Time to look beyond screens

blog first appeared on experiencesutra.com

As a technologist, I have always been fascinated by the subject of Human-Machine interfaces. I believe technology is as good as its application in real world. One of the greatest aspirations of experience technologist is to build human centric experiences. I advocate for a need to look beyond our fixation with Screen Only experiences to achieve that goal.

In 1999, I bought myself a cellular phone (as it was called back in those days), my first thoughts, holding the device in my hands were of disbelief – it occurred to me that computing had finally been out of computers. Here was a “Smart” device – lot more than a telephone, less than a computer but powerful enough to process complex instructions. I could chat (messaging), organize and store my contacts, play games (albeit simpler ones) and obviously make calls on the move. It boasted of a small (relative to today’s phones) black and white screen with a large hardware keypad that would act as an interface. It was a smart marriage of calculator and cordless phones, however, it boasted of an Operating System that would process instructions, run operations and spit out information. It had enough tricks to keep a technology enthusiast like me interested and intrigued about the possibilities.  In last two decades, our generation went through two decades of learning to master the interfaces that could hardly be termed intuitive and natural.

Rise of the Smart Screen:

In 2007, Apple launched its flagship Smart Phone – iPhone,  that just reshaped mobile phone industry. iPhone was a masterpiece in all departments of Hardware and Software design. It would forever redefine intuitive interface by introducing multi touch screens. A mobile phone just became way of life.

Smart Screen phenomenon just took off, for the next few years every other device (PCs included) wanted to be a touch interface. Every Brand wanted to build a digital experience that was designed around Smart Screens.  The large public interactive installations were designed as glorified and magnified touch based Smart Screens.

Need for look beyond Screens:

Touch screens helped us move away from Machine centric user experiences those were driven by Mouse and Keyboards, but to conclude that touch based interfaces are the answer to Human centric experiences is far from being the truth. There has been an over-dependence (and justifiably so) of on Smart Screen in building all the digital experiences since the launch of iPhone to cash on the always on bandwagon.

There is a widespread view that technology needs to integrate seamlessly into natural human environment. It needs to augment and enhance our everyday experiences, which are very organic in nature. Usage of Screens  should not  be-all end-all  for all digital experiences.

One of the solutions would be to invest in Ambient Intelligence, where in the environment and everyday mundane objects could also participate in our experiences. Amazon Echo is a great example of leveraging Natural Language processing to make ambient intelligent enough to participate in your everyday experiences.

There has been a sure in innovative products that are re-imagining human experiences beyond a Screen and are integrating Digital into our environment and everyday objects.

Vessyl – a connected mug automatically identifies the ingredient, records the calories and passively keeps a record. It doesn’t ask you to use your smartphone to record your meals.

Vanhawks – a connected bike that  has built in sensors and feedback to assist you in your trips.

What will drive the change

There is a huge opportunity as consumers increasingly live their lives across physical and digital to also elevate our experiences to leverage emerging technology and trends to build Human Experiences.

Sensors & Data:

We need to build contextual and relevant experiences for our Consumers in Physical world. As an example, as a retailer I would like to offer dynamic pricing on the stock thats due for refresh and is in the aisles where foot falls have been lesser through the day. Sensors that collect data about people, places and things coupled with real time data analytics could help business realize such a scenario in a real physical world.

Sensors are going to be backbone for Ambient Intelligence and Data based analytics will be the brain behind the contextual experiences.

Connected world:

As we get into “Internet of Things” era, every day objects would get smarter. Our environments would become connected and smarter. I would think that our interactions with all the smarter objects would increase significantly. That would also mean that reliance on the screen would go down for day to day experiences.

An umbrella with an integrated ambient light is a natural way of alerting consumers about the possibility of rain.


It would be much more natural for a pill bottle to remind you about taking your medicine on time.


More wearables:

Future of experience technology platforms would be lot close to YOU, you and I will be wearing a lot of technology. Our  smartphone will get disintegrated into tens of different devices that we wear. This would result in new ways of integrated interactions between consumers and technology.

Here is a smart t-shirt that keeps heart rate check, acts as a pedometer, keeps track of your activities and also provides you feedback when its time for you to exercise.


A framework to consider:

As David Rose (researcher at MIT Medialabs) writes in his book – Enchanted objects (www.enchantedobjects.com) is a possible way to build experiences that don’t have a bias for Screen only experiences. He goes on to talk about a framework to build human centric experiences by advocating for a seven attributes Enchanted Objects (picture below).



Screens are going no where and would continue to be a key channel for digital experiences. I believe, in near future Screens would  evolve to play a niche role in experience ecosystem.  As new consumer technologies mature and adoption picks up, Brands and Experience designers would have to rethink how we build experiences that are natural and would be part of consumers life experiences.

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