Josh Clark waves his magic wand

Instilling a bit of magic into UX & product design

Author and designer Josh Clark kicked off the second day of the 2015 Delight conference with his inspirational keynote, “Magical UX and the Internet of Things,” setting the stage for his exploration of evolutionary UX by using a prop magic wand to light LED candles via infrared.

With Harry Potter movie clips as the backdrop, Josh demonstrated the concept of compressing intent into action using natural gesture (wand) and speech (spells). As I’d taken my 9¾-year-old son to the Harry Potter worlds at Universal Studios in Florida this summer, of course I loved this!

Josh’s premise is that as we take the technology interaction away from the desktop, keyboard and mouse, and move it into the real world of connected devices (aka the “Internet of Things”), we can now “move interaction to the point of inspiration” and not have to rely on a screen interface as the intermediary step.

To do this well, we need to rethink the way humans interact with technology; we need to think about and design physical interfaces to the digital world.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke

Josh’s commentary on Google Glass is harsh, but accurate, as shown by the lack of enthusiasm in the marketplace. He proposes that in order for humans to derive value from technology, we need to not think, “Let’s see what happens when we mash up a pair of glasses, a camera, a processor and a screen.”

That is an engineering project; a technology question. What if, Josh asks, we asked a different kind of question?

What if it were magic?

We’ve been telling stories for centuries that include magical objects that were imagined to make humans’ lives better. We already have the design patterns for a ton of smart/connected/magical objects. So rather than thinking of what we can do with technology, we should figure out what human need to meet. In order to meet that human need, as designers we need to embrace the essential “thingness” of an object and amplify it.

Josh continues to suggest one method of product design/UX ideation would be to co-opt the thinking that’s already gone into magical devices. If we outfit a mundane device like a phone with things like sensors, smarts and connectivity, we get a smart phone, something that would have seemed like magic 50 years ago.

Connected doesn’t mean smart, and smart doesn’t meet good

Josh suggests that we need to bend technology to our lives, not the other way around. He gives a couple of examples of human-centered products and seemingly magical objects:

  • Dorothy “real life ruby slippers”: an inside-the-shoe connected device that can trigger a pre-programmed phone call on clicking one’s heels together three times
  • Wayfindr: an app using iBeacons that helps visually impaired people navigate the London transportation system independently

Both are fascinating technology devices that clearly address human needs.

Josh leaves us with this challenge, “It’s not a challenge of technology; it’s a challenge of imagination.” Whether we are product, UX, CX or experience designers—or simply design thinkers—we all need to add a little magic and imagination to our thinking.

Photo by Win Goodbody