A view of the world like no other
1 November 2013
If you dream of floating in a tin can high above the world, then check out PriestmanGoode’s vision for a near-space experience. The group has designed a concept capsule, which will be lifted by balloon and take passengers to the edge of space in a project by World View in the US. Nigel Goode said: “This is a dream project to work on. It’s incredibly exciting to be part of this nascent industry, defining the experience of premium space travel.”
Disco or calm? The driver chooses in Mini’s new vision
26 July 2013
Elements of the future design of the Mini have been shown in images revealed by Anders Warming, head of Mini Design, at the Mini Design@Home event.
Signature elements such as the clear separation of the roof, glasshouse and body are apparent in the Mini Vision presentation. There is more novelty in the interior, where a “Driving Experience Control” switch allows the driver to choose between a pure and focused or fully-interconnected mode.
The modes are expressed with lighting: the first in colours that are calm and clear and the second in dynamic, energy-charged shades. A highlight of the fully-interconnected mode is the "Mini Disco" floor.
The Driving Experience Control switch can also change the Mini’s circular central display from the classic, analogue-style view to a 3D look which provides a new depth.
Grcic's move from bulb to system
16 July 2013
At our product Design + Innovation 2013 conference, Paul Thursfield, creative director at Philips Design Consumer Lifestyle, discussed how lighting is moving from a century of light bulbs and fixtures to a new era of LED systems which put the user in control.
The Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design website says: “The world of lighting has undergone a fundamental shift from conventional bulbs to a variety of new lighting technologies which in themselves are creating new opportunities for the design and manufacturing of lamps.”
The context is the Grcic studio’s work on the OK Lamp for Flos (pictured above right). This is based on the Parentesi floor-to-ceiling lamp (pictured above left), “which had always celebrated the bulb in the most direct and beautiful way,” says Grcic.
In the OK lamp, the incandescent bulb has become a flat disc and the handle for moving the lamp up and down the cable incorporates the electronic engine which drives the LEDs.
Drop the Chinese dragon
8 July 2013
PDD has started a series of three blogs called 'What is Design for China?' Its first line of enquiry is the approach of western brands that use dragons and other traditional images, such as Ferrari and its 458 Italia China Limited Edition from last year.
As well as being an overused design motif, the dragon has become associated with cheap quality, says PDD. When the PDD Hong Kong team, comprising German, American and Chinese designers, created a series of water bottle concepts for the China market, it was not the ideas of the non-Chinese team members that were selected by mainland Chinese participants.
At our 2012 Product Design + Innovation conference, UK design consultancies came in for some criticism about their approach to the Chinese market. PDD is tackling the issue head on by opening a Hong Kong studio. Another consultancy, Teca is also learning about Chinese consumers.
Shaking up foam aerosols
4 July 2013
Cambridge Consultants has developed a low-cost alternative to aerosols for foamed consumer products such as shaving foam and hair mousse. The technology does away with flammable propellants and could also provide a new market for PET bottles.
The group’s new foaming technology does not require dissolved or liquefied gases such as VOCs. Instead, the foam is formed simply with compressed air or nitrogen. The bubbles produced have a diameter of less than 40 microns, giving a very creamy texture.
Eliminating flammable propellants opens the way for foamed products to be packaged in PET instead of aluminium cans. PET has environmental and cost advantages and provides greater freedom in packaging design, said Cambridge Consultants.
As well as personal care products, the group said: “The technology could also bring molecular gastronomy at the touch of a button into the home – opening up the possibility of picking up restaurant-style foams in a bottle with the weekly food shop.”
Google Glass designer on simplicity
2 July 2013
At a conference in Los Angeles, Olsson said: “I told the team that we have to remove everything that isn’t completely essential.”
For Olsson, it seems that wearable technology should be stripped back. The technology is hidden and even the eyewear aesthetic seems to be about adaptation, not making a statement. So Google Glass is simple, light and scaleable.
One of the difficulties Olsson raises about wearable tech – that it needs to transform over time – was also discussed by Nike Digital’s Jamian Cobbett at our Product Design + Innovation conference in June.
Plan's view of BMWi’s prospects
6 June 2013
The car maker’s investment and commitment to the electric vehicle market at such an early stage in its development has led some to wonder if it is heading for a fall. But Green predicts BMWi will redefine the EV category, which is currently characterised by “worthy” designs, as well as helping carbon fibre find a mass market, and setting a new benchmark for connected cars.
Kevin McCullagh, Plan’s founder and co-director, was chairing our 2012 conference, where Benoit Jacob, head of design at BMWi, discussed design expression in BMWi cars based on their carbon fibre technology.
Avoid the Kodak moment
24 May 2013
System thinking is helping Philips adapt to radical changes in the lighting market, writes David Eldridge. Paul Thursfield (pictured above), creative director at Philips Design Consumer Lifestyle, spoke of the challenge facing the group in a session at our Product Design + Innovation 2013 conference.
Kodak was at the centre of the photographic universe for more than 100 years. Thursfield said its failure to continue its dominance as photography went digital was not to do with not being a great brand, it was because the system changed.
Likewise, Philips was a dominant producer of light bulbs for a century. Until LEDs. Now any company with a silicon chip factory can also make lighting.
Thursfield compared the move to LED lighting with the transition from horses to automobiles. “But we are still at the horseless carriage stage.”
Philips’ response has involved using system thinking, so that it is not merely producing more LED light bulbs, but trying to come up with its own disruptive technologies.
In 2006, it introduced Living Colours, the first system that allows the user to choose from a rainbow of colours.
“It sold in enormous quantities because it provided something people had never had before,” said Thursfield.
He discussed other Philips innovations, such as the Hue system (pictured above). This is made up of three main components: LED colour changing light bulbs, a bridge that connects them wirelessly to a router, and a smartphone app so the user can control them even when they are away from home. The software means you can create an endless number of light recipes.
“This is how Philips is dealing with that radical change. So far, so good. We’re hoping we don’t have a Kodak moment,” said Thursfield.
Jacuzzis, motorbikes and being unique: how to premiumise
23 May 2013
Companies need to understand what is unique about their offerings in a market to find the key to premium positioning of products and services, said speakers at our Product Design + Innovation 2013 conference.
Premiumisation is a tricky business tool for companies to pick up, but they want to use it because of its powerful effect on margins and market share, writes David Eldridge. Virgin Atlantic got a 1.7% uplift in its market share after it introduced a service for its Upper Class passengers where limousine transport to a hotel-like check-in area gave them the experience of glamour, speed and exclusivity.
Dee Cooper (pictured above), former Product and Services Director at Virgin Atlantic and now a design consultant, said Virgin is a much smaller airline than its rivals and has to win market share by being different. She told delegates about design decisions made on this basis, such as extra long beds on the plane and the inclusion of a jacuzzi (pictured below) in the executive lounge.
“The jacuzzi may be a bit of a folly. But when you are a differentiator, you need to be talked about, and you need to design things that people will talk about.”
Her approach at Virgin had involved “upside down thinking”. She started with a vision for Upper Class that spoke to the highest quality and then let sprinklings of that thinking filter down to other classes.
Cooper was asked about corporate pressure to justify her decisions from a standpoint of return-on-investment. She had originally wanted three jacuzzis in the lounge, she said, and admitted it had been hard work arguing for innovation.
“We had the dream and then value engineered it down,” she said. Every designer has to take cost out, but that is not the same as compromising on the quality of design.
“Good design and bad design costs the same amount of money.”
In the session on Premiumisation, Steve Masterson, chief operating officer at design consultancy Kiska, presented a case study on work Kiska has done with motorcycle manufacturer KTM. He discussed the KTM125 (pictured below), which is a smaller engine road bike with race bike qualities.
A company needs to ask the question: “What are we the best in the world at doing?” In the case of KTM, Masterson said the answer was “making the best performing bikes in every category it is in”.
Being unique is more important than obsessing about the product. “The perfect product is impossible,” he said. “It’s too expensive, it takes too long. But in certain areas, you should dominate.”
In the following panel discussion, Paul Sloane, author and speaker on lateral thinking, innovation and leadership, agreed that it is not enough to be better, you have to be different.
Often, companies wanting to premiumise a product can identify the problem they have in the marketplace, but the questions they ask themselves may be unhelpful in solving the problem. So… ask a different question, he said.
Anne Asensio, vice president of design experience at Dassault Systèmes, said premium products can benefit from building an imaginary universe. Based on brand equity, she calls this process “brand imaginaire”.
Steve May-Russell, managing director of industrial design group Smallfry and a director at BDI, explored the emotional motivations of purchasing decisions. In premium purchases, the consumer sees the thing he or she has bought as “an emotional trophy”, he said.
Ignacio Germade (pictured above), head of total product offering at Vertu, the luxury phone maker, said: “Fashion is about how what you’re wearing makes you feel.”
Vertu focuses strongly on the things that are unique to its brand, said Germade, echoing the observations of other speakers. He said this focus influences lots of decisions at Vertu, such as what types of department it has and who it hires.
Vertu is now evolving to become a more European brand, but is retaining its founding principles of high quality and uniqueness, he said.
Germade spoke on Premiumisation in another time slot, as he had been unable to attend on the opening day.
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.