Humanising tech, from UX to impactful human experience
Society 5.0 sparks a dramatic societal shift − a vision of the future that hinges on digitalisation, human-centred artificial intelligence and trusted sharing of data.
The fourth industrial revolution remains a hot topic. Technologies are emerging and evolving faster than the capacity of some of our organisations to adapt to and adopt them, and demands a nimble response.
Furthermore, following the rapid development of connected technologies, which are now highly sophisticated and spread across the globe, Society 5.0 has emerged and brought with it a dramatic societal shift − a vision of the future that hinges on digitalisation, human-centred artificial intelligence and trusted sharing of data.
According to the World Economic Forum, Africa is on the cusp of a new era, with its continental trade deal providing renewed incentives for its countries to work more closely together and grow their economies.
But the continent is still far from attaining its Sustainable Development Goals, as African countries battle to get basic services to its people, create jobs for a rapidly-growing population, reduce inequality, ramp-up infrastructure and embrace digitalisation.
At the intersection of this focus and the opportunities of Society 5.0, new models of development in Africa and new digital eco-systems, underpinned by technology and innovation, are required, ensuring more Africans participate in the mainstream economy.
But what does “humanising technology” mean for Africa in its current context?
Such a human-centred society will require the free flow of data, agile regulation and strong focus on digital literacy. Gone are the days where an organisation considers a digital user interface for the convenience of its operations, systems and integration. Technology should be focusing on reducing the complexity of daily lives and empowering citizens in Africa to follow the path of digital transformation.
Advancing technology needs to become more human-oriented to help us to streamline, simplify, evaluate and filter, and to better understand human needs, emotions and human behaviour. Technologies will come and go, but the human in this context is the constant, using technology as a means to enable the needs of human beings.
Here are five human experience considerations in the context of technology design:
The speed at which technology is changing bears the risk of excluding less tech-savvy people from its usage. It simply refers to creating a design that can be used by a diverse group of people through identifying situations where people are excluded from using particular technologies.
Think about people with, for example, an inability to use virtual assistants or chatbots − they will always feel excluded.
A human-centred society will require the free flow of data, agile regulation and strong focus on digital literacy.
Inclusion will require special efforts to overcome current inequalities and to use the emancipatory potential of digital technologies to make our societies more inclusive.
Further to understanding and interrogating the cultural and social impact of new technologies, also consider inclusion in driving the creation of new technologies, methodologies and information systems.
Foster the sense of community
Humans are social creatures. Lockdown and social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic amplified our need to connect, to engage, to belong.
Technology has created a global village where, for example, it is as easy to engage with an expert in another country as it is to talk to my neighbour, or farmers in African countries that are linked to communities of multimedia advisory content, farm inputs such as crops and times to plant, and buyers.
Know your user
The recent focus on UX and UX design highlighted the emotional side of human experience. Each user has unique preferences, behaviours and expectations. Emotional appeal is key to any interface and more so for design assets that intend to bring back users again and again.
Furthermore, there is a strong connection between emotions and recall. So, design to produce positive emotions.
By acknowledging the importance of emotional experiences, ensure that users feel like there is a person, not a machine, at the other end of the connection. Dig deeper and find all you can about your users. This will set the foundation for delighting the users with your design.
Keep it simple: minimise the number of concepts in an engagement step and reduce short-term memory load; ie, do not expect users to remember sequences of actions or data carried over from two steps back.
Furthermore, digital technologies now provide tools for visualisation, so consider whether a paragraph of text may be replaced with an image. The lesser the mental load for the user, the better it is for your design.
In addition, give users the choice to customise their experience in a way that best suits their needs.
Understand mental patterns
No two people think exactly the same way, as we are a product of different thinking patterns that emerged as a result of our experience of interacting with reality. Users may therefore try to deploy mental patterns developed from doing tasks in the physical world to the online world.
As it takes time to change these patterns, ensure a good understanding of your users’ mental patterns and then replicate it in an intuitive user interface. In addition, change your design mind-set from one of “it’s not a technology issue, it’s a user issue” to acknowledging design problems disempowering users to use the software or application correctly.
The ironic part of the context of these five human experience considerations is that technology changes faster than the human needs it is supposed to serve.
We therefore also need to understand our responsibility related to this great power of technology by anticipating challenges and by asking critical human-centred questions before making user interface decisions.
Amol Kadam, RBBi co-founder, suggests the following guiding questions:
- Will this technology result in overall good for all people, and not just a handful of them?
- What could be some unintended consequences of this technology, positive and negative?
- What are the social, cultural, environmental and ethical impacts of the technology?
- Will this technology augment human intellect, support it, disrupt it, or substitute for it?
- Can this technology be used negatively against users?
Humanising design experiences may be intangible, but it is very powerful. Make sure you design for impactful human experience by ensuring a human-machine engagement is as easy and emotionally connected as a conversation between two friends.
Associate professor, Department of Informatics, University of Pretoria
Dr Hanlie Smuts is an associate professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of Pretoria since 2017. During her tenure in industry, her role aimed to deliver consistent customer relevance across all digital touch points, empower customers through convenient and effective self-service, and drive growth through personalised digital offerings. Through a deeper understanding of the digital and adjacent ecosystems, she championed transformation to digital and the need for collaboration in this context. She currently focuses on research in IT and the organisation, with particular emphasis on digital transformation, disruptive technologies, big data management, enterprise architecture and knowledge management. Dr Smuts has published several papers and book chapters in her field of study.