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Tech Design: Cartoons, Customization & Crowdsourcing

May 2011

By Kateri O’Neil, Los Angeles

American and Scandinavian culture may dictate design trends in technology, but Asian aesthetics currently dominate the graphic elements that have come to define the overall “look” and “feel” of technological toys and tools.

Takashi Murakami’s influence on tech design is undeniable: his anime-inspired graphics have left an indelible mark upon web design and technology aesthetics. The soft edges convey non-threatening playfulness and fantasy; this “cartoony” aesthetic has inspired the rounded iPhone application icons and has been embraced by such industry leaders as Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Android, Palm, and a multitude of other start-ups and application developers.

This animation trend—that has been compounded by a growing mainstream appreciation for graffiti artists like Banksy and Shepherd Fairey—can also be witnessed in the plethora of “self-cartoonizing” websites, like zwinky, that allow visitors to turn their photos into characters, cartoons, and avatars.

Historically, designers have inevitably had to carefully balance a series of binary cultural opposites in order to conceive of new designs: function/decorative, useful/wasteful, natural/artificial, machine/body, masculine/feminine, west/east. It is only just recently that many designers have allowed themselves to adopt a more playful approach to these contradictory forces.

Other technology brands are forgoing the generic, homogenized aesthetics associated with certain cultures and turning, instead, to more individualized and personalized designs. As a prime example, Incase, has been seeking design inspiration from artists and not only boasts a collection of cell phone cases and laptop sleeves devoted to Andy Warhol, but also regularly commissions international creatives to curate and design their own branded lines.

Gmail now offers fully-customizable background themes and many smartphone applications are emerging that allow their owners to design their own backgrounds and select their own visual components. Customization is a trend that is growing exponentially, yet crowd-sourced designs have yet to be exploited by mainstream technology brands.

Los Angeles

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