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Designer’s guide to humans and technology – part 1

By MT McCann
Designer’s guide to humans and technology – part 1

Entering the fourth industrial revolution

I was born in 1983, so it wasn’t until my third or fourth year at secondary school before I got to experience the web properly. The sound of dial–up takes me right back to early mornings spent in the school library, trying to get online before class started. The web felt so magical then, full of unknowns and possibilities, able to reach people and learn new things in a way the Encyclopaedia Britannica just couldn’t.

My childhood was still full of outdoor play though, summers spent horsing around the garden, reading books from the town library or the excitement of a pen–pal letter getting delivered. ‘Real’ friendships were made and cherished. I remember life before and after the internet clearly.

Much has changed in 25 years. As we are on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution (Schwab, 2016), it is more important than ever as digital designers to be cognisant of how important good design and adhering to fundamental design principles matter. Great designers stand out with their passion for understanding people. They have empathy and are skilled at critical thinking and problem solving. They also have an unerring sense of positivity for solving the tough – and sometimes seemingly impossible – through design.

Researching user needs

Reyes, A. (photographer). UX | UI [digital image]. Retrieved from Unsplash.

You might think “well I only use online banking, pay with contactless and store my photos and files on my phone – I don’t really interact with technology and interfaces that much.” Wrong.

When we’re going on holiday, we’re now expected to complete our own reservations and check–in, jobs that used to be done by airline employees or travel agents. At Asda and Tesco, we’re expected to bag our own groceries and, in some supermarkets, scan our own groceries at the self–serve till. We pay at the pump at filling stations and check ourselves in at the GP surgery.

Each of these interactions has a screen that we, as humans, need to use to complete the task.

This blog is the first of three to look at how we are designing the right way for humans in this increasingly screen–enabled world.

Designing that ‘a–ha!’ or ‘wow’ moment

What is the ‘wow factor’ that our clients feel their users want and how do we design it?

Products and services that achieve that ‘wow’ or ‘a–ha’ moment for their users have not done so by a fancy, trendy UI that adopts the latest responsive frameworks and jQuery libraries. Sometimes this is what client feedback focuses on. Those moments are only created when the product or service has communicated and proved its core value to the user by successfully persuading them to use it again.

Some digital product experiences excel in solving user needs.

When you are snowed in and have to work remotely but still have that big client deadline to complete with your team, you can instantly open your Google hangout link and start collaborating with your colleagues.  

Monzo gives you an instant log of when and where you spend your hard–earned cash with a real time view of your bank balance at all times, with no fear of surprises or hidden charges. 

Just EAT allows you to place your weekly cheat meal using the app. You know exactly when to set the table and pour the drinks, as the notification pops up letting you know your food is being prepared and when it’s expected at your door.

A great design has lasting value and is the result of meeting a real user need with a combination of great aesthetics that help gain trust, building on fit–for–purpose technology constructed using scientific knowledge of how the brain works and based on user research.

In part 2 of ‘Designer’s guide to humans and technology’, we’ll look at how to design to reduce cognitive load and how users’ mental models affect our designs.

Part 3 will consider when we should be conservative or innovative in our approach.

References

Schwab, K. (2016). The Fourth Industrial Revolution. New York: Crown Business.

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