What your digital camera will do… three years from now.

Posted on Nov 10, 2010 in Design Strategy, Industrial Design, Opinion, Research


In our previous post on the topic, we argued that for the future of digital photography we see big opportunities within the three areas of redefined product architecture, connectivity and the integration of hardware and software. We arrived at these assumptions by evaluating the current digital photography market as well as neighboring market segments, by taking a closer look at the history of photography and by observing common trends in digital technology.

In looking ahead at what this will mean for the development of digital photography, we must also take the photographer into account and deliberate how to best add value for the user. This quickly leads us to looking at the basic, foundational propositions of image capturing, and the essential question:

At the same time as we are looking at what lies ahead in terms of technology, we are deliberating on how to best add value for the user, which quickly leads us to looking at the basic, foundational propositions of image capturing, by asking

“What is photography all about?”

Mankind has always been fascinated by the topic, mainly due to three basic human interests that we all share:

1. Remembering
Said photographer Aaron Siskind: “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”

Capturing the moment to remember it has always been one of the main motivations and desires, be it in writing, drawing or through photographic images. No matter if the memories are staged or spontaneous, photography helps us to remember events, mood, atmosphere, location and – last but not least – the people involved.

2. Self-expression
Sometimes, just capturing the moment isn’t enough – and photographers turn into artists that creatively express themselves, generate a certain mood using photography or use the photos they have taken as a basis for post-processing.

In analog photography these goals were accomplished with ink, paint, airbrush or a simple “pointed scraping tool” as it was used in Polaroid Art, where the photographer dissects and then scratches the emulsion of their instant photos to create a desired effect.

Nowadays there is a slew of digital tools available, most importantly Photoshop on the desktop and mobile offerings such as iPhone-favorite Hipstamatic.

3. Sharing
No matter the purpose – memories or art – photography always wanted to be shared. This was first accomplished using prints. In today’s connected world, this desire is illustrated through the abundance of digital photo frames and such online services as Flickr and Picasa.

What would the ideal camera need to accomplish?

Traditionally, the mastery of technology helped us take great photos: Knowing how to focus with a rangefinder or how to apply the “Sunny 16 rule” were once essential to photography.

In today’s world of ubiquitous camera-equipped cell phones and affordable point-and-shoot devices however, one does not need to understand the basics. Instead, there is not much more to photography than pushing the shutter button. Or is there?

Professional systems still rely heavily on the vocabulary and techniques of old, since these undoubtedly deliver results.

But what about the rest of us? The ones that the camera industry sees as “prosumers”? The following two ads – both interestingly about Micro-Four-Thirds cameras – capture the spirit of these products rather concisely:
Kevin Spacey does not want to be “that camera guy“, instead this artist is taking great photos without being a great photographer.

Aspiring photographers are given tools that are in-between the point-and-shoot world and the professional product world. The products promise to unite what is best about the two categories – high quality glass and sensors and an unrivaled ease-of-use. Yet, the so-called prosumer cameras do not bridge the two worlds.
Painting a vision for the future, we believe that the ideal prosumer camera will be characterized by the following three attributes:

1. Precision
Professional cameras as well as photography have always been associated with accuracy: finding the moment when light and subject feel “just right”, framing the shot and then exposing the photographic medium for the right amount of time and with the right amount of light.
The ideal “prosumer” camera will maintain these characteristic traits by presenting the user with precise controls – both in terms of hardware and software – that will facilitate the taking of the “perfect picture”.

2. Ease of use
Kevin Spacey has a point: if an aspiring photographer does not want to be “that camera guy”, his device should comply, by offering simple point-and-shoot-like options. On top of that, when the user demands it, the prosumer camera of the future will offer complete control. This allows the user to grow, experiment and develop additional skill.
The camera will unlock new capabilities through modular extendable hardware and software that will provide additional tools for creative expression.

3. Empowerment
The camera of the future will be a platform for aspiring photographers, one that guides and assists in the pursuit of great photography and helps one to become better at it. This will be accomplished both through an adaptive and integrated user interface, as well as through a network of users that will enable photographers to learn from each other.

Stay tuned – in our upcoming post, we will describe how these ideas and opinions are translated into a product.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

Digital Photography, where will you go? (or why aren’t you there yet?)


As one would expect from any self-respecting creative consultancy, Artefact has a deep interest in photography. For some of us it is a hobby we are passionate about, for others it is a social or creative tool, some actually earn decent income on the side with it.

This leads to a lively conversation (and sometimes spirited debate) about the topic and we thought we’d let you in on our conversation. We will do this in the form of a series of blog posts: We aim to assess and analyze both the history and the status quo of photography, discuss areas of opportunity for the industry and – after having outlined our point of view on the topic, share our thoughts on what we consider could be a compelling product for the aspiring hobbyist in the year 2013.

Cycles of Disruptive and Sustaining Innovation

Invented nearly 200 years ago, the camera industry took it’s first series of experimental steps during the 19th century. After William Fox Talbot invented the positive/negative process in 1816, the first color photograph by James Clerk Maxwell was shown in 1861 and the Kodak Brownie made photography accessible to the masses at the end of the 1800′s.

The introduction of standards like the 35mm format and the 135 film cartridge after the turn of the century led to market growth and a commoditization of the technology started in the 1950’s with the release of cameras like the Agfa Optima and Kodak’s Instamatic. In most recent years, the industry changed from film to digital.

During this history one can clearly see alternating waves of disruptive and sustaining innovation: times where the introduction of new technology opened up photography to new users, followed by periods of more sustaining progress, where incremental improvements and price drops dominated the market.

The digital age has caused a major shift in the industry. It has fundamentally changed who the major players in the industry are by wiping out film. It has taken photofinishing out of the (specialty) store and brought it into our homes. Since the cost per picture has been reduced to zero, the volume of pictures we take has increased by an order of magnitude which gives rise to new tools. Where we used to share pictures only in person, we now share them online.

Yet for all these changes, digital photography has not sparked the transformational change it could have brought for the photographer. It has not yet changed how we take photographs.

Product Architecture and Technology: The Status Quo

Over the years, different form factors have been explored. The industry has now settled on two stable architectures: cameras with and cameras without interchangeable lenses.

The former segment is comprised of single lens reflex cameras and the – currently very “hot” – EVIL systems.

For the most part, cameras with non-interchangeable lenses could be categorized as point-and-shoot devices, even though that term does not do justice to cameras such as the Leica X1 or the Fujifilm FinePix X100.
Today’s digital cameras feature sufficiently high resolutions and the technical challenges of the past (such as low-light capabilities, vignetting, etc.) are constantly being improved.

Author and camera expert Erwin Puts sums it up nicely in his review of the recent Photokina 2010: “We have now the situation that every camera produces image quality that is better than what you need and even a small EOS 550 can create quality that is not that far removed from what you get with a 1Ds.”

All in all, the manufacturers work on incremental and predictable improvement of proven systems bringing these closer and closer to perfection, yet hesitate to truly innovate. We cannot but agree with Puts who provokingly states, that “A vision for photography would be nice too.”

Digital Technology’s Impact (and Lack Thereof)

Critically looking at the past two decades in which the photographic medium has gone through a tectonic shift from film to digital, it is somewhat surprising that the impact on photography as a whole is not as vigorous as it could be: While the post-processing has been altered with the advent of digital technology, the act of taking photos has remained the same for the past 100 years. The most significant change is that photographers are now looking at an LCD screen instead of through a viewfinder.

We find this rather disappointing and think that there are both technology potential as well as untapped user needs that could spark a disruptive change.

The Grass on the other Side of the Fence

Where do the camera industry’s prospects lie? On the search for a point of view, some might say it is too easy to point to other industries, but let’s go there just for clues: mobile consumer electronics have embraced new technologies and opportunities more enthusiastically than the static camera industry.

Mobile electronics leverage wireless connectivity and make extensive use of sensors (e.g. location, proximity). They take advantage of the integration of software and hardware, and blur the boundaries between still and video functionality.

For these reasons today’s smart phones are in many ways the better image capturing device. Traditional camera manufacturers will face greater pressure and threat of obsolescence from increasingly capable camera-enabled mobile devices. Not surprisingly, mobile phone giant Nokia has been the world’s largest producer of cameras for the past number of years.

Opportunities

To sum things up, based on our observations, we see missed opportunities in three main areas:

  • Product architecture: To date, the shift from film to digital has created merely incremental changes – what other opportunities still exist?
  • Connectivity: most of our electronic devices are connected, why not the camera? The digital camera of the future will be linked in multiple ways, allowing for photography devices to communicate with each other and with “the cloud”.
  • HW/SW integration: In most technology areas, hardware and software combine to produce better results and better experiences. Camera manufacturers cannot afford to continue to only use software as an “afterthought”. Going forward, hardware and software must be integrated into a tightly knitted system and great user experience.

“Now what does all this mean?” you might ask. The three areas highlighted above will enable exciting new possibilities and novel use scenarios for photographers. And we will get back to these after looking both at the user needs and wants, as well as guidelines for an ideal camera in the next part of this series.

This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.

I am working on… a product design language for a network provider

Posted on Jun 29, 2010 in Design Strategy, Industrial Design, Research, Working on


Most of the products, experiences, and strategies that I design are of a somewhat confidential nature. While I thus cannot go into the details of what exactly it is that I am working on at the moment or which company it is that I am engaging with, I am posting these headlines to give a little glimpse into my work…

A Handful of Thoughts on Consumer Electronics

Posted on Jan 14, 2010 in Design Strategy, Opinion, Research, Trade Shows, Trends

Having visited the past three editions of the Consumer Electronics Show, I am now looking back at a “Vegas hat-trick.” While I just won’t warm up to the artificial lights of Sin City, the trade show itself has become all too familiar and has ceased to hold surprises. Yet there are a few things worth mentioning – five of them to be precise.

1. Personal Favorites

Apart from products somewhat detached from bigger strategies like Haier’s completely wireless TV (no electricity or video signal cables needed) or Asus’s notebook study sporting translucent fabrics, the company that most impressed me was Lenovo – their Skylight and Ideapad U1 seem to break the paradigm of what netbooks have been for the past years, by introducing new architectures, interfaces and with that also new usage proposals. I also got to play briefly with Lenovo’s 乐-Phone (pronounced “Le-Phone”, meaning “happy phone”) that looks like it will be a rather decent Android-device. In combination with a large amount of product releases, the company did position itself as an innovator on an otherwise dreary marketplace.

While those personal highlights might seem to be utterly “small picture”, I concluded that this is due to a complete absence of bigger ideas. My personal theory behind this finding is, that technology has gotten in the way of well thought-out consumer products, which leads us to the second point that I am making.

2. Technology vs. Consumer Electronics

To start with examples, there are two categories of consumer products that have seen drastic changes in their technical possibilities during these past years at CES:

  • TV’s were thinand bigin 2008, got even thinnerand biggerin 2009 and they now seem to disappear into 2-dimensionality, while at the same timenot fittinginto any living room. 3D TV technology on the other hand was a big topic in 2008, became more apparent at last year’s CESand the devices were omnipresent in 2010 with announcements that there might well be a 24-hour 3D TV channelin 2011.
  • Besides incremental innovations in television technology during its last three editions, the CES has seen the “Tablet PC’s” of the early 2000′s being named “MID’s” in 2008 and after another round of re-christening, the same devices are now marketed as “Slate PC’s“. Gizmodo states that Dell’s version looks like a big iPod Touch, and it appears that the product will indeed not have much more functionality than the gadget from Cupertino.

Trade show booths have been flooded with new products and new technologies year after year, yet strong attitudes and points of view of consumer brands seem to have no access to the fairground and consumers are left to wonder what to do with all that promising new technology.
How beautiful would it be if electronics makers would use the technology and turn it into beneficial products for the consumer, rather than blindly implementing what’s out there? It seems like the market is waiting for someone to step up and make a strong position, so that the rest will be able to follow.

3. The Rapid Slide of the E-Reader

And since we are already talking about “Slate PC’s”, I was baffled by the steep decline of the value of E-Readers and by how blazingly fast a rather new product category went from novelty to commodity. The first Kindle went on sale a mere two years ago, soon to be followed by its second generation and an entire hive full of Sony’s, “nook’s” and “Alex’s“.
Roaming the trade show floors at CES, it is impossible to avoid yet another little company introducing half a dozen “me too” e-readers.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there is great merit in new technologies like Pixel Qi’s displays in a reading device and – being a product designer – I obviously appreciate the object that is Plastic Logic’s Que Reader.
That said, it seems that the industry is making the wrong choice, while trying to sell their devices to a broader audience: The incremental innovation that can be observed (additional screens, larger displays, bigger storage,…), coupled with a smaller price tag just doesn’t cut it, as the overall user experience, attached services and new use models that in their combination could make for great products, are left completely untapped.

4. Mobile Computing: Hard- and Software at the Tipping Point?

When it came to information technology products over the past 20 years or so, the choice of an Intel/Microsoft combo seemed imperative and while a shift has been noticeable for the past few years, I believe that a few observations from this year’s CES indicate that the industry is approaching a tipping point, that give consumers new choices for the truly mobile information age, which – according to Gartner – is imminent.
After selling its XScale mobile microprocessor core technology to Marvell in 2006, Intel has been facing strong headwinds in the mobile arena and at this year’s CES it have been Qualcomm’s and nVidia’s technologies that arguably powered the most exciting mobile gadgets, as opposed to Intels’ battery-hungry Atom platform.
On the user interface side of the equation, the market has been searching for an alternative to the Windows-desktop paradigm, which just does not want to fit the bill for small-screen use scenarios. Ever since the advent of netbooks, it have been mostly Linux derivates like Jolicloud that attempted to compete with Windows XP, but new competitors emerged over the past few months. And while Android and Chromium cannot yet keep the user experience promises that the operating systems are making, they will very soon be able to.
I do not expect the marketplace powerhouses to stand still and am looking forward to seeing the goodies that will come out of Redmond and Santa Clara in the near future. I am sure that this competition will be great for the consumer and hope we will have products at hand that will have truly changed the landscape of consumer electronics come 2013.

5. Product Design

So what about the design of consumer electronics? While the shift from classical industrial design to experience design that began a decade ago is now omnipresent, I cannot help but being utterly disappointed by the lack of accomplishments that my profession can post. While I found products and their interfaces in 2008 and 2009 “not very touching“, I can only but report that nothing much has changed since then.
Next to a general lack of figurative transparency, interfaces on handheld devices are quite obviously not made to be used byhands, with interaction elements still being too small and cluttered to help users achieve their tasks. And don’t get me started on the experiences you get from the silver screen: UI and graphic design seem to have mostly been standing still in the mid 90′s and interactions are confusing and clumsy at best… it’s pitiful.Every now and then Hollywood shows us that user experience could truly be natural, but in reality most novel interactions that we come up with are eye-candy features like BumpTop that don’t add much value for the user, are limited to a certain area of the experience and impractical for everyday tasks.
Unfortunately, truly novel and game-changing graphical user experiences like 10/GUI‘s study have not found their way into mass-produced gadgets yet and were absent from CES. The excuse of the discipline still being young simply does not hold water. It is time for a shift on a broad scale towards better user experiences.

Parting Wishes

I certainly do not want to part without expressing a wish for Consumer Electronics Shows to come and hope that CES 2011 will have major headlines other than Elvis’s 76th birthday or the availability of fluffy phones in additional colors to pink.

I wish for new products to be convincing not only in one or two aspects but holistically, starting from technical specifications, industrial and interface design up to integrated services and I wish for consumer electronics companies to make choices and decisions for their customers, so that they become advocates for the user rather than just impersonal institutions that sell “stuff.”

This post was first published on Carbon Design’s blog.