Ancient Artifacts Augmented With Enhanced Technologies
The Kintsugi Upgrades project imagines an alternate future where ancient artifacts are discovered by a more advanced civilization than us who rebuild and augment them with enhanced technologies.
The ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi – which literally translates to “join with gold” – perfectly embodied the spirit of these objects. Through the process of repair and reconstruction, we imagined these objects being even more valuable than the original.
In this first collection, we have reconstructed and reimagined an 11th century glazed ceramic water jug from Kashan, Persia. Renowned for its high-quality ceramic production, Kāshānware features delicate decorative motifs and is often decorated with luster.
Once the vessel has been unearthed and goes through the Upgrade process, it comes out similar but in many ways different. We preserved the object’s delicate beauty, healed its scars with gold while integrating new technologies into it to change what it can do. Instead of being able to just being a water vessel, the device can scan a a person’s body to better understand what minerals they are lacking and then regulate the contents within the vessel to provide a nutritional beverage that is perfectly tuned to keep their body and mind functioning at an optimal level.
This medieval ceramic jug now combines its exquisite design with 3d printed augmentations and enhanced digital functionality.
This project began when we came across high quality 3D models of ancient cultural artifacts that had been scanned by internationally recognised museums. We saw huge potential and wanted to being to create objects that blur the boundaries between the very old and the very futuristic.
Our process to rebuild and upgrade the original object begins with an initial assessment of the piece. How is it damaged? What can be salvaged? What has been forever lost? How can we preserve and enhance its aesthetics and purpose? From here we establish the different stages of the project. The first step involves scanning the fractured parts to reconstruct all the pieces of the puzzle digitally. The scanned mesh serves as a reference for modeling the upgraded part in CAD. We then began to imagine what the conditions of a future civilization might be and the idea of optimizing our health and body felt like a natural path that humans would want to progress along. We delicately reassembling the fractured object and applied gold lacquer to celebrate the vessel’s scars.
by Afshin Mehin and Anna Savina
We are in the very early days of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and there are still years of scientific research that needs to be carried out to get anywhere near creating powerful consumer-based BCI products. But, as designers, we believe it’s important to imagine what types of experiences this technology would enable in order to create the human-centered future for BCI.
In this article, we will use our empathy and creativity to describe how possible BCI-enabled user experiences of the future may look. By starting early and following the research closely, we can have some space to think of different paths for BCI and create truly relevant and helpful devices in the future.
The long road: A quick primer on BCI
Over the past several decades, computer interfaces made several massive leaps, and each of them led to new, more intuitive ways for people to interact with computers. We went from graphical user interfaces (GUI) and operating big desktop computers with the help of a keyboard and a mouth, to laptops, and then touch interfaces used for modern smartphones and tablets. And though smartphones allow us to have a powerful computer whenever we go, this was just a start.
In recent years, computers have become almost invisible, they are just a part of the ambiance. The maturation of natural language processing has allowed voice assistants to understand verbal commands and allow for a hands free experience. In the meantime, modern sensors and radars allowed designers to create smart clothing that can be controlled with touch — for example, Google ATAP’s Project Jacquard developed a jacket that helps the owner navigate the city without interacting with a screen.
Smartphones, smart speakers, and wearable devices became an extension of our bodies, and, naturally, scientists started exploring the idea of humans directly controlling computers with their brain alone. What’s really appealing about BCI is that our brains have a huge bandwidth for processing information which means that if BCIs work, there will be no delay between our intention and a desired action/outcome.
However, existing BCIs are slow and don’t operate like smart interfaces from sci-fi movies and books. Right now, BCI researchers are working on replicating the speed of typing or speech — exceeding this speed is still an aspiration, not a reality.
The present day BCI’s are primarily serving people with disabilities to control technologies with their thoughts. Krishna Shenoy’s lab at Stanford University is leveraging electrodes located in the motor cortex of patients with locked-in syndrome to move a cursor to select objects on the screen or to use a cursor to write in “graffiti” by imagining that a patient is using their hands to write with. The Chang Lab is able to read brain signals that control the ability to create speech in order to decode language but the speeds are still far lower than typing on regular keyboard.
Many scientists agree that with enough electrodes getting closer to firing neurons (via invasive or non-invasive BCI), enough machine learning capabilities, and, of course, enough academic research we will eventually be able to use our understanding of the brain to create very mature BCIs that are way faster and more effective than what is available now.
What BCIs can be really good at
So what if BCI extends beyond enabling people with physical disabilities? What would that new interface look like and why would it be better than what we have now? Let’s assume that BCI unlocks the potential of high bandwidth communication. The idea of being able to think faster than you can talk or type is undoubtedly one of the most appealing elements for anyone who would develop consumer products based on BCI. But that is not the only possibility for this new type of technology. We decided to go further and outline key advantages of brain-powered technology.
One superpower of BCI is the sheer covertness of thinking. That can lead to many different outcomes.
First, it can allow you to prompt your internal AI with questions or data queries and as a result, the system would you feel like you have superhuman intelligence. Because of the speed that BCI enables, it would look like you didn’t use a computer to search for a fact but just knew what 2324 multiplied by 8 is, what is the capital of Uruguay, etc. Also, BCI would make your everyday life and navigation easier as a lot of services like maps, Yelp recommendations, and weather could be accessed without looking at your phone or computer.
It can also allow you to communicate with people without others around you noticing. That can mean you would be able to have more immediate access to your loved ones and connect with them without feeling like you have a technological layer separating you. Another benefit of this BCI use case is communicating in a noisy place or sharing private details in a public setting.
Another big advantage of BCIs is their versatility and intuitiveness. Scientists use machine learning to unpack and make sense of the neuronal signals. That same technology can be also used to understand an individual’s brain structure and create a unique and adaptable system that can fit a person better over time like a pair of well worn leather gloves.
What BCIs can be really bad at
Products based on BCIs can unlock a lot of new opportunities and make their owners feel almost superhuman but a lot of people are scared of them because allowing a computer working in close contact with human consciousness has always been a theme of dystopian sci-fi. Assuming that the process of installing (invasive or non-invasive) BCI is safe, the next concern is privacy and loss of control.
And those naysayers have a right to be scared, especially if we look at the current state of computing and the types of problems Web 2.0 created. A lot of skeptics imagine that BCI can become another platform for targeted ads and surveillance.
If our thoughts aren’t 100% off limits for companies, governments, or malicious actors, there is very little left for us to feel like we truly have free will. Since BCI is still super new, companies are proposing different system architecture that would theoretically protect people’s data, such as Federated Learning and Differential privacy, but it’s still early days so there is still a lot to be learned about what security will actually look like for BCIs
The idea of BCI’s adaptability mentioned earlier is also a potential risk. Just as a person learns to adjust to a new user experience over time, people who get used to BCI could find it very difficult to navigate the world without a computer helping them and providing them with suggestions, advice, and directions at all times.There is a possibility that people may actually get less intelligent over time with the introduction of BCIs.
Designing safe and human-centric BCI devices
As we were thinking of BCI and working on projects like the early Neuralink hardware prototype, we came up with several principles that we would like to maintain when we design BCI devices of the future.
Design principle #1: Ensure privacy and transparency
In the future, we want people to be sure their thoughts remain their own. That means that the engineers and scientists that are building out BCI technology need to create a layer that is separated from the internet.
In terms of how that technology is communicated to the user, this should feel like a moated castle for your mind that filters and limits what kind of information comes and goes into your brain. That’s why in the “A Day in the Mind” POV video we created, the protagonist is prompted to turn on and connect his “encrypted” neural connection to his HeadOS before starting to use it. These types of interactions are inspired by consumer data protection startups like Winston and Helm that simplify data protection and make it accessible for consumers.
We believe that it would be necessary that BCI system interface and user interactions enable a high level of accountability and transparency so that users really do have control and visibility into what is passing into and out of their mind.
Design principle #2: Enable control
It’s crucial to create interfaces that prioritize users’ safety and control. That’s why we wanted to provide a user with a sense of agency. Things should never feel overwhelming or happening without the user being fully aware of them.
In our “Day in the Mind” POV video, when the protagonist wakes up, he activates his BCI by swiping on his smartphone. No matter how archaic it might feel to swipe with your finger when he has a BCI, the important thing is that he initiates the connection with his digital assistant. Later in the video, when the main character is at work and he is being flooded with notifications, he is able to shut them down by asking his digital assistant to pause all notifications until later.
Design principle #3: Carefully design default settings
Decisions that designers make in this space will impact how people think, we need to be especially careful when we are creating default settings for BCI-enabled devices. The way these options are set up will have a tremendous influence on how people will be encouraged to think. This connection between default settings and interactions they create is described in the book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness”. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have also seen dark UI patterns that encourage people to make decisions that were not in their best interest.
Design principle #4: An integrated hardware architecture
If BCI’s do reach their amazing potential, we will also need new kinds of smart hardware devices to provide a seamless user experience. Possibly, we will see innovative glasses or smart contact lenses that can provide users with quick visual feedback to confirm that their outgoing BCI controls are working. This combination will make the experience much more intuitive since we are all used to interacting with visual interfaces. We will need other types of new technologies as well — for example, bone conduction audio to create a “voice in your head” for a digital assistant accompanying BCIs.
Looking into the crystal ball of the future, it’s still unclear how powerful BCIs can become. But as we unlock the inner workings of the brain, it’s exciting to imagine what kind of interfaces we can create. Regardless of whether or not BCIs would give us superpowers, understanding the brain gives us a lot of insight for designing better products and services. We hope that if we leverage scientific research, we will be able to create a future that looks more like Tales From The Loop than an episode of Black Mirror — more empathetic, human, and warm.
In December 2021, Card79 launched the Kintsugi Upgrades NFT collection. The goal was to reimagine physical objects in the real world as technologically advanced digital artifacts that could exist in the future. Card79 has sold two NFTs and the rest of our NFTs can be found on our opensea page.
Innovation is at the core of our company ethos and our Kintsugi Upgrades NFTs have allowed us to push the boundaries of the design discipline altogether. We have learned plenty of lessons along the way that we want to share…
There has been a lot of public debate about whether or not NFTs are here to stay. At Card79, we believe that NFTs aren’t just a trend but are helping to build new platforms for empowering creators. Marketing and Communications Associate, Nicole Schaefer, said that “NFTs have introduced this huge opportunity to make every person an investor, a shareholder, an owner, a designer, a creator.”
NFTs make use of blockchain technology which is also the bedrock of cryptocurrency transactions. A blockchain is a database that can be used to trace the transfer of tangible assets (a house, car, cash, land) and intangible assets (intellectual property, patents, copyrights, branding). For NFTs, the blockchain database allows individuals to claim and transfer ownership of digital assets over a secure network with traceable, tamper-proof records.
Through the blockchain, NFTs are positioned as legitimate business assets that creators can utilize to grow their businesses with their own creative content. “With NFTs, the creators are the winners,” Schaefer said, “I think people who call themselves creators and are not branching into NFTs are missing out on an outlet to share their work with a powerful community.”
“The Kintsugi Upgrades NFT project has pushed me beyond my comfort zone and beyond what I had imagined I could be doing as a designer,” said Industrial Designer Mark Choi, “creating digital art that communicates a narrative in an abstract way has been done by artists and animators, but is rarely done by industrial designers.”
Choi is one of the lead designers of the Kintsugi Upgrades NFT collection. When speaking to the inspiration behind each NFT’s tech upgrade, Choi said that “the unique characteristics of the old artifact is the primary driver for inspiration… It’s difficult to create a strong narrative about something we know little about, but after we have already fallen in love with the beautiful aesthetics of the artifact, the harder it is to let go of… Having the artifacts in front of us with the context stripped away allowed us to get very creative with them.”
The Kintsugi Upgrades NFT collection challenges designers to think outside of the realm of possibility. Choi echoed this sentiment in saying, “as an industrial designer whose primary job is to create a physical object that serves a function, I was challenged by my own beliefs on what a good design is, beliefs which I have built over the course of my study and career. This project has definitely changed the way I look at design in many ways and allowed me to have more appreciation for skills and practices I was not familiar with.”
The design discipline itself is going to undergo drastic changes due to the rise of digital design that caters to the metaverse. This can be an exciting or daunting prospect for industrial designers, but Choi shared his enthusiasm in saying “a typical industrial design process has technical constraints that direct the final design to stay within the box of “what’s possible.” However, in the digital world which we create the NFTs for, other than the skills to model and render in 3D software, there is nothing stopping our imagination.”
As Choi mentioned, a design skill set that will become increasingly valuable is proficiency in 3D rendering and modeling software. The visualization and 3D rendering software market is forecasted to grow exponentially by 2028 with an expected 22.5% growth rate. “Different 3D software is optimized for different purposes,” Choi continued, “being able to juggle between multiple types of software that do the job best at certain types of work, and not being confined to one software and workflow, was a valuable learning experience.” Choi utilizes Gravity Sketch, Rhino, Fusion360, Blender and more to achieve the look of each Kintsugi Upgrades NFT.
In lieu of tangible commodities, Choi believes that the value of NFTs come from their ability to shape ideas, culture and identity through their design. Choi said that “the Kintsugi Upgrades NFT collection is a set of products that might exist in an alternate future civilization. They are also a manifestation of Card79’s design philosophy of giving form to the future as fortune tellers of design carrying forward tradition and innovation together.”
When asked whether or not he sees this project as part of the metaverse, Choi stated, “Yes. I see the KU NFTs as things that can exist in the Card79 metaverse which we have crafted with our beliefs in design. We challenged ourselves to strip away the tangible functionality from the aesthetics of an industrial design product and thought of ways to add value in the context of the metaverse and web3…”
“…the things we own explain who we are. I think the same goes for the metaverse.”
Written by Nicole Keegan
Founded in 2014 by Afshin Mehin, Card79 is a design studio located in San Francisco with an extensive dedication to the presentation, development and support of new products through excellent design services. Our mission is to give form to the future with an emphasis placed on innovation.
Written by Anna Savina
Austin, TX – On March 14, Card79 design studio hosted a panel – moderated by CEO Afshin Mehin – called The Fact or Fiction of Brain Computer Interfaces at SXSW 2022. The studio has collaborated with companies such as Neuralink to design powerful consumer-based BCI products to bring this innovative technology into the hands of everyday people. At SXSW, Card79 invited three industry experts to give their perspectives on the future opportunities and challenges that come with developing BCI technology.
In case you missed the conversation, we held a Q&A with the panelists about the future of brain computer interface (BCI) technology. This is what Yujie Wang, Nastasha Tan, and Sergey Stavisky had to say…
What drew you to the world of BCIs?
Yujie Wang, MIT Design Engineer
My interest in attention management drew me to the world of BCI. I’m passionate about shaping human relationships with machines and the environment.
We live in an era of extraction of both natural resources and attention. I’m focusing on innovation as well as ethics of BCI research and product development.
Nastasha Tan, Head Designer at Aurora
While I am not working [directly] in the BCI domain, I am interested in it because of my background in cognitive science and neuroscience.
I’ve dedicated my design career to shaping future interfaces — for example, I was designing the future of smartphones as ‘personal assistants’ at Samsung before this concept became so ubiquitous. Right now, I’m working on self-driving experiences at Aurora.
Sergey Stavisky, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis
I became interested in BCIs when I was an undergraduate at Brown. At the time, the very first BrainGate trial using Utah arrays was starting…
I thought it was the coolest thing. It resonated with me because I wanted to do something in the medical field, enjoyed building things and coding, and was trying to understand how the mind works.
What applications of BCIs do you see as valuable?
Yujie: Clinical applications and support for neurodiverse groups with dignity, such as speech/motor control restoration or new modes of communication. User facing applications like attention/situation awareness support for productivity (learning and working) and life-critical tasks (such as driving). Creative applications like creativity stimulation for self-discovery and art.
Nastasha: Augmentation of human abilities. Faster information sharing and improved situational awareness could lead to more rapid and accurate decisions. People’s memory, attention spans, and cognitive performance could be improved.
Sergey: In the shorter term, medical “neuro-restoration” applications include restoring sensation (e.g. BCIs that write in vision and hearing) and restoring movement/communication (e.g., brain driven typing, speech and robotic arms).
In the longer term, I predict much higher channel count read-and-write devices will profoundly impact how we treat psychiatric diseases that are amongst the largest worldwide causes of morbidity… As better hardware reaches human medical applications, I think both the basic and applied human neuroscience will progress quickly.
What ethical rules do you think should be taken into consideration for designing and using BCIs?
Yujie: To me, [dream hacking] is one of my biggest concerns for BCI technology… Dream hacking or dream incubation is a technique when, with the help of BCI, a person can influence their dreams by focusing attention on a specific issue right before going to sleep. In theory, it may stimulate our creativity. However, this technique can also make us vulnerable to subliminal advertising.
Sleep scientists state that… what we see when we’re asleep shapes our reality when we’re awake. Regulatory effects are way behind for dream advertising, and we must act now to prevent it:
Transparency and accountability [are necessary when designing BCIs]. Be sure to inform the subjects about the methods you’re using, what brain information is being detected, and what aspects of reality are being manipulated or interpreted based on what criteria. Be clear who is responsible for what in which scenario in the application of BCI. When it comes to privacy concerns, always provide options to users and don’t make any presumptions.
Nastasha: Because BCIs directly access the brain, I think it’s important for the industry to update basic human rights to address autonomy and create guiding principles around designing interactions between human-to-technologies that are more about establishing partnership rather than decision-maker.
Start with people. Invest time in understanding the needs of those we are designing for before investing in solutions. Generally, emerging technologies like BCIs need to respond to actual needs, and there is always a danger of falling in love with an exquisite technology and developing something just because it’s possible.
Design for agency. …Designing BCIs to enable people to be self-governing and as a partner to the individual, rather than as an executive decision maker would allow for people to maintain their autonomy and build trust in BCIs. Because BCIs are constantly evolving your thinking or decision-making, giving people the ultimate decision so there is room for their own judgment will prevent compromising their agency.
Sergey: I think it’s great that there’s so much more awareness of BCIs than a few years ago, but at times that excitement has serious downsides. I worry it can create unrealistic expectations among the public… I would hate for someone out there to… [decline] a currently available proven treatment or a clinical trial because they have been overpromised that something way better is “just around the corner” when, in fact, it could be many years away.
The BCI field is very broad, so it’s hard to advise anything without knowing specific context. I want to emphasize that there’s a big range in how invasive different BCI technologies can be, and what kind of information they can measure and/or how specifically they can affect the brain.
A piece of practical advice I’d therefore give is to think deeply about what type of neural interface you need for a particular application; making the right choice early on will help you make your project more successful.
What do you find inspiring about the state of the field now?
Yujie: Innovation not only in terms of radical technology change, but also the change of meaning making, how everyone sees and perceives BCIs in our daily life. [As well as the] strong ethical considerations that go along with the research and product development, and awareness of regulation.
Nastasha: I think it’s incredibly exciting to see how neurotechnologies like BCIs can profoundly shape a person’s life… As a designer who is always thinking about accessibility in what we design, I’m particularly excited that BCIs widen accessibility for all kinds of differently abled people — not limited to just input devices that are biased toward the visually or the haptically abled.
Sergey: It feels like the field of medical BCIs is rapidly developing. We’re seeing decades of preclinical research in animal models actually working on people, and at the same time, there’s so much more investment in better neural interface hardware that we’ll need to make the next big step in this area.
Founded in 2014 by Afshin Mehin, Card79 is a design studio located in San Francisco with an extensive dedication to the presentation, development and support of new products through excellent design services. Our mission is to give form to the future with an emphasis placed on innovation.
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As we head into 2022, our design studio took a moment to take stock of which direction the fields of design, culture and technology are heading towards and seeing how well they line up with who we are. We are excited about 2022, and we decided to share major design and technology trends that we hope to explore in the next 12 months.
Web3: A Happy Upheaval
Let’s start out with the word that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue — Web3. The world is connecting in new ways across borders and cultures, and everyone in the world of tech is questioning dominant platforms, old business models and visual aesthetics. This upcoming year will mark an exciting new start for everyone who’s been longing for a new version of the Internet, digital art, and online connectivity.
A lot of technologies that created a foundation for this year’s major trends aren’t new (a seminal Blockchain whitepaper by Satoshi Nakamoto recently turned 13), but in 2021, we finally created a new language to talk about long-term implications of these technologies. The term ‘Web3’ became unavoidable. ‘Web3, the future internet we’re moving towards, is a decentralized internet. Under Web3, the internet is shared online and governed by the collective “we,” rather than owned by centralized entities. […] Web3 is about rearchitecting internet services and products so that they benefit people rather than entities,’ writes Maven Ventures’ Jay Drain Jr. Web3 imagines an environment that is more user-friendly compared to our current reality of Web2 where users can’t control their data and where newsfeeds and algorithms create dangerous echo chambers.
Another popular 2021 term, Metaverse, offers an even bigger vision for the future — an immersive, interactive version of The Internet straight from futuristic sci-fi novels. Even though the term Web3 and Metaverse are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. ‘The metaverse feels vague and speculative because it is […] While some technologists want to anchor the vision along the lines of Meta’s Ready Player One-esque keynote presentation, the reality is the metaverse will require everyone’s input and participation to truly take form,’ says Senior Product Manager at Roblox the host of the “Hello Metaverse” podcast Annie Zhang. Even though the Metaverse isn’t fully defined yet, it’s a useful concept that a lot of Web2 companies looking for a rebrand are using. This year, Facebook became Meta while Square changed its name to Block. In the meantime,
Microsoft is betting on its Metaverse-inspired Mesh collaboration tool for Microsoft Teams. And we are all patiently waiting to see what Apple’s VR/AR glasses will do to enable new Metaverse experiences.
Even though big players are trying to enter this new market, 2021 in tech was all about celebrating underdogs. Many artists and designers (including those who built their careers creating digital art) have been operating within constraints of conservative art market. The NFT boom allowed creators to gain more control over their work and financial situation. Moreover, it offers a space where industrial designers, architects, and musicians can experiment and imagine virtual worlds that we will soon inhabit.
‘It should not be surprising that a growing number of us–especially we who are most intensely online — are embracing the concept of ‘owning’ online things. A belief in the value of NFTs is a logical extension of the vitality of online experience and existence,’ writes a group of authors behind Dark Star DAO. This year at Card79, we were excited to enter a new world as well and create a series of NFT’s named ‘Kintsugi Upgrades’ that carry on our core values into the Metaverse.
The Kintsugi Upgrades project imagines an alternate future where ancient artifacts are discovered by a more advanced civilization than ours and then they rebuild and augment these artifacts with enhanced technologies. The ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi – which literally translates to “join with gold” – perfectly embodied the spirit of merging old and new to make something better. Through the process of repair and reconstruction, we imagined these objects being even more valuable than the original.
The Kintsugi Upgrades project was enabled by digital scans of ancient artifacts donated by world leading museums (like the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Malopolska’s Virtual Museums) that we were able to digitally shatter and rebuild in 3D modeling software. Then we modeled upgrades to give each piece a whole new functionality.
Afshin Mehin founded Card79 based on the belief that blurring the boundaries between digital and physical product design would be an important theme with design. That’s why as a studio, we love combining our practice of designing and developing mass manufactured physical products and this new type of product design that involves digital-first NFT artifacts.
This year, a record number of people were affected by extreme weather conditions and felt the impact of the climate crisis. In the U.S. only, we lived through Hurricane Ida on the East coast, wildfires in California, megadrought in the West, floods all over, and much more. ‘Overall, consumers are hyperaware of the condition of the environment. Forrester data reveals that a third of US online adults say they spend more time thinking about the climate than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic,’ writes Forbes.
Whether we are designing digital or physical products, we have to ask ourselves about the impact it will have on our planet and our future. The NFT boom spurred conversation about skyrocketing physical costs of supporting the metaverse. Some companies – for example, CurrencyWorks, are promoting ways to make blockchain technology more energy-efficient.
Both legacy companies and emerging brands are betting on sustainability. VW and Porsche now demand that all their 30.000+ suppliers pass a sustainability rating while AllBirds that had an IPO this year made sustainability one of its most important value propositions. In the meantime, Dell is committing to manufacturing laptops that are easier to recycle.
We haven’t eliminated planned obsolescence yet, but 2021 marked a big milestone for the ‘right to repair’ movement that is gaining traction worldwide. This November, Apple announced long-awaited Self Service Repair. In Australia, the Productivity Commission is discussing a policy that will address consumers’ rights to get products that don’t have an ‘expiry date.’
This year, we worked with Relish Life to create a monthly subscription pack that gets rid of as many inessential elements of packaging as possible while still delighting customers. This project aligned with our goal to optimize customer value while minimizing usage of wasteful materials.
Consumers are also driving another big trend in product design — more ethical user interfaces, especially when it comes to smartphones and IoT. This trend has been going on for a few years but in 2021, it gained even more traction as the idea of data ownership is becoming a topic of debate. From screen time trackers to introducing more data privacy settings, electronics manufacturers are approaching design with more consideration of people’s mental well-being (avoiding dark patterns in UX) and long-term future (working towards more sustainable ways of production).
Here at Card79, we are committed to building a better future. When designing interfaces, we are betting on ethical and user-friendly UX. When we were working on ‘A Day In the Mind’ project that explored the future of brain-computer interfaces, we focused on ensuring privacy and transparency, enabling control, carefully designing default settings, and creating an integrated hardware architecture.
Internet of Things: A new generation of devices
Even though connected devices have been around for a while now, this market is still growing and maturing. The pandemic became a catalyst for innovation in the field of healthcare IoT devices. Deloitte Global expects that ‘320 million consumer health and wellness wearable devices will ship worldwide in 2022.’ And we will see even more growth in the next couple of years. By 2024, there will be around 440 million devices. It’s not just electronics for social distancing and enforcing pandemic measures. ‘[IoT devices] also allow doctors to potentially examine, diagnose and treat larger numbers of patients, as well as expand healthcare to regions where physical access to doctors or hospitals is difficult due to remoteness or difficulty of access,’ writes author and technology advisor Bernard Marr.
And it’s not just about healthcare. We can expect more IoT everywhere — our computers are becoming less noticeable, yet more powerful and almost ubiquitous. So-called ‘ambient computing’ is all about smaller devices for everyday life — in this space, innovation is fueled by advancements in AI, voice interfaces, gesture recognition, and radar sensing. Tech giants like Google and Amazon are entering the market with more and more specialized smart home devices that disappear into the background.
‘We have just started to figure out how to think about the societal implications of smartphones; now, we’ve got robots and teleconference board game systems for children. It’s all happening very fast,’ writes the Verge Executive Editor Dieter Bohn. At Card79, we are focusing on designing human-centric and ethical devices for the new era of IoT. When working on healthcare tech (like Neuralink R1 robot), smart home appliances (for example, Sepura garburator), or wearables (Slice bracelet), we are focusing on data transparency, user-friendly interfaces without ‘dark patterns,’ and durable materials.
In 2022, we are excited to work on more projects that allow us to center our work around these principles of being human-centered, inclusive and sustainable. We look onto the year ahead to see how we can do to tackle new challenges within our industry.
Written By: Heba Malaeb
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
― Arthur C. Clarke
The future: the realm of possibility. Though an endless canvas for imagination, the future is increasingly defined by scientific advancement – and few things have been as synonymous with the future as science fiction. The genre was a way to cope with rapidly-changing technological tides, by making meaning through storytelling. Science fiction was earlier called speculative fiction, but we’ve observed that it’s often also somewhat prophetic. We enjoyed discovering some instances where sci-fi shifts from the realm of the speculative, to make surprisingly accurate predictions.
Science fiction takes a kernel of technological truth and, through carefully constrained imagination, turns it into worlds.
“Hard-science fiction” takes real science and extrapolates it into fantastical stories; but increasingly, sci-fi is mostly just inspired by science and technology, weaving them into fantastical setups. The process of devising the setting for sci-fi is called worldbuilding, which we find reminiscent of how designed objects and systems intentionally define the world around us.
Which is why it’s fascinating when the inspiration reverses direction: when design and technology are in turn inspired by fiction. From video calling to antidepressants, many ubiquitous products and processes of our time first appeared in sci-fi. Science fiction has even sometimes gotten it right on social and political dynamics. But Orwellian surveillance dystopias notwithstanding, sci-fi predicted some pretty remarkable – and useful – everyday things.
The concept of an additive, layer-by-layer manufacturing process has appeared in a lot of science fiction, as early as 1939. But perhaps the most famous “prediction” of 3D printing is Star Trek’s Replicator, which prints food through rearranging atoms and molecules. Today, 3D printing is a quickly developing technology that may well bring us to sci-fi levels of advancement; astronauts print components in space, and doctors are continuing to develop 3D printed organs for transplant operations.
Edward Bellamy’s 1888 utopian novel Looking Backward, the main character wakes up in the year 2000, where the US has become a socialist utopia. One feature of that imagined future is “credit cards”; but instead of owing the bank, each citizen was actually given an equal amount of credit by the government, and could use the cards to make purchases both domestically and abroad. Though he didn’t predict the financing, it’s fascinating that the way his imaginary cards work – down to the double receipt – is pretty accurate to how it ended up playing out in real life.
Some works of sci-fi even had the foresight sharp enough to think up cryptocurrencies. Bruce Sterling briefly described an anonymous, untraceable global currency, unbacked by any government in his 1994 novel Heavy Weather. But sometimes the technological developments that enable science fiction to become fact are less linear than others. Though it’s a seemingly simple idea, the technology necessary to make crypto run (and take the world by storm) was not anonymously created until years later. Without Blockchain technology – which uses a very specialized system of data encryption and relies on a huge amount of power – Bitcoin et. al. could not exist, even though the idea had been dreamt up decades ago.
Perhaps a more blatantly sci-fi invention, exoskeletons or exosuits act as a power-up to human bodies, supplementing strength and offering special features. In real life, this is watered down into various applications, like suits that allow delivery personnel to stack a larger number of boxes on their backs. But beyond maximizing production efficiency and the inevitable cliché of supersoldiers, exoskeletons can help ensure occupational safety and health for laborious jobs, and provide increased mobility to people with physical disabilities, whether as bionic vests that help carry heavy weights with less muscle strain, or braces and armatures that assist someone in going up the stairs or support their spine to help them walk. And some companies are even developing “powered clothing” to supplement natural movements, and even track and enhance athletic performance.
In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, he described a product called Seashells – what he called “thimble radios” that fit in your ears and were the size of, yes, a thimble. Just six years later, radios were indeed small enough to fit intra-aurally, but it wasn’t until the auspicious pairing of earphones with Sony’s Walkman that in-ear speakers really took off in the late 80’s. Market forces encouraged further design refinement in terms of both function and comfort. Years later, Apple introduced its signature white iPod headphones, leading us to today, where earbuds have become as commonplace on our bodies as clothing.
Science fiction is not just an exercise in dreaming up cool futures. It often grapples with the social realities and fears of the day. We as a studio have certainly been thinking about issues surrounding artificial intelligence. Whether as design interns, or in Siri, Alexa, and therapy apps, AI raises concerns and excitement. Many works of early sci-fi tackled the question of the “humanity” of robots. Though there are countless examples of near-human AIs, the most classic one might be Philip K. Dick’s 1968 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, more commonly known in movie form as Blade Runner (1982), where “replicants”, AI, are indistinguishable from humans. Google’s Duplex feature that makes appointments for you through very human-sounding voice calls begins to touch on this realm of the uncanny.
Another emerging technology we are thrilled to be at the forefront of is thought-based user interfaces. In M.T. Anderson’s 2002 dystopian novel Feed, young people are “plugged in” to the feed via a surgically-implanted device that enables them to communicate with each other, and provides access to endless entertainment and constant, seamless advertising. But in the novel, the brain-computer connection causes people to become self-absorbed and detached from the larger world, by constantly occupying their minds. As we know from various dystopias, new technology is often frightening for its potential to be used harmfully. But it’s heartening to see this kind of avant-garde tech actually used to benefit people. Today, brain-computer interfaces are used to lend autonomy and restore function to people with neuromuscular disorders.
With Neuralink, we worked together to develop a combined wearable and implantable system discretely worn behind the user’s ear. The system enables them to control devices, ranging from robotic arms to mobile phones to electric wheelchairs, with the power of their mind in order to live a more independent life
Learning from Sci-fi
Sci-fi is pure design without the constraints of the real world; but as designers, our role is not just to envision the future; we try to create it. Like sci-fi writers, we are guided by our intuition and imagination, and inspired both by the past and by relentless advancements in technology. But what science fiction provides in dystopias and utopias, we try to rewrite as an optimistic and grounded approach to the future of human-tech interaction. We hope to contribute to the creation of a future world that is more efficient, more accessible, and more sustainable than the one we inhabit today.