ISEA2009 - Design Probes

Submitted by John_O on Sat, 09/05/2009 - 12:55

In his ISEA2009 keynote, Clive Van Heerden discussed the Philips 'Design Probes' project where, in order to downgrade the emphasis on technologies, the focus is on future lifestyles and applications.  The 'Probes,' which are a publicised outcome of the research, act as provocations, echo-soundings and sanity tests - looking for an honest reaction - to indicate potential future directions for the Philips Corporation.

One such probe is the 'LIVING ROOM FARM' (above.) Van Heerden emphasised the point that these are much more than mere design concepts - the technology involved may not be readily available but this is far from 'pie in the sky'...

3 aims for the probes are:

  • to push a socio-cultural button
  • push the creative element
  • and, question the technological area

"Could you sustain 5000 calories in a biosphere in a high rise?" - Biosphere Home Farming a feasibility? It would certainly reduce 'food miles' but what about safety? Philips Design Probes attempted to envisage a closed loop system using only natural processes - the only by-product being oxygen.

 Early research process for the design probes is non-linear, instead focussing on the terrain eg: Combinations of (cultural, economic, technological, environmental, political) factors which may influence future lifestyles (2020, 2030 etc.) are examined and weak signals are identified (small news articles, overheard conversations, contrary commentaries.)

Weak signals leading to LIVING ROOM FARM were news reports of 'food riots,' a BBC2 documentary focussing on an impending global food shortage and a supermarket in London setting a 10kg limit on rice.

Philips, with their heritage of developing 'labour-saving devices' for the domestic kitchen seemed frustrated at an apparent technological plateau - "we're still using electric motors to beat eggs". Further examples discussed also came from the current trend of people 'WANTING TO KNOW WHERE THEIR FOOD COMES FROM.'

Design Probes came up with the 'DIAGNOSTIC KITCHEN' for "the consumer who is more interested in the CONTENTS of the pan rather than whether it will stick to it." The problem is - what is a healthy diet for one person may not be for another - with differing metabolisms, allergies, lifestyles etc.

The DIAGNOSTIC WAND would look at the individual's specific diagnostic profile - prompting a suitable menu. This information could then be communicated to a PHILIPS FOOD PRINTER ("when molecular gastronomy becomes an everyday phenomena"...)


Ultimately, Philips Design Probes are attempting to second guess the consumer, and gain an insight into how a culture is changing.

Whatever your future 'need,' - REST ASSURED - Philips (one amongst a many multinational consumer technology giants) will be there waiting with the very product to satisfy that NEED.