Design in Four Revolutions

Interaction design is the design discipline of the third industrial revolution.

Calligraphy by Stefanie Weigele

The zeroth industrial revolution

The printing press is usually not considered in the canon of industrial revolutions. And yet — it allowed the mass production of books, posters and pamphlets. It was definitely a revolution in terms of mass communication and it certainly was a catalyst for social change. Without printing, the Reformation would not have had the same impact.

The first industrial revolution

The first “proper” industrial revolution was triggered by the invention of the steam engine. Steam not only powered trains — it created the possibility to deploy large machines with enormous capabilities. These machines produced everyday merchandise (not just letters) in large quantities at low prices.

The second industrial revolution

The second industrial revolution introduced electricity. So with the second industrial revolution, a new type of product entered the households: the electric appliance. Different kinds of energy generation (lamps, stoves, ovens, etc.) were suddenly replaced with electricity and completely new types of products were introduced (vacuum cleaners, washing machines, radios, etc.). These new machines had to be controlled and they brought a new complexity with them. So electricity created the user.

The third industrial revolution

The computer — in all its forms and networked states — is at the core of the third industrial revolution. And the design of the third industrial revolution is interface- and interaction design.

Final words

The industrial revolutions are not sequential, clearly defined events. They are models that allow us to talk about social, economical and environmental change. Furthermore, none of these revolutions are over. We still print books, produce furniture, manufacture appliances and develop software, hardware and services.




Professor for Interaction Design at FH Potsdam, co-director of Urban Complexity Lab | | |

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