Look & Feel

nike fuelbandDesign is trumping technology as the feature consumers care about most, reports Nick Bilton in The New York Times (1/14/13). “We’re on the tail-end of technology being special,” says John Maeda of the Rhode Island School of Design. “The automobile was a weird alien technology when it first debuted. Then, after a while, it evolved and designers stepped in to add value to it.” Indeed, where car salespeople talked about “pistons and horsepower” several decades ago, today they are more likely to explain “the shape of the heated seat.”

The same thing is happening with “computers and smartphones” today. “We have this exciting next step for design,” says John. “Now that we have enough technology to do anything, design can now begin to be better than the technology itself.” Nike’s Stefan Olander, vp for digital sport, agrees that design is central to the appeal of the “Nike FuelBand, the bracelet that can track a user’s daily activity and connect to a smartphone.”

As he explains: “You have to create a visceral, emotive experience around the design, which is something everyone cares about.” To that end, says Stefan, “You try to make it smaller, you try to make it lighter, you try to make it go away. As a result, “design has taken designers out of the back offices and into top executive jobs” while engineers “don’t rule the roost in product development” the way they once did. “Design used to be the gravy at the end of the meal,” says John Maeda. “But now the quantity of design needed has increased because of all these screens, and we now metabolize this design for much longer.”

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