Design Language Poised to Bridge the Communications Gap Between Technology and Humans

29 October 2015

The relationship between people and technology has become an increasingly important factor in how well – and how satisfied – consumers live, work and play.  Technology now plays a critical role in how we are entertained at home, how we select a restaurant to dine out, and even how we interact with healthcare providers. 

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The relationship between people and technology has become an increasingly important factor in how well – and how satisfied – consumers live, work and play.  Technology now plays a critical role in how we are entertained at home, how we select a restaurant to dine out, and even how we interact with healthcare providers. 

For businesses of all types that are looking for a better way to integrate the physical and digital lives of consumers, the concept of design language might be the most powerful and potentially transformative new trend in technology management.

The emergence of the design language concept – as a next step in industrial design –is enabling leading-edge organizations to develop a more sophisticated and comprehensive user-centric approach to how products and services are conceived and brought to market.  According to Nicolas Limare, vice president of user experience at Technicolor, it is a process that starts with a deep exploration of how physical objects or conceptual services can communicate better with humans.  He believes that companies that embrace this mentality can achieve a competitive advantage in today’s digital life landscape.

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But what exactly is design language and how can it be used to deliver a more compelling and immersive user experience?  Simply put, explains Limare, design language is the next-generation syntax that will enable technology to speak to users’ experiences – particularly emotional ones.

Strategist and author Jon Kolko’s cover story in the most recent issue of Harvard Business Review notes that the growing complexity of modern technology and business is driving large organizations to move design closer to the center of the enterprise — a move that is more about applying design principles to the way people work than it is about mere aesthetics or product development.  “Design thinking is an essential tool for simplifying and humanizing,” Kolko writes.  “It can’t be extra; it needs to be a core competence.”

Current trends in mobility, wearable devices and embedded IT already are driving disruption, while emerging technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are on track to further close the gap between consumers and their digital lives.

But these advances in technical functionality has come with significant tradeoffs because of the high degree of complexity that has been injected into consumers’ lives.  That’s why the next great evolution in the technology space may well be making consumers’ communication with machines more human.

…Effective Design Language Strategy Supports the ‘User-First’ Approach

The task of creating a compelling and immersive user experience requires attention to design language, user interface design and any type of interaction that the consumer can have with the technology product.

“When you look at our concept of design language at Technicolor, our intention is to have a user-centric approach,” says Limare.  “As we design for the user what we are doing is aiming for adoption, we must use design language so that objects and services can communicate with humans…this removes any friction between what people want to do, and how a product or service can help them achieve it.  Design language is really one of the basic blocks to making this happen.  It is like a grammar that will allow communications between people and objects.”

…Bringing a New Language of Design to the Home

A great example of successful design language in the digital life era revolves around the consumer devices that we carry with us – or even wear – everyday.  Our smart phones, tablets and digital life-style bracelets are not just functional tools, they are almost like a fashion statement in the sense that the choices consumers help express of who people are as individuals.

On the other hand, one area of opportunity to bring a similar sensibility to the home revolves around revisiting how customer premises equipment (CPE) looks at home.  Today, sitting on designer entertainment consoles are devices (like set-top boxes and wireless routers) that would look more appropriate in a data center than in a home.  Indeed, impressive creative effort is applied by consumers to hide these devices.

But the challenge, according to Limare, is not to make these devices “prettier.”  It is to define and design the role that CPE will play in places that people actually live.

Today, Technicolor is working with a number of different telecommunications carriers to create and innovate new products and services for the home.  These include future gateways that will not just provide access to digital life services, but maybe will also function as a beautiful lamp or a trendier object, for example.

“To make the user adoption as successful as possible, it requires a lot of integration into the processes.”  Moreover, he says, it is an inherently multi-disciplinary endeavor that requires the collaboration of designers, IT professionals, marketers, brand managers as well as solid research and development talent.  This is the only way that truly meaningful new user experiences can be brought to market in a tailored – and profitable – manner.

…The Growing Importance of User Experiences

Organizations are gaining a fresh understanding of the strategic importance of user experience.  Three-quarters of business leaders recently surveyed by Forrester Research agree that improving the customer experience is their top strategic priority.   However, nearly half of the respondents acknowledge that much of their effort is focused on measuring and plugging holes in their current experience – and 30 percent are spending their time trying to prevent bad experiences from happening in the first place.

Forrester urges organizations to strike a balance between improving existing experiences and pushing for bolder, innovation-based efforts that deliver new value to customers — that includes enhancing the emotional appeal of experiences.

“A good designer drives value,” Limare says, noting that there is a powerful value proposition in creating compelling products that also serve customer needs.   This task can be accomplished by first focusing on user adoption.  “User adoption is very critical to creating brand loyalty and a feeling of intimacy with the product or service,” he noted.  “It keeps the customer emotionally involved and engaged.”

This involvement not only results in customer loyalty, it has a straightforward, positive impact on revenue.  “The best advice I can give is to put the user at the center of your attention,” Limare says.  “Obsess about end-user value and focus, not only on performance and technology.”

To watch the webcam interview with Nicolas Limare, click here.

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