Digital Ergonomics in Experience Design
As we invest more of our time and energy into our digital lives and social media personas, the best designed experiences in physical spaces take into consideration what’s needed to accommodate our time spent in the digital world. In other words, it’s no longer enough to design an experience in a physical space that captures people’s attention, we need to consider how we simultaneously accommodate people’s digital lives.
Making Ergonomic Accommodations for our Digital Lives
One important step experience designers can take to wrap their heads around this shift is to consider how our digital and physical worlds have become one.
Even when there are not any digital touchpoints, screens, or technology featured in a particular space, event, or experience, our digital lives are still there, actively participating.
With smartphones in our pockets and constant access to the web, we’re all jacked into the digital world 24 hours a day — and this requires experience designers to consider a new form of digitally-focused ergonomics. It’s not enough to just create a good experience in a physical space, we need to think about people’s digital personas and lives also. This is not about building websites and apps necessarily — though those are important parts of the puzzle — this has more to do with how we’re accommodate people’s digital lives and personas while they’re in these physical spaces.
The design considerations don’t have to be complex or even involve much or any technology necessarily; they just need to enable people to do what they want to do in these settings to share and express themselves easily and with as little friction or difficulty as possible. A few examples:
- Floor decals can help indicate where something is framed and lit perfectly for an Instagram photo or selfie.
- Lighting and overall physical design should ensure environment is optimized for social sharing. The Color Factory and Museum of Ice Cream are among those that have mastered this art of creating entire environments perfectly designed to be photographed as you move through them.
- Prominently displayed hashtags are particularly important for live productions like keynote presentations, where captive audiences will likely be sharing quotes and content. It’s annoying for them to have to guess hashtags or to have to re-write a post when they’ve gotten a hashtag wrong.
- Augmented reality can enhance a physical footprint or experience when designed well, as in Eminem’s 2018 Coachella performance. Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenberg said in a TechCrunch feature, “We figured, if the phones are going to be there and people are going to be putting them up in the air and looking at them anyway why don’t we provide a way to maybe change the way they’re perceiving the show.” Because the AR experience was well designed and on-brand for Eminem, it was easily adopted as a cool digital layer to the experience that created excitement for concertgoers and fit well into the festival setting.
- Simple accommodations like decent WiFi and ample charging stations are critical.
Shifting to Screen-less Digital Experiences
In addition to embracing the convergence of our digital and physical lives, the most state-of-the-art experiences are steadily getting away from the overuse of screens and linear media and moving toward a new age of screen-less interfaces or interface-less design.
With these kinds of experiences, environments or spaces become active participants in the experiences happening inside them, instead of just playing the role of boring containers of space.
A simple but powerful example of this kind of approach can be found at the Portland studio of an architecture firm called Ankrom Moisan. In their workspace, against the wall where there might be a light switch is a little green light.
The firm installed an array of sensors inside their studio that track temperature, humidity, and other environmental conditions inside their studio. An identical array of sensors were installed on the exterior of the of the building. When the temperature and conditions were just right inside and out, the little green light would come on, informing everyone in the studio it was time to open the windows.
This simple screen-less digital setup is a fantastic example of how inexpensive and simple hardware like these sensors and some fairly straightforward software can be combined and mashed up in a clever way to improve people’s lives in the real or physical world.
There are a wide variety of ways designers and creatives are using other kinds of traditional and emerging technologies to create all kinds of remarkable screen-less experiences, including kinetic sculptures and installations (like at Cisco Live), diffused LED arrays, and real-time motion-tracked projection mapping to name just a few techniques and approaches.
Bringing our Digital and Physical Lives Together
As technology continues to advance in ways that move us toward this digital/physical hybrid reality, world-class experiences will be the ones that most effectively and holistically incorporate digital ergonomics, accommodating the way people live their lives online and off.