Russell Beard Head of Design

The power of design to humanise technology

It's January. Along with resolutions, diets and the attempted abstinence of alcohol for at least a month, comes the annual charge of new consumer tech launched (or at least announced) in a single week in a series of hotel suites, conference centres and sideshows in Las Vegas.

Yes, of course, we are talking about CES.

Each year, the great, the good and the sometimes misguided all convene on CES to either launch, sell, purchase or report on the global pulse of up-to-the-minute technology from every brand and business you could ever care to mention (and thousands you can’t). It’s a proverbial bear pit of innovation and not for the faint-hearted, but what it does do, is allow us as consumers and professionals to gauge the tempo of world consumer technology at a particular moment in time.

The next week will see utter brilliance and bonkers absurdity in equal measure. Some of it will genuinely improve things for the better, be it smart self-care, security and safety, relevant AI, or genuinely ubiquitous home technology. Others will just be more of the same we have come to expect; even bigger TV’s, more elaborate gaming ‘realities’, fridges that speak and spell, or ever more fragmented transportation categories….oh, and drones. Don’t forget drones!

As for the foolish, we will wait to see what this year beholds.

It is likely that any product design consultancy working with any form of human-technology interaction will have created something that will have been demonstrated at CES at some point. Indeed, the run up to the Christmas holiday shutdown is often made ever more frenetic by the need to hit yet another CES deadline. We are no exception, and have been working with a number of our key technology clients to deliver step change and user relevance in contextualising and humanising cutting edge technology.

Indeed, ‘humanising’ is the critical essence of what we as designers can do ensure success and robustness in this CES sea of noise. Consumer technology is only as brilliant as the relevance and application it serves, and the only way it can live and breathe is in the connection with the people who come to use it, however that may be.

In fact, we consider this humanising aspect so critical to our process that we balance our creative and technical delivery against a wider awareness of the need for holistic experience. Our bandwidth and in-house skillsets afford us the luxury of working across the creativity and technical spectra in whatever split best suits the specific challenge. It is what anchors us in our approach and ensures that everything we do is grounded in a genuinely human centred experience.

creative technical experience diagram

Humans are not binary creatures and we judge interfaces and new user paradigms with cautious suspicion and benchmark them against our existing ‘knowns’. A new tech may well have the cleverest algorithm or the most sophisticated processor chip known to man, but unless it makes a human connection it remains unfulfilled. We need to ensure that we extol the benefits of technology but within scope of human acceptance. By all means, we can stretch the boundaries of human expectation to ensure the interactions feel new and exciting, but there has to be an essence of familiarity or the means to semantically connect the user to the interaction.

This is particularly important as the home becomes the blurry new battleground for the technology behemoths.

From the growth of voice and haptics to the expectations of ‘direct to consumer’ (D2C) and home healthcare, set against the changing landscape of how we live that we are experiencing as Gen Z grow up, the sands are shifting underfoot and we as designers need to ensure that we not only fully understand the technology our clients are developing, but act as the human babelfish between this and the unwitting consumers slated for this new tech.

We need to be the guardians of common sense and genuine human understanding. I appreciate it sounds rather grandiose, but left unattended, technology can become irrelevant and nonsensical, as we can all attest to.

If you are visiting CES this year, I’d urge you to visit the Ultrahaptics Booth 42337 to see some incredible items that we have helped this amazing business develop to ensure ‘human relevance’. Just one of the many clients that will be represented this year in Las Vegas! There’s a nice succinct summary here of what to expect at CES 2018 on the BBC News website if you have 5 minutes to spare.

Also…don’t forget to wear sturdy shoes, and be sure to hydrate!

Find out more?

Get in touch with Russell Beard our Head of Design