It was a grey, winter afternoon in Venice Marco Polo Airport. I sunk into the uncomfortable airline seat, feeling tired after a long week of meetings and way too much pasta. I was counting down the minutes till I could sit on my own sofa with my family back in London. I reached into my pocket for my phone so that I could text my wife and let her know when I’d be home and realised I was on 2%.
I stood up and edged past my neighbour to the aisle and began rummaging through my cluttered bag in the overhead compartment. My tech bag was filled with devices, chargers, adapter plugs and random bits of receipts and business cards. Finally, I found my power bank and iPhone cable. I squeezed past my neighbour's knees, sat back down and fastened my seatbelt, ready for take-off.
I plugged in my iPhone, turned my power bank on and began messaging my wife before we took off. I noticed the power bank wasn’t charging. I did the usual off and on. Still wasn’t working. I took a closer look and noticed the plastic on my iPhone cable had worn away and the metal wiring was now exposed and beginning to fray. That can’t be safe. I unplugged the cable and the USB port from my power bank fell out underneath the seat in front. The seatbelt sign was now on and I had the awkward task of trying to carefully kick this tiny piece of plastic towards me so I could pick it up. I finally got the USB port to a reachable place as we were taking off. I’d now missed the window to text my wife. Pissed off, with low battery and 2 hours on my hands I looked at the back of my power bank to see who I could email about getting a replacement. There was no brand name on the back of it. I was trying to remember where, or how I had acquired this lifeless black box.
I spent the next couple of weeks critiquing and assessing every piece of tech I had in the office and at home:
What was its purpose?
Where had I bought it from?
Did it still work?
Did I need it?
I realised it wasn’t actually my tech that was letting me down but the tools and accessories around it. I had a drawer at home filled with power banks, cables and phone cases - some unopened, some broken. Everything was either black or silver.
I was the proud owner of so many beautifully designed pieces of technology that were user-friendly and durable. But when it came to accessories - the things I used to plug, power and enhance my tech, that same level of care and attention wasn’t there.
I'd got into a habit of buying disposable products, worth pennies, to protect and power my Apple products that were worth thousands.
Where were the desirable tech accessories that last as long as the tech they're meant to support?
ThIt was late 2016 and I’d been having several conversations around the future of tech that year. I wanted to integrate technology into my former eyewear business and had enlisted the help of a design agency based in San Francisco. I eventually walked away after 4 months and way too many flights discussing the problem and never quite reaching any solutions.
However, it was through this expensive exercise that I became fascinated by the industrial design process. The power bank incident led me to question, what would happen if we applied design thinking to tech problems? It's not normal for a business person to consider design research, or to try and meet human needs. Not in tech. A rational business person would usually say, ‘Here’s a power bank, I can buy it for this much, rebrand it and sell it for this much’. Tech accessories have traditionally been designed to follow trends and encourage disposability. Which is so wrong.
I found the whole industrial design process amazing and became determined to create high-quality products around the world of the laptop and the phone, from this perspective. I knew there was a business model there because no one else was creating tech accessories from the view of the customer.
Now I just needed to find an industrial designer in the UK, that understood tech...