, it has the build quality you might expect from something being mass-produced. I found this pleasantly shocking, especially considering Google’s history of lackluster attention to detail. Before you even turn it on, Glass feels like something from the future that is worth at least $1,000.

Glass is very clearly an early “alpha” product, and it’s only being sold to very few developers and invitees, so my thoughts below will focus mainly on the design challenges facing ambient computing in general and to point out some things I hadn’t thought about before actually wearing Glass. Overall, I think Glass is a great first step for wearable computers and I hope that what I saw was simply a taste of things to...

Continue reading →

Bucket List

An incomplete, living list.

  1. Visit space
  2. Get published in a nationally-distributed print publication
  3. Be on the cover of a major magazine
  4. Stay in one place for a full year
  5. See a total solar eclipse
  6. Get pilot’s license
  7. Visit Necker Island
  8. Own a genuine Picasso
  9. Learn to fillet a fish
  10. Skydive May 25, 2013
  11. Wine tasting in Napa May 26, 2013
  12. Wine tasting in France
  13. Run a marathon
  14. Own a yacht
  15. Learn to cook
  16. Speak spanish fluently
  17. Become SCUBA certified May 25, 2014
  18. Scuba - Great Barrier Reef
  19. Ride in a helicopter
  20. Ride the trans-siberian railway from China to London
  21. Create something that touches a hundred million people
  22. See actual lava
  23. Make $10 million in a single transaction
  24. Make $100 million in a single transaction
  25. Give away a billion dollars
  26. Learn to bartend
  27. Get a college degree
  28. Sit in the Oval Office
  29. Do not take any artificial drugs for 6 months.
  30. Buy a round of drinks for an entire...

Continue reading →

What a stupid idea

For some cruel reason, I keep finding myself in the position of being introduced to things in their infancy (often before they are even launched), dismissing them as stupid, and then watching them become unbelievably popular. This has happened to me at least four times. Each time I vow never to call anything stupid again, and then, invariably, it happens again.

I’m not sure if there’s any lesson here other than a warning against arrogance, but I have two stories to share.

In late 2009, I received an email from a guy asking to meet about his new project. I was a designer at the time, and he was looking for some advice, so I agreed to meet with him at the quintessential startup meeting place in San Francisco, The Creamery.

“I want to make an app for browsing catalogs. It’s like a fashion catalog, but you can organize and share outfits,” he said. He pulled out his iPhone and showed me...

Continue reading →

Even the survivors come away bleeding

Warren Buffett has never invested in new technology companies. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, he completely ignored the rise of the personal computer and the web (avoiding the first bubble), and he has rarely invested in rapidly growing industries. This might seem like a paradoxical stance from one of the greatest investors of all time, but if you look at the investable companies within rapidly growing markets, a pattern emerges: they are not healthy. They’re engaged in constant war–a fight to the death, in many cases–for control of the future of their industry in technology, brand, and mindshare.

In his 2009 Berkshire Hathaway annual letter, Buffett explained his philosophy regarding such industries:

Charlie and I avoid businesses whose futures we can’t evaluate, no matter how exciting their products may be. In the past, it required no brilliance for people to foresee the...

Continue reading →


After showing Facebook Home, Mark Zuckerberg spent a few minutes talking about the future of computing. What he said is the epitome of a vision statement, and it sets the philosophy driving Facebook’s work:

At one level, [Home] is just the next mobile version of Facebook. At a deeper level, I think this can start to be a change in the relationship that we have with how we use computing devices. For more than thirty years, computers have mostly just been about tasks, and they had to be–they were too expensive and clunky and hard to use, so you wouldn’t really want to use them for anything else. But the modern computing device has a very different place in our lives. It’s not just for productivity and business, although it’s great for that too. It’s for making us more connected, more social, more aware.

Home, by putting people first, and then apps–by just flipping the order–is one of...

Continue reading →

The Glass Bicycle

When I first heard about Google Glass, I thought it was a bit too ambitious. It reminded me of the original Microsoft Surface, a $10,000 touchscreen table that was obscenely cool but wholly impractical. The difference is that Google is actually delivering on Glass as a consumer device, and the glimpse that we’ve seen is so transformative that I think it’s worth the benefit of the doubt. What surprises me is the number of people dismissing it so early as ugly and un-productizable.

In the early 1980’s, when most people dismissed the personal computer as a mere curiosity, Steve Jobs attempted to rationalize its existence with a fascinating metaphor:

I think one of the things that really separates us from the higher primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The Condor used the least amount of energy...

Continue reading →

Yours vs. Mine

A question that inevitably comes up very early in the process of designing a new app is this: should the interface refer to the user as “your” or “my” when talking about the user’s stuff, as in “my profile” or “your settings”? For a long time, this question ate at my soul. Which is right?

The answer actually has quite a few implications, even if they’re subconscious. If you refer to a user’s profile as “your profile,” the implication is that the interface is communicating with you, whereas if you refer to it as “my profile,” you’re implying that the interface is an extension of the user, as though it is communicating for you.

There are two groups of neurological adaptations that I think might roughly support each of the approaches.

My stuff

As humans have evolved the ability to use tools, the brain has developed a function for assimilating external objects into its motor mapping....

Continue reading →

Becoming a new American Airlines


In isolation, American Airlines’ previous visual identity, designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1967, was a beautiful tribute to modern American design. The simplicity of Helvetica, set in red, white, and blue, and positioned next to an iconic eagle, defined the company with a subtle homage to the country it represents. It is too bad that such a great, enduring identity was placed into such careless hands. And now it is gone.

The design problems at American Airlines have never stemmed from its visual identity, but rather from its execution of that identity and from its culture around customer experience. But the bankrupt company, in a misguided attempt to change its external perception, set out to remake itself visually. Here is the new American Airlines:



After forty-six years, one of the finest corporate brands in history has been reduced to patriotic lipstick.

Continue reading →

Tide’s Brand

For a demonstration of the important relationship between brand and product quality, look no further than Tide detergent, as profiled in this New York Magazine piece by Ben Paynter:

Shoppers have surprisingly strong feelings about laundry detergent. In a 2009 survey, Tide ranked in the top three brand names that consumers at all income levels were least likely to give up regardless of the recession, alongside Kraft and Coca-Cola. That loyalty has enabled its manufacturer, Procter & Gamble, to position the product in a way that defies economic trends. At upwards of $20 per 150-ounce bottle, Tide costs about 50 percent more than the average liquid detergent yet outsells Gain, the closest competitor by market share (and another P&G product), by more than two to one. According to research firm SymphonyIRI Group, Tide is now a $1.7 billion business representing more than 30...

Continue reading →