When creative technology meets creative design, great things happen. But if you are in the tech world, the realms of art & design can seem so far away from everything you know. How can you find the right people in that creative labyrinth to help you give life to your ideas? Several years ago, I found myself in that position. I hope the chart below can be the first step towards finding your perfect match – or matches.
The idea for the chart came to me when I was working at Holst Centre, an independent R&D centre in Eindhoven positioned between academia and industry. While there, I noticed that we had some really cool technology and very capable and open-minded people. So, the next logical step for me was: how do we get our tech in front of designers/creatives, and how can we work together with them? That’s when I started trying to sketch an ecosystem of the space where design and technology meet.
Initially, I didn’t have much knowledge of this space, so it was difficult to make the distinction between services and suppliers, as well as to know where they were coming from and what to expect. After a fair amount of research and several years getting to know the different players, I created this chart as a personal reflection on how I see this world. While it was a great help to me to find my way in this space, I didn’t immediately consider it of great practical use to others.
That changed when I was invited to co-moderate a networking session: ‘High Tech Meets Design’, organized by one of our regional development organizations Brainport Development. While preparing for the session I realized that the chart was a useful visual representation of the ongoing developments in the technology x design space.
What does it all mean?
The horizontal axis of the chart represents the entry threshold, from low to high. These thresholds can be different things: time, money, reputation, experience, etc. It is also not an exact science as, for example, money may be a lower threshold for a large company than a small startup or a lone freelancer.
The vertical axis represents the initiative’s specificity – or how dedicated it is to your particular application. The higher on the axis, the more focused on an end ‘product’ or result the inspiration is. For example, events are typically more inspirational but also more diffuse, with potential that is less immediate. At the other end of the scale, a product demonstrator is very application specific and hence more explicit.
Low threshold, low specificity
These are your typical networking events, amateur/enthusiast communities, meet-ups, matchmaking events, maker fairs, design weeks, etc. Typically, you can jump right into any of these without requiring a lot of knowledge about the subject or having to invest a significant amount of time or money (low threshold). And while you are likely to be inspired with some new ideas and/or contacts, these events are not set up for the sole benefit of your needs. What you get out of them is largely subject to your own ability to filter what you see and translate it into the context of your own business.
High threshold, low specificity
These are communities consisting of thought leaders focusing on more advanced yet still somewhat general topics at the intersection of disciplines. Examples in my own context in Eindhoven include the Van Abbe museum, Baltan labs, and Singularity university, where useful activities and experiments are ongoing about future and speculative trends and technologies and their impact on society. Basically, it can be any maker community or organization outside your regular business network that has a certain level of transparency/accessibility and a focus on relevant topics. Here you can engage with creatives and builders around specific themes such as Blockchain, Social Innovation, the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals to name a few. However, the topics are still relatively broad and general, so a high level of involvement is required to reap specific benefits. And you can’t guarantee what those benefits will be; expect the unexpected.
Low threshold, high specificity
These resemble commercial services but have lower thresholds. For example, taking a very practical or conceptual design challenge to a school or university. The threshold is low as you’re working with students rather than a commercial organization. And while some effort will be made towards your problem, a fully functional solution is often not guaranteed. The students may come up with some great ideas and interesting concepts but perhaps not a perfect solution.
Also, you could issue an open call or design challenge online with low prize money. Although low-threshold for you and potentially useful for especially young creatives to build their portfolio, I personally would not recommend this kind of challenge, as they depreciate the value and contributions of the creative industries.
High threshold, high specificity
This section contains commercial design agencies and firms. It also includes complex and specific challenges like the X-prize. Being in this sector requires both higher prior investment and highly specific knowledge. You are going to have to overcome one or more major thresholds (cost, time and/or knowledge), and will have a highly specific demand that will lead directly to an application. Navigating this segment of the chart is by far the most efficient if you have a clear idea of the problem you want to have solved and the solution that you are looking for.
A first step
From the reactions I have received, this chart appears to be a tool that people can use to orientate themselves in the emerging space at the intersection of technology and design. Certainly, the attendees at the breakout session at High Tech Meets Design found it useful. If you also find it useful or if you are already familiar with the concepts and ideas expressed here and have some ideas on how to improve the chart, do let me know.