Can future concept designs – or more specifically – videos that show futuristic concepts design actually be counterproductive? I started to think about this question a few months back when Airbus released a video that showed what an airplane could look like in 50 years. Here is the video:
So according to this video, in the future we will be flying in airplanes with transparent ceilings, automated luggage storage and an area that can change from a bar to golf putting area.
Futuristic concept designs distract from the immediate problems
There was a time when I watched videos like this without giving it a second thought but recently I have reflected more on these videos. I have a very strong feeling that futuristic concept videos could be counterproductive because they distract from the immediate problems that customers want to have solved. The list of them in the case of Airbus is easy to create:
- Find a way to control cabin pressure so that you don’t have to “pop” your ears
- Increase air quality and humidity in the cabin
- Internet and power outlets at all seats
- Reduce the engine noise inside the cabin
- Increase legroom and make seats more comfortable
- Get passengers to the destination faster and without delays
These are the real problems that should be solved and a video like this is merely a nice marketing and promotion video. Airbus is not the only company, Microsoft released a new video envisioning what the future of productivity will look like.
Nokia released a video showing a futuristic concept for smartphone that uses nanotechnology to change its shape and surface.
All of these videos present wild ideas packed into a nice presentation using computer-generated 3D animations that are nice for marketing aspects but useless to facilitate innovation processes. They talk about a better future far out and miss out solving real problems today. If everybody is aware that these videos are just a marketing stunt – fine. But I can’t help and feel that these videos are used to distract from the fact that maybe there is nothing really new you have to show off. I think this is an inherent danger when one focuses on giving a nice talk about the next wild idea, instead of delivering a solution today to a real problem.
Is Apple a counterexample?
Now you might have seen another concept video that is already a little bit older. In 1987 Apple produced a video about the so-called Knowledge Navigator and in 2011 this vision has at least partly become reality with Siri. So is this an example that videos like this might indeed not be completely useless?
It turns out that the Apple in 1987 was completely different from the Apple we know today. Apple in 1987 was unable to compete in the changing market and focused primarily on marketing instead of building extraordinary products. I am quite sure that there was no plan in 1987 to nearly bankrupt the company, bring back Steve Jobs, secure financing from Microsoft, reinvent the mobile industry, acquire a DARPA financed research project and then launch the personal assistant Siri 24 years after the initial Knowledge Navigator concept was presented. The video turned out to become reality but it did not contribute meaningfully on the journey to get there.
Marketing tool but not an innovation tool
From this reflection I have come to the conclusion that such highly futuristic videos can be useful when they are used as marketing tools but they should never be used to distract from a lack of innovation and new products. Instead of telling customers what they will get in 10, 20 or 50 years down the road the focus needs to be on real problems in the next product cycle. That might not be that visionary, but most probably more successful.
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