At the new year we get all sorts of lists and retrospectives, most of which say more about the writer than the world. But who can resist?
Last week, the staff of Wired magazine published “The Most Cleverly Designed Objects of 2015”, which has twenty “objects” they found “distinctly clever in the ways they approach and tackle problems.”
I thought I’d review their list, looking at a couple of trends I’ve been thinking about.
First of all, I rated them for eligibility for the “Inappropriate Touchscreen File”, and sure enough, one of their 20 is actually already in the file (Yumit). Three others (Pebble smart watch, BeeLine GPS guide, and Keen Home “smart vent”) are strong candidates. Three more suggest a new category: “Inappropriate Touch Enablers”, technologies that lead designers to create inappropriate touchscreen interfaces. These are a Samsung TV, Microsoft Surface, and Google Cardboard). Seven out of twenty.
I was also interested to see how many of these “clever designs” are basically built out of mobile phone technology. The answer is at least eight, including the seven above and also the Zolt power supply. Everybody is doing it, though I grant that many of the designs listed by Wired are clever wrappers for basically the same technology.
Another trendy trend is “combinatoric design”, offering the customer a large number of combinations to create “customized” designs. This includes Campaign furniture an Ariaca headphones. I’m not sure how “clever” this is, it certainly isn’t new.
There are also interesting cases of “foldable” designs, including the Oru Kayak, “This Book is A Camera” by Kelli Anderson, Minim+Aid survival kit, and, of course Google Cardboard. These are certainly clever, at least the “folding” part.
The list also includes some “retro” objects that do only one thing. They include outstanding “analog” designs including a Tritensel (spork + knife!), Leatherman Tread, Polaroid Snap camera, the Espresso Space Cup (for zero G), and the 2016 Olympic torch. The latter two are really, really single purpose!
One interesting item is the Net Zero Table, which implements pretty old passive cooling concepts (at least 40 years old, I’m pretty sure), updated in a twenty first century package. For me, the best part is that this technology saves energy without digital sensors, computational models or a touch screen. Yay!
Notably, the narrative explaining “why you want Net Zero Table” is pretty much the same as “why you want Keen Vent”. However, one solves the problem with an energy and exotic material sucking digital system, and the other with a (well understood) “passive” chemical reaction. And, I would add, the Net Zero Table does not require you to provide a personal profile, nor to have your home monitored by network connected sensors. Bonus.
This speaks to me a at so many levels!
It responds to our sedentary life, while tacitly acknowledging how we feel about a lot of our daily work. It riffs off design trends such as standing desks and parasitic power systems. The design is DIY, It’s human scale and it’s just plain goofily large. You can’t fit this desk into a minimalist cubicle! Nor can you carry it with you on your digital nomadic wanderings!
Finally, as I’ve pointed out before, it opens the way to capturing the movement to generate power, or to generate “karma points” of some kind. It also opens up ideas bout how to make this a social exercise, how to share the wheel, how to use it as a team, and so on.