Four examples of the symbiosis between design and technology

One of the big themes at Roadmap 2014 was the integration of design and technology. Speakers discussed everything from how designers and developers should work together to whether technical restraints hurt or help the design process.

Tim McCoy, the director of product design at Pivotal Labs, gave a brief presentation Wednesday on the history of technology and design butting up against each other. He went through a list of designers and companies in the last 600 years who grappled with the space between the two. Here are some of the most compelling examples:

  1. Frank Lloyd Wright: Wright was an experimental designer who would frequently release design-focused structures that didn’t always hold up. He was loath to compromise his vision for practicality. At one point, Hib Johnson, president of the company Wright worked for, decided to persuade the architect using a hands-on example — he asked him to reach for something just out of his grasp while he was sitting in a three-legged chair he had created. McCoy explained, “He promptly fell out of his chair, dusted himself off, got up, and agreed to deliver a four-legged one.”
  2. Atari: Developers on one of the earliest video game consoles capitalized on design tweaks to improve the performance of the machine. By introducing a black side bar on the screen, they were able to greatly increase Atari’s processing power so it went from only being able to run games like Pong, to handling the complexity of something like Pitfall without making any hardware changes.
  3. Rand logos: Paul Rand, a famous logo designer, was the master of mixing function and form. He designed the UPS logo with both in mind. It had to be something that could be embroidered on an outfit and look okay, but also be printed on bruised and battered shipping boxes and still be legible.
  4. Pivotal Labs: Pivotal, McCoy’s home base, has made design-engineering symbiosis a mandatory building block of the company. Designers and developers work alongside each other in pairs shipping code. They co-own style guides, and developers are involved in the brainstorming and user research process so they understand the needs.

McCoy wrapped up with a discussion of how developers can keep designers realistic, and designers can keep developers inspired. “There remains a gap between what we can imagine and what we can deliver,” McCoy said. “As designers and technologists, we owe it to ourselves and to the people who use our products to reach for that convergences, that state of symbiosis.”

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