I attended an interesting Cambridge Usability talk by Jason Mesut last night, exploring how individuals and teams in the User Experience and Industrial Design community can connect, calibrate and collaborate to work towards a common purpose. It highlighted the current divide that exists between the two communities and the importance of future collaboration.

“I want a future where physical products and digital services work in harmony”

The Joy of Tactile Controls

DJ and electronic music equipment is a great example of a good physical-digital experience. It feels really satisfying to control digital sounds using good old-fashioned knobs and dials. You feel much more connected to the interaction and the product leaves a lasting impression – unlike many apps. Seeing these cool gadgets really made me want to get my old vinyl decks and keyboard down from the loft and start playing again!

Screen Domination(!)

Screens are now everywhere. Many companies are jumping on the screen bandwagon without thinking the UX through first – just because it’s the thing to do (and cheaper most likely). Take the 17’ Tesla car touch screen for example. This is dangerous – drivers need tactile controls so they can keep their eyes on the road.

Another example that comes to mind is the iPod Nano. Personally, I found it much more useful when it still had the button and wheel control as I could control it whilst running and wearing gloves. That’s why I’ve held onto my good ol’ faithful 5th Gen Nano for so long. Touch screen isn’t always the way forward!

They don’t make ’em like they used to 🙂

Hardware Revival

In contrast to this, there is a slow hardware revival – some good, such as the Nest thermostat, and some, well…a little odd, such as the Beam Toothbrush. Is this really the best use of technology?

Why Harmony is Rare

Unfortunately, good examples of physical-digital harmony like Nest are rare. There is generally a hardware/software mismatch. Digital natives seem to be driving the future whilst Industrial Designers have their heads in the sand. Why is this? Mesut gave a few reasons:

  1. Hardware is being commoditised
  2. Delivery timelines are different
  3. Disciplines don’t understand each other
  4. Teams are separated

An example of the latter point: The Fitbit UX Team had to compromise their work for the limiting hardware created previously. If the two teams had worked together from the start, the product experience would have likely been much better.

How can we bridge the divide?

Bridging the divide is a tough challenge but it has been done. We must:

  • Connect: Find common ground and respect differences.
  • Calibrate: Adapt ourselves, process and translate our language.
  • Collaborate: Unite on a common purpose, share between teams and prototype together.

We explored different ways to unite the UX and ID disciplines. Partnering teams seemed the most practical way to do so. It’s unlikely that one person would have specialised skills in both UX and ID. Teams working together would prototype together, and share work regularly.

Unite on a common purpose

It was a great talk which brought Industrial Design processes and practices to my attention. From seeing the examples of when it’s done right, it’s clear that collaboration between UX and ID designers improves the product experience massively. Let’s see what the future holds!

The talk ended with a rave analogy I liked:

“Different tribes coming together, dancing to one beat in the same room for a common purpose. Just bring you own style and be careful on treading on other people’s toes.”