hamburger.svg

This is the fifth in a series of six articles looking at the future of experience design for emerging technologies — including the Internet of Things, robotics, genomics / synthetic biology, and 3D printing / additive fabrication. The first three Future of Design articles were: Emerging TechnologiesGenomics and Synthetic BiologyRobotics and the IoT.

Additive fabrication—more popularly known as 3D printing—is a process of creating a three-dimensional object by printing one miniscule layer at a time, based on a computer model. This flexible technology can use a wide variety of substrates including plastic, metal, glass, and even biological material. Custom production using additive manufacturing techniques promises to disrupt many industries, from construction to food to medicine. Possibilities for this technology range from immediately practical applications such as printing new parts just-in-time to fix a broken appliance; to controversial, uncomfortable realities, including generating guns on demand; to hopeful and futuristic methods, perhaps the ability to create not just viable human tissue, but complete, working organs, which could be used in transplants or for the testing of new drugs and vaccines.

Disrupting the Construction Industry
Today, additive fabrication is already changing architecture and construction. In April 2014, WinSun, a Chinese engineering company, reported that it can construct 10 single-story homes in a day by using a specialized 3D printing technology that creates the main structure and walls using an inexpensive combination of concrete and construction waste materials.

WinSun 3D Printed House

The walls of this house were constructed using a massive construction-grade 3D printer. (Photo courtesy WinSun.)

Changing Healthcare
In the field of health, the work of roboticist Easton LaChapelle represents the change made possible by additive fabrication in medical-device prototyping and production processes. The 17-year-old wunderkind has created an ultra-light, fully functioning prosthetic arm whose parts can be 3D-printed for about $500. Traditionally manufactured prosthetic arms that are currently available can cost upward of $80,000. LaChapelle’s prosthetic arm is controlled using an EEG headset, which measures brainwaves and communicates with the arm wirelessly via Bluetooth.

At the Business Innovation Factory BIF9 conference in Providence, Rhode Island, held in September 2013, LaChapelle demonstrated his invention and discussed his amazing progression through the design and prototyping phases. The first generation of the product LaChappelle created was a robotic hand, made of Lego bricks, surgical tubing, and five servo motors. He created the second-generation robotic arm by using 3D-printed parts and a Nintendo Power Glove. Now in its third generation, the arm is made almost entirely of 3D-printed parts, and most dramatic of all, it has human strength. While LaChapelle has not made the leap from prototype to a manufacture-ready device, it’s easy to imagine the potential for disruption in the market it represents.


 

A Revolution in Prototyping
From a process standpoint, LaChappelle’s methods in designing and engineering the prosthetic demonstrate the speed at which ideas can move from a designer’s imagination to becoming something real and testable. Even though prototyping has always been a part of the designer’s toolkit, additive fabrication makes it possible to apply the same rapid and flexible process of ideation, creation, testing, validation, and iteration to physical products that used to be reserved for the realm of digital development.

Designing for Emerging Technologies
If you're interested in further exploration of this topic, check out "Designing for Emerging Technologies", coming from O'Reilly Media this December, a project on which I was honored to serve as editor. In this book, you will discover 20 essays, from designers, engineers, scientists and thinkers, exploring areas of fast-moving, ground breaking technology in desperate need of experience design — from genetic engineering to neuroscience to wearables to biohacking — and discussing frameworks and techniques they've used in the burgeoning practice area of UX for emerging technologies.

The article header image is an algortithmically generated artwork, created especially for the "Designing for Emerging Technologies" project by Seth Hunter. 

Sparse_03

This is the fourth in a series of six articles looking at the future of experience design for emerging technologies — including the Internet of Things, robotics, genomics / synthetic biology, and 3D printing / additive fabrication. The first three Future of Design articles were: Emerging TechnologiesGenomics and Synthetic Biology, and Robotics.

The IoT is popular shorthand which describes the many objects that are outfitted with sensors and communicating machine-to-machine. These objects make up our brave, new connected world. The types and numbers of these devices are growing by the day, to a possible 50 billion objects by 2020, according to the Cisco report, “The Internet of Things: How the Next Evolution of the Internet Is Changing Everything.” Inexpensive sensors providing waves of data can help us gain new insight into the places in which we live, work, and play, as well as the capabilities to influence our surroundings—passively and actively—and have our surroundings influence us. We can imagine the possibilities of a hyper-connected world in which hospitals, factories, roads, airways, offices, retail stores, and public buildings are tied together by a web of data.

In a similar fashion, when we wear these sensors on our bodies, they can become our tools for self-monitoring. Combine this capability with information delivery via Bluetooth or other communication methods and display it via flexible screens, and we have the cornerstones of a wearable technology revolution that is the natural partner and possible inheritor of our current smartphone obsession. If we consider that the systems, software, and even the objects themselves will require design input on multiple levels, we can begin to see the tremendous opportunity resident in the IoT and wearables.

Increasingly, designers will also need to be system thinkers. As we begin considering technologies like the IoT, wearables and connected environments, the design of the ecosystem will be just as important as the design of the product or service itself.

A good example of such a product is Mimo, a next-generation baby-monitoring service that goes far beyond the usual audio and video capabilities in soothing the anxieties of new parents. A startup company led by a group of MIT engineering grads called Rest Devices has created an ingenious baby “onesie.” It’s a connected product that delivers a stream of data including temperature, body position, and respiration information, ensuring that mom and dad are fully versed in the minutiae of their offspring. What at first glance might seem like the enablement of over-parenting paranoia, could, in fact, also provide valuable scientific data, particularly given that crib death or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is a phenomenon that is still not fully understood.

The Mimo baby monitor from Rest Devices

The Mimo baby monitor from Rest Devices allows parents to get real-time audio and insights about their baby’s sleep activity, on their smartphones, from anywhere in the world.

From a design perspective, a company such as Rest Devices has a range of needs typical of those startups in the budding wearable technologies industry. The onesie itself must be designed for both functional and aesthetic elements—a mixture of industrial design for the “turtle” on-body device which houses the sensor and the fashion design of the garment itself. The mobile software application that provides the data interface requires interaction design and visual design—not to mention the UX design of the total system, which must be optimized for setup and navigation by nervous parents. Whether one person or many provide these different design skills for Rest Devices, it’s clear that at every point at which people touch the technology, there is ample opportunity for the interaction to be carefully examined and optimized in relation to the entire ecosystem. In this way the Mimo is a good example of the first wave of wearable technology.

Like the Nike+ Fuelband, the Fitbit, and even the Recon heads-up ski display, these wearables represent technology embedded into the infrastructure of our lives in a way never before seen. But the magic of the consumer experience of these products is only possible through the design of a complete, and hopefully seamless, ecosystem.

Nike_Fuelband

The Nike+ Fuelband and accompanying mobile application represent a first wave of technology embedded into the infrastructure of our lives.

Designing for Emerging Technologies
If you're interested in further exploration of this topic, check out "Designing for Emerging Technologies", coming from O'Reilly Media this December, a project on which I was honored to serve as editor. In this book, you will discover 20 essays, from designers, engineers, scientists and thinkers, exploring areas of fast-moving, ground breaking technology in desperate need of experience design — from genetic engineering to neuroscience to wearables to biohacking — and discussing frameworks and techniques they've used in the burgeoning practice area of UX for emerging technologies.

The article header image is an algortithmically generated artwork, created especially for the "Designing for Emerging Technologies" project by Seth Hunter. 

Sparse_03

This is the third in a series of six articles looking at the future of experience design for emerging technologies — including the Internet of Things, robotics, genomics / synthetic biology, and 3D printing / additive fabrication. The first two articles were: The Future of Design: UX for Emerging Technologies and The Future of Design: UX for Genomics and Synthetic Biology.

More so than any other emerging technology, robotics has captured the imagination of American popular culture, especially that of the Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster. We’re entertained, enthralled, and maybe (but only slightly) alarmed by the legacy of Blade Runner, The Terminator, The Matrix and any number of lesser dystopian robotic celluloid futures. It remains to be seen if robot labor generates the kind of negative societal, economic, and political change depicted in the more pessimistic musings of our culture’s science fiction. Ensuring that it does not is a design challenge of the highest order. We must seek to guide our technology, rather than just allow it to guide us.

In the near term, robots are ideal for taking care of jobs that are repetitive, physically demanding, and potentially hazardous to humans. There are immediate, significant opportunities for using advanced robotics in energy, health, and manufacturing. Designers working in robotics will need to help identify the major challenges in these areas and seek proactive solutions — not an obvious or easy task. 

We can see an example of these major challenges in the tragic events of the Fukushima meltdown. On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors in Japan. Over the course of 24 hours, crews tried desperately to fix the reactors. However, as, one by one, the back-up safety measures failed, the fuel rods in the nuclear reactor overheated, releasing dangerous amounts of radiation into the surrounding area. As radiation levels became far too high for humans, emergency teams at the plant were unable to enter key areas to complete the tasks required for recovery. Three hundred thousand people had to be evacuated from their homes, some of whom have yet to return.

The current state of the art in robotics is not capable of surviving the hostile, high-radiation environment of a nuclear power plant meltdown and dealing with the complex tasks required to assist a recovery effort. In the aftermath of Fukushima, the Japanese government did not immediately have access to hardened, radiation-resistant robots. A few robots from American companies—tested on the modern battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq—including iRobot’s 710 Warrior and PackBot were able to survey the plant.  The potential for recovery-related tasks that can and should be handled by advanced robotics is far greater than this. However, for many reasons, spanning political, cultural, and systemic, before the Fukushima event, an investment in robotic research was never seriously considered. The meltdown was an unthinkable catastrophe, one that Japanese officials thought could never happen, and as such, it was not even acknowledged as a possible scenario for which planning was needed.

Soldier with Packbot

An explosive ordnance disposal technician with the PackBot. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jhi L. Scott. This image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 090310-N-7090S-001.

The Fukushima catastrophe inspired the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create the Robotics Challenge, the purpose of which is to accelerate technological development for robotics in the area of disaster recovery. Acknowledging the fragility of our human systems and finding resilient solutions to catastrophes—whether it’s the next super storm, earthquake, or nuclear meltdown—is a problem on which designers, engineers, and technologists should focus.

In the DARPA competition mission statement, we can see the framing of the challenge in human terms.

History has repeatedly demonstrated that humans are vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters, and there are often limitations to what we can do to help remedy these situations when they occur. Robots have the potential to be useful assistants in situations in which humans cannot safely operate, but despite the imaginings of science fiction, the actual robots of today are not yet robust enough to function in many disaster zones nor capable enough to perform the most basic tasks required to help mitigate a crisis situation. The goal of the DRC is to generate groundbreaking research and development in hardware and software that will enable future robots, in tandem with human counterparts, to perform the most hazardous activities in disaster zones, thus reducing casualties and saving lives. 

The competition, so far, has been successful in its mission to encourage innovation in advanced robotics. In the competition trials held in December 2013, robots from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and the Google-owned Japanese firm, Schaft, Inc., competed at a variety of tasks related to disaster recovery, which included driving cars, traversing difficult terrain, climbing ladders, opening doors, moving debris, cutting holes in walls, closing valves, and unreeling hoses.

Schaft Robot

The Schaft, Inc. robot completing a task in the DARPA robotics competition.

The gap between the problems we face as a species and the seemingly unlimited potential of technologies ripe for implementation begs for considered but agile design thinking and practice. Designers should be problem identifiers, not just problem solvers searching for a solution to a pre-established set of parameters.We are on the cusp of a new technological age, saddled with the problems of the previous one, demanding that as we step forward we do not make the same mistakes. To do this, we must identify the right challenges to take on: the significant and valuable ones. Because this is where emerging technologies, like robotics, can have their greatest impact.

Designing for Emerging Technologies
If you're interested in further exploration of this topic, check out "Designing for Emerging Technologies", coming from O'Reilly Media this December, a project on which I was honored to serve as editor. In this book, you will discover 20 essays, from designers, engineers, scientists and thinkers, exploring areas of fast-moving, ground breaking technology in desperate need of experience design — from genetic engineering to neuroscience to wearables to biohacking — and discussing frameworks and techniques they've used in the burgeoning practice area of UX for emerging technologies.

The article header image is an algortithmically generated artwork, created especially for the "Designing for Emerging Technologies" project by Seth Hunter. 

Sparse_02

This is the second in a series of six articles looking at the future of experience design for emerging technologies — including the Internet of Things, robotics, genomics / synthetic biology, and 3D printing / additive fabrication. The first article was The Future of Design: UX for Emerging Technologies.

The greatest design challenges of this century may not be found in the bits and bytes of the digital world, but rather in the realm of nature itself. We are only at the very beginnings of understanding what it means to modify DNA, the code of life.

In 2003, the publicly funded Human Genome Project sequenced the entirety of our DNA, providing the blueprint for building a human being at a price of $3 billion. President Clinton, announcing the working draft sequence of the Human Genome in 2000, said: “Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by human kind.”

Fast forward just over a decade, and the cost of sequencing a human genome has dropped to roughly $1,000 — an exponential reduction in price far exceeding what Moore’s Law would predict. A host of companies are racing to introduce technology to make even more rapid and inexpensive sequencing possible. With the widespread affordability of this sophisticated test quickly becoming reality, genomics can provide the map for a new wave of personalized therapies — highly targeted drugs for fighting cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other hereditary illnesses. 

Human Genome Printout

The human genome transcribed into more than a hundred volumes. Each book is a thousand pages long, written in type so tiny it can hardly be read. Photo by Russ London. License: CC-BY-SA-3.0

As with genome sequencing, the price of DNA synthesis continues to drop. It is now 25 cents per base pair or less via services like GenScript, DNA 2.0, and others. Writing the code of life is the cornerstone of the science of synthetic biology — the intentional design and engineering of biological systems — that will make incredible things possible. George Church, geneticist, Harvard professor, and perhaps the most well-known scientist in this field, in his book “Regenesis”, outlines some of the inventive solutions offered by this future potential, including bio-fuels, targeted gene therapies, and even virus-resistant human beings. In Church’s expansive vision, we see a future where humans have the capability to design and change the fabric of biology and human evolution.

A Multi-Disciplinary Approach
The challenges inherent in genomics and synthetic biology are far too great for an individual to encompass the requisite cross-domain knowledge. For this kind of work, then, the team will become paramount. It is a multi-disciplinary mix of scientists, engineers, and designers that will be best positioned to understand and leverage these technologies — and it is crucial that these creative disciplines evolve together. From such collaborations new roles will be created — perhaps we will soon see a great need for the synthetic biological systems engineer.

This cross-pollination of science, design, and engineering is already happening at organizations like the Wyss Institute at Harvard, whose mission is to develop materials and devices inspired by nature and biology. The Wyss structures itself around multi-disciplinary teams. Forward-thinking design firms are adding synthetic biology to their established practices of industrial and digital design.

As an example of this cross-pollination, in a presentation, “Life is what you make it,” given at a Friday Evening Discourse at The Royal Institution of Great Britain in London, esteemed scientist and Imperial College professor Paul Freemont described how biological design could take its cues from computer software engineering, using an abstraction hierarchy for biological design. In the design of complex systems, an abstraction hierarchy allows engineers to focus on solving the problems at hand, because they don't necessarily need to understand the complexity of the lower levels of the hierarchy. In software development, for example, engineers can code in Java or C++ and not need to understand the machine-level code that ultimately executes the program. In the coming revolution in biological design, such an abstraction hierarchy will allow bio-engineers to operate similarly. 

While programming may be an apt analogy for that manipulation of nature, there are fundamental differences between the writing of computer code and genetic code. Even if we know the outcome of the genetic code we write, the environment into which it is released is far more complex then the controlled operating system of a computer or mobile device. There is so much unknown about biological systems that prototyping and testing will be critical steps for responsible innovation. While designers won’t necessarily need to become genetic engineers to contribute to the field of synthetic biology, we’ll need to understand the materials just as deeply. 

Innovative designers like Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and Daan Roosegaarde are already incorporating synthetic biology into their forward-looking projects that run the gamut from bacteria that change color to indicate the presence of toxins in our gut, through our fecal matter to glowing trees to light our streets and highways. 

To find our way forward as designers, we must be willing to take risks — relying upon a combination of our education, experience, and intuition — which can be key to innovation. We must always keep in mind both the benefits and consequences for people using these new technologies, and be prepared for mixed results.

Light_Emitting_Tree

Studio Roosegaarde's visualization of a light-emitting tree with a bio-luminescent coating, as seen on Dezeen.com.

Designing for Emerging Technologies
If you're interested in further exploration of this topic, check out "Designing for Emerging Technologies", coming from O'Reilly Media this December, a project on which I was honored to serve as editor. In this book, you will discover 20 essays, from designers, engineers, scientists and thinkers, exploring areas of fast-moving, ground breaking technology in desperate need of experience design — from genetic engineering to neuroscience to wearables to biohacking — and discussing frameworks and techniques they've used in the burgeoning practice area of UX for emerging technologies.

The article header image is an algortithmically generated artwork, created especially for the "Designing for Emerging Technologies" project by Seth Hunter. 

Sparse

This is the first in a series of six articles looking at the future of experience design for emerging technologies — including the Internet of Things, robotics, genomics / synthetic biology, and 3D printing / additive fabrication.

Since the dawn of technology, man has had to deal with both its benefits and burdens. The fire that cooks your food, burns your hands; the mills and factories that produce your clothes, pollute your water and air; the computer that processes your data, crashes and send your mission critical records into oblivion.

The technological changes we will witness in our generation are beyond imagination. Over the next thirty years, there is little that humans can dream that we won't be able to do — from hacking our DNA, to embedding computers in our bodies, to printing replacement organs. The fantastic vision of science fiction today will become the reality of tomorrow. Similar to the Second Industrial Revolution in America — when inventions and innovations from electric power to the automobile first became prominent, experienced widespread adoption, and helped shape our modern existence — we are undergoing a period of technological advancement that will alter the way we live our lives in nearly every way.

Myo Alpha Arm and Signal

The Myo gesture control armband. Image courtesy Thalmic Labs.

As we face a future where what it means to be human will be inexorably changed, we desperately need experience design to help frame our interactions with emerging technologies that are already racing ahead of our ability to process and manage them on an emotional, ethical, and societal level. Whether we're struggling with fear and loathing in reaction to genetically altered foods, the moral issues of changing a child's traits to suit a parent's preferences, the ethics guiding battlefield robots, or the societal implications of a 150-year extended lifetime, it's abundantly clear that the future of experience design will be to envision humanity's relationship to technology and each other. 

The coming wave of technological change will make the tumult and disruption of the past decade’s digital and mobile revolutions look like a minor blip by comparison. As we look beyond the screen to the rich world of interactions and experiences that need to be designed, we need to define new areas of practice. Experience design will be a critical to tie the technology to human use and benefit. For those asking "How can we do this?" we must counter, "Why and for whose benefit?".

Rethink Robotics Baxter

Rethink Robotics Baxter enables collaborative manufacturing. Image courtesy Rethink Robotics.

How will this happen? To begin with, the boundaries between product design and engineering for software, hardware, and biotech are already blurring. Powerful technologies are creating an environment of constant change for the creative class knowledge workers. In the coming years, those who began their professional lives as industrial designers, computer engineers, user experience practitioners, scientists, and system thinkers, will find that the trajectory of their careers takes them into uncharted territory as the cross-pollination and evolution of these fields in parallel creates new possibilities for influencing humanity’s progress.

 Silk Pavillion

The Silk Pavillion, a MIT Media Lab Mediated Matter Group project, was created by thousands of silkworms guided by design software. Image by Steven Keating.

Designers have only just begun to think about the implications of emerging technologies for the human condition. We can and should be involved early with these emerging technologies as they develop, representing the human side of the equation. And while we can't anticipate all the possible outcomes, thinking about how these technologies will act within a larger ecosystem and how they might effect people in the short and long term, will be time well spent. 

While this challenge won't necessarily be taken up by or even appropriate for everyone who currently works in the various design fields, for a select few the chance to wrestle with the multivariate, sometimes incongruous inputs required to shape our human interactions with and understanding of emerging technologies, will be exactly the right opportunity.

Over the next five articles in this series, we'll look at:

  • A high level overview of the emerging technologies that will dramatically change our world in the coming decades, including the Internet of Things, robotics, synthetic biology / genomics, and 3D printing / additive manufacturing.
  • Thoughts on the evolution of the design field, as we attempt to influence, guide and shape these emerging technologies
  • Exploration of design thinking and solutions for these new areas, within the context of real world design challenges 

Designing for Emerging Technologies
If you're interested in further exploration of this topic, check out "Designing for Emerging Technologies", coming from O'Reilly Media this December, a project on which I was honored to serve as editor. In this book, you will discover 20 essays, from designers, engineers, scientists and thinkers, exploring areas of fast-moving, ground breaking technology in desperate need of experience design — from genetic engineering to neuroscience to wearables to biohacking — and discussing frameworks and techniques they've used in the burgeoning practice area of UX for emerging technologies.

The article header image is an algortithmically generated artwork, created especially for the "Designing for Emerging Technologies" project by Seth Hunter. 

Band_Horizontal

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has been a recent target of attack. From the thoughtful-but-over-the-top Huffington Post article to the recent hit piece from Vox, online publications with high visibility are taking aim at the MBTI. While some of the criticisms of the MBTI in these pieces are valid, their inflammatory conclusions are not ("totally meaningless"?!?! Really?) This divisive approach serves to create a chilling effect of embarrassment and self-doubt for the people who use tools like the MBTI to augment their journey of self-understanding.

Since 2010 I've been deeply immersed in studying behavioural aspects of the human condition. A good part of that learning has occurred in applied business tools like the MBTI. In fact, I've become certified in a variety of tools including four of the most popular: the MBTI, the DiSC, the Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), and the Hogan System. I did not get these certifications to start a consulting business and leverage the methods for cash; it was part of a massive process of learning about models of human understanding to put into my own, broader work.

What I like about methods devised for a professional environment is that they are designed for acceptance and adoption. Yes, inevitably there are people who don't want their personality to be examined. But the design of these tools is generally geared toward framing constructive and productive conversations about (depending on the tool) behaviours, skills, values, and preferences. Yes, of course people misuse them. Whether the product of a poorly administered assessment, or poor communication around the results, or treating the results as scientific truth as opposed to a guideline, or even the employer over-emphasizing the results and making foolish judgments, any attempt to characterize and make decisions about people can lead to harm. We have all heard stories of a personal vendetta, or a manager who doesn't pay close enough attention, or any other number of incompetencies. The problem in these latter examples is not the very concept and presence of managers, it is how those managers actually do their jobs. So it is with personality tools like the MBTI, tools with tremendous potential to do good, yet also hold the potential to instead do harm.

"Personality tests" have their strengths and weaknesses. In getting educated in so many methods I quickly identified patterns and problems—things I thought were more or less true, that worked better or worse. Ultimately there was no one that I liked best, even if cherry-picking aspects among them. These tools do not represent some scientific truth from on high, nor should should they be treated as such. Yet they certainly have the potential to be valuable in ways that, say, astrology (to use something compared to the MBTI) does not. This should be obvious on its face as the MBTI, for example, claims to reflect the inherent preferences that each of us has. I think we can all agree that we are each born with inherent preferences, regardless of our respective beliefs about the nature/nurture balance in who we finally become. However I think almost all of us can likewise agree that the notion that the pillars of our behaviour and personality being the product of the time of year we are born is ridiculous on its face.

The biggest problem facing our species is not global warming, the world economy, or third-world genocides. It is a lack of understanding of the self and one another. This, indeed, is the root from which the seemingly more pressing problems begin, as we ignorantly and animalistically fail to harness technology we've developed but lack the ability to responsibly use, or to harmoniously co-exist in a multinational world with over 7 billion people. While the hard sciences have enjoyed an orgy of investment, attention, and progress since Copernicus shattered the vanity of our Earth, only minimal time and effort have gone into a "science" of human understanding. One of the more notable examples is the work of Dr. Carl Jung, who was one of the primary targets of the Vox piece. So little work is being done around human understanding and, instead of trying to glean insight and grow from that work, these publications simply burn it to the ground without providing an alternative.

Now, the HuffPost piece did attempt to be constructive in mentioning the "Big Five Personality Traits," which is the scientist's proposal of a correct model for human personality. I've studied this as well, and I agree with the basic premise that, through the lens of hard science, the "Big Five" is more generally correct. The problem is that it is entirely unusable by people in their everyday lives. The "Big Five" offers five dimensions of personality traits each of which is on a continuum from most to least desirable. Very few people will be willing to accept this sort of a personality assessment. Rather than give people language to understand themselves and engage with others in a more aware and meaningful life it puts people on the defensive. As might be expected, most people are low in one or more of these measures. Some people are low in ALL of them!

I wonder how the inherently judgmental nature of the "Big Five" would translate to a professional setting? I wonder whether it could lead to productive conversations about how people work and live together? The "Big Five" may be very useful for secretly evaluating and making decisions about people, judging one more or better than the other. It may be very useful for a totalitarian government to ruthlessly structure its society around. It may be very useful for a eugenics agenda, to weed out those deemed inferior. But it offers little to help solve the biggest challenge of all: helping each of us understand ourselves, and provide a language and framework with which to navigate the complicated world that we share.

That's where the MBTI is useful. Its four binary characteristics do have a relationship to human preference and behaviour. Is it clean and perfect and "scientifically valid"? No. Is it better than simply following our ignorant human impulses, with no attempt to understand what is going on inside us, or who other people are and how they might be wired as well? Yes, yes, infinitely yes! However, instead of trying to advance the conversation, to evolve from our current generation of personality frameworks into something more complete and correct, writers choose to throw around "utterly meaningless" and "astrology" and claiming it has equivalent merit to a Buzzfeed quiz.

It is hard enough for people to feel comfortable looking at who and what they are, doing the work to understand themselves, put language around it, and feel safe engaging one another in open, honest dialog. The MBTI, for better or worse, is one of the few tools that has some degree of wide adoption and use. It is based on the ideas of Dr. Carl Jung, one of the foundational figures in the field of psychology, and has been developed over more than 70 years. Many people often have some notion of their MBTI type specifically and the model in general, even if over time it has been reduced to "I'm an E-something-something-something." By simply dropping a nuke on the MBTI and reducing it to the level of snake oil you discourage people from taking an interest in who they are. The whole activity becomes unsafe. The fact that people saw truth and insight via the MBTI framework is being used by cavalier columnists to make them feel foolish. We already feel insecure enough sharing our essential selves without the few tools doing a reasonable job at providing understandable language and concepts being reduced to a joke or humiliation.

The hard sciences use a very specific, systematic, analytical process for figuring out the world around us. There is a search for truth and fact that is seductive in its seeming promise of certainty. That is not the correct process for every endeavour; just ask people who are terminally ill how they feel about waiting for FDA approval on treatment that could save their lives. Exploring the self should be an active, ongoing process, one that at this stage in the process is seen as both experimental and emerging. There may come a time for hard science but, like the pioneers in those fields centuries ago, we must encourage openness and participation. We remain at or near the starting blocks in this endeavour and, given the complexity of who and how we are, new approaches should be encouraged to help drive toward solutions that are considered more acceptable through the traditional lens of science.

It just might be that we are afraid. It's the same fear that people often show when getting the "results" of a personality tool like the MBTI. Most of us are insecure. We are scared the rest of the world may realize us for the pretenders that we fear we actually may be. We are afraid of not measuring up to the Jones next to us. That's why the tentative efforts of tools like the MBTI to help work through questions of personality, behaviour, and preference are easy and frequent targets. Science proclaiming understanding and thus dominion over the natural world makes all of us feel a little bigger. Endeavouring to lean into deep specifics of who and what we are in some real and intentional way taps into our fears and insecurities. So it is that looking for ways to assail the modest tools that are available is so seductive and, ultimately, easy.

I believe that nothing offers greater potential to improve our world holistically, and make the most of our lives individually, than a deep understanding of ourselves and each other. It is the missing link in a world where drones fulfill orders, satellites orbit the Earth, and a majority of first-world people can go from making the decision to record a video to sharing it with a friend on the other side of the planet in under a minute. We know how to make the magic but we still don't know how to intelligently use it.

I know the MBTI isn't perfect. But the shallow criticisms being popularly made draw erroneous conclusions from incomplete information and analysis. It should be tested and it should be critiqued, but in a constructive way. There is no common language for personality. Even if the language we have now is incomplete, or imprecise, it represents building blocks toward something more comprehensive. That something isn't here yet, but we should not be cowed into stopping our exploration and attempts to learn and grow in the meantime. Bombastic—and inaccurate—attacks have just that bullying effect: to push our society farther away than it already is from the important and elusive objective of real human understanding.

Give me the author who is critical, but is looking to build and move the conversation forward. Give me the explorer who sees the urgency of human understanding and wants to help pioneer the next and better thing. Give me people with an open mind and an interest in truly understanding themselves. Of all the many things our world "needs," none is more important than this.

About Dirk Knemeyer
Dirk is a social futurist exploring the intersection between technology, society, and the human condition and a founder of Involution Studios. He has written over 100 articles for publications like Business Week, given over 50 speeches and presentations including keynotes in the United States and Europe and at venues like TEDx and South by Southwest, and served on 15 boards spanning media, healthcare, and educational organizations.

MBTI_Detail_Self_Blog

Recently on The Digital Life podcast, Involution's Jon Follett sat down with Creative Director Juhan Sonin to discuss the Health Axioms card deck and designing for behavior change.

The Health Axioms are 32 recommendations that put you in touch with habits to improve your health, life, and well-being. The sometimes surprising, always practical axioms nudge you toward the healthiest life possible. These are one small part of a global movement to shift the health care system to one of: non-invasive personal diagnostics, highly specialized clinicians that work closely with patients and their families, and self-monitoring, self-empowered patients. Getting there is equal parts smart technology, healthcare reform, and everyday common sense.

Sonin describes how personal experience launched his involvement in healthcare design and technology, when he realized that his health was not as perfect as he'd thought. Despite his own fascination with the latest gadget, however, he reminds us that simple behavior change still plays a vital part in our health. The Health Axioms "help people cut through the BS and focus on clear actionable advice that will hopefully have impact on how we interact with the healthcare system and our bodies. ... Each card has a single idea on it. One specific behavior that we should concentrate on like 'Move more,' or 'Get more sleep,' 'Take baby steps,' 'Exercise is medicine,' 'Food is medicine.'"

Juhan has distributed hundreds of decks nationally (and internationally) over the past few months and shares some of the feedback and ideas coming in, along with plans for the future (and a sneak peek at a few of the new card topics).

So, blend up that green smoothie, tie on your walking shoes, and listen while you move!

Utopia in our Pocket
Watch this presentation.

This past March, Involution's Dirk Knemeyer spoke at TEDxDenisonU as part of a series entitled “Real Utopias: From Dreams to Practice.”

In “Utopia in our Pocket” Dirk proposes that, thanks to the proliferation of the smartphone, we can start to think about radical changes that will fundamentally shift the way we live for the better. He charges his young audience to consider how they can participate in exploring and leveraging technology for truly meaningful change in our world.

About TEDx
TEDx was created in the spirit of TED's mission, "ideas worth spreading." The program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.

About Involution Studios
Involution designs and builds exceptional software for innovative and visionary companies. We deploy small and experienced teams to create applications that are highly usable and appropriately beautiful. Our client list includes Apple, AstraZeneca, McAfee, Microsoft, Oracle, PayPal, Shutterfly, and Yahoo. For more information please contact info@goinvo.com or +1 617 803 7043.

Jen stands and Dirk sits

Designer Jen Patel stands to discuss a workflow diagram, while post author Dirk Knemeyer sits deep in thought.

As far back as I can remember, when it was time for my mind to think, it was time for my body to pace.

Not just any thinking, mind you: hard thinking. When a conversation required me to incorporate important new information into my thesis, to solve new problems that at first seemed non-trivial, I was most successful and most comfortable on my feet, stalking around like a caged lion. When I was a young associate, physically dominating small meeting spaces with my movement would have been unacceptable, from a relationship-hierarchy perspective. So now, free to roam regardless of the situation, I am far happier as well as more effective.

Lately I think about my pacing in a more sophisticated way thanks to Juhan’s drum-beating about the dangers of sitting on the job. Now, for we Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers, sitting is what you do at a desk job. It is, after all, called a desk job. But with our increasing awareness of the health risks associated with sedentary work and the meteoric rise in popularity of standing desks, we’re starting to think about this differently. The problem is that the situation is framed in a binary way: sitting is bad, standing is good. Yet, that isn’t completely true. Given a choice between sitting all day and standing all day, standing is better. Yet either sitting or standing all day is bad for you. We really should be doing a lot of moving with some sitting, some standing, and some lying down.

To further complicate things, it is unlikely that any one specific posture for working produces the best results for any of us. Take my pacing example: long before anything but sitting was acceptable for knowledge work, I knew very clearly that there were some tasks for which I needed to be up and moving. At the beginning of this year I got a standing desk. Mine is the kind where you push a button to raise or lower the work surface. So, when working at or around this desk, I am going up and down depending on how my body feels and/or depending on the task at hand. Because once I tried working while standing I quickly realized that there were some tasks for which I simply needed to be sitting if I wanted to do them better or faster or both.

This analysis is purely intuitive and based on my own patterns for work, but I strongly suspect that most people, like me, would do best if they were allowed to change position and movement levels while working. Now, in truth, there is very little that I do better while simply standing. But there are many things I do as well standing as when I’m sitting and, given the health benefit of standing at least some of the time, they just make sense to do in that posture.

Designer Ben Salinas prefers to stand while working much of the time.

Over time I’ve come up with certain task characteristics that form my own criteria for deciding to stand, sit, or pace while doing. Perhaps my list will help you to think about your own relationship between work and physicality.

When I Stand

  • Tired and losing focus while sitting. Shifting to a standing position returns some crispness to my thought, at least for a time.
  • Writing something that requires very little critical thinking, such as responding to e-mail.
  • Reading or just surfing the web without a research component; that is, I have no need to take notes and use what I am consuming toward some future publication.
  • Reviewing deliverables from others that do not require really precise and careful review.
  • Playing computer games, to give my body some physical benefit when I am otherwise just wasting time.

 

When I Sit

  • Trying to do something that requires both thought and physical output, such as writing seriously or visualizing something.
  • Reading when attention to detail matters and/or I really want to enjoy it, not just consume it.
  • Carefully reviewing the work of others.

 

When I Pace

  • Deep thinking, trying to dislodge intractable problems or deal with hard/bad news.
  • Talking on the phone, so long as it does not require note taking or crisp attention to details.

 

This list is probably not complete, but it gives you a sense of the diversity of postures that are best for me in a number of different situations. Looking across them, we can distill this list into just a few simple patterns:

 

  • I stand when the work is casual or unimportant. The standing does not detract from the work itself, and is better for me physically.
  • I sit when the work requires note taking, attention to detail, and the crafting of physical output. In these cases standing would result (for me) in demonstrably inferior work so I sit instead.
  • I pace when trying to really got my mind to work at its hardest, particularly with just-introduced problems and information. I also pace while on the phone because when I’m sitting and talking on the phone I get bored and inattentive.

 

Most knowledge workers still sit all day at their jobs. For your health, if nothing else, I encourage you to get a standing desk—one that goes up and down, so you can change your posture as the moment requires—and figure out the relationship between your physical posture and activity and the best ways you work. Your body will someday thank you.

NPR Health Axioms Story

Involution's Health Axioms are grabbing the attention of the health innovation community.

NPR Health Blogger Nancy Shute posted her impressions of the Health Axioms recently in If A Picture's Worth 1,000 Words, Could It Help You Floss?

After getting her own Health Axioms in the mail — with a personal note — Shute called Involution's Juhan Sonin, one of the creative minds behind the deck. She had spread the cards on her desk at work and watched her co-workers' reactions, which ranged from "Health tarot cards!" to "But who are they for?" Not surprisingly, Sonin was frank in saying that the decks reflect a first-release "primordial ooze stage" and that he hopes to get feedback and ideas from a broad audience. Given the number of responses already posted to this one article it's clear that people want to talk about health and want to be heard.

Shute lets the cards speak for themselves by including several images from the deck, summing them up as not Crazy Eights but having their own "geeky charm," even with Manga-style illustrations reminiscent of "Soviet propaganda posters (but in a nice way)"(!) She let colleagues bring them home, reporting both delight (from a 10-year-old) and shrugs of indifference (from teens). She was puzzled by two of the axioms ("Know Your Numbers," "Who Is Your Wingman?") and demonstrates how quickly these two became worth the small effort of reading the card backs.

Read Shute's blog post. Check out the Health Axioms. Let us know your thoughts.

Learn more about/order Health Axioms.

About Involution’s Health Design Practice
For almost 10 years, Involution has been building software for health companies of every shape and size, from household names like AstraZeneca and Walgreens, to research leaders like the Personal Genome Project and Partners HealthCare. We also work with the most exciting and progressive health startups. We’ve made digital healthcare our top focus.

Click here for more blog posts!