There is a lot of talk these days about “purpose driven design”. QTOOTH wanted to take a look at where this term comes from, what it means, and provide a few real world examples of it in action in the world of wireless devices.
Technological advances make more possible. These possibilities excite inventors and manufacturers, inspiring them to develop products that might include features that previously could only be imagined. In doing so, they hope to impress others by being able to say, “Our product not only does X and Y, but also Z. Oh, and A… and B, and C and D…” This may not only lead to what is referred to as feature bloat, but also the risk that they are adding features that no one will use. Just because you make it doesn’t mean people will want it. This is where the philosophy of purpose driven design comes to the rescue.
Purpose driven design could be considered a component of the Customer Development methodology popularized by Steve Blank. The basic concept of customer development is to learn as much as possible about potential customers, what problems they have, how they understand those problems, and what is of real value to them. The success of any design is how accurately it solves those problems in a way that will be most appreciated. So how does this differ from the classic “form follows function”? Form follows function doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody wants that particular function. However, if the function solves a very specific problem, the design that provides a solution can be said to exist for a reason. It serves a purpose.
Having recently attended the Wearable Tech Expo in Los Angeles, it was hard not to notice that “purpose driven design” was mentioned often in many of the presentations. The wearable tech industry is currently fighting for mass adoption. Because of this, they want to make sure that their innovations are not perceived as being frivolous in nature. Manufactures want to make sure that there is a ready market for their device and that they’re not creating something just because they can.
Stan Kinsey, president of Martian Watches, and Andy Tarczon, VP of Partner Development at Meta Watch, were the very first presenters and they couldn’t stress enough the value of purpose driven design. They were very clear that in order for their smart watch companies to succeed they had to fill very specific needs. They freely admitted that not everyone wants to wear a watch nor are they trying to convince everyone that they should. Instead, they started by asking current watch wearers what functions from their other smart devices would they most likely use if it were available on their wrist. How did this help? They ended up with shortlist of features that accurately targeted the needs and desires of their existing market.
One of the major players at the conference was PLT Labs, the research and innovation division of Plantronics. Their main product on display was a device called the Concept 1, based on the Legend series of Plantronics’ highly successful Bluetooth wireless headsets. They have basically thrown in everything and the kitchen sink when it comes to sensors, including such things as a nine-axis motion sensor, a free-fall sensor, a pedometer and an MFi chip for more direct communication with iOS devices. PLT Labs has been bringing the Concept 1 to hackathons, events where developers have a chance to find and create new applications for cutting edge technology. They provide developers with software development kits (SDKs) and application programming interfaces (API) that allow them to create new uses for the device. Check out these videos that barely scratch the surface of the awesome capabilities of the Concept 1:
Pretty exciting stuff! So when I had the chance at the Wearable Tech Expo to sit down and chat with Mike Holmlund, Software Product Marketing Manager for Plantronics and PLT Labs Software Evangelist, I asked the usual rabid technology fan question: “I want one! This looks ready for mass production, why don’t you release it… NOW?!” Mike smiled, calmed me down, and gave me some quick insight into their approach to purpose driven design.
First, here is a list of some of the most common sensors and functions that can be built-in to this type of device:
- Capacitive sensor to detect whether a device is being worn or not
- Head orientation tracking
- MFi chip for easy integration with iOS devices (MFi means “made for iOS”) this allows for native access to iOS functionality over Bluetooth. This is very handy for applications requiring very low latency, particularly useful when tracking head orientation and related applications.
- Built-in pedometer
- Tap detection
- Free-fall detection
- Thermometer/ temperature
- Heart rate
- A suite of APIs for easy integration not only with iOS but also Android, Windows and Mac.
According to Mike, the Concept 1 has had just about every sensor available in it at some point during its development. For instance, one of the earlier versions had a heart rate sensor. However, at the hackathons, no one was writing applications that used this feature. The heart rate sensor didn’t serve a purpose. They have since removed the heart rate sensor.
As a bit of a tech geek, I am of course mortified. Doesn’t everybody want it all? Maybe no one is writing apps for it yet, but maybe once released into the wild they would? But, as Mike reminded me, this would only add unnecessary cost to a device and potentially overwhelm users with too many options. From a business standpoint that is too much of a risk. Why include features and all of the hardware and software needed to support them if very few people will actually use them? This would run counter to the core principle of purpose driven design; usefulness.
So, as we watch this journey of the Concept 1’s development, it will be very interesting to see what the final design will include. One thing is certain, everything in it will serve a useful purpose.