Ask any chef about their favourite knife and they will wax lyrical. Watching them use it is even better, and if you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse of a relationship as personal as the one between a musician and their instrument.
The best tools respond so well to our input that they can become like extensions of our limbs, rewarding our precision and punishing our inattention. Again, ask any chef. They’ll show you their battle scars. There’s a great satisfaction in getting lost in the flow of a task that requires our full senses, and the bonds you form with the tools you use in these moments are like no others.
When we design for the world of work, we often measure success by seeing how it has empowered the worker. Can they do their job faster, safer, with greater precision? But focusing on short term productivity gains can sometimes be deceptive. Providing lasting value means recognising what it is about their work and the tools they use that really gives them satisfaction and then creating a design experience around it.
Designers in this space form the link between cutting edge technological advances and the people who will benefit from them in their daily lives. We have already seen technology transform and redefine so many professions. A music producer can sit at a laptop, download some samples and use Ableton Live to weave them into complex and richly textured music, but the sales of guitars haven’t taken a knock. Likewise Photoshop and illustrator. They haven’t meant a decline in traditional art supplies. During our research for Cricut we learnt just how robust the craft market is and how vibrant the communities built around it are. These new technologies haven’t hurt their professions, instead they’ve blown them wide open and it’s the designer’s unique role to ensure the next generation of work tools are as satisfying to use as the last.
In the design profession, 3D modelling, scanning and printing have drastically reduced the time needed to get a fresh idea ready for manufacturing. At Design Partners we’ve harnessed this saved time. Our designers invest it in traditional sketching and hand modelling, enjoying contemplation and focus away from the computer screen. There’s still great value in the traditional methods; it’s the thousands of micro-decisions we make while working with our hands that often provide the most valuable contributions to the final design.
The trend towards co-bots (collaborative robots) shows that there’s no tool too big, powerful and self-sufficient for people to love working with. Mercedes-Benz has actually reduced automation in some of their factories in order to reap the benefits of humans and robots working together. The robot takes over the routine, heavy and dangerous work while human workers bring creativity, reactivity and a mental agility to the manufacturing process. The upshot is that production lines can support much greater variation and customisation. In short, rather than taking workers’ jobs, robots can improve them.
The question shouldn’t be simply ‘how can we use technology to make a job faster, safer, even more precise?’ but how can we use it to allow a worker to focus on the meaningful aspects of their job, as well as the productive. I look forward to a world where a firefighter can trust their connected, intelligent gear to protect them so they can protect others and care workers can spend less time wrestling with equipment and hunting for supplies and more time caring.
Any good designer can let their imagination run wild and think of a dozen ways that technology could make a chef’s job easier. But observe the chef at work and you might just realise that the best design for them is a sharper knife.