Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Design Trends from Frog Design [Trendforum 2008]

Last week I came across a presentation from Frog Design about design trends. There were several ideas about the evolving nature of design that sparked my thinking (and considerable interest). First let me share with you highlights from the presentation first, then I will elaborate on my own thoughts.

Highlights from Frog Design Presentation
  • We are moving towards a design democracy: transition from mass consumption to mass customization. People are starting to take design into their own hands, enabled by technology. People are participating in the design of their own lives within a world that is "always on" for conversation and self-expression.
  • Designers beware of becoming an enemy of design: A shift in design mindset is happening from designing "for" to designing "with" people. This, of course, requires increased focus on understanding the people who will use the product. It also points to the opportunity for designers to focus on the creation of tools rather than final products - tools then enable users to make their own creation.
  • The system is the product. People are buying what the system means to them - e.g. what it enables them to accomplish - rather than the products/tools themselves. The system to which I refer here is comprised by the actual products that function as tools - Think iPod and lego.

Thoughts Sparked by the Presentation

Technology is no longer just a tool. It has expanded its domain over numerous aspects of our lives - personal, social, professional, expressive, etc. Our ability to leverage technology to customize products, and to customize technology itself, has is driving force in this evolution. The increasingly pervasive role that technology plays as a medium, "through" which we act, has led to an increased focus on it as an object of interaction itself, "on" which we act.

The malleability of modern day computation-based technologies has greatly increased the need for design. Design with a capital "D" (the formal practice of design as embodied by professional designers) has received a lot of attention and is being applied to many new areas for business and social purposes. design with a small "d" (design thinking and behavior that is a core element of human beings) has been impacted in an even more interesting manner. People have become increasingly conscious of their ability to design their own lives.

My perspective is based on my personal experience - hence, it is most definitely biased. I have a high-level of comfort with technology and have often used it as a tool to support my pursuits. Technology definitely plays an important role in enabling me to design my life - it is a medium through which I express my identity, a place where I converse with other people and a tool for me to complete various tasks. I am both technology literate and design literate. We can't forget that our current education system is not designed to support design and technology literacy. There is a need for a concerted effort to educate people how to make sense of, and act in, this new world.

An important question to consider: how can we support literacy in the realms of technology and design? There are some schools that are exploring how to address these needs; the New Design High School is such a school in my own neighborhood. They have an innovative curriculum that is based on design principles (check out their website) [disclaimer: earlier this year I helped organize two fundraisers for their music production program]. Another approach is to address this challenge is through design itself. Focusing on designing ways to interact with technology that are more natural and social appropriate for new contexts and to lower the learning curve for inexperienced or under-served users.

Another question to investigate: how can designers understand how to create designs for technology that address human needs from emotional and social perspectives, rather than focus on usability? Brenda Laurel's on book design research has some interesting methods and perspectives aimed at helping designers better understand how to emotional and social needs. The chapter written by Nathan Shedroff is of special interest, he shares some very unconventional approaches to design research that are focused on these areas.

[via DesignMind]

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