“Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.”- Mr. Spock.

Design was born when people started swearing inanimate products, or their creators, across space and time. Maybe I am wrong, not design itself, but the need of design; the need of putting thought and care in the entire process of creating a product, a one to begin with.


This might have been as early as the middle ages — when people, after starving to death during harsh winters “designed” the idea of having a three field system, different for each season (above). They had a need (an extreme one), they had resources, tools, a context and implemented an idea, which was eventually iterated in time.

I went back in time, to emphasize the notion of having a physical need, compared to a virtual or cognitive one, somehow. Now, we can quickly create a digital interface for the issues we think people have. These issues and their possible solutions exist in a virtual realm, intangible and many times rather difficult to describe. Think about social media platforms: they only exist as bytes displayed in complex forms on our and our need of interacting with others, of liking, swiping or commenting only exists in our minds too — or we collectively assume it does.


However, we all need to adjust the water temperature, we all need to sit on chairs, or store our perishables before they go bad. These are needs we will physically miss from an environment. I believe that while designing for these, our minds address problems, challenges and solutions differently then when looking into the virtual ones. Suddenly, one is not confined to the space of a screen anymore, one can stand up and move to a real space in which the problem is defined and eventually “filled” with a real solution. A physical product requires parts and pieces, a large variety of materials, an interesting selection of combined systems that all need to work together harmoniously. One should have some knowledge about materials in general, human ergonomics, manufacturing processes, modeling, molding and casting, mechatronics, safety regulations, product life cycles and probably more to ensure a successful contribution to a good product.

I am somewhere in-between and I started a series that forces me to think about the physical world, from the everyday interfaces, design systems and CSS classes. I started with a primary need: lighting in a home and an assumption: “If people could physically feel the time they spend with light on, they would be more conscious towards their own time and their light consumption”.

A few ideas — ugly, but inspiring

I started thinking about a lamp and about creating a connection between time and weight — making people feel the difference between one hour and 30 minutes of light. I called it: Lightweight (a bit better than the first attempt: Wight Lamp, sounded kind of judgegy)

The weights would vary from 150 g to 1 kg almost. I went to the fridge and felt how these weights feel in my hand with different pieces of cheese. Then I asked my girlfriend, since she has a much smaller hand — the 1 kg felt way to heavy to handle, when turning on a lamp. It was fascinating, testing a few things already — Maybe use weight in combination with shapes and materials?

I realized that the design can be looked at from different points: time to weight relationship, interaction with the lamp and the lamp’s aesthetic.

What would motive people to use such a lamp? I think it would be a subtle, discreet time reminder. We can all use more sleep ad this system would ease the night in, in the homes of a user.

5 kg is an exaggeration

Scenario – Jill gets back in the chair, in front of the laptop at 11 PM. She picks up a weight of 1 kg to turn on the lamp and thinks: “Should I do this much work? Maybe not..” Then she grabs the 300g weight, places it on the lamp and starts working.

This idea seemed to have the best form and function combination among the rest. However, it would technically be the most challenging. In this case, users would have a few light orbs, with a variable weight. These must light up only when placed on some sort of mechanical switch in the lamp’s handle. There is at least one major issue: heat. What if users wish to take the orbs out to place a heavier one to get more light? Would the lamp only work once a day, forcing people to get some sleep? Where would people store these orbs safely?

Exploring a few shapes — with one or multiple orbs and different stands. Since I am in Amsterdam at the moment, I did get inspiration from a few elegant swans.

I ended up with this shape. It’s far from the way I imagine it sitting in the corner of my room, made of a white translucent material, having the orb look as if it is floating at night, it is however a representation of it. I tried creating a better looking version in Illustrator, but I failed badly. The pen tool does not resonate with me imagining a sculptor taking a fine layer of material with each movement to get to the final shape. I will try a clay model.

It is far from perfect and the exercise has a lot more potential for improvement. My point is that digital interface designers should get out of their screens in a while and think of the infinite ways we can shape and give function to a physical material. It helps to get back to the basics of design, combining elementary needs to modern expectations through classic principles.

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