Jeremy Keith writes:

Convenience. Ease of use. Seamlessness.

On the face of it, these all seem like desirable traits in digital and physical products alike. But they come at a price. When we design, we try to do the work so that the user doesn’t have to. We do the thinking so the user doesn’t have to. Don’t make the user think. But taken too far, that mindset becomes dangerous.

Marshall McLuhan said that every extension is also an amputution. As we augment the abilities of people to accomplish their tasks, we should be careful not to needlessly curtail what they can do:

Here we are, a society hell bent on extending our reach through phones, through computers, through “seamless integration” and yet all along the way we’re unwittingly losing perhaps as much as we gain. The mediums we create are built to carry out specific tasks efficiently, but by doing so they have a tendency to restrict our options for accomplishing that task by other means. We begin to learn the “One” way to do it, when in fact there are infinite ways. The medium begins to restrict our thinking, our imagination, our potential.

The idea of “seamlessness” as a desirable trait in what we design is one that bothers me. Technology has seams. By hiding those seams, we may think we are helping the end user, but we are also making a conscience choice to deceive them (or at least restrict what they can do).

Hmm…food for thought, but perhaps along the same line of reasoning as “Is Google making us stupid?”

I do see Jeremy’s point, but if we treat technology as tool that helps the user achieve his goals, “seamlessness” just becomes the grease that makes achieving that goal a whole lot quicker.

Via: Adactio

As you may know from our last post, we worked with ETPL (the technology transfer arm of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research in Singapore) to develop 10 wearable prototypes for the Next to the Skin Technology Showcase.

What was notable in this program was not just the 10 meaningful wearable solutions, it was also how design was integrated as a strategic activity in the formation of the program, the way it was run, and the value the program offered the business.

ETPL-Design-Thinking-Bootcamp

We kicked off this Design Led Innovation program with a 3-day Design Thinking Boot Camp where teams of investors, designers, engineers, scientists, technologists and commercialization people got together to create a shared vision of what the future of Wearables could be.

A_STAR Workshop Observation Card

We also got the scientists out of their lab and into the field to observe or speak to humans doing what they do best. We gave the participants one of our Design Thinking Tools, the Observation Card, and showed them how to be amateur ethnographers for a week.

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Through this ethnographic activity, we manage to get the scientists and technologists in our teams to shift their thinking from one that is technology driven, to one that is user centered and focused on how their customers would experience the benefits of their technology.

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After that, it was a design implementation activity where we worked with the core team, the scientists, and external industry experts to fine-tune the design of the 10 wearable propositions. It was a fully iterative process filled with mad scurrying and sleepless nights. Luckily we had Apples and chips to keep us sane!

Anyways, this short video pretty much documents the process of how we did it. Do have a look and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below?


Can’t see the video above? Check it out here on YouTube.

Stay tuned to our website for the full case study where we will be showcasing the complete project and the deliverables soon.

Next to the skin-final

I’m super excited to share that tomorrow marks the launch of one of the biggest projects we have led and worked on to date. In partnership with ETPL, we brought to life The Next to the Skin Technology Showcase where in 8 weeks, we worked with multidisciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, and members from ETPL (the technology transfer arm of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore) to visualize the future of wearable solutions from the eyes of the consumer.

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The result? 10 functional wearable prototypes that are driven by customer insights and underpinned by patented technology. This is Design Led Innovation at its best.

Kicking off the program with a 3 Day Design Thinking bootcamp, the teams rapidly connected data points created from consumer needs, business opportunities, future trends, and technology building blocks to create meaningful wearable propositions.

From then it was an extremely quick iterative process where our team of industrial designers came in to visualize what these propositions could be. After that, it was a close collaboration with the engineers to bring the designs to life as working prototypes.

The 10 designs will be exhibited at Startup Asia Singapore 2014 from tomorrow. However, the exhibition will be open to the public on the 8th of May 2014 from 3.30pm onwards.

Finally, if you are interested to learn more about the designs, do sign up for the free showcase after the public viewing at 6.45pm.

Startup-asia

PS: Do stay tuned for the full case study, videos and possibly daily photo updates!

In the recent months two significant technological driven disruptive events have happen that could bring about the downfall of two of Singapore’s largest corporations. Singtel, or Singapore Telecoms, is the first and biggest Telco (they own all the infrastructure) and Comfort one of the largest taxi operators in this island nation.

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SingTel’s Chua Sock Koong. Photo: Bloomberg

Singtel chief executive Chua Sock Koong, at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, has called on regulators to give Telcos like Optus the right to charge or the use of Apps like WhatsApp and Skype on their networks. [Source]

Not only has this got the majority of their customers fuming mad (customers already pay for bandwidth), the company had to do release a statement to clarify that despite what the CEO said they were not going to do it. [Source]

Unfortunately the damage has already been done, particularly when you look at it from the point of view that WhatsApp leverage on SingTel’s network for “free”, and through this, Facebook bought them for USD $19 Billion.

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Image Source: TechInAsia

More recently, the GrabTaxi App is going to do the same thing that WhatsApp did but to the taxi operators here in Singapore.

For too long, Comfort has relied on its market dominance and has stagnated in improving its services. The usefulness of its electronic terminals (developed in the early 2000s by ST Electronics and running Windows CE) for bookings is probably at an end.

The arrival of GrabTaxi has quickly shown how outdated parts of Comfort’s business model are. Seldom have I seen a market so quickly disrupted. To survive and thrive, Comfort needs to refocus on its core business, that of leasing cabs to drivers.

It needs to compete on offering better rental rates to drivers, and on providing cabs that are more reliable than other operators’. This means, among other things, a reversal of its policy of hollowing out its maintenance crew, which has seen an inexorable replacement of experienced local mechanics with cheaper foreign labour, and which many drivers have complained about.

[Source]

It’s not about just focusing on their core business, but it’s also about listening and understanding the needs of their customers. GrabTaxi is shifting the power dynamics from the Taxi operators back to the Taxi drivers (who just want their fares quick) and most importantly to the customers (who just want to get to their destination as soon as possible).

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This is two great reasons why companies, particular those invested in infrastructure and systems, need to take a customer centric approach to running their business and innovation. Both Singtel and Comfort need to move away from the thinking that they are infrastructure providers or owners to providing customer experiences.

For Singtel, it is all about ensuring people can stay in touch in the most efficient and low cost manner. For Comfort is about getting people to their destinations above all else.

In both cases the companies were so preoccupied with running their organization and business they forgotten their real value to their customers.

The amazing thing was that these technologies like WhatsApp or Skype (and even to a certain extent GrabTaxi) have been around for ages. Had they listen to their customers (in all cases people were already yelling at them) they would have been sensitive to it and with all their resources could have easily developed their own competing product.

So Innovate or Die, or perhaps in this case, they better buy these companies that make these Apps as soon as possible.

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