Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Light made tangible by Philip Ross

Design luminary Philip Ross has developed what could be the most beautiful lamp, or even the most beautiful product, in the history of mankind.

It is called Fonckel, meaning 'glisten', and you interact with it by touching it on its back. Your hand movements will then more or less literally be translated into the behavior of the light, which swoops across the entire front surface. The movie below shows it all:

Fonckel is the result of Philip's PhD project at the University of Technology in Eindhoven, which again proves itself to be the city of light. His initial research was into how interactive products can elicit in people an experience of human values, such as creativity, helpfulness, and social power. Iteratively, and with the help of students, of which I had the fortune to be one (check www.nothings.nl/luxalive.html), he developed prototypes of lamps with different forms and behaviors. His final design, which was used for his scientific experiments, then led to the development of Fonckel.

From an aesthetic point of view there is not much to criticize about this design. You could say it can be categorized under the upcoming design movement of what I have termed 'biological modernism', as it has the purity of a design a la Dieter Rams, but also the organic and 'intelligent' forms that you see in nature. It would not surprise me if Fonckel would get an order from a Hollywood movie director in the near future, to have the lamp play a role in one of the next major science fiction films.

From an interaction design point of view you could argue that this design lacks both augmented and functional feedforward. Somebody who has never seen the object may have a hard time figuring out how to use the object, or even figuring out that it is a lamp in the first place. But I think the aesthetics and overall experience of the product overrules the usability issues here. This lamp is not meant to be useful. This lamp is meant to be beautiful and elicit a 'higher', even mystical experience in our little everyday lives. It intrigues people through its noble silence, its lack of communication, and invites them to touch it by the subtlety of its surfaces alone (this could be enhanced through certain materials or patterns though). Adding practical features would make this object much too earthly.

A main point for future improvement might be to expand the product's range of behaviors, possibly also with color, and the ability to link the light to things like sensors in the environment, or signals it gets from social media. Instead of having the user control the device fully, it may also attain some autonomy so that it starts to feel more alive (maybe this lamp will someday walk or fly around the home as part of a domestic robot). The product just feels so high-tech and sophisticated that you would almost be disappointed that in the end, it's just a lamp.

As far as I heard, Fonckel is ready to be sold at the moment, however I don't know the price. This is clearly still a product for the 'elite' who can afford quite a sum of money just to buy a lamp. But we need to start somewhere in putting beautiful products and experiences out there, don't we.

No comments: