Ah yes, the Internet of Things. IoT has gotten so cliche-ridden, it's beginning to take on a charming, Jetsons'esque vibe of "the future" is here, so where are the jetpacks?
And yet...and yet. "Chips, radios and sensors are getting cheaper," observes WIRED. "Computation and connectivity are creeping into the world. Soon, we’re told, more things in our homes will chirp at us, chat with other things, and quietly send information back to the companies that made them." While the deets are still foggy, the road ahead is anything but. "We can assume our connected world will be useful, convenient, and creepy," continues WIRED. "We just don’t know in what ratio."
Which presents a huge opportunity for designers. They are the ones we expect to think about how products fit into our lives and society, addressing the spectrum beyond just how an actual product function to influencing the way cutting-edge new products are even being developed. Being tasked with something so important means, of course, attending conferences, like the recent "great excuse to travel somewhere fabulous" aka ThingsCon in Europe. Plus the penning of pithy docs. Drumroll, please...behold the IoT Manifesto. It consists of 10 pledges, including:
- build &promote a culture of privacy
- be deliberate about what data we collect
- empower users to be the master of their domain
As goofy as it all is, the empowerment & mastery angle reminded me of that awesome quote by Alan Kay, the American computer scientist known for pioneering object-oriented programming and graphical user interface (GUI) design:
The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
Which Google is now attempting to do in the area of furnishings and clothing. They are experimenting with yarns of cotton, poly or silk combined with thin, metallic alloys that look indistinguishable from the regular thing and can be used on an industrial, standard loom. With anything but standard results. Rather, the resulting materials aren't mere fabrics but "interactive surfaces" that have touch and gesture-interactivity woven right into them.
Along with conductive yarns, Google's Project Jacquard is experimenting with embedding LEDs, haptics and tiny circuits, no larger than the button on a jacket which capture touch interactions and employ machine-learning algorithms to infer various gestures. Along with providing the user with feedback, these captured-touch and gesture data can then be transmitted wirelessly to mobile phones or other devices to connect the user to online services, apps, or phone features. "We are developing custom connectors, electronic components, communication protocols, and an ecosystem of simple applications and cloud services," they add, noting that developers will be able to connect apps to Jacquard-enabled clothes and code in new features specifically for the platform. "Designers can use it as they would any fabric, adding new layers of functionality to their designs, without having to learn about electronics," they add. "Jacquard is a blank canvas for the fashion industry."
Which brings to mind an insight by Victor Papanek, an 80s designer, educator and thinker who seemed to have a surprisingly good bead on the increasing speed with which technology was transforming the world, society and us. So rapidly, in fact, he felt that the job of designers of would change from creating new things and instead making sense of change. "The placing and patterning of any act towards a desired goal constitutes a design process," he wrote, noting that “design is basic to all human activities...Design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools - and environments - and, by extension, society and himself."
- Lesley Scott
Actively embracing the future with a desire to make it fashionable and timely is a signature of the Futurenetic Fashion Tribe. For more of my posts about this tribe, CLICK HERE. To learn more about each of fashion's four mega-tribes that I track, START HERE.