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Facevolume: over-engineering as a design exercise

Could envisioning all the ways NOT to design result in a better solution?

The main design tool of a creative technologist is code.

From a design doing perspective, I advocate for my craft and strive to deliver the most elegant solution using the right mix of existing and emerging technologies.

As a design thinker, my mission is to make sure any application of technology is meaningful. It is there for a reason and the value it adds for a user is greater than effort and resources it takes. Sounds simple, right? What it means in real life is sometimes saying NO to technology, i.e. admitting your craft should not be applied.

In tech-driven culture we’re tempted to look at technology as a silver bullet to any problem. We jump on any new shiny tool and imagine how it can break the ground here and there. When the rush goes away, we step back a bit and ask “Wait, but why?” and that’s where innovation starts happening and meaningful experiences are being created. But no one stops you from taking another path though — going crazy just to see where it can lead you.

Inspired by a campaign started by Fabricio Teixeira on reinventing the things (like volume control) that shouldn’t be reinvented, I decided to take on over-engineering as a design exercise. The two criteria I picked for this exercise were:

  • use technology for technology’s sake
  • make user experience as annoying as possible reversing all UX assumptions

World, meet Facevolume— a volume control system enabled by your face.

The tech absurdness elements are:

  • It’s a responsive web app and it’s optimised for all browsers. Because you need a website to control audio — for sure — and different devices and browsers shouldn’t stop you from doing so.
  • It uses computer vision to enable face tracking to control audio volume. Because, you know what — why not draining the battery of your devices while keeping the camera on all the time? :)
  • It’s built in React even though there are no reusable components or content that needs to be updated within a component. Just to demostrate how important the choice of technology is to the overall experience.

While UX absurdness is self-explanatory, there is more in it:

  • Your volume level will never be set to a static value. Even a slight move will have an affect;
  • Camera isn’t mirrored. On purpose. If you move right, the volume bar will move left. And vice versa.

What I’ve learned from this exercise is that it might be actually much more challenging to come up with the ways to screw a user experience rather than create a good one. It flips your brain and lets you look at usability from a different angle. It also sparks your creativity on what can go wrong and gives you a better picture of how to prevent it from happening. Plus, showing an absurd application of technology can be a real ice breaker to start a conversation on what a meaningful use could be.

What are your examples of applying technology for technology’s sake? How often do you use reversal assumptions method at ideation sessions?