17 October 2008

One is a lonely number

Last week I was in Zurich at the finals of the Electrolux 2008 DesignLab competition. This was a great event and Electrolux deserve to have praise heaped upon them from all sectors of the industry.

While some companies are content to wring their hands and mutter ‘Where are tomorrow’s designers coming from?’, Electrolux gets off its backside and organises a prestigious competition that provides graduate designers with the opportunity to strut their stuff on the world stage.

The fact that over 600 of these bright young things took the time to enter shows how serious the design community takes this competition. And if the
nine entries that made it through to the final are anything to go by, the future of design has never been brighter.

The task for this year’s Design Lab competition was to design a product for the ‘Internet Generation’, a group these designers new intimately because to a man – and they were all men this year – they were of the Internet Generation themselves.

But what is this group? It is not Internet Users for starters. That is a lifestyle not an age group. The Internet Generation are those who have grown up with the Internet, for whom social networks like Facebook are second nature rather than a novelty. They are people who never ask you ‘if’ you have an email address, but ‘what’ your email address is.

The Internet Generation also has a different attitude to work. For them, the ‘9-to-5’ is nonsense. There are no boundaries between work and play time. They may dip into a social network website while at work or finish off a company report on the way home. And if they work from home (as an increasing number of the Internet Generation will do), the divisions between work and play will be nonexistent.

The most worrying aspect of the Internet Generation is their solus lifestyle. All but one of the final entries in this year’s Design Lab competition (including the winner) assumed that the user of the product would live alone, in a very small apartment or bedsit, and spend an inordinate amount of time in front of their computer.

Indeed one entrant assumed that its customer would not even leave the computer to toast a sarnie and so developed a USB-powered toaster (see the above image). A second developed a kitchen unit, complete with hob and refrigerator section, which looked like and fitted into the space of an under-counter filing cabinet.

Even the winner designed a refrigerator that would be used by an individual sharing multi-occupancy property that wanted their own food storage space.

We are all familiar with the ‘loner’ of an earlier generation, sat in front of their television with a TV dinner in front of them but they had to surface at some stage, to work, shop, or to answer the phone – even if the call was only from a telly marketer.

But extreme members of the Internet Generation can do all of the above, and watch television, without moving from in front of their monitor. They have no need to leave their home and meet real people.

This folks is the future, or at least a substantial portion of it. And through the eyes of this dedicated Internet User from a pre-Internet Generation generation, it looks a little scary.

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