Post-Material Design Era = LEAD

Draft of an essay I’m writing for my friends at Muji. Here for posterity …

Adonis: “It’s already up in the cloud!”

In the 2015 boxing film “Creed” directed by Ryan Cooler following the path of Rocky after retirement the main boxing character Adonis takes a smartphone photo of Rocky’s phone number that he’s written on a piece of paper for him. Adonis walks away from Rocky as he’s saying, “Wait, don’t you want this? What if you lose that thing or it breaks?” Adonis responds, “It’s already up in the cloud!” Rocky then looks up to the sky and says, “What cloud? What cloud?”

Rocky: “What cloud? What cloud?”

This scene in “Creed” epitomizes the generational shift between the finite value of something written on paper versus the infinite potential of it being written onto the powerful network of interconnected computers across the world that comprise the cloud. My generation placed extreme value on a photographic print — treating it like the most precious of objects to have in one’s possession. As you may recall, each additional print cost extra money depending upon size and print quality. The new generation, however, is more than satisfied with responding dismissively like Adonis with, “It’s already up in the cloud.”

Ironically the “post-material” world that we live in began with the walls of the caves in Lascaux when we first began to move ideas from our real world into pictorial form. This act of transcribing reality into an alternative form later took its path through drawing, painting, audio recording, photography, video, and in its most recent form as “digital.” But it’s important to take oneself to the early days of digital when some of us carried around floppy disks, or Zip drives, or CD-ROM disks that still felt “material” to us.

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There are some traditionalists who still yearn for the days when beautifully designed physical products ruled the world. In that world, it’s not uncommon to run our fingers over the surface of an object, and we sometimes notice the seam that exists between two different surfaces. Your eyes can’t see the seam, but your fingers can feel it. It’s this attention to invisible aspects of physical craft that make the material world into something that we love.

In the post-material universe of software products, there are similar moments where we technologists can feel those entirely invisible seams. I’m not referring to the visual elements arranged on a display screen. There’s a world of pure information that observe a completely different level of craft and design that favors four experiential properties: Light, Ethical, Accessible, Dataful. LEAD. LEAD is the simplest way to describe the new opportunity for design.

Why did Google succeed when others failed? They advanced the idea of lightning-fast search from the cloud. And like Amazon, they use data they’ve gathered about you to harmonize into the an optimal experience just for you — what I refer to as “dataful” (a new form of the word “beautiful”). And what about Apple? They set the standard for accessible, easy-to-use computing experiences, and they’re also winning on the privacy dimension as the most ethical of the Big Tech companies. LEAD is everywhere.

I recommend that we embrace the post-material era with curiosity and attention to the four LEAD dimensions going forward. That’s what I’m doing.