The following is an interview conducted by TechTrends, a Bulgarian news outlet, in advance of my Keynote speech at the 2019 Re:Logia Arts and Technology conference in Sofia.
My answers were translated into Bulgarian, and can be read on the TechTrends website.
To learn more about Nokia Bell Labs involvement at the Re:Logia conference, visit the project page that covers the event.
To learn more about the exciting projects happening in Nokia Bell Labs, visit https://www.bell-labs.com/
Industrial design was, and still is, key to democratising technology. By allowing technology to be used by non-experts, it has now become ubiquitous. From simple and intuitive controls on hardware devices, to clean and easy-to-navigate interfaces on screens, using smart tools has never been easier. It's simply amazing how we've come to take for granted the things we can achieve, how non-technical experts can carry out these amazingly complex tasks, and only by using a few touch swipes on our smart devices.
The field of industrial design has changed in a countless manner of ways over the years. For me, some of the most notable changes of late have been the rise of User Experience design (UX) and design thinking in recent years, and a general appreciation of the design field. I believe people are a lot more conscious of when something doesn't work, or is designed poorly. This is doubly true for our technical interactions. If you look at the form of a traditional product, say a chair or a door, the form of an object denotes how it is to be used.
However, once the function is handled by electronics, the form is actually irrelevant and the user is at the mercy of the UX design. And UX is more important than ever the more connected we get, as more and more complex data has to be filtered down and presented to the user in a way that they can easily consume it, and change it with the touch of a smart phone.
In the end of the day though, the goals of consumers and users is still the same; people want devices that work for them and with them, not against them. I think we're seeing a rise in personalisation, in people tailoring their products and digital experiences to suit them.
Everyone has their own unique and valid beliefs on what the most important element of industrial design is: for me, it is definitely empathy. Good design is not created in a vacuum, nor is the end product intended to live in one, which is why it is so important to fully understand who or what you're working for. When it comes to designing for users, you must keep them in mind throughout the entire process, and not lose sight of what their wants and goals are.
I'm also a big believer in the pursuit of "meaningful interactions"; in embedding value into every aspect of our built environment, be it through aesthetics, functionality, material choices, narrative or otherwise. By being considerate in our design practice, we can all work towards a society where people are more engaged in the moment-to-moment interactions, between each other, their tools, and their surroundings.
Sustainability and waste. There is still a massive problem in the manner in which devices are produced, and equally in all of us as consumers, in our attitude to using and disposing of them. There is vague consensus for people to be more eco-conscious, almost like a collective "meh, I know I should". But the next big push in industrial design has to be a move towards sustainable materials, and (to steal from Dieter Rams) encouraging a "less but better" mentality in our attitude towards our material goods.
We believe that a radically different technological landscape will require equally novel means of communication. Nokia Bell Labs and Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) are interested in creating new modes of communication that go beyond the limitations of the written and spoken word. Emerging technologies such as haptics, audio and Augmented Reality can be utilised in such a way create deeper interactions with one another at a greater frequency. Current communication technologies allow for immediate communication across great distances and obstacles; we believe the next step is in making each of those interactions more meaningful in a very practical way.
We need to take a deep look at the interactions we undertake daily, and the medium and means by which we communicate, and think about whether we find them fulfilling. Looking towards the future, we need to look at the interactions we do value; the social, the personal, the recreational, and consider how can we trigger the sensation of that experience using technology, or even augment the existing experience.