As designers, we crave the opportunity to work on cutting-edge products that challenge the status-quo: things that challenge the norm for a good reason. So when Peter Semmelhack approached ECCO Design, back in 2006, to help realize his unique vision for BUG, we couldn’t start soon enough. BUG is a new kind of device: modular, democratic, fun, simple, intuitive, clever, versatile. But, it also heralds the imminent, irresistible era of Responsible Technology.
The latest flip, slide, touch, hot pink (or magenta), chocolate-flavored phones, PMPs, etc vie for press coverage, retail store space, and consumer mindshare touting everything they have to offer…for the next 3 – 6 months of course. There’s nothing wrong with the technology offered by these gadgets – quite the opposite. It’s great that all this cutting-edge technology, that until recently was being developed in, and for, research labs, is in our hands quicker than ever before. But here’s the problem: these devices have a very myopic view of guessing what enough people will want badly enough for the next few months. That might be an inherently flawed eco-system. Waste is encouraged, users’ actual long-term needs aren’t met, and, worst of all, useful gadgets are being likened to objects of fashion. Technology has to be used in a more responsible way. Instead of scrapping volumes of plastic and metal from last fall’s gadget offerings and creating next season’s gadget-icons anew, users need a product that allows them to keep adding, building, creating, and refining on a platform that is modular and open, and hence receptive to new and exciting technologies that copiously arrive into the marketplace. Something that stops making assumptions about what users want, and gives them the power to decide – enter BUG.
And with it, the implied challenge: How do you design something that can do anything? How do you design for all use cases and hence risk designing for none?
Traditionally, product designers, try to build the optimum user experience with their product. As a typical rule of thumb, 80% of our energy goes into 20% of the use cases. The reasoning offered by many for this is simple: because 80% of the consumers use just that 20%. Now this still holds true for your conventional watering pot. The contemporary gadget, as you well know, is a VERY different animal. With the flood of new features and applications now possible in the all-encompassing digital community, the next breed of gadgeteer wants to do more than follow a cookie-cutter procedure to get a simple P2D (peer-2-device) task accomplished. Like the gourmet chef at home, they want the flexibility to be able to design their very own P2D, P2D2P, P2D2C (peer-2-device-2-community), etc.
Bug Labs’ vision challenged us to embody a spirit of flexibility and open-ness in the hardware realm. Every aspect of the BUGbase had to be "universal", yet clever. For instance, we couldn’t assume directionality. When the iPod or the RAZR is being designed, designers can leverage the fact that the user will hold the device in one orientation, sit it down on their table one way, charge in another, etc. It was important for us not to optimize for any one use case scenario. Most device makers draw the line somewhere and say "this is how the majority of our users will use our device." We tried to never make that statement. The whole spirit of the product was flexible and open. However, clever and fun weren't backseat passengers either. We had to balance these attributes in a holistic way. The result is that each BUGmodule is stripped of any superfluous detail leaving just the core functionality to provide that pure, simple, single-purpose personality. Every BUGmodule looks like its function and proudly displays its purpose. Functional components are centered, connectors are aligned, buttons and switches are ergonomically placed. In essence, they are all building blocks that enable our users to build their unique experiences and share with the community around them. Even a BUGbase, with islands on each face and flush surfaces (to enable plugging in with other BUGbases) is designed to be a building block.
Master Designer Dieter Rams once said, "Design is about restraint." In BUG, we have restrained ourselves in the Design to create simple and elegant building blocks so you can create and enjoy.