Iain Taylor's Blog

General discussion of topics affecting designers and the design industry.

‘Crowdsourced Product Design’

There are a few initiatives trying to bring products to market from the communal brains of crowds. The biggest contenders in this field are product design consultants IDEO with their open forum OpenIDEO, as well as the new kid on the block, Quirky. It was my opinion when I started looking at this topic that with the advent of companies like these we, as designers, would be competing with any old Tom, Dick and Harry and we might be out of a job.

However, having researched the subject I have come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t consider these communities a threat. People are excellent at coming up with ideas but the real value lies in their execution and this requires expertise. Instead there is hope, as there will always be a need for people like myself, where creativity and a technical mindset can bring ideas into fruition.

‘Crowdfunding’

One of the best uses of crowdsourcing I’ve seen is crowdfunding. This is the act of get a community to provide financial backing to help projects succeed. For young designers and entrepreneurs this is a great method of finding investment to bring new and innovative products to market. One of the best examples of this is Kickstarter.

They have managed to support some pretty cool fledgling concepts such as this Multi-touch Keyboard & Mouse (below), designed by Jason Giddings. Kickstarter projects manage to raise money without the businesses giving away shares. Instead backers are offered different rewards for pledging various amounts of cash. These include incentives such as exclusive prototypes, invites to launch parties or published acknowledgments. Thus, the company gets off its feet whilst the owners keep control.

The ‘coffee and doughnut proof’ mouse manged to raise $143,583

‘Seewww….’

For our final lecture on Design & Technology we covered the role of aesthetics with respect to technology by looking at the age-old discussion of whether form follows function. So I thought I’d take a look at the history of something that I have very little interest in- sewing machines.

They are incredibly intricate devices and since their invention in the 1800s their general form has remained remarkably similar. Technology has changed however, with a shift from mechanical to electronic designs. Material advances have also seen plastics replace metals, yet they have never strayed too far from the traditional shape of sewing machine.

I think one of the biggest challenges for designers is not looking at existing products for inspiration.  This immediately narrows your judgement and influences what you see on the blank page. The sewing machine has maintained its form because people assume it’s optimum for functionality, but who’s to say that this is how they should look. It’s as if advances in technology have just been packaged into the traditional shape. However, it could be the consumer that is at fault. People are notoriously averse to change and so once a certain form has been established it is difficult to force a new design on to the consumer. From my limited experience with sewing machines I’ve found them frustrating to use and think they could do with a re-design, however, some of the above designs are admittedly quite pleasing.

‘Lurkers’

Crowdsourcing platforms are occupied by what are known as ‘lurkers’. These are people who observe the happenings but don’t participate or contribute. They account for around 90% of communities compared to the 1%  of heavy contributors and the remaining 9% of normal users.  Some people consider this portion of the community as a down side to crowdsourcing and describe them as ‘leechers’- given their parasitic nature of gaining without giving. However, there are some who believe that they are an integral part of the system. Not all lurkers’ intentions are selfish, instead these passive observers can influence people greatly in external communities, and should therefore not be dismissed easily.

‘How to Crowdsource Effectively’

After looking at how easy it is to go wrong when trying to crowdsource, I’ve created a list inspired by Tom Hulme’s talk on crowdsourcing with respect to OpenIDEO exploring the steps needed to get the best results from the wider community:

1. Ask the right ‘question.’ – You need to know exactly what you’re asking before setting a brief or else you won’t get what you’re looking for. This doesn’t necessarily need to be set in stone, it can evolve with the project.

3. Target the right community. – Once you know what you’re asking you must think of who can answer the question. This is highly dependent on the context.

4. Motivate. – What will  inspire people to contribute? This does not necessarily need to be a monetary incentive, instead targeting people’s passions or providing a challenge could be motivation.

2. Maintain a dialogue. – Don’t let the project get stagnant. Keep the community moving by encouraging interaction and feedback with specific evaluation criteria.

5. Design for collaboration. – Allow people to build on each others ideas. Competition can be good but keeping ideas secret can stifle progress.

6. Show impact. – On completion of a project make sure the results are known to the community and celebrate accomplishments.

7. Evaluate. – The only way to improve a process is to constantly evaluate previous actions.

‘Decline of Industry in Glasgow’

To illustrate the decline of industrial manufacturing in the UK, the graphic designer, author and historian, Ian Johnston chose the City of Glasgow as a microcosm to chronicle the fate that befell other cities across the country, from the industrial revolution in the early 19th century and its peak output during the war efforts, to the eventual takeover by Eastern nations in the late 20th Century.

So what sparked the industrial boom and why have we lost it? The reasoning behind the initial growth can be attributed to a number of factors. Glasgow was established as a trade port for shipping cotton/tobacco from US and to support the shipbuilding efforts a myriad of supply industries flourished. Scotland was home to a number of engineering greats such as Watt, Napier and Telford, who were all instrumental in the pioneering of steam power and developments in iron and steel which helped to progress heavy industry. Combining this knowledge with entrepreneurial spirit and a swelling population created the perfect conditions for an industrial hot spot.

Britain’s prowess in manufacturing created a global demand with a massive export market. However, due to the retrenchment in defence spending after the First World War and a global economics crisis in the 1930’s, the depression lead to mass unemployment and a contraction of heavy industrial efforts. Over time, the poor working conditions and cultural differences between workers and management proved detrimental to the system. Other countries like Germany and Japan employed more scientific processes in industry and began taking on graduates. This high standard and cheap output made it difficult for Britain to compete.

Nowadays the tertiary sector is the only successful industry in the UK but Ian Johnston reckons that we need not rely on this. There is no reason why we can’t manufacture here any more. We’ve lost the pride in British engineering and the population is beginning to take notice. With petitions being made to protect the title of engineer all that has to be done now is to get the interest of the younger generation away from the TV and into Meccano.

Still holding on…’

The Dalmarnock Power Station took three attempts to topple.

‘Digital Design Studio @ Pacific Quay’

The Digital Design Studio is a postgraduate research and commercial centre of Glasgow School of Art. Some of the students work in the 3D animation course was showcased on a recent tour around its impressive facilities. After weeks of fastidious work the final outcomes last a matter of minutes. Organisation is important when creating these shorts as plot, characters and visuals must be finalised before any animation begins. After seeing the students in their ultra-modern environment one can imagine them glued the screen for days on end clicking their way through each detailed frame, however, despite the technologies available to facilitate the students’ creations such as the green screen and motion capture software, our tour guide was keen to point out the importance placed on traditional sketching techniques and how critical these are when trying to quickly illustrate a point.

The tour culminated in the massive 3D auditorium where the real capabilities of the DDS were demonstrated. Their current mission is to create a virtual Glasgow, replicating the streets and buildings using scanning technology with millimetre precision. They are also involved in a much larger project known as the CyArk which is trying to document and record a list of monuments and sites of historical and cultural importance. With photorealistic textures applied to these virtual point clouds one can experience a walk-through of distant worlds with the aid of a headset and infrared sensors.

‘Mount Rushmore Laser Scan’

‘Too many cooks…’

Following my previous post about Nissan’s approach to crowdsourcing, I thought I’d take a look at the other negatives of crowdsourcing by directing you to this article. The list explains the various downsides to crowdsourcing, from killing creativity to producing poor output.

‘Nissan Factory Visit’

In a recent trip to Nissan’s factory in Sunderland, I experienced the production line of the Nissan Qashqai. From the pressing of panels and painting of the body to the assembling of the interiors and the engine testing on the rolling road. The sheer scale of the factory is overwhelming; a four-hour tour only covered 5% of the plant.

In Sunderland, they recently broke records, reaching an output of over 400,000 cars a year. The time to manufacture one car from start to finish is 28 hours, yet  Nissan are constantly striving to speed up the process; even a couple of seconds makes a huge difference. So who better to ask for suggestions than the workforce. In Japanese this method of continual improvement is known as Kaizen. The idea being that the workers are doing the same job every day and are most knowledgeable in their area.

However, when I imagine myself in the role of one of these employees I find it difficult to understand what the incentive is for offering ideas to improve the manufacturing process. The work is repetitive with limited prospects of promotion. The salaries are reasonable, but you must work on a short-notice overtime basis so planning your personal life becomes difficult. What’s more, if Nissan does implement any suggestions the factory will see their margins increase while the worker receives no money whatsoever. Any improvements that you do suggest are likely to result in your own job being replaced by robots. This is where crowdsourcing falls down. The only way to effectively crowdsource is with the right motivational incentive and reward. I’m sure Nissan would argue that there is a sense of community in the workplace and that seeing the company prosper is an incentive for the employees, but I find that hard to believe.

‘Sustainability’

Ian Grout, Product Design lecturer at Glasgow School Art hosted the most recent discussion of a string of talks on sustainability with respect to design. Usually the topic is seen as a problem that can be solved but Ian offered the idea that it is very difficult to define a sustainable product because it is highly contextual.

I think there is a general consensus that we are going to have to become more sustainable. There is an increasing awareness of the effects of our excessive consumption which is encouraging the next generation to design responsibly with a moral conscience. However, like a teenager that has been told to choose a different life by parents that have indulged in a wild youth, I can’t help but feel a grudge towards the designers of the past 100 years, who have had their fun freely experimenting with materials and form but now tell us to design responsibly.

But as Ian says, it’s a personal choice.  We don’t have to listen our ‘parents’. Some say ignorance is bliss but I think that once you are aware of your impact on the environment the only option is to be the mature teenager that chooses the right path and design responsibly.

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