Friday, May 23, 2014

The Human Challenge in Technology

Much like theatre has the fourth wall, design and communications has the z-axis. Traditionally, as in theatre, the story being told is left on two-axis – two-dimensions of engagement that allow the audience to participate.  

Side note: I tend to interchange storytelling with communications/design/UX – it’s the output and the approach, and I like the word.

On occasion, a third-axis (or dimension...3D) is added to the mix, drastically shifting the way in which a story can be told and consumed by the audience. However, change rarely comes easy.

With VR tech like the Occulus Rift, ulrasound tech like the Qualcomm Pen, and the insane evolution of 3D printing, the world of storytelling has more than enough tools to evolve.  Re-thinking story telling and experiencing, we can add the z-axis and allow the audience to lie in the middle of the narrative and explore their new surroundings.  We see lite versions of this with presentation tools like Prezi, which aim to break the flat mold of typical presentation styles. Occassionally, we get a glimpse of the z-axis fully integrated into the story, as in this case with a recent DARPA project, where the experience is “…like swimming in the internet.

The Internet of Things has freed us from the rectangle, allowing the user interface (i.e. the story experience) to move beyond the digital screens of our phones, tablets, laptops, etc,  Likewise, three dimensional  technology and experiences hold the promise to free us from being a passive viewer – allowing the user interface to move beyond the flat surface or single direction of dialogue most stories are told with today.

But there are hurdles...
There are two reasons why shifts in how we engage or consume are slowed down or fail completely.
  1. The majority of us do what we know has worked. 
  2. We often build, or use the things we build, in the way we historically used the previous version of them. 
I call this the human challenge in technology; we often use the new in the same way we use the old. Internet advertisers destroyed the early potential of online media by failing to see the context of the audience. Mobile phones were simply smaller versions of the land-line phone for over a decade – now the mobile calling takes up less than 30% of mobile phone time.
Taking full advantage of the ability to tell a story across all three dimensions, requires us to avoid these two points, and approach the experience through a new lens – involving context, constraints, and cooperation.  BUT that is an entirely different blog post; one I have yet to write.