We see it all the time. Everywhere you look. In business meetings, dinner with friends, people strolling on the beach, or parents watching their children in the park— people are attached to their device. It’s a question to ask then, how much are we really LIVING in the very essence of the word? Do we appreciate every single moment of our lives? Hearing the birds chirp? Watching our children grow? Smelling the green grass? Are we experiencing the world around us, wholly, with the features we’re born with? Our eyes? Our ears? Our nose? Our hands? In a world where we promote technology as a means to make life easier by getting information quickly, communicating more efficiently and increasing productivity, we draw a thin line in becoming prisoners to the very tool built to set us free.
In going to tech events and being surrounded by people in the industry, this is not usually the topic of conversation. To bring up the negative consequences of technology can sound like you’re condemning the progress of humanity. But what if instead, we change our mindset. What if we see it as a challenge? This is the message that Jod Kaftan addresses. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Jod at the Los Angeles UX Meetup in the Yahoo! building in Santa Monica, California. He was the guest speaker for the sold out event titled, “Designing Beyond the Device.” Jod is the Experience Design Director at Blitz and is considered to be a visionary, known for being way ahead of his time. He often predicts upcoming trends before most experts in the industry. As such, he is well respected and followed by the community to aspire to and emulate.
The Battle Cry
Jod referenced the Microsoft video on productivity released early last year and the famous rant in response by Bret Victor, an ex-Apple engineer. It depicts a future where there are touch screens everywhere around you—the car window, kitchen table, bathroom mirror, walls, etc. But as amazing and brilliant as this future looks, according to Victor, these “pictures under glass” sacrifice all the richness of working with our hands. “It’s an interaction paradigm of criminal madness! It’s a Novacane drip to the wrist. It denies our hands of what they do best!” Victor’s plea is to inspire the untapped potential of human capabilities. This is the battle cry: “Don’t just extrapolate yesterday’s technology and then cram people in to it!”
Designing Beyond the Device
So here is the challenge— creating technology to not inhibit the nature of our humanity but rather, enhance it. As Jod puts it, envision designing beyond the device. “I see a future that we decentralize things like the iPhone, which is so over saturated with use cases now.” Jod gives us the example of a diamond ring that grows brighter on your anniversary or an umbrella that lights up when it detects saturation. He explains that there are little nuances such as these that interaction designers can make that don’t involve complex technology. Jod encourages designers to think about these everyday products that we use that can have a layer of interactivity in them that’s very discrete, minimal and useful. By doing so, we can create technology that minimizes the inputs and the interaction time that we have to spend on things. As a result, technology can finally allow us to live at the fast speed that we live in and allow us to retain our humanity.
Steps to Retaining Our Humanity
It’s a bold statement to suggest using technology to retain our humanity. But the question becomes, what steps need to be taken to move towards this goal? Jod says, “We need to sort of galvanize the community. We need to believe more in ourselves that we can do more than just create user interfaces but go beyond.” Jod explains that one of the challenges of interaction design is that it’s primarily a creative enterprise that uses scientific methods of hypothesis, investigation and validation. But because designers are not scientists, the vision is needed to take big creative gambles. However, that type of thinking is reserved for creative directors. Jod would like to see everyone to take ownership with that creativity as well as that vision because we are all totally qualified.
Check out the full video of Jod Kaftan’s presentation “Designing Beyond the Device”.