Interview: Nic Roope, Godfather of Pokia
-First Nic, tell us a little about yourself, for an introduction.
Well I graduated as a sculptor from Liverpool Art School ten years ago (most famous person to attend was John Lennon)
Got involved with a digital arts group called antirom and worked together with the group for four years on arts and commercial based projects. Toured a few places with an interactive stage show.
After that I took the creative director post at the now deceased Oven Digital. Oven was a pretty well respected NYC based company. I also ran the London office. Project of note that Oven produced was Tiffany.com.
After that jointly set up Poke with a few jaded industry veterans. We're pursuing the thought that ideas are the central drivers of communication and no less so than on the web.
-Along the way, what were some experiences or interests that lead you where you are now?
I'm a pretty spontaneous sort of person so Iï¿½ve been taken to a lot of different places by my curiosity. I believe that our unconscious is a lot smarter than our conscious minds. To hear what your unconscious is saying you have to listen in a special way in order to be guided by it. It means handing over a bit of control but the benefit is that good things float up to the surface. Often the best ideas come the moment you're not trying to have them.
-So what in your subconscious got you thinking about the Pokia idea? Like what was the beginning moment?
I really just thought it would be funny. I realized that its being funny meant there was something in it so I went about making the first prototype which I took out on the street to learn more about it. I got a really strong reaction so I know I wasn't alone in thinking it was an interesting idea.
-The handset is a hoot - how does it fit with your goals or dreams as a designer?
I work mainly with the web which I'm sure has many parallels with product design. I see many of the same issues in both worlds. I've seen the web distorted into lots of awkward and counterproductive shapes by people and organizations who don't understand it. I've seen technology and technique dominate the agenda. We set up Poke to take this on, to humanize web experience. It has meant we've had to approach design and technology from a different direction, thinking on an emotional level, thinking about how to create tension, release, shock and ultimately how to build real meaning that endures. Look at the globalrichlist. A few million people (who visited) think about their wealth in a different way after visiting the site. That's quite powerful. The Pokia idea is similar; it forces you to think about technology's role in our lives. Not just initiated designers get it but also the guy in the liquor store who burst out laughing when he saw me making a call on it.
-If you could work on any design project, and get paid enough to live well and everything, what project would you take on?
I would like to design a new telecommunications company that both offered connection and hardware. I think there's the potential for a completely new model of business in this sector that no-one has found yet. The design challenge would be central to whether or not the project would succeed and would thus make it very interesting.
The following is excerpted from the discussion here about our previous review of Pokia:
The thing that interests me is that there are moments when we look to the future and there are moments when we want to connect with our past. this is a basic process of human development that forms a fundamental part of our individual and collective identity as people, as generations, as cultures. technology has a tendency to always be pushing forward, outward, upward and this can create cultural vertigo, a tension that stems from not knowing who we are any more. Nostalgia creates a warm feeling because not only can we connect with it (because we've experienced it before) but it also has inherent meaning to us because of all the cross references it has with a lot of other meaningful experiences.
There is nothing really new, if there was I don't think we'd really be able to see it. Most manmade things we see draw on some visual reference or other to ground the design, to make it more accessible and approachable. Look at the success of BMW's mini rework that connects up to the minute features, performance and reliability with a design that anchors it in a strong British automotive tradition.
The Pokia prototypes suggest a way forward (or a way backward) for cell phone design which must soon recognize that as the products becomes entrenched in habit, the future is no longer the sole place to situate the design. The spectrum of cell phone designs should in theory reflect that of fashion where you can suit this very visible statement to any situation, mood and personality. Are you going to choose trainers, high heals or flats, if you choose trainers, which brand, new styling or retro, ones that align you with a particular sport, a particular player etc.
This brings me onto the next point which will really put the fear into cell phone makers. So if we get to the stage where we're fully wirelessly broadband enabled and the cost allows for mass access, how much are the phones really going to cost and at that level are we really going to change our handsets every year? The fashion cycle is 6 months long but there are frequently many refreshes between each full collection. So there's a tension; to stay fashionable we want regular updates, but we don't want to spend hundreds of dollars to upgrade on a regular basis. Enter Bluetooth and more importantly what this ultimately means for the marketplace. What will happen, guaranteed is this; phones will get small enough and powerful enough to sit in our pockets or handbags out of sight (well who'd want to display a 3 month old handset!?). The cell phone is the brain. The handset on show however is a dumb (only has a Bluetooth chip and mic and headphones) and cheap (retails for $20 or so), isn't tangled up with network provider upgrade restrictions and probably sells in fashion stores next to the sunglasses rack (rather than the dedicated store.) Brands will emerge as pure phone accessory companies as traditional cell manufacturers will struggle to put out dumb units fast (putting them at odds with the networks and challenging their manufacturing and distribution operations)
So to conclude, I guess the phone is a cheap snipe at the big companies failure to see what's happening. Yet beneath I believe it's the start of something very big.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team