Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What is the Future of Design? (Part 2)

What should we be pursuing in mobile design right now? That question was the beginning of yet more interesting and sometimes bizarre conversation at last week's UX Speakeasy meeting (see the previous post for Part 1 of this conversation). An innocent question and a sincere one, given that in 2010 mobile sales
surpassed computer sales and this year mobile devices in use are predicted to surpass the number of computers in use.

I was interested to hear Phil Ohme state that the future of mobile is not in apps or touch screens but in the extension of those items. In other words you don't need to carry it to use it. Just what is "it"? This is where it gets interesting. You can, for example swallow something and carry it around with you. Reputedly in prototype, the idea is not at all far fetched. After all, little medical cameras that travel around in your body have been used for some time, and then there was that guy who was featured years ago in a well known technical magazine after he implanted a device in his arm and used it to open doors, turn on lights and, if I recall correctly, to somehow enhance sex? Or perhaps he was just planning to do that or hypothesizing about that. (I'm not making this up.)

Where was I...so, if we develop the ability to swallow a little computer of sorts, and it sits inside your body somewhere on a more or less permanent basis, what kinds of interesting things will result? Packaging itty bitty highly sophisticated sensors is quite possible; packaging those little sensors in such a way as to survive the human gut is already being done. We know how to send signals through the human body - piece of cake. People already swallow pills that monitor if they have taken their medication during the course of the day.

Will we someday hear our phone ringing from our stomach? (Tap your belly button once to take the call)

Amber Lundy proposed a really fascinating idea. What if someone designs the ability to swallow a news event. For example, in the morning, as you are heading out the door, coffee in one hand, bagel in the other hand (dripping butter between your fingers), you pause to swallow the morning news.

As the day wears on, the news automatically streams into your brain. Perhaps you receive the morning news; the equivalent of having picked up and read the paper. Alternatively, you have plugged into a live stream, and are updated throughout the day with headlines, breaking news, entertainment.

If you are being streamed the news, will it be entirely cognitive or will it also be experiential? Amber suggested that it could be both. Cognitive: you get the knowledge. Experiential: you get the experience. But...then...what do you think about being experientially tossed into a story about the civil war in Syria? Is that a good idea? From a societal perspective perhaps it would be. If we really understood what was going on in war zones, in natural catastrophes in remote parts of the globe, in the developing world, would we make different decisions?

Design customization will be a key component of product success or failure. One of the big topics at the meeting, mentioned in the last post, was a growing demand by consumers for customizable micro-niche media. People want to hear, see, experience, communicate on their own terms. One of the panelists commented that Facebook is experiencing a mid-life crisis.  The power of the internet and our ability to search, dig, refine, and, an often narcissistic need for instant gratification, are driving consumer demand for "I want it my way". Whether you consider this good or bad (there are valid arguments on both sides) product development is increasingly having to listen to what all the "me"s out there want.

Greg Zapar was an optimistic voice throughout the meeting, as he kept pointing out the potential for designing for "better and efficient, not just more". Something very important to keep in mind. Those of us in who work in the technical world have the opportunity to have an impact on how all this deluge of data is gathered, presented and used.

We haven't even begun to talk about ethics. Designers and developers make choices with societal impact all the time - experiential product design is, and will continue to be, no different. Someone asked if we should approach design from a "science is for science's sake" perspective and let someone else worry about how our products and systems are used. One fatalist in the crowd suggested it was pointless to think about such things because we are just small cogs in a big machine.

You probably know by now what I think about that.

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