Random thoughts on the connected everything

In the last 12 months, I’ve been lucky to speak in some events in Ukraine, in Portugal and in Spain and to participate in some very deep conversations with Golden, Pamela, Bruce, Ricardo, Marco and some of my friends from my alma mater, the Illinois Tech Institute of Design and from work (Javier, Sergio, Paola, Paula, Carlos, Rafa, David). After talking about food and travel (probably the topics I’m more curious about) we have been discussing about how technology affects our life; the tech mindset; the smart-everything fever and, what IoT means, beyond the billions of connected objects that most tech reports say will exist.

I just wanted to share some thoughts about how we can help technology have a positive impact in people’s lives:

On Sensing vs Making Sense 
In this industry, many companies believe that this is all about sensors. Sensors everywhere, some connectivity and boom! The IoT is done. But hey, that’s just the sensing part. But what about the making sense part? And that’s data. We can’t connect objects without considering the data we get. What are we doing with the data we gather? How might we make people take action of their data? And more importantly, what kind of new services or solutions can we create to solve more human problems?

On Why we should connect objects to the internet 
The other part of making sense is about what we connect. As in many of my previous posts, my natural question as a design researcher and strategist is WHY. Why should we connect or put a sensor of things? Many of the consumer products related with the internet of things are mostly created because it’s cool or because we can. As we are in the beginnings of this new era of connectivity, it’s great that we are testing and learning what's possible with this type of products. But I think, it’s time to start making sense of what and why we connect. Not only because we need to start solving real problems, but also because we have to start thinking of designing systems and platforms of connected objects that any company can build upon.

On the Nature and Purpose of products (or "let's let things be things") 
It seems it's all about making sense. We’ve also been talking about how objects should not change their essence just because they are connected. I brought the example of the connected suitcase that will give you GPS location, a charger for your phone, and many tech features you can imagine but…it doesn’t leave too much room for your clothes!!! Let's ask ourselves, what is it for and how can we improve its benefits? Let's not forget what's the job-to-be-done that the object help us accomplish.

On making tech less intrusive 
I believe that despite our attachment for certain objects, we can’t pretend to build human-like relationships with objects. More importantly, the objects we connect, should not become a distraction from our main tasks. Sometimes we tend to feel that the more we interact with our products/services the best, but what if we change the metric? Maybe, we are coming from the web industry where "active users" is a key metric of success. But should we keep the same metrics with the connected objects? What if not interacting with your product is a successful case? What can we, in the tech world, do to understand that if people don’t need to take any action is because everything is alright and working properly?

We are in the best moment to imagine and test new technologies for a better world. Let’s just keep in mind that we should aim at making technology more human instead of making humans more technological.

What if we start bringing different perspectives into the tech conversations? 

Are we in the middle of a design bubble?

This is a post inspired by Bruce Nussbaum’s post on Medium and Andy Hunter’s post on Linkedin 

Many times I heard and read that if a taxi driver or your hairdresser gives you advice on the stock market, it’s a sign of a financial bubble. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a taxi driver or a hairdresser (or a geologist, doctor, designer, etc) having interest in capital markets, but when everybody becomes an investment expert a market bubble could be happening and burst…soon.

A market bubble tends to be negative. However, in this case, I’m not quite sure if this is good or bad, but I feel something similar is happening now with Design. Many of us have been pushing a lot to get design into the main conversation, aiming at becoming more than the group of people that make things pretty. Many of us have pushed a lot to get design in the strategy table and in many cases, some of us have succeeded. Yay!

These days it’s very common to bring terms such as design, design thinking, UX, CX, innovation by design, etc. into different conversations. I’m glad there’s more access to guidance and education on those themes and I’m sometimes amazed how empowered people feel even after a 3-hour only course. Nothing wrong with that, but as Bruce says, the commodification of design is happening. This is when many of us get to believe that design is all about frameworks, canvases, personas and journey mappings, etc. and then... magic just happens? I think that can be a problem. Many people are starting to learn different methods but some people are taking the methods as an end, and not as the means to an end. - On top of this, I remember Larry Keeley telling us that frameworks are tools, we don't need to show them in a final report.

I feel something similar is happening with co-creation, which is part of human-centered design. Co-creation is even becoming part of advertising messages (I recently saw "The first co-created hotel"). Just like in the previous paragraph, I get the feeling that some of us are using co-creation as an end, that is taking direct inputs from users into solutions. I think (and I’ve exchanged some thoughts with Carlos, Javi, Jus, Karolina, Leticia, Marco and Reena) it should be taken more like a research technique. I mean, it’s not about users saying “I want it blue” (and making it blue), but about understanding why our users said that and what the values and motivations are behind that choice.

And this is my take: Maybe I’m also part of the problem. I’m one of those former business/marketing guys who changed his life after attending Design school and came out empowered with a different perspective. But don't get me wrong, I don't think this is as negative as a market bubble. Probably this commodification of design is just a natural cycle and it’s good. When I worked in marketing, I heard from many people phrases like “oh! this brand/product lacks ‘marketing' that's why it's not a top seller” so many times. What people meant was that those brands had not reached enough levels of awareness to be ordered by customers. But people called it simply ‘marketing'. And there were (are) marketing people and ‘marketing' people. So, there must be design people and ‘design' people. Hope I can fit in the non quotation marks type.

Anyways, I just wanted to share some thoughts that have been flying in my head lately. One of the things I told my students was to be humble. Human-centered design is one of many different approaches for problem solving. It’s not a magic bullet and it will not save a company if there’s no willingness and openness to try new things, to take some risks and to change. 


PS. I imagine this can generate discussion. This is just a point of view.


I don’t want to be smart, you?

Published in January 2016 - Originally published in Medium

These last months, I have been discussing with some friends a lot about this “smart” everything and “smart” everyone trend. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of semantics or basic human principles but I feel we are losing what makes us human.

Why do I think “smart” is wrong? First of all, because becoming “smart” assumes we were dumb before, which is so unfair and not true. Second, because I think that instead, we are becoming dumber and dumber. We have stopped enjoying a view, a concert or a meal just to twitter/facebook/instagram it right away. We have become less social in real life, to over share in the virtual life. We are creating fake images of ourselves, just to look cool or even worse, “smart”. I always say we live with contradictions, but this is getting worrying, don’t you think?

A smartwatch, with a battery that lasts one day (or five, for some «smart» activity trackers like my Fitbit) and that relies on a smartphone all the time (that is, our watch that is a smartphone’s notification center in our wrist) is not smart at all.

Learning how to speak a language that we developed to communicate with machines that WE created…is not smart. If we are the most “superior and smart” species, shouldn’t machines speak OUR language?

We are in this race of making everything “smart” (call it a phone, a city, a bed, a car, a thing) but we are not asking why things should be smart. We are connecting things because we can and not because that way they will become more useful and will solve our problems.

I just think we need to rethink what we mean and how we want the world to become. Not tomorrow, but today. As we found in our research, people don’t want to be smart, but to have good access to services, be happy, be safe, overcome hard situations, enjoy good moments, work in something that matters to them, etc.

We don’t want smart cities, but livable and lovable places. “Smart” has become just a marketable term that doesn’t care about people. “Smart” has become synonymous of efficient and cost saving, when our happiest moments are totally inefficient: When was the last time you had a nice chat with someone? Was it in a rush? Was there a plan and a critical path to make it efficient? Or was there just a chat because you care about that person? 

Maybe this is an idealistic and naïve point of view. Maybe I’m losing my business and market perspective. Maybe I’m too concerned about the world we are creating for the next generations. Maybe I’m becoming too human. Maybe, I’ve become too dumb.


PS. These conversations have happened randomly and in a very inefficient and not “smart” at all way with Javi, Carlos, Marco, Ricardo, Oscar, Rafa, Quino, Paula, Paco, Javier, Pablo, Sandra, Antonio, Antonio, Carlota, Manu, Victor, Golden, Pamela, Ane, Bert, Ana, Sergio, Bea, David, Alicia, Jose, Andre, Elena, Ana, Aitor, Paloma, Elvira, Nathalie, Jorge Luis, Daniel, Ramon, Pilar, and even mom and dad!

If there's an app for everything there must be something wrong...

Originally published on April 2015 here

A couple weeks ago I had a nice videochat with Golden Krishna, author of the book The Best Interface is no Interface. It was great to connect with someone who is in a similar path as many of us are; trying to make people understand that UX is not UI and also giving solutions that can make people forget their obsession for screens and interfaces. 

This obsession with screens, interfaces and apps (as Golden states “there’s an app for everything...”) plus some “successful*” startups are making us believe that all we need is an app. Some weeks ago I was interviewing some users regarding a food-related solution and one of the interviewees led to this dialog:

User: “it will have an app, right?”

Me: “should it have an app?”

User: “yes, it has to have one. Apps are really useful” 

Me: “do you use many of them? 

User: “yeah!"

Me: Can you show me those?"

User: “well, I only have one, and it’s because of my wife. But everything is an app these days"

So we are believing that everything is an app (or everything has to be digital). Many business schools are focusing on entrepreneurship (which I think it’s great!) but many of the solutions these venture labs are proposing are taking apps as the de facto solution instead of having clear answers to 1. What’s the problem we are solving? and 2. Why does this have to be an app?

I seriously hope, this bubble ends. Many of us are working on making technology more human, almost invisible. But many of us are also still too focused on the tech aspect instead of the human, perhaps more strategic one. I'm not saying that tech is not strategic, but some companies tend to start ONLY with technology to then ask what problems it would solve; as opposed to creating technology to solve people's problems. I think I need to mention Cedric Price's quote "Technology is the answer...but what was the question?"

What are your thoughts about this growing obsession with screens and apps?

* I mention “successful" with quotation marks as we have exposure mostly to those startups who got successful exits or crazy valuations. Those that make every corporation think “we need to work as a startup”. Unfortunately, most of us don’t get to see the tons of startups that fail and pivot or fail and die in their pursuit of success.