WebVision’s Dangerous Thinkers: Make Technology More Human Focused

| May 19, 2014

dangerpous thinkers

Webvisions Portland wrapped up on May 9th as those of you who follow the TMM reporters on Twitter know.  Jessica Chang, Heather English, and I tweeted insights from all the various speakers – including keynoters like Tomer Sharon of Google, Brian David Johnson of Intel , and Maria Giudice of Facebook.  The sessions focused on the future – of technology, the Web, and user experience and design.  While several sessions focused on specifics design techniques, others surfaced major themes impacting the digital world.

Humanity in the Machine

Augmented Reality

I am stealing the title of Brian David Johnson’s book for highlight this theme.  Johnson, Intel’s Futurist, creates visions of what life and technology will look like 10 to 20 years in the future.  Johnson does not issue predictions; rather he sketches out possible futures that people can go build towards.  Unlike many futurists, Johnson is an optimist and believes we can build the future we want –or avoid the future we are afraid of – by building our humanity into our machines and tools.

In his keynote, Johnson highlighted the stock market Flash Crash as a development that got him thinking down this path.  Algorithmic and automated, high frequency trading lead to the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging 1000 points only to recover within minutes.  Johnson posits that the Flash Crash occurred since the algorithms and trading schemes optimized on profit.  Johnson – in his book and keynote – urged the audience to think about optimizing for things other than profit and the impact that can have.  Thus the subtitle for his book – “What comes after greed?”

Other speakers touched on this theme of humanity in the machine in different ways.  There were many presentations talking about the different input types that we can expect in the near term as we move away from keyboards and mice — more and more touch, also voice, and gesture. Both Jason Grigsby  in his talk titled Adaptive Input and Mark Wyner in his talk Simplify the Handshake Between Humans and Technology provided insights around this trend.

Another branch of this theme dealt with the imminent change in the number of connected devices – the so called Internet of Things.  As technology continues to shrink and prices fall, it becomes feasible to add computers, sensors and other hardware to virtually anything.  Several speakers mentioned Intel Edison – a full computer in the size of an SD card — as one of the latest examples.  As hardware becomes ephemeral , technology reduces to software says Marcus Estes, CEO of Chroma as he and Mike Merrill walked us through the ever changing wearable technology landscape.  And Lynne Johnson delved into state of augmented reality — were the digital world can be overlaid on the physical world.               

The Power of Storytelling   

21st century campfire

Another theme that percolated through several talks was the value and importance of storytelling as another way to connect technology – products, services, and apps – to humans.  As John Hartman suggested, brands – and individuals – need to be thinking and acting like media companies.  Hartman walked his audience through several examples of the future of storytelling.  Keynoter Tomer Sharon really hit on this theme in his talk on ethnography and the WWE.

While explaining a lot about pro wrestling, Sharon walked the audience through the 8 Facets of WWE that makes them great storytellers that give the wrestling audience what they want:

  1. The Entrance:  This introduces the wrestlers, sets the stage for the match, and builds excitement of the audience.
  2. The Storyline:  This is backstory about the watch – most revolve around gaining respect, revenge or a Championship belt.  The storyline builds-up matches and creates interest.
  3. Spots & Patterns:  These are common elements or pre-defined moves that build crowd reaction.
  4. False Finish:  The wrestler looks like he will get counted out, but narrowly escapes creating suspense.
  5. The Turn:  When a good guy turns bad – or vice versa.  A plot twist.
  6. Catchphrase:  Engages, identifies, and entertains.
  7. John Cena: The face of WWE for 10 years – its cash cow.
  8. WWE Universe:  The fans who cheer, boo and buy merchandise.

By taking the audience through the facets of WWE, Sharon was urging the audience to understand the social world that its product or services would live in.  What do the daily lives of your audience look like?  What are the facets, roles and meaning underlying the phenomenon you are interested in?  Until you understand the story of your audience, you can’t expect your product or service to connect with them.

WebVisions PDX May 7-9

WebVisions PDX May 7-9

Other Sessions of Note:

Adam Harrell  “Changing Behavior By Design” & Chris Sutton “The Psychology of Design”

 If you can’t change the experience, change the perception of the experience.

Chris Sutton‘s session on The Psychology of Design provided insight into why humans are irrational decision makers. For example, why do celebrity endorsements work? Sutton referenced model Jenny McCarthy. People were taking advice from her regarding medical issues with her son. We know she doesn’t work in the medical field, but many people are persuaded by her. Why is that?

Adam Harrell also spoke about this irrationality in people’s decision-making and how to persuade an irrational human to help you design interactive experiences that change people’s perceptions and help turn actions into habits.

There are 6 elements that need to be present in order to do this.

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment and consistency – take small steps before a big step
  3. Social proof. peer pressure
  4. Likability. attractiveness and similarity
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Craft the message to fit the person’s world view.  Harrell explains that we need to understand the audience. As long as content is applicable and pertinent to your target audience you can connect with them on a personal level. Author Dan Ariely wrote the book “Predictably Irrational” touches on these points and is a must read!

Mara Zepeda “Down with Directories”

Social platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Yelp all centered around the user’s persona and the content they create. These social media sites must be updated and maintained, preferences are filled out, profiles are made and in a couple years if left unattended really don’t serve a purpose.

Zepeda introduced the idea of an “Adventure Ticket”. Craigslist is the perfect example. This platform serves a purpose. It connects people to other people who have a need or a want and helps both parties. Have a bunch of dirt you need to get rid of? Well, on Craigslist there’s always someone who is giving it away and someone who wants it.

Zepeda founded a social platform called Switchboard; community-building classifieds. On Switchboard you can perform two activities. “Ask” or “Offer”. You can create a community for a specific group and ask a question or offer something you can giveaway. 

The example Zepeda used was one summer she had the opportunity to live in an Italian villa. She offered people in the Reed College community a place to stay there. From that post a student from Reed stayed at the villa and became interested in the caligraphy that Zepeda was teaching. Long story short, the student now is opening her own caligraphy store and a is nanny to Zepeda’s nice and nephew. Zepeda was able to create an “Adventure Ticket” that truly benefited both of their lives. 

There are so many great stories that could be had with purposeful engagement. How will you create your next “Adventure Ticket”?

Missed Webvisions PDX?    

Many of the presentations are now available for you to review.  You can also search Twitter for #WVpdx to see the live tweet stream form the event.  In all it was thought provoking listening to all of the “dangerous thinkers” that Webvisions brought together.  If you are interested there are several future Webvisions scheduled during 2014 in Barcelona, Chicago, Berlin and New York.   

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dangerpous thinkers

Webvisions Portland wrapped up on May 9th as those of you who follow the TMM reporters on Twitter know.  Jessica Chang, Heather English, and I tweeted insights from all the various speakers – including keynoters like Tomer Sharon of Google, Brian David Johnson of Intel , and Maria Giudice of Facebook.  The sessions focused on the future – of technology, the Web, and user experience and design.  While several sessions focused on specifics design techniques, others surfaced major themes impacting the digital world.

Humanity in the Machine

Augmented Reality

I am stealing the title of Brian David Johnson’s book for highlight this theme.  Johnson, Intel’s Futurist, creates visions of what life and technology will look like 10 to 20 years in the future.  Johnson does not issue predictions; rather he sketches out possible futures that people can go build towards.  Unlike many futurists, Johnson is an optimist and believes we can build the future we want –or avoid the future we are afraid of – by building our humanity into our machines and tools.

In his keynote, Johnson highlighted the stock market Flash Crash as a development that got him thinking down this path.  Algorithmic and automated, high frequency trading lead to the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging 1000 points only to recover within minutes.  Johnson posits that the Flash Crash occurred since the algorithms and trading schemes optimized on profit.  Johnson – in his book and keynote – urged the audience to think about optimizing for things other than profit and the impact that can have.  Thus the subtitle for his book – “What comes after greed?”

Other speakers touched on this theme of humanity in the machine in different ways.  There were many presentations talking about the different input types that we can expect in the near term as we move away from keyboards and mice — more and more touch, also voice, and gesture. Both Jason Grigsby  in his talk titled Adaptive Input and Mark Wyner in his talk Simplify the Handshake Between Humans and Technology provided insights around this trend.

Another branch of this theme dealt with the imminent change in the number of connected devices – the so called Internet of Things.  As technology continues to shrink and prices fall, it becomes feasible to add computers, sensors and other hardware to virtually anything.  Several speakers mentioned Intel Edison – a full computer in the size of an SD card — as one of the latest examples.  As hardware becomes ephemeral , technology reduces to software says Marcus Estes, CEO of Chroma as he and Mike Merrill walked us through the ever changing wearable technology landscape.  And Lynne Johnson delved into state of augmented reality — were the digital world can be overlaid on the physical world.               

The Power of Storytelling   

21st century campfire

Another theme that percolated through several talks was the value and importance of storytelling as another way to connect technology – products, services, and apps – to humans.  As John Hartman suggested, brands – and individuals – need to be thinking and acting like media companies.  Hartman walked his audience through several examples of the future of storytelling.  Keynoter Tomer Sharon really hit on this theme in his talk on ethnography and the WWE.

While explaining a lot about pro wrestling, Sharon walked the audience through the 8 Facets of WWE that makes them great storytellers that give the wrestling audience what they want:

  1. The Entrance:  This introduces the wrestlers, sets the stage for the match, and builds excitement of the audience.
  2. The Storyline:  This is backstory about the watch – most revolve around gaining respect, revenge or a Championship belt.  The storyline builds-up matches and creates interest.
  3. Spots & Patterns:  These are common elements or pre-defined moves that build crowd reaction.
  4. False Finish:  The wrestler looks like he will get counted out, but narrowly escapes creating suspense.
  5. The Turn:  When a good guy turns bad – or vice versa.  A plot twist.
  6. Catchphrase:  Engages, identifies, and entertains.
  7. John Cena: The face of WWE for 10 years – its cash cow.
  8. WWE Universe:  The fans who cheer, boo and buy merchandise.

By taking the audience through the facets of WWE, Sharon was urging the audience to understand the social world that its product or services would live in.  What do the daily lives of your audience look like?  What are the facets, roles and meaning underlying the phenomenon you are interested in?  Until you understand the story of your audience, you can’t expect your product or service to connect with them.

WebVisions PDX May 7-9

WebVisions PDX May 7-9

Other Sessions of Note:

Adam Harrell  “Changing Behavior By Design” & Chris Sutton “The Psychology of Design”

 If you can’t change the experience, change the perception of the experience.

Chris Sutton‘s session on The Psychology of Design provided insight into why humans are irrational decision makers. For example, why do celebrity endorsements work? Sutton referenced model Jenny McCarthy. People were taking advice from her regarding medical issues with her son. We know she doesn’t work in the medical field, but many people are persuaded by her. Why is that?

Adam Harrell also spoke about this irrationality in people’s decision-making and how to persuade an irrational human to help you design interactive experiences that change people’s perceptions and help turn actions into habits.

There are 6 elements that need to be present in order to do this.

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment and consistency – take small steps before a big step
  3. Social proof. peer pressure
  4. Likability. attractiveness and similarity
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Craft the message to fit the person’s world view.  Harrell explains that we need to understand the audience. As long as content is applicable and pertinent to your target audience you can connect with them on a personal level. Author Dan Ariely wrote the book “Predictably Irrational” touches on these points and is a must read!

Mara Zepeda “Down with Directories”

Social platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Yelp all centered around the user’s persona and the content they create. These social media sites must be updated and maintained, preferences are filled out, profiles are made and in a couple years if left unattended really don’t serve a purpose.

Zepeda introduced the idea of an “Adventure Ticket”. Craigslist is the perfect example. This platform serves a purpose. It connects people to other people who have a need or a want and helps both parties. Have a bunch of dirt you need to get rid of? Well, on Craigslist there’s always someone who is giving it away and someone who wants it.

Zepeda founded a social platform called Switchboard; community-building classifieds. On Switchboard you can perform two activities. “Ask” or “Offer”. You can create a community for a specific group and ask a question or offer something you can giveaway. 

The example Zepeda used was one summer she had the opportunity to live in an Italian villa. She offered people in the Reed College community a place to stay there. From that post a student from Reed stayed at the villa and became interested in the caligraphy that Zepeda was teaching. Long story short, the student now is opening her own caligraphy store and a is nanny to Zepeda’s nice and nephew. Zepeda was able to create an “Adventure Ticket” that truly benefited both of their lives. 

There are so many great stories that could be had with purposeful engagement. How will you create your next “Adventure Ticket”?

Missed Webvisions PDX?    

Many of the presentations are now available for you to review.  You can also search Twitter for #WVpdx to see the live tweet stream form the event.  In all it was thought provoking listening to all of the “dangerous thinkers” that Webvisions brought together.  If you are interested there are several future Webvisions scheduled during 2014 in Barcelona, Chicago, Berlin and New York.