It is lovely to be back here at the Design Council. It’s very scary to have you as an audience. I’m going to talk about two things I love – love, maybe the wrong word –I’m deeply involved with: design and technology. Since working here – I now work in Cisco, it’s a very technology-led company – and bring design thinking into that.
So I want to talk to you a bit about how design and technology could help provide some of the tools that might create solutions to the challenges that the Design Council is posing for us here. I’ve given myself a bit of a challenge as well, as when my slides were transferred up, I lost all the headings, so the only reason I use PowerPoint is to remind me what I’m meant to say for each one, so I’m going to have to try and remind myself what I was meant to say on this picture, so bear with.
Technology is the first point: why technology, and why would technology be of any interest to anybody in this audience, and more importantly, kind of, users, the kind of people and their issues, their changing life that we want to try and help create solutions for.
Well, technology’s one of those, sort of, never-ending things, and I certainly see that a lot at Cisco and many places I’ve worked in. It just, kind of, happens; people come with stuff. So a lot of this is going to be useful. People very rarely sit back and say, do you know what I really want is a bit of technology that does this. People don’t really do that. Sometimes designers do that, but it’s quite rare. So what happens is that lots of well-meaning people come with technology, and the actual applications of technology sometimes need to find time to find where they really go. Things like Wii: obviously designed as a game, actually become incredibly useful tool for older people, a very popular tool for older people because the usability of it is very simple and it’s a very natural way of interfacing with technology.
But the history of technology solutions hasn’t always been that great, and those of you that are old enough to remember, not that I’m [unclear] to remember the sketch where they created this incredibly useful light that told the deaf person when the phone is ringing, only it didn’t actually overcome the solution; the deaf person couldn’t hear the phone when they picked it up.
So, you know, well-meaning, always well-meaning. We can do this. It will solve the problem. But unless we have a much better, slightly more sensible approach to technology now, and we can see it does go amiss. So right now, we’re seeing lots of technology solutions that might be relevant, they really might be, so we can track people. So, let’s create a kind of wristband thing that sufferers from Alzheimer’s will wear to track them around the house to make sure they don’t fall over or get lost or… you know, they can always be accounted for.
You know, and by the way they’ll also have the security pendant on, and they’ll possibly have their old-fashioned handset – a great innovation, design innovation to help people use mobile phones in a way that’s a lot easier to understand for an older generation, perhaps.
But these solutions are very individual and I had this vision of an aging population walking around with several bits of technology helping them, preventing them from falling, helping them call the ambulance, tracking where they are, monitoring their sleep, every single thing, in a way that’s probably quite inappropriate.
And almost [unclear], the other interesting thing about technology is that it’s really changing, and things that, when I joined Cisco three years ago seemed like fantasy have suddenly happened. So if one looks at all the developments around technology before we understand whether they’re relevant to this issue or not, there’s a lot of stuff happening. So, yes, our phone will become our payment device. We’re used to seeing displays, and now we’re completely interacting with surfaces, everything around us. We don’t have to move the Wii any more, we just move ourselves and we’re detected. And I’m working on countless products that will spot you, detect you, gesture at things around you, and allow you to interact with data and the technology world.
And then sensing, something like Google Maps, we’re all very used to. Every time I look at my house, it’s got my car of about three cars ago, and it’s never updated, and yet now we’re creating planetary skin, which is complete real-time measurement of the rainforest, of energy usage in my street. Getting quite spooky in terms of tracking absolutely everything that’s going on, hopefully for a good end, but for any end you might want to bring it to. So a very paradigm shift, to use the cliché of technology, enablement is hitting us. How are we going to use that, cope with it, how is it going to help us in any way?
Now, Cisco, I’m interested in them, of course, because they develop applications for technology, and most of those applications are very business-focused. So, for example, incredibly high-quality video that allows me to go in the middle of the night and have a conference call with Bangalore and San Francisco at the same time and have a completely transparent experience, feel as if they’re in the room. This is a very different type of video experience. It means I don’t have to go and fly so much. Many, many business opportunities. And then we start looking at, okay, so where does that technology have applications in a more public domain? We started putting it into cafes and bringing in different audiences to cross cultural divides. [Unclear] Kansas to Cairo; there’s two of these in Israel, one each side of the wall in Palestine and Israel. It’s not just about distance, it’s about having dialogue with all sorts of people over this particular technology interface, and it allows a different experience, which is the point.
And when we look at things like video, video has interestingly become, probably, the only technology that’s really, really taken hold, apart from text messaging and mobile phones with an older audience. And Skype is simple, it’s useful, and people have a real need for it to stay in touch with their families, extended families across generations. And so Skype has become the thing that’s actually unlocked use of dreadful things like PCs. I spend most of my time on a call centre to India for my father, who can never understand how the PC works, but he can use Skype and he does.
But when we look at things like video we also realise that it’s easy to work around technology because of the way it has to be. So with our marvellous tele-presence video, you’re always about three or four metres away from a screen and this other person in another location.
So, we did a project through the Helping Hand Design Centre at the Royal College of Art, where we invited their students to look at the issues around video and try and understand how that level of communication can be made, actually, more realistic. And they noted that, actually, people just sit that far apart, really. They don’t have screens, and cameras, and fields of view. So how do we create video experiences that reflect how we really behave?
A lot of this, sort of, thought experiment, if you like, design experiment where you simply create a frame around something and you interact as you really want to, not how technology forces you to. But I think this is where we begin to get towards design, design and technology, beginning to create solutions for difficult problems, or problems we didn’t even realise we had, sometimes. Now, I think the other image has disappeared.
So, this has been at the centre of my life. So it’s the idea that technology can do a lot for us and be applied to many different problems. This wonderful mobile phone is the first phone I was given at Orange when I started there many years ago, after leaving the Design Council, actually. And this phone had more computing power than the Apollo lunar ship but that… I think a teaspoon has more computing power: it didn’t have very much.
But the point was, it had a web browser, it had email, you could do absolutely anything you wanted to do on this marvellous phone. It was, of course, completely unusable. You couldn’t use the keys, couldn’t read what was on them, and it was ugly as hell. So five or six years of constantly developing internet phones before somebody got it right, and the impact of usability on technology has finally, finally happened. There does seem to be a big lag between technology development and usability.
But now we’re moving into completely new experiences, and these are a fairly random selection of new experiences that technology’s bringing for us. So these may be useful or they may not be useful. They may stimulate some thinking about how technology could help us do things. So, objects, micro-screens – these are called Siftables, from MIT. You put them together, they know what’s next to them, you put four of them together they become a different kind of thing, so it’s a completely flexible Lego building block of technology and information. It knows where it is. It knows what’s next to it. It can create whatever message you want. It can be the photograph of your loved one that can bring you a memory; it can prompt you to take your medication or whatever it is.
So we’re beginning to have the tools that are flexible enough that we can begin to design some new solutions, completely different scale and format. The ability to create real walls around us that can be whatever we want: we’re getting quite close to that with this amazing wall that, okay, it’s Adidas, it’s running shoes, but the ability to interact with large surfaces and have a real exploratory experience through that medium is beginning to happen. And then, really strange things are happening around reality and where you are in space that could be useful or extremely confusing. So we have this wonderful angel that falls down from the sky when you stand in Victoria station, I don’t know if any of you have seen this. I think it’s one of the most interesting technology experiences I’ve seen. You stand on a mat, it tells you to look up, a huge display above the…. The big display at Victoria station shows you and a Lynx angel. And of course it’s an advertising gimmick.
An angel comes down, and people’s behaviour then becomes very interesting: there are some hilarious YouTube videos of people trying to catch the angels, kiss them, etc etc. But their behaviour is… it’s astonishing to see what people are doing. If you don’t realise that they think they’re hugging an angel it looks very strange.
The ability for a mobile phone to now tell us, okay, where a Burger King is, but could be something more useful than that, to bring in front of our own vision an added depth. And one of the most bizarre projects I’ve ever worked on, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, was a series of electronic signage that you could go and announce yourself to and it would give you suggestions and help where you wanted to go, how to get to your hotel room when you’re drunk at two in the morning. Whatever it was, this thing could become a living to get you around a hotel, of course for a horrible commercial reason, but interesting technology that’s taking us to a new type of experience. We’re beginning to see how these experiences can change the level of solution you might have.
And where does design come into this? Now, design, one of the great features of design is it always wants to do good, and it tries very hard. It tries to create a phone for older people, that you can see… not a particularly nice one, but it famously is really good, I think, around the area of solving a problem, a very specific problem like arthritic hands, and creating beautiful solution to that, and guess what, it becomes really valuable to all of us. And that is the potato peeler of choice in my family. Not because I have arthritis, but because it is more comfortable and easier to use for everybody.
And design is good at that, which is an interesting feature, I think. Unfortunately, design can be really bad, and the title for this slide was something like, Designing Turkeys, or something, or I have a talk called lipstick on a pig which I think you’ll get the gist that sometimes design can be unquestioning, that C5, that wonderful invention, and now it’s more of a precursor to Segway. It was designed, but it was a ridiculous object. It had no purpose, no one ever has found a good purpose for the Segway.
So technology can be madly dashing off in the distance, and design can come along and say, you know, we’ll do that superficial thing, and that’s not the kind of design we’re interested in, if we’re going to crack these kind of issues here. But design is getting at…got very good at looking at new problems, wicked [?] problems, the things that you wouldn’t normally associate design with creating solutions, so again, the head of Hamlin Centre is looking at a very tangible aspect of design.
How can people with Asperger's, how can they…or Autism, how can they react to their living space, in a way that’s meaningful, and enhance their life. At the same time [unclear], a project that started here at the Design Council, you know, they’re trying to solve issues like, how do we unite distribution networks and marketplaces for the produce [unclear] with the big supermarkets.
You know, when I was at central, designing telephones, I didn’t think that would be something that design would be asked to solve, but it is, and they have, designers have learnt how to apply the toolkit of design to completely new problems and issues, very successfully.
Another example from Head and Hamlin that’s just come out, are the tools that we actually need to do that. Design has a sector of tools, and they’re now quantified and available in many different forms, but you know, it’s essentially down to understanding the real needs of people, and not just giving them a questionnaire, or a focus group to find that out, but getting down and dirty, with how people really are, and how they think, and what they’re doing. You know, and things like methods to put yourself…to give…make you empathetic to the problems that people have, whether it be disability, so this poor lady is trying to open some packaging with very large rubber gloves, and glasses that means she can’t see very well, so modelling behaviours to help us understand how to find new solutions.
So design has that toolkit. It’s been developed, many different tools are very useful for cracking big problems. So finally, a few examples of some of the stuff we’ve done around aging, where we try to combine design and technology to come up with something vaguely useful. They might seem a bit random and a bit inappropriate for tonight, but I hope that they stimulate thinking, and show how you can start cracking big solutions…big problems, pardon me.
So I did a project in Almere, a town in Holland, a polder, which means it was, you know, reclaimed, and in the ‘70s, they had settlers. They’re actually called settlers, in Holland. They go to the polder, and they move in, and they establish a settlement. And then they get older. And here we are now, 40 years later, and there’s a bunch of old hippies living there having a great time.
But they are getting older, and it’s a problem; how will the local authority deliver services to a vastly increasing ageing population? Well, the first thing we did was say, well, who is there? And to look at some of the people who were there, across a variety of age, variety of economic reality, variety of approach to technology, was something that the local authority in Almere, had never done. They had never… They had data. They had lots of research on the numbers of people, but they’d never actually got to understand who they were designing for. And that is, of course, design’s great initial tool.
Then we came up with the technology solution. We did a number of things. We set up a choir in two places. One in the old community centre, from the ’70s. One in the beautiful new art centre that they had developed. We connected them through this very high quality video, and they started singing to each other. They had one completely bonkers conductor, who was able to do that, you know, human thing, of inspiring, but he was able to do it to two audiences at the same time.
And eventually, in fact, these images are actually from a session where they sang to a choir in Wellington, New Zealand, and they sang back, and now there’s this international choir going on, where they’re singing to each other all over the world. Now, that’s great. That’s a nice story, of course. And it was a very emotional thing to see, actually. They really loved it. It was a totally new experience for them. And you think, well, that’s great, isn’t it?
You know, why is that important? Well, we did other things as well. You get video cameras and they filmed their own experience in the choirs. They would send videos to each other. We did the same thing with fitness classes, so that one fitness expert could do fitness classes to many locations, and they were, again, filming themselves at home doing their exercises and getting video help to tutor them, if you like, personal video help, so the point of it is, what are the benefits?
Now, in this case, we were looking to extend the participation and manage health and care, themselves. We’re bringing it, enabling, and helping, giving them the tools, and giving them the activities, if you like, that inspired them. And anecdotally, we had amazing results, of people who were literally bedridden who’d heard about this, managed to get themselves down to the local community centre, take part in this choir or this fitness group, and the benefit that that had to their health is not easy to quantify scientifically, and everyone always says, where’s the data? But we can show you 150 videos of people whose lives have been enhanced by the fact they’re now singing to people in other parts of the world. And I think that’s important. This is an intangible benefit, but when we begin to bring this very human-centred approach, some technology enablement, you begin to see things happen, that I think, ultimately, will be very measurable.
Carrying on working in Torfaen in Wales, and Cornwall, creating a bunch of ideas around aging. We’re creating what we’re calling a wisdom map, which is bringing together this eco-map we did in San Francisco to measure energy, a very location-based things, a very rich portal that connects people; could be around employment, could be around volunteering, and connects them to people who need that help, people who need caring, who need jobs done in the community.
So there’s a whole load of activity around that, technology enabling that to happen, through the basic networks. We’re using video again. We’re looking at the testimony of people like Cure Violence in Chicago, which was about leaving video testimony for younger kids who are involved with gang warfare, to get them out of that cycle of behaviour.
We’re having people creating their own teaching videos. This guy is teaching someone how to play a guitar, and video mentoring, where this guy is talking to somebody much younger than him, and sharing his experience, helping him or her with life situations, and mentoring, and to do that, and of course, in the safety of their own home. He’s up in the Welsh Valley, he doesn’t have to travel down to Swansea to see somebody he probably doesn’t really want to see, but he can talk to them and have that mentoring role.
And then finally, the whole area of collaborative working, giving people the tools so that they can care, and they can overcome their own differences, whether it’s an older relative, or someone in the community, they are able, therefore, to be much more flexible in their lifestyle, and provide caring facilities.
So some of that might be relevant. I’m hoping that some of that sparks some ideas, but I think the challenge is to take that toolkit of the design, everything that’s in, around insight, around prototyping, around creativity and co creation of users, and then you can combine that with some people first technology that says, well, if there’s some technology there, or maybe we need to develop some new stuff. And then I think we have the chance of creating sustainable solutions that work and bring real benefits to the people, to the situations and the problems we’re trying to solve. Thank you very much for your time.