Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sustainable Design 2.0 - The case for Evolutionary Design - Part 2

So how then can we incorporate an evolutionary concept into products to ensure their evolvement over the period of use by the users. Well, there are of course several ideas that one has to be aware of in dealing with such a concept altogether and I would like to cull some of the more important ones that could perhaps be considered:
  • Depth and breadth of user/product: I think one area that product designers should consider is the evolution of the targeted users over time and space, naturally. But more importantly, what I am trying to tease out through the lenses of 'Depth and Breadth' over here is the fact that the breadth, or scope of use, by the user, of the intended product/s WOULD change over the course of their natural lifetime. One case in point that I notice while researching on this topic was the idea of a handphone. I did see a report in the local media about how a company overseas is currently trying out a new model of a handphone that has only 3 buttons! And their target users? 4-year olds! A few weeks later, I also happen to come across an article whereby, in another totally unrelated location, another company overseas are currently looking at designing handphones for the elderly that has 3 buttons too! I mean isn't it uncannily strange that such concepts are really universal in nature, and to think that it is  happening on different sides of the globe. So perhaps in this context, what we can propose is a design that would follow on with the a user over his or her lifespace. So in the example that I give, the users might start off with a 3-buttoned handphone, which will evolve, through a modularity design concept, into perhaps the atypical phone. Or in reverse, it could be a situation where the users starts off using the phone in a typical manner, and it will evolve into the 3-buttoned phone as the user grows out of its multiple uses, and just needed something that can make calls to: his doctor, his favourite son, and perhaps the third one to his favourite takeaway stall!
  • Multiplicity of users: Why should we just focus on a single user while designing products for the consumers. I personally think that such a situation persists simply due to the overarching need for companies to ensure that they are able to sell as many as they can. And thus to ensure that, they are going on a marketing blitz that dwells on your individuality as a user, about portraying your own style...this whole notion of showcasing your own self as a person, and not be part of a herd mentality. But the truth is, we are naturally social animals that conforms to a herd mentality since our first existence, and to then make it NOT a selling point is something, well, just counter productive. I mean seriously, how many variations of the same product can a brand has, it can't definitely be in the thousands and millions! And this is where my argument comes in, about this idea that there could only be ONE user throughout the entire lifespan of the product. Some case in point will be the practise of 'hand-me-downs' that usually one would associate with the clothing items of younger siblings in a family with more than 1 child. How about if we extend that argument to the idea that one can also 'hand-me-down'ed to someone else when one leaves a particular space or situation? Living spaces and job roles are 2 natural ideas that comes to mind.
  • 'Fashion' updates: I think one of the strong argument against having the same product over a longer period of time (and perhaps even this whole idea of Evolutionary Design) would be the argument that things do get out of style. No matter how one would want to show that this is somewhat more about the fickle-mindedness of the consumer, rather than anything else, one can't run away that styles, and a sense of being the one to own the latest gadget, is something that brands can't run away from in order to survive. But shouldn't this whole notion of being a trend-setter change? Can't we rethink this thing about what style or fashion is all about, and perhaps move into looking at fashion changes, as more like fashion 'updates'. Think of it as somewhat like a firmware or software updates for your computer system, and I think you would be able to figure where I am coming from. Updates here could be in the soft-system aspects of things, rather than the 'hardware' per se. One exciting idea that I did come across was the research and development work done by Intel on 'changeable' matter. This is definitely something revolutionary (and perhaps evolutionary too!), as it will allow designers to create that change through the change of the very property of the matter (or materials) through some tweaking of the parameters that the product is made of. If you have seen the bad guy in the second Terminator movie, the shape-shifting robot that they send to kill the protagonist, I think you would be able to visualise what I am describing here. Imagine that we could do that to our say, mobile connectors. With some quick 'matterware' updates, imagine our gadgets updating to 'look' and work like the latest ones out there! Wouldn't that be so cool?
 There are more ideas and concepts that I would I would like to bring up. Perhaps this would warrant another blog post. Until then, enjoy the read.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sustainable Design 2.0 - The case for Evolutionary Design - Part 1

I began to revisit my own ideas and reflections about what design is all about recently as I prepare my curriculum in my new work place. One thing that I would like to revisit, and perhaps ‘preach’ about is the whole idea of Sustainable Design, the idea that products are supposed to be self-sustaining, the idea that when one embarks upon the design of any types of products, the role of the designer, or designers, should be to ensure that the product itself would have minimal or no adverse effects on the environment.

However, upon reflection, would these necessarily be good enough? I remember in my 2nd year of work after my graduation, as a young design engineer, this whole notion of ‘Eliminating Waste’ as opposed to ‘Reducing Waste’, was rather new. Propounded by, of course the Japanese, through their eyes of Kaizen or constant improvement, the whole ‘Eliminating Waste’ idea was to look at waste as something to be abhorred. This definitely took designers on a slightly different route towards a more environmentally route in their lines of work, but upon looking back, is the mere elimination of waste sufficient at all? Could perhaps this notion of eliminating waste too was more influenced by humanity’s realisation that they have no more physical and literal space to host their wastes, rather than a noble manifestation of them really wanting to do something about the environment. But I should not dwell on that in this post.

The idea that I would like to put forward is something that I’ve blogged about...this whole idea that Sustainability should be more than just about thinking of the birth-to-grave concept of product design and development. Why not eliminate the idea of the product even dying at all? Could we just design something that perhaps have an almost unlimited lifespan, or at the very least, make it possible for these products to lead a much longer shelf life than they do currently? This notion is something that I’ve coined before as Evolutionary Design - an area of design that perhaps look at the notion that the product is itself ‘growing’, or ‘evolving’, together with its intended users.

One case in point was the Stokke’s bed for babies (my post here), which is a classic example of what creative thinking, and a deeper understanding of how humans grow and evolve, would enable a product to have an (almost) unlimited lifespan, perhaps only governed by human fickleness for newer styles and designs. But then again I’m digressing right now, and perhaps this could also be something that designers could be looking into as new materials and possibilities emerge in these exciting times.

Perhaps what I am propounding now is the whole idea that a product should grow together with its owner, or owners. So on a larger scale, the whole house should be transformable into customisable living spaces, that are easily configured to suit differing needs, over time and space. I think there are already living and work spaces in other parts of the world that are suited for these functionality, and I think it will just be a matter of time before this is a standard practice all over.

And how about product design, the ones that people would usually associate with those practical, day-to-day gadgets? Well I can’t think of one at the moment, but definitely one area that we can look at are items that we take for granted in our day-to-day usage of them, or perhaps those that has the tendency to go out of style. The humble umbrella perhaps, or a modular remote controller! Or how about our shoes, yes our shoes! The challenge would be then to ensure its relevance in this fickle-minded society of ours, where fashion tendencies WILL change over a shorter period of time. But like I said, this is perhaps a secondary component with which the advent of marketing and new technologies can resolve creatively.