Toastmaster's Speech number two... design.

Paris. Google. Lamborghini. Frank Lloyd Wright. The Great Pyramid at Giza. Apple. Louis Vuitton.

To understand that list of people, places, companies and ideas, you must first understand the new passion which as overtaken my life. I think about it. I study it. I bring it up in conversation at awkward times. Its one of those things that impact every one of us, all day, every day, but something we rarely think about.

We watch a fashion shows and see it. We surf the web and it is everywhere. Our neighborhoods are meccas of good and bad examples of it. We drive it, read it, touch it and taste it all day, every day.

It is design.

Oh sure, we think of how engineers work to create the vision, or how a marketer gets us to purchase it, but it is rare when we sit back and think about the person who had the idea, the vision and the creativity to really bring the creation to life. We take for granted the geniuses who, with a single moment of insight, created that one thing we just can’t live without.

Think about the lowly toilet. What a masterpiece of work it is. Its function may go unnoticed, at least until it cracks or leaks, and then you are forced to see the ingenuity crammed in to such a simple device. The curved porcelain, the precision levers and the sturdy bolts that tie it all together into a design which has become one of the most used seats in our homes. But I want to talk about things that have a design which surpasses, in my opinion at least, the invention incorrectly attributed to Mr. Thomas Crapper.

First, I want to talk technology. Most of my day is taken up by figuring out how to help people better interact with technology, so its fitting that I start here. It is also why my studies of design have led me to greatly appreciate the work done by two of the items in my earlier list: Apple and Google.

It has been nearly 10 years since I paid the local phone company a penny of my money. The had an outdated product which tied me to the area directly around wherever I was dwelling at the time. I ditched the land line in 1999 and have never missed its presence. Despite my joy at cutting the cord and having only a cell phone, there has always been one thing that really bothered me about this choice… my phone.

Lets face it, our cell phones are awful. Their cases always have been more utilitarian, largely because of the abuse we heap on them but also because of the stodgy corporate offices which stick with the tried and true designs that are just smaller versions of the ones they released twenty years ago. If their physical design is bad, the software is worse. I will be the first to admit that designing a quality application that fits on a 1" square screen with a whole 12 input keys is difficult, but really, what are we paying these designers for if not to produce a product we really want to use?

It took the presence of two 800 lbs. gorillas like Google and Apple to shake the industry to the core. Apple’s iPhone, of which I own the newest version, is an amazing device which has produced nearly a dozen knock-offs and imitators in the 18 months since its introduction. Its sleek design, light weight, bright screen and fluid interface make it stand out above and beyond anything produced by its competitors.

Google’s Android project, while less well known that the iPhone, stands to become even more influential than the iPhone. While Apple’s product runs only on its hardware, Google has designed a software platform that is in many ways superior to Apple’s and is totally, 100% free to anyone who wants to make a compatible hardware device. By giving away the software, Google assures itself that it will have more and more people using its service to search the Internet, regardless of where the users might find themselves.

And I do find myself in many places where just such a smart phone is needed. On one recent trip to Hilton Head, my friends and I became lost trying to find a little gated community that had been built to look as if it were several hundred years old. The mapping and GPS functions of those phones would have come in handy as I looked at amazing new architectual design.

My fiance and I found in this little town our dream home. Three stories tall, with 10’ ceilings and huge glass windows on all sides, with a central stairwell that was framed by open archways on each side of the building, swept away both our minds. This house captivated us with its amazingly simple, yet extremely functional designs. The vertical styling of the exterior walls met up with a deck which cascaded further out as the levels went down. Hardwood floors covered the entire home.

To say we fell in love with this home is a complete understatement. When we returned to our condo, I downloaded a design application for my Apple laptop and sketched out the floorplan to our dream home. We spent a rainy afternoon holed up in front of the screen, planning for the future.

Such an experience can only be matched by seeing what happens when someone designs a bad home, such as the one my sister and her husband are considering purchasing. Thankfully, their new home is coming at a steep discount as they have much work to do to make it right. As their real estate agent stated, most people just should not design their own homes. The mistakes made by th eprior owner, while glaring, are not impossible to overcome, but the house is far from functional in its current state.

So the next time you are considering a new home, a new cell phone or are vacationing in some distant land, take a look around for a moment and appreciate what masters of design do for us every single day.