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Experience Design

Musings on 2012 design and tech predictions

This past month, I’ve been reading many of the prognostications for technology and design that proliferate in the technosphere at the beginning of each new year. As I have read various lists, I thought about how the success of these predictions is likely to involve integrating ideas from both areas. I consider a couple of themes and some underlying ideas that emerged from a number of predictions for technology and design in 2012.
Unsurprisingly, the most prevalent predictions across all the articles regarded the influence of the mobile platform. In design predictions, this was reflected in the emphasis on responsive design and the expectation that it would become an established practice in 2012. A mobile-first design philosophy is also emerging as a best practice, no longer just a good option. These as well as specific technologies mentioned were more continued evolution of trends begun earlier.

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In tech predictions, accessibility and integration of data, especially in terms of cloud computing and mobile use, underlie considerations of specific technology such as mobile payments and increasing use of cloud computing. Design predictions for data looked to content strategy while technology lists were more focused on how data will be stored and transmitted.
Technology and design predictions did not overlap in some significant ideas, though.
The idea of trustworthy and trust-building design seems to me to be missing in design lists. The importance of design and user experience is missing in many tech predictions despite the fact that success may hinge on deeper understanding of users and their complex and diverse needs. The importance of user research and data-driven user experience design has moved from nice-to-have to mission critical.
Intel’s 2012 Trends Fact Sheet noted a very important consideration of security as a trend. With all of this data flowing to and from every conceivable platform, security needs to be a key consideration in the implementation and design of these technologies. Integrating data well and meaningfully poses even more interesting design challenges. Solutions for data security and itegrating should be informed by understanding users and their needs. The technology is advancing rapidly, but are we ready to use it responsibly and meaningfully to serve the greater good? Do we understand what that greater good really is? How to we deliver and earn trusted relationships?
While the nature of yearly predictions is to focus on things that matter to technophiles, early adopters, and people who strive to be as visible and perpetually online as possible, what about other types of users? People who are slower to trust sensitive data on less secure platforms? People for whom technology is just a tool, not a lifestyle choice? People with accessibility needs?
That last is important because accessibility is still too often considered as an afterthought in technology development. The UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2011 focused on “Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development.” The workshop was not focused on IT or technology development, but the theme applies to these areas as well. What can and should an approach like responsive design offer this community? While I can across a couple mentions that responsive design can deliver more accessible interfaces (here’s an article with such a mention toward the end), I have yet to see an article or a presentation on responsive design truly juxtaposed with accessibility (if you have, please share).
Changing models of interaction are a continued trend from 2011. Touch computing, mobile computing, flexible screens – familiar models are being rapidly replaced, but is everyone ready for this? Can we afford to dismiss those who may not be ready to or cannot give up a mouse, file folders, and other familiar modes of interaction? Is it appropriate to be changing this model without a careful consideration of different needs? How do we support education and migration from familiar interactions to new approaches? And are these changes able to deliver more meaningful experiences?
Whitney Hess shared her expectation for designers to move from rallying around the desire to “make stuff” to a focus on making “stuff that matters.” What matters depends a lot on the audience and context of use. Experiences that matter will emerge from an understanding of the different types of users and their environments and ways that people use the technology.
Ensuring that the technologies develop advance the human condition and do not cause collateral harm seems the epitome of “stuff that matters.” Consider how radically different the need for security is for people in emerging democracies, compared to securing banking data. Time Magazine named the protester as their person of the year. Social networking and connection were linchpins of many protest movements and continue to be a theme for 2012. However, repressive regimes are using that same technology to hunt down and arrest their citizens who dare to speak out for their rights. It’s not enough to make the technology perform better or be more portable to address potentially life-and-death misuse.
Consider another example of users in developing economies who use mobile computing not as a secondary platform, but primary and essential to connectivity and a often means for livelihood. Technology such as mobile payments could well define new forms of businesses such as banking and credit. But human challenges exist. How is trustworthiness communicated across cultural expectations? How is real security implemented in a humane way to deliver a needed service in a trustworthy way?
Many of the technologies and designs discusses are inherently evolving experiences. Continual information feedback is needed to monitor the success of the user experience. And that feedback has to come from a growing range of platforms and nearly unlimited contexts of use, not just in a couple visits to usability test lab or a handful of contextual inquiries.
To successfully deliver integrated data and ubiquitous access across a plethora of platforms, a deep and clear understanding of people using a product, how and where they use technology, and the experiences they expect has to be a growing practice as well. My bias is obvious. It’s a bias based on experience and observation. I have seen how user-centered design approaches, when considered strategically, can help shape how technology and design come together to turn predictions into sustainable and successful products that matter by answering the kinds of questions posed here.
What predictions for the year ahead have you found particularly interesting?
A sampling of articles consulted for this post:

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Karen Bachmann

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