Design now has to assume that objects evolve over time

Designer Yves Behar, the man behind a series of influential products including the Jawbone Up bracelet and Jambox, told attendees at Gigaom’s Roadmap conference in San Francisco on Tuesday that unlike previous generations of industrial design, we now have to assume that objects will improve over time as their software is changed or upgraded. That requires a whole new layer of design thinking, he said.

In the 1990s, every laptop or desktop computer that emerged made the previous versions obsolete, Behar said — but now, products like the Jambox music player or the Up bracelet can be upgraded via software. “One year after launching the Jambox, we sent people an update that made the sound louder and the battery last longer,” he said. In the same way, an upgrade doubled the battery life of the Up bracelet.

Because of such over-the-air updates, “we can constantly improve the algorithms within the product” to offer new features, the designer said. And since such objects are often collecting data about a customer’s usage and behavior, “we are able to start seeing new correlations, new ways to deliver information.”

The best kinds of products and companies, Behar said, are the ones that combine technology with an emotional connection to the user. “We all want things we can feel emotionally close to,” he said. “But we A/B test everything to death… and that’s valuable, but often the core idea or core intent of the product gets lost in that process.”

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