PRISM Office Hours: What Will Be The Impact of Artificial Design Intelligence? Sustainability At the Ballot Box, and Favorite Design Projects

Office hours with Dan Harden

November 8, 2022

Office Hours is a new segment on PRISM where Whipsaw CEO and Principal Designer, Dan Harden, answers questions submitted by our listeners about industrial design, business, technology, or current topics of discussion in the greater design community.

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Dan Harden 0:03
Hello, and welcome to Prism. Prism is a design oriented podcast hosted by me downhearted, like a glass prism that reveals the color hidden inside white light. This podcast will reveal the inside story behind innovation, especially the people that make it happen. My aim is to uncover each guest unique point of view, their insights, their methods are their own secret motivator, perhaps that fuels their creative genius. Hi, everyone, this is Dan Hart. And we are starting a new thing in our prison podcast, and we’re calling it office hours. Office hours is an open forum where I field questions from our listeners. These can be questions about industrial design, business technology, the creative process, or current topics within the greater design community, you can submit your slash prism office hours, I look forward to hearing from you. And thanks again for listening. This next piece is answering the question from Kinsley

Kinsley 1:05
Hi I’m Kinsley, if there was a project, you’ve done that you could go back and redesign what project would it be? And why?

Dan Harden 1:11
Thanks, Kinsley, for that question. You know, I interpret that question in two ways. One, if I could go back and redesign something, because it could be better, or something needed fixing. Or two, if I could go back and redesign something because it was a fabulous product category. And I just wanted to take another run at it. For the first going back to fix something, you know, I don’t have too many of these examples. Because by the time you go through these often very long product development processes, you have a lot of chances to get it right. And, you know, it’s your job to make sure that it is right. I mean, it’s, it’s always important that you strive for the best design possible, go for design Nirvana with every single job. But yes, sometimes something gets in the way. It could be, you know, could be like a disingenuous marketing requirement. We hear that sometimes from clients, or we’re like, what do people really want that might be a cost factor, you just having to stay so low in cost with your solution that kind of limits you. Sometimes there’s a manufacturing limitation, or even client politics can sometimes force compromises to your design. And then when you when you add up all these compromises along this typical product, filament path, if you’re not careful, your design can get watered down to where, well, maybe you feel like I wish I had a chance to redo it. You never want to compromise on your critical design elements. But sometimes conflicting concerns do win out and you end up with less perfection than what you had had envisioned. Maybe one example that was a project we did for Cisco Systems. We had designed their their commercial or enterprise telepresence line, which allows people in conference room to feel like they’re very much in the same room with people you’re talking to the other side of your table by placing these large televisions. So Cisco had the concept of putting these in your home and using your own television for these. And they called it the Cisco Umi. So we went through this big process, lots of research, lots of development, lots of design engineering, to produce you, me, but by the time it made it to the market, it the cost factor wasn’t there. For the end user, they were asking a high subscription rate for it. And the marketing campaign was weak here with this beautiful design, that we worked so hard on it, it just failed on the market, because people couldn’t afford it. And so it just, it’s kind of a slap in the face to your design team when something like that happens, because it’s it was out of our control. You know, could there have been something we could have helped on in regards to, you know, maybe a better marketing strategy? Or could we have influenced their their marketing team? Little bit more? Maybe? I don’t know. But yeah, there’s a little bit of regret there. As far as the second part of the question, what if I could go back and redesign something? Because it was a blast the first time around? Yeah, there are many of those, or maybe not many, because I’m always really intrigued by what we’re doing now and in the near future. So to go back and redesign something. It’s not really how I think to begin with the reasons to go back and redesign something could be that something has changed. It could be that you changed as a designer and you have a new outlook on your subject matter. The technology has evolved to open up a new opportunity, or maybe the end users needs eVivo often some way that you had not or could not have foreseen. The first example of something I designed and my team worked on that I’d like to go back and redesign maybe would be the Eaton emergency field radio line. These Eaton field radios were emergency products that help during the case of say, a, you know, a flood or earthquake, or tornado, and they had no up band radio, which gave alerts and they also had cranks on them crank dynamos, so you can actually power the radio with that or even power your phone if it ran down. But you know, when I look at them today, they seem kind of big and clunky. But perhaps, you know, the biggest change for me, and the reason I’d like to go revisit it is we’ve all evolved in the last 10 years since we design these, our understanding of the science of climate change is evolved. We’re much more knowledgeable about it, the technology hasn’t changed, has changed quite a bit, which would allow us to be a lot less boxy and heavy. And in addition, there are a lot of apps, I think that could really help during the case of an emergency. And I think these could just be really slick products that could help with these greater climate concerns. I don’t know what that is yet. But yeah, that’s that’s why I say it could be interesting. I guess another example for this category would be going back and redesigning Dells precision line of PCs, they’re very popular, we design those about, oh my gosh, that was also about 10 years ago, now, maybe eight years ago. They’re very popular. And but you know, when I look at them, they’re they’re still they’ve dated well. But tower computers are not quite as popular. And I think we would have just a different take on it a different attitude about how we would design it, I think we would be looking for an even more sleek solution. And I don’t know, I just sense that there could be some opportunity there. You know, to conclude, I think the most important thing to remember is that in product design, you really need to get it right in the first place. There’s just a lot on the line because your creation is getting mass produced, sometimes in the millions of units. And with that comes a lot of responsibility, environmental responsibility, business responsibility, and even a responsibility to yourself for creating excellence. You should always strive for the best solution possible. And when you have that as a guiding work principle, you just don’t have any regrets. Okay, this is the next question from Jared. Howdy, Dan,

Jared 7:57
from the Deep South. This is Jared Windham, an associate professor of industrial design at Auburn University. I’ve spent an unknown amount of time generating two dimensional images using mid journey, the artificial intelligence text to image application. I’m wondering if you see what role this might have an industrial design research and development? And maybe what role future iterations potentially 3d might have as disruptive technology and in what we do.

Dan Harden 8:34
Thanks. Thanks, Jared. The term disruptive is overused and often doesn’t apply. But it sure does for this topic, because AI will be hugely disruptive to our field of design. And to be honest, it excites me and scares me at the same time. So let me attempt to unpack this meaty question. So Artificial Design intelligence, it is gradually entering the field of industrial design. And we’re calling it generative design, where Adi quickly generates multiple concept options based on some raw data and human input about the solution criteria. But it’s still kind of primitive. It can crank out many random options, but choosing the least offensive option in my opinion certainly does not a design process make. Unlike digital and graphic design, like your text to image AI example, Jared where AI is integrated within a common software platform. Product hardware design is really different. How well suppose first computers certainly or surpass humans in their ability to process tons of data Simon taneous Lee and instantaneously. And certain projects benefit from all that data such as interface design that needs to be automatically changeable to accommodate shifting user needs, or when products in a system improve on their own because they cross cross reference data with other products in the system, otherwise known as machine learning. And where computers are vastly inferior to humans is when there’s little data to work with. But that’s how many design problems actually start. The three dimensional aspects of a product and its relationship to his user and its environment present exponential tap challenges for AI, mostly because it can’t perceive the dynamic user interaction nuances within the physical world in which products reside. Adi for industrial design is kind of like self driving cars, I guess you could say there are. There are a lot of unpredictable usage factors and conditions that that can cause a design wreck. But perhaps most importantly, the design process, it’s it’s really hard to design process that we use as humans, it’s hard to replicate using Adi, partly because it lacks embodied cognition, which reasons that a living creatures physical presence has bearing on how it thinks. And that the mind is not only connected to the body, but that the body influences the mind. Embodied cognition is what happens when we design products and experiences. We let the physical world of movement interaction and perception deeply inform our mental creative process. When you’re pondering and thinking, you’re also in the design process, you know, you’re also touching, sketching, making and doing all simultaneously it’s all kind of an automated, intuitive process. For Adi to ever really work well for ID, it will have to learn to mimic this extraordinary connection between mind and body. Ideally, Adi software would replicate what our brains go through during that design process. The unprompted bursts of inspiration, unrelenting curiosity that just drives you forward, illogical combinations of which I always love. And I’m surprised by causal inference is also important in design when you’re really creatively exploring. And these rapid win fail win cycles are boundless, boundless wonder that you have that drives you forward to do even better, or to find something you’ve never seen before. And then And then finally, like the sheer joy of discovery, these are the human brain proficiencies that allow humans to innovate, like like we do. And of course, these creative drivers are always fueled by character, ego, individuality, and your own life experiences. So how will Adi ever be able to think this way, I don’t know. Maybe Adi software will eventually overcome these obstacles. And my hope is that it will make products more efficient, functional and ecological. When it does. I’m looking forward to to how Adi will someday Express true design intelligence by showing aesthetic sensitivity, and maybe even resilience. If this does happen, design is a practice you can count on it will be forever changed. But I don’t think it will replace designers because design is to me a lot about mining the soul. And I doubt computers will ever be able to attain that. I think it will probably augment the design process. And we’ll come to think of Adi as another tool like a very advanced CAD tool or a 3d printer. In any case, it’s it’s an exciting future and it’s one to look forward to Albion with a little bit of trepidation. Thank you for the question, Jared. Okay, this next question is for Gladys. Hi,

Gladys 14:40
my name is Gladys. I’m from Topeka, Kansas. I work as a political field organizer for a campaign. So when I’m talking to folks about the upcoming election, one of the most important factors and issues motivating them to vote is the ongoing climate crisis. So I was wondering what sustainability measure and design people should take

Dan Harden 15:00
Good question, Gladys, as sustainability is forefront of my mind, as with many designers, and it seems like it’s on the mind of more voters to which is great. meaningful solutions to climate change are deeply infrastructural, and require everyone to commit and work together as one. Unfortunately, working as one is not exactly our political landscape Nowadays, everyone should be doing whatever they can within their own specialty, including designers, which and designed by nature is about solving problems and creating positive change. So we should be the ones that are like jumping out in front of this particular problem and doing what we can. You know, as designers, we’re likely not going to change the construct of our consumption focused capitalist society anytime soon. Designers can, however, influence how people feel about their products by building and sustainability values and making it making it obvious. I think there are two parts to this. The first are the more obvious external things that we can do to make products more responsible. For example, using using less material or reducing manufacturing energy, and making products recyclable, of course, you should be doing this already as a designer, many companies do. And thanks to technology, we will be able to come closer to achieving these goals on a much larger scale, because things are getting smaller and more efficient all the time. That’s one of the beauties of technology. Designers just need to keep the pressure on the technologists and engineers to continue this reductionist trend. And we do this by making sure that less being more is still a most desirable trait to the consumers. You have to make sure that sleek, slim, slim, minimal stuff remains cool. And you can you can beautify simplicity to make it more attractive. This This, by the way presents an economic stimulus to which is often the only way to get the big corporations to do the right thing. The second part of the climate and sustainability solution is much harder, because it’s internal to what users and their societies believe about material wealth and conservation. The biggest sustainability problem by far is the sheer quantity of things that humans make. And the experiences that we feel like we must have the consumption and the desires around each of those. And these conditions are only getting worse. So developing a global positive attitude about conservation is the key conservation. That’s like an old fashioned word, right. But conservation is the key to make and consume less is opposed to capitalism. But that’s what we have to do in the long run. We have to accept that no economic growth or even negative growth is okay. We all seek peace of mind and fulfillment on some level, but that does not have to mean more stuff. Is it possible for designers to help change attitudes about conservation? I would, I would say yes, because design. At its heart is a communication tool. That should be expressing quality of experience, not just quantity of experience. And although marketers may disagree, timeless, high quality high value design is the most sustainable in the long run. I think it’s even important to retool our prosperity model now because capitalism as an economic construct is waning. Environment is being destroyed for the sake of wealth and greed is is practically a religion and consumer as consumerism has gone beyond an economic order that encourages acquisition of more goods that is it has become our modern day culture. I’m seeing people lust for the latest thing and then get bored after using it a few times and ends up in your top drawer or your bottom drawer. product consumption is often so fleeting that it reminds me of how people gobble up tick tock content. Consumerism consists of too much stuff that offers too little substance. And our economic machine just keeps churning it out. is simply not sustainable, unless we expand our prosperity model to include ecological and humanistic sensibilities and always designed for it. One key to affect this positive change is to make the benefits of a wider prosperity model And a sustainability vision directly applicable and relevant to the to the corporations that make this stuff. Otherwise there is no buy in designers must evangelize the notion that gain doesn’t just mean increased profit by selling more of these cool products that we’re designing. Gain should also be measured as increased responsibility to our planet. And I really do hope the world wakes up soon, we have to wake up soon to view prosperity, and sustainability like two sides of a coin. Ultimately, I suspect will realize that downscaling production and consumption for the sake of happiness and the planet simply must be done in order to survive. Thanks for the question. Glennis. Okay, this is the next question. This is from Qatar.

Cutter 20:59
Hi, I’m Cutter . I’m from Colorado. And I was just wondering if you had to choose one project for your portfolio to represent your entire body of work? Which would you choose? And what was your design process like for that?

Dan Harden 21:14
Oh, boy cutter, that is a hard question. Of all of the products that we’ve designed, you know, over, over 1000 products that that is like saying, which is your favorite baby, you know, you pour your heart and soul into each one of these projects. And there are certain aspects to some versus others that make them make them more enjoyable, I guess, and make make them more favorite. I think for me, the ones that are my favorites are those where there was a difficult challenge to solve. We had a great team effort and we make good chemistry with the client. That means a lot when you’ve got a client that really is championing championing their own their own product, Nick and they give you the the respect and the freedom as a designer to do good work, just allowing us to do really good work matters. So okay, what if I got it down to a subgroup? Maybe not one that would not be fair to our clients or, or to us? I think, Okay, how about for? I’ll go with the a dairy baby bottle, goop, the Google product line, the tunnel strength trainer, and the scroll allowance journey, I’ll tell you why. So and these are chronological. Yeah, those were chronological. A dairy. Okay, so that’s the dairy natural nursery, it’s a baby bottle, that’s, that looks like you would want a baby bottle to look like and I don’t mean me, I mean a baby. It’s a very natural breast like form. And we were able to rethink the problem really from the ground up by literally turning it upside down. So you fill it from the bottom, not the top, like most other baby bottles that had been designed for the last 100 years. So the key was to figure out how to manufacture something like that, where you could create a soft dome of warm milk, while also allowing it to breathe properly. Because you need to equalize the pressure inside the bottle is the baby and just the milk. It just ended up being a a wonderful project, because well, their result was really cool. As a design solution, it was very complete, right? So good form, good function. And most importantly, that it got out of the way. It got out of this critical moment between mother or father and the babies. So it wasn’t a product impediment between these two critical users, one providing the care one receiving it. And so therefore, the product kind of receded into the experience. I love that about the dairy product. It was also successful. And the client team was just absolutely wonderful to work with. I guess one of my favorite parts was working with with nursing babies, because they couldn’t. They couldn’t tell you they couldn’t verbalize to you. What they liked or didn’t like, one baby just threw one of the prototypes at me and hit me in the forehead and it was the proverbial knock on the head like, okay, I guess she didn’t like that. So it was really neat. Yeah. Do you really use your observational skills as a designer to to innovate? So that was a dairy. The Google product line is comprised of a lot of different products have designed over the years for them the nest drop cam Camera Line, the Chromecast the OnHub Home Hub, Google Wi Fi, even the Google trekker you know the drop cam can Camera reinvented how we feel about cameras monitoring your home. It was a it was just a cute, friendly little multipurpose kind of device that you could put anywhere because it had these three axes of motion. Chromecast, you know, ironically, there’s a design that you’d stick behind the television. And I remember Google saying, Are you sure you want your design behind the television. And it was, it was our intent to really let that software in the television come forward. That was really what people wanted is, is a new streaming style. And a new method of getting content on their television, the OnHub, we introduced a lot of natural materials like bamboo, and then even on early work on the other products, we introduced a lot of textiles. So that introduced this whole natural look and feel. Then the tracker was it kind of a bizarre scientific kind of project. It’s this backpack worn mapping device that would take photographs and navigational contours of any space, anywhere in the world. Typically, that kind of content that goes into Google Earth is coming from automobiles with cameras on the top, but you know, think about how much of the planet doesn’t have roads. So the Google checker solve that problem. So when you go to Google Earth, a lot of that content is coming from trekker now, tonal, was probably the most complete project I’ve ever worked on or the team has, because, you know, it started with research, human factors, you know, complete industrial design, mechanical engineering user interface, every design problem was wrapped up into one solution that hangs on the wall. It’s a strength training system that uses an electronic motor as a form of resistance. So there isn’t weight in there that you’re pulling against. And it allows you to have workouts ranging from lat pull downs, to, to, you know, all different types of crunching, bench pressing curls, squats, you can do everything with a total strength trainer, and you get stronger, faster, because it has machine learning. So it’s prompting you along the way. It’s encouraging you and you have a whole community of other total users in the background that’s actually working with you. So you know that again, one of the recipes for, for making a product kind of rise to the top is when you have great synergy with your client and this case, you know, totals whole management team, their engineering team, project managers. It’s just a great company to work with. We just so thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. And we’re, you know, super thrilled with how people that have gotten healthier through it as a result. Finally, is a recent project. scroller is a lounge chair. I, you know, I’ve been a designer for a while, and I hadn’t really worked on furniture before. Certainly not much. I did a little bit when I was a frog design, but not much. And so I sat down, I thought, you know, if I’m going to design a piece of furniture, what should it be? And I thought it has to be the quintessential design problem that is a lounge chair. I’ve been looking at lounge chairs and thinking about them for a long time. You know, I worked when I was working with George Nelson, of course, he designed a lot of really cool pieces of furniture when he was at Herman Miller working with Charles Eames. So I realized that that a lot of lounge chairs had issues. They were too expensive, they were too complex, meaning that they might have had, they might have a really beautiful form and a good expression. But then if you look underneath them, there’s this crazy contraption to hold it or allow it to swivel. So there’s there’s often compromises in these lounge chairs. They’re often heavy, and large as well. So I set out to design a chair that was lightweight, that had a unique way of putting it together because a lot of chairs have been ripped off. And I wanted to be able to protect it with a utility patent and a design patent of course. I wanted to use all wood because I guess I don’t know I’ve been working so much with technology and I just kind of wanted to get away from it. To be honest, I don’t want any fancy tech. I don’t want any apps to sit in my chair. So I wanted to just use all wood, all hardwoods and just create something that’s that’s unique and simple. At the same time that has a Have a sensibility to it in how it’s put together. But also, it had to be beautiful and comfortable. I mean, it had to be beautiful and comfortable. This is, this is something that’s harder to do than you think. So anyway, that was a pretty personal kind of process, when you ask about, like, what was the design process, I mean, it was pretty much me sketching for a couple of months, you know, maybe maybe three to six months, I was not in a hurry, didn’t have a client for this. And it was just about, well, just having fun and expressing myself. So in that booklet of sketches, there are hundreds of chairs in there. And you’ll be seeing more in the future. And that, of course, from sketches, you, you have to jump out into the real world. So you know, looking at lots of human factors, data checking, best practices on lounge chairs, looking at the heights, and the angles, and the backrests, and so forth, looking at different construction methods.

And just experimenting, and building models and prototypes that was next, then finding a group that was local to the Silicon Valley that that could actually go from drawings, CAD drawings, to a real product in a manner that that was a unique manufacturing process. So I needed to find a group of people that could take this rather unique way of, of putting layers of epoxied plywood into a vacuum bag to create the form of the scroller chair. And then we did you know, we committed to making the first of the scroller, like right out of the gate as a perfect prototype, instead of an experimental hack together one, and it was a pretty good guest, the first one that came off of the tool was was actually remarkably close to the way it is now. I had to tweak a few angles, but otherwise, it’s pretty much there. And, and that was the process. I mean, you know, without a client, it was just a matter of cutting to the chase and just getting to design solution rather quickly. And I found the whole process to be immensely gratifying because of it. Thank you, cutter for the question. Thank you for listening to prism. Follow us on or your favorite streaming platform, and we’ll be back with more thought provoking episodes soon.

Unknown Speaker 32:46
Prism is hosted by Dan Harden principal designer and CEO of Whipsaw, produced by Sarah Lierz, mix and sound design by Erik Buell

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