Lift Day 1: Morning

Nicolas Nova : The recurring failure of holy grail

The video phone started in the 60’s, but it was too expensive (27$ per min). Then other attempts of videophones, but still technology sucked, images were lagging. Now you still have new attempts of the video phone (Asus 2008). Another holy grail is the smart fridge. Good idea to have a screen in the fridge to watch movies or have the net, so people can check recipes. Many smart fridges have been launched, but still they are not really used. Another example is LBS, it’s been 20 years that people tried to find applications for LBS. Technology knows always where you are, but it doesn’t always work, and exceptions (GPS doesn’t find you), these things have problems reaching their markets.


Holy grail of the Smart Fridge (source)

There are a few characteristics in common between these projects. The people who promote them are sincere, but they just leave some essential factors out of the equation. Based on his experience, he tries to explain and analyze the causes of failure.

  • When these things are designed, they are located in a special context (historical, social, etc, e.g. rockets in the 60’s). This limits the vision of the world, or biases it. And this limits are being reflected in the design of these things.
  • Wrong perception of time, time is not stable. Innovations are slow to happen, but sometime some things just appear (disruptions). Future things, black swans appear, and if you don’t take them into account, you can fail (even though that’s diff).
  • Confusion between short and long term. Things change over long time, it’s not that fast. We mistake both.
  • Bad understanding of users. We don’t think how people will use tech, and it’s important to think about exceptions, how people use things. We often assume the “average/normal” human. If you think like that, you might miss important factors, which would cause failure.
  • Automating rituals. “Where are you?”. We automate this questions, so that it’s done automatically. But this is totally different from sending an sms or calling people to let them know where you are. You might not want people to know where you are any time. Location accuracy should be different for different time.
  • Making things more natural. “clippy”, seems more natural to use dialogs to interact with your computer. But what’s natural (in definition), and what’s really natural, there’s a gap between reality and our assumptions of it. For example, sweeping your bag with RFID tag is natural in places, but is it for everbody.

Why are the failures important to analyze?

  • Generally they’re good ideas, but just here before their time. For example, videophone was a filaure as a phone, but look at people who use skpye, videophone is a huge success. It was just the wrong shape.
  • Failures results in more detailed critique, there are many documenation on things that have failed. It’s a great material for design.

We must learn to spot failures, we need to document them extensively, and turn failure into a design strategy.

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