Technological solutions abound in our world. If you don’t have an app, you are nobody. And as we know-after watching Seth Rogen’s agonising choice about the mustardy color of his app’s logo in American Pickle- small decisions have big conequences. But is technology a solution to our current economic and demographic woes. Or is it the cause of these woes
One of the most common approaches used in problem solving is to analyse the system as a whole within certain boundaries. Then identify the key factors and how these factors can be varied.
A second is to build on a pre-existing solution in the same way that the Internet built on telephone networks. And telephone networks build on telegraph networks. We can then ‘improve’ these solutions to meet existing needs more comprehensively.
A third is to use “design thinking’. Generally, design thinking is associated with a “human-centred approach to problem solving”. Instead of departing from a starting point of technological opportunities or managerial calculus, the design thinking process begins with observing and polling potential users in order to understand
their experiences and identify the problems they might encounter.
Of course, ‘user’ centred approaches are a major force in business today. Many organisations claim to use ‘empathy’ in building ‘user experiences’ (UX) which are meant to mediate the solution to the user and involve the user in mediating the solution development process.
But contexts frequently challenge these ambitions,
For instance, a resource and scarcity-based perspective -economics- might compromise a complete focus on the user. Or shifting trait-based perspectives interpreted as human nature, psychology or personality might include some users and exclude others. Even group perspectives from sociology or a spiritual perspective from religion might be used to derail a user centred schema.
The problem here, of course, is that we start from problem as a boundary. This boundary may be a resource limit, or a use context. It may even be a theory which delimits the development of new approaches to solution design and development.
A classic case is that of software design. Hampered, as it was, by an impenetrable curtain between the user and the software engineer, it drove a spastic response with the development of UX, UI, Agile development, SCRUM and many other ‘frameworks’ which were designed to make the curtain -at least- translucent.
And, of course, the curtain was itself underpinned by the theories of Claude Shannon who was able to state that
“The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately a message selected at another point. Frequently the messages have meaning; that is they refer to or are correlated according to some system with certain physical or conceptual entities. These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to he engineering problem. The significant aspect is that the actual message is one selected from a set of possible messages”
This message centric approach haunts the Web. It supports the high levels of customer churn in SAAS and the possible fragility and structure of technology supported markets. Oh, sure, we have massive monolithically profiable businesses in search, social media, online commerce, online application services and entertainment. But those monoliths rest upon a set of network principles which may not be sufficient to maintain customer loyalty in the face of a strategic shift in service delivery.
So, what would you do to shift the web from a message centred to a -real- user centred approach?