Skip to main content

Hammers and Nails: Technology Push Design

"We need to refine our requirements first, before we look at tools." This is a common phrase that I hear. While I sympathize with the sentiment, I think it is frequently wasteful. I suspect that we'd get to the right requirements faster by looking at tools already available in a given problem space.

Pushing the concept further, is it foolish to find a cool technology and then look for ways that that technology can apply to current problem spaces? 

What if you don't even recognize you have a problem space? Without a constant search and openness, we'll miss many serendipitous opportunities.

Here is BYU professor Larry Howell discussing this issue.

I often enjoy doing something ... that is sometimes controversial. In this approach, rather than starting with a need, you start with a new technology and you search to identify a need that it can fulfill. This second more controversial approach is called "technology push design."  
You can imagine the criticisms of this approach. It is sometimes referred as "a solution looking for a problem" or "when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail." And there's definitely some truth to this criticism. But there are also some amazing opportunities.  
When you looks at the history of technologies that has made a significant impact on society, many of them did not start with a need. They preceded or even created the need.
For example, before smart phones, I never thought, "Gee, wouldn't it be cool to carry a powerful computer in my pocket that could make phone calls, provide hourly weather predictions, be my navigation system, carry all my scriptures, be my alarm clock and my calculator, and have access to limitless information?" Before microwave ovens no one was sitting around thinking, "Oh! Wouldn't it be convenient if I could nuke my leftovers and heat them up in 30 seconds?" No one thought that because it didn't occur to us that such a thing could even be possible. 
Many great inventions are entirely unanticipated before their creation. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Making People Feel Stupid: A Cardinal Sin in Design

People will go to great lengths and inconvenience to avoid appearing or feeling stupid. A great example of when design makes a user feel stupid comes from Alan Coopers 1999 book The Inmates are Running the Asylum on page 24. Cooper is talking about the keyless entry system on his car keys.
"The large button locks the car and simultaneously arms the alarm. Pressing the button a second time disarms the alarm and unlocks the car. There is also a second smaller button labeled 'Panic.' When you press it, the car emits a quiet warble for a few seconds. If you hold it down longer, the quiet warble is replaced by the full 100-decibel blasting of the car alarm, whooping, tweeting, yowling, and declaring to everyone within a half-mile that some dolt--me--has just done something execrably stupid. What's worse, after the alarm has been triggered, the little plastic device becomes functionally inert, and further pressing of either button does nothing. The only way to stop that hon…

Strategy: Efficient or Innovative

We haven't had a refresh on our strategy direction in my office for a few years. It seems like we are frequently torn between being efficient and being innovative.

Efficient

Lower costspeed to productionminimal failuresmaximum uptime Innovative Higher costlots of failuresfreedom to pursue non-"approved" activitiesshorter attention span I'm part of an IT shop with nearly 200 services that we offer to campus and internally. I love the feeling of being innovative, but I'm concerned that our current push is to be innovative at the expense of being efficient. The result is that we can't accomplish as much near-term good for the campus because our focus is on the longer term.