FEATURED STORY

Podcast: Design for how the world should work

Josh Clark and Tim O’Reilly on designing beyond screens, and beyond a single device.

Editor’s note: this podcast episode is the first in our new bi-weekly O’Reilly Radar Podcast series. You can subscribe through iTunes, SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

As the Internet is increasingly embedded into our physical world, it’s important to start designing for physical and intentional interactions with interfaces to supplement the passive, data-gathering interactions — designing smart devices that service us in the background, but upon which we also can exert our will.

In this episode, Josh Clark (in an interview) and Tim O’Reilly (in a keynote) both address the importance of designing for contextual awareness and physical interaction. Clark stresses that we’re not facing a challenge of technology, but a challenge of imagination. O’Reilly argues that we’re not paying enough attention to the aspects of people and time in designing the Internet of Things, and that the entire system in which we operate is the user interface — as we design this new world, we must think about user needs first.

Read more…

Comment: 1

Talking to big machines

What “design beyond the screen” means for the industrial Internet.

GE_turbine_3_2-103

GE’s 3.2-103 wind turbine analyzes tens of thousands of data points every second and communicates seamlessly with neighboring turbines, service technicians, and operators.

One of the core ideas we set out to explore at Solid is “design beyond the screen” — the idea that, as software moves into physical devices, our modes of interaction with it will change. It’s an easy concept to understand in terms of consumer electronics: the Misfit Shine activity tracker has a processor and memory just like a computer (along with sensors and LEDs), but you don’t control it with a keyboard and monitor; you interact with it by attaching it to your clothing and letting it gather data about your movement. At its most elegant, design beyond the screen minimizes interaction and frees humans to spend their mental energy on things that humans are good at, like creative thinking and interacting with each other.

Design beyond the screen is a much broader and more transformative concept than just that, though: it encompasses changes in the relationships between humans and machines and between machines and other machines. Good design beyond the screen makes interaction more fluid and elevates both people and machines to do their best work. The impact of good design beyond the screen could be huge, and could extend well beyond consumer electronics into heavy industry and infrastructure. Read more…

Comment: 1

The automation of design

Physical and biological design are about to get much more digital, says Autodesk’s CTO.

Autodesk_titanium_chair

A titanium chair designed through iterative generation and optimization by Autodesk software. Photo courtesy of Autodesk and The Living.

One of the core ideas behind our Solid Conference is that software can replace physical complexity, and that it’s getting easier for it to do so because the relationship between the physical and virtual worlds is becoming more fluid. Input tools like 3D scanners and computer vision software, and output tools like CNC machines and 3D printers are essentially translators between digital and physical. They make it possible to extract information from physical objects, compute on it, transform it, combine it with other data, and then “rematerialize” it.

I recently spoke with Autodesk CTO Jeff Kowalski about this convergence between physical and digital, and its impact on design. In his view, computers are about to go from mere drafting tables to full partners in the design process. They’ll automate the tedious cycle of trial and error, and leave designers to guide aesthetics and experience. “Decades ago, someone came up with the term ‘computer-aided design,’ but what we’ve had up to now is really computer-aided documentation,” he says. “Design has been accomplished solely in the head of the designer, and then the computer is used to document the outcome.” Read more…

Comment: 1

5 reasons to learn D3

D3 doesn’t stand for data-design dictator

Designers and developers making data visualizations on the web are buzzing about d3.js. But why? Read more…

Comment: 1

Biomimicry in the real world

There's good reason to believe nature has clues about how to do a good job — can it also help with web designs?

FestoRoboticBird

Festo’s Robotic Bird. Photo by Mike Loukides.

A couple of years ago, I visited the World Science Festival in New York and saw Festo’s robotic bird. It was amazing. I’ve seen things that looked more or less like a bird, and that flew, but clearly weren’t flying like a bird. An airplane has a body, has wings, and flies, but you wouldn’t mistake it for a bird. This was different: it looked like a giant seagull, with head and tail movements that were clearly modelled on a living bird’s.

Since then, Festo has built a robotic kangaroo; based on work they started in 2010, they have a robotic elephant’s trunk that learns, a robotic jellyfish, and no doubt many other animals that I haven’t yet seen.

Read more…

Comments: 2

The evolving purpose of design

Design is about communication and respect as much as function.

Mine_Kafon

Massoud Hassani’s wind-powered land minesweeper, the Mine Kafon. Photo by Rene van der Hulst, courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art.

For more than a century, design has been determined by its applications to the physical world. As architect Louis Sullivan expressed in an 1896 essay, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered“:

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.

But Paola Antonelli, senior curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, thinks that’s a law best consigned to the dustbin of history; she gets exasperated when design is presented as the subservient handmaiden of utility.

“There shouldn’t be any differentiation between form and function,” she maintained in a recent interview. “The idea that form must follow function, that’s out the window; it’s a tired cliché. A good object, a well-designed object, is encompassing. It is unified, the material embodiment of a strong idea.” Read more…

Comment: 1