Is technology getting in the way of good design?

By Lorrin Windahl.

Technology seems to be moving at a crazy pace. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was cluelessly disconnected but now, hardly a second goes by that I’m not connected to some digital toy. And another sign of this speeding technology train is that 3D printers can now make mud houses. Seem fantastical? Well, not any more.

But is all this technology actually improving our lives? Or is it moving at such a pace that logic has been thrown out the window and real world problems are being superficially solved with new fandangle tech gadgets. The 3D printer that builds mud houses is one such product that makes me question the direction that we are heading.

WASP's 3D printer that can make mud houses.

WASP’s 3D printer that can make mud houses.

In theory a mud house building 3D printer sounds pretty cool yeah? And it seems like a fast, structurally sound process for building a house. But when you think of it in practice, is it really such a great idea? I mean where are mud houses still being built? Largely in remote poverty stricken communities that often lack electricity and running water. And having spent some time in remote communities in Africa I do fail to see how this is a practical solution.These communities don’t need someone to come in and make mud houses for them. They need running water, sanitation, electricity, quality education and healthcare. Someone coming in to build them new mud houses, very similar to the ones they already have, with a brand spanking new technological gadget isn’t really a high priority and isn’t exactly sustainable. And what’s more it would actually put local builders out of work.

Well intentioned or not, design isn’t about applying cool technologies to solve problems. It’s about understanding the user group and their culture, identifying the source of the problem and then developing a product that addresses these. It’s about improving and easing everyday life. Too many people underestimate the importance of quality user research in developing good design solutions. But when it is overlooked you get a product solution that really misses the mark, such is the case with this mud house 3D printer.

What do you think?

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