frog design: Designing For A User-Hijacked World

Users are in control, again. The hacker culture that dominated the Internet in the 90s (pre-AOL and Compuserve) is now returning. Top-down, corporate-owned platforms simply can’t keep up with the pace of innovation set by scrappy, digitally-native startups.

Users are in control, again. The hacker culture that dominated the Internet in the 90s (pre-AOL and Compuserve) is now returning. Top-down, corporate-owned platforms simply can’t keep up with the pace of innovation set by scrappy, digitally-native startups. The result is a new crop of apps and services that are adaptable, surprising, useful and free. They grow and evolve as their user base plays with, modifies and evolves their DNA. In this way, the new breed of apps being created for the Internet is much more robust than the failed models of the past. In their clear focus on serving user needs, they point to an exciting future for users and designers alike.

How can the design community harmonize with this phenomenon? By building apps that are adaptable, surprising, useful and free. We explored this theory at frog’s work hop “Designing for a User-Hijacked World” at this year’s Social Media Week. An incredibly creative mix of students, designers, advertising professionals and interested folk came together last week to build the next great social tool. Grounded in images sourced from recent editions of The Guardian newspaper, participants were assigned a social technology and asked to mash them up into a compelling social app for the audience in their picture. It was a challenge, to say the least. But even beyond the difficulty of supporting audiences from Afghani children to Furries with a new and compelling digital service, each group had to ensure their concepts met all the tenants of great, hackable software.

The results, surprising and often hilarious, ranged from a dating tool that leverages banking and geolocation-based data to match you with a compatible mate to a career site that leverages your social graph to proactively push you new and relevant job opportunities. The photograph of Afghani children yielded a fascinating new service to connect school children in western countries to those in emerging markets. A photo of a toddler in Japan inspired a social toy-lending app that reduces spending while teaching kids the value of sharing. And that photo of the guys in panda suits…let’s just say it was an epic concept; a movement, even.

Thanks to everyone who came out to our studio. We had a blast and hope we inspired you to create more hackable experiences.  We’re looking forward to exploring how to build better experiences for people online. In the end, we are all users, and we’re finally back in control.

Designing for a User Hijacked World

By Adam Silver

Reprinted with kind permission from design mind, a publication of global innovation firm frog design.

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