Amuse UX Conference, Budapest

Last week, I had the privilege of being part of a group attending the first edition of AmuseConf on behalf of our company. Amuse is “an international conference for anyone interested in how to design and develop successful products that users love”. It’s organized by the same good folks that bring us the outstanding CraftConf year after year, sponsored primarily by Prezi and UStream (and SAP in case of Amuse). They did a near-perfect job, with only minor glitches with the seating and catering on the first day. Considering that the Big Data oriented CrunchConf was also literally next door, the event was practically flawless. Fast, uninterrupted WiFi and no food options for vegetarians/vegans remained a hallmark this organizing team (even though Tom Illmensee, event MC is himself vegetarian 😉 ).

(BTW, if you’re wondering why so many tech conferences are being hosted in Budapest, the event’s WiFi password should give you a hint):

20151103_083708867_iOS

510 attendees from 32 countries (as far away as Australia) made Amuse a roaring success, as did its impressive lineup of Speakers27% of the speakers were women, which is great for a tech conference — I hope next year we have even more!

Below is a summary of the talks I found the most relevant to my work. But by no means does that mean you should skip the other talks… depending on where you are and what you’re doing, you might be interested in some of the eclectic topics covered such as:

  • Designing web interfaces for children by Trine Falbe
  • Conducting research outside “sample of convenience” by Bill Selman from Mozilla Foundation
  • Design Thinking by Tobias Haug of SAP (my favorite quote: “Innovation = Execution x Creativity”)
  • How to get your dream UX job by Andrew Doherty of Google (worth checking out just for his mad presentation skills)
  • The Ethical Designer by Cennydd Bowles
  • Storytelling in a multidevice landscape by Anna Dahlstrom

Design Equilibrium

By Jonathan Lupo

Jonathan opened the conference with a very engaging talk drawing parallels between businesses and ecosystems: a “balanced exchange of value between Actors, Enterprise and Brand”. He gave practical examples citing the application of Lynn Shostack’s work on Service Blueprinting to a transformation in the healthcare industry. I strongly encourage viewing his inspiring talk on YouTube.

His core suggestion is a separation of Product Design from Service Design. The latter “fills in whitespaces between points of [rich] engagement provided by products”, helping to restore balance to the overall experience, and hence the business ecosystem. This is the real intangible value of services, as opposed to products.

He also proposed the concept of an “Engagement Model”: a framework to contextualize all the data a business collects.

UX: Design as a Science

By Joel Marsh, author of the UX Crash Course

Joel’s key message was that “Scientific UX Design is reproducible”: essentially drawing on the principles of the Lean Startup and applying them to the UX domain. His presentation was one of the most popular and engaging ones, and his quotes and examples garnered a lot tons of positive feedback. One thing that struck me was his exposition on the two types of creativity: Creative expression and creative problem solving. He noted that an over-applicability of creative expression can make you feel good as a designer, but result in an over-designed and bloated product:

ArtVsDesign

Another talk I would highly recommend watching when it comes out on UStream.tv.

Making Dog Food a Part of Your Balanced Diet

By Toby Sterrett

Toby used his work at Simple Bank to highlight the pros and cons of “eating your own dogfood”. The initial employees used the app themselves, and one of the downsides was that the missed revelation that users of such a smooth app had to deal with a paper form-based process to close their account, which took up to 20 days.

Another inspiring talk that you should definitely check out, full of quotes of wisdom like:

  • “Delight is design’s superpower”
  • A past discussion on Leadership strategy: “Build a shared vision, get the **** out of the way”
  • “UX is not about throwing technology at a problem, but throwing people at a problem”

On the other hand, Simple A/B tested as many as 16 variations of their login page (for more examples, check out UserOnboard.com).

Live posters being created by @remarker_eu

Live posters being created by @remarker_eu

How We Built Hotjar and Onboarded 50k Users in a Year

By Dr. David Darmanin

David used practical examples from Hotjar to support his model of “Drivers, Barriers and Hooks” when dealing with site visitors. He also put a quirky twist on some timeless wisdom:

The two most amazing insights for me were:

  • Hotjar captures every single customer interaction on a Trello board, and uses that feedback to prioritize their features.
    • They also make their roadmap public, which demonstrates their commitment and at the same time reduces enquiries about feature requests
  • They use the income from their paid customers to fund the creative freedom to build features for their free customers

The Invisible Interface: Designing the Screenless Experience

By Avi Itzkovich

Avi, founder of UXSalon, opened with a discourse on recent editions of Microsoft Productivity Future Vision. From there he led the discussion on towards a future without bigger and wider screens (which wouldn’t require “superhuman arm strength”):

  • “The most profound technologies are the ones that become invisible” 
    • Like automatically opening sliding doors
  • “Voice UI is the future”
  • “Gesture control is here to stay, but not on screens”

The Best Interface is No Interface

By Golden Krishna

Golden surmised that we are all “chipping away at digital chores”, and we don’t have to be “slaves to screens”. He has laid the foundations of the #NoUI movement with his book“The Best Interface is No Interface”. His excellent talk (slides here) was supported by book reading and real examples. Also, don’t forget to check out his accompanying toolkit on “how to create elegant solutions with no screens”.

For further inspiration to join the movement,  take a look at his Producthunt collection of “interfaces that require little or no time with screens”.

Magical UX and the Internet of Things

By Josh Clark

Josh opened with an announcement of his book release: “Designing for Touch”. His presentation was literally magical, complete with a wand, to the point that he managed to tie in together excerpts from preceding talks and put the whole conference in perspective. I found a similar slidedeck from one of his previous talks here, and I highly recommend taking a look at it while we wait for the official conference videos to come up on Ustream.tv. It was a treasure trove of out-of-the box examples like:

  •  Augmented REality Sandtable (ARES), which literally turns dirt into a high-tech, military-grade user interface… using not much more than a Kinect and projector
  • Grab Magic, which brings superpowers to data transfer
  • Propeller Health, which connects Asthma inhalers to phones for health monitoring

Josh’s key message was “interaction at the point of inspiration”: that we should think of “the whole world is an interface, just like it has always been”. He proposed “thereables” instead of wearables: bits of smart technology in the physical space where we would expect to interact with them, not something we burden ourselves by carrying or wearing all day long. To this end, he suggested that “the smartphone is Magic Wand 1.0 for everyone” and we should start thinking of it as just more than a screen.

IMG_4185

Regarding user interfaces, he had 3 bits of advice that I found remarkable:

  • “Technology should amplify our humanity”
  • “We shouldn’t educate users on how technology works, unless we really *have* to”
  • “Honor intention, don’t assume it”

Josh ended with a call to action:

Like this one.

 

 

 

 

 

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This is a Revolution, Not a Recession

TheFutureIsAlreadyHere

“In human history, there have been three great technological revolutions and many smaller ones.  The three great ones are the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and the one we are now in the middle of—the software revolution. […] It appears that the software revolution will do what technology usually does—create wealth but destroy jobs.”

– Sam Altman, “The Software Revolution”

A lot has been said and written about the great recession, the rise of the robot economy and the loss of jobs (or the creation of them in the new sharing economy – nobody is really sure yet). Let’s take a step back and get some perspective:

“Coming out the recession” and “Economic recovery”

What I think those people (and governments) who say this don’t realize is, that the jobs that were destroyed in the recession, are not going to come back. Because just like individuals, businesses too found ways of making ends meet during the hard times. This surge in demand for more cost effective labor was met by increased automation. And jobs that were automated then are not likely to come back now.

On the other hand, for decades science fiction movies and books have painted a promising picture of a utopian future where machines would do all the work and we humans would engage ourselves in higher pursuits. Yet, here we are, wanting to get our jobs back from the machines.

At the same time, we are heading towards a global workforce crisis by 2030.

Something doesn’t add up.

The Dignity of Wage

Maybe the answer is in what I call “the dignity of wage”. It’s the same reason why people are driven to crime. Our modern economy is robbing people of the opportunities to make money, while at the same time the media constantly bombards them with the notion of spending it. I believe many of the prisoners (who, by the way, in some places outnumber students) would be willing to mend their ways, if only society would give them a fair chance at earning a decent living for themselves and their families. People need something to do, to give meaning to their lives.

Especially in a society and value system in which the education and value system is so heavily employability oriented.

Maybe it’s time for a political debate on Basic Income.

“Humans will be able to move up to more ‘creative’ jobs…”

“…while machines will do the more routine ones”. The problem with creativity is, it’s not for everyone. Neither are tech jobs. Both require a certain mindset that takes years of training to master. Finally, “higher” creative jobs are only relative to “lower” mundane jobs. If all jobs became equally creative, people would have nothing to aspire to. We will be back to square one. For example, The Netherlands’s success is based on acknowledging this distinction.

Automation or Population: Pick One

There are some other longer-term issues with our current employment scenario. Life on this planet is heavily dependent on two things: oil, which we are rapidly running out of, and electricity, which, if disrupted, could instantly send us back to the stone age. Collectively as a civilization, we are not very well prepared for large-scale change.

This planet is currently on an unsustainable trajectory. And automation is only unbalancing our society more. In order to ensure continued “dignity of wage” we need to either limit automation, or limit our population. The reason is that automation is that it can transcend international borders without a visa, but human beings can not.

Sometimes this leads to strange side effects. When I was in Bangalore, the parking lot at my office had a security guard who would flag you down while entering and note down the vehicle’s registration number. Years later, someone decided it would be a good idea to install an automated parking gate, as seen around Europe and North America. I’m not sure what they were thinking, but then we had 3 security guards instead of one: one to press the button on the gate since it was installed too high up to be reachable by drivers of average Indian height in average Indian cars, one to make a manual note in the register as a back up, and a third to supervise over the first two.

Which brings me to the next point: Any transaction that involves a human being is inherently potentially flawed. No amount of automation will make our world perfect or optimal, as long as it’s still “our world”.

“Creating Jobs”

The tobacco industry employs more than a 100 million people worldwide. If we want to create more jobs, we should all smoke more cigarettes. By extension, conflict has traditionally been the biggest source of employment: In research, manufacturing, exports, destroying settlements, and providing private security while rebuilding them. As a Green Beret recently pointed out, in today’s job market a Special Forces training is better than an MBA.

So there you have it, the solution to all our economic problems is perpetual war.

Or we can take inspiration from a bunch of African kids, and grin and share it. In other words, a Resource Based Economy instead of an Employment Based Economy.

Endnote: You really should read the link about the rise of the robot economy.

Update 2015-05-25: More food for thought: Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck

Flight Simulators for the Serious Hobbyist

As computers get more powerful and cheaper, and as human beings advance their knowledge and experience further, we are fast approaching a point where fantasy and reality are fused into one big blur of sensory exhilaration. Some time in the last decade, we crossed the point where Flight Simulators became so realistic that time spent flying in a simulator started being counted as actual flying hours. And new technologies such as Oculus Rift VR are only making the future more exciting. The best part is that a real(istic) flight simulation experience is now well within the reach of the common enthusiast.

Dusk

Getting off the Ground

For PC or Laptop owners, there are already several high quality, open domain Flight Simulation software available that are backed by worldwide communities of enthusiastic users and contributors. Coupled with easily available off the shelf controllers and accessories, they are enough to transform your desk and armchair into a virtual cockpit. For the latest news, reviews and discussions, check out resources such as SimHQ and NewsFlightSim.

Doing It Yourself

If you want something more immersive, and have access to a bedroom, you can draw inspiration from this French gentleman and build your own simulator at home. There are plenty of DIY resources available to guide you, such as X-Sim (also check out the work of SirNoName), DIY Flight Sims and ARC Air. For those willing to splurge, there are high-end solution providers such as SIM Room.

The Complete Flying Experience

The full fledged flight simulation is experience is much closer than you think. The Emirates Aviation Experience will let you fly an Airbus A380 in an instructor-led 30-minute session for about £50, in UK or the Dubai Mall. You can even fly a Boeing 737 in shopping malls around the world, such as  in Bangalore or Mumbai (Flight4Fantasy) or in Budapest or Győr (PremiAir). And if you are really serious about flying, you can get professional lessons in a full fledged flight simulator at Swiss Aviation’s training center in Zurich for the price of a high-end laptop.

The Future

With Virtual Reality making a comeback, keep an eye out for interesting Oculus Rift enabled Flight Simulators. Or take the next leap into Space Flight. And while we are on the topic, why not eliminate the aircraft altogether and jump right in to the experience of flying like a bird?

Forget UAVs, The OPVs Are Coming

Imagine a behind-enemy-lines rescue operation where a pilot-less aircraft penetrates enemy territory, wreaks havoc (or not), picks up some friendlies, and lo! The helicopter now has a crew to fly it around, make their escape, wreak more havoc, penetrate deeper into enemy territory, any or all of the above. Kinda like KITT returning to Michael Knight, isn’t it?

As technology increasingly shrinks the gap between science and science fiction, the US Army estimates that half of its aircraft will be OPV, Optionally Piloted Vehicles. And here’s the clincher: this is their estimate for the next 15 years. In other words, OPVs are already here.

And you thought Skynet’s electronically waged real war was unbelievable.

(On the brighter side, it may not be Skynet that wages the war, it could just be some Iraqi militants using a $26 shareware program.)

“War Is Virtual Hell”: SIMNET

Noted Sci-Fi and Cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling wrote an article for WIRED magazine way back in 1993, relating his first-hand experiences of SIMNET, the predecessor to the now industry standard for real-time wargaming across personal computers: DIS (Distributed Interactive Simulation). Rarely does one get to see his or her fantasies turn into reality during their own lifetime. We truly live in a golden age.

But then again, I’m sure pretty much all of our ancestors felt the same way at some point of their lives (for example at the beginning  of the Industrial Revolution), and felt the exact opposite as they grew older, when the younger generation found innovative and unforseen ways to use the technology that they had invented, leading to unforseen side-effects at an unforseen scale (for example pollution). I’m certain this goes all the way back to cavemen (“Hey, I can use this spear tip to kill other men, not just animals”). And oh, yeah, someone once thought nukes were a good idea (oh wait, apparently that hasn’t changed yet).

Will we live to regret Artificial Intelligence and our dependence on machines? Or will the future be bright (though I doubt that it will be sunny) and flourishing? One can only hope for the latter. Yet, the textbooks say, history repeats itself.

Flight Simulators: How Humans can no Longer Tell the Difference Between Reality & Illusion

That was the title of my session at Barcamp Bangalore 9. It was more of a presentation actually, since I was talking about a topic that not many people know about (at least not in what was going to be my target audience that day). In fact, that was the idea behind the whole thing: to raise awareness about how advanced & mature simulation technology is today, where it is going, and where lie the obstacles and opportunities. I also included a bit of philosophy and some high-res photos. Here’s the synopsis of my session:

Since you are in some way associated with technology, you are probably aware that technology is/can be used to train humans for dangerous, skilled and expensive-to-repeat tasks, such as Driving, Surgeries, Operating specialized equipment, and well, flying.

– Did you know that there is something known as a “Zero Flight Time” Simulator, which is so realistic, that every hour that a potential pilot spends in it, is considered equivalent to flying an actual aircraft? And that pilots go flying on an real, revenue-generating trip for the very first flight in that type of aircraft without having ever set foot in it before?
– That there are only a handful of companies in the world that have the technological capability to create the accurate reproduction of reality (sight, sound, motion & vibration) that makes this possible?
– That Simulation is probably the only field of Computer Science, that makes use of just about everything that Computer Science is made up of, from Algorithms to 3D Graphics, from Embedded to Web, from Usability to Networking?

This discussion is going to be about Simulation (mostly Flight Simulation) and some of the amazing technology that lies behind it. How the Simulation, Gaming & Movie industries are feeding each other, and feeding off each other. And finally, Simulationism: the possibility that you and I are complex objects living inside a Computer Simulation.


Here’s a stripped-down, text-only PDF version (77 KB) of all the PPT-fu that I did (Sorry about the crazy contrasts, they make more sense with the pictures behind them). Do leave a comment letting me know your thoughts.

Yahoo! Open Hack Day India Returns

Yahoo! India R&D is organizing it’s second Open Hack Day in Bangalore this weekend (14-15 February, 2009. Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day, and it also coincides with Aero India, Asia’s premier air show). The event is a semi-unconference comprising of structured technology presentations and unstructured hacking time, where participants try to come up with new and interesting ways to use Yahoo!’s APIs and libraries.

Yahoo! co-founder David Filo will be kicking-off the event. The hackday website contains useful info and links to the hackday blog.