In­side the tech-in­spired 21st- cen­tury craze for re­design­ing ev­ery­thing.

Men's Style (Australia) - - Contents - By Rob Walker.

The world seems ad­dicted to re-de­sign­ing ev­ery­thing. Here are some ex­am­ples of when it’s done right, and wrong

1. The Prob­lem.

IN THE­ORY, THE RE­DESIGN BE­GINS with a prob­lem. The prob­lem might be spe­cific or sys­temic or sub­jec­tive. A logo makes a com­pany’s im­age feel out of date. A fa­mil­iar house­hold ob­ject has been over­taken by new tech­nol­ogy. A ser­vice has be­come too con­fus­ing for new users. And so on. The world is, af­ter all, full of prob­lems.

The hu­man de­sire to solve prob­lems fu­els brand-new in­ven­tions too: The wheel, for ex­am­ple, eased con­veyance sig­nif­i­cantly. But the re­design tends to ad­dress prob­lems with, or caused by, di­men­sions of the hu­man-de­signed world, and iden­ti­fy­ing such prob­lems may be the de­signer’s most cru­cial skill. Re­designs fail when they ad­dress the wrong prob­lem — or some­thing that re­ally wasn’t a prob­lem in the first place. While progress may en­tail change, change does not nec­es­sar­ily guar­an­tee progress. But a clever re­design, one that ad­dresses the right prob­lem in an in­tel­li­gent fash­ion, im­proves the world, if just by a bit.

As an ex­am­ple in minia­ture of how the re­design is sup­posed to work, con­sider New York’s bike-share pro­gram. In 2014, Dani Si­mons, then the di­rec­tor of mar­ket­ing for Citi Bike, vis­ited a School of Visual Arts in­ter­ac­tion-de­sign class and pre­sented it with a prob­lem to solve. Citi Bike was sell­ing plenty of an­nual mem­ber­ships, but it was fail­ing to at­tract enough “ca­sual” rid­ers, the sorts of one-off users who might rent a bike for just a day or a week. The class went into the field, ob­serv­ing and in­ter­view­ing peo­ple at Citi Bike sta­tions, and at their fi­nal meet­ing, the stu­dents pre­sented Si­mons with their find­ings — and po­ten­tial so­lu­tions.

Si­mons was so im­pressed that she signed two stu­dents, Amy Wu and Luke Stern, to a three-month con­tract that sum­mer. The two of them soon ze­roed in on a par­tic­u­larly thorny de­sign prob­lem: the big, in­struc­tional de­cal on Citi Bike’s kiosks. An­nual mem­bers used a key fob and had no rea­son to in­ter­act with the de­cal, but it was the gate­way for ca­sual users. Con­sist­ing mostly of text, the de­cals were dense and off-putting, es­pe­cially to tourists un­com­fort­able with English. Some failed to un­der­stand that they were sup­posed to type in a code from a printed re­ceipt to un­lock a bike; in­stead, they tried to fig­ure out how to in­sert the re­ceipt it­self into a slot on the dock­ing sta­tion.

There was another, more pro­saic rea­son that Stern and Wu fo­cused on the de­cal: It was some­thing they could ac­tu­ally change. Citi Bike is op­er­ated by a pri­vate firm, but New York’s Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment over­sees it, too, and the tech­nol­ogy in­volves an ex­ter­nal ven­dor. The de­cal, how­ever, was pro­duced in-house. So Stern and Wu pro­posed re­fash­ion­ing it, us­ing a set of in­struc­tional pic­tograms loosely in­spired by Ikea book­lets. They tested sev­eral pro­to­types and en­dured baf­fled re­sponses from Citi Bike users un­til even­tu­ally land­ing on a grid­like ar­range­ment of vi­su­als that peo­ple found in­tu­itive. Si­mons and the Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment signed off on a fi­nal ver­sion, and it was in­stalled on the city’s 300-plus Citi Bike sta­tions. Wu checked the ser­vice’s pub­licly avail­able user data a month later and dis­cov­ered that ca­sual rid­er­ship had in­creased about 14 per­cent. “It was a lit­tle bit sur­real,” Stern re­calls. “We can ac­tu­ally make a dif­fer­ence.”

In­deed, this is the pla­tonic ideal of the re­design: A de­signer sees a prob­lem, pro­poses a so­lu­tion, makes a dif­fer­ence. Such tidy nar­ra­tives fuel a reign­ing ide­ol­ogy in which ev­ery ob­ject, sym­bol or pool of in­for­ma­tion is just another de­sign prob­lem await­ing some so­lu­tion. The ther­mo­stat, the fire ex­tin­guisher, the tooth­brush, the car dash­board — all have been re­designed, whether any­body was clam­or­ing for their al­ter­ation or not.

This hunger for change has been a boon for firms like IDEO. Tim Brown, the com­pany’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive, has over­seen IDEO’S steady ex­pan­sion from prod­uct de­sign to in­ter­ac­tive and ser­vice de­sign for busi­nesses like Bank of Amer­ica and Mi­crosoft, and in more re­cent years even for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and govern­ments. He has been a vo­cal pro­po­nent of the idea that “de­sign think­ing” can be

ap­plied to just about any prob­lem. “There are two takes on the re­design,” Brown says. “The glass-half-empty take on re­design is, ‘Oh, we’re un­nec­es­sar­ily re­design­ing a chair,’ or a lamp, or what­ever.”

The glass-half-full take re­quires a broader per­spec­tive: “The need to re­design is re­ally depen­dent on how fit for pur­pose the thing in ques­tion is,” Brown says. In his think­ing, much of our world is built around sys­tems de­signed to re­spond to the so­cial struc­tures and tech­nolo­gies of the in­dus­trial age. Ev­ery­thing from sys­tems of ed­u­ca­tion and health care to the de­sign of cities and modes of trans­porta­tion, he says, all trace their roots to a dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent era and ought to be fun­da­men­tally rethought for the one we live in now. “I think we’ve po­ten­tially never been in a pe­riod of his­tory where there are so many things that are no longer fit for pur­pose,” he says. “And there­fore the idea of re­design is en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate, I think — even though it’s ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.”

2. What to Change

YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIS­TEN TO Karim Rashid for very long to get a sense that he thinks pretty much ev­ery sin­gle man­i­fes­ta­tion of the built en­vi­ron­ment needs to be re­designed. Known for his colour­ful per­sonal and pro­fes­sional style, he has had a long run as one of the most fa­mous in­dus­trial de­sign­ers in Amer­ica. He be­lieves de­sign is a fun­da­men­tally so­cial act that makes the world a bet­ter place. But it is also, he points out, a busi­ness. So in prac­tice, most re­designs be­gin with a client; with­out one, not much hap­pens. He has worked with many of them — on fur­ni­ture, pack­ag­ing, gad­gets, house­wares, lux­ury goods, even con­dos and ho­tels. But he has learned that even hav­ing a client does not guar­an­tee that any given re­design will ever make it out of ren­der­ings and pro­to­types and into the real world. “Peo­ple say I’m pro­lific,” he says. “Can you imag­ine if all the other stuff got to go to mar­ket?”

As Rashid sees it, so many of the things that sur­round us bear cum­ber­some ves­tiges of the past. “The world is full of this kind of kitsch his­tory — his­tory that has noth­ing to do with the world we live in now,” he says. He points to a re­design project of his that fiz­zled, a com­plete re­think­ing of the busi­ness-class table­ware for Delta Air Lines. His pro­posal was bold: His bowls had sharp an­gles that echoed Delta’s tri­an­gu­lar logo, his trays had sub­tle re­cesses that an­chored dishes in place and his wine­glasses skipped the stem in fa­vor of a ta­pered shape with a wide base.

“The stem on a wine­glass is mean­ing­less,” Rashid says. He dis­misses the con­ven­tional ar­gu­ment that it pre­vents the drinker’s hand from in­ter­fer­ing with wine’s ideal tem­per­a­ture; to have the slight­est such ef­fect, he claims, you’d have to wrap your palm around the bowl for 20 straight min­utes. The stem is ac­tu­ally a left­over ar­ti­fact, he says, from cen­turies ago, when gob­lets made of metal had high stems to sig­nal sta­tus and wealth. This de­sign quirk re­mained af­ter we switched to glass, Rashid says. Mak­ing wine­glasses look a cer­tain way be­cause that’s how they have al­ways looked is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of priv­i­leg­ing form over func­tion. “I’m sit­ting in first class or busi­ness class on an air­plane with tur­bu­lence,” Rashid says, “with a wine­glass with a stem on it — do you un­der­stand? It’s so stupid, isn’t it?”

His pro­posed re­designs were strik­ing, but they had to pass muster with the ser­vice-item maker, the flight at­ten­dants’ union and Delta it­self — which ul­ti­mately de­clined to move for­ward with the con­cepts Rashid pro­posed. “It was all re­jected,” he sighs. “Be­cause it doesn’t look like do­mes­tic table­ware.”

Rashid loves to “break archetypes,” in ef­fect re­design­ing a whole ob­ject cat­e­gory. But the hur­dles to do­ing so in­volve prac­ti­cal­ity as well as taste. More re­cently, he de­signed the So­larin mo­bile phone for Sirin Labs. It is equipped with ex­treme en­cryp­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties and made with wealthy, pri­vacy-ob­sessed cus­tomers in mind, cost­ing $12,000 and up. The client had a sky’s-the-limit at­ti­tude about im­bu­ing the phone with a truly dis­tinct form.

Rashid pro­posed an oval shape. “It would fit per­fectly in your hand,” he says. His con­cept made it to pro­to­type but it turned out that only a hand­ful of fac­to­ries do smart­phone glass assem­bly, and none were will­ing to re­tool an en­tire pro­duc­tion line to ac­com­mo­date a rel­a­tively small client. More­over, ex­ist­ing op­er­at­ing sys­tems are all de­signed to work in a grid for­mat. The phone ended up with pro­nounced bevel­ing at the edges, but was still fun­da­men­tally a rec­tan­gle. “I was so, so dis­ap­pointed,” Rashid says. He re­calls a sim­i­lar mis­ad­ven­ture: an oval-shaped tele­vi­sion set he de­signed for Sam­sung. “They showed it in some fo­cus group, and it bombed,” he says. “Peo­ple didn’t like the idea of an oval tele­vi­sion. I have no idea why.”

‘The world is full of this kind of kitsch his­tory — his­tory that has noth­ing to do with the world we live in now.’

3. What to Keep

I KNOW WHY. AND RE­ALLY, SO does Rashid. As much as we are at­tracted to the new, we si­mul­ta­ne­ously cling to the fa­mil­iar. This ten­sion means that some re­designs — par­tic­u­larly in the realm of graphic de­sign — can in­spire sur­pris­ingly vis­ceral pub­lic back­lash. Ear­lier this year, for in­stance, In­sta­gram up­dated its logo and app icon, sim­pli­fy­ing the de­sign and mak­ing it more colour­ful. The cho­rus of on­line moan­ing and mock­ery that fol­lowed grew so loud that it was ac­tu­ally re­ported on by The Times, which called it a “freak out.” In­sta­gram didn’t budge, but a sim­i­lar back­lash in 2010 caused the Gap to re­tract plans for a new logo it had floated on­line. The Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia pulled back key el­e­ments of a re­design that met with a sim­i­larly fu­ri­ous re­sponse.

Prob­a­bly the most no­to­ri­ous and con­se­quen­tial ex­am­ple in­volved Trop­i­cana. In 2009, the brand rolled out a new look that in­cluded a full re­design of its fa­mil­iar pack­ag­ing and visual iden­tity, drop­ping its or­ange-witha-straw-in it logo — corny, per­haps, but very fa­mil­iar — for a more stylish icon and a sans-serif type treat­ment (see right). Fans howled on­line, but that prob­a­bly mat­tered less than the re­ported 20 per cent drop in re­tail sales. The re­design was with­drawn, and the brand went back to its old look.

Sit­u­a­tions like this can un­nerve clients, and this knowl­edge was cer­tainly rel­e­vant to Mastercard when it de­cided this year to up­date its logo for the first time in more than 20 years. Raja Ra­ja­man­nar, the global chief mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer, says that the first pa­ram­e­ter he gave his de­signer, Michael Bierut at Pen­ta­gram, “was not to mess things up.” The on­line crowd can get “pretty nasty,” he ex­plains. “We don’t want to get mired in... con­tro­versy and neg­a­tiv­ity.”

This con­ser­vatism among clients can frus­trate de­sign­ers. “I was kind of brought up in this tra­di­tion that, you know, there’s noth­ing more in­spir­ing than the blank slate, the open brief,” Bierut says. But over the years he has come to ap­pre­ci­ate the chal­lenge of “start­ing with a given”, par­tic­u­larly now.

“The last big pe­riod of re­design was the post­war era,” Bierut says. “There was this ma­nia to make older com­pa­nies look new and mod­ern.” As a more cor­po­rate world emerged, the visual ver­nac­u­lar of mom-and­pop busi­nesses looked quaint, and so de­sign shifted from an em­pha­sis on man­u­fac­tur­ing things to sell­ing more ab­stract forms of value. A rail­road doesn’t run trains, the think­ing went; it pro­vides trans­porta­tion — so in­stead of a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a lo­co­mo­tive, its more mod­ern logo might rely on ar­rows and italic ty­pog­ra­phy. More broadly, idio­syn­cratic or hand-drawn let­ter­ing gave way to styl­ized and min­i­mal iconog­ra­phy and type treat­ments that pro­jected far-flung and trust­wor­thy power. “Cor­po­rate de­sign was done as a com­mand-and-con­trol ex­er­cise,” he says, re­sult­ing in a master so­lu­tion pre­scrib­ing how ev­ery brand­ing el­e­ment would ap­pear.

By the 1980s and ‘90s, that ap­proach started to feel dated, sus­pi­cious and at odds with a vogue for more ag­ile man­age­ment the­o­ries. So in the last two decades, there has been a fresh wave of re­designs as com­pa­nies have repo­si­tioned them­selves in a more glob­al­ized, tech­nol­o­gized mar­ket­place.

Mastercard is one of many ex­am­ples of a com­pany look­ing to up­date visual strate­gies de­signed with bill­boards and brick-and­mor­tar stores in mind for the age of so­cial me­dia and a transna­tional cus­tomer base.

Nev­er­the­less, the spe­cific di­men­sions of Mastercard’s “don’t mess it up” pa­ram­e­ter in­cluded keep­ing the in­ter­lock­ing cir­cles — one red, one yel­low — that the brand has used for more than half a cen­tury. Bierut be­lieves that this was wise: Un­like a book cover or a poster, a brand mark is “more like a build­ing”, he says. “You don’t un­veil it think­ing it’s go­ing to work once and then be on its way. It’s sup­posed to ac­crue value the longer it’s in­vested in.” The raw fa­mil­iar­ity that builds up over years, which mar­keters re­fer to as “eq­uity,” prob­a­bly plays a big­ger fac­tor in our as­sess­ment of a sup­pos­edly great logo de­sign than we re­al­ize. Bierut is tick­led, for in­stance, by how many peo­ple seem to ad­mire Tar­get’s logo. “I can’t imag­ine if you went to your client whose name was Tar­get and said, ‘I’ve got an idea,’ then you went away and came back with a cir­cle with a dot in the mid­dle, and an in­voice,” he says. “The client would be skep­ti­cal — and the world at large would de­stroy you.”

For Mastercard, Pen­ta­gram got as cre­ative as the brief al­lowed, of­fer­ing dozens of yel­low-and-red-cir­cle vari­a­tions — adding ad­di­tional colours to sug­gest in­clu­siv­ity, or a su­per-min­i­mal take pre­sent­ing only the out­lines of the in­ter­locked rings. Ra­ja­man­nar (cross-checked by mul­ti­ple rounds of mar­ket re­search) passed on those, opt­ing for a treat­ment that amounted to a kind of re­it­er­a­tion of the ex­ist­ing mark. The colours be­came a lit­tle brighter, a set of stripes in their over­lap was elim­i­nated in favour of a sin­gle or­ange-y color and the name moved be­low the cir­cles. Ul­ti­mately, in fact, the new sym­bol is de­signed to be able to stand alone; Ra­ja­man­nar says test­ing con­ducted across 11 coun­tries found 81 per cent of re­spon­dents rec­og­nized the word­less logo as Mastercard’s.

In short, the not-mess­ing-it-up mis­sion was deemed a suc­cess. “This kind of brand mark has be­come more ubiq­ui­tous than the de­sign­ers of the ’60s and ’70s ever would have dreamed,” Bierut says, which may ex­plain a pub­lic in­ter­est in de­sign that would have been a shock in that era. It should not be so sur­pris­ing to­day; the de­sign pro­fes­sion has been on a decades-long mis­sion to have its work taken se­ri­ously across the cul­ture. But hav­ing achieved what they wanted, many de­sign­ers now seem to wish the pub­lic would be more def­er­en­tial — some­thing Bierut finds amus­ing. “If de­sign­ers claim to want peo­ple to be in­ter­ested and in­vested in and care about de­sign,” he says, “they sort of have to ac­cept that in­ter­est on the terms of the au­di­ence.”

4. Where to Com­pro­mise

IN 2011, JAMIE SIMINOFF HAD JUST sold a start-up and was spend­ing most of his days in his garage in Pa­cific Pal­isades, Calif., de­ter­mined to come up with a new busi­ness con­cept. Tin­ker­ing with ideas in­clud­ing a gar­den­ing busi­ness and new con­fer­ence-call tech­nol­ogy, he soon be­came an­noyed, be­cause he could never hear his door­bell, and he kept miss­ing vis­i­tors. So he “hacked to­gether” a sys­tem that linked the bell to his phone. His wife told him that it was far more use­ful than the no­tions he was chas­ing in the garage. The idea evolved to in­clude a cam­era and a mo­tion de­tec­tor — and thus the abil­ity to mon­i­tor your front door from any­where, with a smart­phone, mak­ing the ob­ject as much about se­cu­rity as con­ve­nience.

The prod­uct he ended up with, Ring, is a good ex­am­ple of a broader phe­nom­e­non in the world of in­dus­trial de­sign. The tech­nol­ogy shifts that Brown and Rashid cite have quick­ened the pace of re­designs in more mun­dane, less grandiose ways. Thanks to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of cheap sen­sors, cir­cuit boards, cam­eras and other com­po­nents, prac­ti­cally ev­ery con­sumer good now seems sus­cep­ti­ble to rein­ven­tion as a “smart ob­ject.” Even the path Siminoff trav­eled from con­cept to de­sign was made eas­ier by tech­nol­ogy and start-up ma­nia, first with the aid of a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign, then with an un­suc­cess­ful but pro­file-rais­ing ap­pear­ance on Shark Tank.

Some­times such a path re­sults in a ver­sion of what the tech critic Evgeny Moro­zov calls “so­lu­tion­ism” — start­ing with a sup­posed break­through and then seek­ing out a sup­posed prob­lem that it can hy­po­thet­i­cally solve. And at times the pre­sumed in­no­va­tions in these tech-cen­tric re­designs seem to run well ahead of their po­ten­tial pri­vacy and se­cu­rity pit­falls. (“Yes,” the tech site Mother­board re­ported last year, “your smart dildo can be hacked.”) But some­times it re­sults in a hit, like the widely cel­e­brated up­date of the ther­mo­stat in in­ter­net­con­nected, app-con­trolled form cre­ated by the start-up Nest, which was ul­ti­mately bought by Google for $3.2 bil­lion.

By his own ac­count, Siminoff ’s first stab at the prod­uct was a bit off. He called it Door­bot, and its look matched the geeky name: a vaguely sci-fi, curved ob­ject with a cam­era con­cealed by a spooky, bul­bous pro­tru­sion. “That was the pride of the de­sign,” Siminoff says now, laugh­ing. He pro­to­typed it in his garage with a cou­ple of re­cent col­lege grad­u­ates; none of them had a de­sign back­ground. The mar­ket­place set him straight, he says: “No one wanted this big HAL 9000 thing on the front door.” He re­al­ized he would need to re­design his re­design.

Siminoff found his way to Chris Loew, an in­dus­trial de­signer in Sil­i­con Val­ley, with a long record in tech­nol­ogy hard­ware; he worked on early ver­sions of tablet prod­ucts and spent 16 years at IDEO help­ing clients in­clud­ing Sam­sung and Oral-b. In more re­cent years he has been hired by a num­ber of start-ups. Im­pressed by Siminoff, Loew also rec­og­nized the is­sues with Door­bot. “It was very gad­gety,” he says, wryly. “You didn’t know if you were be­ing shot with ra­di­a­tion or — you know, it’s not of­fen­sive, but you didn’t know what it was.” In short, it didn’t look like a door­bell, and even the most im­pres­sive tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties have to be pre­sented in a form that makes sense to the con­sumer.

In this case, that meant a de­sign that res­onated with ba­sic home ar­chi­tec­ture. There were al­ready se­ri­ous tech­nol­o­gized con­straints: It had to ac­com­mo­date a fairly large bat­tery, a cam­era, a cir­cuit board and a mo­tion de­tec­tor that re­quired an open­ing of a spe­cific size. And from a purely aes­thetic per­spec­tive, the ar­chi­tec­tural set­ting im­posed lim­its that might not ap­ply to a free-stand­ing prod­uct: No­body re­ally wants to tack a wild ex­per­i­ment in prod­uct de­sign to a front door. Loew set­tled on a rec­tan­gu­lar shape that would visu­ally echo mold­ing. “Ev­ery­body’s house is re­ally just ex­truded shapes and pla­nar shapes,” says Loew. The prod­uct comes in var­i­ous fin­ishes in­formed by clas­sic door hard­ware – no­table but not flashy.

The com­pany has now com­pleted hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­stal­la­tions. The only holdover from Door­bot is a cir­cle around the but­ton that glows blue when pressed.

5. When to Start Over

SOME­TIMES THE ROUTE TO A suc­cess­ful re­design leads di­rectly through a de­ci­sion about what prob­lem not to solve. A few years ago, for in­stance, an en­tre­pre­neur named Richard Smiedt ap­proached Karim Rashid with an idea for a set of travel bags and cases that could be used in­di­vid­u­ally or fit to­gether, ac­cord­ing to the needs of any given trip. Re­cently, in a con­fer­ence room in Rashid’s Man­hat­tan of­fices, Smiedt clicked through a set of slides de­pict­ing the var­i­ous ideas the de­signer had come up with over the course of their many col­lab­o­ra­tions.

“A lot of what you get with Karim,” he said, ges­tur­ing at a shelf full of Rashid-de­signed prod­ucts and their curves and skewed lines and loud colours, “is this, rein­vented.” He paused to clar­ify his point: “I to­tally want what he’s done. I just don’t want it to look like any spe­cific thing that he’s done.”

‘Com­pa­nies are of­ten risk-averse, and don’t get de­sign’s pos­si­bil­i­ties.’

Smiedt paused on one im­age of a car­ryon bag with a side pocket con­tain­ing a flask-shaped plas­tic bot­tle out­fit­ted with a strong mi­cro­fil­ter. This ac­ces­sory popped up dur­ing the lug­gage-de­sign process as a use­ful al­ter­na­tive to buy­ing bot­tled wa­ter af­ter ev­ery air­port se­cu­rity check. “So no mat­ter what coun­try,” Rashid ex­plained, “I go across and to the bath­room and fill it up with clean wa­ter. Be­cause it’s ab­surd, this idea of drink­ing bot­tled wa­ter — the land­fill is enor­mous, 18 mil­lion bot­tles are thrown away a day in Amer­ica.” Both men im­me­di­ately saw its ap­peal. Smiedt promptly “dis­ap­peared”, Rashid con­tin­ued, “and six months later came back and said: ‘You know, for­get the lug­gage. We’re do­ing the wa­ter bot­tle.’ ”

On its own, the flask­like form seemed off, so Smiedt pushed for al­ter­na­tives, some­thing more like what was on Rashid’s prod­uct shelf — but not ex­actly. An hour­glass-like, squeez­able shape that Rashid even­tu­ally dreamed up was per­fect. But it re­quired mak­ing a lengthy search to find a ca­pa­ble man­u­fac­turer — “No­body had made a blow-molded bot­tle that was thin­ner in the mid­dle,” Smiedt said — and com­mit­ting to a huge pro­duc­tion or­der for the prod­uct, which they called Bob­ble.

“Com­pa­nies are of­ten risk-averse,” Smiedt con­tin­ued, “and don’t get de­sign’s pos­si­bil­i­ties. But de­sign­ers do what they want to de­sign, and it of­ten doesn’t con­nect with the con­sumer,” at least not the mass scale he had in mind. “For me,” he con­cluded, “the key to de­sign is that it can’t po­lar­ize.” Many de­sign­ers would re­coil from that as­ser­tion, but as a mass-mar­ket-ori­ented en­tre­pre­neur, Smiedt’s goals are dif­fer­ent. He thinks a lot about who is not go­ing to like a new take on a use­ful ob­ject, as a way to “get some­thing that’s re­ally un­der­stood.”

The Bob­ble bot­tle sold 15 mil­lion units in its first three years on the mar­ket. Smiedt sold Bob­ble to Sev­enth Gen­er­a­tion and has gone back into busi­ness with Rashid, this time in a part­ner­ship. They want to re­design more travel-re­lated ac­ces­sories, so they started by dump­ing their lug­gage onto a table and talk­ing about what they car­ried and what they needed. Their first idea in­volved find­ing a way to keep smeary touch-con­trolled gad­gets clean. Rashid de­signed a travel-size spray bot­tle, ar­riv­ing at an el­lip­ti­cal form, more like a worry stone than a bot­tle. They both loved the ob­ject’s shape and feel but won­dered about its ap­peal. Ul­ti­mately, they shelved it, though not en­tirely.

They went back to the re­sults of the bag-dump ex­per­i­ment and ze­roed in on the most both­er­some ob­jects: the dull-coloured, blocky, care­less-look­ing power adapters and por­ta­ble charg­ers and their var­i­ous en­tan­gled wires. What if you com­bined a wall charger and mo­bile bat­tery in a sin­gle ob­ject? What if it had a more ap­peal­ing aes­thetic? Smiedt sourced the tech­nol­ogy, and Rashid de­signed around it to cre­ate an ob­ject they called Bump. Sift­ing through a box of pro­to­types, Smiedt pointed out that this com­pletely dif­fer­ent prod­uct has al­most the same el­lip­ti­cal shape as the dis­carded cleaner idea. This “fun” form (it comes in ma­genta, red, black and blue) will carry through the en­tire prod­uct line, he ex­plained. Rashid also de­vised a match­ing ca­ble, and a clever sil­i­cone sleeve that is used both to store the ca­ble and to pro­tect Bump when it’s tossed into a bag.

6. The So­lu­tion

ALL RE­DESIGNS HAVE SOME­THING in com­mon: They end. This does not hap­pen at the mo­ment the re­designed sym­bol, ob­ject or in­ter­face is im­ple­mented. It hap­pens when that re­design is re­placed. Maybe that’s the lofty logic of progress, or just the worka­day logic of cap­i­tal­ism. But it’s cer­tainly the logic of the re­design. When IDEO’S Tim Brown talks about up­dat­ing all that is not “fit for pur­pose” to­day, he’s talk­ing about en­tire sys­tems, not just their in­di­vid­ual and tan­gi­ble com­po­nents and man­i­fes­ta­tions.

IDEO started out as an in­dus­trial-de­sign firm work­ing on con­sumer prod­ucts; it ex­panded fur­ther into in­ter­ac­tion de­sign as the dig­i­tal world took hold, and then it went into ser­vices. Now its projects in­clude “re­design­ing” such ab­strac­tions as the school lunch (for the city of San Fran­cisco) or the vote (for Los An­ge­les County), ex­per­i­ment­ing with how to lace in 21st-cen­tury tech­nol­ogy el­e­ments. These are in­cre­men­tal ef­forts that play out over years. There is no mo­men­tous be­fore-and-af­ter un­veil­ing, just a con­tin­u­ous process of re­search­ing, try­ing and re­plac­ing ideas. This how de­sign­ers work: in an on­go­ing sys­tem of study, pro­to­types, tests and do-overs.

The in­evitabil­ity of re-re­design is some­thing that Amy Wu (now with Mi­crosoft) and Luke Stern (now a de­signer for a firm fo­cused on civic spa­ces) en­coun­tered in their work for Citi Bike. A few months af­ter the in­stal­la­tion of their re­designed kiosk de­cals, the com­pany that op­er­ated Citi Bike was bought by another bike-share op­er­a­tor, Mo­ti­vate, which runs sim­i­lar pro­grams for sev­eral other cities. They got an email from Citi Bike say­ing they might be needed again, but then never heard back.

The new owner promptly set about a broader up­grade of Citi Bike’s sys­tem in­volv­ing new soft­ware. This meant that the de­cals needed to be re­designed yet again. The new ones in­cor­po­rated some of Wu and Stern’s think­ing, but in a new look.

Stern and Wu are philo­soph­i­cal about this turn. “The lo­gis­tics had changed,” Stern says. “They had to up­date the sys­tem. Our de­sign wasn’t ac­tu­ally rel­e­vant any more. That’s re­al­ity, right?” Right. All re­designs end, but the re­design never does. (Rob Walker writes the Workol­o­gist col­umn for The Newyork­times.)

Amy Wu and Luke Stern re­designed New York's Citi Bike pro­gram's de­cals to im­me­di­ate ef­fect.

Karim Rashid

Rashid’s So­larin mo­bile for Sirin Labs.

Karim Rashid’s Bump charg­ing de­vice (above) and Jamie Si­monoff’s se­cure front door de­vice Ring (be­low).


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