futureUI

projekt202 Labs: Die Tur

By Mark Power-Freeman
projekt202

We’ve assembled quite the collection of powerful minds here at projekt202, and, as the air finally starts to cool down in Texas, we’ve tapped into that power to launch an in-house innovation generator called projekt202 Labs. The projekt202 Labs initiative aims to give everyone at the company — not just the user experience design crew — a creative outlet to propose solutions to user experience problems without the constraint of platforms, code, materials, or devices. Two words sum it up best: What if…?

Although we have only the sky as a theoretical limit on the output of projekt202 Labs, we brought along our proven user-centered design research process for our first endeavor. You must start with what you know to go beyond what you know. So after gathering some generative research from the putative user base, we ideated, sketched, wireframed, applied visual design, and then presented to our target audience. For our first Labs project we decided to investigate whether there was a better way to manage conference rooms. In a nod to the origin of our company’s name, our answer to this particular What if is: Die Tür.

Before going into details about Die Tür, let’s rewind a few ticks of the clock. Like the Brady Bunch (or Voltron or The Avengers – take your pick, based on your preferred cultural milieu), we had to come together as a unit first and decide on a mission objective.

We see a lot of bumper stickers here in ATX exhorting us to keep things local. We took that to heart and thought about both our office and the general urban area when brainstorming world-changing ideas. Among the considered topics:

  • Traffic help – alternate routes to get around heavy traffic; solutions to company parking lot woes
  • Homelessness – providing/communicating services to the homeless; community partnership to end homelessness
  • Encouraging personal responsibility - Dirty dishes in the sink; stinky fridge syndrome
  • Improving plant health – Right time to water, fertilize, trim, etc.
  • Grocery – “Best-path” for grocery shopping (multiple stores, specialty items, etc.)
  • Street parking – finding parking spots; better ways to pay
  • Noisy neighbors
  • “The Gauntlet” – dangerous crosswalk in front of the Austin p202 building

Any of those would have made for a fun and exciting design challenge. But as the crew bandied ideas and proposals about, we noticed that the issue of room reservation and management seemed to elicit the strongest responses. We put it to a vote, and the room management issue won with a significant plurality.

We could have moved immediately into ideation from this selection. This was, after all, one of those rare situations where we could both design a solution and benefit from the solution as users. One of the strengths of the lab initiative, however, is that we drew members from across practices, and with Design Researchers on board, we thought it would be cool to use a simple survey to get some good old-fashioned user input from people who weren’t directly involved in the project. We also “observed” some of our office mates selecting and reserving rooms.

The survey results and direct observations both confirmed what we’d believed: nobody was happy with the way rooms are managed, labeled, and reserved…in any of our p202 office locations! Common responses included: not knowing which rooms were which, not knowing who had a room or for how long without having to go back to one’s desk to look it up in Outlook, and not having any idea about the suitability of the various conference rooms for the needs of a meeting.

We took these responses into account when we moved to the next phase: brainstorming solutions.

Which begat a presentation to our “clients” – in this case, the rest of the office. But we didn’t just want to put together the all-too-typical deck for this presentation. Since once of the directives of projekt202 Labs is “Have Fun”, we put together a film to showcase both the process and the solution, and we think it’s ready for Cannes and Sundance:

So far, the most common response to the video is “Can we have this right now?!” We researched the materials needed to bring something like this to life, and…who knows? Maybe the next effort from the Labs crew will be to build this and market it.

In any event, we enjoyed having this opportunity to stretch our minds a bit, and we’re confident this is only the first of many exciting and envelope-pushing ideas that the Labs initiative will produce.

Designing Technology’s Future

By Peter Eckert, TechNewsWorld
Published: Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Over the next decade or more, the disparate user interface conventions and approaches will force consolidation and a standard set of protocols. When a standard set of protocols emerges, consumers will benefit from a new era of simplicity in technology that will dramatically improve the totality of the experience.

User interfaces will not necessarily change the way we live — the technology will. However, for technology to work and be embraced by new consumers and emerging populations around the world, user interface design is crucial; it enables people to access and use the advancements in technology.

Without simple and intuitive interfaces, end-users are not able to consume the myriad of new technologies that come out every day. Leading companies increasingly recognize that their success and the adoption of their breakthroughs are tied to a product’s ease-of-use.

‘The Jetsons’
User interface is all about convergence, which is an old word with a new meaning. Today, “convergence” is defined as the seamless intersection and interaction of technology and life. Think of “The Jetsons,” where even life’s most ordinary undertakings — like showering and cooking — are suddenly automated through technology.

In the Jetsons’ world of TV-Land comedy, a series of hyper-responsive and mischievous robots became the ultimate cliché for a culture infused with technology. Yet, the vision it encapsulates — technology embedded in all undertakings — is not simply a futuristic series of errors.

Looking forward, the real land of “The Jetsons” will be represented by intuitive and easy-to-use technologies that are responsive in managing and increasing the efficiency of all kinds of things — from complex business analytics to surfing the Internet.

Looking Ahead
Imagine a world where mobile phones exchange information with one’s television. The tablet supplements daily experiences and is a multifaceted device for on-demand entertainment, information exchange and work.

Appliances are connected, communicating and able to be controlled remotely — all to create an interactive and technologically responsive environment that can be easily manipulated by the end-user. Imagine a world without paper currency where a flick of the wrist runs a transaction.
Large consumer product companies have started looking at true convergence among their own products. In the future, however, the drive for intra-device communications will lead to the establishment of protocols across all consumer electronics.

For this to truly work, all touchpoints will have to be aligned with a meaningful “life flow” that is designed to be responsive in human interaction.

As in the home, everything in the work environment will be able to interact seamlessly. Accessing work files on the go, running software on any operating system or browser, and communicating globally in real-time through video conferencing will soon become simple and cost pennies.

Operating systems will automatically align and sync; the mind-numbing lack of incapability will fade from memory.

UX Today
While convergence is on the horizon, end-users are still in for much chaos. Today, processes are being translated differently. One may not realize it, but end-users are increasingly being overwhelmed with the number of user interfaces they have to deal with and figure out.

For example, look at the enormous number of mobile phone handsets in the world market. There are countless iterations and modifications between handsets and often between handsets from the same manufacturer. This forces users to constantly relearn interface conventions. What’s more, the cognitive load of today’s world on device users is poised to increase exponentially.

Relief will not come in the near term. Today, companies are working in their individual silos to carve-out a market leading position. However, over the next decade or more, the disparate conventions and approaches will force consolidation and a standard set of protocols.

When a standard set of protocols for all types of user interfaces emerges, consumers will benefit from a new era of simplicity in technology that will dramatically improve the totality of the experience.

It’s Happening
Consumer electronics continue to lead in the advancement of technology. The new tablet has ushered in a paradigm shift forcing companies to rethink their product offerings. It has disruptively shone a light on the power of seemingly simplistic technology design and accessibility.

From home to work, people have a new idea of how technology should respond to their needs. With Baby Boomers trickling out of the workforce in larger and larger numbers, a new generation of leaders — Gen-X — is adopting and adapting to new technologies.

Yet, for all the tablets Gen-X is bringing into the home and workplace, it is nothing compared to how Gen-Y will interact with technology.

The next big leap for user interfaces remains the seismic shift of the tablet paradigm. Many industries want to leverage the platform. Because the tablet has its limits from a computing standpoint, for the first time, companies are leading with user-centric design to improve functionality in order to create a touch-enabled environment for their applications.

Not all industries will be able to do that with ease. Companies themselves need to stay on their toes and understand that success increasingly relies on their ability to create solutions and products within the context of the new tablet environment.

The consumer electronic nirvana is ease of use and engagement for end-users. The way companies will get there is by understanding their users and what motivates them.

For now, user interface design is driving innovation — to both the benefit and the burden of the consumer. The road ahead will be filled with chaos in design as companies, entire industries and consumers try to untangle and leverage new concepts in convergence.

©2011 TechNewsWorld

2016: The User Interface Revolution Underway

By Peter Eckert
Originally published in UX Magazine, February 24, 2011

Looking at the next five years, the role of interface design will only increase in importance as companies compete to win market share worldwide. Ease of use is essential to winning hearts, minds, and customers. With consumer product companies in heated competition, I anticipate a surge of redesign and new design in the near term. These designs will focus on usability, which means we are likely to see breakthrough products over the next several years.

Yet these new interfaces are not going to be uniform; devices and applications will not possess common protocols. For users, each interaction will have to be learned, so despite the improved usability of products, individuals will find themselves learning the quirks and standards of more and more technologies just to get the functionality they seek.

Converging Technologies, Diverging Experiences and Standards

For global companies, the next five years is a time to put their best solutions forward and integrate the UIs and capabilities of their own product suites. As companies work to independently to improve their products within the context of new technical and usability advances, we will see more diversity and incongruence in design overall. In the next several years, differentiation and unique ease of use will matter more than a common standard.

Technologies continue to combine and converge, but much of this convergence happens only within companies. Technologies and products developed by different companies will not truly interact across platforms any better than they do so today, or at least not in the near term. For every new process and device, there continues to be a lack of common standards, which requires that people learn device- and product-specific commands and functions. This problem is still acceptable to most people because that lack of integration and the individuality of interfaces has long been the norm.

Caught up in the daily flow of our lives, we hardly recognize we are in the midst of a rapid evolution in how we leverage technology. We barely acknowledge that we are slowly replacing ordinary and extraordinary functions alike with technology, including purchasing goods via phones, receiving on-demand GPS-based directions, and eliminating hard-wired phones altogether. And it is certain more innovation is just around the corner.

Today and in the next five years, those UIs will remain separate and disconnected from each other. But many decades in the future, we can expect to see shared protocols and standards that enable users to transition seamlessly between devices and appliances, which transmit information to one another to a far greater extent than we see today.

In the meantime, all of our incremental progress toward more usable applications is exciting for the UX industry as a whole. UI designers can rest assured that over the next five years they will not be out of work. In fact, as someone working in the field for nearly 20 years, my concern is there are not enough experts in UI design to meet the avalanche of design and redesign that needs to be completed. The process for designing UIs will continue to come from research related to behavior, and from evaluation of how information hierarchies and protocols can be more intuitively accessed.

Worldwide Vision

All this opportunity to design better experiences is not exclusive to the U.S. and Western Europe. In fact, much work over the next five years needs to be done to create UIs that are more in tune with the rising middle classes of China and India, each surging with unique demographics of potential technology users.

Companies will increasingly look to market consumer technologies to pockets of fast-growing populations that have so far had little exposure to technology as part of their daily lives. For these people, it will be critical that the solutions be highly intuitive to ease the abruptness of the transition.

In making these new technology products, leading consumer technology companies will be delving into new areas of UI design and need to think through language, cultural, and ethnographic particularities to create effective solutions. It will also be important to recognize how specific cultures truly interact with their social environment and technologies within the context of those environments.


Racing to market with products with long feature lists is not the only answer; in some cases, it may prove to be the wrong answer. The technologies must offer users an intuitive and tailored UI to give users full enjoyment of and access to product features within the context of their cultural experience. This is a new challenge that is rapidly unfolding as more solutions are offered to emerging populations.

A Seamless Future

New, improved UIs are part of a transformation that is happening worldwide in technology. As we have seen with Apple and others, the new measuring stick of quality and key to critical acclaim is not just about whiz-bang features, but also about the presentation of the technology and accessibility of features through sound design.

Over the next five years, UX designers will be increasingly called upon to create solutions that join the power of new technology with good usability. Their skills and vision will be put to good use as companies awaken to the new stakes related to intuitive design and strive to roll out a host of products that will be more engaging than ever before.

Conclusion

Consumer and business users alike will experience remarkable forward steps in the evolution of UI design, but they will also grapple with the lack of convergence and common protocols. It will likely be many more years before any common standards begin to emerge.

For emerging populations around the world, leading consumer companies will seek to capture market share. We advise these companies to go beyond the language barrier and truly evaluate the culture they are targeting as they have the opportunity to serve these customers through powerful design.

It is an exciting prospect to think of the millions or billions of more people who will be able to access technology, communicate globally and garner more information than they have before—all through intuitive, intelligently designed interfaces.

Copyright 2011, UX Magazine