Charity, Education, Health, Other

With great power: the responsibility of digital

The importance of value-centered design and development in digital

I attended the Interact 2015 conference recently, held at the British Museum in London. Interact is a leading design conference with sessions from some of the world’s leading authorities in the fields of user experience (UX), information architecture (IA), user research and digital design. Speakers were drawn from both technology providers and brands, including Argos, Macmillan, Google and eBay.

Value-centered design and development

One of the recurring themes was the concept of value-centered design and development: finding the intersect between social needs and business profitability. In order to identify this shared value, it is extremely important for those shaping the digital world to understand where each project sits within its existing ecosystem in order for it to click into place and have the intended impact. This type of approach seemed to come as a surprise to many of my fellow delegates.

Happily for me it was less revelatory, but it really reinforced the way we already to work here at IE.

Essentially, the idea is all about ‘Lean UX’, which means putting less of an emphasis on deliverables and a greater focus on the experience being designed. As Steve Jobs once said, “You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology - not the other way around.”

The importance of non-linear problem-solving

In one of my favourite sessions of the conference, Pete Trainor argued that the way we use digital apps is changing us physically, and affecting how our brains work. The proliferation of apps that take a linear approach to problem-solving is in danger of eroding our ability to think in a non-linear way - a phenomenon known as hippocampal atrophy. 

He used the example of bus drivers versus taxi drivers - a bus driver follows the same route, solving very linear problems, whereas taxi drivers have to solve non-linear problems every day, with their route being varied and unpredictable. As a result, he says, taxi drivers tend to be smarter - certainly more able to solve a broader range of problems.

So, while creating a great experience for the user is important, we also have a responsibility to avoid making things too easy for them! Apps like Tinder, which simplifies everything down to the very binary act of swiping left or right, may actually be leading people to become addicted to their digital devices, and losing that problem-solving ability us humans are known for. Instead, we should be designing and developing apps that are involving, fun and exercise our social instincts - to stimulate the hippocampus and deliver ultimately more rewarding experiences. Pete’s TED talk on this topic is well worth a watch.

At IE, we work with organisations in charity, health and education who strive to make a difference to people’s lives. As a result, putting the customer experience first has always been a priority for us. But what I took away from the event was that, in all digital developments, we need to consider not just the short-term user experience, but also the long-term effects.

Actually, we need to create for people, not users.