A blog about universal and accessible design

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Arrogance will getcha

Image: Fiskars Rotary Cutter and Softtouch Scissors, designed by a team led by Jim Boda and Doug Birkholz, now of Inspire Design (image via Inspire).

I just had a nice chat with Jim Boda, who was head of R&D at Fiskars' US division in the early 90s when they developed Softtouch Scissors. Originally called the "Golden Series," the scissors were developed with the goal of making cutting easier for older users and people with manual disabilities. A spring in the scissors helps them open automatically, saving the effort and eventual discomfort of opening after each cut, while the innovative offset handles and straight bottom edge let you rest them on the table during use. Focus group feedback indicated that they would be useful and appealing to a broad range of users, and the new name reflected this comfort and ease. I see these every time I go to the fabric shop, as all the fabric measure/cutters use them.

Jim commented that, when it comes to designing tools/products, "one of the things that you really want to do is separate yourself—a lot of things can be intuitive, but in watching other people use products I find they really use them differently. We could design intuitively, based on own experiences, but when we get it wrong it's usually because of arrogance. Especially when it comes to the human body... we are all made up of different parts and use them in different ways." Thanks, Jim. He also mentioned that the US division was the first to really bring product innovation to the company-- with total market dominance in Finland, the home company didn't really understand the need-- and that US R&D helped the Finnish and British divisions set up their own design/R&D teams in the 90s. Interesting trans-Atlantic business story.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Depression Design?

Image: Fireside Chair No. 1, 1943: sturdy wooden chair with cushioned back/seat from the Utility Programme. From Making the Modern World.

Does recession make for better design?
The Herald Trib says it might:
"But the main reason why design could benefit from this recession is because it always thrives on change, and every area of our lives is currently in flux. The economic crisis will not only transform finance and business, but the way we think and behave. Then there's the environmental crisis, and the realization that most of the institutions and systems that regulated our lives in the 20th century need to be reconfigured for the 21st century."

The article focuses on the design of information and organizations to improve transparency; but also suggests the possibility of design contributing to new business models, e.g. the car/bike sharing schemes that are popping up throughout Europe and the US.

It strikes me that for a long time the argument has been that things like environmental benefits in design have to be made desirable and marketable based on a boom-time logic-- an argument backed up in recent years with things like megamansions w/ solar panels, movie stars in Priuses and "sustainable" materials in high-end fashion and interiors. I wonder what a bust-time alternative would be like-- something like Utility furniture, where government partnered with designers to produce affordable, well-designed furnishings for post-war British households. Design is more than a luxury...