News & Views

Opinion / Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid

by Contagious Contributor
Alfredo Aponte, user experience director at North Kingdom on why Experience Design should focus on people, not features

As technology advances exponentially, we are constantly redesigning everything; perpetual innovation means our lives are changing every day. However, if not done right, innovation can be redundant, even harmful. This is where experience design comes into play, aiming to put humans – instead of technology – at the center of our universe.

Some people claim that the human imagination cannot comprehend the limits of what we can achieve technologically. Be that as it may, I like to think that technology is truly meaningful only when it manages to fill a place in our lives, acting as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Let’s not forget: people are paying companies for their cutting edge products and services in order to fulfill their goals and needs, and this should be the core purpose of every feat of engineering.

All successful products, services, and experiences evoke a particular type of behaviour because they are tapping into the human DNA. The television, for instance, allows one way of consuming videos in the context of your living room, while the mobile phone allows for a much more multi-dimensional consumption of media. And the same is valid for theatres, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Xbox, Apple TV, and now even VR. All these forms of technology and the ways they’re being used are dependent on the type of user, their goals and the context they are in, be it personal, for entertainment, pleasure, social, or anything else.

Designing for people, not features

Our responsibility at North Kingdom, as a design company, is to focus all of our resources into designing for people, putting emotional touch and human perspective at the centre of everything we create. Many new product relationships are short-lived with a rush of value. It’s similar to a first date – sometimes amazing, then, bit by bit, the sparkle begins to wear off. As a designer, you should avoid having to redesign all the time just for the sake of keeping that value up. This is valid when talking about anything from cars and shoes to phones, tablets and even trends.

But if you flip your approach and focus on emotional value and building a relationship between products and people, you will design something that feels personal and natural, which can adapt and learn from users.

Spotify is a great example – instead of reinventing itself, it’s adapting to address the needs of its audience while still honouring a set of core values – music and, lately, audio podcasts. It’s still about streaming music, but it has a different way of engaging with users by bringing music into every part of their lives.

Feed our eyes. Touch our hearts. Open our minds

Designing pleasurable products is the new challenge for human factors, focusing on the interactions between objects and individuals. It is a challenge because it requires an understanding of people – not just as physical and cognitive processors – but as emotional beings with values, tastes, hopes and fears.

In the world of payment solutions, PayPal has had its technology in place for years, and it has implemented this everywhere – from the web to apps, to business solutions. But it wasn’t until just over a year ago that they decided to invest in design as well and approached North Kingdom with the challenge: create a complete new design language to their main business application but also humanise their product. Why? Because it was what the people wanted and expected from the brand. But before that, it had to make design a focus of the organisation. The result was a unique solution that is efficient for the target's business, but that still connects emotionally with the user.

When technology mimics humanity

So what happens to experience design when there are no humans involved? Google’s second-generation machine learning system TensorFlow can augment the human ability to understand complex situations and improve decision-making and knowledge sharing.

Brillo, an operating system also developed by Google, allows connected objects to communicate with another. This means that your smart lock, your connected light bulbs, your intelligent thermostat, and all the other elements in your internet of things will be able to ‘talk’ to each other. We believe that the crucial factor for machine learning and ubiquitous computing is to make sure we design experiences that help us, instead of abusing our time with unwanted details. In the end it’s just about accessing the right information, at the right time, in the right place. And it’s compelling to imagine a world with less screens but more value added in everyday life through discreet technology.

Future preparedness requires empathy and a human perspective

When reflecting over trends, it’s important to remember that they are not a replacement for valuable or meaningful solutions. I think we have to be careful NOT to drink the Kool-Aid and follow the latest popular features, design appearances and hype, but actually have the power to change our future and play an active role in that. You can’t just wait for the next big thing to happen, you need to invent it and shape it – the way you want it to be.

I also think we should embrace complexity and uncertainty because it’s the process of uncovering the real potential, at the edge of an exponentially expanding universe. That is how we can break ground. We can’t pretend, or avoid risk. We must continue to practice the design of meaningful solutions and start, or lead, proper conversations that support the holistic experience design of a service or product.

At North Kingdom we have learned that the future of an organisation is not dependent on its ability to latch itself onto one given technology or one behaviour, but lies in figuring out what people want, and applying new technologies and new behaviours that are in line with the core purpose of the organisation.

Because good leaders don’t pretend to know everything; they simply know how, where, or from whom, to find answers.