Being creative with technology

Great user experiences are code.

Being creative with technology is hard. It’s not like being creative with a lot of other mediums. It sometimes means learning a new technology before being able to use it. It means working with logical constraints and creating an actual thing that likely has never been built before. It means having the idea — and then having the understanding and ability to make it.

We’re used to seeing creative work in the form of graphics and words. As humans it’s easy to get why applying them to marketing or other kinds of user-centric problems makes sense. Pictures are and words art; Art conveys emotion; emotion can sell ideas and affect behavior.

Technology on the other hand doesn’t have an emotional quality, yet like other kinds of creative mediums is something that can be experienced. In fact technology’s power is in it’s experiential quality.

Being creative with technology requires a different kind of approach to building technology. It means looking at the user first and technology second. Those who have been trained as developers or engineers have been taught to begin with ‘how’ and immediately go from idea to implementation with little regard to ‘who’ they are building for.

‘Start with Why’ is a pretty common line of thinking these days, and I think that beginning by asking why makes a lot of sense in analyzing business decisions, such as “why are we spending money building this?
 or “why do our users want this thing that we’re going to build?”. However if we’re evaluating a product’s relationship with people, thinking about ‘who’ we’re building this for helps us think about their current experience and ‘how’ we can improve an experience better.

Technology shouldn’t speak, but it should communicate (stole that from*). Other forms of creative media like graphic design and copywriting focus on messaging as the main tool with which to communicate ideas. Even a UI is essentially using the placement of images and text in order to nudge users in a direction or communicate information. Instead of thinking about what messages need to be communicated to affect user behavior, developers need to think about how messages can be experienced or implied. What experience can we create that empowers users and customers? Where can technology reduce a person’s cognitive load. How can we help create peace of mind? Where are breakdowns occurring in communication and how do we repair or remove them? These are the kinds of things that can’t be fixed with messaging, yet they all start with thinking about a person’s experience — not technology.

We’re in a place with technology where some people do understand that technology is a creative medium in and of itself, while others see technology as the implementation of messaging. I personally blame the words ‘interaction’. When you hear that something is ‘interaction’ what you hear most is the word ‘action’. You imaging something that requires a lot of pointing clicking and using other gestures to click images and read words. In reality, and interactive technology should require as little activity as possible. As developers our goal is to find creative ways for technology to do the heavy lifting, and to create as passive, yet engaging, an experience as possible; one that requires minimum activity, but delivers maximum value and engagement.

Thinking about technology as a creative medium can feel complex and abstract as the experience it creates are often invisible. It requires a different thought process and approach to UX than other mediums. However the end result is something that goes beyond thinking or feeling, it’s something that people can interact with (however actively) and experience for themselves rather than living vicariously through an idea. Great messages are delivered though graphics and words, but great experiences are written in code.

*CalmTech is a great site to visit if you’re interesting in reading more about the creative technology mindset.

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