When the Sony Walkman was introduced in the early 1980s it offered people a new kind of relationship to urban space. It allowed the wearer to create their own portable micro-environment, and it provided a soundtrack for travel through the city encouraging different readings of familiar settings. It functioned as an urban interface. Fifteen years on there are hundreds of variations on the appearance of the Walkman but the relationship it created to the city remains the same. This scenario
... s how product designers have responded to the aesthetic challenge of electronic technology. They have accepted a role as a semiotician, a companion of packaging designers and marketeers, creating semiotic skins for incomprehensible technologies. The electronic product accordingly occupies a strange place in the world of material culture, closer to washing powder and cough mixture than furniture and architecture. But this is just one approach to product design, one genre if you like, which offers a very limited experience. Like a Hollywood movie its emphasis is on easy pleasure and conformist values. It reinforces the status quo rather than challenging it. There could be so many other genres of product: eg arthouse, porn, horror, noir even, that exploit the unique and exciting functional and aesthetic potential of electronic technology.