THE BLOG

The Evolution Of The Modern Day Tool

08/26/2014 01:08 pm ET | Updated Oct 26, 2014

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

The world of prosthetics began the same way that many tools did -- humans needed a solution to a problem, in this case, how to replace lost or damaged limbs. Prosthetics, like any tool, started as very basic, get-it-done devices. Rarely did they ever make an attempt to even look like a human limb, because, like tools, their first goal was functionality. But today's prosthetic devices are so life-like and true to the original limbs they replace that it's hard to discern a fake limb from a real one. But what drives prosthesis developers towards making any of the devices more life-like? If the device works and works well, is there really a need to make it look nice? Technology has a new edge in today's products -- not only do they have to work, but they also have to make us look good using them.

The concept of adding form to function in product design is nothing new. Automobile companies have been doing it for years. More recently, technology device manufacturers have been folding aesthetics into their product designs because of the growing trend among tech users to have devices that look cool and do cool things.

If we look back at the beginnings of any product, we find the original design to be typically more function and less flair. Telephones, washing machines, power tools and dog leashes used to look very utilitarian, very basic, with little in the way of aesthetics. The product was simple, basic and just did what you wanted it to do.

But a look back at the early 80s reveals the beginnings of today's product design -- aesthetics abound with color, shape and ease of use along with ergonomics. Today's products are light weight, simple to adopt and, more often than not, elegant. The level of elegance of any product can be traced to the use of the device in most instances. A 4-wheel drive vehicle for example might exhibit a wide stance reminiscent of an agile animal, while a smart phone case might have curved sides which fit nicely into a user's hand.

The definitions that society places on what products "should" look like have been updated to meet today's technology. A kitchen faucet used to be silver with a hot and cold water knob. Today's kitchen faucets come in a variety of colors; white, beige, even gloss black. And instead of knobs they can have touch-sensitive controls, lights and even internet connectivity. But, strangely enough, it wasn't society who changed those definitions. It was the corporations who sell us the end products.

The general trend in product design has shifted towards integrating current tech into any and every product. As a society, it seems that we have been trained to gravitate towards what is new, better, faster and lighter. Perhaps this is what subconsciously drives us to want everything that product developers dish out. What we believe is beautiful, what we believe looks "good" and what we think we desire have all but left our conscious control. Technology has turned us into trained consumers with product manufacturers taking advantage of the fact that they can sway us into buying what they are offering.

Maybe, one day, we will stop staring at our smartphone screens long enough to realize that corporations have changed our definitions of the modern day tool for their own benefit, not ours.

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