The fascination with a future materializing
When I was in middle school, I’d say from 13 to 16 years old so around 2012, I was very intrigued by Apple. By that I don’t mean current day Apple, but Apple back when it was called Apple Computer Inc.. I think I’ve seen every Apple advertisement from the early days up until ~2005. To me they were magical, and I loved watching them. Even though the tech presented wasn’t new anymore.
Those commercials they still intrigue me. The way their (new for the time) ideas and concepts are presented says so much about the time they’re presented in. An example: Macintosh Portable commercial: “Hit the road” (1989). A businessman at the airport is shaking his head in distress whilst poking at his laptop, which is showing a DOS command line terminal and making beeps. The camera then pans to a young businesswoman who is using her Macintosh Portable, which was Apple’s first laptop. She is smiling, and the for the time rich graphical user interface (GUI) is shining of the display of her Mac. The man is approaching her. “Excuse me. It’s my computer…”. He shakes his head. “I seem to be having trouble. I know nothing about computers…”. The woman replies with a broad smile. “I’m sorry. I know nothing about computers either.”.
The opposition of this young woman doing these “complex tasks” (making some graphical slides) and this businessman struggling to do his work is stereotypical and borderline cliché, but it’s so powerful. It says so much about what was at the time considered cutting edge, and it shows how strong Apple’s vision for the future was even back in the 80’s. This shows the introduction of a workflow, namely portable graphical computing, that is still the standard today. In fact, I’m typing this blogpost on my laptop away from my workplace on a laptop with a GUI. (You would have been impressed in 1989 😉)
I have a bachelor’s degree in software engineering and am now obviously doing the master’s in ID. Apple is the ultimate coming together of these two topics. But even before that I was fascinated by Apple’s vision of the future, and how it did or did not manifest. But whether their products were successful or not, their aim has always been to design to push what people can do with technology.
To be on the cutting edge of HCI requires a vision for what that future may be, so one can design for it. And it is not only a matter of what tech is available, it’s more of a matter of what tech can be accepted and integrated into society. In the end, the Macintosh Portable wasn’t a commercial succes. It was expensive and clunky. Two years later Apple released the PowerBook. A much slimmer, lighter and cheaper portable computer which was commercially successful.
Even though the technology was not there yet in the 80’s, Apple was already working on compact portable computers, to release a successful product in the 90’s.
This brings me to the answer to the question what I expect of this course. When I think of ‘Futuring’ and innovation, the old Apple commercials I used to watch are always the first thing that come to mind. As a software engineer/ industrial designer, I believe that to be successful you have to either present existing solutions done cheaper than others, or be on the bleeding edge of HCI and offer people tools for people to do things they couldn’t do before.
Being able to reason from what people would want today only gets you so far in this process. I think that if I would be able to design something to be used in 10 years instead of today, this will make it possible to design revolutionary HCI solutions.
This thought has led me to analyze my prior work, and I think I’ve always designed for usage in the present, but never in the future specifically. I expect this course to enable this for me. I hope that when I end this course, I will think differently when I am in a design process. I hope I will be able to design for innovations to come, even if the tech isn’t there yet.