Ouroboros: The Promise and Perils of Pervasive Computing

Posted by Kate Jurras on Tue, Mar 13, 2012

DustinThis is the fourth post in our UX and design blog series. Throughout the month of March we'll be featuring posts from some of Boston's most expert thought leaders, answering these questions: "How do you see the field of UX/design changing in the new technology landscape? What’s most important to know now?” This post is by Dustin DiTommaso, Experience Design Director at Mad*Pow. Dustin has spent nearly a decade chasing the perfect blend of form, function and meaning while designing mobile and social applications, multi-channel experiences, behavior change support systems and customer engagement models. His work has been recognized by Yahoo!, Macworld, MITX, New York Festivals and the Boston Phoenix.

As the speed of technologic advancement increases and we hurtle towards the singularity, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the relationships formed between people and interactive technologies. We're seeing a recent and gradual shift in user experience and interaction design constructs, from Utilitarian (functional, useful, and usable) to Meaningful (aesthetic, engaging, and emotional). This is due, in part, to the rise of pervasive computing and software use as volitional activities, and the consumer trend toward buying products that are perceived to be more pleasurable to use.

Never before has the quality of engagement with our tools and toys been more important. We can’t focus and measure UX solely in terms of task effectiveness efficiency, and end-user productivity anymore. Competence is an important human need to target and satisfy. But designers should also strive to find ways to leverage new technologies to more deeply engage, immerse, connect and satisfy needs through contexts where the lines of means and ends (or experience and outcomes) may be blurred. Methodologies to create environments that support dynamic intent and deliver value for both users and business need to be created.

We need to ask ourselves: is the motivation to engage driven by enjoyment of experience, outcomes of use or both? How might the system adapt to support these needs?

If the end-goals of interactive technologies and experience design are to improve the overall quality of life for humanity, then we also need to consider the impact our artifacts and inventions have on our global culture as a whole. At what point does ease of use, comfort and convenience begin to have a negative impact on the individual and on society? As designers and technologists dispense ubiquitous fixes for our daily annoyances, how are we, as people, reshaped? How are our habits redesigned? What are the unintended consequences of our increasingly automated world? Who's responsible for monitoring affective technologies and analyzing potential future harms?

In the meantime, as our computing systems disappear into the everyday fabric of life and our experiences with technology mature into ever more meaningful relationships, our responsibility as designers is to ensure that we think holistically to understand the higher order needs of the people we're designing for, and consider both the macro and micro effects the systems we design will have on society as a whole.