A funny thing happens when you open up your design process to consider the increasing number of devices people use: the importance of each individual device diminishes. That’s a significant shift for the user experiences community to adjust to. The future of UX is the user who begins a task on one device, continues through many more interfaces across many platforms and many more devices and completes their task with little recognition of, or interest in the complexity involved. To stay relevant in the development of digital products, we need think at a higher level than screens or sites or devices. The future of UX is designing data experiences.
My name is Dan Willis and I’m here to talk about the future of UX, but to do that,
we should first take a quick look at the past.
If, like me, you’ve been involved with UX work for more than
a few years, then you’ve taken part in some fraudulent activities.
See, as an industry, we got really good at selling our services,
convincing folks that we were designing full-blown, holistic user
experiences. But in reality, we only delivered tiny sections of
those sprawling experiences.
Don’t get me wrong, our
intentions were good. We
found that when we focused
only on our organization’s
needs for whatever we
were building, we delivered
products and services that
didn’t do very well in the
market. If, instead, we built
based on the needs of the
people using the stuff we
created, we were much more
But we were wearing
blinders the whole time.
Those blinders blocked
out the parts of the experience not directly related to the
organizations paying the bills. We fooled no one more than we
fooled ourselves. We believed our own hype, convinced that we
were delivering much more than we actually were.
Back in the day, we didn’t actually deliver
on the promise of designing holistic user
Above left and cover: Trippple Nippples performing at the 2012 Walk the Line
Festival, photo by Maurice (Flickr). Right: Image pilfered completely without
permission from a Finnish Viking Line Cruises ad.
NOT Dan Willis.
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 2
But all that was before these little
buggers came along ...
... and before phone shadows became
a fashion statement
... and before we started bringing
our own devices to work.
Top: Phone images swiped from manufacture Web sites. Above: Photo and butt by Jencu (Flickr). Right: Photo by NEC Corporation of America (Flickr)
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 3
That was before this kind of
behavior seemed normal ...
... and before we lived our life like this.
Top: Photo by FaceMePLS (Flickr). Bottom: Photo by ClearFrost (Flickr).
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 4
That was before a celebrity
sighting transformed fans into
... and before protests looked like this.
Top: Rabid One Direction fans in Sydney, photo by Nina Matthews Photography (Flickr). Bottom: Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, photo by EPA.
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 5
you usually bought your plane ticket
by phone. Or you talked to that one
administrative assistant who had mastered
the mystical arts required to get third party
travel agents to book the right flights.
If you did buy your ticket online, you went
directly to each
each at their own
level of e-commerce
Between leaving the office
and arriving at the airport,
you experienced something
that no longer exists, a
bubble. Inside that bubble,
no one tried to contact you.
You floated, disconnected
from work. At the airport, you sought out the arrival/departure boards that
today are just part of travel-data noise. Back then, those boards
were the authority on air traffic.
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 6
A decade ago, if you
traveled on business,
Top: Southwest Airlines home page, 2004 (WayBack Machine). Middle: Photo by Jeff
Kubina (Flickr). Bottom: Source unknown.
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 7
Kiosks existed at the airport
10 years ago, but you
probably wouldn’t have used
them. The first generation
versions required that you
had no luggage to check
and that you fit their one
and only use case. And
even if you trusted those
early kiosks, airline
So you invested all your travel hopes and dreams in the people standing
at the other side of the airline counter. They banged away at huge dumb
terminals, wielding their awesome idiosyncratic powers for good if you
charmed them and for evil if you had offended them.
Every step of the business travel experience stood alone, each step a silo.
Mobile isn’t really a thing.
It’s not a platform, it’s not a kind of design,
it’s not an industry. That junk is all hype.
But the way we have come
to use mobile devices is
Photo by Steve Davidson (Flickr).
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 8
Mobile devices stitch together the
elements of experiences in ways that
were impossible 10 years ago.
A business traveler today doesn’t need a magician to find
and book the most appropriate flights. They log-in (frequently
with the help of a third party that manages their profile for
multiple applications) to digital products that aggregate flight
As soon as they book a flight, the traveler is instantly
connected to their own data. They can use tablets and phones to
track flight status, to identify the best seats based on the model of
airplane, to get alerts for delays and weather updates.
Information envelops the traveler as they enter the
airport and they step into that environment with their
personal devices in-hand, constantly connected to
their travel data. Dozens of screens surround them at
the counter. Kiosks take care of their every traveling
need and they don’t even have to use paper boarding
The folks on the other side of the counter have
changed as well. The need for arcane green-screen
science is gone. Sometimes, that means the airline
personnel do little more than move suitcases from
weight scale to conveyer belt. When they do need to
get involved with a traveler’s needs, they do it with
their own devices and they leverage their own digital
They are digitally empowered.
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 9
It turns out that when you take
into account the broader scope
of a true user experience,
even a simple one like a traveler going from point
A to point B, things get complex quickly (as in the
example on this page).
And complexity isn’t the only implication that emerges when you
break down those silos ...
We need to map all of the experience, but we can only hope
to influence a tiny portion of it. Otherwise, we’re putting those
blinders right back on. Some organizations are already asking
how they gain control of these connected experiences. That’s
the wrong question. Controlling so many device-interface-provider
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 10
have to devise
View the video of
this simple air travel
plans based on influencing just one percent of
the experience here and a couple of percents over
there. (Hey, some have figured out how to make a
go of $.99 app downloads, so there are precedents
for this kind of thing.)
We must design for experiences that stumble
through time and space. This will take awhile for us to truly
master. Real travel experiences occur over hundreds or
thousands of miles. Imagine health care experiences with the
silos stitched together: A single use case might last months.
Implications for Services
We must design both services and pixels, and they’re
intertwined now. Some service design experts get a bit sniffy
about all these people messing with their field, arguing that
service design requires unique skills and techniques. You
know what? They’re right. Even folks with the strongest UX
backgrounds are behind when it comes to services. (Myself
We’ve got a lot to learn, but we must step up because there
really is no way to separate services out of the overall experience
in order to outsource it to established specialists.
We must bring everyone into the design process. We always
bitch that everybody thinks they’re a designer and now we are the
ones that have to figure out how to make that actually happen.
Designing connected experiences will require more expertise
than any designer can provide on their own. The key is going
View the video of this simple air travel experience: http://vimeo.com/109945267
to be inviting everybody into the process while still protecting
individual expertise. (Otherwise we’re going to end up with
ROI-challenged business plans as well as designs that rely on
carousels and hamburger menus.)
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 11
Cross-Channel and Multi-Device Implications
We must design across both channels and devices. Some
folks have already made progress on this. Michal Levin’s 3Cs
framework defines three models for devices working together:
With consistent design, the same
information is delivered to multiple devices.
This is the easiest model for organizations
to grasp (which means we’ll need to watch
out for it being used inappropriately.)
Experiences” by Michal
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 12
Cross-Channel and Multi-Device Implications
Continuous design allows steps in a process to occur across
devices. Users can start
a task on any device and
complete it on any other
device without disruption.
Experiences” by Michal
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 13
An experience on one device is enhanced or directed from another device.
Cross-Channel and Multi-Device Implications
“Designing Multi-Device Experiences” by Michal Levin
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 14
Public Privacy Implications
We must deal with the use of private data in very public places.
It turns out that designing for smaller screens was the easy part.
Displays will go larger as well and as soon as you go larger, the
need for multiple people having multi-touch experiences will
emerge. Big, high definition screens are popular with museums
already, but they will catch on everywhere and e-commerce will
be the driver.
In its “A Day Made of Glass” video, Corning imagineers public multi-touch devices
that interact with users’ private information.
Cleveland Museum of Art’s 40-foot multi-touch wall features over 4,100 works of art. Larger screens are only going to get more popular.
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 15
By far the most significant implication of designing fully connected experiences
is that it forces us to reconsider what elements we are actually designing.
Every experience will require the integration of multiple
systems. The things we designed in the past (affordances, content
models, forms, taxonomies, typography, etc.) will be just as
relevant and essential as ever because we will use them to design
within each system.
But that won’t be enough.
Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati have suggested that complex
experiences require a “pervasive, ever-present layer that holds
the pieces together.” A pervasive information architecture
provides a sense of place, maintains logic across channels, adapts
to specific users, minimizes the stress on the user of so much
information flying around and suggests connections between
We have design within systems well in hand and Resmini
and Rosati have given us an excellent start on designing across
systems. The third and least explored challenge we have in
designing true user experiences is our need to design between
Architecture” by Andrea
Resmini and Luca Rosati
describes a layer that
supports all the systems
involved with a complex
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 16
Design Between Systems
Equipped with our smart mobile devices, data constantly
floats around us as we move about. Emerging systems will utilize
that data as we travel through physical space just as traditional
systems have in the virtual space of the Internet. Our traveling
data comes in three flavors:
• Implicit data based on our actions
• Explicit data based on what we’ve entered or shared
• Creepy implicit data*
The combination of these
three flavors of data form a
profile for each digital user.**
Designing between systems
will depend on matching up
some of the data points within
profiles with the content
and services available from
Some suggestions follow for
the kinds of things we might
design to support complex,
* The creepy kind of data is, at this point, unavoidable and it has only just begun.
The scope and scale of data harvesting will continue to expand. More and more
organizations will increase their investment in the classification of human beings
based on harvested data.
** Some organizations take a greedy approach to profiles, convinced that the more
data points they collect for a profile, the greater their chance of success. But success
is made more likely when an organization’s business model aligns with small and
specific clusters of a profile’s data points.
The opening credits of the 2000 film “Bedazzled” features data floating around
people’s heads. We are now developing systems that can make use of similar data.
Systems contain content and services that are particularly relevant to some profiles’
specific data points. Designing between systems will depend on those relationships.
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 17
He downloaded a Fred Astaire e-book; she
viewed dance videos and installed a tango-themed
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 18
wallpaper. We could cluster
information that has a better-than-random
chance to interest people who
have taken similar actions.
The example here includes Livingsocial
coupons, but don’t let that mislead you into associating this kind
of design with commerce. The real
target is providing value to the profiled
users, regardless of the source of the content and services.
Implicit clusters should look familiar as they are most like the
things we have designed in the past. These clusters would be
dropped into the paths between systems where the appropriate
Photo by www.audio-luci-store.it (Flickr). profiled users have a better-than-random chance to travel.
DESIGN BETWEEN SYSTEMS
She searched for “Chucks customized”; he signed up for
sporting goods coupons. We could cluster content and services
to attract people like this who are actively
foraging. The goal is to optimize value for
Keep in mind that we are not designing
a destination, but rather the content and
services that travel with
the profiled users from
one system to another.
Upon arrival, the cluster
would be delivered in a
fashion appropriate for
Left: Photo by Richard foster (Flickr). Right: Photo by Jason Rogers (Flickr).
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 19
DESIGN BETWEEN SYSTEMS
One of these gentlemen has
shopped for appliances on a tablet
and had extended interactions
with painters on the Angie’s List
Web site. We could design a trigger
that provides the opportunity for
meaningful interaction with a real
estate professional based on the
combination of the two types of
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 20
Resmini and Rosati point out the
importance of minimizing the inherently
high volume of information people have
to deal with in complex experiences.
When the couple in this scenario
send invitations to an engagement
party, we could design a throttle that
reduces a set of content and services by
focusing on wedding-related subjects.
When the couple then registers online
and in-person at a few high-end stores,
the throttle further reduces the load by
removing inexpensive providers. When
the couple tries on rings only at the
Tiffany’s in Midtown New York City, the
throttle removes mid-priced providers as
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 21
Photo by Kelly Prizel (kellyprizel.com)
Will clusters, triggers and throttles be the
primary elements we design for complex
experiences going forward?
I like to think I’ve defined some winners here, but there’s no
way to tell. They are a good start.
I think if this presentation inspires you to come up with your
own ideas of what we should
design to support people as
they travel between systems, I
will consider it a wild success.
I think that everything
we’ve gone through over the
last ten years turns out to be
absolutely essential to doing
the work we’ll be doing for the
next ten. I believe the design
of stitched together, complex,
experiences will come to
define us as an industry.
I believe that we will still
need to provide high quality
solutions to well-defined
problems as we design within
Additionally, I believe it is
on us to transform the concept
of pervasive information
architecture into a practical
approach to designing across systems.
Finally, I think we must master the design of data experiences.
These data experiences will be based on profiles, formed by
content and services, but not tied to a specific system, channel or
device. We must be the ones to figure out how to design between
systems because everything we’ve learned as an industry makes
us best qualified to take on this daunting, brain-imploding,
The challenges of the last 10 years have prepared us nicely for the work of the next 10.
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 22
Dan Willis, UX Consultant
Equally skilled at motivating CEOs as he is
manipulating pixels, Dan Willis offers clients broad
digital product design expertise. Successes include:
Transforming Marriott’s mobile design
Establishing washingtonpost.com’s first
user experience team
Leading discovery for AMNH’s first
Designing and launching Tribune’s first
digital classified advertising products
Implementing PBS’ first enterprise-wide
Web analytics system
Dan Willis is co-author and illustrator of
Designing the Conversation: Techniques for
For case studies and more information about hiring Dan Willis, please see dswillis.com
firstname.lastname@example.org www.linkedin.com/in/uxcrank @uxcrank
This document is based on a UserFocus 2014 talk by Dan Willis (@uxcrank), see dswillis.com for more information. Page 23
Photo by Gary Barber (Flickr)