Guest Host: Marc Fisher

Few tech consumers think of their devices in terms of product design. But we immediately (if subconsciously) recognize quality when we experience it: a website that quickly delivers relevant services or search results, or a mobile app that intuitively responds to your touch, swipe or pinch. Touchscreens and gesture-recognition are rapidly changing the way we interact with technology. Tech Tuesday considers how those new interfaces are changing user experience.


  • Brian David Johnson Director of Future Casting and Principal Engineer, Intel Corporation
  • Greg Flory Strategist, Bottle Rocket Apps
  • Morgan Reed Executive Director, Association for Competitive Technology; Co-organizer of the MoDevUX Conference (April 19-21)
  • Cory Lebson Lebsontech LLC; Board Member, Usability Professionals’ Association International (UPA-I); President, Usability Professionals’ Association DC chapter (UPA-DC)

New Interface, New User-Experiences

The way we interact with technology is changing rapidly. We control smartphones and tablet computers with pinches, zooms and swipes on touchscreens. New game systems like the Microsoft Kinect and Nintendo Wii respond to user gestures and movements. The Siri personal assistant program on new iPhones responds to voice commands and questions. Google has even recently announced a plan for “augmented reality” glasses.

These new devices and controls could lead to better, more intuitive technology – or they could lead to frustrating and confusing experiences. This Tech Tuesday, we explore the multidisciplinary field of “User Experience” (UX).

Guest Greg Flory flags two examples of interesting apps, designed on the Apple iOS system (you can check out Apple’s iOS “Human Interface Guidelines” here):

Clear App for iPhone:

Clear for iPhone – Available Now! from Realmac Software on Vimeo.

Rechner Calculator for iPhone:

Rechner from Berger & Föhr on Vimeo.

Guest Morgan Reed is intrigued by the musical apps created by Smule, including a “wind” instrument called Ocarina:

Many of these new products are designed primarily for entertainment or personal organization. But they could have significant impacts across the technology field in the coming decades. Reed flags InterKnowlogy, a software company that designed gesture recognition application for the health sector:

Kinect Touchless Operating Room from InterKnowlogy on Vimeo.


Many leading practitioners in the UX field will be attending the MoDevUX conference in Tysons Corner on April 20th, 2012. Details here.


  • 12:06:41

    MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, our relationship with technology used to be so simple. You answered the phone, turned on the TV or clicked on the mouse, and that was that. Today, however, we can pinch, swipe and zoom our smartphones. Network video game systems recognize our body movements. And some devices are beginning to take voice commands.

  • 12:07:21

    MR. MARC FISHERWelcome to the rapidly evolving world of human computer interaction. All those cool new bells and whistles could create better, more intuitive technology than ever before. Or they could end up leaving users frustrated and angry, yearning for simpler days when phones were just phones. This Tech Tuesday, we're exploring the process behind the design of great apps, websites and new devices.

  • 12:07:47

    MR. MARC FISHERAnd with me in the studio, Morgan Reed, he's executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology and co-organizer of the MoDevUX conference -- he'll even tell us what that means -- a gathering of leading mobile developers and user-experience experts. That's taking place later this week in Washington. Also, Greg Flory, a strategist with Bottle Rock Apps, he's actually on the line with us from studios in Dallas, Texas.

  • 12:08:16

    MR. MARC FISHERAnd Bottle Rock Apps is an award-winning app development company that designs primarily on the iOS system. And Bottle Rock recently designed both The Washington Post's politics app on the iPad and the first NPR app on the iPhone and iPad. And with us in the studio, Cory Lebson, he's a user-experience consultant, self-described usability evangelist. He's the principal at Lebsontech and president of the D.C. chapter of the Usability Professionals Association.

  • 12:08:48

    MR. MARC FISHERAnd I have to say that when the notion came up of doing a show about intuitive design and making things super easy for folks to use, I was quite a skeptic because, to me, it seems that after 20 years of having computers around, the amount of progress that's been made toward making computers and apps really intuitive, easy to use in the way that much simpler devices were in previous generations, is not too impressive. The technology always seems to be a couple of steps ahead of having the user in mind. And is that an unfair rap to put on the industry, Cory?

  • 12:09:37

    MR. CORY LEBSONI don't think so. I mean, I think that the technology -- we stay on top of the technology. But sometimes, when the technology does get ahead, we abandon that technology, and we'll stick with the technology that does meet our needs.

  • 12:09:51


  • 12:09:52


  • 12:09:53

    REEDI think it actually raises a very interesting point. You know, a pair of scissors has one job. It cuts paper. The problem has been that you describe over 20 years of watching computers change, but the usability not necessarily keep pace, is that computers aren't a pair of scissors. They do so many jobs that we are in a constant tension between adding new features, new capabilities, new functionality, and this pull against how do I make it accessible and usable by an audience.

  • 12:10:23

    REEDSo that's really the tension that you're seeing and is one that means that we are constantly going to frustrate users, but hopefully excite them and give them cool stuff as well.

  • 12:10:31

    FISHERAnd do you think that will ever change? Will the technology always be leaping ahead of the usability discussion simply because of the complexity involved? Or will there eventually come a time when it's all of a piece?

  • 12:10:47

    REEDWell, I actually hope that it keeps accelerating and innovating because, otherwise, life is boring. You know, I think we go back to -- you can go back to the stone tablet set up near the Nile that say, you know, kids today don't listen to their parents that are something like 3,000 years old. I think that that level of progress and push is a natural reality that we all face. And people complained about mobilized -- mobile vehicles when the era of horse and buggy was around. So I think we are going to continue to push it. I think that's exciting, but I do think there is more that we can do in usability.

  • 12:11:21

    LEBSONWell, I mean, we're watching it happen right now. Like, the Google Glasses just came out. It's been widely praised and panned as technology that might be ahead of its time?

  • 12:11:26


  • 12:11:29

    FISHERYou can join our conversation about design by calling 800-433-8850 or email us at kojo, K-O-J-O, Tell us about any recent examples you've seen of very well or very poorly designed technology. What new touch- and gesture-based interfaces do you find to be more natural or more confusing? What mystifies you about the gadgets in your life? What is it that makes you say, what were they thinking?

  • 12:11:57

    FISHERLet's turn to Greg Flory in Dallas, a strategist with Bottle Rocket Apps. And, Greg, where do you land on this issue of -- is it possible for user friendliness to become a priority one for the industry? Or is that not a goal that should be in mind?

  • 12:12:17

    MR. GREG FLORYWell, I think, you know, Apple has done a very good job of creating a platform for developers and designers that really puts the users at the forefront. I mean, if you look at kind of their guiding principles and what they design for, it may not be what people are expecting because Steve Jobs, you know, famously stayed on a number of different occasions and in different ways that customers never really knew what to expect. So the magic that they may have been able to bring to people, yes, at times confuses and maybe it, you know, ahead of the curve where they're at, given the devices.

  • 12:12:52

    MR. GREG FLORYAnd the -- and their ability is based on the paradigms that have existed. But I think the technology in many ways, while it serves the user and the goal is to serve the user first, there's always going to be some lag time in trying to find ways that make the newer technology friendly to the user. And that idea, the visual analogy which Apple is really kind of staked some design ground on of creating apps initially that made people feel very friendly, even though they were working with a device that -- with the iPhone and the iPad that few things had existed like that before.

  • 12:13:27

    MR. GREG FLORYBut they still were able to do things that made people feel very comfortable and used the device. And it boosted adoption earlier on. I think part of the question now is, do we continue using those familiar visual analogies, or do we move on to gestures, recognition, those kinds of things?

  • 12:13:43

    FISHERIt's interesting that you mention Apple because they, from the very beginning, have been very big on this idea of staying close to these mental metaphors where a desktop -- you know, the original one was a desktop computer -- was really a metaphor for a real desktop. And so as you're thinking about how you tilt a phone, you know, is that movement similar to something that we know intrinsically or from our past about -- maybe a TV dial or a phone dial from decades ago?

  • 12:14:15

    FISHERAnd yet Apple is willing to sort of change things up in ways that that can mystify some users. They recently switched the direction on the mouse so that what -- where up used to mean -- a forward motion used to mean going up on the page. Now, it means going down. When changes like that are made, what kind of thought is given to how this drives the user crazy, Morgan?

  • 12:14:39

    REEDWell, I think there's two parts of that. First, I think it's important -- and Greg raises a really good point -- Apple didn't come into this brand new. They didn't just wake up one morning and decide to do it. In fact, if you look at Apple's history on this, it's really been baked into the apple pie, so to speak. Jef Raskin, who wrote a book called "The Humane Interface," the folks at -- who came over from Xerox to Apple really started out with this concept of human interface guidelines, and they moved forward.

  • 12:15:07

    REEDSo this question about whether or not you move a mouse up or down, it's an interesting thing because, oftentimes, what happens is the designers say this is a more -- this is a better way to go. But they're stymied by what people already know. So when -- in this case, it's some of what Cory has to work with, which is, how do you balance pushing the design envelope with the preconceived notions people have?

  • 12:15:29

    REEDAnd that comes down to actually doing usability studies. And I'm sure that Apple spent considerable wads of their $600 billion market cap to look at whether or not which one was easier or not easier, in terms of pushing the mouse up, pushing the mouse down. And so I think that's -- you raise a good point, but I think it's a really hard thing to break what people are used to, bring a new design in, then keep people used to that one, then break that one again.

  • 12:15:52

    FISHERCory, it's interesting, you know, in many industries, there's this debate between do we give people what we know they should really want, or do we give them what they actually do want or what they think they want? You know, it's the old question that you get, say, in the radio business, where, you know, there are some people who say we should give people the kind of programming that will really, you know, lift them up and teach them new things.

  • 12:16:17

    FISHERAnd others say we should be McDonald's and give them exactly, you know, the same song that they say they want to hear 12 times an hour. How do you struggle with that friction?

  • 12:16:26

    LEBSONI mean, I'd even move it back one step. It's not a company saying, well, what does a user want? Do they want this? Do they want that? It's asking them. It's finding out. It's listening to user feedback. And by listening to user feedback, which, I think, Apple is very good at -- they listen. They iterate. They're constantly iterating everything. It's listening to that user feedback. It's not only during the formal studies but informally, looking at what their feedback is and making tweaks and making these tiny tweaks with big impacts.

  • 12:16:51

    FISHERBut you're also -- you're in a field -- all of you -- where change is constant and change is good. And for many consumers, they don't like this constant change. They want to learn something. And, OK, now, I want to be comfortable with it. Or is that wrong, Morgan?

  • 12:17:05

    REEDWell, Marc, I think actually you set this perfectly up when you said -- about your analogy of radio because you said what consumers say they want, which is no change. But if you watch consumer behavior, they're drawn to the one with the logo that says new, improved, different. Change is appealing. Different, new and improved is appealing to people. You know, in our industry, we see it all the time.

  • 12:17:28

    REEDIf you put out software, and you put a one -- you know, 1.2 -- version 1.2, everybody rushes to download 1.2, regardless of whether or not they even know if 1.2 is better or, in fact, different. So I think you set it up perfectly. Users say they don't want change, but their purchasing habits say they enjoy change. They like differences. They watch new TV shows. They like a mixture of the same and change, and finding that fine line is really the magic of user interface design.

  • 12:17:56

    FISHERGreg Flory, you've recently worked on projects for two old media companies -- NPR and The Washington Post. And so you're creating content and ways of accessing content for people who have been used to getting it from an organization for a very long time, perhaps in very different ways. And yet you're doing this on entirely new platforms. So how do you sort of mix these two worlds?

  • 12:18:20

    FLORYYeah. It's one of the more exciting reasons why I was happy to work for Bottle Rocket is the work that they've done with NPR and the ability of helping media transition to this kind of new age where content's, you know, kind of demand to be everywhere and where consumers want to use it and use it personally. Same with The Washington Post and this -- it's been, I think, a struggle for a lot of companies to make sense of that.

  • 12:18:47

    FLORYBut I think the mobile and what I'll call the personal platform -- I think we're going to stop thinking of it as mobile in the future, but -- and think of how it affects us personally and how we use the technology -- not that it's a phone. I mean, I think my kids have already stopped thinking of the iPhone as a phone. I was told a while back by my daughter, why would I ever want to use -- why would I want to call anybody? But I think the struggle that media companies have had is finding a business model that's sustainable where the content is freely accessible.

  • 12:19:16

    FLORYWhat we've tried to do is find ways that make that interaction personal for the brand. So NPR, I was speaking with our founder, who actually built both the iPhone and the NPR app, iPhone and iPad app, initially this morning. And what he talked about was finding a way to take something that people already loved, something that they have great affinity for, the NPR -- a whole family of content and broadcasts, and find ways to make that -- blend that with what was very important to them, like their local stations also.

  • 12:19:50

    FLORYSo find ways that -- NPR did a great job of creating feeds, which is the way that the apps consume the content, and that we could make that content available in smaller pieces instead -- so instead of somebody, you know, pulling down an entire show, they could pull down a few minutes or the segments that were important to them and build media that makes sense to them.

  • 12:20:09

    FLORYAnd I think in some ways, the Post Politics apps does a similar thing. It allows you to kind of view the latest and most recent content, but you can also access things that are most important to you personally instead of -- and kind of pick and choose what's important.

  • 12:20:23

    FISHERLet's go to Daniel in Silver Spring. Daniel, it's your turn.

  • 12:20:27

    DANIELHi. I've been listening. I'm a retired developer of about, oh, 45-some-odd years of experience. When I joined, there were no -- many computers, to say nothing of microcomputers or laptops or anything else. And so I've watched the full gamut of computer development in my lifetime. And there was always a tension between the kind of computer. You use the computer to improve usability in part. The external considerations you're talking about is part of the structure and the other is the internal.

  • 12:21:11

    DANIELIt takes a while to simplify some of the things. Bill Gates, when he brought out Windows, made some rules that profoundly simplified things for the -- over the -- prior operating systems. The whole history has been one of great simplification. I take great umbrage in talking -- in hearing talk about the current complexity of using computers when I compare it mentally with absolute machine code. I think the job has been -- yes.

  • 12:21:56

    FISHEROK. Morgan, you want to...

  • 12:21:57

    REEDYeah, I agree with him completely. As we were joking before we came on the air, I started out -- my first assembly code was 6502 for your listeners out there old enough, which, you know, we essentially chiseled on stone tablets before we installed them in the computers.

  • 12:22:12

    REEDThat was the first assembly language I -- your caller's exactly right. We continue to simplify. But as I said at the beginning, we are simplifying the user interface, but we're adding cool, new stuff. And so that means that there is this constant tension between what's going on internally and what we want to give to the users.

  • 12:22:28

    LEBSONAnd I think that one other thing that we should point out, though, is -- as you mention, you've been around for a long time. You've seen changes.

  • 12:22:34

    REEDThanks for saying I'm old, Cory.

  • 12:22:36

    LEBSONThere's -- I mean, there's those of us who say, hey, you know, I like what it is. Change me slowly. Change me -- yeah, don't change me so quickly.

  • 12:22:44

    FISHERWell, in fact, here's an email from someone saying exactly that. JS says, "This guy is totally missing the point. Of course, we want new, improved software version 1.2, but we don't want it to be different. We want it to be faster, more efficient, use less memory, less buggy. We don't want you to change all the menus like Microsoft always does with Office. We don't want to have to keep relearning basics, like operating systems and application menus." Is that fair?

  • 12:23:09

    LEBSONYes, absolutely. I mean, and also at the start of the program, we talked about users. But it's not users. It's this user group, that user group, that user group. There's the early adopters. There's the ones who say keep it the same. And we need to think about our users in that way, and so does Apple.

  • 12:23:24

    REEDNo. And he's right. You know, they always talk about Windows. Everybody who's used Microsoft Office, in particular Word. Everyone always says, oh, I have all these menus that I don't use. I don't use all these features. But here's what really interesting about that. Microsoft has actually done some usability studies. And they find that 95 percent of all the features are used by 100 percent of their users.

  • 12:23:43

    REEDIt's just a different group uses a different set of features. So how do you build a product that includes the features that everybody wants in their group, as Cory points out, but yet is still usable by the individuals who don't use the other 95 percent?

  • 12:23:57

    LEBSONAnd those features fade into background.

  • 12:23:58

    REEDThat's right, exactly.

  • 12:23:59

    FISHERThat's Morgan Reed, executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology, and Cory Lebson, a user experience consultant and principal at Lebsontech. We're also joined on -- by ISD line from Dallas, Texas, by Greg Flory from Bottle Rocket Apps. And we will continue our conversation to get deeper into this question of the mental metaphors that govern how design is done when we come back after a short break. This is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 12:26:12

    FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, and we are talking with Cory Lebson, Greg Flory and Morgan Reed about the user experience, something -- and Morgan is now going to tell us what UX is and why we're having a conference about it.

  • 12:26:27

    REEDWell, user interface, UX, is really -- we really have to look at mobile as an entirely new platform, and it's great that Bottle Rocket is on the call because they've really been on the cutting edge of really redesigning how we interact. You know, you started talking about metaphors, what's our metaphor and this change from the mouse to actually using our finger and touching and pinching and squeezing and all sorts of inappropriate-sounding words but with our mobile device and using it in a way.

  • 12:26:54

    REEDSo what's really been happening is, how do we take -- your caller who talked about his 40 years of experience, he's probably great at looking at how to build a database on the back end. But now you have to marry that up with good UX, good user interface design, good user experience. UX and user experience, you have to merge that in together to make something that's actually appealing in this new mobile audience.

  • 12:27:18

    REEDAnd so, here in D.C., there's a very, very excellent startup group that has meet ups called MoDev, and we're going to be actually having a conference, a three-day conference, starting on Thursday the 19th, with some individual workshops, a full day conference on the 20th and then a hackathon on, sorry, on 20th at LivingSocial headquarters. So it's really a whole day -- 500 major players in the user development-user experience environment will be here in D.C. to sit down and really hash out, how do we get the right user experience on this little tiny device?

  • 12:27:50

    FISHERAnd how important is the Washington developer community? And is there any particular specialty or content area that seems to be more based here than somewhere else? Is there anything that defines this Washington developer community?

  • 12:28:05

    REEDWell, it is Washington, D.C., so government interaction is absolutely critical, which raises a lot of very interesting transparency and document retention issues that are, you know, kind of boring but are really essential to doing good government interaction. So -- and, you know, Cory can talk about it from the developer perspective here, but when you look at who attends conferences to learn stuff, it's a lot of government. And you'd think, oh, the government, what does it know about a good user interface?

  • 12:28:30

    REEDBut I see developers every day who are trying really hard, especially in this mobile context, to really improve the experience both for users inside the government and for citizens to interact with their government in a way that's far more accessible than it used to be.

  • 12:28:44

    FISHERAnd, Cory, you do a lot of work with government agencies, so you're dealing with both people who are at the cutting edge and need to, for either security or other reasons, to be at the cutting edge. But you're also dealing with a workforce that, you know, sort of stereotypically is maybe somewhat behind.

  • 12:28:59

    LEBSONRight, I mean the big focus of government now is transparency. Well, transparency is only useful if people can use the interface that they need to use. So government is huge. I mean, I'd also define user experience not only as developers but the folks like me who do the evaluation. And government is very good now doing usability test, doing -- analyzing with the (word?) users to make sure that their interfaces are usable as intended.

  • 12:29:24

    FISHERLet's shift a little bit and talk about good design and what it can actually do for people. First of all, Greg, do you have a sense of whether people really will pay for good design?

  • 12:29:37

    FLORYYeah, I think you can take a look at the App store and get a really good sense of the fact that there are people who appreciate good design. There are a lot of free apps out there, but people are going to invest and buy the apps that mean something and do something special. We try to create apps that have like a bit of magic in them. So we work with brands to try and tease out what is the right experience for the consumers that we're trying to reach. What are we trying to do for them?

  • 12:30:02

    FLORYAnd we found repeatedly that the content, if it's solid, if the experience is great and the design is well thought out and good for the user, keeps them at the forefront of the experience and engaged, then, yes, people will definitely pay for it and tell others about it, which is one of the most important things about growth in the app market.

  • 12:30:24

    FISHEROK. And let's -- here's an email from Chris in Olney, who says, "Can anyone, please, explain why an app needs access to my contact list, phone state, location, ability to make phone calls, access the Internet and stop my phone from sleeping? I can understand location and the Internet, but there's no reason whatsoever for my contact list and et cetera to be given to them." Is there too much of that sort of sharing going on, Morgan?

  • 12:30:49

    REEDWell, that's a different show and actually one we've done here on NPR and a couple of different examples dealing with the privacy questions. But it does actually get to some user experience and user design because we as developer need to do a better job to explain why that's happening. You know, there's an app that actually is out there that helps for folks looking for a synagogue.

  • 12:31:12

    REEDIt asks for a location -- and at first, people were like, what is this asking for? -- and other information, and it actually builds out quite a unit, tells you, where -- it uses your location to say what time is sundown. It has a whole series of features that you don't necessarily see. One of the apps that I pointed you guys to is made by a company Smule that does these great music apps, the Ocarina is one, just awesome, and it uses location.

  • 12:31:37

    FISHERAnd it 's on our website at if you'd like to check it out. There's a video demonstrating how that works.

  • 12:31:43

    REEDAnd so we need to do a better job of explaining why it needs that location information.

  • 12:31:46

    LEBSONAnd the converse of that, by the way, is I've seen government agencies that won't put personal information, even to the detriment of the app. It's just like, oh, we don't want people to think we're getting too much information from them, but then the app doesn't know your location.

  • 12:31:58


  • 12:31:58

    REEDHas anybody used the Highlight app at all on the call?

  • 12:32:02

    FLORYYeah, that's a great example of an app that asks for data, but it provides a very unique service, too. It was kind of rolled out South by Southwest this year.

  • 12:32:13

    FISHERWhat does it do?

  • 12:32:14

    FLORYAnd it basically uses your Facebook contacts to identify -- and geo-location services -- to identify people really close to you nearby, constantly searching to find people who either have similar interests to you, things you've liked or engaged with on Facebook or actual contacts, friends of friends. So it will notify you that so and so is, you know, 10 meters away.

  • 12:32:41

    REEDIt's kind of the...

  • 12:32:41

    FLORYAnd they've got several things in mind, so it can be creepy, but it can also be an interesting way to find people that you have things in common with. It's also battery-intensive.

  • 12:32:48

    FISHERAnd, Greg, you also flagged for us an app called Clear. Can you tell us about that one?

  • 12:32:56

    FLORYSure. Clear is a very simple, straightforward app. So when we talk about the complexity and how people may get confused by the changes in technology, I think, Clear is an example of something that can be confusing initially, but it uses gestures. There's very little other, you know, interactive elements on the screen outside of pinching and swiping to make things happen in the app. And it's just a very simple way to create a to-do list that's hierarchical.

  • 12:33:21

    FLORYIt builds the list automatically, and you can move the elements around by dragging them. I think the unique thing about that, you can get by with very little interface when there's limited complexity to the app. So what's the app? What's the intention? What's the desire of that? Well, this one is very focused on doing one simple thing: creating fairly straightforward, simple to-do lists.

  • 12:33:42

    FLORYSo that fact that there are -- there's no clear button and there's no create-a-new-list-item button that you're pinching to create those things, you can manage that a little bit better because very little is expected of you. If you get into more content creation apps, things that -- where you're actually building and making things or immersive gaming technology, it's a little more intensive, so there may be some other elements that are required to guide people, to help people make the right choices. And I think a big part of design is choice architecture.

  • 12:34:11

    FISHERThat's Greg Flory with Bottle Rocket Apps. If you'd like to join our conversation, you can give us a ring at 1-800-433-8850. And joining us by phone now is Brian David Johnson, who is known as the Intel futurist. He's the principal engineer and director of future casting at Intel. And, Brian, tell us what future casting is and what you see coming around the bend in terms of tech trends.

  • 12:34:37

    MR. BRIAN DAVID JOHNSONCertainly. So what future casting is is it's my job to look 10 to 15 years out and really gain an understanding of how people will want to act and interact with technology, really, all technology. And, really, what I create is, basically, an experience model. So what it will feel like to use these technologies in the year 2020 to 2025. And the reason why we do that at Intel is incredibly pragmatic. It's because to design the chip takes about five to 10 years. So it's a vital business importance for Intel to know today what people will want to do 10 years from now.

  • 12:35:16

    MR. BRIAN DAVID JOHNSONAnd that's really what my lab does and what I do is really future casting, which is this mix of social science and computer science and statistical science and then lots of conversations with people all over the world to kind of see what they see coming. And we begin to create these experience models that say this is kind of what it will feel like to be a human in the year 2020 to 2025.

  • 12:35:38

    FISHERSo if we would have been having this conversation 10 years ago, we'd be sitting around talking about clicking a mouse on a computer screen, and you'd be saying, no, no, you should be talking about touching and swiping and pinching. So now, looking ahead 10 years, what are you talking about that we're not?

  • 12:35:54

    JOHNSONWell, yeah, if we had talked 10 years ago, yeah, for me, it would've -- I would have said it's all about screens, that it's all about any screen, any size of screen that for consumers, there wasn't going to be a difference between a handheld screen or a laptop screen or a screen on your wall or a screen in your car, that for consumers it was all about a screen that has connection to the Internet that gives them access to the people that they love and the content that they love.

  • 12:36:19

    JOHNSONAnd I was that crazy guy who was holding up, you know, handheld and saying, this is going to be a TV, and everybody, of course, thought I was crazy, which -- OK. It's part of my job. So now, looking kind of out to 2020 to 2025, one of the areas where we've been doing a lot of work is something that we call the secret life of data, where, you know, we're creating so much data about ourselves. And the other guests were talking before about sort of mobile apps.

  • 12:36:46

    JOHNSONI mean, just the mobile apps -- I mean, your smartphone knows more about you than your spouse or your partner. And that's just the beginning, that we're creating so much information about ourselves that we are moving into this time of big data or cloud computing, what lots of people like to call it. But the models that I've been looking at is really what it will feel like to live in the era of big data, and it will feel like data has a life of its own. It will feel like it has a secret life. And the reason for that is because it's right. It will.

  • 12:37:16

    JOHNSONData will kind of go off into the cloud or go off into these servers, and you'll have algorithms talking to algorithms, machines talking to machines and more algorithms. And that's a good thing. That's actually -- we can do some pretty amazing stuff, and I think a lot of these mobile apps are beginning to show just the tip of what we're going to be able to do with all that data. But the thing we have to remember, as we start of think about the secret life of data, is that data in and out of self, the ones and zeros are completely meaningless, until it comes back into contact with people.

  • 12:37:48

    JOHNSONAnd it makes people's lives better. So as we begin to architect these services and these mobile apps and the sort of -- all these big data applications, we always need to remember that, ultimately, it's got to come back to people, and ultimately it needs to make their lives better, which has huge ramifications for how we architect the software and how we build the hardware, you know, really making sure that those algorithms and those services have an understanding of what it means to be human.

  • 12:38:13

    FISHERWell, implicit in the phrase secret life of data is a certain degree of caution or concern or of even fear that all this data that's out there about us gets out of control. And so, is part of the creative challenge for the future providing those various levels of control? And does that then inhibit your ability to be creative in asking people to give up even more data? Morgan.

  • 12:38:37

    REEDRight. There are incredible natural tensions that exist in a space. In fact, the MoDevUX Conference that's coming up on the 20th, we're actually going to have a special panel just dealing with how do we do a better job of providing the user interface around privacy because there has been -- we've rest forward into making some just amazing, cool apps. But now, we need to work the same kind of magic around user interface to give it to people in a way that's actually digestible and understandable and transparent.

  • 12:39:07

    REEDAnd you're right. To take Brian's word secret, we want to make it less secret. And we want to make it something where you have a handshake, and you understand, hey, I'm going to give up some of this data, and it probably is going to make into the cloud world. But here's the cool service device that I'm getting as part of it, and I'm OK with that exchange -- because he's right. Your mobile knows more than your partner, but it knows a version of you. And that's not the entire you.

  • 12:39:32

    REEDSo all the sensors on your smartphone may know a lot about where you are, what you've been, how fast your car drove, but that's not you. That's not the ineffable part that makes you you. It's just -- as he said, it's just a collection of data. Unless you bring it back to the person, it really doesn't matter. So we're going to work on that, and that's something we're going to hit on the conference.

  • 12:39:50

    LEBSONAnd we're slowly beginning to accept the idea that privacy doesn't exist, at least not in any way that we used to think it exist. I mean, I use Twitter. I know that what I put out there is just out there. In many ways, things are just out there now.

  • 12:40:02

    FISHERAnd, Brian -- go ahead.

  • 12:40:04

    JOHNSONOh, I was just saying, and that -- I'm glad that you brought that up 'cause that is a huge area where I've been doing work in something called "The Future of Fear," literally going to people and finding out what they're afraid of and why they're afraid. And you're right about the other guys who were saying that people talk about privacy as if it's a thing, as if it's sort of this thing that sits on the periodic table somewhere next to lithium. And the fact of the matter is it's not. I mean, privacy is a social construct. It's a governmental construct.

  • 12:40:33

    JOHNSONAnd privacy is radically different in the U.S. as opposed to the E.U., as opposed to China. And you're right. So as we begin to think about this -- one of the things that I've been doing, and I'm so glad that you're talking about it here today -- is we need to have a much broader conversation, a cultural conversation, around privacy and security because these devices are so new. I mean, we do forget that, that these devices and these interactions and their effect on our lives are so incredibly new. But we also have to remember that we're in control.

  • 12:41:04

    JOHNSONAnd one of the things that I like to ask folks when we get into these fear conversations and -- it happens quite a bit. Sort of being a futurist and sort of talking about these things, I have a lot of conversations with people who are truthfully worried, and I don't shy away from that. I actually kind of dig in to it. I'm kind of on a one-man campaign against fear. And I sort of ask people, so why are you afraid? And sort of what are these concerns? And is it the technology? Or is it the use of the technology?

  • 12:41:30

    JOHNSONAnd -- but I always get to the point to say, you know, in your family or in your household, are you the type of family or the type of household who watches TV while you eat dinner, or do you not watch TV? And some people answer one way or the other, and I say, great, great. That's a decision that you make, right? The TV doesn't care if it's on or if it's off. It's a decision you make.

  • 12:41:48

    JOHNSONAnd it took a while for people to lay down these sort of cultural norms of what's acceptable on a personal level, on a family level and a cultural level. So I think it's really important that we don't shy away from those fears and that we -- we do. We make them visible, and we have conversations about them.

  • 12:42:03

    FISHERThat's Brian Johnson. He's director of future casting at Intel. And when we come back after a short break, we will discuss where those inhibiting factors, those fears that people may have, does that change the way people do design and the degree to which they push forward. All that after a break on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 12:44:11

    FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we are talking with our panel about user experience and new devices, how they're designed and what they're designed for, who they're designed for. And, Greg Flory, here's an email from Dave, who says, "Big developers like Apple don't test their concepts and strategies with focus groups of real people presumably because they worry about leaks and being pre-empted by competitors.

  • 12:44:37

    FISHER"It's understandable to a point but correlates with a widespread brand of arrogance. It's ironic that they and your guests think they understand average users. They are clueless because they just talk to one another." Any truth to that?

  • 12:44:51

    LEBSONWell, I don't know if it's because they don't want to reveal their private secrets, but because there's a ways around that. I think they don't test because they don't have time. I just had a conversation with someone yesterday who said, I would love to do a usability test, but I just don't have time to do it. So we'll just release it. I said, no, don't do that. Don't do that.

  • 12:45:09


  • 12:45:10

    REEDAnd I think -- you know, I think Microsoft is a really good example of this because they actually -- they're interesting because they have so many seat licenses, and they have so many people who use Microsoft products. They actually do amazing quantity of user interface studies. They do focus groups, individual groups, subgroups, beta groups. They have MVPs. There's probably not a company out there that spends more time with their ear to the ground in our space than that, but even that sometimes can lead to failures. So that becomes a big part of the problem.

  • 12:45:42


  • 12:45:42

    FLORYThis is -- yeah. I was just going to say, I mean, if you look at the results and what Apple has managed to do in the past couple of years, I think it's less about arrogance and more about trying to divine -- you know, follow a vision that is beyond what most people would expect and to be pure to that vision, focused. I mean, if you look at the way Apple designs products, they will strip away the bloated, feature-riddled device to give you something simple and easier to use. But that can then be powered by software and apps that can do amazing things.

  • 12:46:15

    FLORYI mean, if you look at -- you know, they create a platform that enables the world to do, with the technology, whatever they want. So I mean, I think they're very good about understanding the direction that people want to go without having to be limited by what people understand as the paradigm today. And that thinking goes back -- what was that Henry Ford statement? You know, it goes back to the early -- the Industrial revolution where, you know, if he'd have asked people what they wanted at the time, they would have wanted faster buggies and horses.

  • 12:46:44

    FISHERLet's go to Ken in South Riding, Va. Ken, you're on the air.

  • 12:46:49

    KENHey. How are you doing? So I was really interested to hear the gentleman speaking about future casting. It got me thinking about all the devices I use in the year 2000. I had a company-issued pager because cellphone coverage wasn't as widespread, a company-issued cellphone, sometimes a client-issued cellphone, a laptop and a PalmPilot. And, you know, today, I have a cellphone and a laptop. The PalmPilot got retired because, with the greater ability to hibernate the laptop, I just pop it open, and it's almost instantly up. So I don't really need the Palm. The pager went the way of the dinosaur.

  • 12:47:35

    KENAnd I don't even wear a watch any longer. The cellphone has the time on it. If I'm sitting at a computer, the time is always there. So I just wanted to ask the gentleman who's doing the future casting where he thinks -- what he thinks I might be carrying in 10 years. You now, would it be, like, a larger version of an iPad or just a laptop or -- which would have, you know, maybe a cellphone integrated somehow with Bluetooth, you know, to a little Bluetooth headset on my ear or what?

  • 12:48:06

    FISHERAll right. Let's hear from Brian Johnson. Brian, what devices that we use today will we still be using in 10 years and what new ones will there be?

  • 12:48:14

    JOHNSONWell, one of the things that's really interesting as we get close to the year 2020, and as I was talking with my silicon engineers, they begin to show me that, by the time we get to 2020, the size of the silicon -- so the size of sort of meaningful computational intelligence begins to approach zero. That doesn't mean it's going to be zero, but the size of it, right? Silicon has kept -- keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller. I mean, it's now amazing.

  • 12:48:42

    JOHNSONI mean, the smartphone that I carry in my pocket has more computational power than the massive machines that I learned to program on a long, long time ago. And so I think you are in for a really interesting time in the next few years because when you start getting computation, meaningful computations so small -- now, of course, the battery and communications and all that type of stuff shrinks at a different rate. But when you have that much computational power so small, it's not, what, you know? What -- can we get it so small? Can we put it in this thing?

  • 12:49:17

    JOHNSONThe question actually becomes what? You know, what do you want to do with it? And -- 'cause what it means is that we're going to start to be able to put computational intelligence in anything. Essentially, we are going to be able to make anything a computer. And so, for me -- and, again, everything that I do is based on these sort of experience-based models. Everything we do at Intel is actually based on social science, sort of understanding people from an ethnographic standpoint, first and foremost.

  • 12:49:45

    JOHNSONI think it becomes really interesting because computation starts to get woven throughout your life in a way that we've never seen before, that it won't be about just one device or another device, that you'll literally be surrounded by computational intelligence in many environments. And so it becomes more about how you want to live and the devices that you want to have instead of, well, I have to have this, or I have to have that.

  • 12:50:07

    FISHERAnd do we reach a point -- the whole history over the last 20 years has been smaller, smaller, smaller, and we watch things on ever smaller screens. We listen to music on ever smaller devices. And yet there's been a sacrifice of quality. You could make the argument, and certainly, you know, high fidelity enthusiasts would say, you know, we -- the sound we hear now is so compressed, so tinny, it doesn't hold a candle to what people routinely listened to 30, 40 years ago.

  • 12:50:38

    FISHERSimilarly, people are happy now to watch movies on tiny screens, whereas there was once CinemaScope. And so, you know, is there a point at which the pendulum swings back and we start to say we want a higher quality experience as well as the convenience? Cory.

  • 12:50:53

    LEBSONWell, in a place like a screen, I mean, you're starting to see now these pico projectors. So, right now, you need a good space to project your pico projector. Ultimately, I mean, maybe we won't have screens anymore. Maybe we won't need them. Maybe they'll be hooked to our glasses. But, ultimately, we might see a reversal of that.

  • 12:51:09

    REEDAnd I think, you know, it's interesting. Just like math moves faster than medicine, we in the user interface side and the mobile side find ourselves in a battle with battery. Greg raised this point earlier about how do we deal with battery usage? You know, Ray Kurzweil, who does a lot of stuff on exponential rates, he said that, I think, by 2030, you'll have the power of an iPhone in the size of a red blood cell, which has profound impact on medical questions and what we do with medicine, as you just heard.

  • 12:51:40

    REEDI mean, it'll be surrounding us. It might actually be inside of us. But the question is, how do we build batteries small enough, and how do we power these devices? And so I think that for the future on user interface, I think Cory's point about it being projected, it's going to be projected around us, and, really, it's going to be what we're going to do to invite it into our space.

  • 12:51:57

    FISHERIs that the touchless operating room you...

  • 12:51:59

    REEDYes. In fact, we were -- you know, this is already happening. I don't know how many of your listeners watch "Grey's Anatomy," but they actually used a prototype that's a real thing. It's available on the Kojo website as well. You can see a video of it.

  • 12:52:13

    REEDA company called InterKnowlogy in California has developed using the Kinect headset for your -- that you see your kids using on their Xbox 360, into a touchless operating room that you quite literally can -- a doctor can be operating, move his hand up, pull up an image of, say, a sonogram or an image of a MRI, rotate it in space, never touching anything, and then go back to the surgery. So using gestures, using those kinds of things, back to our metaphor point, it's really shifting. And now, I think, to the earlier point, it's all about how we invite this into our space.

  • 12:52:51

    FISHERLet's go to Francesco in Shirlington. Francesco, you're on the air.

  • 12:52:55

    FRANCESCOThank you for the opportunity. I just want to say that Big Tech is consistently wrong in their predictions. And before I make my actual comment, genomics is going to change all this idea of surgeries over and over and over. This is all -- actually, the number of surgeries will decrease tremendously. But I called to say that data is the most valuable asset an individual has.

  • 12:53:21

    FRANCESCOHe or she should have the option to have his own data account and sell to the market. In other words, we should not be giving data for free to -- it's a huge asset and valuable. Data is energy. It causes action. If I produce solar, I can sell this energy to the grid and get paid. Data is no different. We need to come up with a policy, have data brokers who will allow individuals to participate in the market anonymously. We need apps to allow people to participate...

  • 12:53:56

    FISHEROK. Thank you. Brian Johnson, do you see that kind of a marketplace developing?

  • 12:54:01

    JOHNSONWell, I see it -- it's emerging. I mean, you know, you hear people saying things like data is the new oil, which is really fascinating. And I think it fits the caller's point that, again, when we're set in this world of sort of computational intelligence and massive data sets, that we're realizing that our data, and ultimately our identity, does have quite a bit of value, and values and ways that we're just beginning to understand.

  • 12:54:29

    JOHNSONAnd as I said before when we were talking about security and privacy, I mean, those -- that value and how we value it as individuals, how we value it as citizens of different countries is different. I mean, if you look at the E.U. and the U.K., you own your surfing history in those countries. There are different areas where -- how we think about data and how we think about the possession of that. So I think you will see more and more of that.

  • 12:54:53

    JOHNSONNow, I'm not exactly -- I don't exactly know if you'll have a data market. I think in some areas, you could. But a lot of people don't really want to have the time to be able to do that. If they want that control, they should be able to have it, certainly. But I think we're just beginning to kind of work that out. And I think it's a really good conversation that we need to get out there much more.

  • 12:55:14

    LEBSONI mean, the...

  • 12:55:14


  • 12:55:15

    LEBSON...the data market exists now. If you look at Google's new privacy policies, which was in the news recently, where -- people are upset, but we're trading a lot for the data.

  • 12:55:23

    REEDI think, though, the problem is, is that you have two factors that go into this. First, there was a study recently done -- you -- that looked at what people value their personal and private information at, and they valued it about 60 cents, their willingness to pay for an app. And nobody knows this better than my community of mobile app developers. You know, we're constantly struggling with, do I charge you 99 cents, or do I give it for free and do it ad-supported?

  • 12:55:46

    REEDAnd what we've seen from our internal studies is for every -- if you charge 99 cents, you get one customer. If you do it for free, you get 100. It's about a 1-to-100 ratio. So, on the one hand, people, you know, decry this data, but, on the other hand, they value it very differently as an individual. And then the second part of it is, if we do treat data that way, what happens when you give it up?

  • 12:56:06

    REEDAre you wiling to understand when I sell you my shovel, I don't get that shovel back? And so when it goes into the data market that currently exists, companies go bankrupt. They sell off assets. Your data may be part of that. And so I think it's very easy to say, I own my data. I am who I am. But that also means you have to be willing to accept some transaction costs and some future impact of what you do down the road, and it may not be what you think it is.

  • 12:56:31

    FISHERThat's Morgan Reed, executive director of the Association for Competitive Technology. In the short time we have remaining, let me take the conversation a little bit back toward design and ask if anyone has an idea why any -- why no one seems able to design a good remote control.

  • 12:56:45

    REEDWell, I think TiVo did. I think TiVo did a great job. I mean, I think TiVo -- that remote, that bean-shaped remote, is amazing. You know, we all, in our industry, always use the mother example. It's the one remote that my mom can get. You know, the one that comes with the cable company DVR with 47 buttons, it's horrible. The TiVo remote did a good job, and they used a lot of user interface design elements like the thumbs-up, the thumbs-down, the red, the green, a lot of reinforcement mechanisms. So it can be done. It's just really, really hard.

  • 12:57:17

    LEBSONRight. I mean, that TiVo...

  • 12:57:17

    FLORYI think we've added...

  • 12:57:19


  • 12:57:19

    JOHNSONWhat I love...

  • 12:57:20

    FLORY…the complexity, yeah. I think what's happened in most remotes is they're designed to accommodate almost every circumstance and every possible configuration, so you have all these buttons that I can never find the right one either. If you contrast that also with, say, the Apple TV remote, which is very simple, I mean it allows you to navigate very quickly. So, I mean, I think it's a trade-off, and it's the difference between focus and features. So, you know...

  • 12:57:43


  • 12:57:45

    JOHNSONYeah. What I love about the TV remote is, for me, it is the physical instantiation of the complexities of the TV business and the consumer electronics business, literally writ large, on your coffee table, that it -- this device needs to work with so many different other devices and that the standards and the different pieces of that industry are so, so complicated. But I do say that...

  • 12:58:07

    FISHERWe'll have to leave it there, though, but -- we're out of time. Brian Johnson from Intel, Cory Lebson from Lebsontech, Greg Flory from Bottle Rocket Apps and Morgan Reed from the Association for Competitive Technology, thanks to all of you. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks for listening.

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts With Aglaia Kremezi

Wednesday, Oct 29 2014Vegetarian dishes have long been a large part of Mediterranean diets, especially on the Greek Isles where there's little space for animals to graze. With simple, often very straightforward preparations, the region makes the most of the bounty of vegetables available. We explore some of the cuisine's most flavorful meals made with Aglaia Kremezi.

Emily St. John Mandel: “Station Eleven”

Wednesday, Oct 29 2014In "Station Eleven," Emily St. John Mandel imagines a near future in which the population has been decimated by a fast-moving flu. We talk with Mandel about the appeal of dystopian fiction, the endurance of beauty and her National Book Award nomination.