There's been quite a bit written up recently on the Little Printer that could, but there's one thread that's worth teasing out a little bit more. By giving the various Little Printer mascots haircuts BERG have begun their (hopefully) never ending march into the world of personality driven domesticated appliances with their introduction of Botworld. This brings a more personable touch to the printer; supplying it with an extra modicum of personality on top of the already cute face. I see a thin thread connecting generative design systems and what this haircut could be pointing to.
We'll get back to Little Printer in a moment but we first need to lay some groundwork before we come back around.
In spending a year exploring Relational Design systems with a focus on brandmarks, I wondered what the next permutation of contextual, networked, and generative identity systems would involve. The relational utopia that I was hoping for hasn't happened, despite a few weak signals I've noticed. What I didn't realise at the time were that these were still incredibly dumb bits of software. Mostly just visual germs responding to their environment. A visual sheen of imitating sentience.
Then came Watson, IBM's most recent entrance into the world of cutting edge big box AI. The fairly sophisticated generative system that intimated Watson's internal thoughts blew my mind at the time. A clear progression to reflecting the various algorithms at play by way of color, movement and some juicy flocking behaviour. Some very cever stuff there indeed, but it highlighted the retinal qualities of generative works and their close reliance on illustrating the digital. It also pushed the agenda that this intelligence is foreign and above our intelligence and ways of thinking. I then amused myself by wondering what happens when mildly sentient identity systems start to diverge from the core brand message and start scaring the kids. Not likely, but there's a short story in there somewhere.
In getting to my point I want to return to something Bashford said that I used in the Watson post:
"What's clear ... is that there's an opening for a new type of design. Someone who understands interaction design, product design and can add character to things through behaviour. A light touch. Very subtle in order to make them believable"
What Botworld is starting to do is to add all of these pieces together. Sure, it's a step down from a system that's been hit around with the complexity stick such as Watson. But it makes up for it in behaviour and narrative. The many faces of Little Printer are simple things, designed to work as well as they can with the pecularities of thermal printing. But by situating the device in the home, oit needs to be simple. And this all explains why BERG have been banging on about BASAAP (Be As Smart As A Puppy) and treating appliances like plants for the past two years. Because if we're forced to have these things in the home, and we're expected to form a small emotional bond with them, then there needs to be a semblance of intelligence. Or at least the illusion of it. If only to make cohabitating with these things more plausible, and enjoyable. In the recent Wired article by Tim Maly The virtual haircut that could change the world there's a little quote by Matt Webb which goes some way into explaining the need for these behaviours:
“A deeper purpose of the stories in Botworld is to — without being overbearing about it — indicate that these objects are autonomous, and will be collecting information from the web without you making a direct instruction for them to do so”
Moving past designing interactions to designing behaviour is a jump in complexity, one that we're only beginning to see in the edges. But it comes with a reason. Not just to show off the smarts of the designer or the brand, but to make this new world of connected everything a more reasonable future to inhabit. At the moment this is a thermal inkjet tamagotchi, but we'll need to step it up a bit in the near future. Especially if we move away from using faces as the main window into the souls of the small algorithms that will breathe implied life into the current dead objects that surround our living spaces. Now can we please start using simplified generative systems as a place to start?
Photo originally by Matt Jones. Edited by me.