KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Archive for March, 2010

Mar 31 2010

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Listen harder

I was on the phone with a subcontractor last week. One of the products we were looking at wasn’t going to fit in with the investment range we had pre-determined with the clients, and I needed another, less expensive selection.

In the most defeated tone I’ve ever heard, he said, “I can drop the price, but it’s tight out there—I have almost no room to move, but if that’s what we need to do to close the project, then I’ll drop it XXX dollars.”

He wasn’t listening.

I wasn’t asking, “Can you reduce your profit?”

I was asking, “What other options—materials, styles, details—do we have available which might lower the price?”


Here’s what I’ve learned from my first three recessions (this is my fourth):

First, put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. They’re concerned about their choices, and they want to get the best value for their hard-earned dollars they can. Not all of them are waiting for you to say, “Oh, wait. You’re right. I’m clearly overpriced, so let me just drop my price now,” which is what they think when you don’t value your own set prices. (Okay, they think that, and “bonus!” And you walk away depressed because you’re not getting what you need.)

You’re selling yourself short here. When they say, “I can’t afford that, can you drop the price?” here’s what I hear: “What is the value of this item I’m buying? What are my options for the money I have to spend?”

Now, they may also be saying, “But that’s what I want. I just want you to be less expensive!” but they’re all really versions of the same thing.

The onus is on us to be the experts, to overcome objections and to build value into the work we do—not become dispirited because we think they’re not going to spend the money. Ask yourself what the value is that you’re providing. If you can’t answer, then you may end up like my friend above.

People are looking for deals, yes, but you have a business to run. You want to be around for them in the future. Lower your overhead, or find less-expensive options that will give your client the look they want. Or at least explain the differences so they can make an informed choice.


The ending to the story was that I told the sub-contractor that he did not need to lower his profit. We found another product that was less expensive and actually worked better for the scale. The client’s happy, the sub-contractor’s happy, and I received a good reminder to pass along.

Until next time~


Mar 30 2010

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Smart dashboard


It is no longer a question of if people want to use less energy and water. People do. They want lower energy and water bills. But it isn’t always easy to know what to do that will have the biggest impact. Frankly, it is tough to know how much energy and water we use for the different choices and actions we have during the day. That is why energy and water monitors can be so powerful. When we only receive monthly bills (and usually a month or two after the usage), it is not clear what actions or behavior resulted in what usage. However, by having the information displayed in real time during our usage, we can make better choices. It is sort of like the dashboard of my Prius. When I first started driving, I was only averaging 38 mpg. But once I started paying attention to the dashboard and saw how my speed and timing of the gas and brake pedals adjusted my mileage in real time, I learned how to use less gas. Now my average is about 45 mpg (although Kevin still beats me fairly regularly in our game of who can get the highest mpg).


The information can be displayed on a monitor that is easily readable on a daily basis. It could be in a high-traffic kitchen, a lounge or office. Or it can be accessed on your computer whether you are home, or you can even check in when you are at the office and see what energy and water the kids are using at home. In real time.

In the Smart Home: Green + Wired, we used a Building Dashboard system by Lucid and had it displayed in the lounge space, but wired such that it could be accessible from other portions of the home as well—in the office or even on one’s iPhone.

Green Home


(photos by JB Spector / Museum of Science + Industry)

Luckily, a bunch of companies are getting into the Smart Home dashboard game. So hopefully they will become less expensive and more universal. Companies like Intel, Apple, Greenbox, Agilewaves and Onzo offer you different choices (each with different pros and cons) and, hopefully very soon, lower price points as well.—Michelle Kaufmann

Energy Efficiency

Water Conservation

Mar 29 2010

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Look, ma, no wires…


Imagine a kitchen where you no longer have to wander about like a desert nomad with your blender or toaster in hand searching for an oasis of power or at least a clear space near a free outlet.

The idea of wireless electricity was first conceived by legendary inventor Nikola Tesla in the early 1900s. His idea was to build giant transmission towers across the United States that would emit an electrical frequency to be received by and to power your home appliance or light bulb, much in the same way as a radio picks up a broadcast signal. After a major legal battle that was finally settled in the Supreme Court on the side of GE and Thomas Edison, Tesla and his idea of free electricity faded into obscurity.

But all is not lost. Sony Japan announced that it has developed a highly efficient wireless power transfer systems that eliminates the use of cables or cords for small appliances. The new system can transfer wirelessly 60 watts of electrical energy over a distance of nearly 24 in. with 80% efficiency. This new technology is based on magnetic resonance, where two or more devices can transfer energy when using the same resonant frequencies. The idea requires embedding a line-connected power transmitter into a countertop, table top or wall, which then transmits power to an adapted appliance placed near or on the transmitter without the need for a cord between the transmitting or receiving elements. Once developed to its full potential, you would be able to place any future portable household appliance, such as a toaster, blender, coffee maker or can-opener anywhere in the kitchen you would like to work without the need of a power-cord, plug or socket.

One of the greatest benefits of this new technology will be safety. With the near elimination of electric shock, gone will be the days of socket guards and curious hands and just think of the fun of making margaritas poolside with no need for a plug. The possibilities are endless and the modern kitchen as we know it will continue to open up and expand its boarders as new technology and applications continue to emerge.

Now Mr. Tesla…about that “free” electricity idea?

Kevin Henry

Mar 25 2010

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Just add air


With the first day of spring having just passed, I am starting to get excited for the gardening ahead. One of my favorite plants is this Xerographica. It is a type of tillandisias (air plant). It is not only stunningly beautiful, but also miraculously doesn’t require soil or water to grow. It only needs a light misting every few weeks. They absorb their nutrients from tree debris, and dust and dirt from the air. A plant that requires no water? Genius. That makes water-conserving xeriscaping plant choices very easy, and look great.

It makes a wonderful green gift (for others or for yourself) and is available from Flora Grubb (a talented and thoughtful woman and her Flora Grubb Gardens). You can either order online, or if you are in San Francisco, I highly recommend stopping by her gardens. I can easily spend an entire afternoon there.—Michelle Kaufmann

Water Conservation