The Interface Is Dead: Long Live Experience Planning
Mark Bell, The Inside Ideas Group's chief experience officer, discusses the key to making a brand's digital experiences more human
The way we interact with technology is evolving at a frantic pace. It’s moving so fast, it seems that physical interaction with online platforms is actually on the decline. Now more than ever, it seems, brands need to get smart by getting human with customer experiences. This is why experience planning holds the key to the future.
It takes digital technology beyond useable, into enjoyable, trustworthy, intimate, and sometimes enlightening territory even when people don’t physically touch it. So how do primarily digital experiences become more human?
On the face of it, it’s so simple. But this is where the majority of AI dips into the Uncanny Valley, revealing its true, robotic nature and scuppering any notions of humanity. And this is the main issue: designers forget the subtle, human truths laced within our day-to-day interactions. No matter how advanced AI becomes, it can’t mimic our subconscious tics. For example, we slide into a ‘builder voice’ when we have builders in the house. AI can’t adjust like that.
We’re primitive animals behaving in primitive ways. Google Glass was heralded as the future of tech a few years back—everyone at SXSW couldn’t shut up about it. Now it’s just remembered as ‘the pair of glasses that looked stupid’, and we’ve collectively forgotten the technological benefits it brought. In part this is because tech just isn’t aligned to human behavior yet. The focus still seems to be on observing uses rather than the behavioral science behind why we use it.
Brands putting tech in our hands isn’t good enough in 2017—they need to understand the truths held within those hands.
AI needs to know who it’s talking to, and that just comes down to good data planning. To implement that, developers need to identify if AI is talking to a pensioner or a 16-year-old NASCAR fanatic. Tech needs to monitor and remember our different moods and habits; knowing the difference between someone inspired to go on holiday and someone actually booking a holiday is vital, as AI can use our data to help us do either of those things.
And it’s not going to be invasive. Granted, it sounds that way, but new GDPR ruling coming into force next year ensures that brands won’t misuse our data. This comes in an already user-centric environment. We’re fine with our iPhones picking out a number and assuming it’s someone we know, and the next wave of tech will likely follow in the same vein. Data retention is slowly becoming the norm.
The phone in our pocket will become the chip under our skin. It’s already happening. When you fly with Avis, you can walk straight to the car-hire desk and get your keys, your phone then directing you to the car. Everything’s connected.
But it can go further. When I’m at work, I still need to dig into my phone and check a few websites for the quickest route home. My phone needs to know this already – it should react to my previous behavior.
When we walk into hotels in the future, our phones will buzz and tell us our room number, our check-out times, breakfast details and so on. It’s going to be a hyper-personal experience that removes choice and makes everything seamless. Any brand not considering this frictionless, forward-thinking future is going to be left behind. Because it’s not about digital transformation anymore – if you’re still thinking about that, you’ve missed the boat.
We should be focussing on digital impact. We should be plotting what we can do tomorrow rather than implementing a programme of change to get there.
The road to the future’s going to be riddled with bumps, but that’s to be expected. When you’ve got AI falling into the Uncanny Valley – getting so close to being human, and looking freakishly odd as a result. It shouldn’t be feared. It should be embraced.
Because, as humans, we’re smarter than we give ourselves credit for. When we’re talking to Amazon’s Alexa, we play around with it, trying to engage in a proper conversation, but we’re always aware that it’s a conversation with a bot.
With smart experience planning, the transition is going to be smooth. X.ai is a notable conduit. It’s a virtual PA that talks to you about arranging a meeting, pausing to ‘think’ about its response. But at the bottom, in its email signature, it quite clearly states that it’s AI.
That’s where we need to be. We need to be having human interactions with AI while always being aware that it’s not skin and bones at the other end. That doesn’t mean it has to be clunky or spoken through a vocoder—we just need to know. As long as the line is drawn, somewhere, people will be more inclined to interact with AI and accept it for what it has the potential to be: the gateway to a more convenient, enjoyable existence on this earth.
Mark Bell is The Inside Ideas Group’s first chief experience officer, using his expertise to help clients deliver a better customer experience across any channel. A major influencer in user experience, Mark is joint chairman of the IPA’s Digital Business Group and also sat on Rory Sutherland’s task force to champion behavioural economics in advertising.