What’s Your Favorite Machine?

A Multidimesnional Work Celebrating the Endearing Nature of Design & Technology

What is Your Favorite Machine?

It is that special tool or device that just works so well it earns your esteem, wins your affection, and maintains your trust.  It has become a natural extension of your thoughts and actions, a part of your life, a part of you.  Using it makes you feel smarter, more talented, more you. Creating it is the Holy Grail of design.  Every passionate designer in the world is bent on creating the next favorite machine – the next 67 Mustang convertible, the next IPhone, the next super suit.

Famous examples include Davey Crocket’s rifle, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar, or Stones drummer Charlie Watts’ thirty year old drum set that he uses in concerts today. The list goes on.  I’m sure you can easily think of other examples of famous favorite machines. In your own life, in your house, I imagine you can easily find your own favorite machines. That favorite kitchen knife that is always on top in the drawer; that appliance that is outdated but just keeps on going and going because “they don’t make them like that anymore”; or your Grandma’s favorite sewing scissors that you like using just because.

I use the term machine very broadly.  It can be virtually anything, simple machine to complex, with the single distinguishing characteristic over other objects being that it does something.  It performs some kind of function that we can appreciate.  I’ll let you be the final arbiter of the definition and all it may include.  The purpose of the term is not to divide what it is from what it isn’t as much as to trigger thoughts, feelings, and memories of the those favorite machines in your own experience.  That is what this art is about.  It is not so much about the machine as much as about the way we feel about the machine.  It is about that particular emotion.

Art about Design Art about design is rare.  Art within design is not hard to find, nor is design within art or even design that is about art. However, art whose subject matter is design, is far less common.  I believe that this at least partly explains the instant popularity of My Favorite Machine.

Furthermore, this tone is positive.  Art that is about technology, as with the assumption that art and technology are distinctly separate subjects, is not unusual and is typically negative.  Art usually assumes the moral high ground against the ‘evil machine’.  This is especially true in cinema, from Hal to IRobot.  Needless to say, when we ask to open the pod doors from the cold of outer space, “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that.’ is not an answer we get from a favorite machine.  You can be sure that favorite machines, C3PO or R2 would never say such words!

I would also add that the degree of anthropomorphism typical to science fiction generally misses the real nature of the role that machines usually play in our lives.  If we are to compare a favorite machine to a living thing, then it is more like the role of a faithful pony or service dog.  Not quite human, yet blending well with human activities and contributing something truly appreciable.

So, if we do choose to go so far as to blend living and non-living in this category, then we can certainly add Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger, and the Lone Ranger’s Silver to the list.  And don’t forget Lassie!  Those valiant critters exhibit the kinds of desirable characteristics that we would relish in a favorite machine: smart, capable, faithful to the end, altogether wonderful.  Are you feeling it yet?

I love my mobile phone! This is what I hear when I ask people, “How do you like your mobile phone?” This happens even more with the iPhone than the Droid in spite of the sales numbers putting Droid in front.  Achieving that same affection is a declared goal of Google.  (See GIGAOM article) We have yet to see how the new Windows Phone 7 does in the love category.  Time will tell.

It seems to me at this time in history, there is no better icon for representing the “My Favorite Machine” concept than a mobile phone.  Thus the art I created with that title resembles not one, but three bigger than life mobile phones.  For you left brain dominant people out there who must attach labels to things, the appearance is intentionally that of a universal mobile device, incorporating visual identifying traits of any or all mobile phones.  It wasn’t commissioned by Apple, Samsung, HTC, or anyone else and any resemblance to any particular brand is purely coincidental.  Now, if it reminds you of your own phone and stirs emotions about your own favorite machine experience, I’ve hit my mark.  This art is certainly not about any one device or even about the devices themselves but it is about the affection we feel for them and the ways those emotions are manifested.  It is a celebration of the Favorite Machine experience.

Big at BIG(D)ESIGN 2011

At the BIG(D)ESIGN 2011 conference in Dallas last July, nothing was bigger than mobile design.  And If you were fortunate to be present at BIG(D)ESIGN 2011, you could not have missed seeing those three ginormous objects resembling Mobile phones in the center of everything.

Getting to show my art in this venue was a blast!  To me, a twenty year seasoned UX designer by day, watching the reaction was like a giant usability test, only more fun.

Watching the reactions was fascinating.  The typical stages were surprise over seeing art in this place all.  And then the scale of those big phones atop their huge industrial galvanized steel pedestals was a jaw-dropper.  In spite of the word ‘BIG’ in BIG(D)ESIGN, suddenly seeing a trio of mobile phones five feet tall was apparently not on anyone’s list of expected encounters.  The most fun was observing people start to grin as they spotted recognizable images and objects in the piece. That’s when they moved closer, began touching the pieces and in some cases speaking spontaneously about some personal memory or experience with one of the objects or images. Yes! Score!

Art in the conference was unexpected.  Art that spoke so loud to the audience present was over the top.  Art that is understandable by the average person and yet not boring is sometimes hard to find.  Art that is this relevant to our time or to a particular context without being overly contrived, didactic, or heavy is even rarer.  These are my observations.

Interestingly, in spite of the close proximity this art had with the trade show elements in the same hallway, it was pretty well understood as being what it was- Art.  Aesthetically, it definitely stood out from the slick marketing trade show polish.  I have more to say about this aesthetic.

Roughly Non-Virtual There is no pretending that this is something other than steel and cement.  Real materials have wonderful innate properties viewable without right-clicking.  Steel responds to heat and abrasion with amazing hues.  And the colors aren’t web-safe.  It is bare naked steel and it is beautiful.  No apology is made for rough edges. Rather, such “imperfection” is flaunted with enthusiastic vigor.

I recall in my early youth hanging around my father’s welding shop and gazing at the pieces of steel end cuts.  I remember noticing a piece that would have all nice, perfect factory edges, all pretty, except for that one jagged edge cut with a torch.  Yes, it was a “one of these edges is not like the others” experience. I’m not really sure when it happened, but some time along the way I changed my mind about which was the pretty part. I figured out that the jagged edge was by far more interesting than the boring factory edges.  Graphic designers can probably by now guess my feelings on right & left justification of text blocks vs. ragged right.

When you take a rough cut edge in all its ragged glory, hit it lightly with a grinder to bring out the color of raw metal, and then with a wire wheel to remove the burrs and soften the shimmer, and place it in the sun- it shines like a diamond necklace. Touching it feels like a novel in Braille read with emotion.

We love the comic, yet every comic needs a straight man. Ragged edges placed among straight makes them come alive. The contrast of high tech themes and base materials makes an even more complex mix of flavors: spicy sweet, warm and cool, hot & sour.  It creates, in a static set of objects, a dichotomy of ideas and images in a dynamic tug of war.

Serving the needs of the Sensory Deprived since 2011 As strange as it may sound, I have observed that IT people as a group are sensory deprived in spite of all the rich media surrounding us.  The lopsided sensory input we get from sight and sound minus the other senses creates a vacuum of sorts. Unfortunately, as we proliferate these devices and the media that runs on them, we risk spreading this deficiency.

After time spent in the pristine palaces of the virtual world beyond the glass, there is something deeply satisfying and therapeutic about touching rough, earthy objects.  I have observed people touching the rough edges of this art with the look of a hungry person devouring a meal.  Even seeing images of it seems to gratify at some level for this starving audience.  I like feeding the hungry.

While contemplating your Favorite Machine experiences go ahead and enjoy the rough & realness of this non-virtual substance.  Please remember: kicking steel and concrete can bruise your shins.  Touching sharp edges might make you say ouch and could even leave a mark. Real objects can cause injury.  So be careful!

My Side of the Glass

Virtual worlds as well as two-dimensional art require that we mentally enter a seperate virtual world.  Like, ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’, you leave your world behind, projecting yourself into the world behind the glass.  Even so-called ‘immersive’ experiences require, well, an “immersion” into something else.

Sculpture makes no such demand. It comes to us. It inhabits our space on our side of the glass.  Like us, it has a physical form, viewable from multiple angles in multiple dimensions.  No special glasses needed.  It invites our touch. It can be touched.  This is actual reality.

Your Whole World

How big is mobile?  Is it best reflected in the size of devices five inches tall or five feet tall?  The answer is: neither.  The mobile user experience is as big as your world.  Unchained from the desktop, mobile joins us where we live and goes with us where we go, bringing its power to any context.  The mobile universe is not defined by the tiny screen but by the real world it overlays.  Like 3D art, it is what occurs on our side of the glass that makes it different.  Celebrating the mobile phone favorite machine user experience in sculpture seems particularly fitting.

As we consider all of these deep philosophical connections between the virtual and the physical worlds, I can’t stand to pass up having a little fun with the paradoxes of it all.  Call it ‘geek humor’ if you like, but for me it’s one of the things that make this all worth doing.  I hope you like it too.  If not, oh well.  Write me off as weird.  I do think that, as a Nerd Artist, I ought to get a double pass on strangeness.


Tittle: My Favorite Machine Artist: Roger Belveal Materials: steel, concrete, selected objects, electronic media Methods; direct fabrication using arc, spark, flame, and hammer Dimensions; 5’ tall x 9’ wide x 3’ deep Description: Three large objects resembling mobile phones made from concrete and steel.  Each one is on a pedestal comprised of a galvanized steel pallet and a section of vertical culvert.  Each has a different theme and slightly different materials and treatment.

#1 Classic Favorite Machines.

This piece, positioned on the left, is a nostalgic look back at classic favorite machines represented in an array of iconography.  It pays tribute to some significant devices and is meant to stir old memories of personal favorite machines.  Some classic sci-fi images are thrown into the mix just for fun.

Some icons are easier to recognize than others, which I admit may be a bit of a reach.  I don’t expect everyone to get everything, but I believe everyone will get something and I hope will find a connection that is personally meaningful and enjoyable.

This piece adheres to a strict rule of using only new materials, no scrap metal and no found objects.

Discover Relief The Iconic machines from the past are presented as objects embedded in concrete, which is then partly chiseled away, creating an image in relief.  This somewhat resembles an archeological excavation of artifacts or fossils.  It is also a little like the scene of a sculptor freeing a work of art from a block of stone or casting, which I have heard some artists describe as a Christmas moment.  All of these analogies involve a sense of discovery.  My hope is for the audience to feel that same excitement in discovery during their own exploration of the piece.

#2 Electric Eclectic Collection of Favorite Machines

in the center of this center piece is a video monitor playing a collection of various Favorite Machines. Some of these can be found on YouTube at MyFavoriteMachine

This collection of favorite machines of all types is growing and suggestions are welcomed.

#3 Fun with Metaphors

Icons under glass are forever mimicking real world objects.  They go to great lengths to achieve realism, adding light and shadow effects, reflective surfaces, sparkles, and most recently, candied jellybean transparencies.  Wow! All these are gimmicks meant to fool the eye and convince our mind that we are looking a real object.  Of course, our brain knows better.  Though it is all cool and very impressive, it still can come off feeling a bit like brick-printed wallpaper.

Just for fun, what if we were to take that model of virtual objects imitating the real ones and reverse it?  Yes. What if we simply include real objects embedded in these large icons?  It makes me smile.  Is that because it is clever or just smart ass?  Either way, metaphor is by nature a statement that blurs the line between symbolic and literal.  These icons certainly do that.  So, now it begs the question as to which are the “real’ icons?

50+ Big D Icons of Steel

Lastly, there were more than fifty icons of variations of the Big D logo.  These were commissioned by the conference as gifts for the guest speakers.  Each one was unique.  That was my condition to making them. Pursuing consistency is my day job; this is art!

The quest to discover how many different ways one can render a D in a four inch square object made form steel and/or concrete made it personally interesting.  It also resembles the phase in design where you have gathered the requirements and are now exploring the possibilities before settling on one to pursue ambitiously to a final product.   View the Big D Icons Slideshow.

It’s a Hit!

The audience response at Big Design and since has been overwhelming. Since its creation for the BIG(D)ESIGN 2011 conference, My Favorite Machine has been on the move.

Following the conference, My Favorite Machine was invited by the management of TechWildcatters to inhabit their office space in Dallas Uptown.  It adorned their main entrance and received a lot of attention.  TechWildcatters is a startup haven with lots of involvement in mobile design.

In October, My Favorite Machine traveled to Fort Worth for ArtsGoggle 2011. It couldn’t have found a more perfect venue for that event, being showcased inside the offices of Creative Magma, a design firm specializing in branding and these days heavily involved in mobile design.  It became the talk of the neighborhood during the Arts Goggle event.  Also having it serve as a backdrop for some very talented musicians was a treat indeed.

Currently, my Favorite Machine is the center piece at Gravity Centre on the second floor of the AT&T foundry in Plano.  In this location, it is inspiring hundreds of mobile designers.  What a perfect match!

The response continues to be overwhelming.

“Everyone loves the art”- Gabriella Draney, TechWildcatters

“People were raving about the art – so complimentary. I’m excited to have such a showpiece donning the entrance to the building…They’re wonderful” – Jared Green, TechWildcatters

“Wow, the response from the Gravity Centre residents and people from the AT&T Foundry when they see My Favorite Machine has been awesome. We are truly honored to be showcasing your piece here at the Gravity Centre.” – Jennifer Conley, Operations Manager at Gravity Centre

“My Favorite Machine’ has become the mascot of mobile design, sort of like the San Diego Chicken, only less feathery.”

View the My Favorite Machine Slideshow Vistit the My Favorite Machine FaceBook page ( it has its own FB page) Twitter favoritemachine (yes, its own twitter too)

Roger Belveal Bio

Roger Belveal is a seasoned UX designer with twenty years in the profession. Half of that with Boeing in Seattle designing user experiences for building and maintaining airplanes.  There he helped build the first Boeing usability lab and led a team of design consultants supporting a wide array of applications, on line publishing to and advanced 3D visualization.  The next ten years Belveal spent in financial services as usability design consultant for CRM call center applications, ecommerce systems and leading business process engineering. Presently, he is a senior UX Designer for Sabre Airline Solutions, where he is leading Business Intelligence visualization and mobile UX design strategies.

Besides having a degree in Industrial Design, Belveal studied sculpture at the University of Washington.  In his spare time, he likes putting on welding goggles and using fire and large amounts of electricity concentrated into little white arcs to persuade steel into classic renaissance sculpture.  This isn’t junkyard art, but classic forms expressed in a unique translucent motif of his invention.  See his work at www.belveal.com

It’s all a journey in the interplay of Technology and Art united by human factors principles.  It’s a serious exploration and also a fun adventure.  Having now become 3D Artist to the Tech/UX Design commmunity is even more fun!

Artist’s History “I like working simultaneously in abstract and concrete, that is, steel and cement.  That is pretty technologically advanced for me.  When I first started in IT, computers were still made of wood. The monitors were silver oxide coated glass plates backlit by kerosene lamps.  It was click and wait while the image on the glass plate was sent out for re-etching to generate the updated image.  The network was a guy on a bicycle with an oddly large front wheel.  Talk about performance problems!  Get impatient and click a bunch of times in rapid succession and you could be sitting there a week watching an hourglass.  And it was a real hourglass!  If the network crashed, forget about it.”

Special Thanks to Ferguson Industrial Gases & Welding Products www.fergusongases.com

(c) 2011 r.e.belveal Reposted from BIG(D)ESIGN web site http://bigdesignevents.com/2011/11/my-favorite-machine-a-work-of-art-celebrating-endearing-design/

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