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In this week’s Radar Podcast, I chat with Simon King, director of the Carnegie Mellon University Design Center. Harkening back to growing up on a family farm in Michigan, King talks about technology’s growing role in agriculture and the role design is playing in agriculture innovation. He also talks about his new book Understanding Industrial Design and the synergies between industrial design and interaction design. King will be speaking about industrial design at our newly launched O’Reilly Design Conference: Design the Future on January 19 to 22, 2016, in San Francisco.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
There’s been different eras of agriculture, and this latest one of precision agriculture or data-driven agriculture has the possibility of really changing the way people farm. I see that to some degree with people like my father and the new tools that he’s embracing slowly — things like autonomous driving tractors and some of the different data services. It’s an opportunity, I think, for new people to come into the field, and it’s going to be important.
Like most industries that are leading with technology, design trails. People are embracing the technology because it’s whole new capabilities that they never had before. Being able to do soil samples and analysis and then create nitrogen prescription maps so that you are not like wasting any chemicals — it’s such a great advancement that people are willing to fight through the fact that it’s poorly designed. We see that in medical; we see that in automotive. Any industry that reaches a certain curve where the technology has become mature, then all of a sudden the experience of using it begins to matter a lot more. I think that’s where design is going to start intersecting with agriculture really strongly and actually make it more accessible to farmers who are generally not that technically savvy.
Industrial design is such an older design discipline. Just purely from the design history standpoint, it’s something that everybody should be studying and be aware of how that discipline has evolved. It’s the underpinning of a lot of the different disciplines that design has kind of fragmented into.
People really need to have an overlap between one or more disciplines. Just siloing yourself to say, I work on physical things, I work on digital things, I only work on research — you can’t create a holistic, integrated experience in that way. You can collaborate with people and that’s useful, but I’m seeing increasingly it’s really people who live at that intersection of disciplines.
I don’t see [my definition of design] changing, but I see the materials that we are working with changing. The need to understand how to work with data as a material. The need to understand how to combine digital and physical — the process has to evolve and the understanding of those materials has to evolve.
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