Sentient Vogue: Fashion Needs A Makeover
We are on the cusp of change in the product world. Machines and objects are poised to gain a much greater level of intelligence about themselves and their surroundings. Motors and other mechano-material actuators are getting smaller, cheaper, and more common. New surface materials promise the ability to rapidly change the color or patterning of an object. And new internet technologies, combined with better, cheaper sensors and video with object/face/context recognition will give objects an unbelievable amount of information to play with and make decisions based on.
"Woah..." you say "decisions?" Why not? We've recently been extolling the virtues of playful object design, and the coming distributed computing revolution. It's only a tiny step further before our products are thinking a little for themselves. And if they can think a little, and base that thought on input from the outside, why not use that to drive novel fashions and functions.
A perfect example to start us off is Julius Popp's cute little micro.adam and micro.eva robots. According to his homepage:
"Both robots, circular in design and only different in their inner complexity, are placed in a reduced environment. The robots are limited to one degree of freedom, the (double meaning) rotation about themselves. The robots' motion, rolling on two wheels mounted to a wall, is archived by moving an inward facing actuator. This changes the robot's balancing point, forcing the body to turn to a new balanced position. The robot's turning and rolling is a visualization of the controller's learning progress -- a picture of the emerging body-consciousness."
While this "body consciousness" is totally rudimentary ,and not really valuable for much more than a cute visual, there are already similar systems in place to "learn" and control the properties of a physical system, like the interaction between coolant circulation, engine temperature, gas combustion, and air conditioner/heater mix in a car.
So why haven't the same ideas been applied to the visual and interactive appearance of an object? RSS feeds from your home LAN could be crawled daily to pick out relevant suggestions for fashion, while local information like colors in the room, outside temperature, weather, and season could be factored into the equation. What about variations in your personal habits? Break an ankle, and you're now on crutches? Your chair knows, or at least if felt the extra pressure points, so now it's shifted to form a mini-ottoman for the cast, and a crutch holder to give your arms a rest.
If all that seems far fetched, think about this:
When the first calculators appeared, all "software" was included, and users probably would have scoffed at the idea of buying a "bear bones" system. Then, in the late 1990's this sort of thing became routine, as assembly became simpler and users more savvy; we began to customize our experiences to fit our own needs. Now, with programs like DEVONthink and the new search/folder functionality in OS-X Tiger we have programs which can do the customization for us.
Right now, we are in that second phase with products; We love customization, but it's time to give products lives of their own. There are some really good reasons for this:
First, waste. We go through products at an alarming rate, and those that we discard are piling up around us. If we could make products which were smart enough to evolve just enough to be cool for next season, that's 1/2 as much waste right there.
Second, novelty. Once you have products which respond to the environment, you can wake up to a new toaster every day! Imagine waking up to find your entire kitchen done up in the cool new shade of pastel blue. Granted, there would have to be some amount of buffering so you still felt comfortable, but the possibilities are intense.
Third, value. Not the artificial financial value placed on a product, but the feeling you have for something when you've had it a while and watched it grow and change. You value a child, or a garden, or your home in a way that is so different from your home products. And that's a shame.
We said before that designers were the responsible ones for getting us into this fashion mess. But we also have the opportunity to get out. Designing products with Sentient Vogue will take much more foresight than a simple styling job; What factors influence the beauty of a vase, and to what extent? What about a sofa? But we feel it is not a question of if this change will happen, but when. All the technology of today is building toward it. This is your chance to be part of something that will change our social and economic fabric forever, but it will take incredible insight and care to achieve a quality result. It's definitely an exciting time to be designing.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team