It was this ‘total beautiful’ balance where neither form nor function had been compromised that got me thinking about the design challenges Ray and Charles Eames faced. At its root, the chair has just one core function driven from the everlasting physical need for humans to be able to sit down. As designers working within the consumer electronics arena, very few of our design challenges have such pure foundations as furniture that is based on one human physical need. It was this difference that made me consider the notion of balance.
With so many project objectives being driven by our clients’ technology advancements rather than a physical need or human benefit, are we being afforded the same opportunity to find that balance of beautiful form with beautiful function to attain this un-compromised ‘total beautiful’?
Every year there seems to be one key product or category that shapes the majority of our work. This year is no different, with the iPhone as an obvious and major driving force in requests from clients. Yet as we’re charged with designing equal or better products to the iPhone, are we being handed the poisoned chalice, or can we really bring an alternative and improved take on the design challenge?
The challenge of balance in design
The answer to this depends on the roots of the brief; are we adding a touch screen because ‘they’ve got one’, or are we utilizing the technology because it can solve unmet user needs for mobile devices?
To design for unmet needs within consumer electronics, our role as pure industrial designers will need to shift. The time of simply providing formal designs or intuitive button layouts has past. Each new super-thin technology device leaves us with little more than a blank surface to have fun with. The physical forms are now merely a frame for what’s unfolding on the canvas of the screen. This lack of any traditional physical user benefit, doesn’t equate to a lack of design opportunity, rather it allows us to resolve less physical solutions and connect more with unmet emotional user benefits.
For now at least it seems the screen is the new icon and, like the user, we have to place a greater understanding and importance on what is happening on the screens of these vessels for digital content. Now more than ever we need to have a greater marriage of interaction and industrial design. The successful designs will be more holistic, that have a solid understanding of the benefits of a user interface and the role that a harmonious industrial design can play.
The Eames side chair, like any truly successful product, had a balance of form and function, but it also captured the more emotional aspects of comfort and desire, making it ‘total beautiful’. These days, to succeed, our designs must truly connect with the people we’re designing for – the increasingly conscious consumer. This connection must go deeper than just a subjective visceral ‘like or dislike’ of a design. It needs to link the user emotionally to the benefits of the device so they first, buy into the vision and second, desire to keep being a part of it.
This ‘total beautiful’ balance of form, function and emotion can be achieved in consumer electronics, but only if we provide user benefits that connect and satisfy by using the appropriate methods and tools to solve design problems and provide valuable user benefits. For example, the iPhone isn’t a touchscreen device because Steve Jobs wanted a touchscreen phone, it was the case that the touchscreen provided the best mode of interaction to allow for a pleasing and engaging convergent device experience.
Moving forward, the benefits must be the driving force behind every design. We need to allow our creative instincts to actually be creative and ultimately, embrace opportunity and challenge the preconceptions of technology in products.