Psychodesign: When Gadget Design Fights Back

Psychodesign: When Gadget Design Fights Back

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Taryn Williford
Dec 16, 2008

The mark of great design is in adapting a product to be more beautiful and at the same time to make it easier for its user to complete the task the it was born for. An article on Adbusters Magazine's Web site focuses on design that goes against that traditional idea and actually makes simple tasks harder and more cumbersome—but much more efficient. Meet the living, breathing mikly gel remote control and the glowing electricity pipe of a power cord....

The Psychodesign article investigates what might happen when design gently pushes back and stops doing exactly what we ask it to. Creepy life-like descriptions of the two gadget-y products follow:

The Gel Remote makes us wonder if we would think of our remote control differently if it were alive:

Constructed of a soft, flesh-like gel, the remote appears cold and dead when off. Once turned on, however, it seems to come to life. A soft light emanates somewhere from within as the center of the device begins to slowly rise and fall, mimicking the tranquil motions of breath. Left undisturbed, the remote will slumber peacefully. But should a human hand approach, sensors inside alert it to the imminent touch. It stops breathing, grows rigid – the light from within is extinguished. A remote is the ideal metaphor for the disturbance electronic distraction poses to life. If we had to interrupt its life before it could interrupt ours, we may think twice before picking it up.

The Light Cord visualizes our energy consumption as if it were something more tangible to us, like water:

Developed by STATIC!, an energy-awareness project in Sweden, the Power Aware cord visualizes energy rather than concealing it from sight. Represented by a pale blue light, energy begins to flow through the cord from the moment its plugged in. The longer the cord is in use, the more vibrant the light becomes. Eventually the light begins to pulse, then throb, demanding that we become conscious of the energy flowing beneath. Consumption ceases to be abstract – it becomes visible, quantifiable, real. The energy won't resist use – quietly and obediently, it will continue to flow. But at the edge of our consciousness, the light will persistently throb.

These are two great concepts to adapt household objects to be more efficient in terms of power consumption and—in the case of the milky gel remote—our own consumption of bad-for-your-brain-cells-and-your-couch-potato-waistline reality TV. But would you go so far as to actually let design take you backwards in terms of ease of use?

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