I was invited in to talk to the BA product students at Central St Martins last week to talk about my journey as a designer. Was interesting as I’m well used to talking about design and Seymourpowell but not about myself.First time I’d really looked back on my career and thought about how long I’d been at this. Click the image below to see where I’ve been.
See more on the Seymourpowell blog post
Curved screens are coming, but what should they really be used for. I’ve just contributed to an article by Aaron Souppouris at the Verge. Link and copy below:-
Currently, smartphones almost universally follow a single form: a rectangular slab with a flat, equally rectangular display. In recent weeks, we’ve seen signs from LG and Samsung that things could be changing soon.
Earlier this month Samsung announced the aptly named Galaxy Round, a phone that features vertical edges curved towards you. The news was swiftly followed by LG’s announcement of the G Flex, which in contrast to Samsung’s handset is deeply curved on a horizontal axis, casting the silhouette of a sleek techno banana. Both handsets are currently only destined for Korean shelves, however, and many have written off the advent of curved displays as yet another marketing gimmick. So why have two separate entities announced remarkably similar and yet totally different devices within weeks of each other? And which company, if either, got it right?
Both phones generate a “that’s different” impression that has long been missing from the industry. But is “different” necessarily good? Matthew Cockerill, associate design director at Seymourpowell, has his doubts. Curved-screen smartphones “are a solution looking for a problem,” says Cockerill, who has a wealth of experience in product design and consumer electronics, including designing OLED TVs and Samsung televisions and monitors. “From a usability point of view, they don’t really give much … Perhaps [in the case of Samsung’s vertically curved Galaxy Round] it will curve around your leg, but I don’t think that really stands up as a main feature.”
LG’s handset, on the other hand, undoubtedly doesn’t curve around your leg, unless you happen to have enormous pockets in which to place it horizontally. Instead, its maker is marketing the product as “a good fit for the face.” The G Flex is perhaps the more striking of the two handsets; with a larger distance to curve, it truly looks different compared to most smartphones. But while the claims of ergonomic calling could be true, we’re in an age when our phones are more often looked and thumbed over than placed against our cheek.
“It’s not bringing huge user benefits,” explains Simon Lamason, principal of design strategy at design innovation consultancy PDD, who for over a decade worked for Nokia and Philips as a senior product designer and design strategist. “It does bring some novelty … but it’s a case of ‘they can do it so they’ve done it.’ It’s very much a case of the Korean companies chasing each others’ tails.”
The secret to LG and Samsung’s sudden rush to create a curved device isn’t a grand coincidence. Both companies are heavily invested in OLED display tech, which is used in smartphones from Samsung, LG, Motorola, and others. The progression from regular to curved and flexible OLEDs has of course been planned for years, but it’s only now that the displays are being mass produced.
The key to OLED’s newfound curvature is that LG and Samsung have swapped out the glass that sits behind the display for plastic substrates, allowing for more flexible — and less fragile — displays. The same technology that enables curved devices could one day allow for the creation of truly flexible devices — once the flexible components and batteries to support them are ready for the mainstream. LG tells us such battery tech is still several years away from a mainstream appearance, but that’s undoubtedly both companies’ end goal.
That’s the future, however, and the Galaxy Round and G Flex are our present. Neither handset appears to offer up much of a reason for its existence. In fact, Cockerill believes it’s the disparate formats themselves that reveal there’s currently no value in curved-screen smartphones. “If there was some key function that this fulfilled that was really compelling then I think both manufacturers would be driven to the same function.” Instead, he argues, all the Galaxy Round and G Flex offer is a point of differentiation.
In recent years, gimmicks and differentiation have largely taken place away from product design. But it wasn’t so long ago that weird phones were coming from every direction — take Nokia’s insane history as an example. With the rise of the touchscreen, though, we’ve been left with an army of clones, all of which look like the modern equivalent of a Newton MessagePad.
“If you look at what a smartphone is now, in terms of what it does, it’s pretty mature,” says Cockerill. “I can’t see anything that makes me want to move to a curved screen from a flat screen. It’s just a new technology that’s been applied to an existing product category, i.e. the rectangular smartphone.”
“I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING THAT MAKES ME WANT TO MOVE TO A CURVED SCREEN FROM A FLAT SCREEN.”
Despite their doubts over the first generation of curved screen smartphones, both Lamason and Cockerill agree that the technology has merit. The recent crop of curved televisions, for example, make more sense as you can fit a larger screen size in a shorter width when compared to a flat screen. For a single person sitting centrally, a concave screen has less visible reflections than a flat display. Even televisions aren’t without their downsides, though. “If it’s against the wall it’s going to stand off much more,” says Lamason, “and if you’ve got people at different viewing angles then it’s not going to work.”
The positives and negatives of curved televisions also apply to smartphones. In ambient light you’ll see fewer reflections, but when viewed from an off-center angle the screen will be less legible. The curve also makes these phones simply bigger: they take up more space.
Neither designer believes there’s anything particularly wrong with a curved smartphone — it’s just that there’s nothing particularly right. Many of the upsides of switching to a plastic OLED display, which are highlighted by a report from DisplayMate’s Raymond Soniera, aren’t tied to curvature. LG and Samsung could just as easily use plastics in their flat displays. So what should we do with curved OLED technology?
PRODUCT DESIGNERS HAVE BEEN DREAMING OF CURVED AND FLEXIBLE SCREENS FOR DECADES
Product designers have been “dreaming of curved and flexible screens” for decades, says Cockerill. “Just google those words and you’ll have all sorts of concepts.” Now that they’re available, we shouldn’t be jamming them into smartphones without good reason. Instead, Cockerill would rather see companies and their designers focusing on asking a different question: what future product category could curved and flexible screens enable?
To steal Apple’s terminology, Smartwatches are “an area of intense interest” for tech companies, with virtually every major consumer-facing manufacturer rumored to be developing its own. Lamason believes smartwatches could be a good fit for curved displays, and says the technology might also have “applications for jewelry and monitoring devices,” as it’s “conducive to making round objects that naturally fit to the amorphous shape of the human body.”
Products like the Nike Fuelband and Fitbit Force could be ideal candidates for a flexible display. “You could have multiple home screens that you just scroll around your wrist, each displaying different things,” suggests Lamason. “If it’s related to running like the Fuelband or Fitbit, could it show through color different things you’re doing? I think that’s much more interesting, where you can really use the flexibility of a screen to fit the body.” Both designers also dream about the potential of foldable, rollable displays, and how they could one day transform consumer electronics.
Cockerill has a good analogy for the significance of curved and flexible displays to product design. “Look at architecture, and where it’s gone with the advent of curved glass … even just 50 years ago, the only glass that the architect really had was flat panel, and when you started to get curved glass and create glass in various compound forms, it allowed the designs to become a lot freer and move towards different things.”
In 50 years, we may look back on the impact of flexible and curved displays on product design in a similar light. “Curved and flexible is incredibly valuable and has real potential,” says Cockerill, “I just don’t think that potential lies in the present form factor of a smartphone.”
I’ve been visiting Seoul several times a year for over ten years now and it can often be bewildering how things change. Once familiar places are often erased by new developments. It’s often hard to find places that reflect the real heritage of Seoul outside the overly reconstructed tourist spots.On my latest trip I got the chance to visit something of a Seoul surviver. Hidden away in Hannam-Dong and completely surrounded by modern developments is a once neglected traditional Korean house. Song Byeongyong has spent 6 months renovating his family home by hand. The attention to detail and sympathetic restoration reflects his skill as a long time designer and this little gem is becoming something of a meeting place and studio for like minded creatives to work and socialise.
Last week with the help of Designers Nick, Graham and Laurence I ran a workshop at the Market Research Society inaugural Creativity Lab. The title of the lab was ‘The power of design to inspire, illuminate and persuade’. Other contributors included the Guardian’s digital data team, Space Syntax, Purpose, We R Interactive and Point-Blank International.
The workshops I usually run take place over two days so it was a challenge to do something in an hour. Luckily the audience where up for it and after a quick immersion in our process with a bit of ethnography we where up and running. The task was to
“Design something that enhances or improves the tea making experience.“
From this workshop and the ones Seymourpowell have been running at the V&A for school children it’s interesting to see how ideas around the connectivity of existing products, the internet of things and apps are at the forefront of peoples mind for both children and adults alike.
I’ll be giving a keynote Online at good pricestalk at this years Human Computer Interaction Design open day at City University London. I’ll be on stage at 6pm on Wednesday 17th April along with Mark Tonkelowitz of Facebook and Juho Parviainen – IDEO
If you interested in coming along check the event details here.
A recent thought piece for the Seymourpowell blog on the rise in the public consciousness of 3D printing.
The democratisation of product development is on it’s way. That’s certainly what’s seems to be happening according to the press. The advent of affordable 3D printers and maker culture has started to show us opportunities for putting the design and development of products into the domestic environment, even for those with relatively modest budgets.
3D printing is evolving but it’s output at this point is mainly suitable for rapid prototyping. It’s good for getting parts you’ve created in 3D CAD into a physical form without expensive tooling or days of CNC machining. This is great – it speeds up development time and is often the best way to realise and idea in physical form. When you make an idea concrete and tangible it is far less ambiguous and can be quickly evaluated by the team and improved. As product designers, we love it.
Right now 3D printing on a domestic level can’t match the properties injection moulded engineering plastics have, namely strength, surface finish, UV stability and water resistance. There has been some beautiful sculptural objects and jewellery produced that really showcase the potential of the process and it’s advantages over injection moulding. But as Nokia’s admirable recent release of the 3D data for the back case of their Lumia 820 phone has shown, it has limitations. Hack their design, add what you want and print your own, great! Just be warned, it can cost over £50 to produce and when printed the part often cracks when being fitted to the handset. I’m all for open access to the tools of product design. Cost of the processes to design products, access to manufacturing, funding and distribution channels shouldn’t be a barrier to the the best ideas and products wining through to market.
Injection moulding, the process that dominates our industry puts great restrictions on designers, companies and manufacturers. The necessity to design parts that come out of the tool easily (the right draft angles and no undercuts please) and the high cost of tooling all inhibit the type and variety of products that can be produced at present.
So the real opportunities for me are in industrial 3D printing processes. Once you’ve cut steel, that’s it, the product is fixed. Where as with 3D printing at an industrial level it could free us from these constrains, giving us the possibility of bringing true mass customisation to life. Just like software, we would be able to release products as beta versions and through consumer feedback we will be able to iterate, upgrade and customise the product within the manufacturing process rather than just in the design process. Now that really is a new industrial revolution, I can’t wait to get started….
I was recently invited to helped judge the design week awards for Product and Furniture Design. An interesting few days with fellow judges Adrian Berry and Neal Stone. Our finalists are now up on the design week site and the winners will be announced on 4th June.
Some interesting work and quite a lot of Apple products. Shame we had to give back all the samples. I think it was also the first time in about 30 years that any of the judges had tried a Soda Stream.
I’ve just taken part in a great trade mission to Seoul with Sir John Sorrell, Britain’s Business Ambassador and Ed Vaizey the Minister for Culture Communications and Creative Industries.
Myself and a selection of some of Britian’s leading creative companies held an event that looked at the value of ideas for business. I gave a talk about the value of small ideas, how they connect with users in their lives, ultimately benefiting the brand and leading to increased value. With the talk over it was a further week of new business in
Scott Whitman the British Ambassador to the Republic of Korea with Ed Vasey at the Trade missions reception at the British Embassy. Seoul.
My predictions for the industry in 2013? A difficult task but interesting to think about how some of the emerging trends of the last few years will continue to shape the consumer and product designer in 2013.
“How consumers think about and use their products will continue to change in 2013. With the omni-presence of smart phones many products are going to have to be designed from the ground up to work as part of a product + smartphone + app environment. With consumers’ desire to not just be sold a product, but be part of the process, products will have to be increasingly more responsive, configurable, updatable and hackable. 2013 will also see the continued rise of the consumer-creator culture. Many of the tools we professionals use for design and production are now available and accessible to consumers. Rather like the effect the desktop publishing revolution of the ’80s had on graphic design it will be interesting to see how it changes the way we think about product design and the good and the bad that results.”
Design Week article here.