Talking Digital-Physical at Ravensbourne

Martin Charlier

Being an alumni, I was recently asked to give a guest lecture to students on the Design Products and Design Interaction courses at Ravensbourne. The umbrella theme for the lecture series was ‘UX’ and it was clear that my angle on this would be that of a product designer. I didn’t mention ‘UX’ once.

Rather, I spoke about how I see design at the centre of desirability, feasibility and viability, and what I see as the three most important parts of design that apply irrespective of whether you’re designing a digital or a physical ‘thing’:

  1. Being open for input and ideas from anywhere in order to make new connections – *creativity*
  2. Finding out what people actually do in order to figure out what they might want – *user research*
  3. Making ideas real as quickly as possible to test and iterate on them – *prototyping*

I was trying to illustrate that with this idea of design, it doesn’t matter so much whether you are working on software, physical products or services.

Of course there are differences in the details when you compare a digital design workflow and a physical design workflow, but there are also a lot of similarities.

With the rise of the internet of things, however, these lines are blurring even more: products increasingly have a ‘digital layer’, while services and software are increasingly escaping the traditional boxes and rectangles they used to live on.

More importantly, I was sharing a few very rough and early thoughts on what each design discipline could perhaps learn from each other. Something I’m mulling about a lot, being a physical and digital designer.

# From Product Design: Using pen and paper

The use of pen and paper and the ability to communicate ideas through sketching are standard skills for product designers. I think digital design would benefit from a much greater use of  sketching to tell stories, visualise concepts or communicate rough ideas.

# From Product Design: Working holistically

I would say that working on both aesthetics and function as one design task is common in product design. I believe the separation of ‘visual’ and ‘interaction’ in digital is limiting to the creation of novel products and should be overcome.

# From Digital Design: Minimum Viable Product

Prioritising features and ideas in order to produce a ‘shippable’ product as quickly as possible and then growing it from there is a common methodology in software development. Both in terms of using new manufacturing technologies and simply in terms for the work process, I think physical design could benefit form adopting this way of thinking.

# From Digital Design: Analytics and iteration

Including ways to capture user behaviour in a product in order to use insights from the data to iterate and improve subsequent versions is fairly standard in software products. I believe this idea of an ongoing lifecycle should be adopted much more for physical products, too.

While these are just some rough early ideas, they led to an interesting discussion and some great questions to think about at the end of the lecture. I’m looking forward to sharing these ideas with more people and developing them further.

Martin Charlier

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