Load previous section
Chapter 2 — Visualize the Future
2.4 Where's the Value?
The value we assign to our relationships or the things we buy, to the activities we perform or whatever we exchange (time, money, knowledge, and so on) varies over time as our aspirations continue to change. For example, over the last ten years Chinese youngsters have increasingly been consuming at KFC, McDonalds, Papa John's and Pizza Hut as a way of experiencing some sort of Western culture. They assign different values to their local food, and even though they are aware of the health issues associated with eating fast food, the value they perceive when going out with friends to eat at Pizza Hut goes beyond any health issue. Additionally, fast food in China is quite expensive compared with some local food vendors. But they are prepared to pay for it, and at the weekends these restaurants are always crowded with Chinese youth eager to live the Western eating experience. They do value their own culture but they are also very curious about all things Western, because these are new and very different from their own. From their point of view, tasting the Western culture is actually quite an 'authentic' experience. Compare this to fast food companies investing a lot of effort in meeting the wishes of Western consumers that are already familiar with fast food and are looking for authentic experiences in healthier and more sustainable foods. We could conclude then that as we achieve our aspirations, we start building new ones and so our perception of value keeps on changing, it is a fuzzy process. Designers should keep a close eye on the fuzzy process of value perception. The best work of Rembrandt (1606 – 1669) was considered by most of his contemporaries to be tasteless and eccentric. This perception prevailed until the 19th century, at which point his artwork was re-evaluated by a new society in which the ideas of Goethe and other contemporaries of the Age of Reason were seeking rational, critical, and genuinely open discussions of ideas. The value perceived in Rembrandt's work changed as the aspirations of people changed.
The truth is that, regardless of geography, today we are looking for 'authentic' experiences. Do you recall when it was exceptional to have WiFi available in a coffee place? Well now it's just a commodity because most coffee places offer it. You just expect to have an internet connection when you're drinking coffee. The fact that the coffee comes in a recyclable cup with a Fair Trade label is what makes the whole thing an authentic experience, and this will probably soon become something we all come to expect when we drink coffee outside our homes. Again, the value perception changed as our aspirations changed.
Today, people's aspirations pose a threat to 'old-fashioned' corporations. Since in fact, these aspirations, as explained in the previous chapter, are the result of our society's quest for alternatives, immediateness, and active participation, and so on. In fact, no single product (in the industrialized sense) can adapt to the fast pace and complex aspirations people are building nowadays. Take a look at the 2011 BrandFinance® Global 500 report, and you'll see that Google tops the list, ahead of Coca-Cola and Walmart. The web, so far, has been one of the best tools for helping you to get and express whatever you want. Your aspirations might push the web to provide interactions that are more natural, more personal and more intelligent. And, of course this will lead to new perceptions of value. What do you think these will become? One of these new perceptions, we believe, is the value of ownership. We mentioned it briefly in chapter 1. What was considered valuable to own yesterday, might be worthless today. Why would you want to own a car at all times, with all the hassle of maintenance, parking space and taxes, when what you really value are the moments on the highway when you feel free and adventurous?
We are witnessing this change because today we attach value to owning moments and living in the 'now' when using our products and services. What would the impact of all this be for you? Our hunch is that the more we value our personal moments, the more our technology will have to be instant and intuitive, and the more 'alive' the network of products and services will be. Maybe there will come a point where everything around us will become part of a living network.
In their essay entitled “Aerotropolis, The Way We'll Live Next”4Kasarda, J. D. & Lindsay, G., Aerotropolis, The Way We’ll Live Next. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Greg Lindsay and John D. Kasarda visualize the on-going efforts of Cisco to build Songdo in South Korea. An instant, smart, sustainable city and business hub, in other words, a living network: “Picture a Cisco-built digital infrastructure wired to Cisco's TelePresence videoconferencing screens mounted in every home and office, with engineers listening, learning, and releasing new Cisco-branded bandwidth-hungry services in exchange for modest monthly fees. Cisco intends to offer cities as a service, bundling urban necessities (water, power, traffic, telephony) into a single, internet-enabled utility, taking a little extra off the top of every resident's bill. As preached by both Cisco and IBM, the internet will be the next big utility, tying all other utilities together. Hook cities up to the right mix of sensors and software, their thinking goes, and who knows what efficiencies might be revealed? Songdo will be the first city-wide experiment. From the trunk lines running beneath the streets to the filaments branching through every wall and fixture, it promises this city will 'run on information'. Cisco's control room will be New Songdo's brain stem4”.
This isn't the first time people have tried to make instant cities; in the 50's, the instant city of Brasilia was built based on a different set of ideals, and it failed due to political reasons. Other cities, like Shenzhen and Dubai, were built in record time due to the sudden economic wealth of those countries. Today 50% of the population live in cities and this percentage will probably increase. We're not sure if the concept of an instant city is what we really aspire to in our lives, but the point here is that the city itself will become a living network where immediate and intuitive technologies will come together. And yes, our information will be the 'fuel' for everything. The key for you as a designer is to reflect and observe closely which and whose aspirations are actually being realized.
We can see today the potential our technologies offer us to access, share and create information. It is quite evident that the more computable the world becomes, the more connected our world will be. But perhaps the word connected doesn't fully describe what might very likely happen. The way we use our services and products, and actually the way we do many of the most important things in our lives will be nourished by smart manipulations of data performed by the web and other ubiquitous technologies. These manipulations will be the next layer on top of the connectedness we are living nowadays, transforming our services, products and activities into some sort of organisms or living networks where both global and local information (including personal information such as what you're eating or where you are) will stream past, in environments that are always ready for you to interact with. You might want to pay close attention to this because it means that whatever you might design, it will probably become part of a living network of products, services and environments.
Value is a complex concept that has a multitude of faces, but perhaps in the overall scene of the internet of things there is value in the possibility that it gives us to measure, manage and being told if what we are doing is less efficient than something else. Especially when the effects are on larger scales, such as the consumption of energy, for example. So when this value is recognized it actually changes behaviors… if I can know how if I take two minutes less showering than usual I can actually save resources. Another similar value but in an individual perspective is “personal informatics”, the internet of things offers a possibility not only to measure and track my personal information, but to act in intelligent ways. So for example how much I run, how much sugar is in my blood, how much energy I consume… and gives the intelligent tools to make good decisions about ourselves. — ALEXANDRA DESCHAMPS-SONSINO
Recently, Sigve Brekke, Executive Vice President and Head of Asia of Telenor, mentioned at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that technology is enabling us to get so much data from people that it is becoming difficult to distinguish the information that is actually useful. He also mentioned that the future will produce more microsegmentation of markets. According to Wikipedia, “a microsegment is an extremely precise division of a market, typically identified by marketers through advanced technology and techniques, such as data mining, artificial intelligence, and algorithms. These technologies and techniques are used to recognize and predict minute consumer spending and behavioural patterns.” We would then suggest adding a layer of co-creation to this microsegmentation technique. By co-creation we mean the active participation of people in the design of their own services and products. Why? Because as we explained in the beginning of this chapter, our value perception changes over time as our aspirations continue to change too. So, it makes sense to strategically put people right in the design process. It doesn't have to be expensive or complicated to co-create, and it might help designers hit the spot right when aspirations are changing. In chapter 5 we recommend some steps and tools for co-creation.
Many ideas exist about what the future holds in store for us. They might provide us with inspiration, but perhaps you want a bit more than that. If so, maybe our recommendations will help you to adopt a reflective practice and envision the future that is relevant for you. It doesn't have to be something that's far removed from you, it could be a client, your neighbour or a group of friends. Reflect on the way they have dealt with their past and how they are building their ideas of the future. Think of how their aspirations change over time; try to co-create with them and to be conscious of the impact of the information that built your interactions can have. We're sure this will help you design meaningful Meta Products with recognizable value.
Tired of reading from screen?
Why not order the real thing?
Meta Products - Meaningful Design For Our Connected World
Same contents, but complemented with a more detailed description of Network Focused Design, summary insights per chapter and even more cases and Q&A sections.order