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Gadgets for Ever

Story Proposal for the Patterns of Disappearance Workshop at i3 Spring Days
1.2.2000 / Kari-Hans Kommonen / Media Lab, University of Art and Design / khk@uiah.fi

Gadgets Forever

Are you bored managing your agenda, shopping and messages and everything else with always the same PocketBook or which ever unitool you use? Many people are, and some even say that the idea of using a universal tool for many things is an old fashioned idea, a left over from the metamedium stage, the time when people were still fascinated with the computer's ability to emulate any medium. They want to have a calendar tool, a shopping list tool etc., whose material design has been optimized for that use, and they sure have many products to choose from. On the other hand, the flexibility of software and hence frequent feature upgrades require these people to either stick with their tool and miss out on some new features or switch to the most recent tool every once in a while - or sometimes they are lucky and choose a great design which takes the test of time especially well.

But some people take this to the extreme. Last week I went to visit a young designer, Uman Bing who has his office next to Johannes church in Helsinki, very near downtown but far enough to avoid most of the traffic noise. His unique gadgets have become very hot among a certain style conscious community in the city, and it seems that his cozy office has become the home base for those who want to be the
first with anything.

"I think that people who simply use the unitools for everything are boring and lack a sense of play." His gadgets are guaranteed to be only for a single purpose. For example, his first hit product was the Signer stick for sending a single, personalized but frozen, message to the person who the owner points at. It will only function if the owner holds it. Even the owner can't change the message. "It is like a tattoo, you have to live with it. But then again, you can always simply hang it on the wall." That's true, the stick is a beautiful object, and hand carved to match the person. Most owners use one for opening interactions with new interesting people, while some communities have developed rituals which in practice require each member to always carry a few sticks on them (now you know where that strange stickbelt fad came from).

Another hit product is Repeat Me, a horn shaped thing which repeats the holders last statement. As you can see from these examples, people do not necessarily go to Mr Bing to solve their productivity problems. But he says, "I design all kinds of things, for example Sensitive Briefcases for personal email, or the Taxi Retriever. However, I do believe that the lighter side is more important for our wellbeing, and most of my inspiration, and it seems, my customers' interest is on that side."

Many of his products are actually realizations of customers' ideas. "Those are completely unique works, I do not use someone's idea again, unless the customer specifically wishes me to do that. But most people come to me because they want something unique, and I believe in that myself as well. People have the right to use the help of specialists and still keep their individual specificity."

My own favourite, and actually something I bought, was the Fridgette, a miniature of a fridge with an opening door, behind which is an image showing the actual contents of my fridge, wherever I go. Yes, I know that for the practical purpose of knowing what to buy, it is easier and more accurate to consult my agent and let it completely handle the shopping for regularities, but I simply like the ritual of planning my shopping with the fridge.

What does Mr. Bing think about people tinkering their own gadgets? "I think that is the way to go, basically, but I believe there is an innate interest into sharing ideas. People who design for themselves usually want an audience too. When they create something really nice,
they would like to show it to others and they offer to make one for
their friends etc. In the same fashion, they like to use things created by others, especially in the fields which they are less familiar with. But let me say that I like your question, because it touches on the most important thing about this business - it is about personal creativity, whether you look at someone designing for themselves or for a customer, but it has to take place on a personal level, for an individual. This could never have worked if the design of these things had remained forever as the privilege of engineers and techno geeks."

(Zoom in and out)

FMH / Kari- Hans Kommonen / i3 Spring days Ateena / March 3 2000 / Patterns of disapearance