The Touchscreen Revolution?
10 May 2013
Ahead of our Product Design + Innovation conference, Duncan Smith, Head of Products & Systems at Cambridge Consultants, has written a blog for us on the user difficulties of touchscreen interaction on PCs. At the conference on 15-16 May, Duncan will take part in a session called: “The Internet of Things: Designing connected objects”. Read an earlier Q&A with Duncan on this topic.
Sales of PCs were down by 14% in the first quarter of 2013. Market analysts have suggested that Microsoft’s latest version of Windows may be to blame for a large amount of this slump, and described the new interface as a confusing concept for potential buyers to understand and commit to buying. Additionally, the touchscreen components themselves are more expensive than a traditional LCD screen, and this combination seems to be a barrier for new customers, and particularly so when tablets are available at a fraction of the price. But I think there’s more to this story than simply cost barriers.
Touchscreens have their place – used correctly they provide a level of direct interaction that cannot be matched for simple tasks like browsing a website. They are not so effective for more advanced functionality like dragging and dropping. They provide direct, single, inflexible functions.
Touchscreens on tablets have opened up a world of new and inspiring modes of computer use, allowing personal computer interactivity in very public spaces, like on the train or in a cafe. Touchscreens fit within our personal space – the invisible bubble of privacy which we surround ourselves with as we go about our lives.
This contrasts with a traditional PC where suddenly our bubble grows to include the monitor, the desk and the chair we sit on. The larger screen and use of a mouse enforces a different working space to that of a tablet, with the screen typically being beyond arm’s length – all in all, a less personal experience.
This is where the confusion begins.
Windows 8 has been targeted and advertised as being in equal parts a touchscreen interface and usable in the traditional way with a mouse… but, as we’ve seen, these two methods of use have very different ergonomic set-ups.
It’s easy to see why Microsoft would see touch interaction as the next logical step in the Windows story. Touchscreen technology has brought a huge boost to the designer’s ability to create products that users just get – intuitively.
As an example, a friend’s 98-year-old grandad is often bewildered by modern technology, and has never owned a computer. He wouldn’t know where to start. One major problem is the humble computer mouse. Moving an object in a horizontal plane to control a pointer moving in a vertical plane is a mental disconnection too far for many older people, especially when combined with the modern norms of concepts like files and folders.
However, when a tablet was placed into grandad’s hands, the connection was immediate – the direct relationship of using his fingers to interact with the screen closed the mental gap, and within minutes he was browsing the web for the first time in his life.
But the touchscreen experience is not without its issues. The very fact that it relies on a user’s touch can mean that accidental and misplaced contact with the user’s hand can lead to inadvertent activation or unexpected control behaviours.
The ergonomic restrictions imposed by placing a keyboard in front of the screen (in fact, where the screen should ideally be for touch control) mean the user has to lean over the keyboard to reach the screen in an awkward fashion.
Another problem comes from the rather blunt tool that users touch the screens with – their fingers! Although the sense of touch is extremely sensitive, the computer understands this interaction in only very basic terms – “x, y” co-ordinates and area of touch. Some neat algorithms are used to try to make some sense of this limited information in the context of the image underlay, but it is Neanderthal by comparison with the leagues of information our brains are processing from this same interaction.
Users have high expectations of touchscreens, and expect the relationship between the movement of their finger and the movement of the screen to be absolute. After all, this is what happens in the real world – and, when done well, this is what makes touchscreen interaction brilliantly intuitive. However, the demands on processing hardware are very high for this sort of feature and manufacturers can’t afford to scrimp on specifications if they are going to achieve it successfully. This goes some way to explaining why the new Windows 8 machines are more expensive than their predecessors.
As technology progresses, so too will touchscreen technology – sensitivity will increase, haptic and texture feedback will be added, and prices will come down. Other technologies will come through, like Google Glass which may even replace the personal applications we currently use our tablets and phones for. But there remains the question of serious and powerful computing needs, and how we will best interact with these machines in the future. I believe the divide between the two worlds of computing for pleasure and computing for work will exist for some years yet. But it remains to be seen if the venerable PC will truly benefit from this change or if the more compact tablet format will be the rightful home of touch interaction.
Precipice designs smart pan concept
29 April 2013
The Precipice team, led by Miles Hawley, created Simr, a concept designed to help improve cooking skills, reduce accidents, and make product care and maintenance easier
The saucepan has a series of innovative features, including a lid that can be tilted to allow steam to escape and for straining. It has a twin skin construction which allows a heat exchanger to be used between the skins to provide more even heat distribution. The inner skin is easy to clean due to a curved design and a hydrophobic coating.
A removable smart module sits in the handle which tells the user about cooking temperature, weight and sounds an alarm if the contents are about to boil over
What does The Internet of Things mean to Cambridge Consultants?
Image: Cambridge Consultants’ Connected Bike concept
25 April 2013
Cambridge Consultants, which has built a leading global business on the combination of cutting-edge technology and industrial design, has put itself at the forefront of the next big thing in tech: The Internet of Things.
At our Product Design + Innovation conference on 15-16 May, Duncan Smith, Head of Products & Systems at Cambridge Consultants, will take part in a session called: “The Internet of Things: Designing connected objects”. In a Q&A article, he discusses some of the emerging issues that will be explored further at the conference.
Q: You are speaking in a panel discussion on The Internet of Things. What does The Internet of Things mean to Cambridge Consultants? Is it anything more than a buzz phrase?
Duncan Smith: For us it’s a reality. We’ve been designing breakthrough connected products and systems for some decades, so we’re excited about the low-cost, low-power wireless building blocks now becoming available to the product designer in areas such as smart metering, healthcare, consumer products and transport.
At an even lower cost point, short-range interaction between a unique serialised code on a product, label or packaging and cloud servers via a consumer smartphone stands to be a key enabler for the data systems around objects that have been predicted for many years.
Do we think that IPv6 internet addresses will be exhausted – with more than 700 million devices for every person on the planet? Not just yet. But do we think that we will be able to send and receive digital data to more and more of the products and systems around us every day? Absolutely – we’re designing those products now.
Q: Is it possible to predict with certainty how we will be interacting with the internet in 10 years’ time? Can we use the experience of today, such as the success of the iPhone, to anticipate the form and function of successful products in the future?
DS: Even our Bayesian algorithm data analysis experts wouldn’t claim certainty but there are some indicators; as companies exchange and analyse more data that we share about our preferences and interests, we will experience increased tailoring of services and products to our wants and needs. Our user interaction will continue to get simpler and more accessible, whether visually via on-demand projected screens or augmented reality, or vocally for most directly expressing how you feel about a talking mobile advert.
Big data technologies will adapt beyond their current focus of sharing data about everything everywhere as quickly as possible to using privacy aware technologies for controlled access. Faster wireless networks, both narrowband and wideband, will continue to roll out across the globe, increasing mobility. And, as it becomes easier to be social online, look things up, find out what’s new or check an expert-sourced opinion before deciding what to buy or sell, we’ll continue to engage via an increasing array of devices.
The iPhone bought user simplicity, a new business model and, of course, a new human factors led design approach to the smartphone industry. In turn, it’s also an enabler for the next over-the-top business models; connecting a new breed of low-power devices to the internet using short-range wireless or optical technologies to the smartphone, and running back end analytics on the data.
The paradigm of smartphones and tablets, essentially black slabs, has now plateaued though. If the future form and function of the mini computer on my person were a faster, more capable iPhone, I would be disappointed.
However, Google Glass is around the corner, Apple is rumoured to be developing an iWatch, which may well contain Leap Motion style gestural interaction. The trend is towards body-worn technology, which will open up further opportunities of interaction such as proper, more immediate augmented reality and constant health monitoring of heart rate, blood sugar levels and other indicators. Such interaction could well lead to a second explosion of internet activity, and a blurring of boundaries between consumer electronics and medical devices.
Q: What are the challenges designers face as they begin to design smarter, connected devices and objects?
DS: We see power management continuing to drive the all-important cost point on digitally enabled devices and sensors, especially where wireless technology is involved. Increasing security and privacy regulation will mean that decreasing the cost of end-to-end security and digital trust management is an ongoing challenge, and there’s also scope for better management of the increasing number of devices that will want to connect to your smartphone – especially when they’re not your devices.
Gold iF award for Designit
13 March 2013
Designit, one of the leading industrial design agencies presenting at our Product Design + Innovation conference on 15-16 May, has won the gold distinction in the iF 2013 awards for a first aid kit it designed for Falck.
The domestic first aid kit guides the user to one of four categories – bleeding, burns, bruises and strains. The award jury said: “A first-aid kit as it should be: clearly arranged and extremely well organized. Four sections, made immediately visible by their different colors, help the user find their way around. The fold-out elements make it possible to have an overview of the entire contents at all times, and to go for the correct products intuitively even in difficult situations. A must-have for every household.”
Designit said: “Re-designing Falck’s first aid kit has been an exceptionally exciting and enriching challenge – calling for not only creative muscles and rich design expertise, but also for a profound understanding of first aid scenarios.”
Yves Béhar: US connects design and the entrepreneur
8 February 2012 - A Bloomberg Businessweek interview with Yves Béhar, founder of design firm Fuseproject and a partner in wearable technology group Jawbone, explores the idea of “the designer as entrepreneur”.
He describes his experience in positive terms, saying the US has changed in the past 10-15 years. Now it’s expected that designers are a key part of the team, a sentiment he even hears from venture capitalists.
“It’s a radical change. And I think it’s one that shows this new sophistication in business. But also for everyone. I mean, every single person now can talk about design intelligently, can speak to the quality of the app, the quality of a movement, the quality of the products. And that’s a sea change in America.”
But not so in Europe, Béhar says. “Our industry is more about design in some ways today than European businesses are.”
In the article, he goes on to discuss crowdfunding, the multi-investor system that has been successful for US entrepreneurs trying to finance their first products.
Fuseproject designed the prototype of Ouya, a $99 gaming system, (pictured above) which had raised $8.6m on Kickstarter by mid-January. When the renderings were posted on Kickstarter, feedback “allowed us to push things in a new direction”, says Béhar.
The article, which is one in a series on design published by Bloomberg Businesweek, also covers recent work Fuseproject has done with Beiersdorf’s Nivea brand, Herman Miller and other clients. There is also a video interview with Béhar.
FEATURE: Design Museum shows collection on the road to 2015
(Pic credit: Luke Hayes)
31 January 2013
The Design Museum was opened in Shad Thames on London’s Southbank in 1989. In advance of its relocation to Kensington in 2015, it is giving us a taste of what to expect from its new permanent collection in an exhibition called Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, writes David Eldridge.
At a preview this week, Deyan Sudjic, director of the museum said the exhibition is a “very important step in our move in 2015”. When the Design Museum emerged from the V&A’s Boilerhouse Project, the intent was to hold temporary exhibitions and leave collecting to the V&A. But a collection has nonetheless grown and numbers more than 3,000 objects.
Sudjic said the museum is now taking the opportunity to examine its collection and ask “what it is that makes design a relevant subject for a museum”.
The extent of the exhibition is limited by the space available, but it makes the most of the designs on show by using a narrative approach.
Pic: Christian Barman's designs (Credit: Luke Hayes)
The stories here include those of British design pioneers, such as Wells Coates, who won a competition run by Ekco which resulted in the AD65 radio of 1934. People like Christian Barman, designer of irons, hairdryers and other home appliances for Morphy Richards.
Many early industrial designers trained as architects, and their exposure to Modernism informed their designs for industrial clients. But there was also a demand driver at work in the 1930s. Electrification made the British public welcome new labour-saving devices, and this new market for electric products in turn created demand for designers who could shape the products emerging from British industry.
Pic: K6 Phone Box by Giles Gilber Scott (Credit: Luke Hayes)
There are also stories of iconic British designs such as Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert’s road signs. The K6 Phone Box of 1925 became an object that epitomised modern Britain. But drawings of the K2, its prototype predecessor, show that its designer Giles Gilbert Scott had considered a beadwork decoration that was distinctly Victorian.
An extended display reveals the genesis and life story of the hugely successful Anglepoise lamp of 1934, designed by George Carwardine. Its iconic status is illustrated by the variety of interpretations from other designers over the decades. An iconoclastic example at the exhibition is No Angle No Poise of 2006, designed by Tiago Da Fonseca for Artemide – a collapsed and lithe interpretation that mocks the Anglepoise’s rectitude.
Pic: No Angle No Poise by Tiago Da Fonseca (Credit: Luke Hayes)
The range of the museum’s collection is indicated in the titles of themed areas: Modernism, Why We Collect and Fashion, the latter displaying outfits from a new donation from museum trustee Jill Ritblat.
The postwar era is covered in an area themed Materials and Processes. This features more British designers – such as Kenneth Grange (whose Milward Courier Shaver is pictured right) and David Harman Powell – but also international designers, including Joe Colombo, Ettore Sottsass and Anna Castelli Ferrieri.
Designers from more recent decades are mostly familiar names, such as Philippe Starck, James Dyson, Jonathan Ive and Konstantin Grcic. But there are also designs from young, London-based outfits. Silo Studio’s NSEPS Chair is made in a process where polystyrene is expanded within fabric tubes to create the chair frame. (Chairs are abundant at the exhibition, but those on show are only a small proportion of the 290 in the museum’s collection.)
The exhibition’s exploration of the identity of British design continues the enquiry started by the V&A’s British Design from 1948 exhibition last year. But the Design Museum’s show also feels like a “rites of passage” event. It seems to want to burst out of the confines of the museum’s current building two years ahead of the relocation.
The Design Museum has made a start in the study of its collection. In this process it will probe the identity of design, and in doing so it will no doubt explore its own identity.
Paul Priestman to speak at Product Design + Innovation 2013
18 January 2013
Paul Priestman will be one of the leaders in industrial design who will speak at our Product Design + Innovation conference in London on 15 and 16 May 2013. His company PriestmanGoode has a long-established global reputation for designs of the highest quality and for working with high profile clients.
Paul will speak in a session on Wired Transport, an area in which PriestmanGoode continues to offer innovative design concepts and solutions. The company’s Air Access concept to improve a wheelchair user’s experience on an aircraft was this month nominated in the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year competition.
Kevin McCullagh, director of Plan and columnist on Core77, will again chair the unique two-day conference dedicated to industrial design. After chairing the conferences in 2011 and 2012, Kevin is well placed to lead discussions on this year’s themes: product-service ecosystems, emerging industries, premiumisation, the internet of things, consumerisation of healthcare, wired transport and the circular economy: designing for reuse, repair and recycling.
British Design Innovation is supporting the conference for the third year, with speakers discussing the valuable design interventions that BDI member companies implement with their partners.
Clive Grinyer, director of customer experience at Cisco IBSG, will speak in the session on System Thinking and Collaborating with Frenemies. Delegates at the 2012 conference will remember the lively debate Clive had with James Woudhuysen, who also returns for the 2013 event.
Speakers in the session looking at the Internet of Things: Designing Connected Objects include: Dr Uday Phadke, chief executive of Cartezia and Tej Chauhan, founder of ChauhanStudio and designer of the Autographer.
A session on Premiumisation: Trading up to Higher-end Products and Services will feature representatives of leading brands including Magnus Welander, CEO and president of Thule, and Ignacio Germade, head of total product offering at Vertu.
Contributors confirmed for the Consumerisation of Healthcare session include Jim Dawton, partner at DesignIt, Jason Mesut, head of user experience at RMA and Thomas Troch, innovation manager at InSites Consulting.
Visit our conference pages for more information on registering for the conference.
Autographer camera captures the world, with design by Tej Chauhan
9 January 2013
Tej Chauhan of London-based ChauhanStudio will be a speaker at our Product Design + Innovation 2013 conference in London in May. He is currently doing some exciting design work with OMG Life on the innovative Autographer camera which was launched in November.
The camera is worn around the neck (or attached in other ways) and through the day it takes automatic photos that capture events and provide a record of the user’s world. Autographer has five sensors and GPS which it uses to decide when to take a picture automatically by sensing changes of light, colour, motion and direction.
The design group says: “Wearable technology often looks "geeky" or otherwise out of place when worn. ChauhanStudio wanted to develop a design that was quietly expressive yet unobtrusive, something that would look harmonious when worn across different styles and attitudes. We achieved this by experimenting with different iterations of the outer body, eventually crafting relatively simple surfaces and channelling expression to the lens area. It came to serve a bigger purpose by becoming the brand signifier for this and the future Autographer models.”
The design of the body is relatively minimal, which contrasts with the “strong and identifiable” Autographer Eye lens detail. The yellow feature also indicates if the camera is switched on or off – useful for camera-shy bystanders.
ChauhanStudio says Nick Bolton, CEO of OMG Life, “provided insightful feedback making the process very collaborative, yet allowed us creative space to explore and design”.
To hear Tej Chauhan speak at Product Design + Innovation 2013, find out booking details here.
We want brilliant speakers at Product Design + Innovation 2013
At Product Design + Innovation, we conduct research to help us design a conference programme full of insight and expertise that is vital for industrial designers working in consultancies and in-house teams.
We have started the research to find keynote speakers for Product Design + Innovation 2013, which takes place on 15-16 May next year in London. Who would you like to see at the conference? Who are the inspiring designers and innovators we should ask to lead the debate and discussion on how design is changing the world?
Design leaders who spoke at our 2011 and 2013 events included Sean Carney, Frank Stephenson, Richard Seymour, Gadi Amit, SungHan Kim, Julian Thomson, Clive Grinyer and Benoit Jacob. Design specifiers at global brand owners included Jonathan Hague at Unilever, Louis Kim at HP and John McGrath at EuroSuisse.
If you have brilliant ideas on brilliant speakers for 2013, please email them to our conference producer Rhona Greenhill Rhona.firstname.lastname@example.org
Sony researches with London music pros for MDR-1 headphone design
29 October 2012
On Sony’s design website, the team responsible for its MDR-1 headphones discusses the market research process that informed development of the design of the high-end product, revealing that London was preferred to its other design centres in Japan, China, Singapore and the US. “Why London? Because it's where a lot of the music and fashion loved worldwide originates,” says Yoshimune Iijima.
Music and audio industry pros, part-time DJs, website developers, fashion magazine editors and other trend leaders were invited to take part in the research.
“They showed that London is ahead of the curve in headphone ownership. Everyone had opinions about sound quality, fit, and other details, which helped us to brainstorm the ideal model,” says Iijima.
In the article, the team also discusses how engineering features, such as air ducts, were important in the design’s demonstration of the MDR-1’s high quality sound engineering.