When Motorola asked its design studios to consider communications of the future, they imagined a world where ambient technology frees human interaction from hardware tyranny. We look at the results
Future gazing is something that the folks in the mobile phone industry are quite used to. In such a competitive, aggressive and fast-moving market, companies cannot afford to miss a trend or misread consumer inclinations.
Over at Motorola in Chicago, the consumer experience design team led by Jim Wicks gazed a bit further than usual. In 2008, they decided to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the mobile phone by imagining it another 25 years down the line.
Rallying a band of designers from Motorola’s global design studios (in Brazil, Seoul in South Korea, Beijing in China, and London as well as Chicago), design managers for the Americas Dickon Isaacs and Claudio Ribeiro organised a two-month project, run through the traditional design process, with designers dedicating their spare time, outside ongoing roadmap production and development programmes.
‘This was a chance, as a global design organisation, to say what the future of communication might be 25 years from now,’ says Isaacs. ‘We ended up spending the first couple of weeks almost “un-training” everybody, to get people to think as though they were already in the future.’
The team boiled down its trend research for a Motorola-imagined future and came up with a manifesto of key one-liners: communication is ambient; computers and phones are embedded in the ordinary; objects access ‘the cloud’ at will; content is infinite; technology outpaces the brain’s ability to absorb; reality is augmented; molecular manufacturing revolutionises production; device interaction is predictive and fluid; people are free to relax; and ‘using software’ vanishes, with only interface and human behaviour remaining.
‘All these points conjure the notion that the way we communicate today will change considerably, but core human behaviours [such as shaking hands and waving] are not going to disappear,’ says Isaacs.
Even though there are global themes, Isaacs also wanted to push the idea that cultural-specific behaviours can really drive design. ‘It meant that we didn’t end up with ten concepts that were huddled in the middle, but with a collection of quite dispersed ideas,’ he says.
The 2033 concepts include the Tender personal satellite from the Seoul office, where the culture is generally progressive in terms of adopting new technology, says Isaacs. A floating companion that uses shape-shifting technology, Tender can shield its user from impending threats.
The UK studio designed the MEM, an organic memory manager that grows with its user as it stores a lifetime’s experiences. ‘We see a real gap in how technology could potentially be used to people’s advantage [in a device] that’s less austere and more personal, human and introverted,’ says Isaacs.
The 2nd Sight, also by the UK studio, is an ‘eye phone’ with an infinite, touch-screen ‘handy interface’ that allows users to augment reality by summoning extra layers of information, such as people’s personalities or affinities. ‘If other people carried these, information could be used in a very human way to promote connection between people,’ explains Isaacs. ‘People have a desire to connect and share, and why shouldn’t technology enable that, if you can design it in a way that’s respectful of people?’
In Latin America, community-based culture, passion and vibrancy, and shifting economic models influenced the design concepts. The Comunidad device, from the Brazil studio, expresses a wearer’s ideas to the wider community, and Liquid Card is a basic communication device that allows information to be projected on to any surface, using an oxygen-activated, liquid crystal touch-screen.
Throughout the project, some clear design stories emerged, says Isaacs. His team has spun a tale of year 2033 where people still love objects and identify with them, but their importance will also recede as embedded technology becomes more accepted. Communication will be more human and devices will empower more natural and fluid interactions. And as devices are able to physically and digitally morph, people will be able to adapt them for different contexts.
‘If people don’t like the designs, we don’t mind. It’s supposed to be left a little bit open,’ says Isaacs. ‘We want to get people thinking about human behaviour and to get the message across that culturally there is a lot of unique behaviour in the world and we aren’t really tapping into that yet.’
For now, Isaacs and team have returned to the present. ‘Earth round here is very cool,’ he adds.