Fairy tales and pop culture as inspiration for design innovation

In this O'Reilly Radar Podcast: David Rose on fairy tale inspiration, and Simon King on designing for future context.


In this podcast episode, David Rose, an instructor at MIT’s Media Lab and CEO at Ditto Labs, sits down with Mary Treseler, O’Reilly’s director of strategic content for our design space. In the interview, Rose defines his mission: “to make technology more elegant, more embedded, and hopefully, more humane.” Technology itself isn’t what drives Rose — he’s looking for inspiration in places that have captured and fueled our imaginations for centuries:

“I’m trying to be very, sort of, fairy-tale driven rather than tech driven. In the book [Enchanted Objects], I go back to some of the patterns that are revealed through Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm or other pop culture, like spy culture or Harry Potter or Frodo, and I try to think about what those technologies are or how those services are transferable from one person to another.

“Super powers like Superman’s ability to fly don’t count because he can’t give that to anyone else, but if it’s boots that allow you to walk many miles that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to walk or a purse that replenishes or a magic carpet that could transport anybody, those qualify because those are objects that can be used by many people. I have gone back, studied these crystal balls and other objects of enchantment and magic, and think about how those could be used as a way to inspire the inventors of The Internet of Things today.”

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These “objects of enchantment,” Rose explains are ordinary things — like a pen or a piece of jewelry — with extraordinary abilities. These objects must appeal to users on an emotional level, and in some way enhance their lives. User experience is key, and Rose is concerned that the direction of current wearable technology is missing the mark:

“The fixation on wearables is interesting. … If you want to make something that survives in people’s lives over time, you want to make something that takes care of itself rather than something you have to change a behavior to take care of. These things that are more transparent, like anti-lock brakes — nobody had to do anything differently. They’re still pressing the brake lever and that’s just, sort of, working on their behalf. I’m really worried that wearables will be rejected because they will require a new behavior of battery charging; we’re not used to charging our earrings.”

With the proper approach, though, enchanted objects are poised to disrupt. “I am confident,” Rose says, “that enchanted objects will change how we live: they will change health; they will change transportation; they will change housing; they will change how we understand our own habits around energy and resource conservation; and they will even help us with creativity and expression. … I’m really confident that there’s a promising future in terms of this new way of interacting and positioning ourselves relative to technology.”

As for advice for designers, engineers, and developers creating products and services for the Internet of Things, Rose returns to the tales of enchantment that he finds so inspiring:

“If you can invent things that resonate with people’s existing drives, desires, fantasies — the ones that we’ve had for a millennium that are revealed through fairy tales and through folklore and through pop culture — you’re much more likely to succeed.”

Also in this podcast…

In the second segment, O’Reilly’s Nick Lombardi chats with Simon King, design director and interaction design community lead at IDEO. King talks about the human-centered design approach at IDEO, where design intuition fits in to the creative process, and how design is evolving as projects become more and more complex. King also has an interesting take on designing for context that you won’t want to miss.

You can listen to the podcast in the player embedded above or download it through SoundCloud or iTunes.

Cropped image on article and category pages by .alicia.kowalski. on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

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