According to the old English proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention.” This roughly means that some problems are so big and obvious that people will inevitably create solutions for them – the need to communicate resulted in phones, the desire to stay dry led to umbrellas, shoes prevented feet from getting sore.
But what about those everyday problems that don’t have clear solutions? How do you see over tall people at a concert? How do you know when to add more suntan lotion during those summer trips to the beach? How do you stop bumping into people in a busy street?
With the brightest minds in the world apparently stumped, Microsoft decided to take up the challenge and try to solve these everyday issues for the benefit of people everywhere.
Hattie Newman, a paper artist, wanted to help people spend time away from their mobile phones. She designed a small doghouse for your phone that would block its signal, leaving the owner free to enjoy other hobbies without being disturbed by text messages, phone calls or social media updates.
Twin sisters Eva and Marta Yarza, who run The Yarza Twins design studio, wanted to help people know when to apply more suntan lotion. The answer? Sun cream that changes color – when it turns blue, it’s time to add more.
Tom O’Meara, an animator, tackled a problem that most people have faced – forgetting to water your plants. His idea was a plant pot with legs, which would run to find water when the plant was thirsty.
Finally, illustrator Gaurab Thakali thought of a unique way of blocking out background noise in the office and helping people to focus – a small privacy pod that sits on your desk and covers you and your laptop.
Speaking from his London workshop, Wilcox, who has been inventing things since he was a teenager and created the world’s first pair of GPS shoes, said having technology at the core of the designing and building stages can be the key to creating something that will change people’s lives.
“Technology is modern-day magic,” he said. “It can transform the everyday into something that can contain a superpower. The GPS shoes can tell you where you are and where to go. I see that as like giving someone a superpower.”
As well as guiding and mentoring the five designers, Wilcox also used his Surface Book 2 device while “looking around for the little problems that we all have”. The two-in-one device became his sketchpad, and along with his pen and dial, he shaped his ideas for a coat that contained indicators and a pair of periscope glasses.
All the solutions were showcased on the Microsoft stand at the D&AD Festival, one of the leading design events in the world, which was held in London recently. The Xbox Adaptive Controller, which makes it easier for people with limited mobility to play videogames, was awarded the prestigious Black Pencil in the Product Design category on the final night of the festival.
The groundbreaking controller has been recognized for its ease of use and simple design – the aim of most inventors. Wilcox added that his Surface Book 2 was a great example of this, as well as a huge help during his work over the past few months, as it allowed him to make connection between the words and drawings that he placed on the screen.
As the three-day D&AD Festival drew to a close for another year, Wilcox pondered the future of design, and how technology will play a major part in creativity.
“One of my projects is working with young inventors,” he said. “When I look through their drawings, there is a lot of technology in there; probably more so than when I was growing up.”
“That will lead to an increase in the demand for bespoke and customized items. I think technology is going to enable us to have our own versions of things, something unique, and to be able to adapt and customize items in the way that we want to.”
“For example, I designed a stained-glass driverless car. That was a combination of a very old tradition and new technology. The idea was that technology will enable us to be very safe, so there will be no vehicle collisions. If that’s the case, then cars can be made from any material; they could even be handcrafted.”
While the reality of wooden cars remains a way off yet, there are other, smaller problems that today’s technology is helping to solve. Wilcox, Newman, O’Meara, Thakali and the Yarza sisters may have just used Surface Book 2 to make many people’s lives a lot easier.