1. Design and tech collide as students create prototypes for the future of mobile and wearable technology
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  • Design and tech collide as students create prototypes for the future of mobile and wearable technology

    By Evelyn Padilla, 3M Storyteller

    A woman stands on a train platform and types on her smartphone

    • How would you design the future of mobile technology?

      Thought-provoking question, especially when presented to the next generation of designers.

    • A student prototype. Photo courtesy of The Hong Kong Polytechnic School of Design
      A student prototype. Photo courtesy of The Hong Kong Polytechnic School of Design

      “The current technologies are good at providing pools of information,” says Fajr Mohamed, a student at The Hong Kong Polytechnic School of Design, “but they lack the ability to understand the [user] needs and serving those needs based on the context.”

      Fajr was among a group of students in the university’s International Design and Business Management (ID&BM) program who took on a project exploring technology as a platform for enabling greater self-expression by designing the future of mobile. As part of a multidisciplinary project in collaboration with 3M Design, six groups of students took on a challenge to identify a problem or opportunity and create a solution integrating design, business and technology. They looked at trends in social media, on-the-body interfaces and augmented reality while studying Millennial and Generation Z lifestyles in China.

      Fajr and his team focused on Generation Z – a group who identifies well with being connected and likes to share, express and consume. However, content nowadays can wreak havoc on our news feed or inbox with all the spam alone. According to Statista, spam messages account for nearly 57 percent of email traffic worldwide. In addition, 40 percent of social media accounts are spam and 3.5 billion tweets posted on Twitter every day are spam. And 69 percent of people who text say they get … you guessed, spam, according to Hubspot. The team’s solution to this problem – curation. “Through curation, we see the power of selection, which brings better quality to interaction and communication,” says Fajr. “We decided to create a solution that would enable users to be aware of their emotions, building engagement through composed communication to explore and be explored.”

    • A student prototype. Photo courtesy of The Hong Kong Polytechnic School of Design
      A student prototype. Photo courtesy of The Hong Kong Polytechnic School of Design

      Designing the right prototype

      Fajr’s team created a prototype of a wearable device to address their target group’s desire to share and consume relevant content. At the same time, users can build engagement to help develop and nurture their social networks. Their key to ensuring that the content wasn’t junk was to tap into the user’s emotions.

      “Real human emotion is the one element that sparks our connection to people, experiences and content,” says Fajr.

      The team notes that as humans, we use a lot of non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions to communicate how we feel. The team looked at an electroencephalogram, or EEG which is a test where small bands are placed on your head to measure electrical activity in your brain through sensors. The device created by Fajr’s team safely measures brainwave signals and monitors attention levels of the user as they interact. Hence, they detect the emotion felt when the content is shared.

      And we all know how words can get lost in translation via text, email or even wall posts. Fajr and his team borrowed ideas, such as the prism display, and used existing wearable devices. Their final design delivered three key features: emotion detection, real-time auto capture and content curation.

    • A student prototype. Photo courtesy of The Hong Kong Polytechnic School of Design
      A student prototype. Photo courtesy of The Hong Kong Polytechnic School of Design

      All of the student teams were given the opportunity to incorporate 3M technologies ranging from sensors and imaging, to metal composites and microreplication into their designs. In addition to having support inside the classroom, 3M Design was also there to lend a hand along the way.

      “I really liked the freedom and the support we had with this project,” says student Ethan Pitt. “3M sent us different materials for us to play with and explore the possibilities of how we can use these materials.”

      The collaboration was meant to get the students into the mindset of design-thinking and doing real research, creating prototypes and presenting a product that they could envision being the future of mobile. “We gave [the students] a hard problem without a 'right answer,' which required exploration into psychology, fashion, mobile technology, semantics, Chinese GenY and GenZ lifestyles,” explains Kevin Gilboe, head of 3M Design in Asia. “Our goal was to create a strong learning experience for both the students and 3M that would generate interesting insights and ideas.”

      Kevin says the collaboration had an unexpected side effect.

      “We learned a lot about millennial lifestyles in China and explored how emerging technologies can shape relationships and self-expression,” explains Kevin. “The students bring in a fresh perspective that gives 3M a more complete picture of emerging trends.”

      Kevin enjoyed seeing future designers explore their creativity and incorporate design-thinking into their projects. Design-thinking is about integrating diverse perspectives that will not only yield a meaningful achievement, but one that will lead to a better tomorrow.

    Still image from video with students explaining their wearable design projects
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    Learn more

    Design can be a powerful filter to create better solutions. And it all starts with wonder. Explore how 3M applies those principles to problem solving and creating solutions that have meaningful impacts on people’s lives.