Sony's Open Planet Ideas kicked off back in September with the challenge to create a new solution to a crucial environmental issue, all by mashing-up available technology. The open-source project is now in the midst of the "Concepting" phase, with participants adding new ideas of tech combinations up until December 4. From a design perspective, this represents the pie-in-the-sky phase, with contributors brainstorming their most genius concoctions (some more do-able than others, of course.) With the forum framework of the project, it gets especially interesting when participants and Sony's team add their input and expand on the creations being contributed.
We had the opportunity to ask Takuya Kawagoi, Director of Sony's Design Centre in Europe, and member of the Open Planet Ideas expert panel, about his role so far with the project, how the project is moving along, and some of the challenges to come in evaluating and realizing a concept. Tak provided some great insights into the design side of the project, and what he has to consider working with a framework of this kind.
Can you please provide an overview of what exactly is your role in this process?
As a member of the expert panel, I have been involved from the initial stages of the Open Planet Ideas project, helping to identify the challenge brief, participating in the online conversations and answering questions posed by the community. My involvement will increase further as we enter the next stage; the evaluation of ideas, and the all important realisation of the final concept. This is where the focus will shift to the look and feel of the final concept - and this is where I expect to have the greatest involvement. Can you give any examples of some of your personal favourite submissions so far?
Sustainable shopper is an interesting concept as it views sustainability from a distribution angle. I see this as a reflection of the shift to more 'eco-nomic' thinking. Businesses and consumers equate sustainability and the ideas surrounding it with leaner, sharper, pared-down practices, designed to make systems more efficient. This concept is a good reflection of this new type of thinking.
What are the zones/areas you focus your attention on when you are going through project selections? What is most important to you for the winning submission to have?
My motto is "simpler, simpler, simpler". Simple, no-frills designs and ideas often make the most ecological solutions. As we strip things down and focus on the essential, we are redefining our sense of values.
Are there any specific causes being addressed which you are partial to?
The "Inspirations" phase highlighted a whole host of issues - all of which would prove a worthwhile cause being addressed by the final concept. However, in order to approach this project with an open mind, I have tried to focus less on the issue - and instead, take a fresh look at each concept asking what potential it has, how might it be improved and if there a way that the premise of one concept could be used to improve another. It is the constant stream of ideas - and the way they are evolving - that keeps drawing me in; I hope the final concept will be something that makes me think 'wow - that's really smart', something that will make me sit back and think 'why didn't we think of this before? '
Are there any specific technologies being used which you are partial to?
I use a number of Sony technologies in my day-to-day life - I have a television and I enjoy using my camera. But within this context, these items take on a new meaning. Suddenly, each technology is removed from its every day function. By fusing them together in order to address an environmental issue, each one has a new purpose. Suddenly it is not the technology itself that is exciting, but the way in which it has been applied and the functionality that it delivers.
What have been some examples of the innovative ways that participants are suggesting to alter Sony's existing technologies?
The Solar Water Mobile Phone Recharger is a unique concept which combines standard solar technology and the energy created from rainwater using a piezoelectric material. This has the potential to offer a new way to power different portable devices such as mobile phones, music players and games consoles.
What have you learned in working on this project so far? What surprises have there been?
With Open Planet Ideas, there is a strong mutual respect for each other's specialism's and skills - with community members turning to each other for expert opinion. This is the beauty of a fully open, collaborative project; we all share our skills in order to create a stronger final result - and I have really enjoyed participating in this forum.
How has your design process or perception had to shift in order to approach this project?
While sustainability is a focus area for the Sony Design team - and there have been numerous recent implementations in both the package and product design - I have definitely developed a different type of ecological mindset in order to approach this unique community based project. It has been an interesting journey where I simultaneously take on the role as design expert, participating in the expert panel - but also as community member, joining the conversation with a wide range of people that have a variety of interests, professions and passions.
Have you worked on similar projects that address and re-configure existing technologies?
The repurposing of technology to help solve environmental issues is a relatively new concept for Sony. It was first explored last year with the Forest Guard project. This involved us working with a team of school children from California who had conceived a way to use CCTV cameras to help with the early detection of wild fires. The project proved that whilst we have the innovative ethos and expertise to realize these technical solutions, ideas - very good ideas - can come from anywhere.
Can you cite any specific concepts that have been interesting to you in some way, but aren't necessarily right or feasible for this go-round?
At this stage in the project, no idea is 'not right' or 'not feasible'. We are constantly seeing new contributions being made to the site - from the posting of 'fresh' concept ideas to current postings being evolved and developed by our community members. Any idea, no matter how 'off the wall' it may seem, has the potential to inspire a new way of thinking.
At the evaluation stage, the expert panel will review all concepts and provide insight into the most technologically viable ideas. At the end of the Open Planet Ideas project, we want to deliver a final concept that has the potential to be shared and taken forward by organisations in order to address real world issues.
What have been, or will be, the biggest challenges for you and the design team on this project?
One of the biggest challenges will be to narrow down the concepts during the evaluation stage. However, this 'narrowing down' process is already happening - and it is being driven by the community. We are seeing ideas being refined, as the community, made up of a variety of skill sets - including designers, engineers and technology enthusiasts - enter into knowledge sharing in order to steer a concept. It will be interesting to see how each of the concepts is streamlined, advanced and updated.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for the expert panel project overall?
One of the biggest challenges for the expert panel will no doubt be having to agree on the final concept. We will each be looking at the ideas from a different perspective; with our engineering, design or environmental hat on. Even at this stage, we can see a number of concepts that hold massive potential - working out which one should be realised will be tough.
Please take us through what the next steps in the OPI process involve, and how you see them moving along.
We will be going through all the concepts that have been submitted at the end of the concepting stage. We have a strong panel of designers, engineers and environmental specialists offering expertise in their field - and so between us, we will be looking for a concept that addresses real world issues and also has the potential to be developed into a real, commercialised offering. We hope that once shared, the proof of concept will help organisations find new ways to better preserve our natural resources.
What do you think so far about the OPI process and the results/participation that have come about? From a design perspective, do you think this format could be valuable for similar future projects?
What really strikes me when I look at the Open Planet Ideas website is the variety of problems being addressed and the innovative ways in which our community members propose this could be achieved. The project has proved successful in generating interest - and the regular contributions and engagement by members indicates that this interest is being sustained. I believe it is the solid foundation for the project, established by asking the community to put forward inspirations that would form the challenge brief that has ensured this level of success. Open Planet Ideas represents a new way of creating a brief and a new way of tackling a brief - and I hope designers from across the world will see what we are doing and be inspired to contribute.
More from Takuya on his views of the Open Planet Ideas design process here.
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