[Journal #7] Technology: What Drives Design?
I recently picked up a book (from the owner of my local bike shop oddly enough) called Code Name Ginger by Steven Kemper, which documents the story of Dean Kamen’s Segway. Even though I’ve just started this book, it has got me thinking about the question of what drives design? The most obvious, and perhaps academically correct answer, at least from the industrial design point of view, would be “needs”. For example the OXO grips came out of a need for kitchen utensils that were easy to grip (or specifically, easier for people with arthritis to grip). I do however think there are other things that can drive design besides user needs. Although I can see “wants” and “problems” as very similar to “needs”, I they are slightly different ways to begin looking at design issues. While “needs” and “problems” often focus on the functional and practical, “wants” more closely reflects the aesthetics of a design and emotional reaction to a design. In the case of the Segway, “technology” was clearly what fueled its design process. It was Kamen’s development and combination of gyroscopic sensors into a coherent system that made the Segway possible. Without it, no amount of (industrial/product) designing could have reproduced anything similar. To me, this makes certain aspects of design (product design specifically) dependent on technological breakthroughs and innovations. And in an extension, design also relies heavily on engineering. I’ve always been bothered by ID’s real (and maybe partially imagined/misunderstood) dependence on engineering. But the more I think about it, ID/design sort of continues on where engineering stops. So while engineering and technology allow the primary function and purpose of the Segway to be realized, ID makes it attractive, intuitive, and usable to the consumer public (somewhat on a tangent, but I also am beginning to see ID’s importance in beyond the physical and practical but into the cognitive/emotional impact side of designing a product, something engineering/technology does not address). Looking at another article I read through on TIME magazine’s website talking about the top 50 inventions of 2010: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,2029497,00.html, I’m amazed by the door technology has opened up for us. Where ID fits in the development of these engineering wonders, is making them understandable to everyone.