This text was written for Vormberichten, the Dutch design magazine, for publication in their October issue.
Chris Pacione did not set out to be the designer of a wireless service. On the contrary: the co-founder of BodyMedia took a traditional industrial design course at an engineering school - Carnegie Mellon University - and fully expected to become a product designer. He aspired to bring groovy objects into the world. "But as soon as we started our company" says Pacione, "it became clear that our groovy object was only one part of a bigger picture. We had to become service designers - and after that, business model designers - in order to survive".
BodyMedia's product is a hybrid of hard and soft features. What you see on Pacione's arm is a wearable computer, with wireless capability. But that object is just one part of the story. Invisibly, the device monitors a variety of body functions - blood pressure, temperature, heartbeat and so on - and transmits these data, in real-time, to a website which builds up a picture of your 'wellness' through time. The website shows you charts (created by information designers) that compare your body's performance to average or ideal charts, thus enabling you to see at a glance if you are taking exercise, sleeping too much,or eating too many calories (fitness experts designed the advice). As well as object design (the industrial design of the object on your arm - its shape, weight, materials, engineering and so on) - Pacione and his colleagues had to design the appearance and organization of information on the website.
Pacione's colleagues also had to design the ways people would buy the product, and pay for it. Since the day they started, four years ago, they have had to adjust the company's business model continuously. At first they thought consumers would get the product free, and pay for a wellness monitoring service (in the way we sometimes get a satellite dish, or tv set-top box, for free, and pay for programmes by a monthly subscription). But the marketing costs of that model weree too high, so they switched to selling the product to sportsmen and women as a high-tech training aid. This did not work - the unit price was too high - so, now, BodyMedia sells its hybrid product-and-service to insurance companies and health-care providers - a business-to-business model. Says Pacione, "we never stop designing - the object, the way its used, the way the information is presented, the way people pay for it".
BodyMedia is an example of how the design business is heading towards long-term service contracts, of the kind we see increasingly in information technology, and management consulting. That's one aspect of "flow", the theme of Doors of Perception conference: the transition from a project-based, to a continuous, model of the design process.
But the bigger change facing 'thing design', and the kernnal of this year's Doors, concerns pervasive computing. Pervasive computing has many names: ubiquitous computing; ambient intelligence; the disappearing computer; things that think; things that link; smartifacts.The buzzwords describe the ways we are suffusing the world not just with sensors, but also with responsive and smart materials and actuators. There are already hundreds of microchips for every man, woman and child on the planet, and most of these chips will soon talk to each other, in languages such as 'Bluetooth'. Nobody knows what the consequences are going to be, except that these chips will find their way into most of the objects that surround us - buildings, airplanes, doors, doorhandles, clothing - even our bodies. The US army is a big spender on wearable computing, for example. The military and the retail business (a typically 2002 combination) are also driving developments in the use of sensors, tags, and remote monitoring in the physical world. John Gage of Sun Microsystems anticipates that we will soon sprinkle "smart dust" over battlefields - clouds of tiny wireless sensors, thermometers, miniature microphones, electronic noses, location detectors that will provide information about the physical world, and the people crossing it, to battlefield commanders. Military-funded researchers are developing an operating system for smart dust&Mac226; self-organizing sensors and effectors; these tiny devices, that can manipulate matter, will be able to form wireless networks without human intervention.
This new wave of technology confronts us with a design dilemma. We are filling our world with complex technical systems - on top of the natural systems that were already here, and social/cultural ones that evolved over thousands of years - without thinking much, if at all, about the consequences. That's why we organised Doors 7: to think about the design consequences now - not later.
We will look at the transition from designing things, to designing systems and services, from a variety of perspectives. Our speakers include design specialists like Ezio Manzini (service design), Marco Susani (who is now developing advanced concepts at Motorola), and Janine Benyus, author of "Biomimicry: innovations inspireed by nature". We have writers, such as Bruce Sterling, and philosophers, such as the rising star of European letters, Patricia de Maertelare. We have pioneers from the world of Open Source software who study how software designers work - such as Franziska Nori, and Felix Stalder. We have Ton van Asseldonk, who advises global companies about service design. We have an interaction designer who specialises in marine navigation systems, Peter Boegh Andersen. We have a leading expert on scientific visualisation, Felice Frankel from MIT; and we have one of the world's hottest webdesigners, Joshua Davis. We have a prize-winning scientist, Natalie Jeremijenko, and leading next-generation architects: Ben van Berkel, and Stefano Boeri. We also have the author of a cult book, "Fire and memory: on architecture and energy" - Luis Fernandez Galiano from Madrid. We have the German pneumatiucs guru, Axel Thallemer, from Festo; and Jakub Wejchert, who runs "The Disappearing Computer " programme for the European Commission. And we have Open Doors, a Grand Prix competition in which we are looking for the best scenarios for pervasive computing from 20 design futures projects selected from around the world.