Design Futurist: Why Humanity Needs A Universal Language Of Design [PSFK 2014]

Design Futurist: Why Humanity Needs A Universal Language Of Design [PSFK 2014]

Designers need to stop focusing on features and return to the linguistics of products to spur real innovation.

Nestor Bailly, PSFK
  • 26 may 2014

Future-forward product designer Matthew Waldman, founder of design and fashion brand Nooka, spoke at PSFK CONFERENCE 2014 about how real innovation comes from focusing on the linguistics of design.

Drawing inspiration from his techno-progressivist philosophy and belief that global standardization and universal language are humanity’s best bet for advancement, Matthew creates products that avoid the ‘feature-itis’ of flashy new gadgets. He explores what will communicate a concept or idea most clearly in a 3D form. The example he gives of how :) expresses the complex idea of happiness or how polka dot patterns represent the stars in the sky shows that something doesn’t need to be complicated itself to convey a big idea. This is the linguistics of design that he challenges himself to identify and create in physical products.


Bringing this high-level thought to product design, Waldman recalled how learning how to tell time in elementary school made him realize how unintuitive our approach to timekeeping is. Watches and time are founded on a linguistics of base-12 mathematics, while everything else we do is base-10 math. It was the perfect example of intuitive understanding being constrained by the linguistics of a device, so Waldman created a new scalable language for math that a three year old could understand just by looking at it.

Waldman acknowledges that his products aren’t super fancy, with amazing features and touchscreens. But when you focus on superficial features like that, “you are ignoring other opportunities to innovate, like mechanical innovations or creating a brand new way a product feels or communicates,” he says.

Watch his talk on how he challenges himself to bring the ideals of techno-progressivism to every medium in the video below.

Nooka // @matthewwaldman


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