Design is: Experience
Even setting ego aside, there's a reason that explorers routinely risk life and limb to climb peaks like Everest and Denali. It's the same reason that teenagers do things their parents can't possibly understand, or that middle aged men buy their childhood dream sports car, even if they can't drive it. We crave experiences. Humans love experiences that thrill us, let us reminisce, put us in someone else's viewpoint, or even challenge our accepted view of ourselves. In today's market where technology is a commodity, product experience means the difference between sold out and burned out.
Connecting Drivers... To Drivers
In any field, progress will tend to focus on one aspect of improvement until a change in culture, or need forces a shift. Often, those aspects are not chosen explicitly by the designer, but rather, by the consumers, and the marketplace as a whole. Perhaps no other industry has been as defined by this as the automotive business. Cars have specialized and re-specialized to fit each new desire of the driver. Now is the time for another shift in their function, because after 100 years, they're still broken.
Damn The Man As Part Of The Plan
We exist within the framework of society. Our jobs, schools, homes, cars, and even the way we get our food and heat is locked into a tightly connected system. Designer are responsible for creating many of the parts of this system. And it's important to understand the needs and flows of society in making successful designs. But there is also opportunity in hijacking that system in order to increase the impact of a design.
User Diet Part2: Save Room For Desert
Yesterday, we talked about how restricting the amount of information available to users can be important in how well they can use your application or product. Additionally, though, users aren't just calculating machines. We need motivation in order to stick with something. Sometimes this can come from other people, like teachers, parents, or teammates. But sometimes, the best motivation is a challenge: Something that is just a little too hard, or a little out of reach can push us to get the most out of a situation.
World Water Day
Today is the UN designated World Day for Water. Fresh water access is shaping up to be the new big threat in our global community. We had a series a while back to get designers up to speed on the situation, and what can be done about it. Check out A Dry Future: Firewood, Irrigation, Back home.
User Diet Part 1: Information Starvation
When it comes down to it, humans are pretty much like your 10 dollar solar calculator: The world gives us some information, we process it, and we spit out an answer. But unlike a calculator, the kind of information, and the way that information is presented to us makes a huge difference in the quality of our answer. It's important to control the information diet of your users; Too little, or too much, and you run into problems. Today, lets look at how limiting information presentation can be important.
Who Will You Connect?
Think about this: As recently as 30 years ago, the most technologically advanced pervasive network communication device humans had was the business card. Entire markets were built and maintained by these simple slips of cardboard. And being forced to change your number or address could cripple your business because of the power of the network of "polluted" cards. Now, though we are massively interconnected, cellphoned, pagered, WIFIed, and LANed, our networks are still used in much the same minimal way as business cards: Find information about a person, get in contact with them, and do business. We can push things further than that.
Sometimes, amidst all the dimensioning of drawings, preparation for castings, and other details of the design profession, we lose sight of the less tangible qualities we hope our work will have. At these times, we like to regain some perspective by looking to work that exemplifies qualities we'd like to infuse in our own work. After several long days of dimensioning, we're taking a break to look at an artist who's work is meticulous but retains the sculptural soul of his ideas' inceptions.
Culture Driving Design
So we're always flapping our gums about how design can and should change the world, but what about a concrete example? Well, how about the Macintosh? It was friendly, easy to use, and small. When you go down the checklist of things that make something a "good product," it's got to be new, good looking, it's got to work well, be fairly environmentally friendly, and be accessible to new users. Check, check, check, check, check. Along with all the basics of good product design, in order to be great or important it must think of context and how it can steer culture.
O&E: Quality, Apples, Bags and Gum
Some of us are taking some birthday time off from the site, so posting will be sporadic until the end of the week. In looking back at our notes for the past few weeks, there are a number of interesting bits that haven't quite fit into any real story. But there's still interesting, and we'd rather get them out into the minds of designers so they can start evolving into ideas.
Don't Blink Man, Think Man
As designers, we solve problems. It's human. It's one of our most powerful traits as a species. And as a species, we have evolved powerful methods for quickly solving problems (you may have heard the hype in a recent book). These methods are fast, effective, and often require next to no conscious thought. But the problems we are facing today, in the world, and in our work, are often well beyond the scope that our instinctive methods were meant for. As professional problem solvers, who's skill must rise above the basic populace, we've got to find those methods that go a step beyond the basics. Take a look at what we mean.
Well, it was quite a run, you've got to admit. Since the 40s, the highest design has always been about the "raucousness of the rectangle"; Clean lines, white and black, shine and matte, and minimal adornment. It's a striking way to decorate a hotel, or bachelor pad, but the truth is that it really doesn't work too well with those of us who actually have to have, you know, stuff in our houses. Thankfully though it looks like the tides are turning, and minimalism no longer means smooth, white, and spotless.
Permanence and Transience
Our world is made up of conflicting and balancing forces: Light and dark, airiness and substance, heat and cold... The list could be made to go on forever. All of these forces contribute to our perception and understanding of our surroundings. In our efforts to build physical objects which have meaning within our social and cultural surroundings, a crucial force balance to examine is that between permanence and transience.
Time Is What You Make It
For as long as the idea of time has existed, authors, politicians, lovers, teachers, rich, poor, children, men, and women have lamented it's unfortunate one-way nature. Our entire society structure -- the legal system, insurance business, photography business, everything -- is built around a one-way flow of time. But recent technology is challenging that iron-clad truth. Hang on to your watches.
Programming Our Future
Designers are in it for change. Admit it. Either you feel like there is a different, better way to perform some task, or you want to improve some underrepresented group's ability to interact with the world, or you just think there's a cooler way to make a sneaker or a cellphone. Generating changes in culture, society, and personal life is what we do. But making different products is only one way to do that. Products only influence people to change their culture, society, or lifestyle. Design also has the potential to influence people and the future more directly by programming them from the beginning.
What They Don't Know...
We are in the middle of an information blizzard. The rate at which the internet is being filled with more accurate, current, relevant, and valuable information is unbelievable. Add to that the increasing mobility of that information with larger, cheaper memory cards, wireless networks, and lower cost, higher bandwidth cellular network technology, and you've got a real opportunity for a revolution. But all the information in the world won't help us if we can't get to it. It's not even about just interface design; We need to define entirely new opportunities for information to enter user's decisions.
Waste: Who Needs It!
We have devoted a lot of posts to talking about the importance of designing to allow for recycling and reuse or disassembly and repair. But there's a whole other side to the waste problem that doesn't get a lot of press. Manufacturing wastage and cutoffs are a very significant part of the worldwide waste dilemma. Just because most factories, and therefore most waste, is located in far-off countries, doesn't mean that we can start combating it with how we create products.
Bionics: Out of Ideas? Copy Nature
Wired has a neat story on Robert J. Full, the biologist-engineer-roboticist-whatever who's responsible for Gecko tape. He's a big champion of biomimetic design, where animal kinematics are the basis for mechanical robotic systems, rather than basing them purely on theoretical derivations. Lots of work has been done to apply these principles to robotics - take for example, a robotic Tuna or cockroach. But Design has largely missed out on developments like this. It seems like we have a lot we could learn from nature. Dogs have a portable chair that goes with them everywhere, while looking sleek (check out these haunches). Ducks don't need umbrellas. And trees are so pretty. So go to it!
Idealism VS Implementation
Too often, the market-driven world splits design into two conflicting pieces: The goal of being true to the ideals you built as you studied in school, or thought on your own, and the goal of making a living and being secure in your work. Too often, young designers full of fresh ideas and optimism are cut down and held back by the burned out cynicism of the old guard. Too often, designers become convinced that revolutionary ideas are to strange, or expensive to sell in the marketplace, when the truth is something else entirely; The key isn't selling out, it's the phrasing of your concept.
Humansys: How People Work
We've had a lot of fun pointing out the latest findings on the idiosyncrasies of cognitive psychology and ethnographic research in our Understanding Users category, but we felt like there were some other important parts of understanding humans that deserved their own space. So, Humansys, our latest ongoing exploration category, will look at how our bodies do all the amazing stuff they're capable of. If you're interested in language, running, eating, sleep, learning... Well heck, we won't give it all away here. If you take a look in the directory to the right, we've moved some appropriate posts there already, and be sure to check out today's piece to kick off the new series.
Real Reality Games
How do you get people around the world to cooperatively solve incredibly complex problems, where they have to spend hours of their own time, lots of their own money, co-ordinate with hundreds or thousands of fellow problem solvers, and even risk embarrassment, or their own lives to do it, all for zero financial payoff? No, it's not the military, or the public school system. It's the power of ARGs -- alternate reality games -- and if designers could incorporate one tiny piece of it into their solutions, they could see them become something previously unimaginable.
Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team