Keeping humans at the centre

Day two at SXSW for me ended up having central theme. Two of the sessions I went to really stood out and got me thinking about how we approach campaigns and the digital products and properties we develop for those campaigns. It’s about people and how they use stuff.

Joe Burton the CTO of Plantronics gave a thoughtful talk about the internet of things. For him it’s not the IoT it’s just the internet, which 100 percent true. Joe talked about the volume of things we will be able to control via connected devices in the future and how we're currently approaching it is wrong. Different companies creating their own closed systems and proprietary applications to control machines is wrong for two reasons.

  1. I shouldn't have to trust one company with all my data and control. Joe proposed open standards that promoted peer to peer transmission and computing vs. a single entity orchestrating everything in the cloud. This sounds so cool to me.
  2. It should be centred around the user experience. Flat out I shouldn't have 5 apps to adjust the temperature in my home, turn off the lights, and open the door.

I had the pleasure of sitting down and listening in on what really was a conversation between two cultural anthropologists, Genevieve Bell and Mimi Ito. They discussed their approaches to anthropologie and their techniques on observing people in their environments vs. just asking questions. Bell stated that people tell you what they feel is their cultural norm or what they think they should say, and not necessarily the truth. This approach can be applied to user testing, research panels, etc.

The second key takeaway for me was that testing that doesn’t take into account environment won't reveal the whole truth. Testing your product in the environment it will be used by consumers will show other competing and outside factors it will have to deal with. Think about how we test websites and apps. We find a panel and say use this and tell me what you think. But if we let people use it freely in the wild and we observe outside factors and their influence on the product outcome we may be surprised how the product actually gets used.

It was fascinating for me to watch these two brilliant people talk so casually about such complex ideas and methodologies. It was like my buddies and I talking hockey on a Saturday night, so effortless and casual.

Fruitful. Lots to think about.


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