Designing the Future: Why We Need To Start Making Things That Matter / by Trieuvy Luu

Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang. Set in the year 2026, Metropolis portrays the fear of and fascination with technological progress.

Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang. Set in the year 2026, Metropolis portrays the fear of and fascination with technological progress.

 

Over the past years of my beginning career and education as an Interaction designer, I have worked closely with clients and partners on projects involving new technologies. Projects such as autonomous forestry vehicles, Nano-Technology, future food printing, connected objects (IoT) and more. Here are my thoughts on the future of technology and what this means for our everyday lives.

For a long time, we have been creating things to make life easier. We came up with tools aimed to increase our efficiency. Over time, our tools became more complex and at a certain point we created machines and other products to replace many of our tasks. At the end of the day, we were able to do more than we could before.

However, in our exciting thrive to make things more efficient we have reached a critical point in which the mere idea of optimizing everyday life is starting to limit us. Especially now, when we have the knowledge and technology to make our environment smart and autonomous. We have become obsessed with the technological obsession to make things. Our phones are becoming bigger, and our homes are becoming smarter. But do we need an autonomous front door?

As human beings, we have expressive qualities. We are curious and blessed with creative minds. What makes humans human is to feel, learn new things and develop ourselves. We want to experience new moments. In these moments, we can only keep developing ourselves if we have the choice to make our own decisions. Being human means being able to open your front door to invite someone in. And an autonomous front door would take this choice away from us.

I believe, as designers, we can do better. In our education, there has been much focus around the what and the how, that the why has been left out. The why did not seem like a hard skill, but in my personal opinion it is the most important skill. Rather than just creating more efficient things, we need to start to deepen our understanding of what it means to be human. We need to re-imagine how design and technology can help people with being what they are best at.

It is important to not only determine what to design but moreover determine why to design it.

Understanding the why

Thinking about the future is exciting. We all love to think about what the future can be, what it will be. We constantly talk about it, trying to understand it. Whether we have a new idea about how things should work, or we start to envision our dreams in the future.

But at the end of the day, thinking is just thinking. And an idea of how the future might be like, is barely understandable for our senses. It might turn out differently. Therefore we need to feel, we need to do the thing.

I have often found myself in situations in which it was hard for me to see the relevance and excitement in a new idea when my team have proposed them to me, and vice versa. But later, when the idea embodied the slightest form (this can even be an earliest sketchy mock-up), we all started to see and feel the real impact that it has on us.

When we think about the future we make many assumptions based on what we already know. But the future is still far away, not understandable for our common sense. Things that at first glance seems promising might not work at all. And simple yet small ideas, might make a big difference for our future. We should not be driven in our creations by the excitement of new technologies because in the end they might not work at all. Instead, we should let go of our thinking and start acting out our own future. Searching for things that are meaningful, things that matter.

Only if we start putting ourselves in the future, we can truly understand which things makes us happy, creates delight and helps us to be human again.

Abandoning the self-driving car?

So should we start abandoning future trends? No, that’s not what I’m saying. Tech giants such as Microsoft Research and Google[x] are doing fantastic jobs. Their experimental facilities are dedicated to developing technological advancements. Great stuff!

From a technological viewpoint, they are making significant progress every day. But technology needs design. Design is the critical sparring partner of technology. Without design, there is no purpose why we should have technology in our life.

Let’s take the case of Google’s self-driving car. When people are discussing the self-driving car, they tend to ask questions such as: How much will these cars cost? Is this supposed to replace my car at home?

I love driving. And even though my driving skills are not perfect (I had a minor incident last year). I just love the thrill of being fully in control of the car. I am still driving, and every day I am getting better with it. So is this self-driving car something for me?

Maybe. I would love to try out the self-driving car. And probably I will love it a lot. But there is a bigger picture we tend to forget. The picture in which design shows us the true value of having autonomous technology. Why does humankind need this technology?

And one of the answers might be to create an impact on the life of disabled people. A crippled teenager. A blinded mother. A small group of individuals who are now left powerless at home. With autonomous technology, we can completely re-imagine how they can live their lives. We can give them the power to go where ever they want, to be independent. And in these moments, they will feel, learn and develop themselves into greater human beings.

Technology empowers, design delivers meaning.

In our promising future, we should embrace the impact that design can create. Only then, I believe technology and design together can lead to true innovation.