Through the industrial age we have systematically repackaged the artifacts of our lives in smaller and smaller containers. We are in the age of miniaturization. Mobile computing is at the center of our increasingly de-centralized lives. Interestingly, artifacts like music, photos, and video have taken more portable forms while remaining sublime indicators of our identity: our history, memories, behaviors, and habits. Acquiring, creating, and consuming these artifacts—or what might be called our digital legacy—constitutes much of our mobile activity.
Trends like the steady drop in computing’s price to performance ratio, network speed innovation, cheap supply of memory, enhanced battery life, and large-scale quality manufacturing all fueled the evolution of miniaturization. But advances in user experience arguably played a more important role. The introduction and rapid adoption of multi-touch opened up the experience in ways previously impossible with indirect interface models. Rather than impose an abstraction in the way users interacted with content, content began responding in expected and familiar ways for users. Performance also made the experience responsive and immediate. There were no more spinning cursors or hour-glass icons interrupting the moment. Small nuances, like the use of physics or the way items and lists responded to touch, brought moments of delight that users understood and connected to.
The current generation of mobile device is roughly 8-9 millimeters thick with a 3- to 5-inch touch screen, a couple of cameras, sensors, and a connection to the network and cloud. Mobile platform wars are certainly far from over, but a period of mobile normalization has begun. It’s not unlike the time when personal computing settled with Windows and Mac OS. The core features are similar and standard interaction paradigms have stabilized. Android vs iOS vs Windows Mobile are not really as strategic decisions as they previously were. The steady pace of incremental innovation by Apple and Google has a tangible cadence. It hasn't stalled but perhaps it has crested. While we continue to cram more and more of our lives behind that 4-inch display, we also lose out on many of the important attributes that make our digital legacy important to us. There is something missing from the experience. Touch is a great enabler but it breaks down when we have access to every song recorded, every picture we have ever taken, and several terabytes of history and social interactions that we are constantly encoding about ourselves.
frog recently participated in the annual IIT Institute of Design’s Design Research Conference (DRC) that was held in Chicago. Our challenge was twofold: to facilitate an interactive engagement with the entire conference audience and to provoke thought and reflection on the conference content and theme — the adjacent possible.
Each year a group of students at the Institute of Design works to create a conference that explores emerging themes and practices in design research. This year’s focus on concepts from lateral fields and disciplines was inspired by author Steven Johnson’s description of the adjacent possible. Johnson draws upon this idea, originally from scientist Stuart Kauffman, to argue that good ideas are often generated by the recombination of other existing ideas:
“The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations.”
In the context of the conference, this essentially boils down to a few simple questions: What can designers learn from other fields? Which ideas can help us create better solutions?
I spend a lot of time playing multi-player video games with people all over the world. In the process, I have come to realize that the gamers I play with represent a wide range of age, ethnic, and gender diversity—sometimes even more than the range of people in my daily life. I started to wonder if this was true of other gamers: were their groups of in-game friends more diverse than their real-life friends? What was the impact of these video game interactions on gamers’ awareness of other cultures?
I live in New York City, which has a pretty diverse population, but in the past I have lived in cities like Kyoto, Japan where my gaming friends were absolutely more diverse than my non-gaming friends. Could cultural awareness gained through online gaming translate into more positive attitudes and interactions with a wider group of people offline?
Recently, frogs Teaque Lenahan and Jake Zukowski facilitated the Seattle Design Summit with the help of designers Jenni Light and Kat Davis. The summit was part of AIGA's larger Design for Good initiative, which aims to put design at the forefront of positive social change. Sponsored by PepsiCo's Nutrition Ventures, the two-day event focused on guerrilla design research and divergent thinking as a catalyst for health innovation, particularly in the prevention of lifestyle diseases.
If the city is a kind of conversation, then Moscow is intoned of both East and West, the progressive lilt of the frontier and the gravitas of a layered historical grammar, colliding beneath a beautifully and symbolically oblique Cyrillic skin. Moscow is at once a European city and not, Eastern Orthodox spires flowering prodigiously across the skyline, competing for notice with Tsarist, bourgeois, and Soviet architectures alike. Moscow occupies time and space hugely, an explicit impression of many contexts – of political, ethnic and material culture – in motion. Implicitly ornery, it is a heads-down city that is also simultaneously looking almost obsessively for the next next.
Thinkers and creative leaders in Moscow are looking for new modes of how to understand the past in Russia. For instance, traditional tourism is understood by the legislation at large in this city, whereas the emerging social mapping of Moscow, newer layers of experience and creative concentration, are not. And this represents an important generational, as well as commercial, divide.
Robert Fabricant, frog's vice president of creative, speaks with the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) about Project Mwana and frog's partnership with UNICEF. Project Mwana was recently recognized by IDSA, receiving two of the organization's International Design Excellence Awards.
Project Mwana is a mobile service that delivers HIV lab results in real time to rural clinics. It is also a messaging platform between clinics and community health workers to ensure that results are communicated directly to mothers. Project Mwana is currently serving as a demonstration project for a new approach to collaborative design to enhance the use of real-time data within UNICEF.
frog is honored to accept three International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) from the International Designers Society of America (IDSA). IDEA is recognized as the preeminent international design competition and referred to as “the Oscars of Design.” frog will take home three awards, two in the Design Strategy and one in the Social Impact Design category:
Innovation is not a science. Much of it has the elusive qualities of art, dressed up as useful things. But business leaders continue to try and invest in innovation as if it were a science. And too often, the designers they employ as consultants engage with these leaders not only as if it were an art but also as if their clients understood how to speak in “creative” terms. So we find these two parties speaking different languages, in need of a translator. And as often happens in translation, important context or nuance can be lost.
For the first time in human history, more people live in cities than in rural areas, and in the next 20 years the urban population will grow from 3.5 billion to 5 billion people. The social, economic, environmental, design, and engineering challenges of this transformation will shape the 21st century. The lives of the people living in those cities can be improved – and the impact of this growth on the environment reduced – by the use of “smart” technologies that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of urban systems. Given that cities are, and always have been, about the clustering of people, digital innovations are now undoubtedly accelerating human interactions in urban environments and readying citizens for contributing to inclusive growth. By unlocking technology, infrastructure and public data, cities can open up new value chains that spawn innovative applications and information products that make possible sustainable modes of city living and working.
Last week, MAK in Vienna, saw an opening of a much-acclaimed exhibition in the Industrial Design sphere. Guest-curated by Hartmut Esslinger, game changing approaches to product research and development will be show-cased at the Museum for Applied Arts. The overarching theme focuses on the main capability of design as an applied art facilitates solutions in the social, ecological, and economic challenges.