Each year, the great, the good and the sometimes misguided, all convene in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show to either launch, sell, purchase or report on the global pulse of up-to-the-minute technology from every brand and business you could ever care to mention (and thousands you can’t). It’s a proverbial bear pit of innovation and not for the faint-hearted, but what it does do, is allow us as consumers and professionals to gauge the tempo of world consumer technology at a particular moment in time. In truth, it is no longer limited to ‘Consumer Electronics’ and tends to span the full bandwidth of technology advancement.
This very specific week in January blends utter brilliance and bonkers absurdity in equal measure. Some of it will genuinely improve things for the better, be it smart self-care, security and safety, relevant AI, or genuinely ubiquitous home technology. Others will just be more of the same we have come to expect; even bigger TV’s, more elaborate gaming ‘realities’, fridges that speak and spell, or ever more fragmented transportation categories….oh, and drones. Don’t forget drones!
What is ably demonstrated at an event like CES is the exponential rise in technology application and its perceived relevance to us as consumers by those wishing to sell it to us. These will inevitably all be at differing points on the Gartner Hype Cycle Curve but the people behind these technologies will all attempt to convince us that we can no longer possibly exist without it — however tenuous. This is not to suggest that technology advancement is not brilliant and necessary, not that it should be slowed down. Indeed, the proliferation of technological advancement, only inspires greater faith in being able and empowered to improve this little blue sphere we all inhabit. Bit by bit.
However, many brands leverage what they deem to be a technology step change as the sole reason to engage, and whilst this is entirely reasonable, it is the humanisation of that technology that is the pivotal element in ensuring true engagement rather than transient interest; humanisation meaning the consideration of, or access to, the implementation of technology enabling it to be used by humans effectively and easily.
Designing for Humans if you will.
So what’s the relevance of consumer electronics in the context of our Industrial FOCUS publication? Simple; because, no matter how industrial the application or how adverse the circumstances, there will always be some element of human interaction — be it in use or at point of interrogation or installation. It is the elevation from merely functional to ‘human-usable’ that marks out a product that succeeds from a product that exists.
Humans are not binary creatures and we judge interfaces and new user paradigms with cautious suspicion and benchmark them against our existing ‘knowns’. A new tech may well have the cleverest algorithm or the most sophisticated processor chip known to man, but unless it makes a human connection its potential will remain unfulfilled. We need to ensure that we extol the benefits of technology but within scope of human acceptance. By all means, we can stretch the boundaries of human expectation to ensure the interactions feel new and exciting, but there has to be an essence of familiarity or the means to semantically connect the user to the interaction.
Within our industrial client portfolio we have, arguably, some of the most interesting and challenging opportunities to address human usability — particularly as technology looks to labour save, risk manage and data collect. The blurry battlefield of autonomy and control that was the hunting ground of traditionally industrial clients is converging on the home and workplace. Similarly, consumers are becoming more responsible for managing their own interactions with surroundings so the typically ubiquitous and ill-considered ‘industrial’ products of old now require additional levels of human empathy, usability and — dare I say it — desirability. New generations ,be it Gen Z or Gen Alpha (yes, there’s more…), are accepting, and developing new ways of living and interacting that differ significantly from those before. Expectations of accessibility, convenience and affordability are all changing and the product landscape we design for is shifting beneath us as we work. It is exciting and unnerving in equal measure but like a game of Frogger (or Crossy Road for those under 30) we need to keep on our toes and adapt to the changing landscape and constant sideswipes of societal shift if we are to stay relevant.
Despite the multitude of skills at our disposal, ‘humanising’ is the critical essence of what we as designers can do to ensure success and robustness in this sea of human-object interactions. Human facing technology is only as brilliant as the relevance and application it serves, and the only way it can live and breathe is in the connection with the people who come to use it, however that may be. It may be utterly utilitarian and pragmatic, but what will set it apart is the human-centred nature of its origination and consideration.
At Kinneir Dufort, we consider this humanising aspect so critical to our process that we balance our creative and technical delivery against a wider awareness of the need for holistic experience. Our bandwidth and in-house skillsets afford us the luxury of working across the creativity and technical spectra in whatever split best suits the specific challenge. It is what anchors us in our approach and ensures that everything we do is grounded in a genuinely human centred experience.
Humans make or break the world. Let’s ensure that we help them make it.