Applying human-centered design to emerging technologies

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VR, AR, and digital assistant present exciting opportunities for the future, but how can we ensure we’re designing for what people really want?

By Peter Hyer, Fabian Herrmann, and Kristin Kelly

“If I could go anywhere, I’d want to go to Mars in my flying gold Lamborghini…bring my dog and eat ice cream.” — Amadi, age 11
When you dream of the future, what do you see? Do you dream about concurrent odometry or horizontal plane detection? Do you fantasize about hot words and utterance capture? Probably not. Most likely, when you dream of the future, you imagine the places you can go, the things you can do, and the people you can be… just like you did when you were a kid.

Earlier this year, Google Play approached IDEO to find out what emerging technologies like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, digital assistant, and ephemeral apps (apps that you don’t have to download and install) may actually be good for. With the advent of these new technologies come infinite possibilities for their application. In this future, many things are possible, but what is useful and desirable? How will people integrate these technologies into their lives? When they think of what these technologies can do for them, what do they dream of? Where do they want to go? What do they imagine? Google was eager to find out.

Since humans are at the center of IDEO’s design work, we started by talking to people and asking questions about their hopes for the future of these technologies.

We spoke to creators and stakeholders of these four technologies (experts, artists, and developers), as well as people ranging from elementary school kids to early adopters and technophobes. We held in-person conversations at IDEO San Francisco and got to know people over snacks and drinks. We had energetic and casual discussions — all to get inspired around the future.

We intentionally didn’t discuss specific brands, platforms, or features. Instead, we created design exercises that abstracted each of the technologies into something you could hold, draw on, imagine, and experience.

Here are highlights of what we heard:

Through these research sessions, we identified distinct promises each of these emerging technologies can uniquely offer:

When considering what these technologies are good for, how they can fit into your business, or how you can get started with them, it’s easy to just focus on their current capabilities or shortcomings and make assumptions about their actual value to people. Instead, we should think about what they mean for people by using these promises to guide our work.

If we hope to create something of lasting value, we need to start with what people want — not just with what’s technically possible.

What our research taught us about people’s hopes, wants, and dreams

To get to what people are thinking and feeling, we need to get tangible and expressive. When you present people with a tangible concept that still offers room for input, they see potential and are open to sharing ideas. When you hand them something too polished, they look for flaws.

Virtual Reality (VR)

“I wish I could share my experience with others, or maybe have a local friend show me around.” — Nikki

The exercise: We handed people different scenes ranging from the mundane — like commuting on the subway, to the fantastical — like visiting Mars or flying over a city. We handed them out at random and asked them to imagine they were transported to this place. We also asked: how did you get here? What do you want to do here? Who would you like to have with you or communicate with?

What people imagine: VR transports us to amazing new places. People want the freedom to explore those places on their own terms and to be able to share those experiences with others.

Augmented Reality (AR)

“There would need to be a way of muting everything, so I can immerse myself in the environment.” — Rupert

The exercise: We gave people a piece of acrylic in the shape of glasses — magic glasses. We asked everyone to lay those glasses over various scenes and imagine what they could see through them. We asked them to draw those dreams and ideas to share with the group.

What people imagine: AR gives us the opportunity to enhance the world around us. People want relevant information to be integrated into their surroundings, but also have the ability to remove distractions so they can focus.

Digital Assistant

“My assistant should know what I need before I need it. It should understand what context I’m in.” — Susana

The exercise: We asked people to write a job profile for a personal assistant. We asked them to imagine they could hire this real assistant to help them with their life. We asked: what would you ask them to do? What skills would this person have? How and when would you call this person?

What people imagine: Digital assistants help with day-to-day life, but people want to go beyond that. They’re looking to have a relationship with their assistant, to be inspired, and motivated by them. People want their assistant to anticipate their needs and moods.

Ephemeral Apps

“I want to do things with minimal human interaction, with as few steps as possible.” — Garret

The exercise: We presented people with two scenarios. One was ordering food from a new café that opened near their work. The other was parking a car in a city that they were in for the first time. We asked them how they would complete these tasks in an ideal world. How would they go about it? What would happen?

What people imagine: Ephemeral apps make it easier for us to do what we want, when we need to. People want these experiences to be easy as well as delightful.

The promise of new technology has always been to expand our abilities as humans — enabling us to do things we weren’t able to do before. It’s about looking beyond what the technology itself can do, toward what it enables us to do.

How to get started today

Getting started with VR, AR, digital assistant, and ephemeral apps doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In fact, together with Google Play, we’ve created a set of design prompts first shared at Playtime 2017. We hope they inspire even more of you to create entirely new features, products, and businesses, that bring these technologies to life.

Download a PDF of the cards.

Aptly named “Human-centered design prompts for emerging technologies”, the set of twenty prompts help you design for emerging technologies in the context of your own costumers’ lives. They are intended to provide guidance at the ideation stage, when you’re trying to figure out what to build.

Each card starts with a human scenario and need. Consider a situation in your customers’ everyday lives, then flip the card over to begin brainstorming. Each prompt is designed to generate a number of possible answers, grounded in human desires for each given technology.

The most important thing to remember is this: dreams don’t start with specs and features, SDKs and APIs. Dreams are inherently human and something that’s deep inside of all of us. When building with emerging technologies, start there — with the dreams of those you’re designing for. And don’t forget to tap into your own.

This work is the result of a collaboration between Google Play and IDEO, the global design firm known for its pioneering approach to human-centered design.

What do you think?

Do you have any comments on human-centered design for emerging technologies? Continue the discussion in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.


Applying human-centered design to emerging technologies was originally published in Google Play Apps & Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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