Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Inspirational Bits workshop

August the 30th and August the 31th fellow colleagues in the Mobile Life Centre and SICS as well as industrial partners were invited to a hands on workshop were we presented them all the Inspirational Bits we built during April, May and June. Approximately 20 engineers and designers took part from both research and industry.

Here a summary of this workshop and the bits from designer Anna Karlsson, BORIS design studio,

When I first heard about inspirational bits and got the question to join the workshop I pictured myself as being a kid in a candy store! Easy accessible technology, a short cut for me as a designer (and the rest of the team) to fully understand the potential of a material (technology). And I was not disappointed!

I experienced the bits to be quite different to each other and therefore saw a reason to categorize them. A categorization of the inspirational bits would help me and others decide what category of bits should be used in what project, or phase of the project.

Core Bits - “Give it to me in one sentence or 3 secs”
These are bits that can be described in one sentence or quickly grasped in three seconds. An example of a core bit is the oversized mechanical model of the accelerometer.
This approach is similar to a design method where you establish the very basics of things as a way to inspire innovation. It is similar to the task of designing a chair where one had to explain what a chair is in one sentence, a sentence that really grasps the concept of a chair. One such sentence could be: “A horizontal plane big enough for one person to sit”. This explanation opens up for innovation rather than frames you in an idea of what a chair is. The core bits as I see them are about explaining technology in that very same way and thus opening up for innovation.

Educational Bits - “Explain it to me, I am an idiot”
The core characteristic of these bits is learning. The educational bits are about explaining the basics of a technology. The fewer aspects of the material you highlight the better and the easier it is to grasp the bit. There should be no value vis-à-vis a final design when creating an educational bit. An example of an educational bit is the diZe. The level of complexity in this bit is low, but fairly quickly you understand how the material works.

Boundary Bits - “Show me the Limits”
When creating a boundary bit you should focus on highlighting a downside of the technology. The boundary bits are about breaking pre-defined ideas about a material and to start a discussion in the group. An example of a bit that helps me explore the boundaries of a technology is the RadioSound bit.
The boundary bits are similar to the educational bits as the defining characteristic is learning. The boundary bits are powerful in the way that the whole team gets a full understanding of the limitations of a material before proceeding with a design conceptualization. Another great advantage of the boundary bits is the time that could be saved in the development process of a new service or product: “show me the limits so that I can avoid traps.”

Beyond Bits - “Turn the limitation into a feature”
The last of my four categories is called “beyond bits”. This category is very creative and can trigger a lot of spin-off ideas. The beyond bits tackles limitations in a material and turns them into features. A good example here is the Gymkhana bit.

To summarize the first three categories, they are all about understanding a technology, here refereed to as the material. These bits should be built and explained by those who know the material well. The fourth category is slightly different and could be used as the subsequent phase, after presenting bits in the first three categories. The beyond bits could work as a good kickoff in the concept design phase in a development project where the developers get together with the rest of the team to take things one step further. The beyond bits are about making use of the things the design team all learnt from the earlier bits.

The inspirational bits approach is mostly about play; it is a positive way to approach a technology. During the play you will learn certain things about the material and the learnings are something you will bring with you to the next step. Keeping the bits intact could though have the opposite effect for the design team, the team can get stuck on the initial ideas and not be able to move on to the next step. It is therefore important as I see it to point out that after experiencing the bits they should be broken down into their basic material parts; these are what you can use as the foundation for innovation.

The inspirational bits approach is a good way to start a complex project, it helps the team to get a better idea of the material’s properties, possibilities and limitations and it also lays the ground for more equal discussions within the group. This is maybe one of the most important aspects you can get from using the inspirational bits approach.

The inspirational bits can also help the design process to become less linear. By integrating construction and production at the start of product development, this cross-disciplinary way of working creates a common platform of knowledge for the whole team.

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