Art and Technology
January 10th 2017
A lot of what we saw this year at CES was more VR headsets, better drones, and the smart home sitting on the backburner in favor of AI’s designed for home use.
In our studio back in NY, we were happy to find a Meural waiting at our door after getting back from Las Vegas. A project we worked on a bit over a year ago, Meural still breaths fresh air into a stale gadget-centric marketplace.
A passive device, Meural is an art frame that goes far beyond the digital picture frame you bought your dad for Christmas circa 2010. The user perception of the product was very important to master due to the low-res quality of the previously described product. That meant the highest resolution matte screen on the market. We also wanted to make sure the frame fit in with other artwork on the users wall. This meant two things: attention to material and craft of the physical frame, and a light sensor that would automatically dim the screen to mimic natural sunlight on a painting. Because matching other frames on the wall was a key design deliverable, it was obvious early on that we would not want any visible buttons on the frame.
Thus began the most exciting part of the project: designing gesture controlled UX! The team really valued the idea of Meural being a portal into a world of fine art. We wanted to subtly mimic the museum experience of exploring curated collections and offering information about artworks. Additionally, this experience needed to be accomplished using close-range intuitive gesture control. Overall we are really happy with the end result! Check it out for yourself at www.meural.com .
Go Gadget Go
december 8th, 2016
Gadgets are cool and constantly getting better but there is still something critical that seems to be missing. None of these gadgets are working together and this is making it increasingly difficult for consumers to keep track of, monitor and connect all of the devices. Unfortunately, the race to get a product to market is often detrimental to the brand. Too many companies are rushing to put out a new wearable which results in a less than ideal user experience, or worse, the product needing to be recalled.
We are starting to see consumers pull back on what they are willing to buy or “invest” in (Hello Kickstarter!). Companies like GoPro struggle to keep customers coming back for more. FitBit sells a customer one tracker which falls out of use after the first couple months – or worse, never makes it out of the box. We won’t even get into FitBit acquiring Pebble.
Why is this happening? Didn’t Wired say we were in the midst of a gadget renaissance?! My theory is that people are finally becoming more critical of the value products offer. Does a FitBit actually track steps better than an app on your phone? And how much do you actually care about those steps? Are you learning anything or bettering your quality of life in any form?
As designers it is our responsibility to think about the impact of our products, not only to the user but to the environment. Is there a true benefit to releasing 7 flagship phone in one year? Probably not. And the impact of the production, distribution and waste is huge. Let’s work towards making tech a bit more conscious and stop pushing gadgets for the sake of new gadgets.
Designing for an Evolving Behavior
November 28th, 2016
As we browse Cyber Monday deals over a turkey and stuffing sandwich this first Monday back at work, it’s clear people are getting into the holiday spirit. Last year everyone wanted a no-brand hoverboard. This year what will it be? Is there a defining Christmas wish list item? We like to think that it’s wireless earbuds. Since the announcement of the Apple AirPods, wireless earbuds have gone from tech nerd to slightly more mainstream. Emphasis on the slightly. While many people seemed shocked at the $159 price tag on the AirPods, Apple’s entry into the wireless earbuds market is both expected and useful in pushing the technology into the mainstream.
One of the biggest challenges facing the wireless earbud market is user expectations. Too few people make the connection that smaller devices mean less room for hardware. Expectations are high and space is limited when one starts designing a “hearable”. We believe that the best road to success is to prioritize what matters most to the consumer. What are people most concerned about? Losing something so small. Skybuds fall on the smaller end of the Bluetooth earbud spectrum but they provide a secure fit with a “twist and lock” method. While all competitors offer the same charge life (4 hours), Skybuds rapidly recharges buds in the Skydock which provides up to 24 hours of use.
While Bluetooth is by no means a new technology, it is important to note that pairing is by far the number 1 most common problem concerning smart devices. It was important that the pairing process was simple, efficient and also visual. The connected app provides visual pairing instructions and feedback in real time.
Check out Skybuds for yourself at Best Buy or at www.Skybuds.com.
Lessons in Enlightened Empathy
october 24th, 2016
We all know the basics of human-centered design at this point. It’s largely accepted that in order to create a positive user experience, it is often necessary to remove yourself from the process and allow others to give you that feedback. While we all know it, it is practiced far less than it should. Often times designers are forced to look at projects in a linear format. While this often has to do with billing clients, meeting milestones and trying to push a product to market as quickly as possible, we as designers should be continuously engaging with lead users as we reiterate and refine ideas.
Too often we walk down a single road to far. This creates bottlenecks in the process, resulting in more time spent correcting mistakes made early on rather than asking questions and testing concepts continuously. It is critical to listen to your early adopters. They bring insights that you as they designer and thinker can easily overlook or overthink. What is simple to your team is often not as clear to people who don’t speak the (design) language. Your user wants a product, a tool, a resource and as the designer, it is our job to provide that as honestly as we can. So often we hear the phrases “maker”, “thinker”, “doer” but don’t forget there is a fourth attribute of the designer: Observer.
An old Native American proverb says, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” As designers, we need to walk in their moccasins but also watch them walk. Do they lace them or slip them on? Are they left at the door or worn around the house? These behavioral intricacies are what lead to insights that produce great user experiences.
Tailoring VR Experiences
October 17th, 2016
VR is hands down awesome. As soon as we got our hands on an HTC Vive headset it was better than every other experience we had tried. After prodding around the built-in apps, it became clear very quickly that the hardware lends itself to specific kinds of experiences.
While we can’t argue that the HTC Vive is a thrilling peek into the future, being limited to the hand controllers was frustrating. So was being tethered to a computer.
We asked ourselves (over way too many dumplings), what would make this better? How can we make the experience feel more seamless.
This led to some fun (and goofy) “weapons” we created out of random bits and pieces we found laying around the workshop.
The Complexities of Human Emotion
October 10th, 2016
Artificial intelligence is one of the key technologies that we’re interested in as we get closer to 2017. Alexa has been more successful than anyone anticipated and becuase of that, voice control is becoming a more accepted behavior. We are becoming more familiar with these types of informational-based interactions but it is still far from a good expereince.
In China there is a bot named Xiaoice whose interactions are modeled after a 17-year-old girl. The result? Unpredictability. Unlike Alexa, whom you can count on to loyally recite wikipedia information back to you, Xiaoice might get annoyed at your for talking about missing your ex-girlfriend so much. I have to admit, while Alexa is cool, her answers are often long winded and I’ve moved on to some other thought before she even finishes responding.
This brings up some interesting questions about the emerging home robot market. While task-driven robots may not require high-level intelligence, this becomes increasingly important for robots tasked with taking care of actual people like babies and the elderly. What will happen when robots can not pick up on the suble nuances of a depressed person? Or of a patient who has secretely stopped taking their medication? As we look to the future of consumer level robots we must look to the lead user and design AI to work within the complexities of human emotion.