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Today’s Web is a shopping mall.

It is populated by struggling creators, relentless advertisements, and dominated by large chains and fast-food services.

There isn’t much room for mid-sized businesses, and customers and workers alike barely interact with each other.

You don’t feel comfort at this mall, all you can feel is annoyance and despair.

Let’s instead imagine the Web as a fertile farmer’s market, full of countless vendors selling local produce.

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Independent Markets promote relationships and direct contributions to vendors.

When you make a purchase, you don’t just slide a card and wait for your product. …


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Fixing the web involves taking care of Creators.

Creators have three options for surviving online: closed marketplaces, recurring subscriptions and invasive advertising. It’s time for something new.

You’re in an arcade.

This arcade has a million machines.

Instead of coin slots, the games have different payment methods. Some are ad-supported, frequently pestering you with annoying pop-ups. Others won’t let you play until you enter your credit card. Some require a monthly subscription, and the rest have an up-front cost that is too much for casual use.

Some people will pick a few machines they like, and most will give up. Why can’t you just pay a quarter for a quick match against a friend? …


Have you ever found yourself turning on a light switch or opening a window without even realizing you were doing it? So much of the everyday technology in our lives has been simplified to the point where we hardly even notice it, even as it takes up larger portions of our daily lives.

Our culture has become so used to “Walk-By” interfaces that we accept them as part of everyday life. They’re stable, robust, and user-friendly. They have reached a certain kind of technological maturity, unlike newer web-based inventions which are still developing.

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Pass-through technologies like light switches get people to their goals without them needing to focus on the interface. Flickr: saaby

With COVID-19 driving us indoors and into isolation, our daily lives are happening almost entirely online. There’s a sudden need for new tools, as we see an increase in small groups finding innovative uses for pre-built technologies like social media and videoconferencing. …


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Speaking about “Designing Human Technology” at CES’ WPP Terrace with Cleve Gibbon, CTO of Wunderman Thompson (Photo by Vanessa Camones)

This was my first year speaking at CES, the 100,000+ attendee strong technology trade show in Las Vegas earlier this month. I spent three days visiting companies on the trade show floor, at invite-only press events, and in hotel rooms.

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CES attendee tries a “smart” mirror at CES 2020

I’m far from the only one to come away from this year’s CES feeling underwhelmed at a slew of products that were more likely to include accessories for existing technologies than innovative breakthroughs. Social media is full of snark at its cavalcade of shiny but ultimately forgotten products.

Amidst the USB charging dongles, “smart” appliances and voice-activated technologies, only two technologies really drew my…


Designing for fancy new technology can mean we ignore the elegantly practical tech we already have

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“The Incoherence Of Bluetooth Pairing In The Early 20th Century” by Zimpenfish

You’re probably familiar with a scenario like this: You get into your car and all you want to do is pair your phone to the car through Bluetooth. But to do so, you must wade through a whole menu of items, put each device in pairing mode, and fail a few times before they finally pair. The same goes for pairing a speaker or other devices.

If you’ve already resigned yourself to this situation as just an inevitable inconvenience of the modern world, let me tell you a story about what might have been — and what could still be.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just tap your phone to a device to pair it? Instead of the multi-step process required for setting up a Bluetooth connection, imagine coming home to do this: Tapping your phone to a dock near the entrance, which instantly pairs it to every device in the house. …


AR has been eagerly awaited for decades, but so far, it has failed to truly deliver

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Augmented reality demo featured in M. W. Krueger’s book ‘Artificial Reality II,’ 1991.

What you’re looking at above is the state of augmented reality nearly two decades ago. It’s also a clue as to why, today, Magic Leap is reportedly looking for more venture funding after having already raised more than $2.6 billion from Google and other Silicon Valley giants but has little to show for it beyond an expensive AR headset that’s rumored to have unimpressive sales. It’s also a cautionary case study for Apple, which is reportedly planning a launch of its own AR headset line in 2022.

This ’90s demo has a strikingly similar interaction model to Magic Leap’s user interface. But while visually compelling, this approach to interaction will always suffer from the problems associated with ambiguous input from hand gestures. …


Tech that looks cool in the movies is often distracting and frustrating for real users

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Amazon’s Home of the Future consists mostly of voice-activated parlor tricks. Photos courtesy of the author.

Science fiction visions, especially as presented in movies and television shows, have infected our approach to UX and product design. They have nudged us to mistake visualizations that were created for maximum dramatic appeal for solutions that are feasible and desirable, especially over the long term. What looks cool in a science fiction film is frequently frustrating, distracting, and convoluted to use.

I recently got a chance to preview Amazon’s “Home of the Future.” It was the oldest thing I’d seen in years. You can see why in this photo I took of the interior: Sterile and impersonal, it looked less like a home than a showroom, harkening back to retro-future themes from Monsanto’s vision of “the kitchen of the future” from the 1950s. Amazon innovates in many different ways, but this home takes voice to an unnecessary new level. …


We’re creating new technologies without giving thought to the danger they could cause if they fail

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Electricity is such an integral part of our everyday lives, we hardly even think of it as a technology. There’s a very good reason for that: Decades of careful regulation and planning across many industries and levels of government have worked together to make electricity pervasive, rarely prone to outage, and as safe as humanly possible. But somehow this approach is rarely followed in current technology development — even for products and services where failure can, like electricity, lead to extreme danger, and even death.

A few years ago, for instance, I got a sneak preview of an upcoming luxury sedan from a major automotive brand. Sitting in the driver’s seat, it all seemed elegant and sleek — until I noticed the in-car entertainment system below the dashboard. It was a large flat screen, seemingly designed to resemble an iPad. All the controls were touch-based, so there was no way for a driver to navigate the system without having to take their eyes off the road, even to perform a simple task like turning the volume down. Still worse, the display was bright blue, a key culprit for causing temporary vision impairment at night. …


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Photo credit: Gadget Hacks

Last weekend I vowed to take a complete break from work, and instead got a hands-on demonstration of problematic UX design.

I was having a great dinner with friends at a remote restaurant in the Oregon countryside. My phone was stored away in the purse of my friend. I thought it was off. There would be no checking the phone today!

Suddenly a waitress walked up to our table.

“Are you Amber Case?” she asked. My party looked at me. I’m not super recognizable in daily life, although this happens sometimes. But then she added: “There’s a call for you.”

How could I get a call at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere? Who knew I was there? I slowly walked up to the front of the restaurant, where the receiver was waiting for me. …


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Depending on where we live and work, many of us may spend over half our waking hours in non-places. As I explained in a recent post, non-places are environments where person-hood is put on pause, where you have no identity beyond your function within them. Most of the time, we want to be in places with personal meaning, and these non-places exist between where we start and where we want to be. It’s the highway, security line, and airport between a tropical vacation, or the queue we wait in, to get a new driver’s license.

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Photo by “docMEMEexe” from /Backrooms

These non-places have ballooned into an ever-expanding experience of highways, condos, office parks, waiting rooms, and chain grocery stores. There’s even a subreddit about the creepiest, most inhospitable versions of them! …

About

Amber Case

Design advocate, speaker and author of Calm Technology + Designing With Sound. Research Fellow at Institute for the Future. Caseorganic.com

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