Speculative Service Design

Customisation in the shared economy.

Pre industrial revolution all objects were all unique to you. Post industrial revolution mass manufacture made it possible for you and your neighbour to have the same design of object. As our possessions now begin to enter a shared economy you and your neighbour share the same objects. We no longer have possession of our own and we don’t care for them the same way we do our own. We take much better of a car we own than a car we lease. 

Designing emotion into objects has always been core skill of Industrial Design. Well designed objects create an emotional connection with their owners, objects their owners care for and hold on to for longer. How do we design emotion and develop relationship with the objects of the shared economy? 

From my interviews asking individuals what objects are most meaningful to them, the top object was not even an ‘object’ at all, it was photos. Although traditionally a tactile object, photos today are information stored in a hard drive or cloud. They are not so much possessions as they are a set of memories in information. It may be possible that the most meaningful relationships we have today are information driven.

This insight enables us to design emotion into the objects of the shared economy, be it cars, bikes, homes or umbrellas. For this new economy to thrive consumers must learn to care for their the objects of the shared economy the same way the care for their own. This is currently not the case. In 2017 a Chinese umbrella sharing startup lost almost all of its 300,000 umbrella in a matter of weeks (http://shanghaiist.com/2017/07/10/umbrella-sharing-fail.php). In Australia users of the recent oBike dockless bike sharing program frequently find bikes up trees or in rivers (http://www.news.com.au/technology/innovation/inventions/how-do-bike-sharing-services-like-obike-and-reddygo-make-money/news-story/882c22777c7ecf3bef587e0fb8bf44f9). 

Exploring the umbrella as a case study in a speculative service. As soon as you unlock the umbrella it associates with you. Personalising the colour, for example, to the individuals predicted preference. Over extended use with the product machine learning develops a personal connection with the user. In the case of an umbrella this could be reminding the user when they prefer to take an umbrella with them, in the case of a car it could be the users preferred route to a location, in the case of a bike it could the their riding preferences. After the umbrella is docked back into the shared economy, the information associated to the aesthetic, persona and relationship of your umbrella is uploaded to the cloud. 

When you next pick up an umbrella, or any other shared object for that mater, the information is downloaded, making the object personal and theirs. Users no longer own a physical object. They own the relationship with the information that makes the object personal to them. However if the shared object is damaged, lost or stolen the information in not updated and the relationship with the object is lost.