Alvaro SotoProfessor Scott Pobiner16 December 2010PRODUCT DESIGN AND CRITICAL THINKING ABSTRACTThis paper explores the role of the product designer in the 21st century, theimportance of emotions and technology in the design of everyday objects forcritical thinking and social change. Drawing concepts from Critical Design,Ubiquitous computing and Emotional design, products will contain aspectsnever imagined before, interactions will be as complex as the public is involveon it, but most importantly they will stand as media for communication,delivering messages as calm technology or facilitating critical thinking in thepublic that uses them.INTRODUCTIONThis paper intends to comment and revise technology as a tool for imaginingnew services and products that invite users not just to conversations aboutcritical situations that are consequences of our daily behavior as individuals andthe collective society but as a medium to propose new ways of interactions thatcan contribute to the existing or future social, economic and culturalopportunities.The designer is changing, approaching a product is not a problem of usabilityand aesthetic. Designers have stablished parameters to write creative briefs,but the complexity of it needs to change, there are many other things that needto be consider.
Product designers are going through a phase of change adapting to new formsof computing that must touch any possible surface, and the fact that anythingfrom a chair to a pillow can be a new interface, sometimes part of a largersystem, changes the rules and sets new challenges that we must consider in theresearch and design process.All these challenges have been previously discussed by many bright thinkerslike Adam Greenfield in his book Everyware and the whole school of DesignInteractions at the Royal College of Art under Anthony Dunne. But the point thispaper makes is that product design should retain its nature of mass productionand usability in order to maintain grounded within its boundaries. As Dunneonce said in in an interview for Adobe Designcenter: For us, it’s important to try and push and stretch design, but this activity can only happen from within. If we get plonked down as artists then the dialogue stops (sec. 2).This dialog that Dunne is proposing is a dialog that the critical designmovement expects from products of mass consumption, which attempt to re-imagine the world under complex circumstances and how we fit on it asintelligent individuals then communicating this information with objects thatcombine technology and prominent physical technology.The critical point to achieve design as a communication medium is that in orderto fulfill its purpose and be appreciated it needs to feel familiar, usable andsocial, this gives it a powerful place in the house which is where theconversation about a critical future should start, end or happen. If design is notfamiliar, social or usable it tends to be described as art or craft, somethingpersonal to the creator that can be crazy or/and critical but it does not travel tothe masses, so the idea of design as a medium fails.Then, How can we create these objects that are critical and at the same timethey respond to marketable opportunities? How can designers deliver acohesive combination of message and efficiency? Certainly technology and
Emotional Design can play a huge role to achieve this utopia as I will explainlater.QUESTIONING INDUSTRIAL DESIGN Product designers have been always very conservative when approaching thepossibilities or consequences of their work. Even Karim Rashid whose designsare clearly based on a poetic very “Rashid’s” way to see the field, different fromanybody else, in his KARIMANISFESTO proposes design as a medium to create aworld that is full of real contemporary inspiring objects, spaces, places, worlds,spirits and experiences. But Karim focuses design as a tool for contemporaryconsumerism and doesnt sees it as a medium to question interactions ormodify modes of usability which is the reason why objects are so trapped intheir archetypes. Will design be just a tool for consumerism, or design willevolve to a more critical sometimes powerful tool for social and economicalchange that sometimes defies the existence of a direct precedence? We need tobring these technological products to everyday life as they enter the core of thesocial structure but design should evolve to be a medium for change in thepresent or use to facilitate the dialog for it. Even though designers as problemsolvers is sometimes questionable, the field can certainly help the greatereconomic or social structure in the different scales of its application,contributing to the efficiency, comfort, productivity and many othersnecessities of its public.A BACKGROUND IN DESIGNTo envision product design for the 21st Century its necessary to be familiarwith the nature of it. Sheldon and Martha Cheney defined product design intheir book Art and the Machine:
“the artist contribution to mass products in the three-dimensional field.Primarily as an engineering design which the artist has endowed withappearance values that are susceptible of aesthetic judgment (3).a definition that captured the essence of the profession and has been usedindependently by other authors, scholars and thought in Product design majors.Arthur Moss also had clear that it is supremely important to have one’s ideasabout design very broadly based. for him a Narrow view of design will inevitablyproduce poor results. The idea of product design hasnt changed from thebeginning of the practice: Consumers opinion or trends, cost, materials,systematic approach to the problem and cohesive and effective schedule arebasically steps that a project manager should take into account to bring aproduct to the market, but the method should change not only as the marketchanges but as consumers change too, and are not just more knowledgeableabout design but critical and individualistic. REWIND AND REVIEWING in the 80s the future of product design seemed to be guided bytechnological advances, basically by computer- aided design, which brought arevolutionary change in the design process that lately affected the waydesigners would start drawing, due to the introduction of the machine as themediator between the line and the designer. CAD software, created specificnodes which the curve would follow and this defined the character of the shape.Today this method is ubiquitous and as we have seen, craft has become thevaluable asset that defines the value of the object in the market, so the creationof the object has to be more than efficiency and aesthetic, people realize thatobjects can be mass produced and they become universal, so now my computer
just looks like any other computer and the only valuable thing that I have is thedigital data it contains. But the problem is not just a fashion trend orexclusivity, is the de-attachment we now experience with technology and itscases or packages of screens. A major reason for numerous computers with acustom skin sticker, acrylic cases and many other personal interpretations ofhow the object should look in order to represent the owners preferences orpersonality.It seems then that the answer to revive the importance of the product designeris to combine craft and technology, this idea has been broadly commented withthe introduction of personal 3d printers or RTA furniture that let the user definewith some constraints the shape of the end product. But the idea should go farbeyond an aesthetic or production revolution. We now have the power toconsider any possible object in the house or the street, we have been workingon doing this since the beginning of the Industrial revolution. Sheldon andMartha Cheney realized in the 50s that nothing was too small or to obscure tobe redesigned, and we have stretched this possibility far beyond what theythought it was possible. Design agencies are payed to work on projects likepaint, tiles, hardware, glass and many others that before were either part ofstraight industrial production or the medium for artist and craft makers.THE FUTURE AND THE ROLE OF DESIGN Ann-Marie Boutin in 1993 envisioned a very accurate future of design asreaching the 21st century. she wrote in the Industrial design reflection of acentury, edited by Jocelyn de Noblet: Today, the future seems uncertain and causes for concern numerous: the limited natural resources of our earth, now turned “global village” ; the demographic explosion,the develop of the megapolis and its suburbs, which
are turning into jungles ruled by violence and gangs; the problem of social alienation. some historians compare the period in which we live to the Renaissance. It is characterized by a crisis of values, profound changes and a questioning of our relationship with technological progress. Never has man had so much knowledge, so many scientific and technical tools at his disposal, but he must learn how to find his way around this vas reservoir of knowledge and how to share it. He also needs, in order to make wise choices a philosophy and a vision a relation to meaning and being (418).Boutin’s inspiring forecast calls designers and related professions for anintelligent method, the use of technology for a collective benefit one that wouldgo beyond economic means to ease the transition from analog interactions andcommunications to more intelligent systems that help humans to revitalize andnegotiate a better way to live on earth with less dangerous impact on it, Designas a medium for inspiring change or inhabitation.Today the future seems even more uncertain than from Boutin’s time butdesign has a more responsibilities that Victor Papanek considered: ‘Design can and should become a means for young people to participate in the evolution of society’. Design will play an even more important role in the future if it can assume its identity, if it accepts fully its human and cultural responsibility as well as its prospective dimension.Designers today are also called for a more ‘holistic’ way of approaching aproduct, we have all seen the consequences with plastic bottles, plastic bags,plastic anything or the damages created by ignorant collective footprint thatcould probably be solved with more educational information, and thats just theenvironmental issues created by the industrial revolution and poor legislation in
the beginning; Designers are also asked to solve problems of socialinteractions, social behaviors, economic crisis and so on.Design for greater purposes or Design Thinking which is a quote by Tim BrownCEO of IDEO, puts the designer on bigger responsibilities, embarking on actionsthat aim to serve humanitarian causes or working with Natural disasters, relieforganizations etc. Are designers capable of solving problems without a criticalapproach? or any knowledge of the different reasons that may be causing theproblem?It seems with so many responsibilities that the profession has been targeted,and one could think is for obvious reasons; aesthetically pleasing and welldesigned products can do powerful things, they change mood, spaces,interactions, organization etc. But the designer is by no means, in myperspective, responsible of such a huge weight. It even seems the designer egois the same force that is pushing him now to take over so many responsibilities,arguing that his work is so powerful that it could actually solve many problems,But the the designers traditional school education never teach him anythingabout any of the subjects that he claims to know about. Don Norman wrote inWhy Design Education must Change, an article for the design blog core77: As a reviewer of submissions to design journals and conferences, as a juror of design contests, and as a mentor and advisor to design students and faculty, I read outrageous claims made by designers who have little understanding of the complexity of the problems they are attempting to solve or of the standards of evidence required to make claims. Oftentimes the crap comes from brilliant and talented people, with good ideas and wonderful instantiations of physical products, concepts, or simulations. The crap is in the claims.
The issue might then be one of scope, the responsibility left to the designer ashe believes he can solve the entire problem in all the scales, or assumingsolving the problem in one scale automatically takes care of the others, a lackof experimentation, knowledge and a scientific method.Considering that all these tools, knowledge and rigor should be thought indesign schools This paper proposes and follows up on design as a medium; thedesigner as the mediator, as the agent that is able to enter the private life ofthe public and using this as a tool to deliver messages. It could possibly beseen as an opposite or contradictory, but the product designer as acommunication designer, in that one that has a a critical thought, that does andmethodic research and proposes change or delivers the message throughobjects and technology.THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGYThe gold mine that the designer has, is the ubiquitous use of objects and theopen mind that the public has for new products that solve or help on any givensituation. If the designer envisions an object from this perspective he wouldeventually come with new objects that have no precedence and thus the resultis more innovative. Interactions should not be imagined as simplestraightforward encounters with technology or the form. People are smarter andmore demanding, different needs should be taken into account to deliver moreeffective solutions. In other words, the designer should serve fare to thedifferent problems that the new generation of humans have. In this way hewould become the designer of the media that carries significance on its ownand invite the users to discuss or think about the message.
The designer of this century is one who knows that technology is a constantvariant and the need for mutation is important all the time, so how canproducts of everyday life can include these technologies and remain usable forlong periods of time?. Technology as an utilitarian tool embedded in theseproducts is clearly not the answer. we must use technology in the same way weuse form an material, to define the character, the emotions and the role of theproduct on peoples life. Then Technology can become timeless as an Eameschair, a chanel jacket and many other objects that become pieces of care andstart from critical point of view, very different from new technological objectslike computers, printers, televisions etc; this pieces were not created to solveproblems they were created as an answer for revolutionary periods, they tookimportant roles in the revolution.Eames chairs were revolutionary in their materials, the scale of the approach,thinking in holistic greater reason for its existence. they serve as acomplimentary asset in Eames spaces, but the most important thing was theidea of design for the public, good design for the masses, the american dream.Chanel jackets for example were created as a response to the need of womanon the workforce of france while their husbands were in war, a result of avisionary woman, Coco, who believed the woman had to dressed for her andnot for men. Eames and Coco Chanel were designers who believed in their craftas a revolutionary method to communicate messages, they understood thattheir product could be more effective than any other method, and thesemessages changed the public indeed.How Can we design the electronic objects of the 21st century to create ourversion of these designs? how can we create objects today that can be part ofsocial change, playing a bigger role than just utilitarian objects? and how canwe design these electronically objects that can survive several generationsbecause the dont become obsolete?
CRITICAL DESIGNAnthony Dunne and Fiona Raby refer to critical design as Design Noir as theyrecorded in their book by the same name humans are complex and oftenunpredictable creatures. This, of course, should come as no surprise to anyonewho reads the news, but, in the context of design, it raises interesting and verybasic questions. What, for example, makes us happy? Has the incredibleabundance of technology have made our lives better? Is the answer to ourcollective malaise that technology is too difficult to use? Would people really behappier if their technology was more intuitive? Do we need to upgrade oursoftware? Or is there something broader and more basic that has to do lesswith interaction design, and more with interaction? they add : Critical designdoes not answer these questions, but it does provide a way for the questions tobe asked. products should be designed for the people and less for the industry,objects should make us happy or at least comfortable and the electronic objectneeds to make this step that the analog object already has in its complexity ofrelation with the user.In an article for Core77 Clare Brass and Octavia Reeve wrote: It is normally taken for granted that economic growth is vital for maintaining economic health, but research has shown that wellbeing depends less on material goods than on our lifestyles. The New Economics Foundation in the UK publishes a global Happy Planet Index, which measures the combination of environmental impact and wellbeing, to
quantify the environmental efficiency with which—country by country— people live long and happy lives.The method should change so that the critical aspect of design is not an add-onbut part of the process, essential to the product. Similar to what the qualityaspect of a product or to the sustainable one which we have been increasinglyseen as a main concern by students and corporations. Sustainable products area revolutionary force in the industry were designers are concerned about theimpact of materials, process and the life cycle of their creations they aim tosend to the market, and it is thankfully so ubiquitous that it must now beconsider as an inevitable part of the process.Embodied, a project by “The Agency of Design” formed by Rich Gilbert, AdamPaterson and Matthew Laws in 2009, students from the Royal Academy of Art,help visualize embodied energy to make it easier to understand and think aboutin the design process, within that project they developed the The MegajouleChallenge where they redesigned the angle-poise lamp in a more sustainableway in terms of energy needed to produced it. While the Anglepoise’s ingeniousmechanism allows adjustable light at any position, this functionality comes at acost of approximately 142 megajoules and the redesign that The agency ofDesign produced is a clever method to communicate the message with anotheringenious more sustainable mechanism that that serves the same purpose. Thisproject is a close example of what the designer can do to have a greater impact,been critical yet keeping his designs within the boundaries of useful marketableobjects.NOTHING BUT EMOTIONSDon Norman in Emotional Design wrote:
Without emotions, your decision-making ability would be impaired. Emotion isalways passing judgments, presenting you with immediate information aboutthe world: here is potential danger, there is potential comfort (11).Emotions are clearly part of our decision making and they invite the public touse the products or to buy them, emotions create an attacment to the productso it can be consider in a small scale as way to create sustainable designbecause we wont get rid of something that make us smile.Emotional design can be consider as poetry in design, which in words of RalphBall as stated by Tim parsons in his article, Is irony killing design? : Objects which are elevated above the pragmatic and formal requirement of the functional artefact, and deliver ambient observations in condensed form for reflection and contemplation.Good Design can sell, good and emotional or poetic design not just sells but atthe same time create attachments with the user that are consequently causesfor reflection and critical point of view if the object has been designed tocommunicate something and it is targeted to right audiences.CONCLUSIONSDesign needs to change, but we don’t need more art projects, those are perfectfor discussion in the galleries but havent demonstrated a greater impact. WhatI believe we need is products that can live in our houses, that marketing groupscan get excited about and that the public accepts with joy, but that at the sametime are designed over a rich and critical thought. Metaphors in design, poetic
and playful interactions are tools that the designer can use in his advantage tocombine this two strong sometimes complicated combinations. All the designsdont need to reach the market, and they shouldnt, some designs should befictional but as real as possible so it convince the audience. With this productswe can deliver messages about negative futures cause by our practices,communication now can lend to a different tomorrow. The fictional user needsto be real, designer should research, read the news and be very grounded intodays world. Product design education needs to change, the public needs to beeducated and the profession should halve greater impact.We could rely on communication design, digital graphics, billboards and anyother type of graphics media, but none of these are as close to the user as theobjects they buy. Sustainable design is and should remain a fact of everyproduct, the designer needs to learn how to reduce the impact, the scales ofthe solutions need to reconsider and the inclusion of different methods to solvethe problems have to always be considered. Designer needs to drop the egoand be more knowledgeable; he is not the solution for problems but he can bethe one who communicates the problem and offer possible solutions within itsscope. or possible fictional solutions that make people reconsider the acts theydo, thats the magic and the skill he has and should embrace.
Works CitedBrass, CLare. Reeve Octavia, The chanllenges of teaching Sustainability: TheRCA’s approach, by Clare Brass and Octavia Reeve. Core77. Web. 5 October2010.Boutin,Ann-Marie. Industrial design : reflection of a century / edited by Jocelynde Noblet, Jocelyn de Noblet, Paris : Flammarion/APCI, c1993.Cheney, Sheldon and Cheney, Martha Art and the machine: An Account ofIndustrial Design in 20Th-Century America, New York : Acanthus Press, 1992,1936.Dunne, Anthony. Hertzian tales : electronic products, aesthetic experience, andcritical design. Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press, c2005.Gilbert, Rich. Paterson Adam. Laws, Mathew, The Agency of design,agencyofdesign.co.uk. Web.Moss, Arthur. Successful industrial design: its creation by good management.London, H. Witherby. 1968.Norman, Donald A. Why Design Education must Change. Core77, Web, 26November, 2010.
Norman, Donald A. Emotional design : why we love (or hate) everyday things.New York : Basic Books, 2004.Papanek, Victor. Design for the real world; human ecology and social change.With an introduction by R. Buckminster Fuller. New York, Pantheon Books[1972, c1971].Parsons, Tim. Is Irony Killing Design?. Object Thinking.objectthinking.wordpress.com. Web. 24 Nov 2009.Uncertain futures: A conversation with Professor Anthony Dunne, Adobe.com/designcenter/Thinktank, Web, 21 feb 2007.Karim Rashid. Karimanifesto, Karimrashid.com, Web.
ReferencesTim Parsons, is Irony killing Design? http://objectthinking.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/is-irony-killing-design/