The design for emerging technologies

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Blippar UX Design Leads Carina Ngai and David Montero have lots to say about designing for emerging technologies at UX New Zealand 2016. Check out a sneak peek of what they'll talk about in their presentation. 

Would you know how to design for a product/market that doesn’t even exist yet?

As new medium arises, its early adopters define its content, behavior and purpose, gathering inspiration from existing ones, shaping it and giving it its first push to start walking and evolve by itself. In the past, this was the case with press, radio, TV, and the Internet. Today, this is what we experience with Augmented Reality (AR).

A brief history of mass media

From ancient times there has been a need to communicate and reach wider audiences, for the information to conquer space and time. This has given birth to new technologies that defied the boundaries of the existing ones, each big technological milestone challenging the existing social conventions; if accepted, medium and society would evolve together, shaping each other.

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Each medium has suffered disbeliefs and skepticism at its early stages of adoption. Medieval Europe feared the distribution and translations of printed Bibles, often accused of heresy; The New York Times in 1896 set out to distinguish itself from the yellow journals; Internet was once perceived as a tool for nerds with no popular future; and VR has been “the next big thing” a number of times.

At the same time, social and ethical concerns have been voiced with the proliferation of each new medium. For example, the fear of becoming central instruments of mass controls as happened in the 50s, when cinema, radio and TV began to be the primary or the only source of information. Up to the point that it emerged the idea that when a country has reached a high level of industrialization, the country itself "belongs to the person who controls communications."

It’s not until it has proven its utility and society has learned to accept it, a medium has reached its maturity and detached from its predecessor. Writing allowed a story to survive time, while the invention of printing allowed the mass production of books, newspapers and political pamphlets. In the early 20th century, the post-World War era saw the introduction of radio, TV and video as sources of entertainment and passive consumption of information. Internet brought interactivity, enabling two-ways communication with the source.

AR will free information from its underlying platform, providing contextual and dynamic content, displaying stories that before could only live on a screen.

Into the unknown

As we face a new technology we have to be aware of the new doors it opens. We have to be observant of the needs that weren’t satisfied in the past. When we ask ourselves “Is this a good fit for AR?”, well, if it can’t be done on any other platform, like on a computer screen with a mouse, then that’s a really good start.

Let’s see how can we make our first steps into the unknown and start designing the future:

Look at how the future was seen in the past

A good starting point is Sci-Fi, after all Science Fiction works are the best prototypes of the future. Classic authors like J. Verne or I. Asimov or pop cult works like Star Trek, Fahrenheit 481, Logan’s Run, Back to the Future etc. can give us an idea of humanity’s dreams that haven’t been satisfied yet. Can some be achieved now? Well, it seems that was the case with video calls and tablets. VR displays still have to prove themselves useful, but look promising.

Layar, one of the pioneers of consumer AR was founded based in two fiction works, the Japanese Anime, Denno Coil and the novel Rainbow’s End.

We recommend having a look at a fascinating book analyzing the UIs of SciFi movies, “Make It So” by Christopher Noessel

Explore the present

Explore your current audience and find existing products that have set good usability patterns to areas your product will be related with (even loosely).

In the case of AR/VR, we are dealing with a 3D space in which the user will have to interact with objects around her, so 3D creation tools and NUI’s gestures are a good starting point.

At the same time, we’re conscious that we can’t create a surviving AR product if there’s no content available, so we have to lower the AR content creation barrier and make AR available to the masses, hence low learning curve powerful tools like Keynote or Sketch are a rich source of inspiration for us.

Go crazy

Look at the absurd. Seriously, get out of the conventional, and prototype ideas that might sound ridiculous. Think of current successes that came out of seemingly “stupid” ideas. As an example, Blippar, one of the current leaders of mobile AR was founded based on a joke about the Queen of England coming out of a GBP20 bill to order pints in a pub.

And hey, this wouldn’t be a UX post if we wouldn’t mention: iterate, iterate, iterate...

Challenges

Creating a culture

Our most fundamental challenge lays in creating a culture that favors the mass adoption of our new medium. In some cases the technology is not advanced enough to live up to the expectations, in some other cases it’s the society who is not mature enough to adopt it. In all cases, it requires a strong trigger to push it forward. Sometimes it’s historical — we have seen it in the past with radio thriving during WWII; it can also be a financial push, such as advertisement assisting the proliferation of TV; or even social, as in the case of the Internet.

These obey the well known behavioral model of BJ Fogg. This states that in order for a behavior to occur, three elements must be present: motivation, ability and trigger. We can influence any or all of the elements. For example, if we look at the recent success of Pokemon Go, that can be explained with a strong motivation (Gotta catch’em all!) and a high ability (the UI and game mechanics are super simple) that can make the trigger almost a habit of taking your phone out at any idle moment to check if there are some Pikachu around.

Ethical dilemmas

One can’t set a revolution that challenges the status quo without breaking some eggs right?

Let’s face it, along our path we’ll find some dilemmas that might even make us doubt the purpose of our mission. At the end of the day, we’re designing the future. Our ideal would be a happy utopian Wakandian paradise, but we can’t help but thinking we might be contributing to a dystopian world ruled by a big brother overlord.

One of the biggest concerns that come up is the issue with privacy, how much privacy are we giving away and at what price? How much of our reality is going to be hijacked by evil corporations incepting their marketing messages straight into our amygdalae?

One point of view is that privacy is in a state of flux. Definition changes over time, and to enjoy the benefits of our new society we have to give up privacy. It's a necessary evil. Instead of fighting it, we flow with it. Privacy is getting more and more expensive to maintain and the cost of privacy is increasing.

At the same time there will be more transparency, more sharing. Our future is going to have a lot more powerful tools for people to use, and they’ll be immersive, persuasive, and empathy driven. Our world might be more desensitized of scandals (your shit is also out there). Privacy might not matter much anymore. Perhaps our world will be more polarized. Our notion of privacy is still in the old model, but it will evolve.

HYPER-REALITY from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

Surviving the fad

The first half of this year was the year of VR. The whole industry was getting excited about the new releases of VR wearables from Oculus, Microsoft, Samsung...and then came Pokemon Go! Now, AR is all that people talk about. Well, guess what, next year AR might be all that people talked about in 2016.

Without a proper purpose, without a real problem that can be solved with AR, this technology will fade away. How many times did we hear of VR being the “next big thing”? Remember “The Lawnmower Man”?

Fads have the effect of a supernova — bright and warm at first, leaving only darkness later. We have to learn how to read them, understand what made them successful and ride on their wave while it lasts. Use that momentum to offer a real useful alternative to an already listening audience.

To summarize, we can build for the future if we set its foundations over learnings from the past and understanding of the present. If we allow our new invention to grow and help it to reach its maturity, one day it will be used as the stepping stone of the future to come.

“The greatest potential impact of a new invention is not how it changes or replaces old things but how it generates things that are entirely new”

- Arago’s Rule of Technology

Want to hear more? Come to UX New Zealand!

If you'd like to hear more about what Carina and David have to say about emerging technologies, plus a bunch of other cool UX-related talks, head along to UX New Zealand 2016 hosted by Optimal Workshop. The conference runs from 12-14 October, 2016, including a day of fantastic workshops, and you can get your tickets here. Got any questions for David and Carina in the meantime? Tweet them to David (@monteractive) and Carina (@caweena).

Published on Sep 23, 2016
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