"We shape our tools and our tools shape us.”
- Wilson Minor
Those are the words of UI/UX designer Wilson Miner and his talk ‘When we build’ and I couldn’t but help notice the similarities of his message and those of Paul Adams at the recent AGM of the IDI. Both spoke of Media theorist – Marshall McLuhan, both about the connections of what we build make and the environment they create with them. The infrastructure of roads and how it changed our way of living with the automobile, time and distance suddenly meant different things.
When we make things - object or systems, we create an orbit for other things. In such a connected world, what we make has varying levels of gravitational pull, creating different levels of disturbance on the wider system.
Design is very much about connecting. Connecting the user to their goal, information to its display and objects to a place. Nodes exist, and generally in the past, an industrial designer made physical things to act as conduits as the touch points for interaction. That touchpoint has become deeper, expanding into the metaphysical flesh beneath the skin of our objects.
When you aim to make more than a static object and instead make an experience or engagement you can change a behaviour or make a habit, you can alter how people do things. You create a culture, and from it project societies.
In a past RSA Student Design project my classmate and I brought up the insight of people being nodes of knowledge. It was the individual acting as both connector and the translator of information, that what we needed to amplify and channel through the greater system. To create a working flow method on which we build spaces and objects to help infer this direction. Objects once static but places of high engagement can also be connecting nodes.
I have attended many hackathons, wanting to observe makers, to understand how we create things from various disciplines starting from baselines. This is the beginning of the next technological shift. This is again designing from the ground up. Learning by doing. Bret Victor outlines his future vision of maker space broken into three stages;
Seeing inside – understanding the space through sensors
Seeing across time – using collected data to see patterns
Seeing across possibilities – considering the connection of uses to predict applications
“Intentionally hiding the phenomena and materiality of interfaces, smoothing over the natural edges, seams and transitions that constitute all technical systems, entails a loss of understanding and agency for both designers and users of computing. Lack of understanding leads to uncertainty and folk-theories that hinder our ability to use technical systems, and clouds the critique of technological developments”.
– Timo Arnall
The future is already on the cards the current generation and the future consumer will be more literate than the majority of current designers, they will actively seek to hack their consumer products and have a deep understanding of them, and we need acknowledge that. We must design with that tandem in mind we also need to move back from the notion of seamless experience because at those times it cost us our understanding of how the grander system operates. If we do not do provide these tools we could lead ourselves into a host of coming wicked problems. Fake news through deep fakes alone will require more of our current platforms.
“A machine is beautiful when it’s legible, when its form describes how it works. It isn’t simply a matter of covering the technical components with an outer skin, but finding the correct balance between the architecture of the machine… and an expressive approach that is born out of the idea of interaction with those using the object.”
- Anthony Dunne
I believe Dunne himself in his NCAD graduate thesis discussed how form and function disconnected with mass production and housing cases. That we lost honesty and transparency with our objects, but now we live in a time to make two way connections again. I attempted to tackle that issue with a physical 'social circuit-breaker' in my final year undergraduate project - Brink.
The digital shadows of our content and objects:
If we don’t allow our future objects to cast shadows then we will be left in a world of darkness.