Click to enlarge
then BACK to return.
Figure 2 The basic FORMAT diagram
On the left is what might be referred to as "primitive" form states and
on the right "futurist" form states where for any artefact one assumes a
possible evolution of form from the primitive to the futurist.
Therefore key questions to ask are: What "form state" is a product? Is it
realistic to change the product from a primitive form state to an
futurist form state?
At a basic level product classification is usually done by function e.g..
washing machine, and then by specific model features e.g... BMW 325 i.
However, many products have similar models with similar features
competing in the marketplace. How can they be classified from the
perspective of form? To help classification by form four archetypes of
products , derived from FORMAT, are suggested as being helpful which can
be applied to products:
a. "horseless carriage" products (HCDs) - designs embodying new
using traditional design concepts and forms by default.
b. "pathfinder" products - planned "horseless carriages" assisting
of new technology.
c. "pioneer" products - innovative designs incorporating an
d. "radical products" - designs with new forms introduced without
These can be independent but they can also be viewed as evolutionary
phases of a products form development.
Figure 3 places the above archetypes in an evolutionary context.
Click to enlarge
then BACK to return.
CYBERG and FORMAT can be used to assist conceptualisation of new product
design. In CYBERG we see products in their purest form may therefore become either Supertools or
Robots, depending on the goal of design. Most products, however, are
likely to be hybrids having both human-enhancement and human-replacement
aspects and thus evolve into Robotools.
The crucial question for managers of innovation to answer is 'Where on
the CYB-ERG graph is an established product, and how can it be advanced
in its design to fit the market opportunities opened up as a result of
the introduction of new mechatronics and multimedia technology ? ' .
The use FORMAT is somewhat 'fuzzy logic' as that of a 'pathfinder' product
development strategy (10) in respect
to 'personable' and 'animate' characteristics when applying mechatronics
and multimedia technology. However a 'pathfinder' strategy is likely to be
more successful an a
A key question is - how can we envisage the affect of
such 4D form on established products?
4D Consumer Product development.
The common goal of designers is to create an 'appealing', 'useful' and
'acceptable' product at the right time in the right place for the right
customer to do the job required. In design practice cross-disciplinary
teams are increasingly required to do this as consumer products become
more complex. Designers with different perspectives increasingly
contribute to product development. At one extreme there is the ethos of
engineering and ergonomic functional capability, and at the other extreme
- artistic aesthetics and emotional value. The former has tended to
receive more attention, indicated by the value of research grants for
engineering compared to industrial design.
What would 4D product design research involve in this area?
Three research questions to ask are :
- what characteristics will a 4D product have that a 3D product does
- what specialist knowledge is required for 4D products that is not
required in 3D products?
- what non-technical functional components are involved?
Non-technical functional 'performance'
Technologies that enable articulation of components
and their control are developing at the same time as multimedia
information technology, and the quality of technical engineering design
can increasingly be relied upon. Consumer rights and legal product
liability legislation are ensuring the basic characteristics of any
product are good - the product will do what it is
said to do, and it is safe and increasingly environmentally benign.
However the 'emotional' value attributed to any product is of crucial
importance in the consumer market. The question of whether a product is a
appealing and pleasant to
use has to be answered. Richard Guyatt, once Rector of
the Royal College of Art, aptly said to an audience simpathetic to 'form
follows function' - " there is such a thing as the ergonomics of the
Static visual design has been of fundamental importance, and many design
schools have been instrumental in the growth of designers, who as well as
capable of technical design, are visually aware about qualities of 2D
and 3D product form . However, even here, the dominance of the 'visual' has
other form attributes to fend for themselves. Dynamic form, such as the
sound of a product and the way it moves are just two non-technical
performance attributes that have not received the attention they
deserve. Noise has been tackled but not musical composition. Animation
as a linear form of narrative entertainment in 2D and 3D has developed
with film and video technologies, but the issue of 4D form, where
the behaviour, especially as a metamorphic non-technical performance
attribute, increasingly needs to be addressed. How can this be done? A
knowledge of 'personality'
and 'behaviour' in people and animals is an initial requirement for any
To illustrate some 4D issues and how 4D form would affect the humble video
recorder some teleological design thoughts on the humble domestic video
recroder/player are described below.
4D design of video recorder.
The forces on product design to reduce component cost etc. tend to
dominate the design decision process. Folklore has it that someone was
told what an industrial designer does. The surprising response was ' Oh
they are the people who make things less enjoyable, as the person
recalled the aesthetic qualities lost from of old cars and machines - the
materials, smells and sounds 'experienced' in for example driving a Morris
Minor car, to using a classic Singer
Sewing Machine. So as a wave of innovation is about to sweep through
consumer products through application of mechatronics and multimedia
technologies this response is worth a second thought with reference to
CYB-ERG and FORMAT.
Evolution of the video recorder could take either of the two routes
towards robot or supertool. Loading of a cassette may be eliminated with
on-line download through the internet. Alternatively, pop out/up cassette
loader could evolve into something more kinaesthetic, responsive, and
dare we say enjoyable.
At a more complex level of 4D design, the video recorder has a notorious
reputation for many years for being 'unprogrammable' except by the most
technologically adept. It took the development of VideoPlus - the bar
code based swipe invention for programming a video recorder before
progress was made. VideoPlus significantly automates the process and it
adds value by subtracting hassle. It too is on the path to 'robot'. If
the path to ''Cybonic-tool' was chosen then the action of programming
would have been made not only easier but enjoyable too - it would be
designed as an 'event'. So how could this be been done?
Useability and emotionability.
The communication of ideas, mood and emotion through action is the
bedrock of the performing arts - music, theatre, and dance. This is an
untapped source of knowledge for product design and development. It is a
input of knowledge for 4D design, which together with multimedia
and mechatronics technologies
would be used within our 4D video recorder . What 'character' would the
video recorder have? Would it be friendly?
The term user-friendly has been one used by the ergonomist and
human-computer interaction specialist. However inspection of
'user-friendly' designs show such specialist do not really mean
just non-problematic. How would a really user-friendly video recorder
'behave' ? How would it 'act' when you switched it on? It will have a
technical performance through speed of cassette loading but how will it
'perform' in non-technical performance?
How will a video recorder 'sound'? The sound of the cassette loading and
it s ejection not been 'designed-in'. 'Worrying' clunks and winding
sounds have been design-out' but what about 'audio aesthetics' that
are pleasant to hear. Are the silent designs of today's electronic
products appreciated more than the clunk of mechanical ones of the
past? What is the alternative?
How would a video recorder move? The mechatronics technology required for
ejecting a video tape is relatively simple, but one can only but notice
however that the design of its dynamic form is only functional.
Kinaesthetics has not been considered for the loading or ejection of the
video tape, nor has it had a major influence on the 3D form of the
video player's ' black box'.
Movement has been designed-out of many products. The 'performance' of the
mechanical arm in a 1950's Juke Box was an 'event' that contributed to
the experience of 'playing' a record. Imagine the possible movements
using today's mechatronics technology.
Would the video recorder talk? The art of conversation between people
can be fascinating experience to be part of. With speech synthesis and
voice recognition now on the threshold of practical application a
dialogue with your video recorder could be designed. Natural language
conversation is not the aim here, but random verbal annunciation based
on recognition of words you might say, or the conditions of the
environment could provide some interesting 'infotainment'. Would the
accent of a voice have - that of the chief executive in the original
company head office - a Japanese owned company product speaking English
with a Japanese accent? If you are Scottish would you expect the recorder
to speak in your regional accent?
The design of such dynamic non-technical performance attributes through
notions of 4D design would, it is contended here, add-value to a video
recorder/player, and even make it more useable. It might move on product
design from the 'black-box' syndrome into something completely different.
Mechatronmics and multimedia technologies could facilitate this.
Robotic devices currently in service (11) are unlikely however to be the
main thrust of evolution in 4D consumer products. Techolust (12) and
the walking - roving video recorder/player should no more be the goal
for the 21st century than the robot waiter holding a glass of wine for
you at a party, but the consumer product with 'dynamic personality' could
well be a goal worth exploration.
Will 'form follow fun' in the 21st century? Which do you prefer, the
silent internet delivery of a music-video or the evolution of the 50's
Jukebox to a personable product joining in the event? Which do you think
would be the the most socially and ecologically responsible design? What
do you think will happen, and importantly have we any choice?
1. Warwick, Kevin. 'March of the Machines' (1997) Century , London.
ISBN 0 7126 7756 9
2. Robertson Alec. et al. "Research & its Assessment in Art, Design & the
Performing Arts" Working Party Report. De Montfort University, Leicester.
England Feb. 1993.
3. Robertson, Alec. '4D Design: The Interaction of Disciplines at a New
Design FrontierÓ. Design Management Journal, Boston USA. Summer 94 pp 26-30.
4. Robertson, Alec " 4D Design Futures: Some Concepts and Complexities"
in 4D Dynamics Conference Proceedings. De Montfort University, Leicester
(1995) ISBN 1857211306.
5. Parkin, Rob. "4D Product Design: A Challenge of Integration". in 4D
Dynamics Conference Proceedings. De Montfort University, Leicester (1995)
6. Sutton, Mark. "To examine the topic of CD-ROM", unpublished report,
(1994) MA Information & Graphic Design Course. De Montfort University.
7. Darwin C " Origin of the Species by Means of Natural
Selection", 1995, Grammercy Books.
8. Robertson, A., "CYB-ERG: A proposed model for assisting
innovation in products, and their design". Paper in Creativity and
Innovation Network Journal.Vol. 9, No. 3, July-Sept., 1983. Manchester
9. Robertson, Alec and Schybergson. Olof ,"Product Form - Creative
Research using Cyberg and Format with reference to multimedia
products". Design Management Research & Education
Conference- .Nov. 1996 Barcelona.
10. Robertson, Alec. "Pathfinder products: reducing risk is design
innovation", Proc. The International Forum on Design Management Research
in Education. 1-3 June 1994. Design Management Institute/ ESCP Senior. Paris.
11. Engleberger, J.F. "Robots in Service". 1989, Kogan Page. London.
12. Robertson, Alec."Technolust versus creative design: some
implications of intelligent products for design". Intelligent Consumer
Products Symposium. Institute of Electrical Engineers / Chartered
Society of Designers. London ,1992. IEE Digest No. 1992/013.
13. CYBERBRIDGE-4D DESIGN WWW site at http://www.dmu.ac.uk/
Copyright © Alec Robertson June 1997.
Comments on this paper are welcomed -