Getting personal: IXD15 - Day 3

February 12, 2015

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For us, San Francisco has been the perfect setting for IXD15. It’s amazing how much easier it is to focus on getting even better at making life better when the sun comes out. Everything is just… better.

This optimism played out in every talk through the day as we took a glimpse into the future - empowering people to create their own devices, how we can only evolve by bringing more empathy into everything we do, and where wearables are going. If Day 2 was about people, Day 3 was about the individual.

DIY devices

Ayah Bdeir tried and tried and tried to get hired at IDEO. But luckily, she failed. Why luckily? Because it meant she went off and created littleBits – a company that breaks down the complexity of electronics into Lego-like simplicity. littleBits gives adults and children the ability to use electronics to solve problems. 


  • littlebits

She presented some great examples like a rabbit who is able to text his owners when he’s hungry. Sounds like an episode of Family Guy, but it’s happening right now somewhere in America.

Remember the great Ken Robinson TED Talk where he famously advocates that creativity needs to become a more respected part of the school curriculum? Ayah advocates the same thing with electronics – that it's a language just as valid as English or Maths. Take a look at her fantastic products – not only can kids learn about electronics, they also learn about working on iterative, modular projects, setting them up perfectly for a career in Interaction Design!

Magical wearables

Max Burton opened with a magical technology quote:

  • maxburtonquote


In 2004, long before the cloud rolled in, he was designing wearable flash drives. Then he went to Nike to help create Nike+ and lay the foundations for Nike Fuel. But it was his work on the Disney MagicBand that most excited us.

One of the problems with our current phone / tablet / app technology is how it’s increasingly stopping us from living in the moment - which is why the MagicBand doesn’t have a screen - the whole park is your screen! The interesting thing about this project is that the brief was not to create a product – it was to create a platform. Your unassuming MagicBand lets you enter the park, unlock your room and pay for dinner. Location sensors tell the restaurant that you’ve just walked in so they can start preparing your order immediately. The possibilities are endless and Disney is no doubt hard at work user-testing a myriad of other uses. It’s easy to see how this thinking could make powerful transformations to industries like medicine, education and transportation.

What if we started exploring ways for devices to move us towards familiar human interactions, Max asked. What if you could seal a deal with a wearable-enhanced handshake? Or ‘friend’ somebody with a hug? To be a truly successful wearable, devices will need to fully exploit the magic they bring without ever exposing the technology that drives them.

Generating empathy for empathy

Indi Young began by highlighting that we’re still in the pioneer stages of applying empathy. Empathy is as undervalued as the importance of design used to be. So convincing stakeholders of the value of empathy is hard - but critical to the future.

As our devices become more wearable, they’re also become more personal. To be truly effective, products and services are going to have to anticipate the needs of individuals – not groups.

Understanding what drives people requires lots of listening. People really open up when someone listens deeply to them. And this allows us to understand much more than just preferences and opinions. It helps us to tap into emotions and motivations, and to truly empathize with them cognitively.

Indi left us with a fantastically accessible analogy to demonstrate the importance of empathy: Sherlock Holmes. 


  • sherlock


His heightened sense of awareness and empathy allow him to see the tiny, personal details that everyone else misses. But these tiny, personal - often initially meaningless - details accumulate to give him all the elements he needs to reframe a problem from a neutral point of view and get to a surprising, but elementary solution.

This is a subject that is going to flourish and have a huge impact on the work we all do. Indeed, the word empathy cropped up a lot in talks over the last 3 days. Find out more about Indi’s expert take on empathy in the two books she’s written.

Our takeaway from Day 3

Wednesday's takeaway was all about the individual: carefully listening for nuances can fuel incredibly powerful, yet wonderfully discreet, personalized experiences.

As devices get more and more personal, the most successful experiences will be the ones that naturally and effortlessly harmonize with our day-to-day lives.

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