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Internet of things needs more designers than geeks

Design counts in the world of IoT (Internet of Things) perhaps more than it did in the old analogue universe. Because the extra technology is welcome only if it will not be intrusive, kind, and above all human.

The future for those who design is in the internet of things; and the “analog” qualities of a “traditional” designer are just what are needed in this new connected world: to make technology unobtrusive, kind, truly human. (And the amount of work, for those who will be able to intercept this sector but coming from the “traditional” design, ie making “analogical” skills to a digital reality, will be immense).

These are the thoughts that spontaneously came to mind at the last edition of Frontiers of Interaction in Milan. For 10 years, Frontiers Of Interaction or FrontiersX (a kind of TED Conference made in Italy) brings us a high level discussion on the topic of interaction design, a discipline as fundamental as often unknown by the general public. A small premise for non-professionals. Interaction design is very important because it has the task of understanding the essence of relationships (between people and technology and now, more and more, between things themselves) and of redesigning them so that they are more intuitive, simpler, more fulfilling and significant. To put it bluntly, if you do not understand at first glance how a smartphone or an App works (but also how you turn on a lamp, how to use a coffee pot, how to mount a flat pack table) is the fault of those who designed your way use it.

At the Vofadone Village in Milan, Frontiers of Interaction brought on stage a world (which brought me back to the days when I worked for Philips Design with Stefano Marzano, one who was very distant in the Nineties), where design is taking on a strategic role. Because the internet of things is now a reality. And internet of things is not a subject for technological geeks but for designers. In fact, other is not just the possibility to make people and things not only dialogue with each other, but also the objects among them (trivially, the bottle of milk that sends data to the refrigerator or the dustbin to help us to do the shopping or to realize the differentiated).

At Frontiers of Interaction, for example, there were historical companies like Moleskine, focused on “things”, which were able to expand into the digital world without distorting; department stores (like John Lewis in England, a sort of less upmarket Rinascente) that transform their way of talking with their public (not only with online shopping but creating experiences that facilitate choices in the physical place); and then again banks, such as Intesa San Paolo, who want to rethink fully, proposing more relational physical models and relegating routine operations to digital.

Each of these examples deserves a story in its own right (which I hope to find the time to tell shortly here or in the newspaper). What I wanted to emphasize today – fresh at the conference – was the need to immerse product design, the one that has always been used to dealing with everyday people’s everyday life, in this world, often seen as “antagonist” because it was born in a hightech context. At Frontiers of Interaction, many of the speakers were designers. Because it is clear that the skills needed to rethink our homes (as MIT is doing for example) are kept in the brains and in the sensibilities of those who have always been planning their homes. Moreover, Maria Giudice (Italian name and origins but American doc), VP of Autodesk after a past as Head Design of Facebook, said it clear and round: we entered the era of DEO, the Design Executive Office. That is not necessarily a designer but that as a designer thinks, creates and relates.

Being at Frontiers of Interaction was beautiful. But it surprised me not to find in this context any company of what we traditionally call “Italian design”: the world of furniture, which instead I believe in this sector can discover that an “other future” – even economically sustainable – can exist (and that is absolutely not in contradiction with his past but, on the contrary, he has much to learn from it in terms of sensitivity). The proof is that the intervention of Daniele Lago (the only present in the world of Made in Italy, invited as a special guest by Intesa San Paolo with whom the entrepreneur-designer collaborates in the re-invention of the branches) has made one of the most applauded interventions of the conference. Because the culture of sharing, of sharing (universally recognized as the one on which new business models will be built), begins by widening one’s horizons to other worlds without the fear of being overwhelmed by them.


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