Business 2.0, Design


One of the benefits of having an extended train ride these days is the opportunity to catch up on some good videos that I wouldn’t usually get the chance to watch. The other day I had the chance to watch this one from Basset & Partners that:

…is an exploration of the future of Interaction Design and User Experience from some of the industry’s thought leaders. As the role of software is catapulting forward, Interaction Design is seen to be not only increasing in importance dramatically, but also expected to play a leading role in shaping the coming “Internet of things.” Ultimately, when the digital and physical worlds become one, humans along with technology are potentially on the path to becoming a “super organism” capable of influencing and enabling a broad spectrum of new behaviors in the world.

Connecting (Full Film) from Bassett & Partners on Vimeo.

While that blurb is perhaps a little hyperbolic, a lot of the themes presented in the video are very apparent in my work and reading of trends etc. Well worth a watch if you have a few spare minutes on the bus or train…


UX Australia reflections

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the UX Australia 2011 conference as both a presenter and participant.

I have to say, the quality of the presentations was impressive — one of the best conferences I’ve been to in recent years based on the amount that I took away from the sessions there. While the calibre overall was high, standout sessions for me were:

  • Kim Goodwin’s Experience Leadership opening keynote definitely set the scene for a lot of the talks I saw, many of which contained elements of organisational change. It was great to see some of the key theories of organisational change mentioned, as well as picking up a few new (for me) pointers as well.
  • Helen Palmer’s Managing Change as a Designed Experience talk was entertaining and energising — no small feat given it was at the end of the day. A novel and interactive presentation approach was a fantastic way to dive into a successful organisational change project.
  • Martin Tomisch’s
    case study
    on the Neighbourhood Scoreboards research project was awesome — great concept, well executed, interesting learnings.
  • Jon Kolko’s presentation on Personality, Discursion and Disruption was a great way to end the conference from my perspective — touching on the deeper purpose and meaning of design, a topic that regular readers will know is close to my heart.
  • While the subject matter wasn’t directly relevant to my work environments, I was fascinated by Michelle and Vicki’s talk on UX Design in a Surgical Environment. (The random images of cute animals — oh look, puppies! — in between surgical images was a nice touch).
  • The “Switching on my ears” case study, presented by Matt Morphett, Shane Morris and Rami Banna also provided an excellent insight into some of the challenges of designing for devices.

And while I missed them, the buzz was that Bob Burns’ ‘A Market of the Senses’ and Ben Kraal’s case study on designing airport security were also ones to catch.


Design’s cultural impact

There seems to be a bit of a furor over Jon Kolko’s piece in Johnny Holland: Our misguided focus on brand and user experience.

Personally, I didn’t take offense to the apparent slight against UX practitioners’ “focus on a prescriptive customer experience” – his description didn’t match my experience of the subject, so I assumed he wasn’t talking about me ;)

While the piece does take some twist and turns, what I heard was more of a sustainability message than anything else. Jon says:

We are, quite literally, building the culture around us; arguably, our effect is larger and more immediate than even policy decisions of our government. We are responsible for both the positive and negative repercussions of our design decisions, and these decisions have monumental repercussions.

Thinking about the cultural impacts of what we create immediately widens the frame and presents questions and dilemmas that perhaps aren’t getting enough attention – certainly not in the designs that I see in daily life, be they products, services or systems.

He extends this thought further:

For most designers, this responsibility is hidden by the celebratory claims of designing experiences. This claim almost abdicates the long-term responsibility, as “an experience” has an end, at which time the designers’ role seemingly ends. The work is meaningful only on an immediate level of craft and creation, and while designers often take pride in a product once it has launched, they do not frequently make the connection between their creations and the culture that surrounds them.

Perhaps it’s a stretch, but I don’t think it’s too much to extend this statement to encompass the environmental impact of our work – not only as a longer-term/bigger impact but also as a shaper of culture (climate change and the shift towards a sustainable economy will play a significant role in shaping culture in the coming years, as it has already begun to show).

Behavioural change is also critical to a sustainable future, as are more sustainably produced, used and re-used products and services – all aspects of design that seem to still be sadly lacking.

To me this connects to the themes in the Usability in a sustainable future talk I did at World Usability Day last month – so perhaps I’m reading into things?

In any case, I do hope that this core message of cultural impact and behaviour change is not lost in the concerns about Jon’s specific framing of UX…

Update 07 Dec 2009: Steve Baty pointed to a great response by Brian Phipps to Jon’s article:

… a brand must make the customer “better off” than if the customer purchased a mere commodity. Otherwise, what good is the brand? What value does it deliver? “Better off” means that the customer is further empowered, able to be more proactive, and further advanced along his/her desired path via the brand.