Designing Around the Human That Can’t Put Their Phone Down

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This is probably one of the most fascinating and infuriating designs I’ve seen in a long time. People have become so ingrained in their phones – even whilst walking across a busy street – that a Dutch town has started putting in pedestrian stop lights. No, it is not the same as the universal red blinking hand and white person walking signaling we see everywhere (like the photo above). It is even more obnoxious than that.

Several cities across Europe have started to adopt in-the-ground lighting that coincide with the traffic lights above. Here are some visuals:

So, why are we starting to do this? Well, turns out, people – might I add those who are not the brightest light bulbs in the box – have started walking across intersections while looking down at their phones. Like I said…not the brightest.

Designers being the cool people that they are, have now solved for this problem by putting lights below. Now, lazy people who don’t want to look up from their devices, can walk safely across the road without even having to try. How amazing! Let’s stop teaching our kids we have to look both ways before crossing the street. Brilliant.

As you can tell, I’m not super happy about this. This is a great example of ingenious design, and yet, people are balking. Several boards for these cities have said this is merely “rewarding bad behavior.” And I’d have to agree. I listened to a podcast the other night that had discussed the benefits and possible downfalls of artificial intelligence in the future. One of the researchers had said people often fear the one on one experience individuals will have with robots. But what he is concerned about, is the interactions people will have with other people once they’ve interacted with AI.

For example, he mentioned children talking to Siri/Alexa/Google in an authoritative tone without using pleasantries. “Siri, play me this song.” “Alexa, remind me to do this tomorrow.” “Google, tell me what ____ is.” All without one please or thank you. Children are (hopefully) taught at a young age to use pleasantries because it’s the right way to treat people. It’s polite. What starts to happen when children get what they want from AI by being rude? Will they start to be rude to other kids on the playground, bossing them around and hoping for obedient results? “Suzy, give me the ball.” Kids are ruthless enough as it is.

To be fair, I had never thought about this so poignantly. We see robots revolt in action movies after mistreatment and humans kill off robots after they’ve gotten too powerful. All of that is fairly black and white, and physical too. Easy to digest and predict. But what I’ve failed to see fleshed out, is this nuanced ripping of our social fabric like this scientist theorizes.

Now, I’m not suggesting this pedestrian lighting initiative is tearing apart the way of life. But I am suggesting people should look up from their damn phones because that’s gonna rip apart social fabric real quick. It’s already begun.

when being the same is popular, do something different

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Samsung is one of the biggest tech companies in the world right now. They have been the benchmark for many products in the past, and they just made history this week, bringing out the first foldable phone ever.

Now, I am an avid Apple supporter – mostly due to the fact that I love how efficient the seamlessness is between my iPhone and Mac. Quite frankly, I’ve never been a brand enthusiast. I’m not very particular when it comes to staying true to a company. I like what I like, and what I purchase reflects this – brands typically don’t have a big influence on that. So my current Apple monopoly isn’t necessarily out of respect for the brand, more so the necessity of work flow.

I currently have an iPhone 6 and a 15″ Macbook from 2014. So I’m clearly not concerned with having the latest and greatest gadgets either. My point is, the product development of Apple hasn’t excited me recently. I had no urge to run out and get the iPhone X, and yet, I have no urge to shop around for other brands. Nothing has caught my attention. Apple tends to stick to the same proportions, aesthetic, and materials. I understand it’s a coherent product lineup, but their over-enthusiasm for the “redesign” of the camera from a horizontal orientation to a vertical one, is ridiculous. They could add 1 GB of storage and say it’s a whole new phone with “revolutionary capabilities” and people would eat it up.

I’m being cynical, but as someone who has been directly influenced by the evolution of phones (I had the Motorola Razr and the LG Envy in middle school) it seems ridiculous that nothing has been extremely progressive in the past few years.

Insert Samsung and their most recent Galaxy release. We don’t know the exact name of the phone yet (rumors have dubbed it the X, F, or Fold), but the technology itself seems revolutionary. There’s a slew of problems that will become extremely apparent after consumers get ahold of it, but design isn’t necessarily supposed to have all of the answers in the beginning.

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Innovation starts out with an idea. I had an Apple Shuffle iPod a few years after it came out. It didn’t have a screen, you had no idea what song was coming next, and you had no chance to choose. But, the idea behind it – the most compact music device of the time – was the priority.

I’m trying not to be overly critical about Samsung’s ability to change the phone game – that has been completely stagnant for at least the past 6 years – and frankly, I’m more excited about the prospect that big companies are willing to risk not only their reputation and profitability, but design capabilities, on a new concept.

There’s a new way to damage control

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I’m a fairly responsible person. And yet, my phone has been accidentally left in many bathroom stalls and one time, an Uber. Now, I’ve remembered to go back for it (and in the case of the Uber, I tracked it down just fine thanks to my more than attentive driver) and I found it in every occasion. Quite honestly, I’m not super attached to the information on my phone. So despite the hard hit of buying a new one, everything gets uploaded to the cloud and I can always log into accounts on a new device. But, if I lost my computer somehow, that would probably be devastating. I just finished a hard-drive backup earlier today, but when all of your student and freelance work is on one device, it becomes extremely valuable.

I’ve had to do short-term insurance before (renter’s, travel, etc.) and it was a pain in the butt trying to get the right company, coverage, and time period for my needs. During a research assignment this weekend, I came across a company called Trov that sells single-item insurance, with the fluidity of on-demand protection. A lot of their glowing customer reviews were from photographers who covered expensive cameras and gear. They advertise bikes, guitars, antiques, tech gadgets, and more on their website.

Scrolling through their several categories, I was really intrigued with their platform. Going overseas for a study abroad trip? Select the specific amount of time you’ll be out of the country, and boom, totally covered. Accidental damage, loss, theft, mechanical failure, etc. is all taken care of. I don’t know their rates because I couldn’t be bothered with plugging all my information in to get bombarded with promotional emails, but I highly recommend checking out their site. Or watch the video below.