As our lives become more process driven 4D design can help to make our experience feel natural.
We're used to hearing the terms 2D and 3D design, but what exactly is 4D design? If strange thoughts of dimensions beyond the third come into your mind, fear not, because actually it's all quite straightforward.
Design Futures Philosopher Alec Robertson describes 4D design as an additional category for grouping designs.
From an interview with Alec Robertson by Susan Muncey in Visuology, Robertson describes in detail the definition of 4D design:
Traditional creative designers add value to things by how they deal with space and materials. This can be on flat surfaces, where such 2D design is the focus of the graphic designer, illustrator, information designer and textiles surface pattern designer. Or, it can be 3D design of space, which is the focus of the architect, industrial designer, furniture, jewellery designer, fashion designer, and so on.
A 4D design is a useful activity, which is also a performance, and normally assisted by a new dynamic technology. There are basic 4D designs and complicated ones, just as with 3D and 2D designs. The more complicated the 4D design, the more sophistication of movement, change and the design of ‘behaviour’.
Alec has identified three basic levels of 4D design:
This is a “useful performance”. It can be where the art of choreography is involved at a basic level to the sophistication of an operatic production.
The design or the person responds to the other in some way. This draws from knowledge of cybernetics, where different kinds of control are involved.
There is the emergence of permanent change through the engagement of people and things with each other. This draws upon the science of complex systems, where ‘agents’ of change, create an ‘emergence’ of something new.
Now that we have an understanding of 4D design, how is it applicable and useful in designing products and interactive installations?
Understanding that a design can be categorised and put into a process will influence the designer to adapt the design, making it more personal and responsive.
The areas that 4D design techniques can be applied are diverse. Services that have an interactive element such as ordering food through a waiter (robot or human) involves 4D design. A process needs to be put in place for how people can smoothly get the required result, the more tailored and personal the interaction the nicer the experience will be.
Another quite different example is 4D cinema that provides an immersive experience as the audience’s senses are manipulated by moving seats, wind blowing and light sprays of water. Multi-player computer games are a good example of 4D design that uses 3D design to create the surroundings: the player controls the 3D character that in turn completes tasks that are 4D design processes.
As more of our lives becomes automated through the use of technology, it’s up to designers to pay special attention to 4D design so that our experiences feel natural. For us at Uberact, we have Alec Robertson to thank for enlightening us with the concept of 4D design, giving a name to what it is we do.