Cooper, Augmedix and Google Glass: No Real Estate? No Problem

Interaction designers today are really good at designing screens. Designing for Google Glass took us out of that comfort zone, and in some ways back to the basics. It reminded us of that truism that the raw building blocks of user experience are not screens—they are experiences.

Google Glass is in many ways not ready for prime time, but makes perfect sense for certain specialized applications, like what Augmedix has envisioned for doctors, who need to capture and reference key information while keeping their full attention on patients. Hands-free operation is one of the key strengths of today’s iteration of Glass. Medicine is particularly rich with hands-free mission critical use cases, and Augmedix is taking the first step down that path. Others are imagining similar applications for Glass, such as for first responders in emergency situations.

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Designing the Future: Cooper in Berlin

Most software projects are built around the question “What are we going to do next?” But occasionally we’re asked to think farther out. Projects focused on the 5-10 year range are more about “Where are we headed?” and “What’s going to inspire people?” These are different questions to ask, and answering them changes the usual process of interaction design.

I’ve been thinking about these things for a while, and while at the MobX conference in Berlin I conducted a workshop where a group of 16 designers and strategists took a look at how you answer these questions.

So…how do you do it? The core of the matter is to understand what’s going to be different in the future you’re designing for.

These kinds of projects are less about “What’s next?” and more about “Where are we headed?” and “What’s going to inspire people?”

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Augmented Experience

Photo via Reuters / Carlo Allegri

Let’s be honest: Google Glass looks pretty silly. Its appearance is out of time, futuristic, and obnoxiously so. And it’s out of place in daily life—a strange accessory with mysterious purpose, as if someone were to walk around all day with a skateboard on a leash.

But Glass also points to an intriguing future, one in which the line between using a digital device and simply going about daily life is removed. Whereas traditional spectacles have a corrective purpose to see reality more clearly, Glass offers a new category of lenses that promise to augment the reality we see. It opens a vast new frontier for the practice of interaction design that, like the Wild West, is full of lawlessness and danger and promise. And it is the UX community that will shape this landscape; we will determine it’s character, and the impact it will have on people’s lives.

A key question all this raises is: what “reality” is Glass augmenting? At the moment, being a Google product, the augmentation is designed to primarily target the urban economic and social spheres. Looking down the street through Glass, you may see restaurant store-fronts adorned with floating metadata describing the cuisine type and star-ratings by previous diners. Turning your head, an indicator points in the direction of the location of your next calendar appointment. Peering at a product on the shelf, prices for similar products are displayed for easy comparison. You’ll always know where you are, where you need to be, and what you’re looking at. The reality that Glass augments is a realm of people, objects, places of business, and locations. In other words, what can be expressed in a database and efficiently searched.

Toward a better future

At this point in the conversation, the story usually veers into the realm of exasperation and despair. Google Glass represents the death of spontaneity! It will systematize and computerize our lives! Organic experience will be lost! (And, most insidious of all) Google will monitor and monetize every saccade of our eyeball, every step we take!

“Big brother” from the film adaptation of Orwell’s 1984

Given the penchant for technologists to base business models on advertising and “big data” about their customers, it is not surprising that Google Glass can be seen as a kind of portable panopticon. But I think the truth that this device foreshadows is something potentially more benign, and almost certainly beneficial.

The dystopian narrative that depicts a society dominated by machines and ubiquitous surveillance is common, expressed through fiction, film, and even journalism, which tends to draw on the same sinister rhetoric. George Orwell’s 1984 describes the homogenization and suppression of culture through rules, systems, and constant surveillance. In a more recent popular expression, Pixar’s Wall-E imagines a future humanity composed of zombie-like innocents, shuttled along by automated chairs, staring feebly into digital screens, mobilized—and controlled—by machines. The plausibility of these futures is made even more vivid by the unfolding story of the depth of NSA surveillance.

To paraphrase a recent piece by Don Norman, it all depends on how we design and develop augmented reality applications. If we manage to create useful and utility-producing applications with wearable technologies like Google Glass, people will benefit. This seems at first more like a truism than truth. But the obviousness of the statement belies the underlying premise, which is that Google Glass and its future iterations are simply a canvas on which we can write the future of our “augmented” everyday experience. So let’s not leave it all up to Google, shall we?

Big ideas

Ideas for the positive future of augmented reality abound. Augmedix, for example, is a small company with a vision of Google Glass re-shaping the doctor-patient relationship. Increasingly, the burden of the new and fraught world of digital medical records is damaging this interaction. Doctors stare at screens instead of faces, they spend as much time clicking checkboxes and radio buttons as they do examining the bodies and listening to the voices of the people under their care. Augmented reality could turn this scenario on its head by allowing doctors to look at and converse with their patient while simultaneously accessing and transmitting important information through Glass. This will almost certainly lead to fewer errors, an increase in trust, and ultimately better health outcomes.

A doctor wears Glass with the Augmedix app.

Or consider William Gibson’s Spook Country, a novel in which a central character creates “locative art,” what you might call augmented reality sculpture. Imagine looking at a city fountain with your augmentation goggles and seeing a bloom of light and color where others see only water. That we could transform our physical landscape in a way that enhances its beauty—rather than simply enhancing its economic potential—is a stunning notion. Unlike 3D movie glasses or straight-up “virtual reality,” the idea of a physical/virtual mashup offers us a chance to experiment and play in realms previously only available to the world of screens and displays, without losing the notion of being present in a place, something virtual reality cannot avoid. We remain in the real world.

The design of augmented reality

The first attempts to harness the power of Glass-like technology will be “ports,” shoe-horning old functionality into a new form factor. Text and email messages will appear, caller ID will notify you of a phone call, the front-facing camera will take a picture or video on command. But none of these use cases address new goals. They simply make achieving old goals incrementally faster or more convenient. I don’t have to lift my phone and look at the screen to see a text message or know who’s calling. I don’t have to lift my camera and press a button to take a picture. The difference in my experience enabled by porting functionality from my phone to Glass is a difference of degree, not a difference in kind.

More interesting will be the forays into using augmented reality tech to solve previously unmet goals. Augmedix is a good example, because it bucks a trend toward less personal medicine and solves both a doctor and a patient goal. Locative art is similarly interesting, because it provides an entirely new artistic medium and way of experiencing that art. Mapping and orientation in a visually augmented world represents another fundamental change, because it bridges the gap between the abstract 2D map and the immediately actionable—a translation that currently happens in the human brain.

Go get ‘em

Augmented reality is in its infancy. Google Glass still faces some serious challenges, especially on the hardware front—miniaturizing the device and making it less obtrusive is necessary to make it less like pulling a skateboard on a leash everywhere you go. But the frontier for experience design this device opens up is huge, and doesn’t have to remain within the boundaries Google sets. Part of our challenge and calling as a UX community is to think deeply about what an augmented experience feels like, and how it shapes people’s lives. As you would with any user experience, let unmet user goals guide your design.

Your role in this revolution is just beginning.

Engaging Millennials – the UX Boot Camp: Wikipedia

As mobile devices become widely adopted, organizations are increasingly focused on designing engaging experiences across multiple platforms. At Cooper’s UX Boot Camp with Wikimedia, the non-profit took this a step further, challenging the class of designers to create a solution that facilitated content input and encouraged a new group of editors, specifically Millennial women, to contribute through mobile devices.

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Television is dead. Or is it?

How the Internet, devices, and a new generation of viewers are redefining the “boob tube” of the future

Announcing the next Cooper Parlor: The Future of TV

When: Thursday, October 24th (Networking at 6, event starts at 6:30)
Moderated by: Richard Bullwinkle, Head of US Television Innovation at Samsung and Jeremy Toeman, CEO of the startup Dijit Media
Where: Cooper’s Studio, 85 2nd Street, 8th Floor, San Francisco
Cost: $10
Tickets

Once, television was simple. Families gathered religiously around a glowing box to watch the latest episode of “I love Lucy”. Fast-forward to today: the Internet enables a multitude of new viewing devices, and wildly different viewing habits have turned “television” on its head. In this Cooper Parlor, Richard Bullwinkle, Head of US Television Innovation at Samsung and Jeremy Toeman, CEO of the startup Dijit Media will share some curious trends in media consumption, technological advances, and the evolution of show content and format. Then, they’ll lead a brainstorming session to rethink the “television of the future” together.

Here are just a few curious factoids we’ll explore:

  • What is the #1 device for watching Netflix? The iPad? A laptop? It turns out it’s the Sony Playstation 3. Why do viewers flock to this device rather than the connected TV or an iPad?
  • Over 90% of all TV viewers use a second screen while watching TV. How might this impact the way we design the television experience and programming?
  • Can you guess why 70% of connected TVs in the US actually get connected to the internet, but only 30% do in Europe?

Join us as we discuss where TV is headed, and generate new ideas for what television can be!

What is the Cooper Parlor?

The Cooper Parlor is a gathering of designers and design-minded people to exchange ideas around a specific topic. We aim to cultivate conversation that instigates, surprises, entertains, and most importantly, broadens our community’s collective knowledge and perspective about the potential for design

Can illegal networks of zombie computers be a force for… good?

Whenever a major website has significant downtime, people start to wonder: is it intentional? Is Anonymous behind it? Or a secretive group of enemy government hackers?

It’s a reasonable assumption, as it turns out that DDoS—distributed denial of service—attacks are relatively easy to pull off these days. To accomplish it, a ne’er-do-well need only harness thousands of “zombie” computers, point them toward their intended target, and harass the web servers with so much traffic that they are overwhelmed. It’s a temporary effect, but can cause severe economic damage.

It used to be that coordinating such an attack required a great deal of skill. A criminal needed to first infiltrate those thousands of machines using some kind of trojan horse or other malware. To harness their collective power, they would stitch together a “botnet” by designing a way to control them all remotely by issuing them commands, then bend them all to whatever nefarious purpose they have in mind. (Besides DDoS attacks, botnets also send a lot of spam.) Today, however, pre-configured botnets can be rented for a pittance. One source claims to rent a 10,000-strong network of zombie machines for $200.

This got me wondering: why not rent a botnet, and use it for good?

By Tom-b (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Designer’s Toolkit: Road Testing Prototype Tools

We’ve all been there: you’ve got a few days to throw together a prototype. For expedience sake, you go to one of your large, well known tools to get the job done. The files quickly become bloated and crash—hours of hard work lost. There’s got to be a way to create prototypes at a similar level of fidelity with a lighter weight tool.

After test driving some alternative prototyping tools I discovered that there are indeed other good options. Here is an overview of what I found, followed by assessments of each tool, with hopes it will help fellow designers in the prototyping trenches.

Choosing the tools

After researching existing prototyping tools, I narrowed a long list of about 40 to a small set of 10 that looked the most interesting. Some factors that influenced which tools I selected include:

  • Hearing about the tool from fellow Cooperistas or other colleagues.
  • The popularity of the tool based on what I read in other blogs.
  • Whether it looked cool or exciting from my first impression of the design and features.

This is not a comprehensive set of tools, but includes the ones that I was interested in checking out.

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Siteglass: A Developer’s Quest for Better Performance

Hi, my name is Elisha, and I’m a developer. I know that most of you aren’t, but I want to talk about a fairly technical problem related to website optimization, and a new tool I developed to solve it — called Siteglass. Why would I want to do that? Because performance is an essential ingredient in good UX. But before I delve into that relationship, it might help to first know a little about what I do here at Cooper.

I’m a User Interface Developer. That means I take designs and turn them into interactive interfaces. As with all translations, there is a lot of room for interpretation. So, aside from the technical side of things, I consider it my main task to try to convey the intention of the design through the chosen platform (iOS, web, etc.). Sometimes there are creative choices, like defining the exact characteristics of an animation, but ultimately the goal is not to make the design my own but rather to not get in its way. This means doing whatever is possible to avoid degrading the design vision due to technical artifacts of the translation process.

Now let’s descend from the lofty height of that last paragraph and talk about websites. A lot of what I build these days are websites and they pose unique challenges, as each platform does. Browser inconsistencies, lack of typographical control and wide variations in screen size are some of the hurdles to creating a solid experience for users. Today I want to talk about an issue that is easily overlooked during design and development but can have a huge impact on user experience: page load performance.

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UX Boot Camp with Marketplace Money

Old School Radio Meets the Digital Age

Take a look inside Cooper’s June, 2013 UX Boot Camp with American Public Media’s Marketplace Money radio show, where students explored the next horizon of audio programming—a paradigm shift from broadcast to conversation-based platforms.

The Challenge
Students rolled up their sleeves to help the show respond to the trend away from traditional radio by finding the right mix of alternative distribution platforms. Marketplace Money came equally ready to take a radical departure from their current format in order to create a new model that redefines the roles of host, show, and audience in the digital age. To reach this goal, students focused on designing solutions that addressed three big challenges:

  1. Engage a new, younger audience that is tech savvy, and provide easy access to content via new platforms, such as podcasts, satellite radio shows, and the Internet.
  2. Inspire audience participation and contribution. Facilitate conversations and inspire people to share their personal stories so that listeners can learn from each other.
  3. Design ways for the host to carry an influential brand or style that extends beyond the limits of the show and engage with the audience around personal finance, connecting with listeners in ways that are likeable, useful, and trustworthy, making the topic of personal finance cool, fun and approachable.

At the end of the four-day Boot Camp, student teams presented final pitches to Marketplace Money, and a panel of experienced Cooper designers offered feedback on their ideas and presentations.In the following excerpts from each day, you can test your own sensory preferences for receiving content as you see, hear and read how design ideas evolved at the Boot Camp, inspiring new relationships between people and radio.

Marketplace Money Class

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Explore New Interaction Paradigms at UX Boot Camp: Wikimedia

Advance and apply your UX design skills to a meaningful real-world problem in this intensive, hands-on workshop

BootCamp_WEB

This September, join Wikimedia, Cooper, and design-thinkers from around the world as we find new ways to spread knowledge through mobile Wikipedia. In this four-day workshop, you’ll use new UX skills to make mobile content contribution more approachable, intuitive, and less reliant on traditional input methods like typing. If you’ve wanted an excuse to explore new interaction paradigms and stay ahead of the design pack, this is your chance. Best of all, you get to do all of that in the creative classroom setting of Alan and Sue Cooper’s 50-acre ranch in Petaluma, CA.

Register now: UX Boot Camp: WikimediaSeptember 17-20, Petaluma, CA

What’s in it for you?

  • Learn new interaction techniques and approaches under the guidance of industry leaders, including Alan Cooper
  • Learn how to think through a problem from both a design and business perspective, rather than blindly applying methods by rote.
  • Energize your practice and make new connections by working on a real-world challenge with peers from around the world.
  • Beef up your portfolio with a smart, new design concept
  • Pick up leadership and collaboration skills that will help you better navigate your work environment.

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