Co.Design

Rimino, A Radical Concept For The Future Of Mobile Computing

We're not so sure about the concept video, but the research behind it is fantastic, asking basic questions about what we expect from the tech around us.

"The mobile experience we have today is basically designed for tech-savvy businessmen," says designer Amid Moradganjeh. This is a mistake, he thinks. There is another group of people out there, a bigger group. They have an "average digital life," meaning that they don’t have to process hundreds of emails a day while running from meeting to meeting. While many of them do have a rich digital existence on the desktop, they see little need to stay fully connected when they go outside. One explanation for this is that smartphones simply haven’t become cheap enough and that, inevitably, we’ll all come to own one. Moradganjeh wonders if for many people an iPhone/Android smartphone is too complicated and too much power. For his thesis project, he engaged in a program of research and speculative design which resulted in Rimino, "an attractive, invisible and more integrated experience."

In the smartphone space, Moradganjeh sees a trend toward increasingly complex devices. With Rimino, he seeks to challenge that trend, developing a user experience concept that would be "more integrated and more sensitive to the human experience." He envisions a color E-ink display, built into a flexible object that’s touch sensitive on all sides. It connects to a larger network of devices and sports a goal-based instead of app-based UI. Many of the technologies are on the horizon or speculative, but this is all part of Moradganjeh’s plan. "Technology and available tools should not define the experience," he says. "It is the user that should inspire the designer to create new options for them."

I’m not yet sure how I feel about the video. A lot of parts of it feel hand-wavy in the way that we love to criticize here at Co.Design. Saying that you want a user interface that is more intuitive and simple is the design equivalent of a political speech demanding milk for babies.

But if you are interested in thinking expansively about how we interact with our mobile devices, you owe it to yourself to spend some time perusing Moradganjeh’s research notes. He explores a variety of different user relationships and experiments with phones, testing the limits of what interaction design means.

In one experiment, he smashes his screen. One motivation is obvious: He wants to try working a phone with no visual interface. He documents the frustration of not being able to use the thing properly along with the behavior changes that come from needing alternate means of staying in touch with friends.

The other motivation is far more subtle and interesting, "to see how it feels if you damage the phone you have been using for a while." This is brilliant. Of course, losing a phone or breaking a phone is part of the user experience. Of course it is, but this is easy to forget. (This is why Apple designed Find My iPhone and Microsoft Exchange offers remote wipe.)

The user observations that Moradganjeh documents are equally interesting. He focused his time on people who didn’t see the need for a smartphone. They do things with their devices that would make Jony Ive ill. One guy uses his phone as a doorstop. Another uses it to open beer bottles, and the resulting pattern of scratches is actually quite fetching and puts me in mind of Tom Armitage talking about patina and designing for wear and tear.

In another case study, Moradganjeh points out that phones actually spend far more of their time in our pockets than in our hands. None of the big phone makers emphasize how infrequently you need to pull it out of your pocket, "yet this is one of the most annoying moments for any user, especially when they are out somewhere and have to pull out the phone just to see a message from a friend that says: 'OK’." So Rimino imagines ways of notifying the user that don’t mean digging it out to look.

This style of thinking about mobile interaction resonates nicely with Microsoft’s somewhat baffling " a phone to save us from our phones" campaign. It’s smartphone not as end but as adjunct. There are a lot of aspects of Rimino that seem incredible or bizarre, but it’s worth remembering that, five years ago, smartphones were not slabs of glass. The UI for this stuff is still very much a work in progress. New sensors, new materials, and new telecoms protocols are all coming down the pipe. Whether or not they work like Rimino, it’s pretty likely that the mobile devices of 2017 will look very different from what we have today.

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