Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Rage Against the Espresso Machine

Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes about ZPM Espresso’s failure to launch for the NY Times Magazine:

[L]ike all 21st-century consumers, Kickstarter backers have been trained to expect a world custom-engineered for total frictionlessness. Everything is supposed to work easily, right away and well. One benefit of giving our lives over to machines and algorithms, after all, is that there’s no margin for human error. As for our physical objects, we expect them to be sleek and perfect, designed with a religious devotion to the harmony of form and function.


My brother has worked at Apple for 10 years, first in operations and now in engineering. I asked him what advice he would have given to Polyakov if he’d been called in to consult on the manufacturing. He thought for a minute. “I honestly haven’t the faintest idea,” he said. This is because, despite all the advances of the maker-revolution age (off-the-shelf, open-source, programmable microcontrollers; rapid prototyping; 3-D printing; “AutoCAD for Dummies”), manufacturing remains a supremely difficult process, the success of which continues to rely on marshaling a lot of resources: development money, an extensive network of trusted vendors, the dedicated personnel to sit in conference rooms in concrete campuses in Shenzhen and Dongguan and refuse to budge until the product is streaming off the assembly line in the right amounts, at the right quality and at the agreed-upon price.