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.

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