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Products Are People Too

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Image from Jack Schulze’s South Bank series.

So as I dug, I discovered this:

Products are not our servants, nor we theirs.

Our relationship is more symmetric. We tell them what to do, and they tell us what to do. We negotiate.

Products exist over time. We meet them, we hang out with them, we live life together.

Products communicate in ways from the subtlest of personal psychological interventions, to acting in our social worlds.

They act in the market, by carving out niches for new product types. Or they prove points. Or they make us more playful, or flirt more, or more dogged, or whatever.

I don’t sound like I’m talking about products anymore, I sound like I’m talking about my friends.

So it struck me that, with all these constraints, maybe there’s another way of looking at designing products. A way that doesn’t have ‘design for a purpose’ first and then all these millions of constraints and inadequate perturbations afterwards.

Maybe the assumption of perturbation theory has totally failed, and we need a new starting point instead.

And so ladies and gentlemen, I would like to submit this: Products are people too.

[Actually the phrase ‘Products are people too’ comes with the next slide, but I wanted to include some notes here without breaking flow. The rhetoric in this slide has a number of sources. The phrasing is from George Boas’ 1932 essay, In Defense of Machines, which I’ve read extracts from in Rhodes’ Visions of Technology. Boas says: “We are first told that though man invented [machines] to be his servants he has become theirs.”

I can’t remember where the comment about symmetry is from, but I do remember reading about asymmetric relationships recently. I’ve been strongly influenced by Latour and non-human actors (in Pandora’s Hope), which James Boardwell pulled together neatly in his post Things are actors too. I also notice I’ve been influenced by Manuel DeLanda’s Intensive Science & Virtual Philosophy (outline PDF).]

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June 25, 2007

This presentation puts forward an approach to product design which emphasises experience and stories, and is called Products Are People Too. It was originally delivered in June 2007 as the closing keynote to reboot 9.0.