Our New Digital World: How Designers Will Aid in This Transition.

The evolving prevalence of digital technology in our lives, and how we as individuals interact and communicate with this technology.

Article for Design Culture & Theory, BDES 1201. Week 12: April 1st, 2021. Total word count: 606

Paola Antonelli, author of Design and the Elastic Mind, highlights the responsibility of designers to aid in the transition from the pre-digital to a post-digital society. Antonelli states that “one of design’s most fundamental tasks is to help people deal with change” and this is especially important with such a large societal transformation that digital technology will bring. Antonelli highlights the immense freedom our society has acquired over the last 35 years because of these advancements. She notes that in order for individuals to embrace these changes an array of new products and services must be created in response. Antonelli explains that if design’s purpose is to help us live life to the fullest in this technologically advanced era, “designers need to make both people and objects perfectly elastic.” This can be done by focusing on integrating the senses in the design process to seamlessly integrate technology with the human experience. In addition to aiding in this transition, Antonelli states that designers must also consider the impact they have on the environment.

The exponential growth of technology since 1970 and the fourth industrial revolution “Intelligence.”

In the Exhibition Review written by Shannon Mattern, on the exhibit Talk to Me: Design and the Communication Between People and Objects, the author breaks down the execution of this exhibit and contemplates the message and experience behind it. Mattern believes that the exhibit was influenced by Marshall McLuhan’s novel Understanding Media, specifically the chapter which focuses on the coming age of automation. Mattern explains that the exhibit displayed nearly 200 objects which were organized into five categories: objects, bodies, life, city and double entendre. The curators, Paola Antonelli and Kate Carmody, suggested that these categories represented different ways of characterizing “who was talking to whom,” for example, what happens when we communicate with an ATM machine. The exhibit itself did not permit much communication between the displayed devices and the exhibit patrons which diluted the impact the exhibit could have had.

Barclays ATM Animations featured in the Talk to Me exhibit. Animations created by Richard Hogg (2010).

Although these two writings focused on different subsets of experience design, their overall message was very similar. Both authors, Antonelli and Mattern, focused on the role which designers must play in the integration of technology into our everyday lives and doing so in a way that reduces the impact on the population and environment. The key difference in these readings is the ways the authors illustrated these impacts. Antonelli focuses on the importance of the designer crafting products and services with the user and their sense in mind, whereas Mattern highlights the importance of seamless communication between objects and users, illustrated in the Talk to Me design exhibit. I believe both authors make valuable suggestions on how we as designers can lessen the impacts that technology can bring to our society. I believe Antonelli’s suggestion of designing with the user and their senses in mind to be more relevant to the field of experience design. This is because a fundamental understanding of the role that the five senses play in the user's experience with a product or service is vitally important for the integration of said product.

I believe these principles to be important, now more than ever, as COVID-19 forces our lives to be more digitized. Technology is continuing to be more relevant to our lives, especially in the education process. As we continue to learn online, it is important for designers of software such as Zoom and Blackboard to consider the students’ experience with the service as well as how their senses come into play when using the software. This is evident in features of Blackboard Collaborate such as the whiteboard, breakout rooms, closed captions and customizable accessibility settings. As COVID-19 progresses, our understanding of how students learn online will continue to improve these services.

Discussion Questions

  1. Which of the five senses do you believe are most important to consider when designing a digital product or service?
  2. What do you believe needs to be implemented to online learning services in order for you as a student to be more successful?

George Brown Digital Experience Design Student.