Stop Worrying and Embrace Change
UX practitioners are both the agents of change and the objects of it. Change is something we think about a lot, whether as something we're trying to promote, to predict, or to rectify. Understanding change means understanding its engine, technology, the cause of permutations and fragmentation that often challenges us.
What it means to us: This constant cycle of innovation continues to have repercussions for UX practitioners on several levels. Conceptually, we must learn to embrace the new and question the old in order to create for the present. While some in our profession still fear change, one just needs to look back at the success of the touch interaction model (iPhone) and, more recently, of the Wii and Kinect to see how quickly new technologies and, more importantly, new behaviors can be adopted.
Experientially, advances in client-side technologies have translated into not only richer experiences, but also experiences that live on many more platforms than was previously possible, often with little extra cost. This allows us to affect a greater number of people and empowers users to interact with brands, products, or services in the setting of their choice. These advances allow us to move away from building destinations, and instead towards building an ecosystem where each touchpoint adds to the experience rather than just repeats it. So let us approach each new project with vigor and excitement and move away from engineering and towards artistry.
Lastly, from a project planning perspective, with increased complexity comes increased effort to make sense of it all. We should focus on increasing the time and effort put towards research and prototyping. Research allows us to get a better understanding of our users and their behaviors on specific platforms, and it can also allow us to do quick, iterative user testing and changes to launch to get it right prior to launch. As well, prototyping is becoming key to helping illustrate the breadth of an experience and proving the validity app designs.
More Connected Devices
As Om Malik noted, at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) it was hard to find a consumer device that couldn't connect to the Internet. According to InStat, in the realm of portable devices (anything from mobile phones to MP3 players) the number of connected devices will increase 63% to 177.3 million between 2009 and 2013. And in many of these devices, the Internet connectivity is being marketed as a primary feature, not just an add-on.
What it means to us: Whether we think of ourselves as architects or conductors, the proliferation of connected devices and of their use by people means three things:
First, we need to stay up-to-date with the new devices that are emerging. That means we'll need to look to a broader range of information resources, including more technology and mobile-oriented blogs.
Second, we must understand the job of these devices. Today's devices don't constrain possibilities but rather create new ones. With that in mind, we must understand their roles and the behaviors they engender in people.
Lastly, and most importantly, we must fight against the fragmentation of the experience. When I recently set up a Sony Blu-ray player to connect to the Web, I was disappointed with the inconsistencies in the experience. It seemed like one group created the controls and experience for viewing Blu-ray disks while another group designed the Internet setup and connection to match that of the PSP. A better approach has been demonstrated recently by Microsoft. With their latest Xbox 360 dashboard, they made a real effort to standardize on and leverage the Windows Phone UI guidelines. This standardization made me feel immediately at ease very with the new Xbox 360 interface and reduced the learning curve. It's therefore important to dedicate some time to exploring the client or company's established design paradigms to see if they can be extended to the UI currently being worked on. If no guides exists, then we must create them.
More Powerful Devices
Today's world is an increasingly complex one in which computing power is abundant and continuously increasing. While innovation has created new classes of devices (e.g., e-readers and netbooks), it has also driven the evolution of existing types of devices into new and powerful platforms. This trend has been particularly strong in the evolution of the mobile phone. What was originally just a portable telephone has evolved into a computing device, which today is at the center of our personal universes. Voice conversations have become almost secondary uses of mobile phones compared to the constant email and social network messaging people now use their phones for.
What it means to us: What was once true of the device and platform a mere six months prior may not be true anymore. As I mentioned earlier, we must stay fresh in our problem-solving as platform constraints lessen and the role of devices expands.
On a more tactical level, the abundance of powerful devices means that devices that were once single-function tools may now be ready to be full member of the rich experience. Within the Apple application ecosystem, for example, there has been an evolution of applications within the photo-processing category. While the category was initially crowded with many great photo-filtering utilities, apps such as Instagram have moved beyond pure utility and towards a rich experience by building a photo-sharing community within the app, which is as indispensable to the experience as the filters themselves. They sought to differentiate themselves by going beyond utility, and towards helping people share their photos with others.
What It All Means to Us
- We should not shy away from innovation, but embrace it! It's not going away and people's appetite for it only seems to grow.
- To excel in our world, we must learn to be groks of man—that is, to learn to empathize with people and understand their behaviors.
- The connected revolution will make force us to think of the Web as just one of many platforms, and not the central hub it is today.
- How do we become an agent of good? How can we leverage change to go beyond lift in awareness or widget sales and towards making a real difference?