We work at an interesting but at times uncomfortable junction of disciplines. Part art, part craft, part engineering, part marketing each one vies and tugs upon us as a project follows its trajectory towards completion. It is easy to state with some authority that the Industrial Designer functions to smooth and improve the interface between man and manmade object, be it physical or virtual, large or small. The people who mentored me provided an excellent approach for where to start. The late Niels Diffrient presented this starting point aptly when describing his work on the Humanscale Freedom Chair, “When I started this chair, it was not a preconceived notion. Nowadays, with design, if you mean it, you don’t start with a styling sketch.”
We begin with a myriad of question such as;
Who are the users, how many different user groups exist and what is important to them?
What do these human users say is important and what is it we observe is important to them?
Are these answers the same?
This is followed by quantities, cost, competitors, IP, business goals and the list can grow but the overall focus remains on the human. This provides the basis for the requirements of the item we have set upon designing. The part that intrigues me, however, is the unquantifiable aspect of why one item and not another, given that both satisfy the human need, is better than another. User-centricity is as critical as knowing that sketching wildly is not an auspicious beginning, or is it? Given that we satisfy the need and operate within a general envelope of believability, manufacturability, etc., then space exists where we can experiment with what remains in between. This is where an insightful designer working in the right team environment can explore possibilities and push the boundaries of what is expected. After all, if the design process is human-centric then we cannot omit the fact that humans search out joy and delight and often derive great pleasure from the unexpected. It is here that design can make leaps and elevate something that could have simply been excellent and usable to something that is delightful, something that evokes a smile and a relationship between a human and a machine. I see it every time a designer is sketching, doodling and daydreaming exploring the areas where the quantifiable cannot penetrate searching for delight.
The image above is interesting because it speaks to appropriateness of design in terms of the user and their needs. While it may be acceptable to have a child interacting with a smartphone device it begs the question of what is really required. I encourage my son to explore technology but frown upon complete absorption in a device. I believe sending him out with a smartphone simply to remain in touch is an error but I see it frequently. A child with smartphone sucked into a screen when it would certainly be better to be playing or otherwise interacting with their environment and peers. While a smartphone may be appropriate in some circumstances, more elegant solutions are possible to the desire of parents to remain in touch with their children without high technological overhead. The Filip smart-watch is only one example of how design can produce an appropriate solution for a set of users and their needs while also presenting an elegant and fun design that works for both the child and the parent. This solution gets kids out from behind a screen and off to play and interact with peers with a device that my son agrees is really cool.
IPS’ design team improved the user experience for the ProVision 2, a two-time award-winning product design.