Meta Products is the next generation of internet products, meaningful design for our connected world. Welcome to a world beyond the internet of things.
Q: Do you think the rise of meta products (internet connected systems of products, services and spaces) will impact design education?
ALK: Absolutely, simply because Meta Products allow us to think and feel in a broader context. Designers need to be holistic visionaries who approach the design process in a people-centric manner. Future creators must recognise that the pursuit of excellence involves focusing on a Triple P Process: Planet, People and then Profit.
Today’s products and services are often complicated systems that require designers to draw upon a wide base of knowledge and experiences. This demands a collaborative and meta-disciplinary way of thinking.
Meta Product innovations mean a more complex and larger scaled ‘living environment’. The designer must manage this complexity in order to develop optimal usability and the emotional hardware that appeals to people’s diverse needs and personal relationships in an information context.
Q: How do you think senseaware was developed and what type of role did designers have in the development?
ALK: Intensive research and testing with customers has been key to the successful development of SenseAware and, as it turned out, businesses immediately recognised its benefits and saw how the innovation could be deployed across other industries, most notably the medical sector.
This is also the key to the designer’s role in the process. Imagining new and better ways to do what you already do well. Take leaps and recognise projective deployment of technologies and interactions. This way you can reduce risk, increase your chances of success and boost market advantage.
For FedEx, SenseAware has become more than a high-tech solution to real-time tracking. It combines the power of the brand and the FedEx heritage of innovation with a new product and platform that now has the capability to transform the health and life sciences industry and also, potentially, other sectors.
Q: Do you think the role of designers will change in the future of ultimate mobility of Internet?
ALK: Yes, they will clearly have to adopt a systems approach. The 21st-century design education must incorporate a system and a platform for considering people’s true needs and balance it with intelligent design. In the context of meta-products, design without a systems approach becomes meaningless.
Furthermore, as each design will have the possibility of changing the whole system, the responsibility of the designer grows. This is the time for fresh ideas and new approaches, and offers real opportunities for the design community to actively contribute to building a better world.
Q: If I asked you to design a Meta Product how would you start?
ALK: By putting the people-centric dimension back into the centre of the design process. We must identify the true needs of people within a connected holistic vision – only then can we create meaningful products and services. Tomorrow’s designers need to decode the complexity and cultural contexts of society – this is the only way to navigate complexity and design meaningful products. It’s about bringing real value and values to the table.
Q: Do you think Meta Products can be developed with current design practices and methodologies?
ALK: Maybe, but there are far too many incompatible processes. Current design practices lack a holistic visionary thinking model. We have to think of systems as alive – ‘thinking and organic’, some people would say. A product is more than the product itself. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences: product, service, user-experience and brand culture merged all into one. The challenge is to make them all work together seamlessly and add value at every stage. That is positive systems thinking.
Q: Do you think the rise of Meta Products has a certain impact on the way companies manage innovation?
ALK: Organisations, as people-centric organisms, must embrace empathic leadership and recognise the power of ‘Digital Natives’ and the ‘Creative Class’. In fact, that is the only way to manage and promote meaningful innovation. Micro-management and full organisational control is a thing of the past. Allowing the Digital Natives and the Creative Class a certain amount of freedom is essential to let innovation flourish. Their Beta mindsets may at first seem out of control and risky, but this entrepreneurial approach to innovation is central to the new world order and is also where the impact will be felt in terms of innovation. It still requires an adherence to sound business decision-making, but also a commitment to challenge one’s own beliefs about ‘The Way Things Work,’ and clear focus on a human-centred approach by addressing people’s unspoken and unmet needs.
Q: What kind of mindsets do you think designers should have to develop Meta Products such as SenseAware?
ALK: Tomorrow’s designers will have to practice what I call ‘whole-brain’ or multidimensional thinking. At Kjaer Global we have developed a methodology and a set of tools that allow us to manage this process and balance Left Brain – facts and pragmatism, with Right Brain – intuition and vision. Very few individuals can manage the kind of complexity that systems present us with, and sophisticated interactions between the virtual and the real worlds will only add to this complexity making the ability to collaborate one of the most important traits to nurture as a future designer.
Q: Meta Products are internet connected systems of products, services and spaces. Having this in mind, what should the scope of a designer cover when developing Meta Products?
ALK: The tangible is just an element in a system where the connections, virtual or real, are the focus of attention. The design landscape will be composed of two extremes the ‘Generalists’ and the ‘Hyper Specialists’. The Generalists will be able to grasp the complexity of the systems and see the big picture and the Hyper Specialists will be the doers – the ones who find innovative specialist solutions to the tasks presented and synthesised by the Generalists.
Q: Which would be the most important challenges you encounter in terms of design processes when developing Meta Products?
ALK: To design and innovate by adapting and engaging a holistic future vision that embraces a meaningful and sustainable ‘living system’ of people, product and service interaction.
Book Contribution: Meta Products, November 2011 >>
Anne Lise is a futurist and keynote speaker working across the world