World Usability Day conferences take place in many cities all over the world, but the one I personally appreciate most is WUD Silesia. What I really like about it is the selection of speakers from different disciplines which gives the wider point of view on the subject. This time the main theme was: “Unexpected outcome. An impact on the state of the human - yesterday, today, tomorrow”.
The world we live in is constantly changing by new ideas. We as product creators, are involved in this process but can we predict what would happen when our product is launched? Let’s take Facebook as an example. Could Mark Zuckerberg imagine that the social network, for which the first goal was to play in “Hot or not”, a few years later will be a tool for born in Syria political activist Ala'a Basatneh? Thanks to Facebook’s features Alla’a was able to coordinate protests in Siria sitting in her apartment in Chicago. A silly game evolved in the biggest social network and played a significant role in the Arab Spring. That is the proof that we have limited control over how users will use the products we created. On WUD Silesia this subject was presented from different perspectives.
Photo: Kinga Gołąbek
Workshops: a new vision of WUDzisław
I was really honored when I was asked to conduct one of the workshop sessions during this year edition of WUD Silesia especially because Merix has already carried one of them in November and most of all - it touched such an intriguing subject. This year organizers prepared a common theme for all workshop sessions. We were supposed to work on the city of the future vision. For this purpose, they had created a fictional city of WUDzisław - a highly developed place with a lot of modern technology and solutions.
The goal of my workshop was to create a new vision for the WUDzisław concerning the longevity of citizens. Participants worked on the fictional personas of WUDzisław’s residents who were consultants for the R&D department. As a benchmark, they could use a case of the Italian village Campodimele - the village of Eternity. Campodimelians are known from their good health and long life.
Workshops were divided into two parts. The first was focused on the new vision of the city, goals to achieve and solutions that can lead us to reach those goals. The second part was dedicated to the possible results of the change in the City.
The main conclusion after the analysis of given material and discussion was that WUDzisław’s residents need more contact with humans than with machines, touchscreens, and artificial intelligence. Technology created a wider distance between people.
The outdated vision of WUDzisław:
I want to live in this city because it provides excellent service and technology.
The new vision of WUDzisław:
I want to live in this city because I need people and they are already here.
Photo: Kinga Gołąbek
Consequences of success
How to approach this? By giving them more occasions to spend time together. In Campodimele one of the reasons why people live longer is that they actively spent time and do things together (harvesting olives, picking fruits). People who live in WUDzisław will have plenty of time and events to meet, have fun and be active. Here are some of the participant's ideas:
- Less working hours;
- Grants for organizations which can organize events in the city; participatory budget; gamification;
- Many different campaigns: in schools, universities, health events;
- Internet portal for events;
- Club rooms for people where they could spend time and cook with others; chill zones;
- City gardens where people can grow vegetables together.
So what would happen if we succeed? Some results are easy to predict: over-population, extended income from tourism, lower spendings on the healthcare, higher average lifespan, etc. But how to predict what is unexpected? Participants used both fictional and real characters to think how those individuals could possibly use the advantages of the WUDzisław for themselves and what impact on the city they can have. In that way, they find out less obvious scenarios. For example, if the Super Hero would visit a city and tried to rescue people in so overcrowded environment, he will make some damage. This led to the conclusion that in such a city there might be a problem with order and tidiness.
The main risk with the higher possibility to occur is the creation of social ghetto and isolation. People who live in such good conditions might have a bigger ego and try to isolate from others. The less possible but with a high impact is a risk of replacing people of WUDzidzław with Artificial Intelligence because such society could be easily manipulated. The last task in the workshop session was to find solutions to change the worst scenarios.
An impact on the human condition
The problem of lack of time and less contact with real people was mentioned a few times during the whole event. Everett McKay was talking about the paradox of our times: Humankind created solutions to save time, but the more technology we own the less of it we have. We are constantly distracted by notifications sent by social media, and in a result, we constantly check news and statuses. Everett McKay established “The UX Design Code of Ethics” which is based on his experience, observations, and outcome from his workshop session. It includes, for example, things we should respect when designing a product or service, like user’s time (don’t waste it!), his/her focus (don’t interrupt or distract - especially when driving, no badge spam), and choice (help him make informed decisions, right to opt-in instead of opt-out).
We reached the point where we are looking for a solution that will protect us from those distractions. Everett also predicts:
In the future, respecting users will be the ultimate competitive feature
A very similar conclusion was made by Weronika Rochacka-Gagliardi, who gave an example of such solution that respects user’s time: Mudita, a new mobile phone that protects user’s right to be present in real life. Weronika was also speaking about the history of the design and the current state where products are redesigned just to sell more and more instead of giving the real new value for the user. She called it a Vicious Circle. For example, the first smartphone made a difference in our lives, but new models don’t (apart from the balance on the bank account). Paweł Nowak gave another good example of a revolutionary product: a car. Probably no one could think how this invention will change the infrastructure, the industry, our daily routine, etc. Even the inventor Henry Ford.
Tools to work with unknowns
Is there anything that we can do to foresee the outcome of the project? For sure we are unable to predict everything, but Tom Gilb believes that we can prepare better with proper planning, risk evaluation and collecting feedback from stakeholders. Maybe we should even talk about the Stakeholder Experience instead of User Experience? Agata Nowak and Katarzyna Drożdżal presented a new tool to discover crypto values that should help you find the right value proposition. Users very often say one thing and do another. Girls designed new canvas that might be helpful during research.
Where are we going?
But do we really need to worry about the technology impact on the humankind? Łukasz Lamża had a controversial point on view. His speech was titled “We, the people, don’t have an idea what we are doing. And that’s fine.” Everything had begun with the big hiss, (which is a better visualization of the big bang). This hiss evolved into space and our planet. All that we know comes from it. Nobody planned it. It just happened. What if humankind is on the risk of extinction? Is it tragic? Or maybe our extinction will bring something new, more interesting than humans and all things related to us?
Kate Sedwell believes that helping human beings is worth the effort. She introduced us Displacement: Uncertain Journeys - an art project that has a goal to gain more attention to the problem of displacement of people. Every year millions of people are forced to leave their hometowns or villages because of disasters and the impacts of climate change. You can learn about the scale of the problem from this map. The idea behind the project is to influence international policymaking through collaboration with different artists, exhibitions, public events, installations, etc. Artwork can be a tool to convince decision-makers, authorities and common people to make changes, improve legal protection and reduce the number of people who need to leave homes.
During the whole conference, we could play with installations designed and made by organizers to make us think about the results of some ideas and side effects of projects. Did you know that sticky notes were created accidentally during the work on the super strong glue?
The workshops and talks didn’t give us direct answers to the question of how to deal with the unexpected outcome but they made us more aware of the product creator’s impact on the future and human fate.
See you there next year!