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Chapter 4 — The Perfect Meta Product

4.6 Enhancing Quality of Life

As a designer you are immersed in deadlines and competition, you want to be appreciated, be able to pay the bills, keep the clients happy, innovate and be successful. And whatever type of designer you may be, you almost certainly have somehow an inner urge to 'do good' to the world around you as well. And this makes sense, because it's not about something like morals, you are simply used to thinking positively. After all, most of your design projects are about improving things and finding solutions. However, that positive thinking and that inner urge is typically not enough to prevent you compromising on your view, and while the client might be happy, you might in fact be polluting the planet or diminishing someone else's quality of life. We believe this is just one of the many consequences of the 'old way' of doing things. We are constantly changing, which means we are also changing our technology to help us actually do some good to the world (or at least stop damaging it).

We have this world with ridiculous amounts of damage of different kinds and we cannot pretend designers were not implicated in many ways in that. Now we are aware designers are social actors, we are designing the world through our devices, products and services. And that is what I mean with being more in tune with the consequences, to look at the bigger picture and be self-conscious of the impact of what you're doing. — LUCY KIMBELL

In fact, designing for our connected world can help us make people's lives better and enhance their quality of life while running successful business networks as well. More importantly, designing for our connected world can help us be aware of the reach and impact the Meta Products we design can have in the world. This idea is interwoven into the whole mindset of the design approach we are presenting in this book. In fact, much of our inspiration has been derived from research literature on assessing quality of life. First of all, quality of life is defined as an overall general well-being result of the objective life conditions and the subjective evaluations of those conditions based on a set of values12Felce, D., & Welsh, P., 1995. Quality of Life: Its Definition and Measurement. Research in Developmental Disabilities. Centre for Learning Disabilities, Applied Research Unit, College of Medicine, University of Wales, 16, p.51-74.. We looked at the way researchers assess quality of life and we saw that this assessment model can also serve as a foundation when designing Meta Products. How? you could use this assessment model to design Meta Products. First of all by empathizing with the way people give importance to what they do and how they feel satisfied with their lives, both in collective and individual human dimensions. Secondly, by thinking in 'networks'. When you think in networks, you are able to trace the impact of the interactions you design more easily than when you design with a focus on a brand or on a particular customer. The way Meta Products get to be designed, the way we get to access, share and change information through the web and other ubiquitous technologies will have a big impact on our lives. Will they make our lives better? As Lucy Kimbell expressed, “designing Meta Products is about accountability… who do we want to be accountable to as designers? To other designers? To our clients? This question has to be answered very distinctly.”

I think we live in a contradiction of mindsets. For example, look at how ants behave; they have a totally sustainable economy in one colony. The colony never grows, it is a stable colony and everybody has tasks that are totally defined. If you look at human society, it is similar, although we are not sustainable and that's the key. We, as the ants, have our little clusters, and that's it, we can't handle more than that, nor do we need to. But the other mindset is the technology which enables us to travel everywhere in the world, and access every kind of information, and this is actually infinite. There comes a point when people start to struggle to sort out what they need for themselves, because there is only so much that we actually need. I think we have to focus on that and on the different types of clusters the human society is creating, and the different 'presentation' of the clusters that we have been used to from the old days. For example, in the old days you had a particular kind of contact with the people in the street and your friends from your neighbourhood; now you have virtual contact with people located far away, but even if you have a list of 200 virtual 'friends' you normally only have contact with a few. — MADDY JANSE

Up to this point, this may sound rather philosophical. We are not philosophers or sociologists, but we can get the best out of all these sociological reflections in order to design things that will actually do good to more people in the world.

Tracing the impact on people's quality of life of the Meta Products you design, with a view to fostering improvement, is an ideal that is achievable because the elements of a Meta Product are potentially 'intelligent'. You can see this with the emerging e-healthcare industry. Meta Products enable healthcare services that were impossible before because now we can sense, measure and track our body performance, temperature, blood pressure, sugar levels, and so on. And most importantly, we are finding out ways to filter meaningful information immediately in order to receive appropriate medical treatment. E-healthcare development is one of the most representative industries that reflect the network nature of Meta Products. In the Netherlands, government, technology, device and service providers, specialists and designers are working to develop local e-healthcare networks that can help the aging population to remain at home longer and enhance their quality of life as much as possible14Online available at: http://www.cogknow.eu, http://www.amsterdamlivinglab.nl [Accessed June 15, 2011].. Looking at the increasing aging population this is quite a task for many countries in Europe. But it is clear that the only way to take on this task is to create an e-healthcare network that provides value to everyone involved (elderly, their family, the formal care institutions, the government, and so on). Other industries can also identify possibilities where data and information can be sensed, measured, tracked and translated into useful interactions. For example, achieving efficiency in manufacturing by identifying mistakes earlier in the process, or reducing waste that wasn't able to be measured before, or protecting species that were not accessible before, and so on. In any case, we believe that now is the right time to direct our efforts towards enhancing the quality of life of the people that will use the networks you design instead of adding new problems.

…the way is to start building it upon the human experience and the human needs. Then you will realize that there are certain things that can leave some room for technologies or new products and services. The value is to reduce complexity…there is no actual need to have new devices or objects that compete with each other. — FEDERICO CASALEGNO
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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.