New technologies create unique challenges for designers and can make starting an unfamiliar process daunting. As designers who spend most of our lives with a glowing glass panel in front of our faces, how might we approach designing digital products with totally different interaction paradigms? Where do we even begin designing digital experiences without screens, like voice-based experiences, home automation, or radically different interfaces like immersive augmented or virtual reality?
An important first step, regardless of the medium, is to keep humans firmly at the center. A deep understanding of needs and motivations should serve as a product’s North Star. Common tools like journey maps and personas provide a nice framework to organize and provide structure, but don’t let that fool you—the tool is not the point. We must generate actionable insights to meet real, felt human needs. To get started, ask these five questions as you design:
Who is this person, really?
It is tempting to create personas based on demographics—life stage or gender can serve as a familiar viewpoint from which we draw. But doing so can devolve into stereotypes, biases, and false assumptions that cloud the true user intents. It’s crucial that we resist this outcome by diving deeper—searching for patterns in data to aid in developing behavior-based personas. Once a pattern is found, we must dive deeper to discover the true intent. For example, why might one set of users call multiple times in a given month? Why might a group drop off at this same point in the process? These patterns give clues to the core needs of the people we are serving.
Key: Meet the person where they truly are, and ensure they feel seen and understood.
What triggered this interaction?
How did the person get here, and what do they care about? For example, with a phone-based voice experience, what was the event that triggered the call? What will they have done just before this? What will they do just after? What is their emotional state, and how might you meet them where they are? Journey mapping can help here, marking each step in this process, calling out actions, emotions, friction points, and design considerations.
Key: Match the tone and emotion of the moment, and leave them feeling valued and with a resolution.
What’s the scenario where they will be using this?
Context of usage is important, especially for emerging technologies. What does the room look like where they slip on their headset? Will they be alone, or will others be around? For a voice-based experience, will they be at their kitchen table with a paper and pencil? Will they be multitasking with their laptop? Will they be in their car? Will there be background noise? Such details will help with the immediate design need, but also consider the implications of introducing an emerging technology into the life of a user or enterprise. How can we think about ecosystems as opposed to devices? What other enablement tools and practices should be anticipated, if any?
Key: Understand the usage context to design for the moment, but also think about the future it creates.
What is the deep-seated need that this will fulfill?
For someone engaging with this emerging technology, is it a novelty for them, or are they trying to solve a core problem in their lives? Is this process standing in the way between them and peace? Fulfillment? Is Will successfully navigating help them feel better about themselves? Will it trigger a dopamine hit? As designers, it is important to dream the user’s dreams in order to arrive at the right solution, leading to viable innovation.
Key: Keep asking “why” until you get to the core emotional need of the interaction.
What is unique about this technology’s ability to fulfill felt needs?
We must leverage new technologies without the technology itself driving product and design decisions. Keep digging until you find the true value the technology can bring your user. Can an immersive experience create a new connection to the content? Can it deliver on the user’s needs more quickly and effectively? How about the other side of the coin—could a simpler technology actually deliver for the user faster? Don’t be afraid to question the core assumption that the technology is worth designing for.
Key: Leverage technology to serve a need, but avoid the “novelty trap”.
Designing for emerging technologies can be exciting and challenging but staying human-centered can anchor experiences in user value. This series of posts will discuss how we think about design for emerging technologies. In our next posts, we will be diving into more about learnings from creating voice-based experiences.