04/01/2013

Is the future of digital design in industrial design?

Power Buttons by Ruben Platte
 From it's early days digital design has borrowed metaphors from other design disciplines. There really aren't any physical manifestations of the engines and rules that drive software design, so we use things that users can relate to. I guess the most obvious example here is a computer desktop, with folders and trash bin. But more so buttons and other interface elements are given shading, perspective and shape to make them look like something mechanical, something we could touch. Sometimes these methods are taken to extremities and become skeumorphic. When you boil it down to it's core element interface design often involves making something digital look tangible, so users understand how to use it (affordance).

Now if you consider where digital design may be heading in the next 5-10 years, you may well look at touch screen devices and you may well look at products like Twine, which connects digital with industrial work and you may also consider the content of today's Maker Faires - very little of which is on a screen, with a keyboard/mouse. To see future trends you could also look at where major tech companies are going. Google for example is currently touting it's Glass project - which has an audio/visual interface built in to wearable technology. Apple has been bringing interface and industrial design closer together for some time. None more visibly than with the high profile merging of its industrial and interface teams. Amazon is designing and manufacturing devices, like Kindle to buy/read books on.

So when you look at these two notions and you consider who is best placed to design the interfaces of the future. You could come to the conclusion that instead of visual designers attempting to mimic industrial interfaces, perhaps industrial designers have more to offer the digital interface. After all UI designers currently spend time aping built artifacts - who is better to inform that approach than the designers who are trained in materials, affordance and ergonomics?

When you look at the most significant examples of digital products from the past five years, it's almost always when they are married with physical products (eg; iPhone + iTunes, Nintendo wii, Nike+ etc etc).

Perhaps the line between digital interactions and physical interactions will continue to overlap, until the difference is negligible. This would mean the future of digital design sits firmly at the cross section to industrial design. In a world where 3D printers are becoming cost effective and accessible, this doesn't seem to be much of leap. Now would be a good time for digital designers to finally detached themselves from the notions of print design and walk open armed towards our new friends in industrial design.