I am reviewing the Manifesto on Human Factors Engineering and making updates. In the meantime, what follows below was a draft introduction letter, which was left unpublished when releasing the Manifesto last year. Blue text shows new updates. As far as this post’s title is concerned, DX refers to Digital Experiences. The same acronym is also used for Digital Transformation initiatives.
Claude E. Shannon, the father of information theory, is credited with being the first to use the word “bit” in a ground-breaking paper published in the Bell Labs’ Research Journal in 1948. He defined a mathematical framework that defines information and how to encode and transmit it over communication networks.
John E. Karlin, the father of Human Factors Engineering and a peer of Shannon’s at Bell Labs, is credited with assembling the first business organization addressing the human side of the equation just a year earlier. His interdisciplinary team focused on how to interface and, therefore, best design communication systems that account for cognitive and behavioral matters, as well as form factor considerations for devices to be user friendly.
In the Age of Digital Transformation, the notion of “being digital” has transcended the sophisticated handling of binary digits and what we can do with tangible hardware. Data driven automation and the notion of zero-touch lead to the development of end-to-end digital systems that are largely software defined and autonomic. These are engineered to be highly efficient and to operate without human intervention… or so we thought.
That feat can only be accomplished by undertaking a holistic design approach which, paradoxically, highlights the larger context and the new nature of Human-Machine-Systems. Otherwise, we would incur a technical myopia where presumably good technology ends up addressing the wrong problems or causing new ones that offset the intended benefits. In the digital age, technical prowess alone does no longer guarantee success: impressive inventions can fail to “cross the chasm,” fall in the “valley of death,” and never become true innovations to their creators and investors’ dismay. Passing the Turing Test just to plunge into the uncanny valley paradox also reinforces that point.
Note: the above draft chart is not self-explanatory, requires some updating and I will better address it on another post… but I’d like to leave this version here for ongoing discussions and feedback.
Being digital entails a new breed of jobs enabled by workforce automation. Any of us may become a citizen developer who can leverage self-service and intuitive decision support systems to create, blend and program services, because automation does the heavy lifting under the hood. Interdisciplinary collaboration is now within reach as teams involving individuals from different domains can effectively share these tools and the underlying resources to overcome the pitfalls and diminishing returns of organizational fragmentation. Enterprises can better innovate and further business opportunities by engaging in rapid experimentation with nimbler teams working at greater scale and scope, and by doing so at unprecedented speed.
At the time of writing this, and in the foreseeable future, no enterprise system is left alone without a human being accountable for its performance (or lack of thereof) since our skills and judgement remain key to critical and ultimate decision making. The more sophisticated the environment, the more obvious, as smaller agile teams become responsible for systems operating at greater scale, scope and speed. Dr. Alonso Vera, Chief at NASA’s HSI (Human Systems Integration) Division, states that “humans are the most critical element in system safety, reliability and performance […] across the gamut of applications even as increasingly intelligent software systems come on-line,” Human-Centered Design and Operations of Complex Aerospace Systems 2017.
It should also be noted that best practices in A.I. are promoting the kind of augmented and collaborative intelligence that only Human-On-The-Loop and Human-In-The-Loop Computing can deliver. A.I. is also powering up Affective Computing to make day-to-day digital services be contextual, empathic and adaptive, and allowing for mass-personalization at scale. We are also leveraging Natural Language Processing coupled with Dataviz helping better search, discover and visualize insight and foresight with interactive infographic quality, instead of just rendering data overloading screens and overwhelming navigation.
These are all good reasons to further our understanding of how to best leverage analytics, automation and programmability to design enterprise and consumer systems driven by a human-centered approach. The desired outcome is greater utility, frictionless consumability, dynamic adaptation and, last but not least, extreme ease of use at any level throughout a service’s lifecycle. That’s the fertile ground that enables new cross-pollination opportunities to enable a better future, which continuous improvement sets in constant motion and, hence, always is in the making.
Being digital is a human experience and, as such, it involves human affects. That relates to how we perceive our predominantly analog world and the diversity of our social and cultural fabrics. We interact with a great deal of objects and services of all sizes which can, and will be, digitized and automated in some fashion. We will continue to lead our lives in a variety of changing contexts and perform numerous tasks throughout the day, some routinely and some exercising more demanding skills with both low and high tech in that mix. So, it pays to think of Human Factors Engineering as not only having pioneered human-centered-design, but as an endless source of serial innovation for Creative Technologists to address our evolving lifestyles and quality of life in the DX Age.
I am on my way to Mobile World Congress and last night I had the opportunity to speak at DevMynd’s “Agile Software in a Hardware World.” That panel discussion featured BMW Technology Corporation (BMW, Mini, Rolls-Royce,) Monsanto’s “The Climate Corporation,” and Nokia Software Group, which I was proud to represent. The venue, 1KFulton, is a century-old and former cold storage building in the Fulton Market neighborhood, home to Google’s Chicago campus.
Reflecting on that panel discussion, small group conversations and one-on-one chats before and after the event, I think that it is fair to state the following:
(A) software is undergoing a defining moment while re-shaping industries. “Software defined instruments and systems” have superseded capabilities of hardware-centric deployments.
In other words, economic value and profitability are migrating from conventional products to software dominated environments that control tools, systems, and processes.
In this new context, (B) collaborative undertakings (co-creation, open source,) platforms, modularization and mashups are paving the way for rapid experimentation and for a wide-range of services to surface.
Back to economics… a venture capital firm operating in the Silicon Valley shared with me that when comparing current investments with equivalent old-school ones, they experienced x3 times time-to-market speed at 1/3 of the investment, which allows them to better diversify risk and fund more start-ups in the process.
Moreover, we are now operating at (C) unprecedented speed, scale and scope. For that reason alone, software should improve our ability to “pivot” and dynamically adapt to changing circumstances.
Most plans don’t survive first contact and many start-ups and emerging technologies don’t survive the so-called “crossing-the-chasm” or “Valley of Death.” So, remaining lean and embracing continuous/iterative improvement are of the essence. That’s a quality mantra rather than an excuse for forgoing best quality practices.
Back to economics again: quality management’s definition of “customer satisfaction” is now table-stakes and compliance in that area drives low-cost commoditization. “Customer delight” is the higher benchmark that commands a premium and the kind of margins enabling us to re-invest to further innovate.
Let’s now state the obvious, “customers” are human beings, aren’t they? Interestingly enough, the more sophistication and diversification, the higher the need for (D) humanizing technology so that we can better create, consume, use and democratize any digital services. In turn, this has fostered (E) Design Thinking as a leading innovation practice that intersects art and science. Design Thinking addresses HMS, Human-Machine-Systems, by prioritizing HCD, Human-Centered-Design.
In terms of economic effectiveness and efficiency, that means outcome-oriented system-sizing, rather than over-engineering waste. It also means the definition of meaningful and purposeful requirements: some are designed to meet customer satisfaction metrics, while others are explicitly thought out to exceed that baseline and, hence, to actually deliver the X-Factor prompting customer delight. All key to customer acceptance and adoption growth.
Better yet, one of the event’s participants volunteered the fact that “good design” factoring intuitive interaction, advanced dataviz (data visualization) and effortless controls was proven to shrink the sales cycle by literally half: not only customers perceived and experienced the service’s tangible value early, the sales team was also able to approach more customers in that timeframe. Innovative Human-Computer-Interaction based on information design, value based tasks, streamlined processes, intuitive data visualization, effortless controls and overall UX, User Experience, double as compelling demonstration tools.
This is a side note: that has already become a critical success factor in Artificial Intelligence’s new developments, AI being software’s top transformational exponent as DSS, Decision Support Systems for humans and/or machines become quintessential. I will detail that in another post.
One last thought… (F) software’s pervasiveness has also brought along Agile development practices. These include “user stories” borrowing a Design Thinking technique by which application features are defined by synthesizing human optics (persona/outcome/rationale) to put technical myopia at bay.
After all, we should all be in the business of making tech human. Otherwise, what would negating or ignoring that say about each of us and our collective culture?
I am joining a discussion on Information Visualization and Interaction Design… and the integral role of Cognitive Art to deliver innovative HCI (Human-Computer-Interfaces.)
Heare are sample projects that I have been involved in. This set showcases: multi-modal user interfaces, metaphorical abstractions, and cognitive models, as well as ergonomic form factors that optimize for extreme ease of use.
d.SCI refers to a methodology that I am working on which purposely intersects design and science. In this particular discussion, human cognition and affect are the topics of interest.