Today in London Rhys Newman presented the studio’s "Homegrown" project to an audience of 150 journalists. Rhys is part of the newly minted Design Strategic Projects studio that I will be joining in a few weeks.
The Homegrown presentation starts with a brief, top-level description of Design Strategic Projects. 14 people, International (I’m one of only two United Statesians — quite nice, that), 3 locales. Our (broad) mandate? Clarifying and translating business objectives through design. This is an amazing foundation, and the emphasis on design is quite significant within Nokia. It means design at Nokia is more than styling and appearances. It’s about informing and shaping the strategic direction of Nokia. Helping make decisions that are based on design principles that are also good business principles.
Why is this significant? Design can base its objectives on principles that business would not normally use as its decision criteria. Such things as so-called design thinking where creative thinking and probes into unknown areas is encouraged — even if it results in some “cost” or, in a business idiom, “red ink.” What might be seen as a preposterous experiment can yield valuable insights just by going through the process of thinking outside the box. Design can process ideas, theories, hunches and speculations much more freely and effectively that a project that is bound to hitting one’s quarterly revenue targets.
So — principles in action? Here’s what the Homegrown project entails.
Zero Waste — a charger. What? A charger? Chargers often have a persistent power draw — 300mW or there abouts. Even if it’s charging cycle is done. That’s a terrible waste across a massive scale. Through a principle of small actions, across massive scales, big changes can come about. Scale? Count one second — Nokia has just made 16 phones. Every phone comes with a charger that can be expected to consume this .3 watts of power that we’ll never turn back into the resources consumed to produce it. And that’s just phones and one phone manufacturer. What about digital cameras? Game players? Camcorders? MP3 players?
There’s strong evidence of designed simplicity and a consideration of even the most routine of human -machine interactions here — the button. It has become the sine qua non of interaction modalities. In fact, it is the button that undergirds the bulk of interaction design, I’d argue. Here, with Zero Waste, the button is an soft but emphatic reminder that one is consuming power, however little. When the charger has finished its task of topping off your device, it turns off. In order to turn it on again, you have to push the button. Push a button. Charge. Push a button. Consume. The ritual of turning your attention to the Zero Waste button is a reminder and a call to consider what one is doing. Not that people will necessarily not charge their devices. They’ll just be forced to be cognizant of what is taking place. The persistent reminder to be mindful and considerate of the resources consumed is a designed-in implication of Zero Waste.
Remade — a phone (It exists. It works. I’ve held it. It was announced by Nokia’s CEO in Barcelona a bit ago. It’s not (yet) widely available.) made entirely from nothing new, using a cleaner engine, and made to last — through human sensibilities about designed objects. It "wears in, not out" through materials choices that create an expression of value, slowly, over time. (Love that as a principle.) A phone that ages gracefully.
Count the scale of retired phones — 426,000 in the USA alone every day. Rather than retiring that object, can that waste be turned into a thing of beauty that does not get pitched into a garbage heap? Can it be given value in human terms that keeps it from going to waste, literally?
People First. First principles. People matter. Technologies are only fundamentally about social practices — about people and their aspirations to participate and create and circulate their thoughts and will amongst the communities in which they belong. If people matter, why is the first screen you see on a phone not — your community? Change the interface. Get back to fundamentals. People matter, first of all. Faces are a human universal, numbers less so, if at all. (I can remember the home phone number I had while growing up. I suspect that this skill is one rapidly fading in the digital kid generation.)
Everyone Connected. What does it mean to connect everyone on the planet? What different design principles are relevant to the “next billion” connected people? What communication practices shape design when there are different practical and pragmatic implications for a path upwards — upwards towards more habitable conditions of living.
Rhys’ Homegrown presentation deck represents the culmination of good hard insight-driven play by “the studio” and friends — Andrew Gartrell, Rhys Newman, Duncan Burns, Pascal Wever, Raphael Grignani, Pawena Thimaporn, Tom Arbisi, Simon James, Jan Chipchase, Anne Coates, Peter Knudsen, Hannu Nieminen, and Kurt Walecki. Homegrown encapsulates an approach to design that I find compelling — preceding for-profit work with principles that make business goals the same as goals for a more habitable, life-affirming and ultimately playful world. This is, frankly, one of the main reasons I want to be a part of this studio, which is the same as saying that my studio-mates are thoughtful, fun, engaged, take responsibility for what they are doing, and have respect for what Nokia can do based on these principles.
You’ll want to read what Raph has to say about this. He’s been far more embedded in this than I, and this is basically my interpretation and insights and comments on the Homegrown effort from someone whose handled this stuff, but is still halfway in the door.