Greetings from Milan! Last week I spoke at Salone del Mobile, the world’s largest furniture fair. So, what might a Sony Mobile designer be doing at a furniture show, you ask?
Well, the thing about being a designer is that we share our inspirations across a variety of platforms; from furnishings, to clothes, cars, smartphones and more.
And as technology becomes more interoperable, we are crossing traditional design borders. Cars are now communication platforms, smartphones are controlling things around you, and the home is becoming ‘smarter’ too.
A large part of this is because today’s consumers place more of an emphasis on style than ever before. Meaning the designer plays just as important a role as the engineer when it comes to putting together a great product. I discussed this and more as part of Ford Europe’s design panel, where I got to speak with other designers including Martin Smith and Sheryl Connelly over at Ford, and Carlo Alberto Carnevale Maffè, a professor of strategy at Boconi School of Management.
We touched on the fact that consumers are becoming increasingly interested in the people and processes behind the products they use. One thing I’ve noticed is that the roles of engineer, designer and product manager are becoming more interdependent. We have to work more closely and in tighter collaboration – having common goals and understanding of what each expert is bringing to the process. We are seeing the rise of the Experience Designer, Human Interface and app designers – hardware appears to be losing some of its importance.
We have an instinctive desire for technology to be integrated and non-intrusive – it should do what it does and then get out of the way. On the other hand, we also have an inherent desire to own, and cherish objects that are giving so much benefit to our lives. There is a tension here – the desire to objectify, and the desire to de-materialize. A lot of our thinking is about finding the magic balance between these elements.
Offline, the panel discussed the concept of “simplexity”: putting together a simple, user friendly interface that supports complex technology. We work to do this in both hardware and UI design – our OmniBalance design theme recognises the desire for a beautiful product with the need for universal use, practicality and de-materialization. Xperia Z is the first embodiment of these principles: a simple “single surface” that is balanced and useful in any direction. Our interface design has a theme we call Dynamic Simplicity that allows us to layer complexity – presenting a simple and easy to use interface on top, but with layers of complexity that are adaptable to the advanced user.
Another area we touched on is the integration of smartphone and mobile communication technologies into other “things”- the so-called “internet of things“.
One last thing we discussed was the democratization of design. Fact is, well designed products are now available and affordable to all, and technology is being used in most socio-economic levels. 3D CAD and visualization tools, app development tools, rapid and virtual prototyping, and marketing channels have been democratized. The process of design and prototyping has been democratized. And while it’s still difficult to mass produce, there are on-line communities and tools to raise funding if you want to launch a product – this is not a threat to us, but an opportunity to engage with increasingly knowledgeable users and consumers. I look forward to hearing and collaborating with more of them in the future.
Tom Waldner, Head of Creative Product Design, Sony Mobile