This post is a short recap on the talks I gave at the Crosslab event on Mobile Design. Crosslab is an event organized by the Willem de Kooning Academie (media art design education) which is part of the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. This Crosslab evening was filled with interesting app demos (check the i3DG palm top theater!) and inspiring cases cases (MoMA AR exhibition and bikey). In my presentation I took a more conceptual look on mobile design. By looking at all the great things mobile has brought us but also by posing 3 design challenges that currently aren’t being address all that well. You can scroll down to part 2 if you want to skip the preliminaries of the presentation and head right over to the design challenges.
You can also find these slides on slideshare (without the notes).
Hi, thank you for inviting and giving me the opportunity to share some of my ideas about mobile design.
Let me start with a very brief introduction about myself. I’m Marc Fonteijn, one of the co-founders of the service design agency called 31Volts. We use design to create better service experiences, like that of a train ride for instance.
Next to that I co-organize a leading event on mobile innovation called Mobile Monday Amsterdam. It’s free to join, so if you’d like to connect with the pioneers in the mobile field, be sure to sign up for the next event.
So the combination of 31Volts and Mobile Monday Amsterdam puts me right in the overlapping fields of design & mobile.
The funny things is that I actually also scored an appstore hit some time ago with “de beslisvis”, but thats a whole different story that I’m not going to talk about today.
To share my perspective on mobile design today, I’ve divided my presentation into 2 parts.
In the first part I’m going to look at what the mobile phone has actually become. Based on a true story.
In the 2nd part of the presentation I’d like to pose some design challenges that I think are important by aren’t being well addressed by designers at this moment.
Mobile is great. No let, me rephrase that. Mobile is f*cking aweseome!
When it comes to the usage of a mobile phone I’m that guy that usually gets asked “why on earth would you need that for”? You argue that I eat, drink & sleep mobile. Let me give you some examples of what I mean…
I’ve compiled a quick list of the things I use my phone for on daily basis. It’s my address book, calendar, map, ﬂashlight, shopping list, remote control, diary, photo book, tv, cd collection, clock, weather forecaster, arcade machine, translator, city guide, broadcasting station and compass. Yes, I use a compass on occasions!
In the near future it will probably also be my wallet, id card and doctor.
The examples I just gave are not just the things a modern mobile phone can do. They are based on my personal and daily use. And all the pointers are that this usage is only going to intensify!
Isn’t it great that a small device like this has made us less dependent (traveling in London having the tube map in your pocket), has given us more comfort (you don’t have to get off the couch to control stuff), more knowledge (knowing if you need to take an umbrella before walking out the door), more fun (playing angry birds is just a great way to kill time) and made it easier to share our experiences (using twitter as your diary).
I’m a designer. I make a living out of asking questions. So when I stop for a moment and take a broader perspective on these great things mobile phones have brought us, I question what the downsides are? Have we given up on certain things in order to have this swiss army knife on steroids in our pocket? Are we loosing things? And if so, what?
Part 2: Mobile Design Challenges
In this second part of the presentation I’d like to raise some design challenges that I think aren’t being address well enough.
These challenges are not unique to mobile, they probably apply to a lot of media (tv, internet). The thing is that mobile just amplifies these challenges and makes it even more urgent to think about them.
The first design challenge is what I call the eating without smell. Anyone who has tried it knows that food tastes completely different when you eat it while pinching your nose (and that you look funny). If we use just one of our senses the experience of eating just isn’t what it could be. Strangely enough this is exactly how we design for mobile.
We are at a party, concert, b’day and what do we do… we stare at our phones to capture the moment in a photo, check-in on foursquare and send a twitter that we are there. We create mobile applications that tend to suck up all our senses. Mobile phones connect us with the rest of the world but in the same time it disconnects us from the moment.
How can we design for mobile so that it’s inclusive on all our senses and the world around us? So that it enriches our experiences instead of distracting us from them?
I mentioned before that this mobile device gives me (the sense of having) more control. As long as I have this with me I don’t need to get lost anywhere in the world. That’s great but the intensity of having this control over our lives gives us the feeling that we are loosing things like serendipity, coincidence, unpredictability and risks in general. Everything has become so serious and calculated.
This has been happening for quite some time now. Ever since the (dry) compass was invented in medieval Europe around 1300, people have been relying on technology instead or their gut feeling to get where they need to be. But in the 1300s nobody blamed the compass of depriving them of serendipity and the sensation of getting lost. Everyone was happy they could finally find their way!
Of course we can create applications that help us get lost today. That’s not the point.
The design challenge current is how do we seamlessly incorporate these aspects into the mobile age and thus back into our lives.
Some of the clues on how to approach this design challenge may very well lie in play and playfulness. Play is all about trying new things, taking risks and exploring but within known boundaries.
The last design challenge I’d like to address is what I call the flat world.
The whole social media revolution and more specifically services like twitter have made it very easy to find and connect with people you like. These connections are not just digital, think of all the tweet-ups that have spun around the world. For some people these new online connections become real life friends.
If you take a closer look at who connects to who you see a pattern where people tend to connect with other people of that share the same interest. So you’re surrounding yourself with more people who like you enjoy jazz music, go to the local soccer club and work as an interaction designer. So while we are expanding our social network, we are in danger of narrowing or world view.
How can we design for mobile in a way that we stimulate our curiosity to broaden our perspective on the world. A great DJ doesn’t only play the records we like, he also helps us discover new music styles. What or who is the DJ in the mobile age?
I started out by showing how awesome mobile is but also elaborating on some tough design challenges.
So to wrap, I’d like take a quick look on what is the future of mobile could or maybe even should be.
The future of mobile is more connected to our human senses and to the world around us.
Mobile will be more fun. We will be more playful probably without even calling it play.
But most of all the future of mobile will be… even more awesome!
Please share your ideas on how you think we can approach these design challenges.
The presentation took just 10 minutes. After that there were some interesting questions from the audience that sparked a discussion about the value of being disconnected in the future. Crosslab recorded all the presentations so the video should be online soon.