Design Thinking


Every designer needs to look somewhere for inspiration and ideas. Design Thinking is Andrew Taylor’s   speciality. He has kindly written a story about how a designer got inspiration for the next big thing.

Andrew has worked with design engineering and industrial design. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts with a keen interest in futuristic products. Enjoy!

Adaptation and Re-Use

Yesterday I came across a curious 1950s French table lamp. It looked perfectly normal with its wired fabric shade, but on closer inspection it was obvious that the stem had once been a smoked-glass candle-stick, and the base was an inverted glass ash tray. The cable passed under a slot originally intended to hold the cigarette. Two manufactured items that had failed to sell had been incorporated into a single product that sold well.

Now you could argue that the re-use of components in this way is just expediency; using whatever comes to hand to do the job; and in this context the process sounds undignified because it suggests a lack of creative thinking. But it is a perfect example of adaptation and re-use as envisaged by Bob Eberle when he proposed the SCAMPER mnemonic. I tried to think of other examples of a solution being re-used in a new context. Of course there’s bio-mimicry in which a solution is borrowed from nature and adapted, but I was looking for an example of a tired old solution being parachuted directly into a new and different problem. I trawled my memory.

In the mid 1980s, telephone companies around the world realised that a new age was dawning – the so-called Information Age. There was no internet, windows were for letting light into houses, and a browser was someone who wandered aimlessly around antique shops. A few major cities were starting to trial mobile phones, and the first truly mobile phone appeared on the market. This phone – the Motorola DynaTAC – was heavy, had a standard numerical keypad, and could display a single phone number.

At one particular brainstorming session, the Motorola was on the table, and the task was to dream up exciting new uses for mobile phone networks. All the usual ideas came up:

Build a voice answering machine in the network.

Fit a bigger display for Teletext reception.

Insert your credit card and key your PIN number.

Fit a camera and send your photo.

Play interactive games.

… and so on.

Then someone asked ‘Why are there no letters on this keypad?’

The keypad letters (2=ABC, 3=DEF, etc) had been around for some time as a way to make phone numbers more memorable. For example, a garden supplies shop might want to have the phone number 0555-GARDEN, which would be keyed as 0555-427336. Although popular in the US, businesses here in the UK showed little interest, and the idea was quietly dropped.

‘I was just thinking’ said our brainstormer, ‘If you had letters on the keypad and a bigger display, you could type in short messages and send them between phones’. And there it was – the next big thing – TXT messaging.

Thanks Andrew!

Photo: Telephone Dial Pad by Stuart Miles

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