22nd January 2017
Grand Massif Valley
A slightly different venue for breakfast this week. I am lucky enough to be having a short break, skiing in the beautiful Grand Massif valley, nestled within the French Alps. As is the nature of a skiing holiday, I had a quick breakfast so that I could get out on the slopes as quickly as possible so I opted to take a longer lunch instead. Come lunchtime, my family and I found ourselves at a classic mountain brasserie, in the village of Les Carroz. Unsurprisingly one of the nicest views I’ve had during my breakfast series and definitely one that will be hard to beat.
The common phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” plays an interesting role in the design world. The way that a designer thinks - with the natural drive to seek out problems and and develop solutions - is almost the polar opposite to this. The phrase is often used in a labour intensive situation, where it requires more effort to try and work on something instead of just leaving it to work away in its current state - even if this isn’t the most efficient state.
However, in an age where the design of consumer products is living up to it’s name, by actually putting the consumer’s experience right at the focus of its purpose, many designers have found the opportunity to apply their thinking and personality to the re-design of mundane products. The two primary examples that I have chosen do all they can to go against the title of this post. Challenging the idea that just because people have learnt to live with things, and have done for so long, that it isn’t something which should be re-imagined.
The first, a product that caught my eye a while back on Core 77, was a re-design of a product that didn’t even play a role in my life. What was interesting about this was that even though I didn’t have any experience at all using it, I still knew it to be terribly unergonomic and unchanged since it’s inception. The air-conditioning unit, installed within window frames, most commonly across North America, was a product created out of necessity and had been designed from a purely functional point of view.
Noria, driven by the vision of Kurt Swanson, an ex-aerospace engineer, took every aspect of the traditional AC-unit and threw it out the window…(sorry). What I really love about this product and why I think it illustrates a successful attempt at a re-design, is how the team behind it didn't just see the opportunity to apply some industrial design magic to its face, but the opportunity to completely change the consumers impression of the product. Devin Sidell, head of the design team, spoke about the ever-present theme throughout the project. “It couldn’t just be another IoT product. It really came down to the user experience.”
The result clearly shows a radical re-design and the intention behind this was crucial to the success of the product: interesting, as we humans are often prone to clinging to familiarity. The gamble in this case paid off, as the drastic cosmetic change highlighted to users the incorporation of an intuitive user interface, ergonomic form and a new level of functionality to bring about the realisation that they no longer had to tolerate the nightmare of lugging the AC unit around.
The second product was an interesting re-design, conceived as the result of a designer couples annoyance at the over re-design of an age-old product.
Ding, an innovative doorbell system was dreamt up by Avril and John Nussey. Whilst shopping around for a new doorbell for their home, they felt that previous attempts to re-design the doorbell had brought about complex voice entry systems, video doorbells and poor quality audio systems. Their solution, like many others in this current climate, was to strip the product back to the bare essentials and utilise the hardware in our mobile phones to provide the doorbell with increased functionality. What the product really did was remove that ambiguousus waiting period while you ring someone’s doorbell for the third time and wonder whether, it hasn’t been heard, the person isn’t in, or they’re just ignoring you. With my current job as a cycle courier, I regularly find myself in this situation and admittedly wish that I had come up with a simple solution.
What I love about this product is the fact that it’s re-design wasn’t just commissioned by the marketing department to keep up with this years tend or altered to reduce manufacturing costs. it was simply the recognition of a problem in a couple’s life and the drive to actually do something about it that brought the idea to life. Their desire to avoid the increasingly over-techiness of many smart products now coming to the market resulted in a product that feel considerate and welcoming - what more could you want from a doorbell.
The idea of re-designing for an ever changing market is an active topic within my own studies as I write this post. Tasked with improving the user experience associated with independent travel, I find myself faced with an over-saturated market but also a situation where the current user experience is still less than desirable. Looking at the thinking behind products that prompted this post has definitely given me a new line of thought to play with and I hope that adopting this mindset as I journey home from the Alps will light the creative spark in me and leave me asking the question “If it ain’t broke, what can be done to make it better?”.
A beautiful smoked salmon and raclette salad to give me the much needed pick me up at lunch. A refreshing change to have my lunch outside aswell, even if I was wrapped up in all my skiing kit. Obviously, the meal was finished off with a compulsory beer, just to take the edge off any inevitable tumbles that would befall me in the afternoon.
I mentioned last week that my breakfasts for 2017 had gotten off to a strong start but I think it’s safe to say that the bar has been set unrealistically high after this outing. We’ll have to see if Glasgow can step up its game in the coming weeks to provide me with an equally memorable experience.