Next Generation Product Development Tools, Part 19

In Parts 1-6, I mostly covered hardware; starting off with an entry which showcased a low-cost augmented reality demonstration video as a pointer to the future, and then covering fabrication processes which included a video showing how electronically “captured” movements could be converted into tangible objects.

In Parts 7-14 , I shifted to software; focusing on Web 2.0 functionality/sensibilities, applying those as “filters” in brief pseudo-reviews of current cutting edge 3D CAD systems and then ending with a list of “take-aways”, at which point, in Part 15, I introduced the issue of semantics.

In Parts 16, 17, and 18, I mostly addressed users; why they’ll begin to increasingly use 3D applications and how that adoption will spur growth in the 3D fabbing market.

At this point, having finally tied a number of threads together, I’ll (hopefully) start patching everything into a cohesive, comprehensible whole.

Fumbling Towards 3D Convergence

When futurologist Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock almost four decades ago, the world really had no inkling of just how dramatic our accelerating technological advances would prove to be. For some of us the collective discomfort with the inevitable and sometimes inexorable technological march is becoming increasingly obvious. There are even some eloquently written pieces* being posted tying the current U.S. political drama to this unease.

I know from first hand observation and experience that the Industrial Design community I remember is becoming less engaged with the future. More on that topic at another time.

I don’t know what to suggest to the ID community but one way in which everyday people might at least reconnect with not just the world but with where things are headed, would be for them to reconnect with all the stuff with which they’ve surrounded themselves; to get beyond the “surface” and truly see the things they’ve purchased; to engage and experience these things on both the intellectual and visceral levels.

Unfortunately, we’re so busy multi-tasking we’ve forgotten how to give something – even other people – our undivided attention.

Imagine for a moment, however, having the ability to put on a pair of augmented reality goggles and visualize a search engine’s output hovering over every item in your home; similar to Fight Club‘s “catalog” scene. We don’t have that technology yet, of course, but we don’t need it to achieve what I’m suggesting is necessary. That’s because it’s not the details or the enabling technology which matter but rather the awareness.

Understanding even the most basic of connections between the things we purchase and the manufacturing processes which produce them – apparent both in the Make:/Etsy groundswell and with the proliferation of “How It’s Made“-style videos – is a good first step to re-engaging the future on our own terms. Beyond that, however, is connecting virtual representations (and their associated data) with those same tangible items; a significantly more daunting task.

Why bother?

– Because we live in a world controlled by virtual constructs (e.g. currency, credit, Wall Street).

– Because I’ve little doubt we’re moving toward a communication experience which more efficiently merges the current 2D internet paradigm with the inevitable 3D interface.

– Because we live in a 3D world, and our never-ending pursuit of improved efficiencies will demand the option to remotely communicate using realistic 3D representations, and with companies like Nortel announcing their own enterprise-level versions of Second Life, Project Chainsaw, there’s increasingly less doubt that the companies who already service most of our communication needs are taking this very seriously.

There is, of course, the possibility people will more fully appreciate, for example, a 3D game object which looks like a recognizably branded product sitting on their local retailer’s shelf, and thus perceive a potential link between the “real” and the “virtual”. And maybe an onslaught of advertising will spur significant interest in 3D technology by consistently entangling, say, a popular fashion accessory with a virtual representation of it. But I don’t believe any of these juxtapositions are sufficient. It’s not enough.

The only way to fully engage a virtual object is to understand it on the same level we understand everyday items.

For example, the average person may not know how their toaster works, but they can pry it apart with a screwdriver and try to understand how it operates because it exists in their “space” … in their comfort zone. CAD files, 3D game objects and virtual goods don’t.

Virtual things can only be pried apart using virtual tools, and 3D modeling tools are not yet simple enough for broad adoption. Until they become sufficiently easy to use, there’s little chance people will both make the leap to using 3D software and also make the mental leap to the more challenging concepts discussed here; concepts which will be necessary for a society to grasp in order for them to move their economy forward in an increasingly competitive, global future.

Thus, acknowledging that people pursuing money and/or career are the exception and not the rule, the question then becomes: At what point do non-monetary motivational factors – reputation and empowerment – overwhelm the barriers to entry for average people?

*Note – The bulk of this entry was written in August, including the reference to Toffler’s Future Shock. That we cite the same reference is merely serendipitous. That said, it’s a brilliant post and I highly recommend everyone read it.

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