Connecting from Bassett & Partners on Vimeo.

An intriguing video recently captured the imagination of Roundarch Isobar colleagues. Connecting, produced by Microsoft?s Windows Phone Design Studio and created by Bassett & Partners, had our internal communication channels abuzz with commentary.

The Microsoft documentary explores how interaction design and user experience are taking the lead in shaping the nexus between the digital and physical worlds.? Embedded software and sensors are proliferating everywhere ? in cars, clothing, food packaging, healthcare, homes, you name it.

As connectivity grows ever lighter, richer, faster, our behavior as a species becomes increasingly more collective. The video posits humans and technology merging into a ?super organism? in which we are becoming a part of something bigger, ?not entirely just our own selves anymore.?

Doug Hopkins, a user experience director in our Chicago office, started the discussion, posting that he appreciated the well-produced video?s ?inspiring and meaningful insights.?? Many colleagues agreed. Many did not.

UX designer Joe Hass rebutted the video, exclaiming ?Almost every time I hear people with high-end titles in this field start talking about the future, my immediate response is to tell them to start by fixing the problems as they stand now.?

Lawrence O?Sullivan, a front-end architect, heartily concurred. ??I want my refrigerator to maintain temperature consistently for many years and that is all. It is enough. I don?t want everything to be connected, and risk both privacy and function due to malware or software/firmware bugs.?

A “digital fork”

Dave Meeker, an innovation strategist with Roundarch Isobar, injected a note of caution:? ?Don”t hate too much on the future ? because whether we like it or not, we might have the opportunity to interface with these types of things in the next few years, if not work with clients to shape them.?? He suggested, for example, that for one of our major healthcare clients focused on weight loss apps, we could perhaps implement a digital fork that tracks what you eat.

Serious utility aside, the thought of a ?smart fork? smacked some as the epitome of fatuousness, unleashing sardonic asides.? UX designer Bill Welense suggested ?an RFID in each slice of bread so a couple of pieces will jump in the toaster when I get 100m from my house.?

UX director Ben McNeil reminded us how ?Not too long ago, the idea of a full-color phone you could carry in your pocket and touch and type on the screen would have seemed absurd.?


The Nest Thermostat.

Bill Welense shared that his dad is ?decidedly NOT a techie,? but the Nest thermostat is the #1 item on his birthday wish.? ?The idea that it ?would learn his patterns (turn it down at night before bed, then back up in the morning) and automatically adjust the temp based on the weather forecast, sold him.? According to Bill, if a device is designed well and ?actually fulfills a non-techie?s real-world use cases,? it will sell.

Charles Crawford, UX lead and in the camp of those liking the video?s futuristic projections, opined:? ?Until recently, we”ve been designing within the constraints of having our digital interfaces embedded in some type of electronic device, be it the desktop computer, laptops or more recently, mobile devices and wearable computing. Yes, we”ve made a huge step forward in making our ways of interfacing with data more portable, but the experience is still unnatural if we look at it from the perspective of natural human interactions. We”re still analogue beings at the end of the day. Gestural and voice driven interfaces are already out there, but the next obvious step to ubiquitous computing is networked environments.?

Charles cautioned, though, ?Don”t get me wrong ? I”m not advocating for Minority Report-type scenarios, but I do believe we”re living in exciting times where it is now possible to create really unobtrusive user experiences.?

Doug Hopkins weighed back in saying, ?I don?t think the big picture thinking and near-term `we need to get a lot of smaller things right today? are mutually exclusive. It?s not an either/or proposition, but an and/both one.”

?Some of the larger themes discussed in the video go beyond smart appliances (e.g., Arab Spring, the tsunami in Japan, the way elections are changing). Those are examples of people/users taking the digital tools and frameworks available to them to communicate and share ? and connect ? in fundamentally different ways. So as much as I would personally roll my eyes at some digital `evangelist? telling me that the new RFID-enabled soda cap is going to fundamentally change people?s lives for the `Pepsi Challenge 3.0,? that isn?t what the latter portion of the video was discussing. The message was larger and more fundamental than that ? and what I thought was so compelling.?

Mark Badger, UX director, provided what seemed a perfect summarizing quote from Marshall McLuhan:? ?We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.”


Additional links that generated tangential discussions