Things need to be trustworthy

In this article I am going to talk about digitally connected things and the need for veracity when designing them for human beings.

“Interactive Media Design”. This is the clumsy name of the study path I have chosen and therefore , we regularly talk about the so called “Internet of Things”.. We ponder, how the progress of ubiquitous technology is going to change the future of our lives. Therefore a lot of research was conducted by us and concepts were conceived, prototypes were built and a lot of discussions about UX followed. As a result, a trend became apparent, that designers often tend to forget for whom they create all these things. And I am not talking about user-centered design, here.

Trustworthy products?

So, what are trustworthy products? How can we measure trustworthiness and isn’t this a subjective and personal question? Do you still trust your MacBook’s webcam or are you already one of those people who have taped their webcams for the sake of privacy? Things need to be self-explanatory. We do not need anything that gives us the feeling of having lost control.We need trustworthy things, otherwise they become creepy and unlikable in a way.

The uncanny valley

During my research I came across the so called uncanny valley. Wikipedia describes it as follows:

„The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of aesthetics which holds that when features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some observers. The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of beings as subjects move toward a healthy, natural likeness described in a function of a subject’s aesthetic acceptability.“

Designers tend to stop at the point where products enter the uncanny valley. I am aware that this hypothesis was created with focus on natural beings but I think designers can also rely on it to prevent creating untrustworthy things.

Either designers keep their products simple with fewer features and easy to use, or they need to try very hard, to make very complex things understandable. The user should be able to have full control over the final product. Otherwise you may end up having a car connected to the internet not doing what it should, because it is remotely hacked while driving on the highway, like in the following example:

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK0SrxBC1xs

Lord of the things

In my opinion it is very important to never give up control over technology or to even completely lose it. In the end we do not only need to feel this control, we need to be the “Lord Of The Things” with the actual power of control.

By now we certainly have already reached the point where we accept intelligent things around us. We have self-driving lawnmowers, self-operating vacuum cleaners and soon to come self-driving cars.

As we can see: Users choose convenience over control if things help them ease their everyday life. So in the end the responsibility lies with us designers to create things that allows for full control by their users.

Laws of robotics

Have you heard about the three laws of robotics? They are a set of rules devised by the science fiction author Isaac Asimov in 1942:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except when it conflicts with the first law

3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

These rules may come from a science fiction author and you might think it is a bit overstated to talk about robot laws but they are actually a useful guideline. What if we take these rules and replace the word robot with things? The very thought of it alone can help us create trustworthy products.

This article and the collection of ideas hopefully raises the awareness of designers to prevent creating a future surrounded by creepy things. Take these thoughts with you into your next project and by doing that lead humanity into a future in which we can live with intelligent, trustworthy things that make us feel good about using them.


Further reading
Power or Magic?