A good read for my daily commute today was this "On the ground running: Lessons from experience design by Adam Greenfield in which he describes the pitfalls and challenges of the "new ecosystem" that underly "experience design" and how to overcome them. Products, such as the iPod, are "no longer an isolated entity, but a way of gaining access to content which might ultimately live elsewhere", which leads designers in a situation where getting this product right "means accounting for your interactions with it across multiple channels over time". Quoting Eliel Saarinen, Adam highlights the importance of having things always "designed with reference to their next larger context".
The article goes through different examples such as the Nike+ system (biotelemetric transponder, compatible Nike sneakers, an iPod nano, and an online environment), a complex Acela train experience and the Puma Trainaway (shoes and clothes, a series of cardkey-sized, plasticized maps to running routes in major cities worldwide, MP3 audio guides, and alliances with Hotel chains). What I found very interesting here is the limitations:
"physical components that are fragile, unreliable, or not delivered to specification to begin with; difficulties integrating those components with online environments, with desktop or mobile applications, and with human participants; and finally, the inherent unpredictability of any attempt to maintain consistent feel across technosocial systems of heterogeneous type and nature."
A potential solution according to Adam concerns the logic of “small pieces, loosely joined,” coming from the Web culture. Favoring this bottom-up (streetwiser) opinion, the point is that
"the network is open-ended, effortlessly extensible, and robustly resilient to the failure of individual system components (...) Isn't it better, then, to open these systems up—to provide the APIs and other hooks that would allow people to configure them to their own liking? (...) the person formerly known to experience design as the “user,” “customer,” or “consumer”; needs to be understood as a human being before designers can do their work properly. Any other approach, he reasons, risks treating this person as an instrumental component, not as someone capable of fully participatory co-creation."
(On a different note, things can go beyond API as described in this article in The Economist about the sharing of data)
Why do I blog this? the issues and problems presented by Adam parallels some thoughts I had recently about complexity, how creating something is now tight to so many different aspects (user, context, regulations, etc.) that lots of flaws might emerge in the end.