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Episode Summary

There's been much ado this week about the debut of the Microsoft HoloLens and the renewed promise of augmented reality. The vision of a digitally enhanced world, with entertainment, gaming, and work options integrated spatially into our day-to-day existence is powerful stuff. But the disappointing adoption of the first major foray into the space, with Google Glass, has left us skeptical. Will augmented reality via glass or lens be relegated to specialist applications, like health and manufacturing? Or will consumers flock to the product that gets the user experience right? In this episode of The Digital Life, we examine the UX of augmented reality and discuss the promise and potential perils of the Microsoft HoloLens.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on professional applications for the HoloLens:
If you watched the demo video for the HoloLens, there’s — for lack of a better term — a lot of and smoke and mirrors going on. Everything looks like there’s immaculate integration into your day-to-day life. But, of course, they showed the CAD software, and the gestures are immediately recognized and affecting this 3D CAD object. You just know that the experience of manipulating CAD is so intricate to begin with — having some experience designing CAD software ourselves — the gestural interactions needed to achieve that kind of interaction with CAD software is going to be very tricky to pull off. While it looks great in the HoloLens initial promo marketing video, I think there’s going to be a drop-off when it comes to the actual user experience.

Dirk on the augmented and virtual reality products:
If these were things that were brand new or original ideas that could at least be sold as a thought experiments as opposed to a product, I would respect that. But the fact is that the technology that they’re showing here is stuff that we saw in Minority Report 15 years ago — a Hollywood movie that the technology for which was dreamed up and derivated from some of the top scientists and technologists who were tasked with looking in the future and seeing what computing would look like. This is all done before. There’s nothing with Oculus Rift or Microsoft or any of these right now today that are showing us something that we haven’t seen before, in a technology conceptual manner. There’s really no bang on that side. Then, it has to be about being a real product, and it simply isn’t. It’s years, potentially many, away from being a product, and even when it is, it’s more likely to be a niche tool for certain use cases than this thing that’s strapped on your head or however it’s done when they finally get there, all day, for long period of time, in a lot of different contexts.

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Episode Summary

Health is one of just a few universal human needs: From the moment we're born to the moment we die, our health is at the forefront of our lives. Despite this inherent importance, American healthcare remains woefully out of balance.

We spend too much and get too little for our hard-earned dollars. According to a recent Medicare report, healthcare spending is projected to grow 1.1% faster than the rest of the economy during 2013- 2023, with its share of the GDP rising from 17.2% in 2012 to 19.3% in 2023. What else should we expect from a system that first prioritizes the administrative and business aspects, then clinical care, with the patient experience and patient / provider relationship placing a distant third?

The key to re-balancing the US healthcare delivery system and making progress toward reducing future costs, may lie in better understanding not its administration or even clinical care — while these both are important — but rather, the day-to-day needs of its patients. In this episode of The Digital Life, we dig into some of the challenges in designing for the patient experience.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on information overload in healthcare:
This data, which can be so intimidating, is growing even faster that we might like. Whether it’s the data that’s resident in EHRs, at hospitals and doctors’ offices, or data from our activities that we’re getting from these lovely wearables that we all seem to be wearing these days to even data that might be general population health data or, genomic data that is newly introduced into the total healthcare experience. There’s this additional thread of information overload that I think is also a factor as you’re talking about how people are able to process their healthcare experience.

Dirk on the monolithic players in healthcare:
Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s complicated. The patient experience resides inside the rat’s nest that is the health industry, and the health industry is duly yoked by the national government which is a bureaucratic fiasco, and the big insurance industry, which is a blood-sucking soulless leach on the whole deal. Solving for this stuff is really tricky because of these huge monolithic actors that inherently, their motivations are contrary to the patient experience; and that doesn’t even get into the fact that the complexity around what really is best and appropriate for an optimal patient experience isn’t just in of itself an easy thing to solve in the theoretical without those huge barriers.

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Episode Summary

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES),  after a few years flirting with irrelevance, is on the rise again, as the wild technology and gadgets from the 2015 conference captured the imagination of consumers and media pundits alike. A big and important theme of CES 2015 was the Internet of Things, with major companies like Samsung taking IoT strategy for a new connected world. In this episode of the Digital Life we discuss some of the cool tech from CES, like Intel's Curie chip, and how it relates to the IoT, wearables and the future of UX.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the future of the automobile:
I think it also introduces some interesting models that we’re beginning to see abstracted out, the idea of the sharing economy and Uber or Zipcar, where you’re less concerned with what it is you’re driving in and more concerned with the access to it. If the car becomes this "rolling technology", does it matter quite as much? As long as you have access to it, and it’s self-driving, maybe it can just show up on Uber when you need it. Maybe there are a bunch of those rolling around your neighborhood. It’s another way of looking at public transportation, certainly for those folks as well who only need cars in certain instances, but then really need them. We see that right now by having services that’ll pick up folks who don’t have their own cars and take them to doctor’s appointments or what have you. A lot of those things could be managed by software, especially if cars are self-driving.

Dirk on the growth of CES:
It’s interesting how the CES – the Consumer Electronics Show, which is what we’re talking about – how it’s evolved, where 5 years ago, the CES was on the down slope – companies were backing out of it, it was getting a lot less media coverage – because Apple was the big event in January. It’s very interesting how post-Steve Jobs and how as the Internet of Things ramp up, which are much more open and certainly they work on the Apple platform as well, but more in the PC ecosystem. The CES is on the upswing, too, and it’s getting a lot more media coverage than it was 5 years ago. It’s a lot more interesting than it was. It’s part of this whole shift back away from Apple and back to the more traditional ecosystem of computing devices.

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, the first of 2015, we discuss the design of time, and in particular, the rampant busyness of the digital age — what has been described as the time poverty of knowledge workers. It seems like the work of the digital worker is never done. Software helps users complete tasks more efficiently, but there are two sides to that coin. As we get things done, we are expected to do even more things, adding to that eternal sense of busyness. How do we separate work from play, busyness from leisure in the digital age? Join us as we explore that question.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the struggle for time management:
I struggle with this quite a bit, I think because there’s a need in my own personal cycle to be able to recharge, and I actually very much understand your approach, Dirk, in wanting to be doing something. I find actually, that sometimes my best ideas for work come when I’m unplugged and relaxing. To give you an example of that, when I took some time around the holidays I all of a sudden in the middle of whatever, a meal or something, had a bunch of ideas that I wanted to write about. I quickly ran and grabbed a notebook and wrote all those things down, but in a general sense, the intrusiveness of our communication methods, whether they are via your mobile phone or just email on your desktop or any other kinds of communication types that you can engage on now social media, video calling, all of these things, I struggle with drawing lines where those boundaries are preventative and enable me to have that personal space to unwind. While I enjoy the communication and the fast pace of things, I definitely need to not pay attention to my phone or to my email at certain times.

Dirk on the drive for efficiency in tech:
Yeah, I mean it shouldn’t be a surprise. If we go back and look at the industrial revolution and the evolution of that, from the very beginning it was about how can we do this faster? How can we do this more efficiently? How can we do this cheaper? That thinking has driven the last couple of hundred years of history. It certainly is core to technology and the way that digital technologies have evolved. The whole idea of the storage space doubling every year for example. It’s always been about bigger, better, faster, more.

We’ve created this world that is increasingly becoming full of digital technologies and it has trained all of us to be on that cycle of new phone every year, new computer every year and just always expecting more and better and not just like kind of be content with what we’ve got and the way that we’ve got it.

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Episode Summary

As we finish up 2014, it's time for a few predictions for the upcoming year. In this episode of The Digital Life we discuss the near future of drone delivery, the coming conflict in human / robot labor relations, cyborgs in society, genomic products for mass adoption, and the rise and fall mighty tech lifestyle brands like Apple. You don't want to miss our final episode of 2014 as we say "so long" to this year and explore five fascinating tech topics.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on human / robot labor relations:
My first prediction for 2015 is in the realm of robotics, which is very much an increasing technology presence in manufacturing — whether you’re talking about on the assembly line or robots that are more flexible in doing a whole variety of tasks. Amazon has robots that help with selecting things that are going to be packed in the warehouse. I think you’re going to start to see labor disputes. The first major labor dispute around robotic labor I think is going to happen in 2015. There have been hints of this already in some strikes, labor strikes in Asia where the general principles of a company are aligned with replacing humans with robot labor. There hasn’t been a direct, oh, this robot came in and took my job, all the workers are now going to be in solidarity with their other human workers, are now going to strike. I think you’re going to see that in 2015.

Dirk on the future of drone delivery:
The drones are going to be even worse, and there’s going to be less regulation, less oversight. By definition, they don’t have a local pilot. They’re going to be controlled oftentimes … Today, there’s just random citizens flying drones around. The more accepted drones become, the more pervasive they can become. There’s just going to be a lot of these little crashes. It’s not going to be epidemic. If it ever became epidemic, then it would be legislated out of existence, but it’s going to be more. There’s going to be more drone crashes injuring people than there are now single-engine plane crashes injuring people. I don’t know, for me, a lot of it, it feels unnecessary. I don’t know, it feels like something that is just being done for the benefit of the companies but not really thinking about the communities.

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Episode Summary

With the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement and consumer software upending the traditional enterprise environment, it's no surprise the enterprise user experience is becoming a hot topic for companies looking for increased productivity and a competitive advantage in their respective industries. But the user expectations generated by consumer software, the myriad of devices, and the intricacies of enterprise requirements, create a complex UX problem set that's not so easy to crack. In this episode of The Digital Life, we explore some of the issues that enterprise UX bring to the fore, consider the future landscape as software "eats the world", and discuss the skills that UX designers will need to tackle these challenges.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the need for UX design for the intermediate user in enterprise:
I think that’s an interesting theme that we’re banging on again and again, which is the idea of this mismatch between the really complex workflows and tasks, and then this idealistic sort of, “Hey. I just want to be able to immediately and intuitively know what this software does, and just be able to touch it and go without first spending a little time to adapt to this tool and to learn about it, and to go my way up the learning curve.”

I think there is definitely going to be a need for some push back to say that with complex software, even if it is a little bit more consumer-friendly on the enterprise side, with complex software, there is always going to be a learning curve, right? There is always going to be a need for the person who understands it and spends a lot of time with it, and learns how to use it in a professional setting, and that is not going to go away. I think that’s the flip side of the design coin there. We want more consumer-friendliness in our enterprise software, but there is always going to be a need for designing for the intermediate user, rather than the simple used case first time one-and-done user, which is very different.

Dirk on the challenge of designing software for the enterprise: 
The challenge for designers and other UX professionals is that, if you have been successful in designing in a consumer context or for something that’s less complex, like designing successfully in the enterprise, it’s almost like a whole different skill set. It’s almost like a whole different art because of the mammoth nature of again, the use cases and the complexity. You can’t go about the things that you’re doing the same way. You can’t look at the scale and type a nature of research the same way, the way that you architect the product and the interaction models that you consider and employ need to be thought of completely differently. So it’s a new frontier.

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the rise of voice recognition and voice user interfaces. More so than any other interface type, the VUI has the potential to be seamless and "magical". We've all used Siri, and there are plenty of VUI's for car dashboards, but what's coming down the road? From a first take on the new Amazon Echo to the future possibilities of voice services, we share our thoughts on the landscape of speech recognition.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the promise of the VUI:
I think more so than a lot of other interface types, the VUI has the potential to be this seamless interface between man and machine. I think we’re so used to the idea of touch screens now or point-and-click interfaces that we basically grew up on or you can have the controllers for your gaming systems or if you’re a coder or just an old-school computer user, maybe you’re used to the command line interface. All of these interfaces are a slight hurdle to get the information from your head into this machine, into the computer. I think more so than any of these other types, the voice user interface seems natural, seems like what you should be doing when you’re trying to convey information. Certainly, it’s what we do with each other every day. We convey information from person to person all the time just using our voice. We do all kinds of business transactions that way. We attend conferences where we learn things or go to school. Pretty much every transaction in our life has some voice element to it, with the exception of some of these other user interfaces that we use. For me, the idea that voice is going to become at least one of the next frontiers for user experience design, I find really exciting.

Dirk on the failed implementation of VUI products so far:
Oh, I don’t find it exciting at all. Yeah. I can’t jump on the happy, happy, joy, joy train with you, my friend. I’ve got two issues with it. One is that the promise of it just is never realized. I am an Apple user for the most part and I have Siri, and, I don’t know, I find that Siri screws up half-ish of the time. If I say, “John Smith,” Siri gets it. If there’s any kind of nuance or longer, more complicated stuff, it’s a shit show. I don’t even really bother with Siri anymore unless I’m driving, there’s no way I can drive and text and I’m really under some duress to have to try voice. There’s just too many fails and this is pretty close to the latest and greatest in voice recognition technology. The inability to recognize my voice, recognize my intent, and to garble it into some crap really is poor.

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Episode Summary

In this, the 80th episode of The Digital Life, Dirk Knemeyer interviews Jon Follett on the process of writing and editing "Designing for Emerging Technologies". The book, published by O'Reilly Media and available on Dec. 4, 2014, explores areas of fast-moving technology in desperate need of user experience design — from the IoT to robotics, 3D printing to wearables, neuroscience to synthetic biology, genomics and more.

To put the book together, a collection of 20 essays from some of the tech industry's top thinkers, Jon spent 16 months working with design innovators, engineers, and scientists from pioneering companies like Adaptive Path, Autodesk, Essential Design, Fjord, Google, Intel, Involution Studios, MIT Media Lab, Normative and Rethink Robotics.

In this podcast, Dirk and Jon discuss some of the behind-the-scenes thinking and decision making that went into the project.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the experience of editing a collaborative piece:
I like bringing groups of smart people together and working with them. Because fundamentally, I mean, I know very well that there is no way I could be an expert on all of these topics — whether it’s additive fabrication or synthetic biology or collaborative robotics.

What I really wanted to do was to assemble almost a cutting-edge design conference, but in a book. Bringing together all these people who would understand the framework of the conversation and then once they understood what the “call of the theme” of the conference was, provide their own perspective on it. Really, I thought having all those different perspectives even though they would not be unified by a single author … I suppose I could have gone through and interviewed all those people, might have been another way to do it.

I felt, at the time, that having those unique voices much like a conference would was probably a way to approach that, that people would appreciate. Now, during the process of doing that, there were definitely times where I said, “Wow, I didn’t realize how much work it was to put something like this together.” I’ll be honest about it. I thought it would be easier than writing some of the books that I have in the past or even contributing to a book like this. I just did not appreciate the level of involvement that the editor has in shaping a book like this.

The O’Reilly folks were fantastic. I worked with three different editors on the project while it was going through development at different times. Each one of them brought their unique take on it whether it was the beginning, where we were recruiting people; the middle, where we were honing the writing and getting the chapters to relate to each other a little bit; and then finally, when we got to the end of it, pushing everything out the door. There was another editor to do that. There were definitely different stages, different personalities, and tasks for the editorial team over at O’Reilly and then just me being naïve and thinking, “Oh, this will be less difficult than writing a book on my own,” which I was shocked. I’m one of those people that tends to dig in and hold on, so that’s what I did.

There were so many rewarding moments throughout that I think it was a good decision. Maybe my next writing project will … Maybe I’ll just try writing the whole thing myself and then not pursue one of these massive undertakings, again for, at least, a little bit.

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Episode Summary

In this week's edition of The Digital Life we examine three news stories important to user experience and our online lives: the Uber snafu over targeting critical journalists, the rising popularity of the e-book versus the tenacity of print, and the ongoing battle over net neutrality.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the user experience of the printed book:
I have a large collection of print books having come from a time when collecting books of all shapes and sizes was the thing to do — especially if you were into design or science fiction — both of which I’m into, and before the e-book even came along. I saw an interesting headline that e-books are on their way, finally to surpassing the printed books. This isn’t tomorrow, but in 2018, the way the e-book growth is happening that it’s going to supplant print as the most popular format for readers. I get that. I’ve seen how powerful the Kindle can be, and certainly you don’t want to be carting around a whole stack of books all the time especially if you’re traveling.

It does make me a little bit sad because there is a physical relation that you have with a printed page, which I really feel is lost in the e-book. While I appreciate that it’s so much more convenient, and you can carry a gigantic library basically in your pocket, I think in the long term, something is lost in the translation there.

Dirk on the battle over net neutrality:
I think signs are that it will degenerate into a red state/blue state sort of thing. Net neutrality is important. If it goes away, people are going to be really, really unhappy. Of course, they don’t realize it. Net neutrality is the wrong way to talk about it. We really need a branding expert on it to position it in a way that is more engaging and has people more aware of the perils of where this could go if it goes in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, I don’t think people are going to care or understand until it’s too late.

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Episode Summary

What role should user experience play in your organization? The answer to this question depends very much on who and what you are. Say you’re a bootstrapped startup founded by experts in technical issues and sales. You should try to get free advice and help, or maybe trade some equity for UX design, or perhaps even rely on your own intuition until you can raise some capital. On the other hand, a large software company such as Oracle or Microsoft should make user experience a key focus and investment for every business unit, and have a strong advocate and visionary in the C-suite. Between these extremes lie many different models for deploying user experience appropriately.

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss a user experience maturity model and how it relates to the current industry trend of taking UX in house.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on UX going "in house":
There are a lot of companies right now who are moving from one stage of maturity into the next stage of maturity for user experience. That is really changing — at least for the time being — how the user experience landscape is shaping up ... How talent's being distributed, really.

You see companies that want to play catch up, right. Where they know they need user experience and they need a big team right away. They don’t want to go and build it organically, so they go and acquire and entire design firm, for instance. Or you’ve got other examples of companies spending more, that sort of bring in top talent and hope that person will kind of act as a magnet for other people to build a department. I think the UX maturity is becoming a hot topic right now because there’s actually this up-leveling of many different software and non-software companies along these vectors. 

Dirk on future trends in UX maturity:
I see a few things coming. One, I see more standards and I don’t mean it by the web standards or how you might think of the word. I see the use experience and design communities more modeling what’s happening in the engineering communities where a lot of problems are already solved. There’s code that live in repositories where people are just slamming in to make stuff work. Problems are centrally solved once and then implemented broadly. It won’t be as universal just because the stuff on the design side has the need for differentiation, has the need for personality in a way that code doesn’t. Code just needs to work and be tight. If it’s really solved great once that can just be propagated everywhere. That’s not as universally true for design, but it’s somewhat true. We’ll start to see some of that. The easier problems or the problems that are more at pattern levels, instead of being basically redesigning the wheel in every company everything, will start finally to get some more patterns, some more forms in there similar to what engineers do with code.

Another thing that is potentially going to have a big impact is artificial intelligence. Recently a company called The Grid just launched for websites which is a very different beast than software or products. They launched a totally AI website generator which is pretty good. It’s pretty interesting. For my needs, I just have to much custom stuff it’s not a good fit. For the 80%, The common use case it probably is. That approach of teaching computers to build stuff and teaching computers to provide user experience solutions, that’s coming. Whether it’s making a big dent in two years or five years or ten years I’m not sure. AI is not my bag but it’s definitely a trend that will impact.

Another … The third thing I’ll mention Jon is something you and I have talked about before about emerging technologies. The complexity of product services experiences are going to go up. The much more of the creation and quote unquote user experience may shift shift to the engineers who have more of the scientific and more of the hard knowledge to deal with some of those complexities. Those are some trends that will come together to make the future of user experience maturity one that actually dove tails more into engineering which it broke away from two decades ago than it is more stand alone. It will start to becoming full circle in a certain way, which I think is really interesting and probably will be very surprising to a lot of people out there who just see UX growing in its own right in such big ways.

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