Convergence and Divergence in Design

Convergence and Divergence in Design

“The Big Bang” by Hubble ESA is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original

We are enjoying a convergence of design that has greatly impacted our everyday lives, where applications and finely-honed efficiencies have been brought together within a harmonious ecosystem. Take smartphones for example. We take for granted the seamless working connection between multiple applications everyday: we can talk, text, watch television, take photos, find restaurants all at our finger tips – instantaneously.

Something that disrupts the status quo has proven to be an excellent catalyst for new avenues of design.

Contrasting to a convergence, a divergence happens when a catalyst enters the market with an impact too big to go unnoticed. Divergence forces designers to focus not only on elements impacting the existing ecosystem, but external influences as well. If a convergence is three little pigs gathered under one happy roof, divergence is the big bad wolf coming to blow the house down. While this may initially appear to be a threat, something that disrupts the status quo has proven to be an excellent catalyst for new avenues of design.

During the 90’s and early 2000’s, Apple and Microsoft invested heavily in bringing many aspects of our daily lives together using digital devices. When Apple came out with their “digital hub” strategy, bringing music, photos, videos, DVD, email, and contacts all onto one device, it started a massive trend towards converging and creating a digital lifestyle. You had your music on an iPod instead of carrying around cases of CDs. You can take photos on your digital camera and then upload them to a digital album, instead of developing your photos and storing them in clunky photo albums you opened once every holiday season over gatherings. You didn’t need to have physical storage for your media and devices, which took up a lot of space (luckily devices ended up getting smaller and smaller as time went on); you had digital storage, all neatly packed into your computer.

The future is no longer sitting inside of a 5” digital media device

Fast forward to today, and your devices could not be smaller or faster than ever before. Our converged digital ecosystem is so nimble and flexible that one would be hard pressed to think of anything we cannot put into a smartphone now. So where do we go? The only logical answer is to go out. Yes, we must go outside the pocket. The future is no longer sitting inside of a 5” digital media device, it is outside waiting to get noticed again, brought up to digital speed, and re-introduced into our daily lives. These are devices or concepts that have sat on the back burner, while we’ve poured our hearts, and our wallets, into smart and fast tech.

Take vinyl records for instance. One of the oldest music storage mediums we have on this planet. Originally used heavily by avid music listeners/collectors, and by DJs, but once the tape cassette came around, and eventually CDs, people ditched their records for easy storage and portability.

Vinyl is all but dead…or so you thought. At the 2016 CES this year, Technics, the longstanding professional turntable brand, released a new SL-1200 turntable. In these days of streaming music and cloud based storage, one might think releasing a turntable is risky, but vinyl listeners are highly devoted to the medium which, arguably, is the best way to listen to a song. These listeners and collectors are willing to spend top dollar for their listening experience, coupled with high-quality home theater equipment.

Being able to do something quickly, getting from A to B as fast as possible is not always the best. Sometimes the journey from A to B is what truly matters. The differentiator is focused on the user experience: not just what they experience but rather how they are experiencing it.

With smartphones, we can listen to music at the touch of a button, through earbuds for a single user experience, or through a blue tooth speaker for a group experience. Listening to music, because of its instant accessibility, has become a tangential experience. Compare that to playing a vinyl record on a turntable. One must first find the album, slip it out of its exquisitely designed album cover – making sure not to get fingerprints on the tracks – put it on the turntable and carefully place the stylus on the record. The process, or the journey if you will, elevates the experience as listening becomes the central purpose of the activity.

How can we enhance our experiences with objects that have been rendered obsolete by technology? What hidden gems and revelations can we discover by looking at things we have arbitrarily labeled “old fashioned”? Who’s to say the hot new gadget is better than what has been around for 30 years, in terms of providing fulfilling experiences? As designers, it is our job to brush the dust off what worked for so many people in the past, give it new life, and bring it along with us into the future!

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