User Experiences That Changed Where I Spend My Money

Lots of people think about Human-Computer Interaction as something that just adds a thin veil of “prettiness” on top of existing services — something that you worry about once you have the novel tech working, if there’s time. But, actually HCI is about conceiving and creating a user experience. HCI can help you decide what you should actually build, not just how it should look. And that’s not just a veneer, it really changes what people do. I wanted to share four user experiences that changed where I spend my money.

Tracking my pizza? That's a game-changer right there!

Tracking my pizza? That’s a game-changer right there!

Domino’s online ordering system:  While taste-wise, Domino’s pizza is basically the same as Papa John’s or other competitors, their ordering interface keeps me coming back again and again. I love being able to see the stage of my pizza’s creation, I love being able to see the name of the person working on my pie, and I LOVE being able to send an encouragement to the team like “You are my pizza heroes!” Honestly, I don’t even know if they see those, but just the experience of being able to think about my pizza-providers as real people with names and motivations changes my relationship to my pizza!

Dropbox helps me "cloudify"  other programs and removes the step of uploading the most recent copy of my CV.

Dropbox helps me “cloudify” other programs and removes the step of uploading the most recent copy of my CV.

Dropbox: Dropbox was the original cloud-storage service that worked right inside my file system. There are so many things I love about this approach. First of all, because I can now just put any program folder into the Dropbox hierarchy, I can easily “cloudify” all sorts of programs such as my Zotero library and my Eclipse workspace. Many of these now provide their own storage options, but it’s so much easier to just use one service for all of my storage needs! Also, I love the “public folder” that lets me have public links to certain documents. I keep my CV there so I get to skip the step of uploading it to this page every time something changes. Now, other services, like Google Drive provide similar applications and ways of interacting with my data, but Dropbox was the original, so they still have my loyalty and moneys.

amazonprime_hybrid._V164021527_ Amazon Prime: provides free 2-day shipping and online content for an annual fee. I’m usually very resistant to anything that has a recurring fee, but I gave in to Amazon Prime because I order enough stuff online for work alone to make it worthwhile. Now, I’m finding myself buying things online that I’ve never bought before. Tahini for my homemade hummus? Easier to find online than in the store. The latest season of Downton Abbey? Well, since I saw the last two seasons for free on Prime and I REALLY need to know what happens next… The combination of the UX idea of 1-Click shopping (okay, I agree that it’s not really a fair thing for them to patent, but it’s still a good idea) and the business idea of free online content / free shipping really changed how and what I buy online.

imagesDepositing checks through a mobile phone: The first bank to offer online check deposits was USAA, but many others soon followed. Today, it is simply a non-negotiable banking need for me. I will not bank with any bank that doesn’t let me do that. PayPal is particularly a leader in online handling of money, supporting easy transfer of money between individuals (say, to pay my share of the rent), depositing checks online, and paying for just about anything. Since I don’t actually pay them for these services, they don’t fit with the theme of this blog. But, I bank with Ally and ING specifically because both of them support online deposits and that IS a way that the experience of being able to deposit checks through my phone has changed where I put my money.

What all of these transformative user experiences share in common is that they’re not about “usability” or color of the buttons or layout of the page or anything else that can be A/B tested. They are about combining common technological capabilities (none of these are cutting-edge technology) and good business practices in a way that supports me in how I already do thing (Dropbox, Mobile Check Deposit) and how I don’t even know yet I want to be doing things (Amazon Prime, Domino’s Pizza). And that’s what HCI is actually all about, whether in your company it goes by the name of design, marketing, or UX.

Seeing The Future

Last weekend, I went to Disneyland for the first time. I totally see why my GT advisor is obsessed with it! But, the least impressive part of the experience for me was visiting the Innoventions exhibit which supposedly showcases the future of home, work, and play. Compared to the creativity of the rest of the park, the ideas presented there were incredibly stale. Apparently, the future is going to have videogames and digital photo displays *YAWN.* But, being there did get me to start reflecting on what I expected to see there. Could I design a showcase of the future that wouldn’t get outdated and silly in a few years’ time?

Crappy remotes and digital photo frames are two examples of underwhelming future technologies displayed in Innoventions.

Crappy remotes and digital photo frames are two examples of underwhelming future technologies displayed in Innoventions.

I read a lot of science fiction, but I find that more recent stories don’t even try to make a serious attempt at predicting the future. Others agree. Paul Kincaid wrote a long essay about the changes in how fiction tries to predict the future, saying: “we began to feel that the present was changing too rapidly for us to keep up with … things happen as if by magic … or else things are so different that there is no connection with the experiences and perceptions of our present.” So, even science fiction writers now find it difficult to consider what the future may look like. Do I have any hope?

As an innovator, it is my job to see the future. I am frequently asked what will be the next big thing in ten years and that question is getting increasingly difficult to answer. Even deciding between alternatives is difficult: will the future be all about viewing reality through ocular displays or will it be about augmenting the environment with ubiquitously-available projection? Well, my answer to everything is “both.” I think most of the technologies that are currently in innovation cradles will have a place in the future as they mature and find an appropriate niche. Self-driving cars or better ways to commute through public transportation? Both! Extremely accurate audio input or brain-computer interfaces? Both! More lo-fi text-based communication or high-def holographic projection conferencing? Both! Better ways to collaborate remotely or better opportunities to collaborate in-person? Both!

When the task is to design something for “three years from now,” I begin by looking at how people currently approach a specific challenge and design to do the same thing better, faster, stronger. I think that method doesn’t work as well for designing for ten years from now, because the challenges people face change as quickly as available technologies do. Designing for ten years from now requires envisioning the infrastructure and complex ecosystem of other technologies that will be available in the future. What has worked for me most recently is assuming that a nascent technology will be common place, creating such an environment in the lab, and working closely with a group of participants to help them envision the challenges and opportunities that they may face in that future environment. What would people do if anything could become a display? What would people do if they no longer had to worry about driving themselves from place to place? What would people do if they could easily connect with anybody in the world? Start designing for that future now.