NEW TECHNOLOGIES = NEW PRODUCTS = NEW DISCIPLINES?
As new aspects and inventions emerge, they will be included in architecture and design, and form new disciplines within the field. It has happened throughout history and with increasing speed in the last two centuries on the basis of mechanisation and industrialization and it is happening in these years by the integration of IT into almost every aspect of human activities.
In many ways technology has changed the premises of design and architecture, causing a discussion of its future role, which has been responded to by the creation of new disciplines e.g. with the creation of Industrial Design as one of the most prominent and widespread new disciplines. In the recent years there has been an increasing awareness of the fact, that digital technologies in the near future will form a more inherent part of physical products, just as the properties of the products will increasingly be defined by the characteristics of its networking and digital potential. Though this has been true for a long time (TV sets, radios, telephones etc. have for a long time been next to useless if not connected to a wide network) the ever increasing capacity and complexity of IT enhanced products demand the possession of skills that lay beyond the traditional skills taught and practised within design and architecture, forcing new disciplines to be formed. Commonly these new disciplines are denoted "InteractionDesign".
A new material in design and architecture
Traditionally within design and architecture, material is considered the basis of form, and a guiding parameter for the realisation of form. IT can in its mergence with physical objects be considered a new material that by its properties and extensive influence on our environment challenges our perception of form. Though being real, i.e. endowed with properties that can be sensed, IT has immaterial characteristics. To design no longer mainly leads to the creation of physically finished and static works of art, but also to the emergence of dynamic artefacts and spatial constructions that develop as they are being used. IT enhanced artefacts are in this way dependent of their context of usage, informing and influencing the expression related to its architecture and design.
One of the more mundane examples of an object that has become "intelligent/smart", through the use of IT, is the toy "Furby": a cute small teddy that has been stuffed with electronics, sensors, actuators and a communication port (fig. 1 & 2). The toy arrives with the ability to speak "Furbish", but enabled by Artificial Intelligence (AI) software the toy is capable of "learning" up to 1.000 English words and sentences just by "listening" to the user talking to the toy. Through sensors "Furby" detects users handling of it (is it hugged and tickled, what words are spoken etc.). This combination of detected acts is through the toys AI related and combined and communicated back to the user, whereby the toy seemingly acts as if it is aware of context e.g. if you speaks gentle and nice words while you tickle the toy, it will learn to speak gentle and sweet words when tickled. The toy mediates a kind of feelings and expressions, seemingly generated by the toy, that are appropriate or equivalent to the way the user handles and speaks to the toy. Furthermore, as the "Furby" has been introduced, independent web sites have emerged informing how to hack the "Furby" and apply it with new software to make it act differently from how it was originally programmed! In this way the "Furby" is far from being a finished design product when we buy it in a shop; we the users has become the designers.
Products of this kind, which properties are defined by software, not necessarily artificial intelligence, will be an increasing part of our consumer products. Designing artefacts as the "Furby" goes beyond any known discipline - no single discipline can embrace the multitude of questions the design team of "Furby" must have encountered e.g. how to design experiences, how to design for users unforeseen and creative use of the provided artefacts etc.
A new design paradigm
To perceive and react it is necessary for people to be able to relate sensations to something known and/or learned. But how can we endower points of reference in a dynamic context? How will these points of reference manifest them selves in a dynamic environment where the possibilities at hand constantly evolves through user interactions and manipulations changing the cultural framework for the perception of an artefact or the whole environment?
Dealing with questions like these will indicate the possibilities to form a new design paradigm. A paradigm that will embrace the never concluded design artefact and frame which parts of our environment that in the future will be subject to design. Products cannot alone be regarded as the result of a design process, but merely designing the act and limitations of using an artefact inspiring and enabling the user to form the provided artefact.
Architects and designers are not the only ones facing extensive challenges. By applying IT to design and architecture, the whole concept of interacting with computers will change e.g. the way computer scientists work. The people in this area are becoming multidisciplinary themselves and cannot be regarded as 'clear-cut' architects, computer scientists, sociologists etc. Everybody acts as designers with various perspectives, not defined by ones disciplinary background but based on personal qualifications achieved through a continuous series of studies that together forms a design approach. The design teams of these - both present and future - artefacts can to some extend be seen as "post disciplinary" with overlapping qualifications making it hard to tell one from another in terms of responsibility and interest. The only things firm in these complex processes is the necessity of corporation and change.