Reading Response Chapter 2

Laura Schütz

Chapter 2 “Designing Expressive Toys”

I am responding to "Principle 2.6 Technology Should Create Calm" in Chapter 2 of Artful Design (page 86). Both the Ocarina App and "The Idyllic Video Game Sublime” are technologies that create a sense of calm and even sublime. It is rare to encounter technology that was designed with the sole purpose of creating calm, without a clear functionality in mind. Most technologies present in our everyday life fulfill a distinct functionality. To name a few examples: A dishwasher is made to wash dishes, a weather app is made to tell us the weather forecast and a microwave is made to heat food. None of these products create a sense of sublime or calm. But I can think of technologies that were made with the intention of calmness or even romanticism and have since been altered into objects of functionality. Airplanes for example were invented out of the desire to fly, to experience the world from above and to feel the wind in your face. When we think of airplanes today, we think of human and cargo mass transportation machines.

Chapter 2 also introduces the history of the mobile phone and its rise to an enabler of ubiquitous computing. Analogous to the airplane, the mobile phone was developed with "good intentions" in mind, e.g. emergency calls. Since the 70s the mobile phone has developed into the most invasive technology. Personally, I feel that the smartphone is the opposite of calming. It rings, it notifies every other minute, it wakes you up in the morning and it offers a constant connection to the internet and the rest of the world. The functionality of a smartphone seems limitless at this point, it even serves as a means of payment, a key to a building and a blood glucose level monitor. No wonder the smartphone leaves us feeling nervous at times, when it presents 100 products at once. Just image the pile of things that we would need to replace our smartphone at this point.

All this is to say that I agree that technology should create a sense of calm. The notion that worries me is that it has to be a design separate from the functional necessities, like a mail box app. Playing a video game or a digital ocarina are things that happen outside the necessary interactions with technology. They are distinct and need the intention of the user to actively choose to enter a place of sublime within the realm of technology. What if all technology would create a sense of calm, all functionality designed to achieve a feeling of inner peace and contentment? What would a calm Google Calendar look like and how would a calm messenger app function? Are functionality and calmness distinct or are they in fact two entities that can be combined in the design of future technology?