Sharing thoughts with us today on transreality, virtual world and ‘Industrial’ design is U.S based Industrial Designer and Simulation developer: C.Sven Johnson. With more than 15 yrs experience in the field of design and engineering, we sure have a lot to learn from him.
Currently he runs ‘reBang’ : a Concept to CAD industrial design and 3D simulation/virtual world development services.
Can you explain us a little bit about what Transreality technology is?
It’s not so much about technology as it is using technology in a particular way. As I mentioned on Design Droplets , I’ve come across a few definitions of “transreality”, but for me, practically speaking and relevant to what I do as a traditional industrial designer, Transreality Design is, at its core, using the same CAD file for both 3D virtual simulation and for tangible manufacturing.
Beyond industrial design is where things become especially interesting, in my opinion; when Things (“smart” toys, appliances, aso) become spimes and eventually kirkyans .While a spime is, by definition, a singular “smart” object tracked remotely through space and time – presumably by some separate tracking device – a kirkyan is a multi-reality spime seamlessly moving information between a tangible representation and an intangible. This kind of information transfer augments the Experience tied to the Thing in all its instantiations because information can affect the Thing and, by extension, the User. This User Experience component sharpens the focus on Product Narrative; a topic which has gained increasing attention in some industrial design circles (link)and which is the basis for a long-term project I started two years ago.
The nexus, however, is the 3D data set. This is because we exist in three-dimensional space. It’s how we best interact with Things.
As an example, a change in a virtual object’s shape might be transmitted to the tangible object which – using morphable materials (e.g. electro-active polymers) – automatically modifies its shape to match its virtual doppelganger. This isn’t so different from sending one CAD file off to a 3D printer, modifying the file and then sending a new file for a revised 3D print. It’s mostly a matter of materials and data transmission. Vice versa, a change in a tangible object’s shape might trigger a modification in the 3D CAD representing it; something the film industry does routinely.
We can do some of these things now and there are new toys in development which are already exploring the possibilities.
Is the development of 3d objects for the virtual environment similar to the development of tangible products? What extra skill set does an industrial designer require to get into this field?
Similar in some surprising ways but dissimilar in many other ways. Interestingly, as industrial design increasingly shifts focus to “Experience Design”, it moves closer to virtual environment considerations where the experience is basically everything. That observation has probably not been made by many within the industrial design community because so few seemed interested in virtual goods. I believe that will change in the near future.
As for skill sets, that’s difficult for me to answer since, to my knowledge, there isn’t a standard transition path. Plus, it very much depends on the specific application.
For videogames there’s a lot of initial concept design work, so most industrial designers moving into that arena would probably need to be able to quickly generate high-quality sketches and orthographics. This is mostly because, generally, the game designer is responsible for designing the experience, and dedicated 3D modelers will create the assets. Traditional sketching will be, in my opinion, the skill upon which industrial designers fall back upon.
For virtual worlds it’s a bit more open-ended. An industrial designer might enter the virtual goods market and sell their work directly in applications like IMVU, Second Life, and Blue Mars; or they might be involved in helping to design experiences – which includes everything from developing a virtual product with its own virtual user interface, to constructing virtual facilities for educational or corporate training efforts in applications like Teleplace or OLIVE.
Do you feel your aerospace engineering background helped in your development as a designer and how?
I think it both helps and hurts.
It helps in that I have a much deeper understanding of mathematics, physics, fluid mechanics and other technical disciplines, and so I tend to ask questions most industrial designers might not think to ask in the early stages of a project.
It hurts in that many industrial designers believe engineers are inherently uncreative, and so I encounter some bias from the stereotype. Conversely, there are some engineers which doubt my analytic abilities until I sit down and derive some equation or otherwise put my engineering expertise to use.
Tell us something about your project ‘Stray Toasthed‘..If this project is not going to be economically beneficial, then what will drive the manufacturers to produce this toy?
Well, for one thing, there is no intent for a manufacturer to produce the resulting toy. Quite the opposite. This would be a design intended for individuals and small businesses who can make and sell it as they please using increasingly powerful consumer-level CNC machines. So for them, it could be very profitable as it brings corporate-level industrial design to people and businesses who might not otherwise be able to afford it.
Once the community has funded the design work, the community effectively owns it. There would be no licensing or other restrictions for individuals or small businesses. Only big businesses – as defined by those who actually fund the effort – would be subject to restrictions, as they would pay a licensing fee and royalties should they wish to mass produce the toy. Money from such an agreement would then mostly go to charity, as explained in the project brief.
Consequently, there is economic benefit. It’s just not benefitting large corporations.
You believe that “Industrial” design is dead..so where do you see design heading now?
I believe Industrial Design is dead in the sense that the original mandate – to design products within “industrial” constraints – is no longer valid.
When I worked at Rubbermaid, everything had to be plastic; whether or not plastic was the best material. That’s changed. While there are certainly plenty of companies which still require their designers to develop product solutions with their core manufacturing competencies in mind, as more and more products become commodities, the differentiation is in the product itself and not in the production process. In an increasingly competitive global economy, it’s no longer good enough to have a satisfactory product made from a satisfactory material using a satisfactory process only for the sake of a “this is how we’ve always done it” business mentality.
As for where Industrial Design is headed, I think it’s fragmenting, mostly because the original mandate no longer stands. Industrial designers are now moving into User Experience Design or Human-Computer Interface Design or some other new field as technology and virtualization encroach upon restrictions traditional inherent in tangible goods. Where there used to be human factors for physical buttons, we increasingly have a UI specialist designing variable, customizable interfaces. With electro-active materials, even the tangible becomes variable. Things are no longer static.
In the end, I think industrial designers are getting what they’ve always claimed to want: freedom. However, the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it” applies. There’s quite a bit of career confusion out there right now and young designers are increasingly being forced to decide which new subset of (Industrial) Design they wish to pursue.
You spoke about how ‘future children will be modeling their own cars using a web-based application, playing with them in an online virtual world, sharing/selling components, and even sending their designs to rapid-manufacturing shops for fabrication’..won’t such mass customisation lead to chaos?
I don’t believe so, as I don’t recall reading in the history books how pre-Industrial Revolution toys were chaotic.
Play-doh is customizable. So is the sand in a sandbox. Even Legos have an element of customization as part of their DNA. I’ve never heard consumers express concern for such things. The only people who seem concerned about customizable products are those designers who believe their solution is the best and only solution.
It’s an odd attitude for an industrial designer to take, in my opinion, considering we design mass-produced objects with inherent compromises in order to please the greatest number of people to maximize sales and corporate profits. Surely the ability to modify a product to better fit one’s hand – or even one’s personal aesthetic – should be acceptable to industrial designers. We’re not artists, after all.
The real key and where I believe we’ll find a worthwhile challenge is in placing limits on customization.
Is the new wave of social networking affecting designers..if yes how?
I think it’s beginning to affect designers, but as a group we don’t seem especially engaged or interested with these developments.
One example of how social networking is affecting industrial designers is this interview. If not for Twitter, you’d likely never have read the things I’ve written, learned of the Stray Toasthed effort or contacted me. You’re a world away. Likewise, I enjoy reading comments from designers in different parts of the world. I personally believe it’s important for designers to at least have some understanding of other cultures, and social networking facilitates the kinds of interactions which promote better understanding.
If designers are bound by big corporations, what according to you will liberate designers from their clutches?
Options. There used to be a time when people crafted their own product and sold it for a living. It’s not really been that way for a couple of centuries, but as increasingly sophisticated tools – both for design and fabrication but also for marketing/advertising/selling/etc – migrate down to individuals, I believe to some degree we’ll return to those practices. You can see it already in sites like Etsy, Ponoko, and Shapeways.
Any advice for the students who will be entering in the industry?
My advice would be to pay less attention to the exceptions in the design world – Apple, IDEO, Samsung, aso – and better understand the typical industrial designer work experience. There’s a significant amount of press around a very few companies and the truth is many if not most graduates won’t be in a business environment in which industrial design is highly regarded. Instead, they can expect to have their work second-guessed and often go unappreciated.
There’s a reason so many designers burn out at a relatively early point in their career and I believe having a better handle on what to expect might lead to longer careers which, in the end, benefits us all as we become a greater force in business
We at Symbiosis Design thank Mr. C.Sven Johnson for taking time off and sharing his thoughts with us. We look forward to more such interactions in future with him.
Check out his amazing work on coroflot
Connect on twitter: reBang
Please do comment on any thoughts, questions, discussions about this interview below.