Humans and Glass Rectangles

Setting the Stage

So we have humans interacting with expensive glass rectangles. Of course by glass rectangles I’m referring to our mobile phones, tablets, laptops, monitors, computers, etc. that we use in our quest to achieve permanent connectivity, meaningful interactions and the general absorbance of data. This human to computer interaction is inherent to the goals of User Experience Design.

Moving Toward a Mobile-First World

Luke Wroblewski has noted many times that the world is quickly becoming more mobile focused . Time and again we see reports that more consumers are checking their emails, paying their bills, playing games, sharing messages, and surfing the web on their hand-held devices. As we peer into our little glass friends should we feel a sense of wonder, or estrangement? Let’s not get so glum. In moderation, these new tools can be quite beneficial to our daily lives. One of the goals of User Experience Design is to achieve user empathy. Put another way, the designer needs to account for the needs and wants of their users. Sure, we want to make processes easier, but ideally we are taking roadblocks out of our users’ way to create a delightful experience.

Waxing Glass Poetic

It would be funny to think that Arthur C. Clarke was somewhat clairvoyant in his depiction of our ancestors being equally perplexed and enamored with a mystical shiny black obelisk, as described in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The theory rings true! We do not all-together care how these devices work, but rather why they work. We may never understand a magician’s parlor trick, but we do understand the delight we receive from watching the spectacle of a well performed illusion.

Similarly our initial delight from this new era of hand-held convenience(i.e. the smart phone) has lifted us to a new plateau, wherein we fully expect our glass rectangles to be capable of answering emails on the fly, finding our route home via GPS, and tweeting our most impulsive thoughts. If I don’t have three bars of service there will be Hell to pay! It is the work of User Experience Designers to hone-in on these interactions and make our human-to-glass relationship as seamless and easy as possible. If load times take too long, we’ll try to optimize images, or create a ‘loading animation’ to distract the user from the frustration of waiting… ‘Waiting’ has become one of our greatest challenges, and we’re not talking days, hours, or minutes, but actually seconds! That’s how well technology has advanced in recent years! As Designers we strive each day to elevate these new technologies to that next plateau with each pixel we build, line of code we write, and software we test.

A Brave New World

So if we do our job successfully as UX Designers, we will remain in the shadows, as the caretakers of this unknown magic. As technology becomes more and more encapsulating in our lives we need to foster an empathy inside these machines. We only grow responsibly if it is a shared path. At times, Clarke’s words still seem more relevant now than ever before. Hopefully by the time we finally get to HAL 9000, we will have figured out the best way to temper our on-going relationship with technology in a manner better suited than Dave’s fate.

Until then we’ll live and learn with our little glass rectangles.