Technology and the Generation gap

My Mum is now in her mid 70’s and has been embracing technology for several years now, which is great but it does require a fair amount of IT support. It all started with a desktop pc running windows 98. A steep learning curve ensued required new skills to be mastered both mentally and physically. What I considered simple tasks were painful to watch, the simple point and click with the mouse proved arduous and the introduction of the right mouse button brought the whole thing tumbling down.

But once up and running it wasn’t long before she found her feet and was writing documents and filing them away in the most unusual places. The next piece of technology to arrive was the digital camera which, thanks to Picasa was much less painful than I expected. The only problem with the digital camera was the much more traditional analog problem of either losing it or dropping it in her drink.

Technology was now winning and we were on a roll with the introduction of her first mobile phone around 10 years ago we gave her the simplest one we could find and it all went smoothly with the only real problem being convincing her that she does’t need to keep switching it off to preserve the battery! The phone was very intuitive just dial the number on the easy to read backlight rubber keys and press the green telephone button and off you go. Not forgetting to press the red handset button when you’ve finished the call. Green to go red to stop, i like that!

Then about 3 years ago she got a pc laptop. This wasn’t as bad as you might think, she’s had the desk top for many years now so she understood the basics. Learning the new skills required to use the touch pad was the biggest problem and the handy autoscroll feature down the side of the touchpad caused no end of problems with the pages flicking up and down unexpectedly. ‘Tim the page I was looking at has just disappeared’ was a common call.

So Mum now had her techno life in order her own gmail account for communicating with friends, Skype for video meetings with her son and grandchild in the States and a word processor for the creative writing. What more could she want….”picture texting sounds good, how do I do that Tim?” enter the Samsung touchphone, fancy screen, camera, phone, Internet all controlled with an easy to use totally intuitive touch interface. not so. It no longer had the familiar number keypad so useful for making phone calls, it had a couple of silver phone buttons a bit too small to use and ulcer which one to press to make and end a call. the touch screen kept activating unwanted applications when all she wanted to do was scroll down a page, but the biggest problem was that the local memory soon filled up and she had to store photos on an sd card, getting the phone to do that was only half the battle once safely stored the phone could’t use pictures stored on the card for picture texting, this was after all what she wanted to do most of all. The technology was losing ground, enter the iPad.

You would think this would be the the tech saviour, not so. Which way is up? Why can I never find the side button I’m looking for? How does this volume switch work? Why can’t I watch this video clip? Where’s the camera? How do I connect it to my PC? Where do I plug my USB stick. But as time went by the ‘I’ way started to make sense and the touch interface made moving around the Internet so much easier….she was falling back in love with technology and it was doing what she wanted to do better, at least most of the time.

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Skills Bazaar ‘Mash-up’

A bit late I know but, there was a request from those who attended the Cambridge Skills Bazaar for a summary of what went on at the post event mash-ups.

The Bazaar was a networking event which brought together people from both creative, technical and support service backgrounds. The mash-up took place at the end and was an experimental collaboration of selected people from the event brought together to ‘thrash out’ an idea brough along by team leaders from various disciplines.

I was asked to co-ordinate a product design mash-up so I dreamt up the following idea to ‘table’ to my team.

The Spotifier

The Spotifier is a low-cost personal music player which streams music from Spotify to any device in the home or to a pair of headphones for personal listening.  linking the player to a single streaming service simplifies the user setup and also provides an opportunity for brand development. The device only streams from a wi-fi network but could have a small memory for storing a play list for off-line listening.

Discussions: Everyone was very interested in the idea but it soon became apparent that, only allowing it to stream from a local wi-fi network would be very restrictive and everyone felt that it would not provide the flexibility most people would look for in this kind of device. It was always the intention to keep the cost of the product to a bare minimum but discussions about functionality soon added screens, buttons and even a speaker so the costs began to stack up. All this lead the team to wonder why this wasn’t just an app on a smart phone.

The Spotifier was based on replaying playlists so,  keen to continue to discuss a new product idea, we started to discuss the idea of sharing play lists and soon came up with a simple device which could you could mate with other devices to share playlist information. Now we had a very simple and cheap product whose sole job was to collect playlists from people you meet so you can expand your musical horizons. My original product vision was for the Spotifier to be an ‘Allessi’ style object with a human form so the idea of mating the devices together was a real fit !

Other thoughts: Could the device actually extract musical DNA from a playlists and mate them together to create new unique play lists.

Now cheap and cheerful the product could be a key fob given away by Spotify when you sign up for an account.

All together a very interesting event and the mash-up was definitely food for thought

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Launching my new start-up service

My product design business has been trading for a year now and I have decided it’s time to focus my business development efforts.

Cambridge is well-known for its entrepreneurial spirit and as a result has many exiting start-ups. While chatting to various networking friends I’ve discovered that many of them have preconceptions about the product design business, mostly laid down by some of the large local consultancies.

Excited by the idea of working with more start-up businesses I have decided to respond.  I am hoping that tailoring my marketing push to small businesses will help them understand that having access to all the benefits of industrial design doesn’t have to break the bank.

To help sell this message I have added a new section to my website offering advice for start-ups as well as outlining the services my company offers to help make their product dreams a cost-effective reality. For those who are new to product development there is a diagram to  illustrate the design process from idea to production and all the steps in between.

The next step was to get the message out. I decided to call upon the services of a local PR company, whose director Chris Measures did a fantastic job of transcribing my waffling into a neat and concise press release which has been sent out to an extensive list of local and nation press and news websites.

Only time will tell if this will help drive my business in a new and exciting direction.

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Industrial or Product Design

I recently posted a request on the Industrial design Linkedin group asking people if they knew if there was a difference between Industrial Design and Product Design, it evoked quite a lively response. Most people considered them to be one in the same but had an opinion on which title they preferred.

Most designers liked the idea of being titled Industrial Designers but usually referred to themselves as Product designers when asked what they do for a living. From experience, this is because as soon as you mention ‘industry’ people think you design industrial things like, cranes or towers or knitting machines.

One comment suggested that Industrial Design was an academic description and it was indeed the official title of my degree course. Mind you this was back in the 90’s and I notice many modern courses are now titled product design.

Another contributor, in Denmark, thought that product designers worked more with one off design as a posed to volume manufacturing. This might make sense if, as the name suggests, industrial designers design products manufactured by industry.

One trend that ran through all the discussions was how difficult it is for industrial designers to describe what they do at social events, I sometimes feel like making up a profession because it would be easier to explain. At the next party I think I’ll be a graphic designer.

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What’s wrong with a real community

The world of social media loves to try and create communities. Grouping people together in a virtual world, and we seem to lap it up, Facebook, Linkedin groups, gaming communities, chat rooms, message boards and virtual worlds. The strange thing is this is all happening as the real communities around us are breaking down.

I figure it’s all about commitment, we are a social race and we love to feel part of a group but we don’t like the idea of being tied to people and supporting them even when it doesn’t suit us. The great thing about a virtual community is that you can switch it off when you don’t want to play anymore. Unlike the elderly neighbour who you have to pass on your way to work that might need your help.

Or is it the anonymity that appeals, we can appear how we want to appear and be who we want to be in the virtual world. In the real world we are who we are and that’s not always easy.

Maybe it’s time to step out of the door and say hi to a neighbour and start enjoying the satisfaction of being part of a real community.

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Farm story stole my wife

Woke the other morning 6.15am, 30 minutes before the alarm, rolled over to see my wires face lit up by an eerie glow. She was cradling the iPad checking, cropping and planting out crops on her virtual farm! This was crazy but this is how things are these days, I have dropped down the pecking order and my biggest selling point is that I work from home and can check the farm while she’s at work.

Farm Story, it starts with the kids then they get bored so their mums take over and before you know it they’re in the grips of farm envy, manically planting crops so they can earn coins to buy extra land. Can’t see the attraction myself but I think it’s got something to to with nurture and voyeurism. My wires friend was round the other day and they were on the sofa quietly tapping away on their iPhone/ pad when my wife pipes up ‘wow, check this farm out, anal or what’ and her friend replies ‘yes but look at this one you’ve got to love the use of roses to frame the paddy fields’

Not too sure what’s going on but I hope she comes back soon……

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A Brave New World

I can bury my head in the sand no longer, it’s time to grab the web by the horns and dive into the world of social media!
My first blog…It’s been 10 months since I started my product design business and in that time the hype that is social media has continued to grow and grow. Hoping it would eventually disappear up its own bum I’ve steadfastly ignored it, but following an excellent talk by Eric Swain at last nights Cambridge Pitch and Mix I’m now an active ‘tweetblogger’. Hopefully it will last and I will be able to think of enough to write about of interest to the millions… this space

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