We want it all and we want it now

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It’s true that in today’s world we live in a culture of immediacy. We want it and we want it now and technology is enabling that. Tanya Weaver takes a look at what that means for the product development industry

Remember a time, and it wasn’t that long ago either, (well, for the over 30s) when we didn’t have a mobile phone permanently attached to our person.

If we were going to meet someone, we’d arrange a place and time and if they didn’t turn up within 20 minutes, we’d leave. But today, if they know they’re going to be late, they can give you a running commentary of their journey via text message.

What got me thinking about all this is a crime novel I read recently, which was written and set in the 60s. The plot would just not stand today — a man calls his wife from a Cornish train station to tell her that he is scouring Bodmin moor. He then proceeds to lose his way in the dark and gets himself run over by a train.

Of course today you’d simply call for help from your mobile. I’m sure even the moors get a phone signal but if not there’s always the compass app on your smartphone or your ‘maps’ function can enlist the help of orbiting satellites.

Either way, it made me realise that in today’s world we are always contactable, and that really seems to have taken off in a big way in the past 15 years.

It began with texting but now using our smartphones we can reply to emails, update our Facebook status, tweet, transfer money, bid on ebay, Skype, catch the latest headlines, watch live telly… all from something that fits in the palm of our hand. Incredible really when you think about it.

There is no doubt that we live in a culture of immediacy. We want instant gratification and technology enables that. Although internet shopping is not desperately new — the speeds at which you can see something, order it, pay for it and get it delivered is quite phenomenal.

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For instance, you can order an item of clothing from Next.co.uk until 10pm one day and it will be delivered to you the following morning. How is that even possible?

An obvious example of this culture of immediacy is the instant purchasing and downloading of music. We can all lament the bygone days of the vinyl or even the CD but it’s so much easier to just download a new track or album off iTunes (I do it all legally, just so you know) and listen to it immediately.

I did have to pre-order the new Arctic Monkeys album (frustrating!) but on the morning it was released I woke up to find that the album had instantly downloaded on all three of my Apple devices from the cloud.

Of course, this whole culture of immediacy spills over into our world of product development. As consumers demand the next big thing, or more like it — manufacturers are competing against each other to get their next big thing under consumers’ noses — it’s the task of the designers and engineers to deliver.

They turn to you for your expertise and creativity: you can be as innovative as you like, but can you do it quickly please? Sound familiar? In today’s world, time is really a luxury.

So, with ever shrinking development cycles, it’s lucky that we have the tools and technologies to turn us into human speed machines. As you’ll know from reading our magazine, CAD vendors are constantly updating and launching new releases of their software.

Gone are the days of the drawing table when the draughtsman would spend ages meticulously completing a detailed drawing by hand. This would not only take a huge amount of time but would also involve a great deal of skill – arguably which today’s equivalent, the CAD operator, doesn’t possess.

But it’s not just the software that makes us faster; it’s the hardware too. Today’s workstations are fitted with all manner of graphics cards, processors and drives to enable users to cut through those huge CAD files in no time. Gone are the days of leaving a file to render over a weekend.

Also, instead of spending an enormous amount of money on your own workhorse workstation, you can farm these renders out to render farms in the cloud. Upload your source files through the web and clusters of computers in a room somewhere on the other side of the planet will render them and charge your credit card for the courtesy.

Then of course there is 3D printing — the fact that you can print your own product immediately from a machine that’s on your desktop. You’ll never have to shop again (well, that’s the promise anyway).

However, that’s the domestic side, the product development crowd have been using these rapid prototyping technologies for years to prove out concepts, which in turn cuts down the development cycles.

But the dark side of all this is just as the skills of the traditional draughtsman are no longer needed, so too is the case with the traditional model maker. Reference or appearance models, which are painstakingly crafted, are often no longer required.

It’s not just a case of 3D printing replacing these skills but often there is no time in the design process to commission these models and have them built.

I visited model maker Chris Hill, managing director of Solve 3D (Demise of Model making?), the Monday after he closed his workshop the previous Friday having had to lay off his small team of craftspeople.

Walking through an abandoned workshop, you can’t help but feel sad for a skill that is almost lost.

It’s this culture of immediacy remember. Clients want the finished product and they want it now.

So, as we live in the now now now, what is this frantic pace of life doing to us? Are we more stressed than we’ve ever been before?

The desire for instant gratification and its impact on product development
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