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Innovation project: Love your haters

Jan van Boesschoten about hate and design

New gadgets provide convenience. You only have to say ‘music’ and your Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa brings it on. Awesome, but at the same time at the expense of your privacy. This sort of adverse side effects provoke aversion. Which is why we have students think about the question how to arrive at a hate proof product.

One of Mark Zuckerberg’s mottos is “Move fast and break things.” In other words, everything has to make way for progress. And the downsides? Those are not addressed until Facebook is bombarded by complaints. This ruthless strategy follows a design trend of all kinds of energetic and positive-minded design thinking processes: “Your idea is fantastic and will be a success, no matter what!” Looking at the downsides of an idea then becomes more or less taboo. Whereas identifying problems and solving them is what the profession is all about. Besides, getting worked up also releases a lot of energy. Why not use that?

Rolling up one’s sleeves

With that idea in mind we put 48 students of six different design programmes to work in the SintLucas Creative Jam during the Dutch Design Week. The privacy problem of the Amazon Alexa is one of the cases. What is the solution? How to put the user back in control, and with confidence? By buckling down to these issues during an entire afternoon, the students come up with smart solutions. One of the teams for example, equips the device with a light beam, which is green when the Alexa is listening in, red when on stand-by and colourless when it’s completely off. An idea as simple as it is smart, as a result of which you always know when you can speak freely. Another team comes up with a small transmitter you can wear on your belt, that only activates the Alexa when you have a burning question.

Reality check

Apart from eavesdropper Alexa, we choose a few other controversial innovation bloopers. A smart fridge that keeps buying milk for instance. And another beauty, an automated hoover that daubs the entire house with dog dirt when your dog has relieved itself indoors. It’s very successful to have students look at these issues. Why? Because it releases lots of energy and results in all kinds of surprising ideas. In addition, it creates awareness that innovation solves things, but can also cause new problems. If you don’t address those, you are not creating a better world and happier people. So therefore, taking possible downsides and risks into consideration too, is a sound angle for designers. My advice is to apply it, if only as a reality check. Don’t proceed on the assumption that your idea will be immensely successful, but dare to focus on its biggest problems and let-downs too.

Jan van Boesschoten

The digital domain never rests, not even for a second. Jan van Boesschoten keeps VodafoneZiggo on its toes when it comes to digital. He does so in lots of innovative projects ánd with the new generation thinkers, users and employees. Exactly, students.

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