Transferring design research to the marketplace
Gillian Crampton Smith, Academic Director, Interaction
Institute Ivrea, Italy
When it comes to the business of design — especially
the design of interactive products, systems and services — most companies
have absolutely no expectations of design research. Generally, they seem to believe
that design is only relevant to their business if related to engineering or advertising
Our job, then, is not to only develop design research and apply it to business,
but to explain what design is and what it can contribute. To do this we must consider
changes in technology.
David Liddell was the leader of the team that designed the pioneering Star interface
for Xerox that eventually led to the Macintosh and Windows graphical user interfaces.
Liddell defined three different stages in the development of technology:
Design makes the difference
- The enthusiast stage: when people don’t care how daunting the
technology is and are either thrilled by it for its own sake or find it so
useful that they happily accept difficulties.
- The professional stage: when the technology is developed and used by
professional people. This stage benefits those who have learned a new programme
and so have a unique skill to offer. When computer-aided design was introduced,
for instance, the fact that it was difficult to learn gave those who had mastered
it a very marketable skill. During the professional stage the people who use
the technology are rarely the people who buy it: their company gives them
the software, which they must use whether they like it or not.
- The consumer stage: when the user is the buyer. In this final stage the
user/buyers are diverse and are usually not interested in the technology itself
but what can actually be done with it.
Information technology increasingly shapes the way we live. Equally clearly, it
is rapidly shifting from the professional to the consumer stage. Technology companies
previously made technical things for technically-minded people, now they also
make things, to use Apple’s slogan, ‘For the Rest of Us’.
One consequence of this is that the underlying technologies we now use are becoming
increasingly similar — it is often hard, for example, to differentiate one
PC from the next. So, as technology becomes more homogenous it is design that
makes the difference and, in particular, the design of products or systems that
enable ordinary people to interact with them intuitively, pleasurably and powerfully.
So what should design research offer businesses? The research programmes of my
institute, Interaction Design Institute Ivrea offer us, I think, some insight
into how design research might transfer to the marketplace.