2013 marks the beginning of my formal journey into the world of user experience and design anthropology, starting with this blog and supplemented in 3 weeks time when I begin a postgrad in DA at Swinburne University.
I say ‘formal journey’ because whether they’re fully conscious of it, every design student and professional alike takes into account the “when’s, why’s and how’s” their designed product or service is going to be used. It’s only natural of course, as these products and services are really only a focal point upon which an experience is presented, shared, and that dialogue is then fed back into the processes to create another focal point.
This is something we all do, but formally, this is something that has not been a big part of my career. When I went to University and studied for my degree in Industrial Design, there was very little consideration of this dialogue, and certainly no formal training like there is now. In fact, it’s almost like there was an arrogance against it – we were presenting you with something cool, something futuristic, and you’d be insane not to buy it. Because it was ‘insanely great’ and if you couldn’t see that, then you just didn’t have a highly evolved eye for design like we did.
This was something that I rebelled against, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was 1990, and I was a punk kid, staying up late listening to underground industrial music, reading Chomsky and Bertrand Russell, and I was certainly against the skivvy wearing “Yuppies with pens” as I called many designers at the time.
Design Anthropology was little more than ‘ergonomics’ in the 1990’s. Marketing surely had it’s place in informing design to be more focussed on ‘giving people what they want’, but in my world at least, that was a black art and a dirty word. From the time I graduated in 1993 to 2003, I worked in the bicycle industry, largely as a conceptualiser where I could indulge my imagination, get paid for it, and largely avoid the seedy world of marketing and “what users wanted”. I was creating ‘cool shit’ and leaving all the other messy stuff up to others. There didn’t really seem to be any clear route for my ideas – most of which were bought up only to sit on a shelf – to have a ‘real life’ without being ‘tainted’ my marketing or watered down for mass appeal.
Fast foward to 2003, and there was a shift in my thinking that lead me to the world of custom bicycles. In this year I started a brand called Thylacine Cycles and it gave me the ‘less virtual’ design experience I was after. Designing custom bicycles is a very mutual and visceral experience, with a strong dialogue between the designer and the customer. Because it’s not a consumer experience, it’s very personal, so instead of creating an ‘encounter’ you’re mutually creating a ‘story’ or ‘journey’ with the customer, and this resonated and has longevity. Because it’s a ‘journey’, both the designer of the custom bicycle and the client both give and share and take away from the experience in a meaningful way.
From my perspective as a designer, this was a fascinating and rewarding time. What was really interesting about it was seeing people’s expectations coming in and what they were left with at the end of the day. It was rewarding because generally speaking, the experience had real gravitas and resulted in the use of a product that the client then used not as a disposable consumer item, but a much loved item used for years and years and attached to with, a memorable journey of it’s creation as a shared experience.
There was also real insight into consumer psychology, too. You get a very intimate and insightful peek into peoples psyches when they’re spending a generally not insignificant sum of money on a personal object. Everything from the real enthusiast for whom you could do no wrong, to the hyper critical whose expectations could never be met.
The other side of this experience was the cultural one of dealing with customers from all over the world, as well as suppliers and contractors in the UK, US and Taiwan. Previously as a design consultant in the 90’s I was working for a Japanese company also with global reach so there was the cultural mores and peccidillos of that as well, and recently I have been looking into the viability of an Australian based Badminton racket company, so there are all the cultural considerations of this largely Asian-based sport to consider in my future. I’m looking forward to building on the cultural design knowledge that I have, too.
Anyway, so that’s probably too long an introduction to a blog, but what the heck! Hopefully for the upcoming year or so I can give some insight into my experiences past and present, and see where this whole UX/DA thing leads me. Feel free to join in!