Dirk Knemeyer

Design Challenges for AI & Sensor Technologies, November 4, 2016

I think that the imagination runs wilder than the reality. I mean, one of the things like with the health room that we talk about is the possibility, for example, collecting specimens in the drain in the shower, right? I mean, then evaluating those. Well, if there’s sensors in the drain of the shower, how do those sensors get cleaned, right? It’s very exciting to imagine sensors, sensors, sensors in all of these different places but how are they maintained? How do they continue to function? Once you have this distributed network of devices, essentially, all over the place, as different devices in that ecosystem fail, how does that impact the effectiveness of the ecosystem?

It’s neat, and it’s especially neat in theory, like when you talk about, “Oh, it’s so cool, all these different things that can happen,” but in reality, we live in a world governed by the rules of physics and there are requirements, whether they be in terms of power, whether they be in terms of cleanliness from the standpoint of having an electronic device able to function in the intended way, despite being in odd circumstances as well as people’s just tolerance of interest for everything that can happen. It’s interesting, nanotechnology in general is interesting. I mean, smaller means accessibility, smaller means there are more things that you can do, but the potential of nanosensors in the short term, I don’t know. I think it might start to get more interesting in the medium and long term when some of the other related enabling technologies are improved, such as batteries, for example.

Artificial intelligence is the plumbing of our digital future so that’s just the reality, and so now we’re watching and adapting as we see the quality of artificial intelligence increase, so that it is increasingly able to permeate and to influence. Again, it’s going to be slower than we think in a lot of ways, but it is what our digital future will be built around.

It’s just so far away, and again, I’ll use Siri and Alexa as two examples of that. I mean, these are products that have a lot of money from big corporations put behind them, and are designed for consumer use. I find them both to be garbage, and this is years after they’ve been released and had the chance to be optimized, and how far away are those products from being wonderful? It’s years. It’s not decades, but it’s years. We’re just not there yet. It’s clumsy, it’s clunky, but it’s not there.

There are individuals for whom the novelty and the fun of exploring those technologies and growing with them is part of it. I want to live my life. For me, the technology allows me to live my life better, and as soon as you’re clumsy and clunky and stupid, you’re making me live my life worse. It’s just two different ways of looking at it but from a money making standpoint, people better treat me as their consumer as opposed to you. Because it’s my seeing it as good enough for my life, is it at a point where it could go mainstream, whereas you definitely are on that bleeding edge of tech geeks.


The Gig Economy & Experience Design, September 15, 2016

The first concept I had for a “business” that was down the path of the gig economy or the sharing economy was in 2003. It was focused on a very mundane thing, which is cleaning up after a party. Where I came from with this is that when you have a party, and it makes a giant mess, right, it’s a shit show. You have a great time at the party, and the cleaning up is fricking horrible. You don’t want to do it, because you’ve got all this good energy that’s so much fun, and then when you’re done, you’re tired or you’re drunk, or it’s the next day and more things are going on, yada, yada, yada. But, if you had to clean up that same thing when you were sort of at the peak of your abilities. If you were just ready to do some cleaning, it would be no problem. You would just kill it.

My concept in 2003 was we need to use the internet so that I can sign up, and I go and I clean up after somebody else’s party, and it’s no problem, because like, I’m hanging out. I just feel like doing it, and then after my party, when I don’t want to clean up, I just want to like bask in the awesomeness that was this giant blowout, this crew’s going to come in and clean my shit up. I just get to be happy, and it was really good.

We can debate the merits of that idea all we want, but the point being what I was focused on, and what I think the future of the gig and sharing and human economy need to be focused on is the experience of life, and looking at the rhythms of the things that we do, how we do them, and how can we accommodate for each other. How can I come in to something that is a weakness for you, or something that, just in terms of your energy level in the moment isn’t the right thing for you to be doing, and it’s no shit for me to do it. I’m happy to do it. It’s easy for me. I just come in and do it clip clip, and I’m done. Other people come in clip clip for me and doing it as well, right?

I would like to see instead of like the problems being solved now are really around technology. We can come in, and now this technology has reached the point we can do these things with cars, let’s do these things with cars. I’d like us to think about where are the opportunities to provide for and service one another to make all of our lives better. I think, in terms of the benefit to the human condition and the human experience, that’s where the more interesting product strategies lie.

Future Leadership in the Design of Personal Computing Devices, November 19, 2015

Mobile is a whole different beast, we have less than a decade now of mobile. We’re still, we collectively meaning the whole, everybody is still figuring it out. Mobile doesn’t lend itself to the point-and-click paradigm that desktop personal computing lent itself to. I’m not going to make the case that the things Apple is doing or any of the manufacturers are doing are correct, but I think it’s just a new animal.< They’re saying “Here’s all these best practices, why aren’t they there?” Those are old practices and we need to really reinvent what mobile computing looks like, taking lessons where they’re appropriate but... I don’t know man, the point and click, that whole frame isn’t relevant and you have a tiny bit of pixels when you’re dealing in direct manipulation. Even on the hardware side, the whole Apple Watch thing now, to me that is just one of the many gyrations of what does mobile computing truly look like? Because I don’t think the form factor is correct of a mobile phone. I also don’t think the watch form factor is correct. We’re trying to figure all of this out on the hardware and the software side. In terms of Google, yeah, if there’s a mainstream consumer tech company that I’m going to buy the stock of it’s going to be Google. I’m very bullish on Google for a lot of different reasons but on the design side I don’t know. They’ve never been great at design, they’re really engineering-driven. Their newest Nexus phone just came out and it was produced by a different hardware manufacturer. Whereas Apple controls their hardware, controls their software, the design that emanates for that Apple takes credit for. Google can’t take credit for those. The phone is really beautiful but it’s not Google, it’s this other hardware manufacturer. The degree to which Google’s going to be a design leader and/or practice exceptional design, I’m not sure. It’s never been a staple or a hallmark. A big picture of what’s happened is that the decay of Apple over the last 5 years has just brought them back to the pack. Now, who’s the design leader? I don’t know. I don’t know that there is a leader, they’re all kind of similar-ish. Nobody is this perfect … Apple used to be this clear cut above. There ain’t the clear cut above anymore.

On the Past and Future of Agencies, August 27, 2015

Yeah, just another market cycle. Go back 50 years, go back to the time of “Mad Men” and the agency business waxes and wanes in different ways and the thing that’s most noticeable about it, is that while agencies work, outside services work continues to be required and there continue to be a lot of firms, they are changing over time. What services they’re offering, how they position themselves. Certainly agencies that are staying in place and not changing, adapting to the market and the needs of customers, they might be in trouble.

That’s healthy. That’s the good part of free markets that work. Those who don’t adapt, are going to be left behind. Even some who do adapt will be left behind but in the long now, a decode from now, there’ll be approximately the same amount of outside providers as there are now, as there are always. It’s just a moment.

In the U.S. we look at things so short term. Financials are always quarterly. Other cultures primarily, and particularly eastern cultures, have a much longer time horizon. It’s much healthier, it’s much more correct and as usual we’re just panicking here as relates to short term stuff.

In the long now, things from the standpoint of outside, service providers being an augmentation to businesses and corporations, we’re going to be here. External creatives doing our thing as well as ever, just in different ways perhaps.

The Future of Personal Computing Ecosystems, August 20, 2015

Look at the history of corporations, they all die, they all go away. None of them make it. If you look at the biggest companies, like an Andrew Carnegie, they don’t exist anymore. They die, despite being, at certain points, the biggest and most successful companies in the world. That’s because they’re born of a certain time and place, with a certain vision, carving out a certain space in the world. As time passes, the impact of that space, the degree to which people desire that space waxes and wanes. The more time that passes, the more it’s on the wane side.

Apple is a company that I don’t remember their initial mission statement, but it boiled down to putting computers in everyones living room. Taking these giant machines for processing and make them a personal and part of peoples everyday lives, that’s a mission that’s been addressed a long time ago. Whereas Google, their mission of organizing the worlds information … information applies to DNA, information applies to all kinds of different things. Even though Google’s first manifestation was in the context of a search engine, from the very beginning their vision for what they were trying to achieve in the world was much bigger.

I think there are still exciting things for Apple to do. It would be great if Apple could solve the personal computing ecosystem. There’s a gap right now where we’ve got the watch, we’ve got the iPhone, we’ve got the iPad, we’ve got the laptop or desktop computer, we’ve got the devices in our cars and in other places, wearables that are all part of this. It’s really clumsy. There’s too many devices, they don’t work that well together. There’s still a lot to be done in that space, and I do think Apple’s the right company to do it. The question is, do they have the leadership vision present to do that? I think the Jony Ive fan boys would say yes. I’m not so sure though. I’d like to see them do it because I own Apple devices, I’ve invested a lot of money in the iTunes store. I’d like this ecosystem to continue. There’s a big opportunity for it to really up level. I hope Apple does it.

I increasingly think it’s more likely that it’s going to be some kind of disruptor. I don’t necessarily think Google’s the one to do it, because Google’s excellence is not in design ecosystems, Google’s excellence is in engineering. On the design side, more simple, straightforward, not from a design perspective, but from an overall business model prospective, in ways that are more open but don’t necessarily result in a great user experience. It may be another company entirely. Going back to Amazon, it might be Amazon, although I don’t think it will be them either. I don’t know who it will be. There’s a big opportunity here, and it is one Apple can take advantage of. The question is will they? Your guess is as good as mine.

Future Designers, March 5, 2015

Well, I think that the designers of the future are largely going to be scientists and engineers. They’re not going to be designers. I think it’ll be very different. It’ll be like going back to … I guess I’m not familiar with the nitty-grittiness of computer history enough to really say this with authority, but it’ll be like going back to the 1950s through 1970s in the evolution of computing technologies where it really is the scientist, the engineer, the specialist who is creating something soup to nuts with no thought even of an independent outside designer.

Now, the notion of design will still be in the air and there will be a role but I think it will be much more common where it will be someone who really groks the tech, really groks the science, the hard stuff and is just able to bring something, at least initially to life, without the deep involvement of design or a designer or somebody whose role is more to transition what they do from an engineering perspective into something that’s more human friendly, more usable.

As the interface itself goes away and as these technologies get closer to just being essentially part of us, there just isn’t the same need for a design layer as we understand it today as this separate thing involving other people.

Design and science, November 8, 2011

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

I’ve chosen the issue of serious violent crime in young males as my example because it nicely applies to all of the five sciences that should be essential learning to anyone serious about understanding users: endocrinology, neuroscience, economics, psychology and sociology. In each of these, crucial pieces of the human behavioural puzzle are provided:

Endocrinology: the study of the endocrine system which secretes hormones into the bloodstream and regulates the body;

Neuroscience: the study of the central nervous system which uses neurons to coordinate our actions;

Economics: the study of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services – crucial to the understanding of individuals in a fiercely capitalistic, free market society;

Psychology: the study of people and groups in order to best understand them;

Sociology, the study of a society in order to best understand that society and its inhabitants.

Needless to say that the role of some of the more social sciences on this list – particularly psychology – are already seen as having a role in successful user studies and understanding.

However, the preponderance of research and publications on user studies deal more with principals and practices of the discipline and less with understanding the users themselves, much less in a deep, multi-disciplinary scientific way. The future of design will belong to those who are able to untangle what people do and why, even those who can predict and understand – using a scientific basis – what people are likely to respond to and why and how, as opposed to simply making gut decisions.

Scalable interfaces, May 10, 2011

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

As scripting technologies and frameworks have gotten more sophisticated, of course, even using HTML5 or CSS3, tools like that, you’re able to interfaces that shift, that scale from the desktop to the mobile, and back and forth. So, maybe where we’re heading is to sort of a one design approach where you’re designing one thing that is intentionally… squishy… to go between the two.

Design and culture, December 11, 2006

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

A convergence that I’m seeing in this dialog is the inextricable relationship between design and culture. While this is an important part of the very DNA of design in a traditional sense, this connection has been largely absent from the digital design community. After all, since a majority of design professionals in strictly digital contexts lack formal design education and traditional training, they did not enjoy exposure to the more cultural, aesthetic and expressive parts of design that make it the human, soulful craft that it is. Indeed, reflecting on the very thoughtful insights expressed here so far, I might go so far as to say that issues around globalization are proving to be the path by which legions of digital product design professionals actually begin to understand and fully realize the fusion of culture and design.

Design intelligentsia,

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

Just because design is beginning to find its legs and assert a role among the chorus does not translate into design being any more special or unique than the other approaches and tools that make for successful business. The design intelligentsia needs to focus less on ourselves – which, by the way, is a historical failing of designers, not just in this context – and begin looking outward into other disciplines and the symphony of business in order to maximize our success and find a realistic place among our peers.