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Forays into the physical with thoughts on industrial design from frog's product design team.

What's More?

Since the dawn of civilization tools have been an extension of humanity. Today more than ever humans and their tools are inseparable. I’ve noticed that for the past couple of years I’ve gone to sleep with my laptop and my phone flanking my bed. An observation I’ve taken for granted but that has categorically reshaped my night and morning routines.  My two “goddesses— to borrow a meme from Charlie Sheen— are the first things I touch when I wake up-no pun intended: one to check the time and the other to absorb information I missed while I was asleep. Despite this often symbiotic relationship I have with my two favorite tools, I’m never satisfied; I’m always left wanting more. I’m not alone…..almost everyone wants more out of their tools and designers are no exception.

As technological progress accelerates so does Design. Within the past decade, fueled mainly by Apple’s resurgence as a global design force, we have, consciously or unconsciously, stepped away from a mindless styling attitude to make way for an innovative pursuit for “experience” and incremental changes in products.  Products in general, consumer electronics in particular, are simpler to use and offer us more features for doing the same things faster, easier, anytime, anywhere.  The basic idea of course is to get more in a smaller, thinner, lighter package. “More” is supposed to be better; so we’ve created a design culture where the introduction of more features too often justifies the release of a new product.  But is more truly better? And what exactly do we mean when we say we want more?

Today “more” merely refers to abundance and uninterrupted access to features we deem necessary to our productivity and survival. In a fast-paced hyper-connected world it seems only logical that having more of everything could easily translate into a better life and better choices. The goal of our perfunctory holiday purchases is to fill every little downtime moment of our lives with experiences that we believe can only be provided by our favorite devices. This voracious yearning for hardware experiences has propelled technology and design firms on a cat-and-mouse quest for the latest design features to entice us to buy more of anything. Things like faster connectivity, cameras, 3D, and better resolutions are all upgrades that, while often necessary, for better or worse, allow us to stay connected 24/7. This uninterrupted access to advanced technology is supposed to make us feel better, learn better, and be more productive. A recent research from the University of California however debunked that theory: having too much to play with and being continually plugged into our devices is actually bad for us. According to the research, our brains learn and remember less when we are constantly in “activity” mode. As biological creatures, our brains need moments of rest to process every bit of information or experiences we’ve accumulated. With constant stimulation, our brains are instead adopting a worker-bee mentality where we are sadly becoming fatigued extensions of our own products instead of the other way around.

While I still own a lot of products, I now worry that the reason I’m never satisfied with their productivity is because I wish they were more alive, more responsive, more in tune with every single one of my spontaneous needs...I guess more human. Unfortunately, products by nature are just tools; no amount of tweaking or feature bloating could ever make them replace the complex act of being human. No design innovation could replicate the natural human experience. Things like taking a walk in a park, watching the sun rise or feeling cold water on your skin, though often seen as a bore elevate our sensorial aptitude and broaden our imagination in ways products can only pretend to do. The human touch allows us to see the world for what it is and for what it could be.  Products, on the other hand, do a good job at providing us with a small window into the worldview they hold sacred but they fail at the simple act of inspiring us to be better people.

I’m not advocating that we stop using our phones or laptops; God knows we need them now more than ever. But when I look around me at all these products I’m surrounded by I do wonder, what if the “more” we crave so insatiably was just more of ourselves, more of nature? Perhaps in trying to provide humankind with every tool and feature imaginable to secure our advancement and survival we are actually sacrificing the one thing we could never live without: the human experience. Ideally I dream of a world where our must-have products are designed to inspire us to be more human.