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Jérôme Augui: It’s true, design is a very important part of the user experience. Product design – which is my area – is a driver of service quality. It is one of the constituent parts, its tangible and material dimension. To ensure consistency and control along the whole chain, Orange has decided to work on a number of key iconic objects, and to put its stamp on these objects, thereby guaranteeing an optimal experience. Pleasure begins with the absence of displeasure… So our aim is to focus on every single detail: they may be drops in the ocean, but they are liable to make people reluctant or hesitant to use products.
Frédéric Mit: It is now clear to us that design has to be an early-stage consideration. For us as designers, this is nothing new, but Apple’s comeback with the iPod really brought it to everyone’s attention. And, just as there are people who at an early stage of the product development process focus on technological or marketing aspects, there is a strategy in design: we have people who give us a steer and prepare the ground so that we know what to work on and when. In a nutshell: “designing the right thing before designing the thing right”. We could design a car that is the most beautiful vehicle, both from an aesthetic and functional perspective, but if we had no specific need to respond to, the car wouldn’t find a buyer. Integrating design into innovation also means identifying what people need at a given moment.
J.A.: Yes, that’s it: identifying true needs so that we can then provide the right response. D&U makes an active contribution by providing an early multi-sensory conceptual and pragmatic response by means of sound, interface, interaction and product design.
F.M.: To simplify, marketing is the language of the customer, technology is the language of the machine, and design is the language of the user.
F.M.: Yes. It’s a very interesting subject and I think it is important that the question is being asked now. Today we face an enormous challenge; so many things have already been done and imagined. Interfaces in science fiction, for instance. We will have to go beyond Minority Report. But we might also stop short… Take the example of videophony: a few years ago we were still exploring the field. Now we’re starting to see the world we dreamt up being realised, and we’re actually seeing video calls become part of our daily lives. In the digital space, when will the trajectories of science fact and science fiction converge? Or might they not? Which dreams will not be realised?
J.A.: It’s becoming clear that reality is actually more surprising than the science fiction films of the 1960s. Some technological sea changes were never anticipated and have opened up new fields of investigation. This shows that when you’re creating the future, you can’t remain grounded. That’s the approach I take and it’s the most difficult thing to achieve: anticipating and betting on a still-uncertain future, which might lead to something unexpected.
An example which illustrates how we have gone further than SF and the idea of full virtualisation.
J.A.: They’ll have to successfully make the link between science fiction, analysis of the present, and the unexpected. The real future will be the result of something unexpected, and it will be a technological sea change.
F.M.: There are two challenges: the ideas the students might develop, and support. They need to be wary of the first idea that comes to mind and solutions that are too obvious. As for us, we need to be able to identify the right idea and successfully guide its development. I’ve seen projects that seemed to get off to very bad starts but ended up being extraordinary. I’ve also seen students turn up with something too neat and then fall flat on their face. Last year, I found Le Confessionnel very appealing, because it was a project that asked questions of us. It evoked something very personal, an intimate space in the house, and gave you something to confide in. To confide in a digital object and then print your confession. I found this rematerialisation very inspiring.
The danger is that you get sidetracked by a false innovation or a gadget. What might once have been excusable no longer is. Students have access to all the academic research they could need, and the chance to gather the data needed to look at something objectively. You just have to go on to the MIT site to find some brilliant projects! Transparent speakers, video cameras that film, record the sound and play the information back to visually impaired people. They need to do a lot of initial research, explore, and design nothing for a while so they can imagine a future that it is up to them to shape (it is the students that choose the temporal setting for their project, ed.). Which is very interesting for them, but will probably be very difficult for the jury when they come to make their deliberations (laughter).