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SIMPLE PRODUCT DESIGN FOR SIMPLE FOLK A plea to product designers from Thomas Wensma of Ambassador Lighting.


“Users react very positively when things are clear and understandable...”


Something Dieter Rams (long time Chief of Design at Braun) said very truthfully in the 2009 documentary ‘Objectified’ (www.objectifiedfilm.com). And yet so many lighting manufactur- ers don’t use this wisdom when designing their products. They are not clear and not understandable. They feel cluttered, are not intuitive and are poorly designed. And I don’t just mean aesthetically either. People need to love the products they use, like to touch it, see it and ‘play’ with it. This means when designing the products, we have to think about form, material and the overall process of how users will con- nect with the product.


Designers need to ask themselves ‘How profound is the emotional connection?’ In this day and age we hardly see really good design anymore. Lamps and luminaires, for example, are products we look at and interact with on a daily basis (many times subconsciously) at our work place and even at home. If we are not seeing light bulbs, and hiding them, this could already be saying something to us; their aesthetic design simply is not good enough. Of course aesthetic design is a difficult topic, as perceived beauty of aesthetic design is also a matter of taste. There are guidelines of good design though. Unfortunately, they are not being followed for much of the time. Products are designed cheaply, simply and without an all-important focus and effort. They are the same as ever, not new and not exciting. And yet we as an industry expect users to spend big money on them (espe- cially LED products compared to incandes- cent and fluorescent). If people don’t love the products or perceive added value, they won’t lay down the money.


LED and, in the (near) future, OLED will of- fer us many possibilities that we didn’t have before. Improved lighting control is one of them. Combining LED with controls gives us many amazing possibilities of flexibility in designing our lighting projects. In the next few years lighting control will be part of an integrated system. These integrated systems will not only include lighting, but our entire energy management and entertainment systems. These systems already exist separately. In order for them to become more pervasive though, they need to be integrated into one system that very intuitively works together with simple and easy to use control. To achieve this, both hardware and software need to be very well designed. To make the hardware as less intrusive as possible, software needs to be designed very smartly and to be able


to handle complex tasks while staying easy to use. And this not only goes for the ‘pro- fessional’ market either. It might even be more true and important for the consumer market.


And yet, we are still far from having a system that works. In so many cases we still need four remotes just for our enter- tainment system or have one that is too difficult to use.


Coming back to lighting, in most homes we still just have many lamps that are con- nected to dimmers that we need to operate separately. Consumers want to set differ- ent ‘moods’ at home but it should be easy and intuitive. With LED (and in the future, OLED) we can easily achieve this. LED is different to incandescent. Instead of accepting this and marketing LED lamps from this different perspective, lighting companies are selling these lamps as if they have the same properties - trying to con- vince consumers they have the same ‘warm colour’ as incandescent and are also dim- mable. LED lamps are much more expensive than incandescent lamps, but they will last for many years. This means in perception it becomes a different type of product in itself. It’s not so much a consumer product anymore (short term use) but a user product (long term use).


Sales and marketing haven’t change at all though. For the consumer market it feels like almost nothing has changed, except a higher price and light that is not as ‘warm’ as their incandescent. People are not buy- ing the products, so there is not enough (perceived) value. There are a few products that are good, but the entire marketing, brand image and sale through retail has not changed at all. This way, when innovation happens, it’s not communicated to the end users.


Again, the solution is design. Design of the products needs to very good, but the entire process from marketing to retail needs to get the same attention and thought from a design perspective. Design starts with a thought process, resulting in products and after that business process. It all ‘needs to make sense’ for the user. And there is a key point in that exact thing. I think we have to look at products from a user perspective. I am not saying products for the ‘professional’ market will always be the best for the consumer market, but I do believe something I tweeted not that long ago: If we as ‘professionals’ use a product as a consumer (which we all are) you know a product is a success. This is something Apple did with the iPhone, for example. This means light bulbs, controls and systems that are so brilliantly designed and thus so


easy to use work just as well for ‘profes- sional’ users as they would for consumers. In the end we are all simply just ‘users’. Current technology enables us to make incredibly thin, complex and diverse, high quality products. It’s about combining this technology with good design into something new. And that takes guts. To do something different. Not just making what consumers want and ask for. Instead make something new and exciting that consumers didn’t think of.


So, for example, instead of taking the aesthetic design from an incandescent lamp and just using that for LED, start from scratch and come up with new and better solutions. That means different shapes, materials, forms and smarter / better engineering.


When new shapes and materials are used, the perspective of consumers will be new and different as well. This will be fairer and benefit the adoption of LED lamps. Rogier van der Heide said, at TEDxAmster- dam 2011, not too long ago: “innovation does not happen in a vacuum ... innovation has to be meaningful”. A project Rogier worked on, creating il- luminated costumes for the Black Eyed Peas making use of LED and OLED, is a nice ex- ample of this. Creating something new that people didn’t think of, but now want to have. And yet, except from a few projects like that, I feel the lighting industry still, very much, is operating in a vacuum. The point I am making here is that we need to work together with people in different fields to be more innovative within entire businesses. Not keep innovation isolated within a few projects or products. I think truly great design is key in this. At the moment there are so many products (lamps, luminaires, controls etc.) on the market that are frankly just lousy in their designs. And again, design is not just the aesthetics either.


I even doubt we need so many different products for each category (do we really need so many different spots, floodlights and linear LED systems?).


The lighting industry as it is, takes the perspective of new technology and trans- forms that into different designs. I feel the right way is to always take the perspective of great design and use new technology in those designs. As such, make them even better and have them make sense and a joy to use by both professional users as well as consumers.


Thomas Wensma, Ambassador Lighting info@thomaswensma.nl twitter.com/thomaswensma


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