Dan Saffer

At the intersection of new technology and everyday life you'll find Dan's work, changing how people think, work, and connect. The son of a plumber and a psychologist, Dan feels the interaction design he does is a little bit of both. Since 1995, he's designed everything from websites to consumer electronics to robots. He feels that design isn't only about problem solving, but about creating a better, more humane, future. At Smart Design, Dan is one of the directors of the interaction design practice, leading and advising teams to create new interaction paradigms across a wide range of products, spanning both digital and physical. Dan's insightful, thoughtful approach to design has been captured in the three books he's written—Designing for Interaction, Designing Gestural Interfaces, and Designing Devices—which are required reading for any student of interaction design. Dan has worked with a wide variety of clients, from Fortune 500 giants such as Microsoft and Time Warner to startups like AnyBots. He speaks and teaches workshops on design around the world. In 2008, he coined the term "topless meeting" (for a meeting without laptops), which was a finalist for Oxford Dictionary's Word of the Year and Time Magazine's #10 Buzzword of 2008. He has a Masters of Design in Interaction Design from Carnegie Mellon University.

Empathy is a stepping stone to a more important place: understanding

Understanding is what designers should be striving for as the backdrop for products.

Editor’s note: this post originally published on Medium; this lightly edited version is republished here with permission.

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About 10 years ago, I worked on a project for a new system for people with diabetes. We talked with many people who had diabetes or who helped educate diabetics. I even wore an insulin pump around for several days. In short, we were building up subject matter knowledge and empathy for the people we were designing for. During this user research phase, many of us (myself included) started to have actual nightmares that we had diabetes. I remember once looking at my toes, wondering if the tingling I was feeling was the onset of diabetes. (It wasn’t — probably just my foot was asleep.) We’d empathized to the point where we really identified with diabetics and their problems, which are considerable. We had so much empathy for them, in fact, that for several weeks, we couldn’t solve the problem. It seemed intractable, given what we knew about the condition and the state of technology at the time.

It wasn’t until we were able to step away from the diabetics’ perspective and become less empathetic that we were able to come up with a product concept. We needed distance — a psychic removal — in order to really assess the problem and take action to change it. In other words, we had to act like designers, which meant we had to be more objective, to sit outside and to the left of the problem space. As this experience taught me, too much empathy can be as crippling as too little.

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The future of design: stay one step ahead of the algorithm

Future-proof yourself by ensuring the kind of work you do cannot be easily replicated by an algorithm.

Editor’s note: this post originally published on Medium; it is re-published here with permission.

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It’s foolhardy to predict more than a few years into the future. Much unforeseen can happen between then and now. That being said, in 30 years, give or take 10 years, the discipline of design as it’s practiced today will be over. This isn’t anything new for design — it’s practiced very differently now than it was 30 years ago, or 30 years before that, and so on, stretching back decades, perhaps centuries. This also won’t be unique for design, as many fields of work will be utterly transformed in 30 years’ time. These changes will be drastic, and design will never be the same afterward.

The canary in the coal mine is Autodesk’s Project Dreamcatcher. Introduced by CEO Carl Bass at this year’s Solid conference, Dreamcatcher appears to work like this: industrial designers put together inspiration in the form of exemplars and combine them with requirements and constraints, then feed them all into Dreamcatcher. An algorithm then processes this information and spits out many possible designs. Designers can either start over with new or tweaked criteria, or continue by selecting a design to refine. It’s no stretch of the imagination to see this being done for digital objects as well. In fact, it might well be an easier task for digital design than for physical objects. Read more…

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Getting to Signature Moments with Microinteractions

Four strategies to add microinteraction details to your product

Microinteractions are the small pieces of functionality that are inside or around features. They are brief, single use-case moments. Turning off the ringer on your phone is one example. While no one buys a phone for the ability to turn the ringer off, the ability to do that—and do it easily and enjoyably—make a huge difference to the overall user experience. Microinteractions are the “feel” half of “look and feel.” If you care about user experience, you should care about microinteractions. Refined microinteractions lead to a refined product.

For some people, particularly those working on large products like Facebook, microinteractions are a daily activity, but for many people one of the biggest challenges to designing microinteractions is convincing clients, product managers, and business stakeholders that they’re worth spending time on. How do you steal some time away to really make sure your product is polished? Here are some strategies.
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