Luxury designers have been slow to embrace digital technology, and those at the very top have been slowest of all. Super-luxe brands revel in the mechanical and the material, in burnished dials and ostrich leather sleeves. Where does digital technology fit in?
Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s hard to see how Patek Phillipe could benefit from incorporating digital technology; their whole raison d’être is mechanical.
But what of, for example, luxury car makers? Digital technology, from the audiovisual system to climate control, is an integral part of what the modern buyer expects from a car. So far, luxury manufacturers have taken a timid approach: technology has been as pared-down as possible, and the focus has been allowing customers to plug in their gadgets (the ubiquitous iPod dock), and throwing in a high-end stereo.
There is potential for these manufacturers to do far more. Way back in 2001, BMW introduced iDrive, a unified control interface for controlling secondary vehicle functions – climate, stereo, navigation, and so on. The system garnered valid criticism for being unintuitive – it used a confusing joystick control system – but the concept was sound. Indeed, a bespoke central control system could be a point of differentiation, particularly at the exclusive end of the market.
The past few years have seen touchscreen interfaces come of age, and gestural and voice control will follow. These ‘translucent’ interfaces require little or no learning. They open the door for true creativity – for example, in automotive and household digital design, where hands-on interfaces have so far constrained possibilities.
For luxury designers, translucent interfaces promise high technology without confusion. Luxury customers demand a simple experience, and they are willing to pay for it. The marriage of money, technology and thoughtful design can push luxury forward.
It’s not all about ostrich leather.