Spring Clocks circa 1400 AD
I was wondering the other day what the earliest device was. And this was my guess: spring-
wound clocks from Germany from the start of the Renaissance. But I was way, way off. If we
use as the criteria that devices, unlike tools, don’t utilize human muscle to power them, the
earliest devices were 5000 years earlier:
Water Clocks circa 4000 BC
Water clocks for telling time circa 4000 BC. Missed it by that much. Even between 4000 BC
and 1400 AD, there were quite a few important devices:
Antikythera Mechanism circa 100 BC
The ﬁrst known calculator.
Handgun circa 700 AD
Not all these devices were benevolent of course...
Eyeglasses 1284 AD
All of this before we even get to 1400. 600 years ago, and 500 years before electricity.
of Device Design
All in all, we’re talking about 6000 years of device design. Strangely enough, our needs
haven’t much changed thoughout the centuries. Devices help answer the most profound
questions of what it is to be a human.
Understand the World
Telescope 1608 AD
What is this? How does this work?
Find Yourself in the World
Sextant 1757 AD
Where am I? How do I get from one place to another?
Document the World
Camera 1826 AD
How do I remember? How do I remember the faces of the dead and gone?
Typewriter 1829 AD
How do I tell you who I am? How can I connect with other people?
Change the World
Flashlight 1899 AD
How can I make the environment I live in better?
Electric washing machine 1906 AD
How I can I be stronger, faster, more efficient?
Artificial heart 1952 AD
How I can I feel well?
Electric calculator 1957 AD
How can I be smarter and think bigger thoughts?
Digital Audio Player 1996 AD
How can I stave off loneliness and fear and replace it with music and dance?
not so much.
People use devices for deep human needs. We should never forget that.
Although certainly our users have high expectations for us now. Users get used to a level of
technology speed, power, and execution.
[Louis CK clip]
The future is not
Where do we go from here? How do we design the future?
Use an integrated
All the design disciplines: sound, visual, interaction, and industrial can come together to
create devices that are more holistic.
Research and test
Find the human moments in research that can inform your design, like the battery that rolls
onto the ﬂoor.
Design for implicit
Look for the NOT subtle cues you can give in your devices so our devices can be more
proactive. Try to ﬁnd the hand that starts to open the door.
be a material.
What can data do to shape your devices?
be a material.
Consider your devices in a systematic way, as though part of a natural ecology.
Deliver right things
at the right time to
the right people on
the right devices.
One size doesn’t ﬁt all. Consider your devices in a systematic way, as though part of a natural
Corrupt your process
and go deep when
you have to.
Organizations bring their own challenges to getting things done. Don’t let them stop you.
for the user.
Users don’t get a seat at the table. It’s our job to speak for them. Have empathy.
End the tyrrany
of false simplicity.
Gretchen picks up this theme. Beware of too much simplicity and don’t infanilize your users.
People don’t stop being people when they get sick.
Use science fiction to
for what we do.
Stories matter more than features, specs, and engineering.
As Alan Kay said, the best way to predict the future is to make it.
It has been the risk-takers,
the doers, the makers
of things...who have
carried us up the long,
rugged path toward
prosperity and freedom.
May we all be the people who, device by device, answer the big questions of humans, just like
we’ve been doing for 6000 years, and carry humanity up the long, rugged path toward
prosperity and freedom.
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