UXLx17, a trip to the future

8 min read

Foreword

What you are about to read is the translation of a blog post I wrote for ActiveMedia. They wanted me to share my perspective on UX Lx and what it means for marketing, and each one of us.

With the number of reads it got, it made sense to take the time to translate it and increase it's reach.

The original Portuguese post about UX Lx can be read at the ActiveMedia Blog.

A trip to the Future

It is true indeed: our world is digital and we are living in the future already. However, since we have yet to see cars driving themselves and speaking to usjust like Kitt used to do, we do not think that way.

The future is something that seems pretty distant, with all those things that are conceived in Silicon Valey. The place where horror stories are told, the ones that reveal how robots will take our jobs.

Fortunately, we have these events like UX Lx, right here in Lisbon, which gathers professionals who work with Design, User Experience (UX), as well as other fields of technology and marketing.

These are individuals who are not afraid of the future, as they are already busy outlining it.

I don’t know if this was intentional, but throughout the 4 days of workshop and conferences, two subjects stood out the most: The Human-centered design and the Super Human. An axis that as quickly as it pulls us towards the significance of emotions and communication – their more romantic and relational side, filled with shades of grey –, it is also capable of focusing its more analytical and rational way of thinking, one that is cold and made of black and white facts.

The super humans

We could brief this subject by saying that the robots have arrived and we are the robots.

The first presentation was the one of Jody Medich(@nothelga), focused precisely on this subject.

Among the explanations on how the brain works and the ways we can enhance our productivity by taking more advantage of the space around us, she showed some of the most recent applications of technology.

To these augmented reality systems, we also have to add the virtual reality application for physiotherapy, for the treatment of ocular diseases such as double vision (Diplopia) and even in the recovery from nervous system injuries. In situations where physiotherapy was backed up by a virtual reality system, a certain degree of recovery of the connection, between the nervous system and the muscles, was recorded.

Visualisation is a powerful element and applying technology allows us to carry out processes of logic with parts of our brain that are commissioned with spatial recognition.

This approach was followed by Richard Banfield’s presentation.

Sex, Drugs and The Infinite Scroll showed us that are still principles of biology which can guide our interaction with technology and also with these superpowers that Jody described.

One of the details of this presentation, which should be emphasised, is that we can only start drawing the future after having acknowledged the path that has taken us to this point in human history. Another one, equally significant, was the role that our emotions have when interacting with technology.

Therefore, we should conceive products, services, a system or even an Artificial Intelligent (AI) that are able to make us feel something relevant to that context. Something that makes us feel better, safer and even smarter.

At this point we can start questioning where the threshold is. If technology becomes too much effective in making us feel better, can we jeopardise our own motivation and the will to go as far as possible? And, if that’s the case, to what extent are we in control, or are we actually being controlled by technology or through it?

Shredding this yarn can easily prompt a web of fears.

Human-Centered design

Robots also give bad news and, when talking about Designing for Bad, Katy Mogal and Michael Winnick shared their research on how Apps should break bad news.

Katy worked as the Head of UX for Fitbit, a company that conceives fitness sensors. Part of the study that they presented covered much more ground than a mere analytical investigation would, as they featured real testimonials from users.

All our interaction with machines and technology will increase and it is already part of the daily lives of some of us. The Human-Centered approach has the goal to ensure that this interaction is not invasive but symbiotic.

It’s important to use this point as a pit stop, in order to reinforce that when we mention Design we are not talking about Graphic Design. In this specific context, Design refers to the process of solving a problem or building products and services. Design in the sense of design and development, the architecture and structure of a system. Under this broader view, it includes the fields of communication, psychology and sociology.

The human-centered design approach reinforces the notion that this process should always take into account the individual and his context, or several contexts of everyday life.

In an impossible-to-replicate presentation, we had Jeff Patton explaining how important it is to have the best possible return on our effort during the design process. This presentation’s highlight was the motto Looks good and is good is not the same thing!, which turned into a sort of war cry: Fight the suck!

Several other presentations and workshops also shed light on different aspects of this subject. The workshops of Content-First UX Design, Giving Voice to Your Voice Designs, and Storytelling in Design showed that they were influenced by this approach.

However, not a single fear on technology’s negative impact was heard.

From the prophets of doom to the technocrats

There are hundreds of examples available to talk about the impact of technology on society. The way we communicate has changed with Facebook and Twitter, and Uber shook the foundations of the taxi market, with public demonstrations happening because of it. Even the banking system is now witnessing is own realm changing with crowdfunding platforms and Bitcoin transactions.

The latest trends are now pointing in the direction of chatbots and Artificial Intelligence as constituents of the next wave of innovation.Last year, Gartner included in its hype cycle the Conversational User Interfaces, Virtual Personal Assistants and Smart robots.

A more conservative approach will pose the question whether more jobs will be lost to technology; the mechanisms to control the information that the Personal Assistants may have on us; and the whole dependence on technology.

I dare to say that if we happen to lose our job for a robot, it’s because we are actually doing something not that interesting. And there’s not much we can do to circumvent the impact of technology. It is not feasible to put restrictions for long periods of time on technology innovation, as our will to build and conceive is just too irresistible.

This is how the world ends.

Brenda Laurel at UXLx, Lisbon 2017

Brenda Laurel, (@blaurel) took us on a journey through space and time in order to get to know several civilizations now lost.

We got acquainted with the Easter Island, which was devastated with the arrival of the Europeans, sources of unknown diseases, and by several episodes of civil war.

We visited Pompeii, obliterated by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a Europe that was reacting in panic to Black Death, the Anasazi (or Ancestral Pueblo) who were incapable of enduring the invasions of neighboring tribes.

The 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the Ozone layer and global warming were not left out of this dark outlook.

The final presentation, which is usually the highlight of UX Lx, led many people to a bewildered state of confusion and depression.

A disaster was prevented when Brenda established a connection between these calamities and the discipline of User Experience. Because, as professionals and builders of this world, we are adopting a set of values intrinsic to the profession. UX defends the user and, therefore, will have to strive to provide the best for the whole society into which it is inserted.

This positive message was also stressed by an array of ideas for science and society. Things like the importance of sharing information, of encouraging dazzle and research, of not sidelining failure as is quite common in Portugal. Failure happens and we learn from our mistakes.

One of the common traits shared by this long-gone civilizations was their isolation, and running away or trying to slow down the future’s pace is not a solution. (Aligning our way of thinking with the prophets of doom or the technocrats is not the way forward as well, as both sides have valid points.)

We can always make a choice, we can wait for the volcano to erupt, just like the inhabitants of Pompeii did as they were bearing witness to its warning signs, or we can look for solutions. And if we are not pleased with the path that the future is taking, and with what it can mean to us, we can always roll up our sleeves and build it.

What we cannot do is be afraid of learning curves or think that these subjects are only a matter of concern for Designers, Developers and Engineers.

Events such as UX Lx represent an opportunity for everyone who has a tiny spark of interest about the new ways to communicate, to live in society, to interact with brands and to conceive products and services.

Each one of these workshops and presentations would represent a good enough reason to write 1500 words more on the subject, and they all could end with the same war cry: The future is broken, and we can fix it!

Chapters

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