As John Thackara says, “This shift in emphasis from what things look like to how they behave – from designing on the world to designing in the world – is a big one for design… Designing in such a framework becomes a process of continuous observation, measurement and feedback. (214)” Feedback and constant innovation is key to the two seemingly different systems we will highlight. Innovation that tweaks behavior through minor design decisions can have profound impacts.
UPS exemplifies how companies are designing systems that do more than just sell products or provide services. Logistics experts like the ones at UPS are redesigning the way consumers and other companies construct business plans, monitor productivity and interact with objects. In “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century,” Thomas Friedman discusses the system that UPS has created to optimize the relationship among people, objects and distance in relation to time.
The familiar (and copyrighted) color brown of the trucks and uniforms, our neighborhood driver and the behind the scenes logistics all form a seamless experience of sending and shipping. These are the essentials of UPS’ business and behavior design. Their service is about products moving through the system at competitive speeds and delivering packages safely. UPS creates an experience around the idea of efficiency.
UPS has studied each part of their system – from pick–up to delivery and back again – to understand where they can improve this efficiency. Packages are meticulously loaded into trucks so drivers instinctively know where to find each package. Left turns have been taken out of routes so as to not waste time waiting for stoplights to change. UPS has designed keys with key rings for drivers to wear around their fingers. This simple object was designed after analyzing the context and noting that drivers waste time fumbling for keys. Designed objects, such as the key ring, change the behavior of drivers. In effect, UPS has become a company that designs ways for objects and behaviors to work together in order to create more efficient systems.
Lets take a look at another system that involves the interplay between object and behavior working together to create a more efficient system. Take prosthetics, for example: we are inputting external objects into our bodily systems. In the past, designers tried to create prosthetic limbs that mimicked the appearance of biological limbs. The assumption was that the importance of a prosthetic was to “trick” people into thinking that the arm or leg is real. The problem, however, was that it lacked true functionality. More recently, various designers, like Hugh Herr, the director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab, have challenged this idea. He says, “We want [the prosthetic] to look like a beautiful machine, to express machine beauty as opposed to human beauty — and the reason is, we want the user to… expose the fact that part of their body is bionic.” Herr has freed the bionic arm from the constraints of physically looking like a biological arm so that it can start to function as one. This new design replaces the aesthetic needs of the person with functionality needs to create a more efficient system.
In essence, the UPS and prosthetic systems are affected by the interaction between object and behavior. As Professor Dilnot writes in reference to Elaine Scarry’s book, The Body in Pain, “an intimate relation exists between the making of objects, and the making of ourselves as subjects.” So the question we can ask now is, how are these designed object and behaviors affecting us as the subject?
Bridget + Maggie