The Serendipity of Ambient Design

By Hendrik Kleinsmiede, Director of Innovation • Visa Europe

April 05, 2016

This year in the design community we’ve seen a new theme emerge – ambient design. Design that allows for serendipity; for the interplay of the unplanned.

What does that mean, and where has it come from?

The internet of things has made our world more connected than ever before. Any environment – living rooms, cars, offices, shopping malls, even outdoor spaces like parks and festivals – can be embedded with tiny unseen sensors, each one connected to the others and to the wider world. One sensor might recognise human presence (how many are people in a particular space; who those people are); one might recognise and control temperature; one might even analyse the chemical composition of the space, right down to the molecular level (Who is hungry? Who is sickening?). These advanced sensors can not only identify their occupants but also their state – their preference – and act accordingly. Bob likes his micro-climate a bit cooler than Jane? No problem. The Internet of Things will take care of it.

So how do you design experiences in and for this connected environment?

Often in digital design we aim to create a single experience per digital interaction. Take your typical banking app. For the most part they are restricted to the singular function of banking: by and large, you know what you’re going to get. Or take gaming. Here you might have a more immersive experience. But would you build in awareness of the other features of the room that the console sits in – the lamp, the TV, and more? Unlikely.

In the world of the Internet of Things designers are no longer looking at a single experience or “linear” app design. They’re no longer thinking about just one of those in-room sensors. Instead, the experience is built on the interplay between sensors – their interaction and their shared knowledge. Here you find a crucial and exciting role for Artificial Intelligence, navigating the maze of interconnectivity and giving it purpose – in other words, computing the preference indicated by that shared data. Experiences will no longer be anticipated or prescribed; rather than designing the actual experience itself, designers create the conditions for the experience to emerge on its own.

We will be working in a world of serendipitous design – the happy coincidence of collision.

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