Electronic Product Design

Play time in a technical world

Once upon a time, we were young enough and care-free enough to experiment without embarrassment or fear of failing. If we built a wall of wooden bricks, they may fall down – complete disaster! Eventually, we could learn to make a stable assembly that did not fall down.

One we are "grown-up" the nature of embarrassment and fear of failure has often grown up too. Many adults consider that play is beneath them and is always "childish". Play may be child-like but it is not childish – it is the mechanism of learning both in terms of rational behaviour and contextual experiment.

Technology is considered new and exciting – it is. However, the question remains "how do we get there?"

Suppose for one moment that the mobile phone had not yet been invented. What would you think if the next door neighbour rigged up some wired contraption and hung it outside an upstairs window or threw it over the roof of his house? Worse still, this neighbour is wandering round the garden talking to himself, stopping occasionally to wave the object round in his hand above his head.

Yes, we can rationalise it now… he is testing a mobile phone in his garden and losing signal (it must have more development to go yet!). If the mobile phone had not been invented, this might seem strange. The poor man could feel a right idiot in his garden but there is worse to come.

Suppose he comes back to the office and says that he needs to spend more time in the garden trying to play with this latest device from the designer. In far too many companies he would be given short encouragement to “do something useful” or find another job. Yet the nature of his "play", coupled with the trials, experiments and frustration would be the bedrock of a multi-million industry.

A new development project will acquire a context, feel and behaviour all of its own. By whatever means the product is used it will at some point relate to an interaction with humans. These are the people, (customers, users, operators etc.) who will not care that someone experimented but who will care greatly if it does not work properly or the alarm goes off when it should not.

"Playing" could simply involve taking the product home for an evening or a weekend. It might mean installing it at your office. Products tested in the design environment are often tested for many, many sessions but each one only lasting minutes or hours. At Hawkshead we know the value of "taking it home" – our clients know that we start with real world conditions and test in the same environment. Ultimately it is the only way to know the product and it is also the method employed by the end-user.

Fail to play – play the joker…





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