As someone who tries to balance the “treehugger”, business and pseudo-anthropologist together getting involved in discussion with people from this 3 extremes it is always hard to explain or defend that:
there is no way everybody will have access to the same comfort the developed word has today without a CRITICAL behavior and production change;
people want to access it, in many cases because the western civilization sell them these values (in Manaus, in the middle of the Amazon, people turn air-conditioners on just to end up using duvets. Does it make sense?)
As he points ou: How to deliver these conveniences to a greater population with the same or less materials / energy?
My bet is dematerialization, or turning products into services (yes, service design goes here).
However it is only possible if we manage to drive people into it, if we understand not just the direct practical need (washing clothes, as in his example) but the cultural values and possibilities behind that, like having more time as he pointed out, or even prestige in the neighborhood as I have seen many times in Brazilian laundries (Yep. Brazilian women are proud of their washing machines and other house appliances).
This my friend, is a work for us “design ethnographers” (or other label of your preference).
Every now and then someone ask me for references on “Design Thinking”. This is an attempt to share some of what I gathered during the years and you can check for free in our beautiful interwebs.
First, I don’t care much about names and labels, for me all these terms are related to research about people and develop better solutions. So I don’t mind if you call it Design Thinking, Design Research, Applied Ethnography, Design Ethnography, Service Design, Innovation or magic. Most of these things drink in the same references so it is quite useful to have them together.
Materials to get you from zero knowledge to somewhere in this area.
Resonance – A short video showing why and how this kind of work is done. Very good start.
Bootcamp Bootleg – Developed by Stanford’s D.School it is a very clear, straight forward guide for this kind of innovation project, describing the most used tools in a very simple and accessible way.
Ethnography Primer– Publication made in partnership between AIGA and Cheskin (now part of Added Value), one of the first companies in the field. Very simple, clear and insightful. Also very competent showing how a designer and an anthropologist / ethnographer can complete themselves in a project.
In general the research phase aims to create empathy with those addressed by your solution, your clients, costumers or users (each field likes to call people differently, what can I do?). This video about empathy is pretty good.
It is very hard to talk about “Design Thinking” without talking about IDEO. In this TED talk their CEO Tim Brown call designers to think BIG, to go for bigger problems and get involved.
Jan Chipchase is one of the most famous “design anthropologists” in the world. Became a star in the field during his years at Nokia and now is part of Frog Design team. Make sure you check his website and blog. Lots of material and he is always posting.
There are a lot of love and hate around the expression “design thinking”. Here we have some articles against this term (personally, I don’t care much)
Why Design Thinking Won’t Save You by Peter Merholz. It is a post on HBR kind of fighting design thinking as a buzz word. Bare in mind that Peter was at Adaptive Path at the moment and “design thinking” is almost an branded offer from IDEO. Via Cuducos.
Design Thinking Is A Failed Experiment. So What’s Next by Bruce Nussbaum – He was one of the biggest supporters of “Design Thinking”, but with this article he claims that it has failed. Again, keep in mind that he still point out how useful it was for many reasons and try to sell a new idea – actually not that new – creative intelligence.
How to Lie with Design Thinking.
Be fully aware that most of this is joke and it is easy to lie with classic design too. What do you think is the porpoise of a beautiful render?
This time of the year we usually see many efforts to predict the future, to discover “what is next”. It is probably way older than that (as you can see in Paleo Future), but I believe Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve with the Cocooning in the 90’s got “trend hunting” on the hot spot and it is still there. Everyone wants to own the future by predicting what is next, but nobody wants to be the one to bet on something that will not come up great in a few months / years in order to keep their credibility. Therefore, we have many forecasters, designers, researchers and trend hunters predicting the predictable, coming up with obvious visions of a future very likely to occur, making these trends just common sense for those a little bit more informed.
In general, these trend reports are just the consultancy version of advertising or free sample, trying to reach and attract new clients. Which is not bad, but I believe they could try some longer shots. They could risk a little more. Well… I have way less to lose so there goes my idea:
My guess for 2013: 3D Printing as a service
For a couple of years people have predicted the 3D printing as “the next thing”, that we are all going to download and print personalized objects at the comfort of our own home. Well… I strongly disagree with that. Not because of technology, but because of what people really want from today’s economy. There are several non-technological barriers for that:
The usual term for this is “3D printer”. Well. We have paper printers, why not 3D ones? Quite reasonable. The thing is that we are not going to have an awesome 3D printer at home for the same reason we have no cutting-edge Xerox machine on our desks. You sure do some printing, but when it comes to serious business you look for a bureau, mostly to have someone experienced editing and printing something with quality.
Have you tried to make a 3D model? It is not just software, you have to THINK in 3D, understand measurements (specially if you want to assemble it to something else). In the end, it is way harder to learn how to deal 3D objects than it is to type in a text. The day might come, but still far away.
It is still seen as a gadget, a toy, a garage ornament, but not a useful piece of technology in the daily life.
However, the technology is knocking on the door and as Frog’s report shows bellow the price of these printers are getting lower and lower, so:
Demand for personalized printed 3D objects MINUS proper skills or stronger need to have it a home EQUALS a 3D printing as a local service.
Firstly, we have to consider how complicated it is to deal with physical objects. As you know, with few colors you can make all of them. Since we still cannot rearrange atoms and molecules to make a different materials from scratch, and that by default a printed object will be smaller than the printer itself, we probably need a printer big enough and space to stock raw materials (several types of plastic, for example). People will need a person to help them deal with the technology = we need something like a Product Design Clerk. A product designer + a clerk ladies and gents. Someone to link the ideas in your head to the real world, and with enough technical skill to preview and “print” the outcome. With everything been manufactured Asia nowadays, I think there are some designers out there to take the position.
How it might look like? When we talk about products that are easy to visualize or evaluate just based on specs (e.g. smart phones) it is easier to do everything online. It could sound weird, but I believe this business shall work as a storeproviding service. A place where you can walk in and ask for something. As an experience, if I may. You could take your memory stick there or send a 3D file by email, have a look in their portfolio of printable objects or have just some sketches of what you want to be designed, then our product design clerk can take care of the rest (charging you for it, of course). After a while you can pick it up when it is ready, or ask to be delivered. As simple as that. It is also possible that the big printer and the branch does not share the same space. Having small branches with designer attendants around busy areas (city centers / shopping malls) and a print facility somewhere else with more space and lower rent.
Who can do it? If we are talking about starting big, we can obviously consider Amazon because of the expertise in technology and online commerce. Zappos could also be a good bet with their high-standards service culture. Personally, I believe it will come from the bottom and maybe it is out there already, an evolution of projects like MetaMaquina or Form1 and then spread as a franchise by tech-business savvy geeks – a lot of unemployed recent grads to fit the profile.
Barriers: There is a looong discussions on legal treats, Form1 itself got KickStarter on the spot but I am not going to wright further about it. What I can say is that the first company to succeed in this field will present a smart way to work around this matters, maybe like Apple did with iTunes, maybe going to “creative commons” options, but for sure not just ignoring it. Beyond that, there is a whole lot of brand and offer problems. How assure the printed object will last? Does it have to last? Is it recyclable? Can I just give my product back so it can be re-molded? If not, why not?