Blauvelt believes that we are in the third phase of the evolution of design, where a relational design approach takes precedence, and designers have to pay close attention to “real world constraints and contexts”. In a world dominated by obtrusive technologies, the challenge for digital product designers today is to create technological products that fit seamlessly into our daily lives. It is, as he says, “the end of discrete objects and hermetic meanings”. Smart Interaction Lab’s TOTEM exemplifies this shift in approach by presenting flexible tools that can respond to present day communication and creative problems.
(Left) ‘Echo’ / (Right) ‘Alterego’
In brainstorming sessions, it is often difficult to manage a balanced amount of debate and encouragement between people and their respective ideas. The ‘Alterego’ object randomly selects roles for everyone in the discussion — participants switch between the roles of the critic, the encourager and the challenger, whose role is to rethink the idea entirely. This tool is useful in considering the idea from multiple perspectives, allowing a more varied and insightful discussion.
‘Echo’ is another device that collects audio recordings of its surroundings when left to rest. When designers finds themselves uninspired, they can lift the object up and playback these collected recordings. The range of recordings holds endless possibilities as it is able to take users into a new frame of mind.
These objects are as Blauvelt intended — open-ended in their meanings. While a purpose is suggested for the object, users could just as easily use the objects for other purposes. Furthermore, they respond to the problem of distraction that pervasive technology can create in the workplace. By making the technology invisible and the use of the object simple, users can focus on their creative work more effectively.