Dear UX-ers: the future is human

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Dear UX-ers: the future is human
Dec 17, 2017 . 10 mins read
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Albert Einstein was right when he first proposed his trippy ideas about relativity, he nailed it when he predicted the existence of gravitational waves, and now in 2017 I have to admit that Einstein’s genius has been confirmed yet again. In order to get different results, you have to do things differently. And for UX designers, the future is going to be quite different.

If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.

— Albert Einstein

To not do what I always did, I visited a UX conference — UX Poland in Warsaw — as a service designer. I promise I won’t tire you with an endless plea about the differences and overlaps between UX design and service design. In my very simplistic view I would describe service designers as those who orchestrate user touch points and UX designers as the ones that design them.

The result was that I was surrounded by people who design websites and apps on a daily basis, whereas my visual design output has been limited to — absolutely beautiful — customer journey maps. One can say that I was on unknown terrain.

What’s cooking?

So there I was. In the middle of the UX kitchen. The chefs at work were a mixed bunch of interactive high rollers; Amazon, Google, IBM, UXPin, Microsoft, LEGO, Cooper and Frog, all talking about what they were cooking for the coming years.

“From human learning tech, to tech learning human”

So what does the future of UX hold for us? There were four directions that stuck with me; Service Design, Conversational User Interfaces, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality. I’ll happily explain them, and their value to UX, from a service designer perspective. For this I’ll start with the perspective that started the event.

First future of UX: Conversational User Interfaces (CUIs) using Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The age of talking through your phone died the year Whatsapp was founded. Talking to your phone, though, is totally hot. Apple, through Siri, and Amazon with its Alexa, have identified these so-called Virtual Personal Assistants, examples of CUIs, working through artificial intelligence, as a way to kill Google’s information monopoly. The big money winner is becoming the number 1 go-to-platform for any kind of information request or task. Conquering this place as your personal virtual butler, thus orchestrating all of your apps and services, offers huge commercial potential.

So why is this the time for conversational UIs? Firstly there is a lot of processing going on in the background to create the conversational interface. We now have high speed wireless internet, which allows remote server based processing to take place, and to connect directly to your device. The second technology that is pushing CUIs is large scale machine learning, an iterative learning process that makes voice interaction much more reliable than it ever was.

“Conquering the position as your personal virtual butler offers huge commercial potential.”

With conversational user interfaces there is a shift from humans needing to learn tech to tech learning how to behave like humans. It proves to be quite difficult to think like a human.

Three almost buttonless home assistants: Apple HomePod, Google Home, Amazon Echo. All running their own conversational interfaces.

And that is still only a voice command. For an actual conversation to take place, your device needs to know everything about the context in which your conversation is taking place. Take this sentence as an example; “I really need to see you.” If you hear this from your girlfriend, it could mean that she is fond of you and is craving for you. If you hear this from your manager, you might have a problem. If you hear this from your doctor, you probably have a big problem. UX designers and other behavioral experts need to tackle this challenge in order to take CUIs to the next level.

Some critics at the conference for conversational interfaces argued that to become the new routine, a new type of interface interaction needs to feel ten times better than what’s currently out there, not just 5%. And according to them, being better is all about the time it takes to complete a task. People do not care about interfaces or chatbots, time matters most to them. This criticism was again a reminder that a product, service or technology can only be successful when it is able to answer to specific needs.

Second future of UX: Augmented reality (AR)

Google came by to present its work with Augmented Reality. After having failed with Google Glass they now take a more incremental turn, using your smartphone as the main AR device.

Augmented reality is a technology that allows you to insert digital objects into the physical world. The best example of a successful AR platform has been Pokemon Go. According to Google, by the end of 2018, the world will have 1 billion AR ready smartphones. The application of AR technology can answer new kinds of questions for consumers. How will the room look if we replace the wall with big windows? Will this table fit?

Google’s front man showed a school project where kids could walk around in the class room, and see impressive educational objects through their smart phone. Seeing thirty kids walk around completely obsessed with their smart phone attached to a selfie stick, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad about the fact that we have become so dependent on devices to spice up our lives.
For me personally, the educational and engaging benefits of AR are obvious. However, the idea of 1 billion AR ready smartphones gives me an uncomfortable feeling. What is the “Black Mirror” side to AR?

“By the end of 2018, the world will have 1 billion AR ready smartphones.”

“Most Snapchat filters are simply used as virtual cosmetic surgery.”

What will happen to the social interaction between people? I already see signs that people prefer their ‘spiked’ Snapchat filter versions of themselves over their normal selves. Most Snapchat filters, currently the most popular use of AR in smartphones, are simply used as virtual cosmetic surgery. Besides the addition of furry ears and other animal attributions, your eyes and eyebrows become prettier, your lips get fuller and your cheekbones are being lifted.

Then there is the distracting aspect of smartphones. The more you can do on your smartphone, the more you will. The resulting “zombie-effect” is okay with me, unless it leads to dangerous situations. Here in the Netherlands, the number of traffic deaths keeps rising year by year, with many of them caused by people that are distracted by their phones in traffic. The big question is whether the increased use of AR on smartphones is actually going to result in more traffic victims, or become a way to also make people more aware of their environment.

The final future of UX: Service Design (SD)

Yes, that’s right. The future of UX is the Service Design approach. And it sounds like music to the ears of a Service Designer. It was not just a side note from a random talk by an unknown professional. It was the message of a UX pioneer and founder of a hugely successful UX consultancy firm: Alan Cooper. He was the inventor of the original persona, doing UX design before there was even a word for it.

There are over 2.2 million apps in the App store and 99% of them are not worth the download. No wonder we only use a handful each day. The clue of Alan’s speech was that in order to design useful, usable and desirable stuff, we should start with learning what are the users’ motivations to use it, what’s inside their heads, what are their mental models.

Working backwards, all these factors will help us find answers to the question of what the users really need. It seemed simple to me as a service designer, but around me I felt that this is not so common in practice. Working backwards requires looking beyond the touch point, and asking “why” a lot.

How do we prevent another application junk yard (App store)?

Working backwards, all these factors will help us find answers to the question of what the users really need. It seemed simple to me as a service designer, but around me I felt that this is not so common in practice. Working backwards requires looking beyond the touch point, and asking “why” a lot.

Let the human need be the driver, not the technology

So what did I learn? UX designers are very excited with all fancy new technologies in their toolbox. However, the hype or business factor of these technologies sometimes seems to overshadow the fact that there are humans that need to use them.

In the current age of agile, lean and scrum, clients prefer to make first and learn after. But you also need to know what to make and why to make. At Koos Service Design we are willing to put up a fight with our clients in order to safeguard a substantial research part in every project. We do this exactly to identify these previously mentioned mental models and user needs. We just know that research always pays off. Our insights support us in making future-proof services. They might not all include a fancy AR/VR/AI technology, but my god, they are human.

Want to talk about the future of UX?

Written by
Dear UX-ers: the future is human
Dec 17, 2017 . 10 mins read
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