Future Thought: Are You Really the ‘You’ in User-Centric?

Posted by FF Team

This is part two of a five-part series on the technological,  environmental, and socio-political conditions that shape our lives today  and tomorrow.

What if a piece of technology truly understood you, your needs and, in that way, was genuinely personalized? What if you, the individual, were at the core of a design? This is the foundation of truly user-centric design and the Holy Grail for the design community.

"What if you, the individual, were at the core of a design?”

The promise of more customized user-centric experiences defines the  work of many designers across modern industry. With ever-increasing  consumer expectations heaped upon them, any designed experience must be just  right the first time. And for that experience to be just right, at the  very least, it must have the illusion of being designed for a unique  person.

"The reality is that many ‘personalized’ experiences are designed for us, not by us."

Change is afoot

It may feel like  these partially-personalized user experiences are an acknowledgment of  our distinct and varying needs at any moment in time and space. But at  best, most technologies can only understand us in a simplistic way. They  can only identify us as the type of person who likes X and does Y,  because these behaviors reflect the patterns of our broader peer group. 

Consider driving in your car, and suggestions for BBQ restaurants  automatically populate your GPS as you begin a new search. Your GPS  chose BBQ restaurants, because at some point in the recent past you had  Googled them. But in reality, the query was research for a friend’s baby  shower 2000 miles away. And you are vegan. 

Or imagine if you had purchased a pair of jeans online from  retailer X. In order to do so, you searched to find the best price.  Despite having followed through with that retailer, now retailer Y and Z  continue to bombard you with ads for jeans you already own. 

Examples like this are reductive, sure, but they point to a massive investment in the notion that Big Data alone can create the best user experience.  Big Data only works if we ask the right questions and if we have the  support of the software that can identify the right patterns. 

Intuitive design is one of the early manifestations of a  customized user experience. It is defined as design that works without  the user needing to think about it. And for it to be executed with any  success, designers must understand the psychology of human interaction.  Companies like Apple pioneered this charge. One need look no further than the example of a baby using the iPad. But, designing intuitively is  incredibly difficult to execute successfully. 

“Design does not become intuitive by magic,” explains UX researcher Ditte Hvas Mortensen for the Interactive Design Foundation in Denmark. “When we experience a design as intuitive, it is because we have encountered something like it before.”

The reality is that we all experience the world through different  lenses. Therefore, designing for something we have encountered before  is not all that helpful because those familiar encounters dilute across  different cultures, generations, and economic standing. 

What we have come to understand as designed, personalized  experiences are actually not about us individuals at all. They are  intuitive, yes, but they are designed for the masses. So then, does  intuitive design—the design framework that has propelled companies to  superstardom—have its limitations too? Designers the world over  certainly believe so. 

What does truly user-centric design really mean?

One  significant challenge of a truly user-centric design is the  precondition that the designer possesses highly personal and granular  data on its users. Naturally, privacy is a major sticking point: people  are reticent to share personal information. 

When the stakes are high, as is the case in most medical research  and development, people seem more willing to share personal data. If  staying alive is the reward for handing over our DNA, odds are we will  do it. Innovations like 3D printing have experienced fast growth,  despite the threat associated with sharing such private information as  our DNA, because the results can be that rewarding. 

Perhaps when it is not a question of life or death, at least at  first glance, designers must work harder to earn trust. They must  humanize a technology by making it valuable to the people who adopt it. 

The seamless integration of devices and systems is undoubtedly valuable to users. This has come to be known as the Internet of Things (IoT) or as it is applied to automotive technology, the Internet of Vehicles (IoV). 

“When things are connected, it just makes everything so much  simpler,” says Mark Zeinstra, leader of the IoV Group at Faraday Future.  “If our cars can communicate obstacles and issues to one another, then  we’ll all be that much better off. For instance, if a driver half a mile  up the highway slips on black ice, then every other car can adjust  accordingly— immediately and automatically.”

If our devices are seamlessly connected—if our cars are talking to one another,  for example—it is inevitable that patterns begin to reveal themselves.  And therein lies the opportunity for the next frontier of UX: machines  that can actually think. 

The term Artificial Intelligence (AI), which encompasses machine  learning, is defined colloquially as a machine that is able to mimic  cognitive functions—ones that humans associate with human minds—like  “learning” and “problem solving.”

Time to imagine.

It is time to imagine  yourself at the core of a design, one that adapts to your changing needs  minute-by-minute. Time to imagine yourself as a muse—a relationship  that both benefits you and the designer—because a design is now charged  with understanding your behavior in order to be able to predict your  needs with meticulous accuracy. Time to imagine that for each person on  this planet, their every experience is personalized to the nth degree. And from there, time to imagine that each of those are connected. 

This defines a truly user-centric experience, reinvents intuitive design, and puts Big Data to its best use.