"Designing for Emerging Technologies" entries

Humanizing emerging technologies

We must demystify the "magic" of technology to increase user understanding and improve user experience.

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Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt from the chapter “New Responsibilities of the Design Discipline: A Critical Counterweight to the Coming Technologies?,” author and independent design consultant Martin Charlier argues that taking a human approach to technology is required not only to ensure a good user experience, but also to afford better user understanding of technology. This could mean enhancing the experience by building on familiarity; presenting tangible representations of invisible technology, such as RFID and NFC technology; or even by eschewing high-tech solutions altogether.


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Author and independent design consultant Martin Charlier.

British science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Magic can make people uneasy. Consider for example the scare around mobile telephones and what effects their radio waves might have on the human body.

The phrase “humanizing emerging technologies” is about reducing the amount of mystery around how a technology works and about helping people retain a sense of control over their changing environments. It is about understanding the mental models people use to make sense of technology and making technology fit people, not the other way round. It can even go so far as to question the need to use a particular technology to achieve a certain result in the first place.

This role of using design can be part of commercial work, or of academic, experimental projects dealing with market-ready or applied technologies. Read more…

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Technology that gets under your skin

Embeddables won't just be a revolution in functionality, but will dramatically alter how people fit into society.

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Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt, author Andy Goodman, group director at Fjord Madrid, looks beyond wearable computing to a deeper, more personal emerging computing technology: embeddables. Goodman says that beyond wearables and implants lies a future symbiosis of human and machine that will transform not only the delivery of information and services, but human nature as well.


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Author Andy Goodman, group director at Fjord Madrid.

Wearables are yesterday’s news; tomorrow’s news will be all about embeddables, tiny computing devices implanted inside your body that monitor your health, improve your functioning, and connect you to the digital world.

There is currently a lot of buzz in technology and design circles about wearables, living services, the Internet of Things, and smart materials. As designers working in these realms, we’ve begun to think about even more transformative things, envisioning a future where evolved technology is embedded inside our digestive tracts, sense organs, blood vessels, and even our cells. Everyday objects will become responsive and predictive, connecting us to the data sphere and reducing the distance between our skin and the surfaces of the made world. What we see further out, beyond the realm of wearables and implants, is the future symbiosis of the human body and the machine. Read more…

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Thinking with things

Something is lost when we limit interactions to pressing or clicking — our bodies are capable of so much more.

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Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt, author Stephen Anderson addresses the importance of embodied learning and stresses that those concepts need to extend to the way we design and interact with our increasingly connected environment, noting that the digital devices today are painfully unaware of our many human capabilities.


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Stephen Anderson, author, consultant, and creator of the Mental Notes card deck.

You may wonder, “why should we care about tangible computing?” Isn’t interacting with our fingers or through devices such as a mouse or touchscreens sufficient? In a world constrained by costs and resources, isn’t it preferable to ship interactive software, that can be easily replicated and doesn’t take up physical space? If you look at how media has shifted from vinyl records to cassette tapes to compact discs and finally digital files, isn’t this the direction that everything is headed?

Where learning and understanding is required, I’d argue no. And a definite no wherever young children are involved. Jean Piaget established four stages of learning (sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operations, and formal operations), and argued that children “learn best from concrete activities.” This work was preceded by John Dewey, who emphasized first-hand learning experiences. Other child psychologists, such as Jerome Bruner and Zoltán Dienes, have built on these “constructivist” ideas, creating materials used to facilitate learning. In a review of studies on the use of manipulatives in the classroom, Marilyn Suydam and Jon Higgins concluded in their 1976 report “Review and Synthesis of Studies of Activity-Based Approaches to Mathematics Teaching” that “studies at every grade level support the importance and use of manipulative materials.”

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Defining and sculpting interactions between man and technology

Jonathan Follett on the future of design and designers.

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Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt, author — and editor of Designing for Emerging TechnologiesJonathan Follett addresses designer’s roles as new technologies begin to blur the boundaries between design and engineering for software, hardware, and biotech.


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Author and editor Jonathan Follett, principal at Involution Studios.

Technology extends our grasp, making it possible for us to achieve our goals rapidly and efficiently; but it also places its own set of demands upon us. The fields of industrial design, graphic design, and software user experience design have all evolved in response to these demands — a need for a human way to relate to and interact with our new tools. Graphic design makes information depicted in printed media clear, understandable, and beautiful; industrial design makes products elegant, usable, and humane; and user experience design makes the interaction with our digital tools and services efficient and even pleasurable.

The future of design is to envision humanity’s relationship to technology and each other — whether we’re struggling with fear and loathing in reaction to genetically altered foods, the moral issues of changing a child’s traits to suit a parent’s preferences, the ethics guiding battlefield robots, or the societal implications of a 150-year extended lifetime. Now, more than ever, designers have the opportunity to help define the parameters of and sculpt the interactions between man and technology.

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