Do agencies dehumanise the very people they design for? Does digital technology make us more or less human? And what does it mean to be human in a digital world anyway?
Just some of the questions raised by Nexus’ Pete Trainor in his talk “Don’t do things better, do better things”. Organised as part of our company-wide wellness week here at Fetch, Pete invited us to look beyond only our own wellness to consider the wellness of our clients and their customers (sorry, humans).
After a quick overview of his own peripatetic career path, which has taken him from playing with VR at Westland helicopters to a host of top digital agencies, Pete offered up some sharp criticism of the language commonly used in the industry. Users, consumers, customers, audiences and personas… Pete argues that each of these terms reduces our appreciation for the real humans we’re designing for. As he puts it “before we were users, we were humans”.
But it’s not just a matter of semantics. Each of these terms unwittingly forces us to measure proxies for real human needs. Bounce rate rather than affection, conversions rather than protection. We spend our time measuring marketing needs not human needs. The emerging field of cognitive biometrics promises one way to measure the stuff that really matters: how people feel rather than just what they do.
This emerging field is all driven by the unstoppable rise of the smartphone (a subject rather close to our hearts at Fetch). Pete broke down the opportunities offered by smartphones with his concept of “the digital soul”, the amalgamation of all the data captured and created on our devices. Pete argues that recent advances in AI offer a chance to be empowered by this all this data, rather than enslaved by it.
One rather poignant example he gave was SU, an AI-driven chat bot designed to tackle the male suicide epidemic head on. Based around the insight that “although men might find it difficult to talk to people, they will talk” SU is a Socratic system that asks men to talk through their problems. Most intriguingly it was actually the perceived “inhumanity” of SU that helped men to open up. Knowing they weren’t being judged by a real human meant they engaged in less â€˜impression management’.
A great example of human-centric design, underpinned by technology. Doing a better thing, not just doing something better.
Because while the landscape of technology continues to shift faster than ever, the people at the centre of it don’t change very much at all. We’re only human, after all.
George Morgan – Fetch