What are the Critical Opportunities for Real UX Change?

projekt202 VP of UX Mike Blakesley
projekt202 VP of UX Mike Blakesley

In this conversation with projekt202′s Vice President of User Experience, Mike Blakesley discusses significant UX opportunities to leverage in the remainder of the year and into the next.

At the beginning of this year, you made predictions about UX and design in 2016. Can you tell us about that?

I wanted to reflect on 2015 and then also think about some of the trends that are happening from a user experience standpoint. Thinking about design, and what are some of the things that we as designers should be contemplating and trying to really push forward in the world of UX design and really thinking about the role that technology plays in our lives.

What were some of those topics?

Based on a lot of the trends and things that we've seen at projekt202 over the past year, there's at least three areas that I saw as being really a critical mass, an opportunity for some real change to happen.

The first one was the medical field. Digital tools can really enable us to have a much different conversation with our health care practitioners and with the entire medical industry to manage our care more individually, without ambiguity or misunderstanding. We can have a much more immediate and deeper conversation with our physicians, with our pharmacists, with everybody that's a participant in managing our care.

The second one was around looking at touch devices and these touch interfaces. Right now, we're limited to these very flat screens, these flat interfaces. In the case of an iPad or a mobile phone, these devices that we carry with us, it's OK, it feels natural. But when we start to think about product design, there's so much more opportunity for these screens to be more integrated with the elegance or sophistication of a particular product design.

For example, it's really disappointing when you look at the dash of a Tesla. It's got all these nice, sweeping, elegant curves, it looks very modern, very almost futuristic, and then you've got what looks like an iPad taped to the front of that. It's just so disappointing to see this great design and then you're forced to have this very flat interface there.

The last one was referring to predictive design. Some articles say that this has been around for a while, it's not like it's very new, but it's never really been discussed as a real design opportunity. It's just something that a few people have tried to integrate into certain designs. Now, I think we have a much more significant opportunity to really leverage a lot of the data, some big data inputs, that are allowing these predictive models to have a much more robust set of inputs to be able to make decisions and predict our behaviors better.

For the medical field and the conversations that people have with medical professionals, is this about the public being more educated about health care and their bodies, and the conversations that they're having with their doctors?

That's certainly a component of it, being able to have the tools in which somebody can manage and understand their care better.

I think that that's one of the challenges that people have had in managing their own care over the years – the doctor is typically using a lot of jargon, and you don't really understand how all these things that you're doing are really affecting your life and what your role is in managing your own care. These tools can change that conversation a bit, especially if you've got a chronic illness and something that you're trying to manage.

On the other side of the conversation, with the physician, they're actually able to track your behavior and see how well you're doing with managing your own care. When you're starting to fall away from some of the good behavior that is going to help you overcome your illness, or at least manage your care better or manage your illness to where it's not really affecting your life in a negative way, these tools can enable that conversation in real-time, rather than only visiting a doctor once a month, or only when you feel bad and you're trying to do some correction.

What does the future hold for this? What's in store for the rest of 2016 and 2017?

A lot of opportunity. There's definitely a proliferation of apps out there to be able to manage our care. There's things like Fitbit and MapMyFitness or things like that that allow us to manage our health on a less clinical way. Right now, I think that there's a tremendous opportunity to really have a much more holistic management of our care with some of the changes that could potentially happen with the health care industry.

At least in one aspect, NIH [the National Institutes of Health] is really trying to change a paradigm in the way that physicians are managing care. They're funding some of the experimentation in terms of new models and relationships that physicians may have with their patients.

My estimation of that approach or that initiative is a bit challenged, just because of the sheer scale in which they're trying to do that. They're looking across the entire United States and they're pulling in ideas and proposals from everywhere. It just seems too vast to me to try and change it at that federal government level.

Where I think there's a really exciting opportunity, at projekt202 here in Austin, we're actually very lucky to be in proximity of the UT Dell Medical School. The promise and opportunity that comes with what they're doing there is really exciting to see actually.

Recently, I saw a presentation from Dr. [Mini] Kahlon, [Vice Dean for Strategy and Partnerships,] who's heading up creation of the Dell Medical School from the development of a lot of the technology and the facilities. She's helping to orchestrate a lot of the development around bringing in different talent, bringing in local startup mavens that have a different perspective on how to change the industry. She's quite bold and the rest of the team there is quite bold in being able to say on a much smaller level how can we change health care and have a much different paradigm in which the outcomes and people's health -- actually driving people to a more healthy outcome -- is something that we should be striving for, rather than just having more, higher technology to deal with people's problems.

It's an interesting nuance. It's hard to elaborate on it without going too deep into it, but I think how it relates to technology and where user experience has a play there is, as the school continues to develop, there's a great opportunity to see how these startups can bring these ideas and new technologies into the Dell Medical School. They can try these new things out, and see how some of these new tools work with changing the relationship and the conversation between the doctors, the physicians and people using these apps.

That's a good segue into one of the other topics that you talked about, which was predictive design. How could that come into play?

There are some good examples of some smaller ways that predictive design is starting to filter into our lives more. Just this morning, I was alerted from Google Maps that, "Hey, you're driving to work and it's going to take this many minutes to be able to get there." It knows my routine to the point where, once I get in the car and the GPS sees me pulling out of the driveway, it knows that, "Hey, you're on your way to work and here's some information that might be useful for you."

Certainly, things like that are dependent upon data to be able to provide these predictions. I think that that is a really interesting opportunity. The component that I think is really going to be influential in our ability as UX designers to successfully do this predictive design in a way that is meaningful, is to have the good data.

Moore's law seems to continue to rewrite itself faster and faster, because the amount of innovation that's happening is pretty incredible and the speed at which it's happening is pretty incredible.

One of things that can help us with that is doing significant generative research, being able to go out and understand people's behavior patterns, be able to look for the commonalities, then start to pull the data in. If we don't have a focus, the data is too vast.

We need to be able to look for these habits that people have, being able to pick up on what you would call a habit loop, to identify the cue, the behavior that people exhibit once they have that cue, and what's the reward that comes from that. That's described as that habit loop.

If we can understand what that habit loop is, we don't necessarily want to exploit it -- we need to be careful of that as designers, we need to be designing in an ethical way -- there's a chance for us as designers to understand the appropriate reward for somebody when they're trying to do this routine or activity.

There's an opportunity to do that with the medical situation. If somebody needs to get the right encouragement or the right reward, even if it's just a congratulations for taking their medication, that reinforces a positive habit. Technology provides an opportunity to do that pretty consistently and pretty immediately.

What would happen if we had the ability to tie that into other, more valuable rewards? For instance, if you're healthy and active, you pay less for your insurance.

There is this opportunity with all this data that's out there and being able to connect it in a more meaningful way. Again, referencing this idea of holistic management of our care, so many people have a lot of different things going on in their bodies and in their lives.

There's different factors of health and fitness, there's different medications that we're taking, there's different dietary needs that we have, so many different facets of our lives that make us who we are. A lot of times, these individual applications and tools may reward a certain aspect of our lives, but we really need to look at how all these things work together.

Developing and reinforcing the right habits when we have all this data, that's the real exciting opportunity, when all these things can come together and be able to predict what's going to be best for us, knowing all this information.

Moore's law seems to continue to rewrite itself faster and faster, because the amount of innovation that's happening is pretty incredible and the speed at which it's happening is pretty incredible. I think that right now, at least with the medical industry, and with some of the bureaucracy and some of the established institutions that are making money out of the medical industry, it's going to turn it on its head if we start really exploring these things. It is going to take a lot of courage to change the way that we manage our own care through technology.

Earlier, you mentioned the amount of industrial design that goes into new products. How would the landscape change if the focus was put on touchscreen devices and the ways that we interact with them?

There's definitely a lot more opportunity now with the advances in manufacturing to create these touch interfaces that aren't constrained to such a flat surface. With my prediction about touchscreen interfaces having a little bit more of a unique shape or a more artistic design shape to them, I think it's going to take a while, probably another year or so, before we actually see if that pays off, because trying to get things into production takes time. Right now, if things are being designed, it's going to be, potentially, years before we see those products actually in the market.

What's really interesting and may even change the way that that happens is the whole virtual and augmented reality, and mixed reality. There's definitely a lot happening there. You see quite a few players in that arena. Look at companies like Magic Leap. They’re revealing a little bit more and more on an almost weekly basis about where they're headed. That'll be really interesting to see how that plays out, and mixes with these new shapes and interfaces and product designs, where we can have not only a virtual world that's recognizing our gestures, but we have something tactile that can change and interact with this virtual experience that we're having.

I think it's a paradigm where we're not even sure what that might look like, because these two things are so adaptable and we can manipulate them so significantly together.

There's this great opportunity for us to have an interface that's a shared experience. That's one of the challenges with the VR experience. It's so individualized. It doesn't make it easy for people to experience and participate together. There's this disconnect and the only connection that you have with another human being is this virtual space.

The software is going to have to be designed to create the touchpoints or the integrations for me to see what you're seeing and you're interacting with what I'm seeing. If we actually have a digital complement with a physical space -- with a touchscreen or some kind of object that has the ability to interact with it, and it can display and work together -- then we could have multiple people manipulating the environment and interacting simultaneously with what's happening virtually.

Read Mike's original article on his UX predictions for 2016

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