User Experience

What does Spiderman have to do with user experience design?

I was recently at the Interaction15 conference put on by the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in San Francisco with my colleagues Ken Soliva and Curt Irwin.

User experience (UX) design is a relatively new field and the interactive world around us is advancing at an alarming rate despite a lack of designers to meet the demand. Although the IxDA, which has only been in existence for eight years, brings together consulting firms and large enterprises, the themes continue to evolve year to year as the industry progresses. Just two years ago, at the conference in Toronto, I would have said that the overarching theme was "Excitement and confidence… with a little ego." This year’s conference in San Francisco had a slightly less naïve feel to it and came across inspiring but also more practical.

As the world becomes increasingly complex, users are demanding smarts in everything they do. As designers work toward addressing these shifts, that process will require time and experimentation to figure out how to do it right. Ayah Bdeir, founder of littleBits, talked about how magnetic electronic modules enable people to see and learn about how ‘smart’ actually works – especially designers so they know what intangibles they are really dealing with. But Kara Swisher from Re/code, an independent tech news, reviews and analysis site, reminded us that the objective is to make the technology disappear so the experience is just the experience. No one actually talks about combustion engines when they get in the car.

But the space in between ‘knowing how it works’ and ‘making it disappear’ is a pretty dangerous place. There can and will continue to be unintended consequences. For example, crossing the street while looking at your phone. Driving while plugging in your GPS destination address. Putting your fitness tracker to sleep because you were clapping at a concert. Some consequences are more dangerous than others but as ‘smart and connected’ moves fully into our lives, we face advances in healthcare, policy and humanitarian endeavors. These will be great successes once we understand what we don’t know yet.

Designers know how to evaluate and reduce the risks that we know about but not the ones that are unknown.

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