Technological Innovation: Bringing UX Back To Our Senses

A technological a innovation graphic.

In 2021, delivering superior user experience depends on a combination of creative thinking and researched intuition on technological innovation.

It would behoove user experience (UX) designers to understand the implementations and limitations of progressive design trends in augmented reality, virtual reality, and every reality in between.  But understanding what’s happening, or what’s going to happen can’t be quantified with robust quality in the mind of a designer unless they understand its history, and why that history is sometimes more important than the technology itself. 

Computerized facial recognition was first pioneered in the 1960s with Woody Bledsoe, Helen Chan Wolf, and Charles Bisson for an unnamed intelligence agency, thusly rendering most of their work unpublished.  Preceding this amazing technological innovation was, of course, voice recognition, starting with “Audrey,” the first voice recognition software established in the 1950s, by Bell Laboratories.   

But these technologies didn’t permeate society until much later, nor were they very useful in their inception (as most new technology isn’t until a purpose is defined or invented). The unnamed intelligence agency who funded the first facial recognition software was only able to achieve the basics of telling a computer what a face looks like, how it’s mathematically broken down, and how to read said faces in multiple poses. This ultimately solved zero problems within the social climate at that time, adding not a stitch to the social fabric. 

The voice recognition software “Audrey,” when spoken to, could only understand the numbers “one” through “nine” and was meant to facilitate dictation for transcribers at the time. But lo and behold, these technologies were tabled for decades until newer, more capable companies emerged in their wake to take these ideas and run with them. Technology as it were, is invented, written, produced, and sold into human consumption along with all of the human problems that have yet to be solved. And the most common trend in problem-solving, again, ropes back around to the mothers of invention: boredom, need, want, and creativity. All of which are driven by intuition. 

As designers, intuition (or “assumption” as some prickly designers might refer to it) is a known nemesis. To technologists, software-to-user intuition is a goal.  So where does this leave us, as designers? As readers peruse these words, tech giants Samsung and Apple are racing to perfect the release of their first iterations of AR glasses that will bring the workplace, the classroom, and any other environments to life to wherever the user stands. These, in conjunction, are just one example in pertaining to the implementation of how hand movements, eye gestures, voice commands, facial expressions are all being bred into our technology. We can speak to it intuitively whilst we raise the bar of our expectations of technology with every release cycle to speak back to us in the language that we understand: intuition. Mind you, intuition addressed in technology over half a century ago. 

Intuition, especially functional intuition means different things to different people. Your intuition to switch lanes in traffic might be counterintuitive to the driver next to you. Picking up your pencil for the first time using your left hand is counterintuitive to someone who picked up their pencil with the right.

Taking into account what intuition means on an individual level is what makes design so exciting, and why research is so important. Discovering these things will help you in knowing how far “common” intuition stretches across demographics and psychographics; otherwise, you’re left assuming the whole world is dominant on one side, drives one type of car, and has no physical or mental handicap(s) that ultimately reroute their intuition in juxtaposition to those without. These intuitions are how individuals navigate their reality. They are our version of digital 3D mapping (or our “cat-whiskers” if you will) that define our space and time in our continual process of real-time discovery. Our Mind, the mothership-factory of invention, is the unattainable piece of technology that we can only try and mimic as best we can both in processes and production of design implementations.    

So what? What about all of this? Of course, we’re imagining new and reimagining old technology to address and/or ameliorate different needs as our society integrates new products and habits. But as designers, it is our duty to our clients to dig deeper, evaluate even the most obsolete tools and inventions, reappropriate the use of these artifacts (or their concepts) and apply them to further demonstrate the value of the brands we’re designing for.

In other words, intuition leads to intention, which leads back to intuition, which leads back to intention, and so on. There are many ways to skin a cat, and the number of methods continues to grow.

As a UX designer, don’t just expand your toolkit – make it valuable. Dig deep, redefine antiquated technology, concepts, and methods, and apply it to your work as it fits in the puzzle. As a human who designs user experiences, listen to your creative intuitions and reaffirm them with well-researched discoveries. If they can’t be reaffirmed at this moment, rest assured that time will reveal their purpose, given enough of it.   

The good folks who let us talk to “Audrey” and recognized our faces like an old friend weren’t focused on popularity, trendiness, or how well their designs would be implemented in their immediacy. But rather, they were intuitive pieces of technological innovation, left to serve us at a more reasonable time.

The year 2020 brought us COVID-19, which in turn brought us innovations to existing technologies that surely weren’t in the chamber ready to be shot into hyper speed as they were. But time couldn’t slow down, so technological innovations have to speed up. Our intuition was the driving force, a product brought to us by one particular mother of invention that we try our best to avoid: desperation.

Whatever the circumstance, creating human-centric technology and software for optimal user experiences can only be best demonstrated when we remember one Hallmark virtue: be “human” to better design for human experience. Speak to the audience not as a malleable group that can be swayed, but as individuals who can benefit intuitively from a product, brand, and experience.