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Making Stuff Hackable

"Give hackers an inch, and they'll take you a mile" Paul Graham

Seeing this brilliant Spotify hack (pictured below) by Jordi Parra, an Interaction Design student at the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden, is a reminder of what excellent stuff can happen when you let people play around with your product.

The player uses RFID technology to allow you upload Spotify playlists to different coloured tags which you can then place onto a magnetised volume knob to play them (watch the video). The information is extracted from the tag using magnetic induction and an Arduino processing board. A display of 192 LED nodes on the front shows volume levels, battery life and internet connectivity. It was done in collaboration with Spotify, and it reminds me of IDEO's C60 Project, and it's really rather cool.

Spotify: Final prototype first videos from Jordi Parra on Vimeo.

Hack culture is proliferating.Yet the idea of letting people tamper with your product remains anathema to most organisational cultures. When Kinect launched, it unleashed a wave of unofficial platform hacks and applications. Microsoft initially began by saying that they did not condone the modification of their products and would work with law enforcement to stop it. Soon after that, perhaps realising what an outdated stance this was, they reversed this position saying that because the algorithms that sit inside the XBox hadn't been tampered with it wasn't a hack in the truest sense of the word.

The assumption has long been that the majority of ideas for new products and services come from business and industry. And yet huge value in innovation sits outside of organisations. Research (which was sponsored by the British Government) by Eric A. von Hippel, a professor of technological innovation at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management, showed that over a three year period the amount of money that individuals spent making and improving products was more than twice as large as the amount spent by all British firms combined on product research and development.

Most R & D processes seek to turn out perfectly crafted products. Anything which is even slightly surplus to requirements is ruthlessly cut out in the name of efficiency. Conventional wisdom is if it's not essential, drop it. Now is the time to reconsider this approach.

As Paul Graham noted, it has turned out to be great thing that Apple put accelerometers in their tablets since developers have used it in ways that Apple could never have imagined: "That's the nature of platforms. The more versatile the tool, the less you can predict how people will use it. So tablet makers should be thinking: what else can we put in there? Not merely hardware, but software too. What else can we give developers access to?"

Which leads to an interesting place. The inclusion of capabilities in products that whilst not of immediately obvious value, open up the potential for new abilities and applications through collaboration. Designing for hackability.

2 responses to “Making Stuff Hackable”

  1. shanemiller Avatar

    Really very cool!!

  2. shanemiller Avatar

    Really very cool!!

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