Let’s get physical: How digital tech is merging into the real world
Physical product design is enjoying a major comeback, says pretty much everyone at Digital Shoreditch’s ‘MAKE’ day.
Navid Gornall's 'how to eat your own face' talk
The event might be called Digital Shoreditch, but physical innovation was the name of the game on day one, made clear by the number of sessions on the agenda dedicated to 3D printing. In addition to revolutionising the fashion and jewellery industries by reducing the cost of mass production and empowering consumers to seek out bespoke pieces, 3D printing is also emerging as a new medium for brand storytelling.
Jon Fidler, director at Modla, created a shoe sculpture for Converse which incorporated key elements from the company’s long and colourful history, complete with a fighter jet symbolising the fact that Converse supplied the entire US military with All Stars for training during World War Two. Fidler’s other projects have included items as diverse as wildlife-spotting equipment and architects’ models, signalling this as a technology with near-limitless potential.
How to eat your own face
It is even possible to leverage 3D printing in the medium of food, as Ogilvy’s creative technologist Navid Gornall proved when he served up ‘burger selfies’ at a live event for Hellmann’s Summer Hacks. His goal was to capitalise on the three trends currently seared into the modern psyche; fancy street food, 3D printing, and selfies. Gornall fused the three trends by crafting selfies out of mayonnaise using a 3D printer.
The only problem was that, funnily enough, there was no commercial device designed to push viscous fluid through tubes with such precision – so Gornall made one himself. The result was a hugely successful event for Hellmann’s, where customers had their photos taken at a food truck in London’s Granary Square and could then watch as their face was transposed, through mayo, onto a gourmet patty (and then promptly scarfed).
The convergence of the digital and the physical
3D printing aside, plenty of other speakers at ‘MAKE’ day had something to say about the increasing convergence of the digital and physical realms. Ursula Davies, managing director of Makerversity, believes that as robots continue to make our lives easier on a day to day basis, we will return to physical making as a source of creative fulfilment. Makerversity provides co-working space in which designers can work on product prototypes across a wide range of new materials, tools and technologies.
Their members also make up their faculty, which delivers learning programmes in making to schools. This creative and practical community hosts ‘makeathons’ which often result in a fusion of digital and physical technology, be it a light bulb for shared spaces which flashes to let people know when they are being too noisy, or a set of headphones which can be worn on the jaw, enabling users to listen to music safely while cycling.
“We are physical beings,” says Gareth James, chief creative officer of TMW Unlimited. “It’s important to try and break away from the touchscreen.” In fact, you can have a great deal of fun coming up with alternatives to the touchscreen – it’s all about context. For an office party, James created a ‘drunk-proof’ photo booth with the face of the Cheshire Cat, which automatically took photos when somebody nearby smiled, removing the need for touch entirely.
Gareth James speaks at Digital Shoreditch
James has also bridged the digital and physical worlds to solve problems in his family life, such as the fact that his mother in Wales never knows when he is available in Brighton to speak on Skype. He overcame this with a little inspiration from the Weasley family clock in the Harry Potter books, and equipped a picture frame with LEDs which lights up when he is online; his mother can now tap the frame when she wants him to call her, generating an SMS alert. The harder the tap, the more urgent the message; always handy when mum wants a word.
While the actual user interface might be disappearing, either into the walls of our connected homes or closer to our bodies in the form of wearable tech, that doesn’t mean interaction has to end. Drunk people will still walk up to Cheshire Cats.
“Whatever you design,” says James, “just don’t design it to be invisible.”
Philip Ellis is a journalist for OgilvyDo.com, Ogilvy’s global thought leadership channel. The Drum and Ogilvy UK are working in partnership to share the latest thinking from Digital Shoreditch 2015. Read more at The Drum’s Digital Shoreditch hub