Technology is dead. Welcome to the Age of Design. Intel etched tech's epitaph in stone at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month when it summarily buried the dropped "e'' in the company's logo and raised up a sexy swoop around the Intel name with the tagline "Leap Ahead.'' The geeky, nerdy "Intel Inside'' logo, a fixture since 1991, is now, along with Silicon Valley, six feet under. Intel's new CEO, Paul Otellini, is the first nontech exec to head the house that Noyce, Moore and Grove built.
Here lies the chip: R.I.P.
Cut to Davos, Switzerland, a week after Intel's interment, to the World Economic Forum, where Synopsys CEO Aart de Geus--a man who knows something about silicon, design engineering and business--told a reporter that he's attended the forum for six years in a row because the elite event has a "humanitarian dimension" that appeals to CEOs tired of being fixated on the bottom line.
Slowly but surely, microprocessors, chips, computers, operating systems, the very network itself, are becoming less relevant to consumers and less important from both a marketing and product-positioning perspective. Increasingly, Carver Mead is being shouldered aside by Margaret Mead.
Otellini and de Geus, two vocal proponents of emphasizing the human side of the engineering equation, are on to something. And the Valley's engineering, tech-centric community should take note. Together, CES and WEF pretty much span the mainstream of global technological, business, economic and cultural interests that unite, and divide, today's media-centric world. For that reason, whatever happens in these venues helps shape the industry's overall direction.
And while it may be arguable whether technology is actually dead, it most certainly wants--and needs--to become transparent, if not completely invisible to today's techless, clueless consumer. This reality has been manifest at CES for years and is clearly embodied in Intel's "Leap Ahead" marketing campaign--a new direction with a tagline that is marketing shorthand for "all that matters is the experience."
Within the industry, a rising sentiment and chorus of complaint holds that the tech sector has gotten too geeky and nerdy for its own good. And for some die-hard techy ideologues, that's just fine. "Things," not "people," are what count in electronic design, some would have us believe. But the chorus of dissent against this sentiment is on the rise, and ever so slowly, the social sciences and the cultural realities of a flat but highly diversified tech sector are beginning to bubble to the surface.
It appears as though the cold, soulless world of submicron silicon geometrics and robotic place and route iterations are giving way to a warmer, fuzzier engineering realm in which designing for the human experience is trumping the engineering ego trip.
Design, not technology, has captured the consumer's imagination, as anyone who has twirled a fingertip around iPod's elegantly simple dial pad can attest.
The potential of great design has also captured the imagination of the world's leaders and, knowing Aart de Geus, I'd say he's ahead of the curve and prescient in his notion that the "humanitarian dimension" is the next great global economic driver.
When "all that matters is the experience," design moves to the front of the bus and technology takes a back seat. That was the message at both CES and at Davos this year.
Silicon and software technology are becoming transparent and invisible in today's computer and communications media-intensive world. It's an environment in which "invisible facilitation" is rapidly emerging as the design rule of the day.
From the perspective of computer science, communications and electronic engineering, the design of human interfaces, as opposed to technology, has never been more important. Enter Margaret Mead and the notion that the social sciences and humanities are emerging as bedfellows to science and technology, especially in today's electronic-intensive media culture and society.
As technology, culture and media converge, designers of all stripes, including electronic engineers, are being compelled to take a "cross-disciplinary" approach to product design. That was the resounding message at this month's Media Summit New York, where the seamless media-technology-interface-for-consumers theme echoed the Great Leap Forward motif of CES.
In one Thursday afternoon session, "Inventing Next Generation Communications--Interdisciplinary Collaboration--Computer Science, Engineering Design and Personal and Social Communications," a panel of industry and academic representatives urged designers to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to media design.
Striking a tone that's begun to permeate engineering and design discussions from Silicon Valley to Schenzen, panelist Doug Rushkoff, author of Get Back in the Box, a treatise on innovation, urged designers and engineers "to be more human" and to take a "cross-disciplinary" approach to integrating computer and communication devices into media applications.
"The goal is to achieve invisible facilitation," Rushkoff said. He noted that technology must become totally invisible, and "as technologists talk to content companies and content companies talk to the network, all that matters is the experience."
"It's not about content, it's about contact--contact with people," Rushkoff observed, echoing the design themes of Davos and CES. These are trends that seem certain to reshape the future of product-development cycles in the media world as bits and bytes and speeds and feeds and the chips "inside" technology itself give way to more human-centric, experience-driven device and interface designs.
This chorus isn't limited to pundits and industry executives. It's begun to permeate the ranks of the tech community at several levels, including the rank and file of the working engineering and computer-science community.
On his blog and Web site, one self-described "geek defector," Chun-shek Chan, has documented his personal journey from the narrow world of programming into a richer, deeper, more-connected lifestyle, asserting that he likes "Web technologies and internationalization because they connect computers and people closer together than they have ever been."