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Designing Experiences for Connected Ecosystems

By Shawn Johnson, VP of Experience Design, NBCUniversal

Shawn Johnson, VP of Experience Design, NBCUniversal

When we view the world through the lens of a typical consumer, it becomes easier to empathize and understand their core needs, expectations and habits. The typical consumer is someone who is juggling multiple priorities. They most likely feel pressured and have a finite amount of time. They are not someone who talks about Moore’s Law, Exponential Growth, and data driven technology ecosystems over their morning coffee.

"Every Experience Designer should understand and accommodate for several key technologies if they are to be relevant in today’s ecosystems"

Although most people cannot recite Moore’s Law, they ultimately reap the rewards of its equation—there continues to be an invisible correlation between humans, technology and transformation.

With the increased speed that new technologies and products become more accessible—the disruption, impact and expectations require our current business models to adapt and accommodate for growing consumer needs.

Let’s start by looking back a decade ago, when we were first introduced to the iPhone. Steve Jobs presented a new product with a multi-touch screen that dramatically reshaped the way we approach user interfaces, gestures, keyboards, and a user’s mobility. It was at that moment in time, when the first seeds were planted for the movement towards mobile first.

Over the past ten years, the smartphone has become a powerful portable utility that connects us 24/7 with our friends, our everyday lives, and the world. As we approach 2020, the global pace and scale of technology continues to increase exponentially, and our appetite for connectivity grows.

Today, there are roughly 4.5 billion consumer facing apps available. Smartphone subscriptions are projected to hover around 6.2 billion by 2020, with total mobile subscriptions around 9.2 billion (when you factor IoT and M2M services). Connected homes, cars, and cities are increasing rapidly as smartphones and wearables provide us with constant connectivity, interactions and control over our everyday lives.

So before we go any farther, you might be asking, how does Experience Design help me solve these big challenges and changes ahead?

Experience Design (XD) is the practice of designing products, processes, services, journeys, interactions and environments where the quality of the user experience is culturally relevant, meaningful, and tangible to the user. Experience Designers are driven to evolve the meaning and application of their roles in environments where technology, products and businesses must exceed a person’s expectations and needs.

In today’s world, new product developments and technology trends are constantly challenging current consumer landscapes. This puts increased pressure on Experience Designers to view the world as connected and shared ecosystems.

Future predictions are not new, but their acceptance and adoption by mainstream consumers is what is driving the pace of disruption. Every Experience Designer should understand and accommodate for several key technologies if they are to be relevant in today’s ecosystems.

Voice Assistants

Voice Assistants have arrived as a tour de force, and are challenging us to create natural language interfaces that communicate with devices, content and systems.

2016 saw an incredible increase in voice assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo devices. We are quickly moving from singular prompts, asking about the weather, and setting timers and calendar invites to conversational suggestions and time/location specific feedback.

Voice assistants are becoming naturally smarter—sensing voice inflections, mood and tone, while providing relevant context and information to the discussion. As the technologies behind VUI continue to mature through ChatBots, designers are challenged to pivot towards conversational language.

Artificial Intelligence & Anticipating Needs

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are also maturing quickly, finding new consumer applications within entertainment, media and content distributors. In 2017, there is a firm belief in the XD industry that AI will become the new UI for product, service and content companies looking to personalize their experiences through artificial agents that can anticipate, respond and react to natural language prompts.

These natural, more human-like interactions are quickly becoming the inherent expectation of new users. Anticipating a user’s patterns and needs are two of the most challenging problems we are faced with as designers. As AI moves from “Curator to Collaborator” Experience Designers are pressed to create journeys based on behaviors, time and location, using present and historical data patterns.

Beyond the Smart Home

When most people think of smart homes, they tend to think of cute little robots or assistants that record their tasks, launch their Spotify Playlist and/ or turns the light over the sink off when they’re in bed.

Experience Designers must think beyond the smart home. We must understand and solve for the intelligent world where users are connected 24/7 to the people and things they care about most. Designing for “humans first” will ultimately drive the success of IoT and the usefulness of these applications.

As your smartphone continues to become a more powerful hand-held utility—it will deliver constant connectivity to your work, home, friends, fitness, calendars, car, banking and everything surrounding your everyday life.

Future Thinking

Imagine an evening dinner with a group of friends talking about the next hot content series. Before you’ve even picked up your car, the virtual assistant on your smart watch has asked if you want to set the series to start when you’re home. A simple tap on the face of the watch confirms with your car, home television and calendar. As you pull into the driveway, your house lights up—anticipating your entry and provides you enough time to grab a snack and relax.

This is the future design we need to prepare for. This is the new product and brand expectation. So what’s next?

The Connected Me

It is a term we use to define the future of human experiences—living at the intersection of technology, product and business ecosystems. These ecosystems will be personal, local and global simultaneously. They will challenge Experience Designers to expand on the culture, economics, psychology and ethics of how we communicate in the future where everything and everyone is connected.

In the future, technology will bring us closer to becoming Professor X, and everyone will have his or her own personal connected Cerebro.