I was recently interviewed by Duann Scott for Ponoko’s blog. He was kind enough not to edit my replies which meant the complete interview was spread over three posts. But now it’s been on Ponoko for a few days I’m putting here in it’s entirety:
What specifically brought on the idea to start incorporating consumer involvement into product design?
I’d always been interested in designing for people who are at the fringes of mainstream consumerism. When I was at the RCA my personal tutor was Tony Dunne, and he got me interested in the idea of looking at how people subvert products, (ab)use them in ways that weren’t intended by the designer. A mundane example is using a screw driver to open a tin of paint, a more ‘colourful’ example is using a vacuum cleaner as a sex aid. His theory was that you could learn a lot by looking at the way people invent new uses for products. Nowadays this isn’t particularly controversial, Eric von Hippel has written a lot about how mountain biking and kite surfing were ‘invented’ by people abusing existing products, but at the time it seemed very new, at least to me.
Gary Fisher (right) and friends were instrumental in the invention of the mountain bike © Trek Bicycle Corporation
When I first started at Nokia there wasn’t much opportunity to put these ideas into practice, at least not at first. But Nokia was the first company to introduce customisation into mobile phones in the form of user-changeable covers. That led to a lot of concepting exercises in the design team, thinking about how customisation could be expanded further. I guess that’s where I first started to realise the logical conclusion of consumers customising products is consumers designing their own products. But at the time there didn’t seem to be any way it could be possible.