The University of Washington’s Design Department has asked Artefact to give a “mini series” of talks as part of the department’s Evening Lectures. Three weeks ago, it was Research Lead Dave McColgin who introduced the students to Artefact’s concept of “21st Century Design” and this past Wednesday it was my turn to build on top of Dave’s talk with my lecture around what 21st Century means to me as a designer and what kind of impact it can have on design students and recent graduates.
The event was very well attended, and – judging by the fact that most students stayed for about an hour after my talk was over for the Q&A session and some more personal conversations – I take it that my audience enjoyed my presentation as least as much, as I enjoyed it myself.
Of matchbox cars, wooden toy blocks, and a guiding light for a career
When I was a kid, like most boys, I loved to play with matchbox cars. Unlike most boys, I was not satisfied to simply caper about with the cars; instead I wanted to create roads, and cities, and worlds around them.
Building these worlds out of the square wooden toy blocks that my grandfather – a former carpenter – had made for me, I essentially gave myself “frameworks” to play within.
The only two remaining toy blocks from my childhood*.
Unsurprisingly, when I started out as a designer, I was similarly looking to employ a framing structure around my career. Don’t get me wrong, I focused on the essentials of my job, my clients, and the exciting projects I was working on, but at the same time I was looking to identify how the design profession would develop in order to define and hone a vision for my career.
The many metamorphoses of design
There are some constants to the design profession – think: problem solving, prototyping or aesthetic sensibilities. Yet, the skills to create technical drawings for example, that I acquired in university were obsolete by the time I started my first job and terms like “user experience”, or “design thinking” did not play a major role until a few years into my career: The design craft has always been in a state of flux and will likely continue on this trajectory.
While both the “why” behind the profession and pragmatic definitions of the trade, have become table stakes for the designer these days, I have come to believe that four aspects will be of great importance for the design profession in the future.
Capacity – Responsibility – Process – Content: The four aspects of Postindustrialdesign (PID)
And as I was pondering, reading, and writing, about these facets, I started seeing my work as postindustrialdesign**, an expression that had been defined some 30-odd years ago, and that is yet as contemporary and aspirational today as it was in the 1980s.
“The coming of post-industrial design”
The term was first coined by Nigel Cross in his paper on the progress of design methods. In it, Cross suggests a future for the development of design methods, that is informed by the concept of post-industrialism, and that will see design develop its own methods, rather than refining processes that had been borrowed from the field of science at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Cross argues that in a post-industrial society, production of goods is resource-conserving and quality-focused, he believes that design tools will be superior, yet simpler, and cheaper than its predecessors, and that the use of such tools will allow for new processes to emerge.
“My brand” of Postindustrialdesign
Cross’s theories resonate with me and I find his foresight astonishing: eco-friendly industrial design has still not been fully embraced, tools like computers, software, or 3D printers, have become accessible to everyone and the ‘maker culture’ does indeed have an impact on the product development process and the role of the designer in it.
In the future, Postindustrialdesign will see Cross’s framework extended from “product–tools–process” into the one that I mentioned earlier. So here goes:
Nigel Cross put forth an accurate vision about the forthcoming era of industrial design. In the 30 years that have passed since publishing his paper, the profession would be democratized through tools that were cheaper and freer than the ones previously used; mostly due to the development of targeted software.
The role of the designer is largely dependent on his tools, and these tools are not only growing in number, and complexity, but do also impact both process and outcome of our work.
Not unexpectedly rapid prototyping is one of the postindustrialdesigner’s newer capacities. More and more of his tools will be borrowed from neighboring fields such as business and science.
Given our trajectory in this regard it is to be expected that the postindustrialdesigner’s toolkit will include not only sophisticated software, but also an ever-growing set of prototyping methods, among them such techniques as 3D printing, laser cutting, and CNC machining.
The postindustrialdesigner will be able to use these tools not only to improve on the design process, but they will also be able to transpose the utilization of such tools to their final output – in the case of rapid prototyping, this could mean that postindustrial products are also “rapidly manufactured”.
While large producers of goods will still dominate the marketplace in the foreseeable future, the aforementioned tools like crowd-funding will allow for small organizations to develop specialized products on a smaller scale, essentially dismembering large bureaucratic structures in some cases.
On a parallel path to the traditional product development process, an adaptable design process will ripen within these smaller entities. This new process will go from being autocratic to being democratic, from exclusive to inclusive and from rigid to to more flexible.
In his 2005 I.D. Magazine article “A Manifesto for Postindustrial Design”, Jamer Hunt draws inspiration from the open-source mode of software creation and wants to transfer the process to the development of physical products. In the eight years since, open source product development efforts from the likes of Bug Labs and crowd-funding websites such as kickstarter.com or indiegogo.com have proven that there is both the need and the space for such a parallel path to product design.
What used to happen behind closed doors is taken out into the open by the postindustrialdesigner: Scott Wilson shares the prototyping process of LunaTik on Kickstarter.
While I do not anticipate a new product development process to replace the traditional methods overnight, the postindustrialdesigner will leave the romantic “genius-in-a-tower” image behind at times and will go from being creative to being collaborative and from being professional to being participatory, in order to meet new needs.
The postindustrialdesigner won’t think of the two processes as mutually exclusive: he might jump between them or even imagine a design-led and “crowd-funded” product development effort within the confines of a larger organization.
Where once industrial design was concerned with radii, form, and finish, we now deal in behaviours, experience, shifting context, and time.
– Jack Schulze
More than anything, it seems that post-industrial design is both a way of working and a way of thinking about products. It’s a way of working in that it considers the interactive behavior a product should engender before considering its physical form.
– Dan Saffer
While user interface design is not part of the industrial designer’s vocabulary, the postindustrialdesigner is well-versed in this domain.
While I challenge Saffer regarding his assessment that postindustrialdesign sure has “arrived by now”, I cannot but agree with Schulze’s and Saffer’s assertion that the interactive behavior of an object must be an integral part of modern day design.
Beyond that, the postindustrialdesigner will also be involved in the creation of business and design strategies, and the services that frame the physical product and its interaction.
In terms of the designer’s responsibility in the product development process, Cross’s paper is mainly concerned with the scarcity of resources in a post-industrial society. He argues that products move from specialized to generalized, from mass-produced to short-run, and from short-lived to long-lived, all with a focus on quality, so as to conserve resources.
The postindustrialdesigner’s most lofty goal: saving the world.
And while this ideal certainly makes even more sense now than it did 30 years ago, there are also political, and sociological aspects that need to be considered. With the content of his work shifting from the mere creation of physical objects to the design of related interactions, strategies, and services, the postindustrialdesigner is concerned with the shaping of behavior for a preferable future – read more on this topic of “21st Century Design” on artefactgroup.com.
So, what does this all mean?
Being a postindustrialdesigner, I am using the above framework not only to make career decisions, but also to inspire and to guide my day-to-day work.
The beauty of those square wooden toy blocks my grandfather gave me as a kid was that they could always be rearranged, and that I could add and subtract bricks as I desired.
So, along the way – as my thoughts and opinions become more refined – I reserve the right to adapt my framework to new developments in industry and society and who knows, one day I might migrate this entire website to its new domain postpostindustrialdesigner.com.
* After we stopped playing with them, my grandpa used the wooden blocks for some of his tinkering and home improvement projects, thus there are now some drill holes and notes on them…
** Yes, I do spell that as one word.
If you are a camera buff, the holiday season for you starts in January, when Las Vegas opens its doors for the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, where among other things, camera manufacturers show the latest and greatest of their lineups. Simultaneously, at the concurrent PMA conference, photography experts will get together to discuss upcoming trends that will shape the industry.
One of the themes that are bound to become a hot conversation topic is the recent success of EVIL cameras (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) and what it means to the industry. My EVIL primer “EVIL on the Rise: The Demise of SLR Cameras?” explores the origins of these camera systems and takes a look at the opportunities EVIL offers manufacturers, professionals and prosumers.
In the report, I review the lasting advantages of Single Reflex Cameras and conclude with recommendations to manufacturers that will help them master the EVIL opportunity, and give consumers more to look forward to.
This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.
I cannot really say that my contributions to the project were major, but I played a small part in the project team that won a Special Mention at this year’s Braun Prize for Artefact’s camera design study “Meme“.
This marks the second time, that some of my work has been honored by the German company’s prestigious award.
If you do not live under a rock, you know that the iPhone 5 has arrived and that it is thinner, lighter, larger and faster than its predecessor.
And if you, just like me, belong to the growing crowd of nerdy tech-blog followers, you have known this for quite a while. The fact that iOS 6’s new features had already been introduced during Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this summer, in combination with the wave of leaks, took a bit of the fun out of the announcement.
In addition, at first glance it seems that the innovation that the iPhone 5 brings is rather incremental. Wired‘s Mat Honan argues that it is a boring device and Forbes thinks that the iPhone 5 is not “the next truly big thing“. There is, however, an interesting nuance that seems to go largely unnoticed and the number “Five” might mean more than one assumes. Here is what caught my attention:
The Incremental Improvements
- The screen: The “biggest thing” about the iPhone 5 is obviously its larger display, using in-cell touch screen for better color accuracy and saturation, and a thinner form factor. While the new aspect ratio is very close to the 16:9 HD standard and thus better suited for the consumption of media, app developers are probably in frantic update mode as I am writing these lines…
- From 30 to 8 pins: The original 30-pin dock connector had a great run of 10 years, but it was time for a change. In an industry where slimness is a key advantage, the size of the dock connector became an obstacle for slimmer products. Apple’s move to provide two types of adapters will salvage the millions of accessories already on the market, even though David Pogue expects some “grumpiness in iPhoneland” and wishes that these adapters came free with the purchase of an iPhone 5. The additional costs will certainly be a consideration for “upgraders” that own multiple accessories…
- 4G: After most of its competition features LTE for quite a while already, the faster wireless standard finally arrived on the iPhone and it comes along with a smaller “nano-SIM” card. If you travel intercontinentally on a regular basis and want to get “the 5″, you’re up for a tricky purchase decision, though, as there are three region-specific devices available… I for one am holding off with my order until unlocked devices become available in the U.S.
- Camera: Being the photography geek that I am, I was interested in seeing how Apple would improve what is the most popular camera on flickr. Except for the scratch-resistant sapphire glass, the hardware seemed unchanged and it looked like improvements were made only with the inclusion of a panorama mode and better low-light performance. DPReview has, however, found that Apple is also using an updated image sensor that is slightly larger and improves on the minimum light sensitivity. Altogether, this seems to offer an all-around better experience of the industry-leading feature.
- 600 people to test and develop the EarPods: To me – and to many other users that gave the iconic white earphones a measly 2.5 star rating in the Apple Store – the redesigned EarPods are merely righting a wrong. They never really did fit or sound too great and I hope that all that testing, did bear fruit – pun intended.
Five: What’s In The Name?
Apart from these “boring” improvements to the class leader, ASYMCO’s industry analyst Horace Dediu was quick to point out that the iPhone 5’s name holds an important clue as to how Apple views its halo-product. Prior to the event invitation that revealed the product’s name, there had been speculations on whether Apple would move away from a number-based naming for the iPhone.
After changing the iPad naming to the brand-subbrand scheme (iPad 2 vs. “the new” iPad) that the rest of Apple’s hardware follows (e.g. “MacBook Pro” and “MacBook Air”, “iPod Touch” and “iPod nano”), the iPhone is now the sole hardware product in Apple’s line-up that still bears a number in its name and this means two things:
- There will not be an iPhone “nano” or “mini,” and tiering the product line will continue to be achieved through several generations of the product being sold at the same time. Currently these are the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and iPhone 5.
- More interestingly, the nomenclature could indicate that Apple sees the iPhone more as a platform, much like its operating systems iOS6 or OS10.6. The platform could play host to an increasing portfolio of software and services, like Siri.
This could be a disruptive shift, creating new interesting opportunities for the iPhone and even more so for its users. Here are four hypotheses of what could lie ahead for the iPhone:
- Apple Maps could see extensions with Apple-proprietary or third-party location-based services and augmented reality.
- Apple’s Passbook service could develop closer ties with e-commerce websites and other forms of payment to become a true digital wallet.
- With the addition of sensors and wearable technology, Apple could develop the iPhone platform into the leading hub for Digital Health & Wellness.
- Along the same lines, the iPhone could become the gateway into that elusive Internet of Things, and connect not only to the personal computer and TV, but to pretty much everything one owns.
With these – and many more – potential additions to the platform, I do not think that the iPhone 5 is boring at all and while it may not be “the truly next big thing” itself, it might well be what the next big thing for Apple will be built upon.
This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.
I was speaking at PMA’s 6sight conference, where I participated in a panel on the future of digital image capture… I had a blast speaking with and listening to industry experts, learned quite a bit and also had a good time away from the conference venue… New York always makes for a great experience!
I have been part of the team that won the Silver German Design Award for a collaboration between Carbon Design, Artefact and Panasonic… very proud of the FlightPath project – and it was a fun one, too!
On top of it all, I was the lucky one to travel to my hometown Frankfurt and pick up the trophy…