Scholarly article on topic 'How the Next Generation of Products Pushes to Rethink the Role of Users and Designers'

How the Next Generation of Products Pushes to Rethink the Role of Users and Designers Academic research paper on "Computer and information sciences"

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Procedia CIRP
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{FBS / User-Designer / "Smart Object" / Customization / "Web Platform"}

Abstract of research paper on Computer and information sciences, author of scientific article — Gabriele Montelisciani, Daniele Mazzei, Gualtiero Fantoni

Abstract An emerging category of products, such as gadgets and smart devices, provides the user with high levels of customization but imposes to revise the roles of both users and designers. The Function-Behavior-Structure (FBS) framework has been proved to describe both designers perspective and customers use in a proper way. The paradigm has to be adapted when the high level of product customization enables all the users to reinvent the product itself. Researchers, amateurs, makers are now capable to fully interact with the electronic, the control software and even the shape of finished products. Main enablers of such change are several emerging technological solutions, both hardware (such as low cost 3D printers, programmable electronic boards, low cost sensors and actuators) and software (such as user-manufacturing web platforms). A design language that encompasses this new way of doing design becomes a priority. The paper investigates the role of FBS model as a practical response to this topic and presents a user-manufacturing web platform based on this theoretical framework. The design and development of a new smart object, performed through the introduced platform, is presented in order to support the description.

Academic research paper on topic "How the Next Generation of Products Pushes to Rethink the Role of Users and Designers"

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Procedia CIRP 21 (2014) 93 - 98

24th CIRP Design Conference

How the Next Generation of Products Pushes to Rethink the Role of Users

and Designers

Gabriele Montelisciania*, Daniele Mazzeib, Gualtiero Fantonia b

a Department of Civil and Industrial Engineering, University of Pisa, Largo Lucio Lazzarino 1, Pisa, Italy bResearch Center E. Piaggio, University of Pisa, Largo Lucio Lazzarino 1, Pisa Italy Corresponding author. Tel.: +39-050-2218127 ; fax: +39-050-2217051. E-mail address:


An emerging category of products, such as gadgets and smart devices, provides the user with high levels of customization but imposes to revise the roles of both users and designers. The Function-Behavior-Structure (FBS) framework has been proved to describe both designers perspective and customers use in a proper way. The paradigm has to be adapted when the high level of product customization enables all the users to reinvent the product itself. Researchers, amateurs, makers are now capable to fully interact with the electronic, the control software and even the shape of finished products. Main enablers of such change are several emerging technological solutions, both hardware (such as low cost 3D printers, programmable electronic boards, low cost sensors and actuators) and software (such as user-manufacturing web platforms). A design language that encompasses this new way of doing design becomes a priority. The paper investigates the role of FBS model as a practical response to this topic and presents a user-manufacturing web platform based on this theoretical framework. The design and development of a new smart object, performed through the introduced platform, is presented in order to support the description.

© 2014 Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Selection andpeer-reviewunderresponsibilityofthe InternationalScientificCommitteeof "24thCIRPDesign Conference"inthe personofthe

Conference Chairs Giovanni Moroni and Tullio Tolio

Keywords: FBS, User-Designer, Smart Object, Customization, Web Platform

1. Introduction

The power of Internet for products Mass Customization (MC) has been highlighted throughout the last decade. First investigations concentrated on the evolving roles of sellers and buyers. Through the web, the former strengthened the ability to collect buyer preference information while the latter widened their customization preferences [1]. Afterwards, with the spread of open innovation [2] and crowdsourcing [3] paradigms, the concept of customization opened new horizons towards customers involvement in the collection and development of new ideas. Last advances in manufacturing and internet-based technologies reinforced this paradigm, enabling MC application in many product categories [4], such as fashion, furniture, gadgets, consumer electronics, etc. In parallel, the internet gave strong impulse to the recent Makers revolution [5], supported by the success of addictive manufacturing [6] and open source hardware [7]. User-manufacturing web platforms [4] such as Ponoko [] and Shape-ways[], emerged as first attempts for trying to open this scenario to mainstream customers. Ponoko of-

fers three distinguished levels of product customization, from the selection and order of the preferred design, to the modification and order of existing design, as well as the possibility to create customers own design and receive the product at home. In 2010 the company also enabled users to build custom electronic devices by selecting open source electronics from a catalogue.

This customer-empowerment [8] process led to the concept of user-as-designer [9], when the consumer makes use of a toolkit to design a product for himself. Designing by using toolkits challenges the role of both the professional designer and the user (as-designer). Therefore, a common design language that values both entities becomes essential.

Basing on this issue, the paper identifies Function-Behavior-Structure (FBS) model as a reference theoretical framework for enabling users-as-designers through the web. Next section describes the FBS concept and its recent evolutions, and provides an overview of the role of the different users in the introduced context. Next, the application of FBS to the development of user-manufacturing web platforms is presented, supported by the description of a prototype developed by the authors. Lastly,

2212-8271 © 2014 Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the International Scientific Committee of "24th CIRP Design Conference" in the person of the

Conference Chairs Giovanni Moroni and Tullio Tolio


a smart devices designed through the presented platform is described as a validation case.

2. State of the Art

2.1. FBS

During the 1990s Umeda at al. [10] proposed the Function Behaviour Structure approach as a theoretical framework to analyse products. Shortly after they reframed it as Function Behaviour State in Tomiyama et al. [11] and Umeda et al. [12] [13], in order to shift from a "device centric" point of view to an "event based" one. Later Gero et al. [14] [15] and several authors adopted and modified the approach that is considered of great interest and continue to be used evolved and cited. The reasons are many but above all it allows modeling cognitive design aspects.

The FBS model basically assumes that the three entities that constitute the acronym, and their mutual relationships, encode all the relevant information about a product or a process. During the paper we adopt the following definitions of the key components of the FBS ontology. Some of these definitions can be found already in the original works by Umeda et al. and in those by Gero; others have been derived from works on qualitative physics [16,17] and from two recent works [18,19] that complete the FBS framework. According to such extended ontology a system can be abstracted and decomposed into the following entities.

Functions are the interpretation of physical behaviours according to the users goals. While Umeda et al. [13] define the functions as "descriptions of behaviour recognized by a human through abstraction in order to utilize it", Gero [15] describes them as the motivation for the product existence or, more generally, ascribes them to teleology (i.e. what the object is for).

Behaviours are the "physical phenomena" that cause the change of the "states" of the system. In our view behaviours are the descriptions in natural language of the equations (belonging to physics, chemistry, mechanics, etc..) that describe the evolution of a system (i.e. what the object does)

Structure: Even if the discussion on the term structure has a long tradition [13,20-22], here we define structure the set of physical entities (subassemblies and components) and their parameters (i.e. what the object is). Van Wie et al. [20] better describe it as follows: "Structure is the most tangible concept with various approaches to partitioning structure into meaningful constituents such as features [23], wirk elements [24] and interfaces [25] in addition to the widely used assemblies and components".

Other concepts have been included in the framework in time. Erden et al. [26] deeply describe all the nuances in definitions and approaches, Cascini et al situated needs [18] and introduced affordances, alternative uses and misuses [27].

Affordances are the "possible actions" [28] and in particular "the affordances A of a device are the set of all potential human behaviors (Operations, Plans, or Intentions) that the device might allow" [29]. Affordances can be recognized from experience, can be learned and also inferred by analogy. Perceived affordances (originally introduced in [30]) are context dependent manipulation possibilities from the point of view of a particular actor [29]. The actor is considered to be the entity,

human or otherwise, capable of taking action.

Alternative Uses are all the possible uses connected to the context and to the material decomposition of the device [28]. The detailed material description allows users to adopt a device for other purposes (e.g. due to its weight a battery can be utilized as a paper holder not only as a voltage source). This functionality can be derived by the structure that involves the physics related to the weight descriptions of the components. Thus, the alternative uses are the possible behaviors (interpreted by the user as possibilities of achieving goals) of the system coming from its structure, but totally disconnected from the goals the product was designed for.

Misuses are those conditions in which the user manipulates the product in a "wrong" ways with respect to the designed one, but still keeping the same goal. Summing up, the misuses are the possible behaviors (interpreted by the user as new possibilities of achieving goals) of the system coming from its structure and not directly linked to the goals the product was designed for.

2.2. Creating products through the web

Products creation and customization platforms are an advanced form of self-service technology [31]. Web-based customization self-services allowed a diverse set of users and consumers to perform creative design, enabling a strong process of mass cultivation of creativity. Gerber and Martin [32] identified nine design principles for supporting creativity within Web-based self-services, that are: Provide an optimal challenge; Provide autonomy; Provide a community; Give permission to take risks; Facilitate goal setting; Support positive affect; Encourage mastery experiences; Provide resources; Provide encouragement. While these principles have been conceived to be universally accepted, in the case of user-manufacturing and designing platforms, a deeper investigation of different users profiles is needed. Nowadays the world of Making through the web is approached by a diverse set of users, that differentiate each other on the basing of their expertise and purposes as well as on social and cultural habits. It is possible to include Artists; Product designer; Makers [33]; Researchers; but also controversially described profiles such as Nerds [34] and Geeks [35]. Some of them often identified as Professionalamateurs (Pro-ams) [36]. From a technological point of view, many recent innovations accelerated the process that led to the democratization of product designing and making. Firstly, the rise of user friendly web-based CAD environments for 3D design such as SketchUp [], Tinker-cad [], Shapeways [] allowed less experts to approach this field. Then the already introduced user-manufacturing web services such as Ponoko, Vectorialism [], Thingiverse [], and iMaterialize [] enabled the upload and order of designed products. Such initiatives were also driven by the spread of low cost 3D printers and other layered manufacturing tools [6]. In parallel, a broad community was born around the open-source hardware and its synergies with digital fabrication. Devices like Arduino microcontroller development platform [37] pioneered this field, and some companies have begun to apply digital fabrication and open-source hardware to consumer electronic products, producing kits which combine electronics and digitally fabricated

Fig. 1. Microcontroller producers brand research trend in comparison with Ar-duino brand. Chart generated with Google Trend limiting the research to the Computers & Electronics category.

Behaviours: Low level programming allows the expert user to configure the behavior of those elements belonging to the brain set (structure).

Functions: This level allows the user to design and program (high level) the product functionalities. The actions and reactions of the device are defined through a set of rules to organize behaviors on the basis of a cause-effect logic.

3.2. Users

parts [38]. The success of open-source hardware initiatives can be easily assessed by measuring Google research trends [] of the word "Arduino" in contrast with microcontrollers leading manufacturers such as "At-mel" [], "Texas Instruments" [], and "Freescale" []. The results shown in Figure 1 provide a qualitative but clear signal of the terrific change in users behavious towards hardware prototyping. Arduino redefined a new (and big) niche of possible users who never faced both the electronic and programming before Arduino has appeared in the market. The self-prototyping and customizing electronics depends on this facilitating electronic platform. Actually, before Arduino experts and Pro-Ams were searching the web finding for microcontrollers, but when Arduino and the like appeared, the number of searches rapidly dropped, while the easiness of use of Arduino is now acting as a multiplicative factor. It enlarged the community and allowed not experts to prototype and customize their own products.

Lastly, in this context, a primary role can be played by the Internet Of Things (IOT) [39] paradigm, as a new enabler towards mass creativity. Things would not be just self-created by the user, but also "alive" in an interconnected smart system that includes objects, individuals, and social networks. DIY and IOT together have the potentiality to move from the creation of fixed artifacts by traditional DIY-ers to the mass realization of smart objects [40], able to adapt to social and technical changes

Each user, based on the individual expertize and needs, could interact in different ways with the above described three factors. Different typologies of users, introduced in section 2.2, have been clustered on the basis of their possible levels of interaction with the three key generative factors. The amount of interaction of a generic user depends on both measurable and less measurable reasons such as skills, technical expertise, creativity, motivations, etc. A first ethnographic analysis has been conducted during the Rome Maker Faire 2013 and involved 50 potential users (in particular: 3 researchers; 3 product designers; 3 artists; 10 amateurs; 12 makers; 9 nerds/geeks; 10 mainstream users). The investigation provided the results shown in Table 1. Given the nature of users'categories, interactions with structure and behaviours have been detailed into Physical and Electronic features.

Table 1. Users skills profiling based on the level of interaction with FBS elements (-=none; *=low; **=medium; ***=high)



Product designers





Mainstream Users

Phys. Elect.

Phys. Elect.

3. Enabling people in designing through the FBS paradigm

Since FBS are really intuitive also for novices and not experts in design theories the authors developed a framework where the users could design and program their products by adopting a FBS design space. For this purpose, the study concentrated on the identification of the key generative factors that can encompass the conception and design of a new object through the web, as well as on the analysis and clustering of the possible users.

3.1. Factors

In order to allow the creation of fully customized smart objects, the user should be able to interact with three key generative factors that are the following:

Structure: It allows the user to choose the skin of the product (the external shape) and its structural characteristics, but also its brain (the central "nervous system") that include also the set of all sensors (the peripheral "nervous system") and all actuators of the device.

The clusters resulting from this analysis are the following:

Proficient users: Skilled users as researchers, product designers and artists that can interact with the structure by designing new skins and manufacturing new structures through milling, turning, etc. If they have an electronic background they can design boards, sensors, actuators, etc., while software developers can concentrate on their behaviours.

Pro-Ams: Amateurs, makers, nerds/geeks are interested in designing new smart products and in manufacturing them mainly through 3D printing, LOM, etc. In doing so, they amplify the set of shared designs and functions by means of small incremental modifications. In addition, each individual contributes to the growth of the typical communities that born around user-manufacturing platforms playing an essential role in boosting creativity and spreading innovative solutions within the platform.

Mainstream: They are basically interested in high level customization. They want smart products that meet their own personal needs, both in terms of design and in terms of functions. Thus, they limit themselves to select a shape designed by others, but then they want to play with the behaviors of their devices, and design the product functionalities in order to make

the object satisfy their own desires.

4. The Developed Platform

The conducted analysis allowed the development of a web platform that enables proficient users, pro-ams and mainstream users to create fully customized smart objects. The main features are presented in Figure 2. According to the already introduced levels of interaction, the user can access the platform through three different virtual areas that correspond to the three key generative factors.

Fig. 2. Main features of the developed platform, clustered according to the FBS paradigm. Main functions are configured in the "Functions" area on the top. "Behaviours" area reports the customization of the "Led Color" block. Examples of physical and electronic structures are also reported.

Functions: Here the goals of the smart object are defined,

selecting from a set of functions achievable through the available set of behaviours. Once the user-designer identified the wanted functions for his/her own device, an intuitive set of graphical objects and a functional positioning grid allow the logic translation of functions into behaviours (i.e. Formulation process [15]). The logic allows the definition of a structured set of rules that contextualize the behavior of the smart object on the basis of the planned functions. Rules are easily understandable thanks to an if-then logic, developed in the "Behaviours" section, described in the following natural language structure: When something happens, Do something magic. This refers to the IF-THEN paradigm applied to events, data and actions in the IoT [42], as attempted by Pintus et al. [43] and the online service If-This-ThanThat.

Behaviours: This area allows the creation of the graphic blocks that enable the smart object to perform a particular action. Concerning "electronic behaviour", a web based programming environment allows the construction of the graphic blocks containing a particular portion of code that enables to elaborate a given input or to perform a particular output. Of course a behaviour can be performed after a particular input event happens. Thus, in this area the user defines the set of triggers that allow the execution of a given action. Triggering events can be related to a range of values of a particular variable. In addition, "physical behaviours" belonging to a vast set of fields, such as mechanics and ergonomics, can be set up. This can be, for example, the connection of two physical objects whose mechanical interaction allows an electrical connection through the plugging of compatible pin sockets.

Structure: Here is where the user can select or define the hard feature of the smart device. STL models can be uploaded or selected allowing the realization through 3D printing of the object case (Physical Structure, i.e. Skin). In addition, electronics, sensors, extension board, etc. are selected (Electronic Structure, i.e. Brain).

Each of the presented sections allows the user saving single FBS features to be used as building blocks for the development of various devices. In this way, each user contributes to the development of a FBS features library. All the community users can gather FBS features from the library in order to build their own devices. This community based approach empowers also non skilled users in conceiving new customized smart objects.

5. Evaluation Case

The platform allowed the design and creation of a first exemplary case. The device, shown in Fig. 3 is a 3D printed smart object whose basic characteristics are reported in Table 2. It is the result of the collaboration of a team of advanced and novice users, each of which concentrated on a particular FBS aspect according to the background.

First of all, a panel of Mainstream Users concentrated on the definition of the functions to be achieved by the device. The device was defined to: perform a vibration; emit a light; blink; communicate through the web; physically connect with other devices by means of a particular shape.

Behaviours have been set up by a team of Pro-ams Users on the basis of the defined functions. Some electronic behaviours were already present in the set of coded blocks, while other blocks have been defined ad hoc. In particular, at this phase

the user-designers established the necessary triggers ("when") to perform a given function ("do"). In this case, light emissions were set to change color and vibration to be activated on the basis of a given levels of noise in the surrounding environment. Moreover, the connection with the web allowed the posting of a tweet containing the message "its hot!" once a given temperature was detected.

The structure has been designed according to the previous choices. A product designer defined the puzzle-shaped physical structure, basing on aesthetic and behavioural requirements (a puzzle allows to physically secure the connection among two devices). In addition, a team of Pro-Am users selected the necessary electronic through the platforms library.

The object has been manufactured with a low-cost 3D printer through a Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process. The electronic has been easily assembled using prototyping kits and breadboards. Involved users provided generally positive feedback on the usability of the system. The product have been conceived and manufactured in less than one week and presented in a public event. These results give a first evidence on the potentiality of the system to provide professionals and amateurs with an user-friendly platform that allows pro-active collaboration among different profiles.

6. Conclusions

The paper adopted the Function-Behaviour-Structure model since its intuitiveness and easiness of use for both users and designers. FBS can successfully guide the product development in the forthcoming new manufacturing era where openly accessible software and hardware technologies are already revolutionizing the way of conceiving and designing everyday devices.

FBS's main elements have been delineated as the three key generative factors that allow the product development and customization on different levels of interaction. A deep analysis of the state of the art in the fields of open hardware, open electronics and user-manufacturing platforms showed their coherence with FBS features. Social implications and levels of interaction from a user and designer point of view have been analysed in order to come up with three clusters of user-designers, that are: Proficient Users; Pro-ams; and Mainstream users.

Basing on this conceptual framework, a new web-based platform to create fully customized smart objects has been developed. The main peculiarity is the possibility to interact with the platform through three different virtual areas that correspond to the three key generative factors. In particular, the "Functions" area allows the definition of the goals of the designed device, by means of an intuitive set of graphical coding blocks. More

Table 2. Detailed description of the puzzle-shaped smart object's features, identified through the FBS scheme


Physically connect with other devices WHEN DO

Detect Noise Emit Light

Detect Noise Blink

Detect Hot Communicate through Web

Detect Touch Vibrate


WHEN (Value) Sound (0 - 3)

Sound (4 - 10) Surface Charge (3 - 10)

Temperature (7 - 10) Vibration Frequency (Value) Joined with another device

DO (Value) Set RGB value (255;0;0) Set blink frequency (value) Set RGB value (0;255;0) Set blink frequency (value) Set vibration frequency (value)

Twitter post ("Its hot!") Device vibration (value) Secure the joint



Shape & Dimensions Surface roughness


Puzzle 10*10 0.8

Electronic and Sensing Board Arduino Uno + Ethernet


Sensors Temperature; Light; Sound;

Surface Capacity Actuators Diffusive RGB Led; Vibra-

tion motor

Fig. 3. The puzzle-shaped smart object realized as test case

skilled users can also define or modify objects behaviors within the dedicated environment, basing on an If-Then logic. Physical and electronic structure of the device can be finally defined in the "Structure" area. An FBS features library collects all the generated products features that can be selected by the community of users in order to design their own customized devices.

The proposed evaluation case provides a first concrete evidence of the potentialities of the approach. Currently, the system does not implement any feature to proof the consistency of the designed products, in order to boost a trial and error approach that stimulates users' learning by doing.

Future work will concentrate on two main aspects. Firstly a test on a wider set of users and application will provide a structured set of feedback on the effectiveness of the approach and the interaction with the platform. Secondly the research will focus on the identification of the unexplored layers of the proposed design process in order to reinforce the FBS-based framework. This will allow performing an ex-post FBS consistency check of the designed products that can guarantee the validation of the selected product, without interfering with the learning by doing philosophy.

7. Acknowledgements

The project started during the course "PhDplus: Creativity, innovation, entrepreneurial spirit", University of Pisa. The financial support of the following projects is kindly acknowledged: MISE Project "IOTPrise: Internet Of Things: trasfer-imento di tecnologie e creazione dimpresa" (Bando RIDITT, DM 22/12/2009); EU LLP Programme Leonardo Da Vinci (n 2012-1-IT1-LE005-02794): "EEC: European Enterpreuners Campus" .


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