Designing Products For Responsive, Adaptive Design Strategies

28/03/2019 - Written by Ben van Berkel


Integrated design strategies can reach across all scales, from cutlery to urban masterplans. But when it comes to public appreciation of design, features closer to human scale can often become the most influential factors. How many public spaces in our cities could become catalysts for cohesion, but just lack the right street furniture? When it comes to an everyday appreciation and use of the built environment, as Mies van der Rohe put it...


“God is in the details”


Our product design work at UNStudio has naturally gravitated towards these larger architectural and urban scales. Over the last few years, we have designed communal furniture for public spaces, street lighting, and even kitchen and bathroom products and appliances that can add to the bigger experience of our designs. But, as we look to the future of integrated design, we need to recognise that the process of design is being turned on its head. We are moving towards design that is no longer imposed by designers, but guided by users. Responsive and adaptive design, through the integration of sensor technology, responds to the data that is produced by communities as they use a given space.

Architectural and urban designs will develop over time to respond to the ways they are being used. What does this mean for product design? It means that products become part of a 'front end' ecosystem across all scales within the built environment. For example, we can imagine benches that not only sense when and for how long they are being used, but also whether they should be placed at different locations within a masterplan. Should more benches be needed, the benches themselves can alert us; street lights that not only illuminate as you walk by, but that also measure where crowds gather for better illumination, collecting necessary information for the improvement of public spaces.

As part of this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan, UNStudio will showcase the work of our product design team, the UNSfutures team will design a booth for USM, I myself will give a talk at The Architect's Breakfast organized by Ahrend, and UNSknowledge will curate a series of talks for Delta Light, as well as attend a hackathon organized by Dassault Systèmes, with a goal of imagining unique and inspiring solutions for future cities. So while urban and architectural design continues to adapt to these new data-driven dimensions, at Milan Design Week we should experiment with technology-embedded products, and learn more about how such products can resonate with the scale of the built environment. When developing non-linear or integrated design strategies across all scales, digital layers within products should be purposefully directed to help us achieve our ultimate goal of appropriately bringing about benefits for people and for the environment.

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