Welcome to Reflections Beneath the Surface. This is my digital notebook where I post my thoughts on design, technology, art and some other random stuff. It functions as a sketchbook where I collect the snippets that dwell in my mind. While researching subjects as a defigner I develop many side notes that might be interesting for others to read.
Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law states: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But as with any magic trick, all the circumstances have to be right for it to work…
The pocket crystal
Marc Porat is a tech entrepreneur who had a vision of what he called a Pocket Crystal, a device that would seamlessly integrate with people’s lives and help them manage it and communicate with the world. Porat was one of the first people that had identified the coming information society and had written about it in his doctoral thesis called ‘The Information Economy’ in 1977 at Stanford. While at Apple in the end of the eighties he convinced then Apple CEO John Scully to greenlight a project to develop the ‘Pocket Crystal’. Porat demanded that the project would not be done internally at Apple, but at a separate company. Scully abided and General Magic was born. A team of top Apple engineers and developers was assembled and assigned to General Magic. Among whom a core team that created the Macintosh. What happened then was Silicon Valley’s version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Designers love to create new things. The experience of something not being there and suddenly existing through decisions and actions on the part of the designer can be quite magical. But when that act of creation is finished and whatever is designed exists, the focus shifts to the next thing to design and the existing is left to its devices. Whatever happens to our creation is now the responsibility of someone else. This obsession with the ‘new’ and neglect of the ‘old’ is part of the reason we are in an ecological crisis. The ‘new’ has become a structural element of our thinking and our society.
The new can be seen as the technological equivalent of ‘fresh’. Our biologically programmed attraction to fresh fruits, vegetables and even sexual partners is an engrained survival mechanism. That mechanism has been hacked in a way to also accept the fruits of technology as belonging to it. Advertising plays to this fact by attaching the attributes of the biologically attractive to the technological. But designers also do that, by translating those attributes into material properties and creating a slew of shiny, glossy, smooth symmetrical objects. All this does not mean that the ‘old’ does not have something to contribute to this bio-technological complex of survival. The old is survival par excellence, because to become old you have to survive. The old is the embodiment of survival skill. It contains the know-how of becoming old, whether through resilience, adaptation, or communication. This knowledge base in humans is transmitted through stories , myth, religions etc. Having such a knowledge base ensures that the new can become old. Continue reading “Neo Old: Lifetime extension for discarded products”
A design giant has died. Luigi Colani was a poet engineer. He defied the norms of modernism in design and its preferred expression of minimalism. Although one could say that his work was minimalistic in the sense of optimized shapes. He believed that the angular could never be optimal. His work counteracts the idea that truthful design is paired down and unobtrusive. An idea that finds is root in Greek Platonic ideals and that is translated into a scientific rational aesthetic through modernism. Culminating in a dogmatic veneration of Dieter Rams’ 10 rules for design. Rams’ ideas are certainly valuable, but only as a possible approach among other approaches.
Colani showed another approach to scientific design. As a trained sculptor, aerodynamics engineer and philosopher he combined all these skills to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is why I call him a poet engineer. Poetry reveals truths to us by letting it emerge from in between its lines. Poetry is a way to understand the world not by sensors but by senses. Colani used his scientific knowledge as a building block to create objects that you can only understand by reading in between the lines. One could say that he used sensors to entice the senses. The undulations, curves and bulges had a functional purpose, but they also commanded attention and dragged the eyes of the spectator into a journey of aesthetic exploration and comprehension.
Industrial design needs different approaches to tackle the complexities of the world. Modernism and industrial production worked in tandem to legitimize homogeneity, efficiency, optimization as rational approaches. With this filter they excluded other views on design and labelled them as unmodern, primitive, irrational or weird. Colani’s exuberant functionalism akin to Gaudi’s architectural work shows us the complexity of the world and a way to look at this complexity not as a difficulty but as a dynamic perspective for humans to live in harmony with nature.
Luigi Colani’s work should be taken a starting point to celebrate diverse aesthetics. Not from the viewpoint of exoticism, but as an appreciation of the diverse philosophical underpinnings of designing objects all over the world.The poet engineer
Business is shifting from what keeps the company busy to keeping consumers busy. This is the sense in which social media companies are businesses. Their clients are not the consumers. Those are the people they keep busy. Companies like Facebook are literally entertaining relationships. Time is a valuable commodity, so if you can get people to spend their time on what you offer, you can gather data on how they like to spend their time. That is the product they are selling. How consumers spend their time. What consumers perceive as valuable. Other companies can then relate the value of their product to that.
Companies like consumers can be early adopters. Usually they do so to find out if a certain new technology can benefit their business. But for a company adoption is more serious then for a consumer. A consumer benefits directly, because the adopted tech is used to consume a need. A company will use the adopted tech for the product or service they produce. The benefit is not actual but virtual. It may be actualized if the circumstances are right. Maybe it is better to be an early adapter. By that I mean that you try to understand what the principle is behind whatever new and upcoming technology and see if you can adapt to it.
The 21st century assembly line is all about organizing data flows. The data flows continuously and along the line people organize that data flow in different ways. So a designer could organize it aesthetically, an engineer structurally, a sales person financially etc. So you do not look at your product or service as a product or service but as a collection of data that you try to shape into information.