Why Design Now? Guided Tour

Client: Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

Project: Object-specific Gallery Tour.

In Brief: Curated in conjunction with the Why Design Now? triennial exhibition, and under the supervision of curators Matilda Mcquaid, Andrea Lipps and Ellen Lupton, this tour examines the dissolving boundaries between man, mind and machine—and ends in the gift shop.




 Why Design Now: 3 Object Gallery Tour

Hello Everyone,

It’s great to see you all here at the Cooper Hewitt national design museum today. I will be taking you on a short journey through the museum’s Triennial show, where we’ll be looking at a few selections of the objects on display and talking about their significance to the show. Hopefully it will help to give each of you a different framework to look at the rest of the collection!

The theme of the triennial—as you can probably see from the freeway signs—is “Why Design Now?” It recognizes that we find ourselves at a critical point of change in the design world, and these objects try to anticipate how those changes will manifest in the coming years and decades. Through the pieces we will talk about today, we can begin to examine how seemingly very different objects and technologies each have connected and unexpected effects of how you do, and will, live you everyday lives.

The Amazon Kindle made a big splash when it first came out in November 19, 2007. In fact it sold out in just under six hours and remained so for months after. This particular version is the third generation of the Kindle, the Kindle DX that came on the market in June of 2009. Like the Apple iPod and iTunes, the Kindle promised to connect readers with a infinite digitized library accessible through a free internet connection. We’re still seeing how the E-reader is making its place in the world. It certainly is popping up on the subways a lot more.

But Amazon is aiming to change the way we read, shifting from thousands of years of paper to electronic ink. But it’s a double-edged page. It saves paper, but it uses more plastics and mineral sources, and a lot of people complain about the reading experience verses the tactile quality of traditional books. But the biggest controversy is that of ownership rights and censorship, which came to the fore ironically when a digital copy of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 was remotely removed from customer’s Kindles when the digital copyright came under dispute. Just like DRM has tried to manage private use of digital music, how will this affect the sharing and ownership of books in the future?

Perhaps this issue wont even be solved by the Kindle, maybe not even specifically another E-reader… in fact it’s main competition is right here next to it.

The apple iPhone.

On March 3, 2009, Amazon.com launched an application called Kindle for iPhone in the iTunes App Store, allowing iPhone and iPod Touch owners to read Kindle content on those devices. In a way the Kindle owns its conception to the iPhone—and its precursor the iPod. These technologies popularized the typology of the mini-screened personal digital device.

The i-devices were designed by Apple computers’ style guru, Jonathan Ive. With their simplicity and their dynamic user interfaces the I-s had it. What started with a music player began to integrate and replace dozens of other devices by the time the iPhone emerged in June of 2007. Three years later the iPhone is everywhere, and its changed the way we communicate. Whatever your take on it, this little guy continues a takeover of every aspect of life in a way that makes the Kindle’s book revolution seem quaint.

In fact, you might have noticed the station at the entrance to the exhibit, where you can even rent out a special iPod touch that can guide you through the rest of the exhibition with additional information and media about the show.

While the Kindle seeks to replace paper books and the iPhone wants to replace… well,  everything…  Our last object gets even more personal— the bionic arm from the John Hopkin’s University Applied physics Lab. At first glance and even at a second this is an amazing and rather heartwarming thing. It is a major revolution in prosthetics and through four levels of neural connection it allows those who have lost their natural limbs the ability to gain back not only the use of arms and hands, but even the sensation of touch. But at the same time it is interesting that this technology is emerging from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Maybe Steve Austin, the Six million dollar Man isn’t to stay fiction much longer? Just as new technology can replace phones and clocks and calendars and books. Will advancement in cybernetics eventually enable us to willingly replace parts ourselves?

The kindle provides a more versatile reading experience at the cost of tactility. Is it the same bargain to give up your hands for mechanized super strength? There is an interesting TED conference talk with athlete and model Aimee Mullins. Aimee was born without fibula, the bones of her lower leg. But in place of her amputated legs she has various custom prosthetics that allow her to become taller or shorter at will, or even faster, with specialized running legs. Perhaps at some point in the near future, with the progression of this technology being an amputee might be seen as an opportunity rather than a disadvantage?

Through these three objects, you can begin to see a story emerging of how the status quo is undergoing an aggressive shift. We need to be actively shaping and examining how these new technologies are shaping our future. That is why Design—then and NOW—is important.



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