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9th July 2018

Design for the Future: Is it Human?

And that’s it, with what feels like the blink of an eye, it’s nearly, already, unbelievably been a month since I attended Birmingham’s debut design festival...

festival which celebrates the local, national and international design industry by bringing together a huge array of creatives, speakers, visionaries, local businesses and organisations. An event that started with such humble beginnings, grew and evolved into something much, much bigger and truly represented the creative diversity within the second city.

With that in mind, I only managed to attend a couple of talks from the plethora of events on offer. Had I been a man-of-leisure, I most likely would have bounced from one workshop to another, Moleskine notebook and pencil-in-hand, like some kind of mad design groupie. Nonetheless, admittedly, my workload got the better of me and so the spare time I had to play with was rather minimal. One of the talks I did manage to attend however, was truly insightful and certainly did its job in terms of making me consider the future of design…

Now ‘Machine learning’ isn’t a term that tends to crop-up in general conversation, and in the unlikely moment that it does, it’s probably referencing a bleak, dystopian future and/or ‘the Terminator’ films. Joking aside, it was one of the main topics of discussion within the ‘Designing with Data’ talk hosted by R/GA and Moreso, the event was a complete sell-out.

For those of you who aren’t in the know, machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence – essentially, its computer science. Machine learning enables a computer to trawl through vast amounts of data (aka ‘big data’ for you buzzword geeks), whilst using statistical techniques to highlight correlations, spot trends, note preferences, and above all, ‘learn’ from such data. Without knowing, I’d bet you’re already interacting with this type of tech via the likes of Siri, Alexa, Google and Spotify to name but a few.

Interestingly, as we move towards a tech-integrated future, the requirement to design for such systems and interactions will increase, and are doing so already. For instance, RG/A talked about their client BEKO who approached them and briefed them to ‘Discover Tomorrow’s Connected Home’. RG/A’s response was to design an artificial intelligence which was integrated into almost every home appliance imaginable. They took this concept and ran with it, they created a style guide, they designed the appliances, they refined the user experience and then did something really interesting. They give the whole concept a name and called it…Beki.

Behind all of that state-of-the-art technology and iterations upon iterations of prototyping and design, even when RG/A managed to craft the final ‘Tomorrow’s Connected Home’ experience, it still required that special human touch to bring it all together and to make it feel real. That was the key take-away for me. Despite working on the bleeding edge of technical innovation, designing with data and machine learning and all of the exciting and wonderful possibilities, they had to ensure that at the very core of the experience, it remained human.

As a designer, when approaching a design brief, irrespective of who or what for, the audience must remain at the core of the creative proposition. Whether it be package design, product design or graphic design, that proposition needs to follow the simple rule of form follows function; even more so when the form is being influenced by the end-user. At Big Cat we believe that the most effective communications are often the simplest, and that testimony rings true across all forms of visual communication – even when designing for ‘tomorrow’s connected home’.

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