Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

May 2018

From Mundane to Tactile

A long day where you move about within about a 25ft radius yet still travel across continents, trade information, and engage various groups of people who use information technology to do mundane and wonderful things. This has been a pretty consistent piece of the story which has led to Avanceé and seems like an area most ripe for thinking a bit outside of the box.

On the same day of these, Microsoft announces its Surface Hub 2 another gesture towards the collaborative whiteboard which connects to people in open spaces, and uses a combination of touch, gesture, and camera-based input schemes for interfacing with content. A fan of such devices, its almost a shame these aren’t used more often — smartboards get a bad rap in educational settings, the Surface Table was best seen in Vegas, and so on. We seem to like the idea of large, public interfaces in concept, but something in the execution (or price, or administration) has kept them on the countertop rather than on the table with the main course of computing.

Perhaps there’s something to be said about touching, about being more tactile than screens can offer?

In a past project, we used a combination of the Layar AR system, QR codes, several other pieces of linked media, and a business card to trigger experiences which extended touch. Being in the time period not long after the introduction of the iPhone, such experiments weren’t unfamiliar to some, but they were eye-opening to many. Why would someone take the common practice of passing a business card, and overload it with content that needed a magic wand (read: a mobile with a camera) to enable? And then why would this be pushed further (building webpages to act like business cards, building websites hosted on mobiles, building entire courses and their materials from said mobiles, etc.). For all the connectivity that being digital offers, we often just do the mundane thing until we see there’s another way to touch the world around us.

A recent project where we reinvented the web presence of a compay offers a chance to re-explore this idea of being tactile. Passing business cards, having sales documentation, mailing lists, etc. are the mundane activities which have high energy but a very low rate of return. The experience is all about the touchpoint — being tactile and memorable — yet the behaviors do everything they can do keep touch from happening. What if we took those materials and removed them? What if we took the thing we want to sell and make it the action we did, instead of the action we talked to? What if communication and its behaviors were intentionally tactile, not passive? What would be mundane and that?