Designing for (and with) New Technology

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A talk given at various places throughout 2010.

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Designing for (and with) New Technology

  1. Designing for (and with) New Technology Dan Saffer, Kicker Studio @odannyboy @kickerstudio
  2. “NEW” Let’s talk about NEW for a second. When I talk about NEW technology, I’m not necessarily talking about the latest technology to roll out of research labs.
  3. The bulk of innovation behind the latest "wow" moment is also low-amplitude and takes place over a long period— but well before the "new" idea has become generally known, much less reached the tipping point. Bill Buxton In fact, as Bill Buxton points out, most of the time this isn’t true anyway.
  4. Bill Buxton’s “Long Nose of Innovation” The mirror of the Long Tail Effect
  5. Example: Touchscreens 1970s 1980s 2000s An example of the last wave of NEW technology, touchscreens, germinated over 30 years before wide consumer use.
  6. New... to the world to the market to an industry to a company to...you? So when I say NEW technology, it could mean all these different kinds of new. At some point in your career, you’ll be work with a piece of technology you’ve never worked with before.
  7. Technology I’m also not going to talk about any one specific technology. This talk is specifically technology-agnostic. I’m going to reference some technology that is fairly “new” but this talk isn’t only about today’s new technology, but about tomorrow’s, the one you’re going to encounter out in the field one day when someone hands you it.
  8. Almost everything around us is technology of one sort or another. We just forget that at one time, it was new technology.
  9. Examples of current “new” technology: Adding sensors to previously blind objects.
  10. Adding networking to a stand-alone device like the Sonos.
  11. New algorythms and data visualizations, like this from the Swiss-Spain game yesterday from the Guardian.
  12. Robots
  13. Unusual use of old technology, like combining GPS with the mobile phone camera to create augmented reality applications.
  14. Digitizing previously analog activities such as putting a DJ’s turntables onto iPads.
  15. Radical improvement of an existing technology. This is an example of an older Canesta camera.
  16. And then there is the radical new technology that change everything. The microchip is the greatest example. This is an RFID tag which, along with all the related and associated technologies around near-field communication, has the power to radically transform most objects on the planet.
  17. Where does technology come from? Discovery of the possible through science and engineering. But what it doesn’t usually come from is via user needs. Scientists and engineers make what is POSSIBLE, but not always what is useful or usable or even wanted.
  18. Although we would prefer to believe that conceptual breakthroughs occur because of a detailed consideration of human needs, especially fundamental but unspoken hidden needs so beloved by the design research community, the fact is that it simply doesn't happen. Don Norman Don says, rightly I think, that the technology comes first, then the need for it comes later. That’s where we come in. Designers help give the technology meaning. People will rightly ask What does it do? How should I use this? And most importantly WHY should I use this? As designers, it’s our job to help answer those questions.
  19. New technology + Old product = The same product somewhat better (or worse)
  20. Add a touchscreen to a computer, and you can get a Tablet PC.
  21. Or you can add a touchscreen to a computer and get something like the iPad.
  22. New technology + Old product = A different product What you decide is up to you and your strategic goals. In some cases, it makes sense to not change the meaning of the product. but creating a new product that redefines what the product is is a very powerful product differentiator.
  23. Practical Considerations Expectations Personality Meaning Here’s what this talk is going to cover.
  24. Canesta Gestural Entertainment Center Throughout this talk, I’ll be referencing a project my company did about a year ago.
  25. Canesta Gestural Entertainment Center. Find out more at http://kickerstudio.com/ canesta.html
  26. PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS Before we dive into the more theoretical topics, let’s talk about some things to keep in mind.
  27. Extra Time New technologies, like other large constraints, always seem to take more time than you expect. The technology doesn’t work right, or has unexpected bugs, or any number of flaws and constraints you’ll only discover once you start trying to make something with it. Build in extra time into the schedule.
  28. Limitations of the Technology + Context You’re going to be wrestling with two things during the course of the project: the limitations of the technology (what it CAN’T do) and where the technology is going to be deployed. By context, I mean the physical or digital space where the technology is likely to be used. (With a mobile technology, this is obviously a harder challenge.)
  29. When we did the Canesta TV project, we observed people and ourselves watching TV to see what we did. This definitely changed the kinds of gestures we were going to choose. [Mute story] This is Jennifer Bove, another Kicker principal. She’s wearing gloves because the camera couldn’t see fingers at the time.
  30. Understand what’s already there... When you’re introducing a new technology into an existing environment, you want to make sure that you understand you understand that environment, even if your technology is going to disrupt that environment.
  31. ...because you could disrupt it. When you’re introducing a new technology into an existing environment, you want to make sure that you understand you understand that environment, even if your technology is going to disrupt that environment. You want to be able to predict HOW the disruption is going to happen, so that it doesn’t negatively affect the environment.
  32. Prototyping Prototyping is obviously more important with new technology, because until it’s up and running, you might have no idea what it feels like to use. You’ll really get a sense of its limitations once you start playing with it.
  33. Make it work. Make it work right. Make it work fast. In that order. Paul Hammond It’s fine to start with low fidelity methods for prototyping too. Paper, cardboard, and so called “Wizard of Oz” techniques with “the man behind the curtain” controlling fake results. On the Canesta project, because the camera wasn’t ready yet, we had test subjects sit in front of a regular TV and make gestures, while we changed the channel with an ordinary remote. Use scaffolding.
  34. Help Sell It You’re going to need to help sell the technology. This will not only help users, it will help you understand how the technology will be perceived better and what meaning you are trying to give the technology.
  35. For Canesta, we produced a series of marketing images to help make the technology more appealing and better understood.
  36. Words matter. What you call the technology and HOW you explain it is extremely important for potential users’ comprehension of what it is.
  37. Using the word Find instead of Search helped explain what the Yolink product was.
  38. Testing As with anything new, testing prototypes with users is recommended, with one caveat:
  39. Great ideas can’t be tested. Only mediocre ideas can be tested. George Lois A word of caution about testing from George Lois. If the technology you’re working with is really a departure from what users are used to, there could be some resistance to even the idea of the technology, or just a simple lack of understanding of why they would use it.
  40. EXPECTATIONS Human beings’s brains are set up to expect that things will work as they have in the past. New technology disrupts this process. But even so, users are coming to your product with a set of expectations about it is going to work, and with new technology, it might not work like they think it does, or should.
  41. We have high expectations for our devices now. And users get used to a level of technology speed, power, and execution.
  42. M A Y A It’s good to keep this acronym in mind, invented by this guy, Raymond Loewy, a famous French-American industrial designer from the mid-20th century. He coined the term MAYA: Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable. You don’t want your design to be SO radically new that users have no idea where to even start with it. You need to keep the YA Yet Acceptable in mind.
  43. Pattern Recognition This is because humans are pattern recognition creatures. It’s startling to our brains when things don’t work as we’re used to.
  44. Predictability...is so profoundly soothing...it gives you a sense of order, that everything’s going to be all right. David Foster Wallace Creating discernible patterns quickly is incredibly important with new technology. You want the product, although new and exciting, to seem PREDICTABLE.
  45. Once our brains find a pattern, we make predictions based on that pattern. And if we discover the pattern isn’t there, we feel robbed or cheated or wronged. It’s dissonance for the brain. It causes tension because we don’t know what’s coming next. We don’t know how the pattern will resolve.
  46. Follow conventions unless the new alternative is measurably better. Alan Cooper If you can surround your new technology with conventions users understand, the technology itself stands a better chance of being adopted.
  47. Just as one example, look at how much early cars resembled the carriages that came before them.
  48. New patterns eventually become old patterns. Luckily, we adapt quickly.
  49. The Of Course Factor What we should be striving for when working with new technology is this near-immediate creation of the Of Course factor.
  50. Most companies are looking to “wow” with their products, when in reality what they should be looking for is an “of course” reaction. Christian Lindholm Done right, the new technology itself will provide the wow factor. So we don’t need to worry about that. What we need to concern ourselves with is the making the use of the new technology seem OBVIOUS and PREDICTABLE.
  51. Affordances Affordances (or technically perceived affordances) are the visible pieces of an product that allow users to understand what can be done with it. A cup affords putting liquid into it. A button affords pushing. And so on. With new technology, being able to understand WHAT DO I DO HERE? is essential for adoption. This is where affordances come in: do I push it, click it, drag it...how do I get started? where do I begin?
  52. Affordances are particularly important in digital products because a button on a screen doesn’t have to look like a button at all. If you want people to push it, it should look like it can be pushed. With Canesta, Some kind of indicator of the gesture you could use to do something.
  53. Attraction Affordance Sometimes people need help getting started.
  54. Metaphor Asking yourself What that exists is this product like? can help you come up with a design language and affordances that can help explain the technology to users.
  55. Metaphor allows us to understand the abstract.
  56. People won’t buy a product if they can’t understand it immediately. They can’t understand it immediately if their worldview doesn’t already have a readymade place for it. And their worldview won’t have a readymade place for it, if they’ve never seen anything like it before. Amy Hoy Metaphor can help bridge this gap that Amy is talking about here. If we’ve never seen ANYTHING like it, our minds flail about and we’re confused. But when you have a metaphor, it helps the human brain understand what is going on.
  57. Metaphor is something the brain does when complexity renders it incapable of thinking straight. Gary Greenberg The brain can’t stand a pattern it doesn’t recognize. If your users don’t understand what is going on, they will make up a reason for why something is happening (or not happening). And that reason could be the wrong one and the user will get the wrong mental model of how the product works.
  58. Only 5 percent of consumer electronics products returned to retailers are malfunctioning—yet many people who return working products think they are broken, a new study indicates... Accenture estimates that 68 percent of returns are products that work properly but do not meet customers' expectations for some reason. http://www.pcworld.com/article/146576/ most_returned_products_work_fine_study_says.html This is fascinating, I think. The products WORK AS DESIGNED but are designed so poorly that people cannot figure them out!
  59. The average consumer in the US will struggle for 20 minutes to get a device working before giving up. Elke den Ouden
  60. Make it a Toy Few people are afraid of toys, or experimenting with a toy or playing with one. It is a good go-to metaphor, one we used for Canesta too.
  61. Don't be discouraged if what you produce initially is something other people dismiss as a toy. In fact, that's a good sign. That's probably why everyone else has been overlooking the idea. The first microcomputers were dismissed as toys. And the first planes, and the first cars. Paul Graham People might dismiss what you’ve made as a toy anyway. Add Facebook and Twitter to Paul Graham’s list here as well.
  62. Design Languages from Other Areas One powerful thing about metaphor is that it allows you to bring in thinking from other design areas.
  63. For instance, before he worked at Apple, Jonathan Ive designed kitchen and bathroom appliances. Having this background allowed him to take some of that design language and apply it to personal computers.
  64. PERSONALITY One benefit of this, was giving personal computers a different personality. If you give your product a personality, not only will users be more forgiving and interested in it, but they’ll become more attached to it as well.
  65. What is the voice of this technology? Ask yourself: how does it speak to the user? What positive emotion does it make them feel?
  66. Failure is an area to show personality. When you are designing with more established technology, it is easy to forget about things like error messages and use cases when something bad happens. With new technology you can’t do that because it’s guaranteed not to work as expected quite often. Luckily, this is a time when the product can show off its personality.
  67. Flickr, which utilized new technology several rounds of new technology ago, does this very well.
  68. Emotion Of course, what I’m really talking about here is emotion. If we have an emotional connection to something, we’re more willing to forgive its faults and experiment with it more.
  69. Creating a product means creating an emotional connection whether we mean to or not. So we should deliberately MEAN to. How should people feel about the product?
  70. Emotion is almost always found in the small details. Emotion isn’t usually in the functionality of a product itself, but in THE EXPRESSION of that functionality: in the feedback, in the transitions between pieces of functionality or content, in the small details.
  71. Small details are hard to replicate. No matter how new, how inventive, how earth-shattering your technology is, sonner or later, it will be replicated, either exactly or almost-so. But if you’ve paid attention to the product details, the emotional component will be difficult to replicate.
  72. How does using this technology make users feel? Technologies (and their context of use) have their own emotional weight.
  73. Sound Design I just want to put a plug in here for the importance of sound design. The Web almost ruined sound design with too many horrible sites blaring music at you. But sound can really give a lot of character to a product.
  74. MEANING Only two things typically create innovative products: technology and meaning. As designers, we’re uniquely poised to work with both.
  75. Any time you have a new device...it also doesn't make a lot of sense. It simply doesn't fit with anything that we're currently used to. Ben Fry In other words, it doesn’t have meaning. What Ben is saying applies equally to new kinds of websites and software too. As designers we have to help make MEANING of new technology. Meaning starts by asking this:
  76. What is the deepest reason people would use this technology?
  77. New technology often hides a more powerful meaning. Eventually a company discovers and reveals that quiescent meaning–celebrating what I call a technology epiphany–and in doing so becomes the market leader. Roberto Verganti The combination of technology innovation with meaning is a powerful innovator.
  78. “Beat the Bag”
  79. What does this technology do that is BETTER (not just different) from what currently exists?
  80. Capture Meaning in Design Principles
  81. Canesta Gestural Entertainment Center Be able to use it on a date. Be as lazy as possible. Use it with a bottle in one hand.
  82. Practical Considerations Expectations Personality Meaning
  83. Some people (they are wrong) say design is about solving problems. Obviously designers do solve problems, but then so do dentists. Design is about cultural invention. Jack Schulze I want to end with this bit by Jack. Yes, Jack, Yes! New technologies offer us the opportunity to be inventors of culture, and I hope when the chance comes to do so, you will seize it.
  84. Good products change the way we think about that type of product. Great products change the way we think about the world. Because after all... I hope you all go out and make great products.
  85. Thanks. dan@kickerstudio.com @odannyboy on Twitter http://kickerstudio.com

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