Every single day, an object graces your fingertips, and manifests a series of interactions and thoughts. We surround ourselves with them. No matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you’re doing, something inanimate is part of your experience. These objects are so integral in our daily experiences through the age of manufacturing. Procured during a time when money was seldom and when design was booming, this luxury overhauled the way we functioned, worked, and lived. But in the modern era, the implications of manufacturing provide a new set of challenges and restrictions for the future. We are fighting the very thing we created in order to advance. Rather than using the same methods of the past, how can we use the same type of thinking that bred a solution in the industrial era, for today’s world? That magic technology of the early 20th century exists in a pocket today.
I spoke with Jon Rogers, operator of MSc Product Design at the University of Dundee, who shed a little bit of light on how his passion for design has evolved over the course of his life and how he continues to be inspired by the “possibilities” of what can be done. Focused on the in-between of physical and digital, Rogers has paid very close attention to the post-industrial world through his adventurous work for the past ten years, before the web had even phased society. Our conversation reminded me that true change comes from picking up a device you don’t know, and teaching yourself how to make something out of it. Rogers is just one of many out there, who tangles personal passions into everyday work.
Responsive, active, and engaging technology is bringing around concepts that exist in the nook and crannies of imagination. Because of the widely accessible, free tools we can use at any time on the web, the generation of possibilities is exploding. Understanding milestones in this regard, the 1992 Durrell Bishop Marble Answer Machine, was one of the foundry interaction projects that brought life to the intangible. From that time, we’ve seen progressive technology that thinks in this way, but makes use of resources available to our everyday. And at the same time, while we have companies creating hardware that can be “hacked” (or used for good), we also have software services that are creating a landscape socially. This is where inspiration and funny thoughts create meaningful experiences, beyond just the technology producing it. Sweet Tweet is one of the most exciting projects socially and digitally. Produced by Uniform and Rogers, this design distributes a prize every time you’re mentioned in a tweet. Just through our conversation, Rogers introduced so many active and past projects that propagate constant questioning and learning through data and technology of the age.
One general question that I think is asked many times, is “what is the actual, quantifiable value of design in society?” To answer a piece of that question, IDEO produced a document detailing evidence of design’s value, in a downloadable version here. Not only is the human-centered design theory evident in research, but it also exists in practice. NASA’s widely-successful International Space Apps Challenge, posed an extensive list of problem statements to the general community, hoping for tangible solutions and concepts. What started as an idea, grew into one of the largest hackathon events in history, boasting 17 countries, 25 cities, 108 organizations, 2083 citizens, 71 challenges, 101 solutions, 3.3 million media impressions, and all in just 48 hours. What these numbers don’t count, is the amount of impact these solutions will have on the future. With one of the most spectacular and disruptive projects resulting from the challenge, Rogers created a 3D printed Pollen Predictor, which exists to represent data in a physical way.
With an Arduino, paper, and cardboard, Rogers suggests that you can create anything. Rogers asks, “Can you make it for a dollar?” Questions like these benefit business models of the future. So go out, buy one today, “fold some paper around it” and make it fantastic. You may not know how to connect your device to the web, but that’s okay. Communicate to the world that making is part of our future, by using the web effectively by documenting that process well.
We have the successes of the past to prove that the way in which we make things can procure and embed the future. Line assembly was one of the most outstanding advances in technology, just as other production processes continue to be in our everyday. Technology as a catalyst presented the world with intelligent objects. By mimicking our thoughts, actions, and habits, design is calibrating mankind towards a world of unfounded creation. With a blank piece of paper before you and absolutely no idea how to begin, think about this : don’t just take after the masses that ride the coat-tails of technology, rather challenge technology. What manufacturing did for design in the 1930’s, are what digital tools could do for us right now.
As Rogers states, “the role of you as a maker is to demonstrate the future, not to conserve the past.”
To learn more about great projects that exist in our world today, check out a couple more useful links below:
rAndom International - Interactive product design firm.
Paper Headphones - Created by Jon Rogers and his colleagues.
Superflux - A lab devoted to exploration in our environments.
Follow more activity from Jon Rogers at @ileddigital.
Photo credit : www.how-do.co.uk. The “sweet-tweet” is a creative use of modern technology by design firm Uniform in conjunction with Jon Rogers. To integrate Twitter into our everyday lives, this Rube Goldberg-esque contraption incentivizes use of the service by dispensing a treat every time you receive a new follower.