Last week we had our course Gurus’ Day. A chance for each member of our class to present their project so far to mentors from throughout the university and industry professionals. We each had to build our own stands aimed to explain the issues of People, Design, and Technology from within the context of our projects.

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Above is my stand. I chose to use shelves to highlight the value given by us to the objects we own but also how we use these to build up the outwards image of ourselves that we want to give to others. Read about how I built my stand here.

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Product Design Criticism

I found it very interesting to speak to the industry professionals working in Design about my project because, in a lot of ways, I feel that my project is a reflection on product design as a subject. I’ve recently found myself questioning what it means to be a designer – whether you’re really there to “make the world a better place” or whether you’re there just to make a company more money. There’s definitely an irony to doing a product design brief to explore consumerist culture.

In discussing this with David Hill of Barclays he reminded me that “designers are humans too” and this was really interesting for me; designers do not set out to do anything ‘evil’. We can use this humanity perhaps to teach designers to take more responsibility for their actions when they help to create things that will be landfilled quickly or with planned obsolescence in mind.

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Utopias Around Products

I really enjoyed talking to Craig Bunyan from Seymor Powell about the utopias that are built around products. We always want a better future than the reality that we live in (perhaps a detrimental way of thinking?) and this means we are very affected by marketing campaigns telling us that our lives will become much better if we simply buy their product. Sadly, no utopia ever lives up to what it promises and this could be one of the main reasons that we throw our recently purchased products so quickly.

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We also spoke about the ‘worlds’ that products live in, especially in the case of obsolete technologies. I am very glad that I put an old film camera in my display as this sparked a few conversations about why this technologically obsolete product is still used so often today. Will other obsolete products come into fashion once again? Perhaps one day it will be desirable to own an old iPod because it only stores such a small number of songs, limiting you and therefore creating value?
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Mel Woods, a researcher from within DJCADl, also picked up on this issue. In our session we discussed perceptions of second hand products. How these have literally belonged to somebody else’s life and the ‘world’ that they live in. Clothes are very powerful because they are so much about what we show as our image, clothes are our chosen skin. It’s also interesting to consider how we adopt clothes as part of ourselves more when we make amendments (or especially repairs) to them by hand.

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How to Build Awareness and Facilitate Change

Talking to DJCAD’s Louise Valentine on creating change was one of the highlights of my day. For me it is very important that my product can change perspectives to create a tangible impact to the environment by reducing waste. Louise explained to me that the best way to do this is to bring people into it. When people understand issues from a personal perspective that they can apply to their own lives, they are much more likely to act on something. Louise also pointed out that I was clearly very passionate about the topic and that this would pose some problems (perhaps in user research when my perspectives could be forced) but ultimately it could make for a much stronger project.

“Get frustrated” – Louise Valentine

She explained that I could design a product that would act as a mediator between now and a better future. Such a product could belong to a ‘world’ in which small advances have been made to a more sustainable future of which my design is a part.

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Speculative Design

Louise even mentioned that I could instead design a “set of provocations” to get people thinking. I spoke about doing the concept of doing a speculative style design to most of the gurus and had some interesting responses. Finlay Craig of Barclays explained that the problem with speculative design is that so often it is solely based on the opinion of the designer. To do a successful design you must have very strong insights coming from user research to back it up.

“If you can spark meaningful conversations, you are still creating value.” – Finlay Craig

David Hill’s opinion on the topic was that it is much harder for ordinary people to relate to speculative designs as they are often quite conceptual and quite close to pieces of art. Once again, my problem has been defined as designing something that people can relate to.

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Next Steps

After talking to the gurus, I defined main next steps that I will take as:

  • Take number of existing products through a criteria exploring their emotional connotations and the ‘worlds’ that the belong to.
  • Think carefully about how I will respond to the contents that come back with my Cultural probes. How can I make sure that I really ‘listen‘ to my results and don’t overlay my own personal opinion.
  • What can I actually do as part of my research to facilitate change. Perhaps a campaign within DJCAD?

I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to the gurus who all took their time to travel to Dundee and mentor our class – we all gained so much from the experience.

Photo credits to myself and Kirsty Sneddon.

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