user interface

UX in the Age of Skynet: How Machine Learning (ML) will Evolve Interface Design and Development

UX in the Age of Skynet: How Machine Learning (ML) will Evolve Interface Design and Development

"The broader appetite to leverage techniques for turning quantitative and qualitative data into software continues to gain acceptance and is regularly performed by specialized teams," writes VP of Technology Paul Tidwell.

projekt202 Labs: Die Tur

By Mark Power-Freeman

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.