Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid
Experience Design should focus on people, not features
As technology advances exponentially, we are constantly redesigning everything; perpetual innovation means our lives are changing every day. However, if not done right, innovation can be redundant, even harmful. This is where experience design comes into play, aiming to put humans — instead of technology — at the center of our universe.
Some people claim that the human imagination cannot comprehend the limits of what we can achieve technologically. Be that as it may, I like to think that technology is truly meaningful only when it manages to fill a place in our lives, acting as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Let’s not forget: people are paying companies for their cutting edge products and services in order to fulfill their goals and needs.
All successful products, services, and experiences evoke a particular type of behavior because they are tapping into our human DNA and needs. The television, for instance, allows one way of consuming videos in the context of your living room, while the mobile phone allows for a much different way of consuming media. And the same is valid for theaters, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Xbox, Apple TV, and now even VR. All these forms of technology and the ways they’re being used are dependent on the type of user, their goals and the context they are in, be it personal, for entertainment, pleasure, social, or anything else.
Designing for people, not features
My responsibility at North Kingdom, as UX Director, was to focus all of our resources into designing for people, putting emotional touch and human perspective at the center of everything we create. Many new product relationships are short-lived with a rush of value. It’s similar to a first date — sometimes amazing, then, bit by bit, the sparkle begins to wear off when you realize this person is not right for me. As a designer, you should avoid having to redesign all the time just for the sake of keeping that value up. This is valid when talking about anything from cars and shoes to phones, tablets and even trends.
But if you flip your approach and focus on emotional value and building a relationship between products and people, you will design something that feels personal and natural, which can adapt and learn from users.
People don’t want tech specs, they want their products to deliver on more values than just being objects — they want them to be meaningful, personal, controllable and develop with their needs and habits over time. —Helge Tennø
Spotify is a great example — instead of reinventing itself, it’s adapting to address the needs of its audience while still honoring a set of core values — music and, lately, audio podcasts. It’s still about streaming music, but it has a different way of engaging with users by bringing music into every part of their lives.
Feed our eyes. Touch our hearts. Open our minds
Designing pleasurable products is the new challenge for human-centered design, focusing on the interactions between objects and individuals.
To achieve product pleasurability requires an understanding of people — not just as physical and cognitive processors — but as rational and emotional beings with values, taste, hopes, and fears. — Patrick Jordan
In the world of payment solutions, PayPal has had its technology in place for years, and it has implemented this everywhere — from the web to apps, to business solutions. But it wasn’t until just over a year ago that they decided to invest in design as well and approached North Kingdom with the challenge: create a complete new design language to their main business application but also humanize their product. Why? Because it was what the people wanted and expected from the brand. But before that, PayPal knew it had to make design a focus of the organization. The result was a utilitarian app designed for individual business owners to help them learn, follow transactions, and understand how to grow their business by building relationships with their clientele. It was a unique solution that is efficient for the target’s business, but that still connects emotionally with the user.
When technology mimics humanity
Today we are hearing a lot about machine learning and artificial intelligence. Even a professor at my alma matar recently just fooled his students with a teacher assistant powered by IBM’s Watson.
So what happens to experience design when we are not communicating with humans, and are not involved in the design process or decision making? It’s evident that a wealth of data and advances in algorithms have made technology smarter than ever before. Machines can now carry out tasks ranging from recommendations to creating dialogue that allows us (humans) to engage in conversational searches with products like Siri. Additionally, Google’s second-generation machine learning system TensorFlow has been built to augment the human ability to understand complex situations and improve decision-making and knowledge sharing.
But why are we all doing this? It feels like there is so much pressure to make everything capable of being monitored, optimized, tracked, streamlined and tweaked. Yet when we do this, we’re no longer thinking about real human needs and emotions anymore, we’re thinking about profit and power.
The hard truth is that data has no insight into our physical or cognitive abilities, environmental conditions, socio-pleasures, personal values or any other human factor beyond it’s ability to compare results.
For example, Amazon recently changed their tune with machine learning and adjusted how they presented product reviews because they have learned that people are unpredictable, lie, and publish fake reviews. In an effort to make product reviews more useful and help customers better understand the “current product experience,” Amazon reviews are now weighed more heavily on newer reviews and reviews from verified Amazon purchases.
The crucial factor for machine learning and ubiquitous computing is to make sure we design experiences that help our needs, instead abusing our time and attention with unwanted task or details. It’s about accessing the right information, at the right time, in the right place.
Future preparedness requires empathy and human perspective
When reflecting over trends, it’s important to remember that they are not a replacement for valuable or meaningful solutions. We have to be careful NOT to drink the Kool-Aid and follow the latest popular features, design appearances and hype, but actually have the power to change our future and play an active role in that. You can’t just wait for the next big thing to happen, you need to embrace natural processes and shape it — the way you want it to be.
We’re now in a time when we need to embrace complexity and uncertainty because it’s the process of uncovering the real potential, at the edge of an exponentially expanding universe. That is how I believe we can break ground. We can’t pretend, or avoid risk. We must continue to practice the design of meaningful solutions and start, or lead, proper conversations that support the holistic experience design of a service or product.
If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative. —Woody Allen
When I was at North Kingdom, I have learned and experienced that the future of an organization is not dependent on its ability to latch itself onto one given technology or one behavior, but lies in figuring out what people want, and applying new technologies and new behaviors that are in line with the core purpose of the organization.
Because good leaders don’t pretend to know everything; they simply know how, where, or from whom, to find answers.
Originally an open talk I shared, and then later published at Contagious.com