Are We Ready to Design the Future?

Design, GRAP201, Internet of Things, Opinion, St. Lawrence College -

Are We Ready to Design the Future?

I've begun seeing a new term being used around the internet, largely on tech and design blogs, "The Internet of Things."

 As I understand it this term relates to the increasing connectivity of our everyday household objects. Google's newest acquisition "Nest" and the Kickstarter gem "Pebble" are excellent examples of this type of product. Nest is a home thermostat that is connected to a your WiFi network and gathers data about how you use the heat in your home to learn and optimize when the home is warm or cool. It can be controlled with a smartphone or a web app . Pebble is a smart watch, a piece of wearable technology, that interfaces with your smart phone to display incoming texts, whose calling or allows you to switch the song currently playing. These normal everyday items have been transformed by connecting to other devices and the internet. They have transformed to fit into the modern world and improve our everyday life in a seamless fashion. The article on FastCompany's Design blog brought up an interesting idea about the role Designers will play in the future as technology, design and fashion grow ever closer to being the same field.

 "Few in the tech sphere understand the rigors of designing for the fashion context."
The article talks about how the fashion industry is largely about creating a personal expression with what a person wears and that Apple ,while a brand giant, has pretty much just made the same black rectangle over and over again. I don't know if I 100% agree with the analogy, I tend to believe people will accessorize their iPhone if they believe they need to express themselves that way, but I also believe that smartphone technology has allowed users to express themselves with words, images and connection rather than visual accessories. The merger of those two worlds could be amazing, but I do agree that the tech industry has a lot to learn when it comes to iterating the physical package of their devices. Another article "How to Design for the Internet of Things" (that CreativeBloq posted minutes before I sat down to write this post, what fortune!)  discusses in more detail the process of designing an object to fit into the Internet of Things and discusses it as a natural evolution of User Experience.
"If you design almost any sort of user experience, 'things' will start being part of your world. It's going to be people like you who make these whizzy clever devices beautiful and engaging to use."
This terrifies and engages me in a very real, powerful way. I have spent the past two years stretching and breaking my mind and soul learning to design an effective form of visual communication through print and web only to find out that now I really need to think about how I can design an experience or object for a user that will live and exist in our world. Not behind some glass on my phone or laptop, and not hung up on a billboard or tucked safely in a magazine, but sits on my bedside table, or is wrapped around my wrist every morning. This adds a whole plethora of intriguing new opportunities for magnificent interaction, optimization and creativity. I can't wait to see what weird wonderful ideas comes out of this new design wave. However, the fun does end there because with great fun and power of creativity comes the responsibility to use it correctly and ethically. [caption id="attachment_48" align="alignnone" width="261"]A man holding a phone and it connecting to various devices around him. Centralization of our life can lead to a single point of power, and abuse of that power might happen, if we let it.[/caption] The article "The Internet of Things might not be what you're hoping for." (from ZDNet.com) broaches the idea that all of this connection of devices and wearable items creates the opportunity for an abuse of power. Which sends all the wonderful dreams of my utopian future back down to reality.
"The problem that we now face is that the internet into which IoT (Internet of Things) is being born is philosophically very different to the internet into which the web was born."
With the NSA and far less well intentioned hacker groups exposing our personal data for the world to see or analyze the idea of allowing more objects to potentially collect data about us and our lives might seem like the end of privacy altogether to most people. My personal philosophy has always been to treat the internet like fire. It is useful, we can't really live without it anymore, but we need to respect it. As the things around us grow more connected and the barriers that keep our personal lives from the internet and the predators that live there, break down, we will need to be more vigilant and more skeptical. We need to keep companies like Google and Apple honest but we can't let that stop us from exploring what could be the next major leap forward into a future where Design and Technology combine into creating objects and experiences that bring us all closer together. As long as we remember what these services are meant to do, help, not replace, our daily life, I believe the future is going to be a pretty interesting and wonderful space. I can't wait to help design it. Should we be moving towards a more connected future? Leave a comment or tweet at me! I'd love to hear what you have to say about this subject.

2 comments

  • Grace Laing

    Very interesting Sam! Some spooky 1984 implications – but also I want a tea kettle that knows when I want tea! If you haven’t, check out the Queen’s Human Media Lab http://www.hml.queensu.ca Very very cool stuff – you could probably get a tour if you ask nicely – I got in because of a Fine Arts friend of mine who was working in interactive scupture (super cool).

  • Sam Campbell

    Great idea Grace I may just do that! Thanks for the suggestion. Interactive sculpture sounds super duper cool.

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