Matt Webb: What comes after mobile

If you have 30 minutes to spare, watch Matt Webb’s talk ‘What comes after mobile’ that he gave at Mobile Monday Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago. In it, Matt talks about what we should be thinking about when we design for the future, stating examples of projects that exhibit design influenced by human behaviour.

Cloud, embedded, networks, internet of things: all of these are just technologies. (…) These names of technologies don’t give us any clues about how to design for them, how to design for these future media and services and how we as humans relate to these things.

He then talks about 4 clues that we can use while thinking of how to design for the future:

1. Faces make understanding: I loved the use of Chernoff faces here, which are “an idea from psychology that we’re much better at understanding human expression as faces than we are at understanding lists of numbers.” Chris Quick wrote a fascinating post about the use of Chernoff faces to explain major league baseball here. Matt explains why Chernoff faces are useful, it’s because “we as human beings are more able to pick out emotional facial expressions in a crowd than we are a high number from a list of numbers. and emotion is infectious: we get happy when we see happy faces, and we get angry when we see angry faces.” BERG essentially used this idea in Schooloscope, which I liked when I first heard about it a few months ago. Schooloscope uses government data to rank schools, with happy and sad faces to illustrate how students perform, and red/amber/green colours used to indicate how good, optimistic or bad BERG rates them on the basis of the available data.

I thought of Dave’s and Desicreative’s ‘faces in places’ series – it’s interesting the way people see faces in everyday things.

2. Hard math for trivial things: There are quite a few apps and services that use maths for very simple things, such as Sudoku Grab, an iPhone app which lets you take a photograph of a Sudoku puzzle (including using augmented reality), uses machine vision and neural networks to figure out what the numbers are, and then solves the puzzle very easily.

Then there’s Red Laser, which scans barcodes for comparison shopping and finding product information. If it can’t find it out, Red Laser uses Mechanical Turk to solve the problem.  So a global network of thousands of people put their energies towards finding out the prices of goods.

Finally, Shownar, an experimental prototype created by BERG last year, for the BBC, that trawled Twitter and thousands of blogs to find out what shows people were watching, and then told you what to watch based on the popularity of shows.

3. Fractional artificial intelligence – Here Matt spoke about basic plastic toys, usually made in China, that only really need a chip to make it interesting: produce strange sounds, for example. Still, it’s interesting to see what you can do with a chip.

4. Chatty interfaces: Plenty of examples on Twitter now, but he specifically mentioned @andy_house, which tweets the energy used by Andy Stanford-Clark’s house (Andy happens to be the CTO of Smarter Energy), and Lanyrd, which connects with Twitter to keep track of the conferences you go to, in a  social way.

He concludes: “the principles we take for granted in designing mobile apps come from an era where chips were too simple to be smart and business models too obsessed with buttons to let the everyday be fun. Just as cheap oil, let there be an explosion of cheap plastic products, with cheap interfaces, leading to the possibility of being incredibly different.”

Here it is:

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