Gumption Design

a vision on design by Felix Ros


noun [ U ] ● /ˈɡʌm(p)ʃ(ə)n/
Shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness.

Reciprocal entities

Products and machines are getting increasingly smarter and even more capable than ever before; humans, however, do not. Technology will push humanity forward for the better. Although, these new developments may bring complications for the adaptation by the end-user. Intelligent products, such as self-driving cars, will perform complex tasks and eventually liberate people from mundane daily activities. This means that the relation we have with these machines will change. I want to utilize this change as an opportunity to redefine this relation and help shape the many different interactions we will have with these machines. Create an experience where people treat machines as reciprocal entities, rather than as servants. Design humble HMIs (Human Machine Interfaces) that are intuitive and intriguing to use. Resulting in a human-machine collaboration that will outrun any solo human or machine.

Good design - a motorcycle analogy

Picture a Rider and motorcycle riding down a road. The motorcycle is open and shows all the components it needs to work. The motorcycle does not lie: its sounds and communicates the way it works. Yet, the driver decides where to go and controls the speed and handling of the motorcycle. Together, they’re on a journey and they need each other to reach their destination.

By taking this image I'll explain what good design means to me. Besides having a functional purpose, my products should offer 3 things: clarity, choice, and expression - just like a motorbike does. A motorcycle is a complex machine with multiple systems that together make it work. The open structure of the frame shows the different moving parts. Some of these parts are visible and some are not. It is this clarity I seek in my designs. Although the rider might fully understand all the moving parts he has an understanding for their necessity. The parts that make a product work should be included in the user experience.

The motorcycle goes where the driver takes it, though, the user doesn't get anywhere without the motorbike. The relation is mutual, yet the motorcycle offers the user a choice in which route to take. One route might be more exciting and fun; the other might be efficient but not give much pleasure. Basically, the user can choose between convenience and joy. It is this choice that empowers the user and the experience it brings.

The rider can determine his speed or the amount of noise he generates by adjusting the throttle. This way, the motorcycle allows to express oneself, making the design a part of you, the user. Hence, the motorcycle reveals its mechanical limitations. It is at this point that clarity, choice, and expression result into a sensation of care - the moment where product and user behave like one.

That's what I call good design.

Design. Quality. Gumption.

. . . Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig and his foundation to the Metaphysics of Quality has inspired me to apply his thinking to design. This reflection is an attempt to breakdown my personal design process that I call 'Gumption Design':

Design is not making things the best, it is about making them better. This is done by iterating the way they look, feel, and work in a way so they are better than they were before. The design process stops at the point where the end result holds a quality that satisfies the user's needs. This is what I strive for in my designs - quality.

What quality is and how it can be created is debatable. I believe quality exists both in our heads and around us. It cannot be measured, yet we can all agree it exists. Although, it might be experienced differently because of its subjective properties. Designing for quality comes down to a sense of objectivity and taste.

In my opinion, quality is constructed as follows: Quality can only be true when experienced, it exists out of events that are valued by the subject. Therefore an experience cannot exist if it holds no quality, for then it does not contain any value. Hence the experience is what epitomizes my designs and their quality.

When looking at the essence of quality, we find its building blocks: values. Values appear in patterns that operate as a whole. Recognizing and decomposing these values allows for the rearrangement of new patterns. If done harmoniously, these new value patterns will result in different quality. Whether these values originate from a motorcycle, a poem, or an evening sunset - they all hold values, thus there can be quality.

Dissecting quality to recompose values into a harmonious whole takes gumption. Gumption cannot be taught or imitated - it is trained. For me, it is the ability to see the value patterns of everyday life and the ability to source these into a novel idea. It is a sense of awareness of one's perception and looking at things being dynamic, rather than static. To never take things as they are and question how we could make them better. No matter the object, value patterns are everywhere - you just have to see it.