Photo by Jan Chipchase
Today I ran across Jan Chipchase’s blog about how, while conducting Nokia research, they were able to collect a huge number of Personalized Phone Cases in phone-recycling bins around Japan. Finding this entry by Jan coincidentally touched upon some things we’ve been talking about a lot here at Little Springs; specifically the notions of what the human elements of personalization bring to the interactive experience with a device.
We’ve all seen modded-out computers, from far-out and funny gaming boxes to Steampunk Verne-cising of modern machines. I’ve seen stickers and paint on laptops, and I’ve seen dangles, sparkles, and doo-dads on cell phones. Historically, whether its a hammer or a hard-drive, we want to make our tools “ours,” and to operate as extensions of our own personalities. Our modern mobile devices are as much accessories that speak to the world that we’re “ultra-clean,” “ultra-edgy,” “ultra-us,” etc.
As interaction designers, however, we have no control about this part of a user’s experience; we design, we create, we market, we let go of the product and let it become and mutate into what it will in the hands of the public. Leo Fender designed guitars, but he had no idea Jimi Hendrix would melt the sky with one (and Fender sees the value in offering customization). Henry Ford designed vehicles for transportation, but had no idea how they would be “kustomized” and reconfigured to the extremes we see in this day and age (such as these Japanese kustoms, for example). Would computer designers in the 70’s anticipate the modding and hacking of the physical machines they were creating (such as this great list of the variety of mods out there)? Would Alexander Graham Bell anticipate that a phone would eventually become a personalized device that would offer it’s user literally the world at the touch of a button?
What does all of this say about us, socially and anthropologically? Well, it says we like our stuff, and even if our stuff is like everyone else’s, we still want to bring something of our own personality to it, as it is that much more of a “calling card,” and in the relation to a mobile device, this is literally the case (no pun intended).
Let’s go back to this idea of car customizing. Or, more properly, “Kar Kustomizing.” Doesn’t that just feel better? The words themselves (like the products) are altered to give them more fit, more personality, more truth to what the spirit behind them is.
More than ever, this notion of tools and their kustomization is an important dialog these days. Here at Little Springs, Steven Hoober and I talk about the merits of humans being “tool-oriented creatures,” even to the extent of what that means in regards to the idea of having NO tools, as in how we might interact gesturally with future technologies? He and I plan to do some more podcast/vidcasts of these conversations by revisiting the tools in our very own workshops, so keep a look out for these.
Personally, I think we will always HAVE tools, devices, gizmos, gadgets (and their inherent mod-abilities), for this very notion: we are hunters and gatherers “by trade” as humans. We like to collect things. We like to have things in our hand to see what we can do with them. We like to see how something reacts to our own physicality, how it represents our own “spin of English” on it, our opportunity to literally swing the bat at it. Mostly, we just like to show off.
Just like the Japanese phones with the art on them, the hot-rod builders of American Kustom Kutlture, the box-modders of the Steampunk movement… it’s all about crafting something individual out of something generic. It’s D.I.Y., and I look forward to seeing what kinds of specialty kustomization happens with some of the future-facing technologies being explored currently.