Creating a New Low-Tech Future?

We are in the grip of a making movement. A new generation of makers fuelled by digital know-how and technological advances have given a boost to manufacturing and business with online start-ups launching hourly. The opportunities for co-creation and interaction between the branding community and its consumers has also changed forever due to the advent of shared social media devices. The BBC is forecasting that our next revolution will be ‘home-made’ and whilst hi-tech has undoubtedly been the facilitator of this creativity, many of the ideas and innovations themselves are low-tech. And as the growing momentum of a new-low tech movement will testify, truly creative and low-tech ideas and innovations can showcase a very different—but just as radical—form of progress.
With global interconnectivity and social innovation high on the agenda, many of these low-tech products and systems are coming from—or being designed for—the developing world and could revolutionize the lives of its citizens: the award-winning Ecofiltro and the LIfeStraw  to name just two designs helping provide clean drinking water for millions. Essentially, these low-tech innovations are showing the Western world just how applying—and also re-appying—low–tech thinking to problems can make a difference on a global scale and has the power to design a better future for all. And that, ultimately, to remember that often the most simple is the best.

Encouraging and inspiring our children to look at a low tech and creative approach and solution was the thinking behind the new Create a Master Peace campaign which we have recently been involved with. This campaign aims to activate a global army of children—the peace corps of our future— in a powerful act of creativity over destruction. Launched last Friday (Sept 21) on the annual Peace One Day the campaign asks children to re-appropriate traditional symbols of violence in the name of peace. The initiative has reached out to children at home, school, in the community, asking them to paint a toy gun (or other weapon) white—and then use imagination and creativity to transform the gun into a positive, artistic symbol of peace—transforming the gun into something hopeful, not harmful. Children can then share their their creations with the world and spread the support for peace at

We are not naïve or anti-tech (as designers how could we be). We know that, in this case, we need technology to showcase the work and spread the word. And children do, of course, still need to be able to interact and operate in a digital world. This is maybe the balance we need to be working towards and finding ways for hi tech and low tech to optimize creative solutions.

And whilst it is true that product design and campaigns are possibly more fully engaged and realizing the power of low-tech design thinking, this is not a door that is closed to brands. Ironically it would seem, it is the digital and hi tech brands that seem to be more quickly coming round to the power and impact of the low-tech. Google has recently created a low-tech incubator for its hi-tech startups—in other words a Google campus in London has foregone its usual giant slides and games rooms for a new working philosopy that involves flexible co-working spaces and intimate meeting nodes. And didn’t Instagram invoke the low-tech urge lurking in the most app-addicted amongst us by making photos look like they used to when we were kids? In other words, nostalgia.

If we look at how readily brands have embraced and kept pace with the digital world — Special K has just announced the launch of ‘the world’s first tweet shop’ as they push their entry into the crisps market—they should not be afraid to balance this by applying low–tech strategies and ideas to their design and development. In fact, it is what we will all now be expecting. As with Instagram, nostalgia certainly has a part to play and the popularity of nostalgia branding is plain to see, but it needs to be more than just that.

In this age new age of making, it’s about embracing our expertise and playing with the parameters of craft, innovation and design—both digital and physical. Above all, it’s about showcasing how simple and low-tech ideas—and good design—can make a big impact and be adopted on a larger scale.

Pearlfisher Creative Partner Jonathan Ford recently spoke at the London PSFK conference on ‘How analog design solutions offer a template to scale’ To hear more from us on low-tech thinking in a hi tech world click on the link

About the Author

Darren Foley, Managing Director at Pearlfisher, London, joined the company in 2002 as Realisation Director, inventing the concept of realisation and advocating a design process in which our technical and creative teams work in harmony from the beginning. He has worked in the design industry for close to 25 years, starting out as a junior production artist, and amassing an unparalleled depth of knowledge for the discipline.