This is a keynote presentation that I made at ISB Digital Summit this summer.
Ever since the introduction of iPhone featuring a flat multi-touch screen that replaced physical keyboards, the scope of traditional industrial design on new product developments has been shrinking. Instead of providing physical interface, many companies opted to offer software-defined functions that make the product flexible and reprogrammable. For a typical smart phone, the work of industrial design is largely limited to the design of the frame, few buttons, back cover and some accessories like battery chargers and earphones. Compared to feature phones where industrial design defined the look and feel of the product, software now mainly define how smart phones look and feel. This led to the massive expansion of the role of UX design over the last 10 years.
However, with the emergence of “smart” devices, wearables and Internet of Things, we are likely to see the return of industrial design as one of the key differentiators of products. In fact, we are likely to see a massive convergence of different design domains including product, fashion, and UX together with different domains of engineering including mechanical, material, electrical, and software to form a new foundation of new product development. In the past, a successful product development meant a tight collaboration between industrial design and mechanical engineering. Recently, this has been replaced with a collaboration between UX design and software engineering. In the emerging field of wearables and smart devices, however, companies will need tight collaborations among these six domains. So, from a design standpoint, it is not just whether design will lead the innovation process, but which design domain will lead the process. Some companies will be led by physical domain team (industrial design + mechanical engineering + material engineering), whiles others will be led by digital domain team (UX design + software engineering + electrical engineering). Eventually, some companies might find more harmonious relationship between the two domains. Subtle differences among these options are likely to produce fairly substantive differences in the way firms approach to emerging market of smart products and their ultimate fate in the market.
Apple’s recent hire of Marc Newson or its invitation of fashion editors, together with the fact that Jon Ives is an industrial designer (and the departure of Scott Forstall), all seem to indicate that Apple lets the physical domain design lead the digital domain. This is a stark contrast to companies like Google and Samsung where physical domain seems to take a back seat. It is likely that, however, these other companies will be forced to take industrial design seriously once again.
Another interesting case is the recent announcement by LG about the circular plastic slim OLED panel. This clearly is an engineering innovation led by the demand created by physical design, which will provide an opportunity implement clever UX options. As digital technology continues to penetrate deeply into the physical world, the crash between these two domains of design will only continue to rise. We will see this type of convergent design-engieering collaboration that encompasses both physical and digital domains as companies continue struggle to figure out exactly how to design these “smart” and wearable devices and what the hell they actually are.
Samsung unveiled Galaxy Note Edge which is featuring a curved screen. It offers a new possibility that enable offer new ways to use smartphones. Yet, as many reporters have already pointed out, whether this “innovation” will succeed or not largely depends on software. That is, if there are enough third-party apps that take advantage of this new screen, it will become an essential feature that will be copied by other smartphone makers. However, if third-party developers ignore this, it will be largely forgotten and will be remembered as another gimmicky innovation by Samsung.
What would Apple have done in this case? They would have chosen one or two key apps that would perfectly fit with this new screen before today’s introduction. It would be perhaps something like Facebook status update or Twitter status update. And, it will not be done by Apple, but by Facebook or Twitter team. And, during the presentation, they would have shared the stage with Facebook or Twitter developer to show off the new app tightly integrated with the new screen. And, then they would say that the APIs and SDK are made available for all other unlucky developers who want to take advantage of this. Soon, many app developers are eager to incorporate this new feature into this their app. Other makes must find a way to introduce a third screen in their own smartphones. So, it becomes a dominant design, so to speak.
In today’s announcement, however Samsung did not line up any major software developers who are building their flagship app to take advantage of this new feature. It is left up to the developers in the future to decide whether they would take advantage of this new feature or not. Oh, by the way, this phone will not be available widely. It is a niche market phone. So, if you are a developer, why would you spend your valuable time and resources to build a feature for a phone that is only available for few markets? So, what is the point of introducing this innovation at all? If this is an innovation that might differentiate its phone in the market, why not double down with it and invite all major developers to your developers conference and encourage them to build new apps taking advantage of this new feature? Instead, this new feature will be most likely only working with Samsung’s own apps that most users do not use. Therefore, this new innovation is dead on arrival.
Every once in awhile, you get a chance to redefine the market. Potentially, this new form factor in hardware could have been such an opportunity. Such an opportunity is not to be discovered. They must be designed. Samsung fundamentally is a hardware company. In fact, it is a very good one. So, it must build its innovation strategy with an idea to build an ecosystem around its strength - that is, hardware, instead of envying the model of ecosystem around something that it does not have — namely software. The issue is how to create a locked-in user base based on unique user experiences. Of course, user experience will depend on third-party apps. Then, you need to send a clear and loud signal that you are committed to make this new hardware feature to succeed and ask and lead third-party developers to build apps that take advantage of this new feature. If you design your strategy right, you can in fact successfully execute your innovation strategy in such a way that you lock-up both developers and users using your own unique hardware features.
But unfortunately that did not happen today. So, my prediction is that this new Samsung Note Edge will be a phone that will be largely forgotten soon. The round screen will be remembered as one of those strange technology innovations that did not have clearly defined usage case. The sad part is that it did not have to be this way. It could have been that it is the feature that everyone was waiting for, except that no one knew that they needed it. In a way, that was what Steve Jobs did with touch screen keyboard, by making us somehow believe that software keyboard on a flat screen is better than physical keyboard.
As I am getting bored with a flat multi-touch screen, I was really hoping that Samsung would be able to present a compelling vision to build an ecosystem around its unique design. But it did not happen today. It seems that when it comes to mobile phone, Samsung’s design still focuses on hardware and hardware only. It still needs to learn how to build its own design strategy to build an ecosystem. At least, not yet.
Over the last three years, Temple University's Urban Apps & Maps Studios has been running Apps & Maps BITs Summer Program. This year, 95 girls and 84 boys are participating in the program. They are working with over 30 Temple students who are supervised by 10 Temple faculty members from Information Systems, Geography and Urban Studies, Electrical Engineering, Computer & Information Science, English, Arts and Entrepreneurship. From July 1 through August 5, these students will learn three essential digital literacy skills - design thinking, computational thinking and spatial thinking - by working on a number of different hands-on projects. The program is funded by EDA, Knight Foundation and Philadelphia Youth Network.
This year’s cohort represents the largest one in recent years, thanks to several information sessions that we ran in North Philadelphia in partnership with Navarrow Wright, who is a role model of our students and an active voice for digital inclusion. In his talk shown in the video clip below, Mr. Wright mixes his own personal experiences and his professional experts on IT industry to communicate to parents and students why they should learn new digital skills.
As technology is becoming cheaper and easier to use, the barrier to enter into the creative economic activities is rapidly coming down. Traditional university-based technology commercialization programs require years of graduate school training, a host of PhDs and post-docs, and millions of dollars worthy of investments and labs. These projects and programs were not accessible to the members of the urban community in which our university is situated. Unlike those traditional university projects, Apps & Maps program offers a new type of technology-based commercialization path that was not previously available to urban minority community in the past. Information technology in many ways has been one of the main cause of “deindustrialization” of urban America. Through automation and off-shoring, both of which are enabled by information technology, industrial bases in urban cities left the cities. However, the deep penetration of digital technology into the fabric of today’s urban community offers an opportunity to revive the urban economy through citizen entrepreneurship leveraging digital literacy skills and their keen understanding on various challenges in urban market. What we need is to provide an opportunity to these young men and women in Philadelphia to try to dream and build something that capture their own imaginations. Urban Apps & Maps is designed to provide such an opportunity.
This year, our students will work on the following projects:
As the importance of digital technology and its potential for economic development is increasingly recognized, there are growing number of programs that teach programming skills to the youth. While clearly coding itself is important, tools to build solutions without proper skills to identify and contextualize the problem and design a solution is even more important. This is why Apps & Maps emphasizes design thinking and spatial thinking together with computational thinking and begins with a design workshop. On Day 2 and Day 3 of the program, students started the workshop by visualizing their identity using various objects available. Students all chose different ways to express their aspirations, dreams and hopes.
The design task was to reimagine the lunch experience on Temple campus. Through the workshop, they learn how to conduct collaboration, empathic observation, prototyping, persona building, and brainstorming. Through the workshop, they learn to answer the five key questions:
Below are some of the pictures from the students working on the project during the workshop.
The importance of design as also reenforced by the first guest speaker, Cey Adams, a graphic designer, visual artist and author, who was the founding creative director of Def Jam Recordings and is known for his legendary work for hip-hop artists like Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Jay-Z, and Mary J. Blige. I did a short interview with him before his talk to our students in which talks about various aspects of design and why design is so important in today’s world.
In weeks to come, we will continue to share more stories of our projects and participants.
These are few books I have read over the last several weeks as I was traveling.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl - Simply a classic. The power of discovering meaning in all we do.
Diversity and Complexity by Scott Page -- A good introduction to evolutionary thinking to think about diversity in social, technical and biological systems. I like the chapter 3 where he deals with different mechanisms for producing variations.
Smart Cities by Anthony Townsend -- The book covers a wide range of topics related to the new digital urbanism. While the idea is not old, many of the examples are already dated. Toward the end, the book seems to focus too much on civic hacking over other more technological visions of smart cities. But it is a good historical overview of various strands of developments that collide under the umbrella of smart cities. It is worth reading.
Complexity: A guided tour by Melanie Mitchell -- As the title says, a guided tour of complexity from various fields. Currently re-reading it with undergraduate students who have joined my research group over the summer.
[4주 해독 다이어트]와 [몸이 먼저다] 건강하게 살아야겠다는 의지를 갖도록 자극을 주는 효과는 있으나, 독자의 실천력이 떨어지는 고로 특별한 결과는 없음. 4주 해독 다이어트의 경우 아직, 1주를 넘어가지 못했음. 그래도 배운 것은 많다.
[정도전과 그의 시대] 요즘 한국에서 유행이라는 정도전을 보지 못했으나, 본래 정도전을 좋아하는 지라, 한국에 가서 구입한 후 읽음. 미국 의회민주주의의 논리적 기초를 만든 사람이 Thmoas Jefferson이라면, 세종 시대에 꽃을 피운 조선형 민본중심의 제상중심의 정치시스템의 논리적 기초를 만든 사람은 정도전. 그분의 사상의 근본이 중국고전에 나오는 '대동사회'라는 사실을 배웠다. 저자는 대동사회를 이렇게 표현하고 있다.
대도가 행해졌을 때는, 천하가 공공의 것이어서, 어질고 능력있는 사람을 뽑아서 믿음을 가르치고 화목하게 만들었다. 그래서 그때는 자기의 부모만을 부모로 여기지 않았고, 자기의 자식만을 자식으로 여기지 않았다. 늙은이는 편안하게 일생을 마치게 했으며, 장정은 다 직업이 있었고, 어린 아이는 잘 자랄 수 있었다. 과부, 홀아비, 고아, 병든 자를 불쌍히 여겨서 다 봉양했다. 남자는 직업이 있었고, 여자는 돌아갈 곳, 즉 시집갈 곳이 있었다. 그 재물을 땅에 버리는 것은 미워했지만, 반드시 자기를 위해 쌓아두지는 않았다. 힘이 그 몸에서 나오지 않는 것은 미워했지만, 반드시 자기만을 위해서 일하지는 않았다. 이런 까닭에 간사한 꾀가 막혀서 일어나지 못했다. 도둑이 훔치거나 도적이 난을 일으키지 못했다. 그래서 바깥문을 닫지 않았다. 이를 이르러 대동이라고 한다.
이런 대동사회에서 살고 싶지 않은가?
[세종이라면] 존경하는 박현모 선생님이 쓰신 세종이야기. 특별히 세종이 경연을 통해서 어떻게 생각을 모으고 비젼을 제시하며 실천의 힘을 얻었는 지에 관해서 배울 수가 있었다. 생생지락을 추구했던 세종도 아마도 대동사회를 꿈꾼듯 하다. 한글을 창제한 목적 중의 하나가 백성이 법을 제대로 알아서 억울한 경우를 당하지 않도록 하기 위함이라는 박현모선생님의 주장은 깊은 감동이 있다. 그리고 수령을 파견할 때, 세종이 직접 인터뷰를 하고 백성을 섬기는 수령이 되라고 직접 당부를 했다는 사실 또한 감동이다. 비록 지금은 이런 지도자가 없어도, 이런 지도자를 가진 적이 있는 민족이라는 사실하나로 감사하다.
[여행 레시피] 이번에 서울에서 돌아오는 길에 공항 서점에서 충동적으로 산 책. 씨레기. 괜히 샀다.
I will soon post couple of books that I am finishing up soon.