3. september 2008

New technology = New products?

lecture by Steinar Killi

Outdoor furniture
This nieche of furniture has gone from teak and "rattan" to through the ubiquitous white plastic chairs, which has been banned in some cities in Norway, to the popular Polyrotting chairs mimicing the older furniture. They are even handmade by weaving polyethylene around a frame. The paradigm, Steinar argues, is the new material used in the "rattan". The rest is more or less a step bak into older production methods, hand fabrication, and design historism.

Drinking Containers
From glass to steelcans to alucans to plastic bottles. But has the changes been that sequential? I guess the glassbottle is the predecessor to the plastic bottle. In 2000 a new alu alternative appeared: The Alu bottle. But again, as with the polyrotting, they use a new technology to go back to a more "original" design. The Alu bottle keeps it's intended shape and do not need to compromise as much as the plastic compared to glass. The production process has evolved further by being able to radially shape the whole body. But this is just an evolutionary step in aluminium packaging.

Cooking plates
Main categories chosen here is regular electric cooking plastes, the gas, induction and ceramic types. The induction is then hailed as the latest revolutionary technology step, but has it changed the way we cook or how cookware are designed. I argue that maybe the introduction of induction .. does not change the design of cooking utensils because there is some other factor, i.e. the typical tradition of cooking i have grown up with, that controls the design. Steinar is arguing that they in this field as in the above are just reusing the producers back catalog of designs in spite of the revolutionary technology. We (the group) argue that the microwave is a much more clear paradigm change that actually made a new way of cooking that is not based on a stove and casserole and hence made possible serious design change and new product types.

Conclusion
Steinar argues that this outlines a problem in that evolutions and maybe revolutions in technology often do not leads to new visual appearances. And the question is: Why not? My thought is that the paradigms in which the designs are made is dependent of a much large change of perspective than a more efficient technology step, as induction is in my view. The idea of heating a casserole on "stove like devices" versus the microwave is more like the difference in concept that i envision as different paradigms.

update/
After discussions today with Gunnar and HC i believe that the discussion maybe was aimed at the wrong design driver (the induction technology itself). The problem lies in that the current induction tops still do the same task as before, they heat the bottom of the cookware. That is no incentive for a fundamental design change in the cookware.

So what kind of incentive is needed for a radical design change in cookware? By looking into how the induction technology can be used in shaping the cooking process we think there are opportunities in the discovery of other types of cookware. What if the induction top was a set of loose circular plates that was connected in a squidlike fashion to an outlet. The tops themselves are supposed not to heat very much so they can be spread out on a regular table top. What if they was stacked ontop of eachother? What if the induction was constrained in a set of pylons that the cookware was "hugging"? This would be a much greater icentive in how we design cookware than regular old bottom heating..

That was a bit of a rant, but it will take a continious discussion to shine some light onto the product design discourse.

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