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December 15, 2011

Mat Hunter: inside the mind of a designer

We had a thirst for design after Design Week on Nokia Connects, so we decided to search far and wide for a designer outside the walls of Nokia House. Our quest led us to the very knowledgable…..

Mat Hunter via

Mat Hunter; the Chief Design Officer at the Design Council. Mat heads up the organisation’s Design Challenges programme and gave us an interview account of his past and present work as a designer. We hope you enjoy the insight!

Can you tell us a little about what you do at the Design Council?

I spent a lot of my time running Design Challenges. We take some big issues currently prevalent in society, most recently for me it has been the illness – Dementia and then we try and use design to rethink and resolve the problem. We can’t of course cure the illness in this case, but we can make it more bearable for the sufferer. My job heavily involves gathering together very disparate groups of people to try and solve design issues. These groups could include designers, academics, psychologists and anybody who can actually deliver a product or service and make it.

Design in the context of the Design Council is not just about the consumer goods that we buy on high streets, it has a slightly bigger, richer context. I don’t always do all the design work myself; I invite, encourage and fund other people to do the work with me.

As a designer and a forward thinker, where do you start your design process?

It’s a tough one to call, it’s a fascinating mix of trying to imagine designs of the future whilst grounding concepts in reality. The kind of work I’ve always been involved with is the work that says, ‘what are we going to be selling next year or the year after that or maybe possibly the year after that?’ In other words I rarely design things that are planned to be sold in 5 years’ time. Turns out some of the things I have designed wouldn’t be made for about ten years but often I was trying to imagine next practice. For example, take navigational systems; I was working for ‘Nav Man’, saying ‘okay we’ve got navigation in cars going from point A to point B but what happens when we start having it on our phones, what happens when we want to be pedestrians?’ So for me, it has always been about questioning, ‘where are we going next?’. How can we see that the current systems aren’t nearly good enough?

“Great designs appear intuitively to be obvious, appear to be simple, but actually it’s taken a hell of a lot of thought”

The future of television, or the future of photography or the future of navigation could be radically different but at the same time you have to always ground design ideas in what people can understand now. So, you’ll come up with crazy ideas and you need to make them and put them in prototype form in front of people, because if people couldn’t fathom what on earth you we’re doing now then they wouldn’t go and buy it in the shops later. So we were trying to find ways to make the future but make it so simply and so intuitively that they could understand it now and the same design would be valid for a while.

What makes a design idea a great idea?

Ultimately the best ideas are simple, whether or not it was simple to think of them is a different matter. Great designs appear intuitively to be obvious, appear to be simple, but actually it’s taken a hell of a lot of thought. Early ideas are often very complicated, very confusing, but you’re searching around for where the value is in something. Over time the design process at its best is all about editing, refining and simplifying till your left with the core idea.

“I’m a bit like a shark, I always have to be on the move, I’m always looking for the next challenge because somehow once you’ve begun to show design can make a difference in one place you want to go and find the next impossible challenge to show design can be relevant and have a solution”

Some of the best designers i know will never stop thinking of ideas, good or bad. The key is to never stop trying to make the world a better place through design.

Where do you see the future of mobile devices?

Our phone is just merely a 4-inch version of the information that will one day flow through our car, flow through our homes, flow through our work, and all the rest of it. Hardware still matters, but in the past five to ten years it’s been fascinating to see that software has really come into its own and therefore these relatively general purpose devices like smart phones and tablets are much less physically varied than one might imagine.

I think the mobile phone will continue to be the epicentre of our interaction with digital systems and internet based information, but at the moment it feels like we are poking at information through digital glass! Back in 1993 i did a lot of work on incorporating the human dexterity into digital devices, the notion that our fingers can control information, our voices can make commands etc. But that was over 17 years ago, now I’m looking ahead to the future and hoping that mobile communication becomes more sophisticated in interaction terms, so that we use our dexterity in a far richer way to increase the standard of interaction.

One area that is a challenge to all designers of mobile devices is the need to protect personal information in the future. I see a world with no pin numbers, passwords or usernames to access content, so the question is how can we avoid all of these security measures to improve the user experience and create an even stronger digital security wall? It’s a tough one.

Finally, Mat had a question for everyone reading this post…..

Q: What challenges would readers like to tackle through the medium of design? I gave the example of identity theft, but what would you like to see governments and industry resolve through design when it comes to digital communication?

Please feel free to leave your comments below or tweet us @Nokia_Connects