from the flip-on-flip-off dept
This week, we're taking a look at a gloriously simple piece of technology: the Lightbox, a wireless light switch with no switch at all.
One of the definitions of "elegance" in interactive design is the ratio of depth to complexity. This is easily understood in the world of video game design, where there's a constant goal of providing a huge amount of gameplay depth to be explored without bogging the player down in endless complicated controls and options — but the same notion can be applied to something as simple as a light switch. You've normally got a ratio of one simple function to one moving part, but the Lightbox has uncovered a new level of elegance by having no moving parts at all. It appears as nothing more than a decorative piece of wood that would fit nicely in most homes, but it's quietly paired with receivers attached to your outlets, so you can control your lights by merely turning the block on its end. Even just watching it in the video feels satisfying. In a world full of robust but complicated devices for controlling your home, often revolving around touch-screens and LED indicators and smartphone apps, there's something appealing about the simple, elegant solution that the Lightbox provides.
The Lightbox isn't going to change anyone's life, but that would be asking a little much. Ultimately, it's a decor item more than anything else, which justifies (but doesn't entirely take the edge off of) the somewhat high price of $60 and up. But, were the Lightbox a block of cheap plastic or even a less-pretty hunk of wood, then it wouldn't be very appealing at all, so it's not like there needs to be a cheap alternative — and indeed, retaining the quality of material and design as they move into the manufacturing phase is one of the key challenges these creators face and discuss on the Kickstarter page.
The Lightbox isn't a "smart home" fixture, but it fits into an overlapping category and provides some real inspiration for the ongoing evolution of home automation and interactivity. As we start adding wireless communication to more and more items in the home, and as that becomes a more competitive space, it's good to look out for ways of flipping the emerging design standards on their head, and the Lightbox is an example of just that. In the fully-networked smart-home that many people envision but few completely achieve, do we really want a touchscreen on the toaster and every flower pot glowing with blue indicator LEDs? That's not elegant design — it adds depth, but only at the cost of increased complexity. Instead, let's take some inspiration from the Lightbox, and think about ways to hide a home's interactivity and automation within simple objects and actions that are pleasing on aesthetic and tactile levels — like the basic, satisfying action of turning a wooden block on its end.