Austin’s SXSW Interactive festival brings a fresh, human-centred approach to technology and design interfaces

Based in Austin, Texas the SXSW interactive conference, much like the city, has a very human-centred design focus. Many presentations focused on how technology is changing our brains rather than the importance of machine learning. The content covered felt like a call for a more mindful approach to building technology and the experiences it drives, although this might be symptomatic of the way presentations are chosen for SXSW with creativity and goodness as two main criteria. There is a need to move the creation of experiences away from a traditional marketing approach, where we look to our businesses and brands for development, to a more human-centred approach which involves consumers in the design.

This shift involves understanding how technology is changing our neurology, as well as our value systems (what had meaning before, no longer has meaning now). With so much at our fingertips, we expect much less friction (think Uber and Tinder) which is changing the hierarchy of our needs and ultimately the reprogramming our brains. Brian Solis refers to this phenomenon as consumers becoming ‘accidentally narcissistic’.

Experience architecture is the future of advertising. You have to be relevant and making a difference in consumers’ lives.

As we strive to make technology more fluid and frictionless, Steve Selzer, Experience Design Manager at AirBnB, stresses the importance for designers to become ‘the friction’ in the design. It is based on the premise that the desire and expectation for a frictionless digital experience is leading to a community of people who no longer have personal experiences in which they encounter friction. Selzer states that it is friction that allows for self-reflection, self-discovery and therefore, growth.

We must encourage people to reflect and learn through behaviour, which could be both physical and digital, and Selzer described 4 ways to doing just that in his ‘Human-Centre Design: Why Empathy is Not Enough’ presentation:

  • Design for skill building: Hello Fresh makes the experience of ordering ingredients as easy as possible; however their key focus is getting people to cook and try new recipes.

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  • Design for Collisions:  Lyft, a direct competitor to Uber, differentiates itself through ‘collisions’ by profiling their customers and encouraging them to share rides. This principle brings people together, creating situations where circumstantial neighbours can come together.

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  • Design for Confrontation: AirBnB encourages hosts to answer any customer service issues themselves. Selzer describes the implementation of this process as forcing people to come out from behind the wall of technology to have conversations with each other.  It is the next step beyond collision, which focuses on people resolving their own friction. As a result, the company has seen a direct correlation in the satisfaction scores from hosts and guests who have resolved their own issues without AirBnB intervening.

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When it comes to design – think about your back-end as frictionless and your front-end as creating those experiences, which are carefully designed as friction.

The theme around the convergence of frictionless technology with human-centred design climaxed when Jayse Hansen, creator of the Iron Man Interface, got on stage with Meron Grebetz, creator of Meta 2 development Kit, in their curiously titled Iron Man Interfaces: The Next Generation UX presentation. Hansen, unable to build on existing OS due to licence restrictions, has teamed up with Grebetz to test the capabilities of Augmented Reality. The result of their partnership is a headset, which Grebetz demonstrated on stage. Using the headset, he was able to manipulate a 3D brain to millimetre precision, as well as dial in his CTO, who appeared in front of him as a hologram, to collaborate on the manipulation of the brain together. To finish the presentation, Grebetz promised that by SXSW 2017 he will have removed all computer monitors from his office, which he believes diminishes collaboration.

Although the last example is still far away for most of us, we can start to think about how we create human-centred experiences which involve a frictionless back-end and a carefully crafted front-end that creates experiences through friction.

Have questions or want more information, contact us at emea@omd.com.

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Caroline Clancy

Head of Tech Innovation at Manning Gottlieb OMD

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