Design Concepts wins GOOD DESIGN Award for its work on Pelvalon's Eclipse System

Design for the one percent

January 16, 2014

I was shocked by Google's $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest, the connected device maker that develops "smart" home appliances that can program themselves and communicate with smartphones.

I cycled through the typical reactions of amazement, jealousy and concern about when this next tech bubble will burst and speculation of what Google values in this acquisition. Overall it just left a bad taste in my mouth. And I think I’ve identified the root of my dismay: this latest golden age of technology is pumping out physical products that only a rich geek can afford. We are building lustful technology in every category to sell to the very small group of insiders who are creating the technologies. Luxury goods and even luxury technology have always been available for the super rich, the folks Forbes.com defines as having a net worth of $500 million of more.

But these eye-popping hardware achievements are more about satisfying the “got to have it” lust of the upper crust. No doubt the Nest thermostat executes brilliantly with exquisite design and the Internet of Things, but at a huge up-charge. Does the world need a $250 thermostat?

I understand that technology gets cheaper over time and this is the promise of a better way. But it is my opinion that Google’s acquisition is fuel on a fire that will encourage a hardware development gold rush (that was well underway) to rival the Internet and social media boom that preceded it. In the process, products will hit the market that won’t provide a real return on investment -- until, of course, the developing company is acquired. Until then, a certain class of people will pay through the nose to have the latest and greatest. And 99 percent of us will be left out.

I think I’ve identified the root of my dismay: this latest golden age of technology is pumping out physical products that only a rich geek can afford.

I’m being hard on Nest and ignoring some of the benefits the product will provide users and the grid, but this pendulum has swung so fast, it’s hard to hold onto. The Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s 2007 initiative, “Design with the Other 90%” feels like ancient history. So does the $528 million taxpayer-backed debacle involving Solyndra.

The collective focus on solving some of our world’s big problems is disappearing due to so many mixed results. It is much easier to see something that makes you say, “coooooool” or “how did they do that?” Those are things 100 percent of us can admire, even if to 99 percent of us, they are unattainable.