Friday, November 7, 2008

The Futile Pursuit of Happiness

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert's book, Stumbling on Happiness, discusses the circumstances and conditions in which people incorrectly predict their future emotional states. Although our ability to imagine the future - which guides us in our decision making between multiple possibilities - is what defines our humanness, we are actually very poor forecasters. Our imagination fails us in three ways: it fills in and leaves out details without telling us, it projects the present onto the future, and it fails to recognize that things will look different once they happen.

I will describe the most compelling ideas in this book in future posts.

Human Adaptability

Human beings, as a species, have a remarkable ability to adapt: to environments, to conditions, to circumstances, to conveniences, and to technologies. With relation to products, what is the rate at which the things we buy become ordinary (or necessary)? And then, once we have lost our innocence, is it possible to retrieve? Can something stay fresh and new? If so, how? Today, because of fashion, trends, and technological advancements, products become outdated practically instantly. This system of production and consumption that industrial design (and styling) has driven is obviously unsustainable.

In Bruce Sterling's Shaping Things, he calls on designers to guide the next, dematerialized, technocultural revolution (after Artifacts, Machines, Products, and Gizmos) of Spimes. Sterling defines a technocultural revolution as when that technoculture cannot voluntarily return to the previous technocultural condition. Can the networked set of sensors and data that define Spimes be a key to 'living objects' to which we can't adapt and therefore don't need replacing?

Brand Allegiance

Why do people have allegiances to brands? How are these loyalties cultivated, developed, and maintained? Is allegiance to anti-brands, like American Apparel and the Black Spot shoe, the same as allegiance to branded products? I still need to read No Logo (it's on our bookshelf) and should look at Adbusters and brand forums like Consumer organized web forums on brands and products are fascinating, here is a quote from the front page of mynudies:

What is Nudie Jeans?
Nudie is the "naked truth about denim". Indigo is the living color that fades and together with your lifestyle gives denim its character. The longer they live the more character they get. Besides leather, only denim has the ability to age so beautifully - formed by its user into a second skin. Jeans are a lot more than just a piece of clothing; a pair of jeans is like a second skin, naked and personal = Nudie.

The provenance and movement of goods in the modern (and, yes, flat) world.

Goods have traversed the globe for centuries, but never at the pace, volume, and complexity that they do today - much of the reason why it is so difficult (impossible?) to accurately calculate carbon footprint. I should read The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, if I want to proceed with this idea.

I am very interested in the 'life' of products - not only trying to design for long life (endurance or anti-obsolescence), but also the extraordinary tale of history, knowledge, and capability that each product tells. Getting an item from the thrift store, for example, is always interesting because often there is some evidence of where or when it was made. But the mystery of how it got to that place, where it has been, and how it has affected the people it's come into contact with is largely unknown. Each thing has a unique story, and more often than not, little of that story is known. When more is known, like some of the items on "Antiques Roadshow," it often makes for a very compelling narrative.

What is mainstream, or mass market, product design today?

From the IDSA portfolio review of 3/8/08 at UIC. A couple of reviewers, young professionals in ID, mentioned my portfolio pieces should be more mainstream. In today's Long Tail world, what defines mainstream anymore? Ralph Gilles, VP of Design at Chrysler, in a talk at SAIC said they produce some of their models expecting them to sell less than 20000 units per year. The trend seems to favor more targeted and specialized products.

Update 11/10/2008: Or maybe not.