The design byte - 002 // SAT. 26 JUNE. 2020

A world without paper

A teaching method to craft scenarios* to generate user experience / service-design concepts for stakeholders.

Today, I am sharing a method of interaction I use while teaching my communication design class. It’s about consciously building an opportunity for students to think about an idea without boundaries. To imagine the unimaginable and the impossible, where the contexts are not meant for the present, but placed somewhere in the near future. To think of an idea for a new world, fantasize about it, and pave ways to weave scenarios for those contexts.
*A scenario is a believable narrative, usually set in the future of a person's experience as he or she engages with a product or a service. // The pocket Universal Methods of design // Pg.73
illustrator at work
Image credits: Illustration by Icons 8
So how did we begin? It starts by floating a theme which sets the stage for a hypothetical constraint. I told students to imagine a world in which it is illegal to manufacture paper. Now it is for them to unfold this world to me. I add a focus to the broader theme by defining a context, how books will be written, published, sold, and purchased in the paperless world. 

It starts with a conversation by gathering students together. Throw table aside and make a circle. I tell them to think about all the stakeholders, the authors, the writers, readers, publishers, distributors, and the sellers. How they will continue to exist in this new world. A straightforward answer to this would be, the creation of virtual books, ebooks, and audiobooks. But that already exists, so what’s new?

So here is my role as a moderator and a guide to lead the discussion with students. I propose a scenario. The first scenario I present to them was to invite them to my digital library, and explain to them as if it is real. Since we have assumed that there is no paper to print on, all books are in digital formats. The books I own appear on a virtual shelf in my home or sit inside my devices. When I had a few books, the shelf appears quite empty. Over the years my shelf has populated and now I can see books vertically stacked with spines of the book facing me. One of the student questions where did you buy these books and can I borrow one? I reply, I purchased them online on the Franchise of Publication Federation Network (PFN). You can borrow a book from me, or even rent books in my collection, but quite different from the physical world.

We jump to the next scenario... It’s an opportunity for the moderator to move the discussion further when students raise such questions. As a part of the course, they are encouraged to raise questions. We spent around ten minutes in a group discussion to brainstorm buying, renting, and lending books in this new world. The discussion must contribute towards idea generation and create counter-arguments to validate the idea. Once we agree upon an idea in its totality we start furnishing the concepts.
Buying, Hiring and lending.
So here is our sample discussion about buying, renting, and lending the books. Imagine I want to purchase a book titled, Grid systems by Josef Muller Brockmann, a must-read for graphic/communication designers. I buy the book from the author or the PFN authorised website. The moment I pay for the book it appears in my virtual library. The cost of the book is around 80 US dollars but I paid 100 for a special feature. It is a costly purchase but I chose to invest in it. I paid that extra 20 dollars so I can set this particular book for ‘LENDING’ in my library. Additionally, to convert my personal library into an online store I purchased a merchant license from the PFN website. This licence is meant for hiring the book, I cannot sell the book. The sale price for lending includes a percentage for the author who penned it (in terms of enhanced royalties) and for the virtual publisher who owns the publishing. A virtual publisher is the one who operates a sellers website, under a special merchants licence to sell new titles and maintains the backend.

When I decide to lend the book there are some rules to follow. There is a price limit set for each book by the PFN, and it is a range from high to low for which you can lend it to the borrower. For example, I can set the book for lending at a minimum of five dollars and a maximum of ten. PFN website adds a constraint that you can share the book with only one person at a time. Unless the book is returned back to you, it cannot be assigned for the next lending. The more I share the earlier I recover my invested money, but only if there is enough demand. If not I will have to find ways to advertise the book, through post and comments. So, I asked the student, would you like to rent the book or borrow for free? We all laughed.

Sharing and lending books for free amongst friends and family.
When I buy a particular book, I can choose to share the information about my purchase via mobile alerts to my family and relatives. They need not buy the same book, which I bought and vice-versa, why to have multiple copies of the same book. This would be possible as they would be connected to a private family network.

In the paperless world when I borrow a digital book, an automated return date is time-stamped on to the book. This is governed by preferences set by the lender and its price. The date when the book is borrowed it disappears from the lender’s library and is sent to the borrower. On the end date, the book automatically returns to the lender’s library. So no follow up and snooze reminders for returning the book. The borrower can extend the stay of the book in his library by renewing its subscription. Finally, if the book is borrowed a lot it comes for free to the buyer. This may be the reason for the buyer to invest in buying the original at a higher cost. 

People may search for a book on my virtual shelf via search engines, social networking sites, and based on book reviews. If I am a subject expert about the book, I can write reviews. People will be interested in the reviews too before they rent the book.

This is the way we keep on discussing to define, design, and refine the network in our mind, further to build a virtual system for the Publishers Federation Network in this paperless world. Plan the architecture, build the user interface for each scenario and craft the user experiences for all stakeholders. Try whether you can take this thought further.
Thought penned in 2012: A world without paper – brainstorming session in my course at IDC, School of Design, IIT Bombay with communication design students.

What if external storage is banned?

People using phone and data on the on cloud
Before I take your leave, think of this hypothetical constraint for the future. If there were no external hard drives, no pen drives you could buy in the marketplace to store your data. In that case, you are forced to store data on the cloud.

Imagine this world, how careful you will be in storing content, as it will be paid. Digital space will start behaving like real estate. You may start investing in digital space and rent it too. It might become an asset you hold. Plugins that can shrink data will be sought after. Sounds crazy? Keep thinking.
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