Designing for Future Technologies

Just as there are thousands of human languages in this world, there are countless ways of communicating with technology. How do humans build a relationship with technology and what role does design play in this process?

Creatively mapping a complex system to make it available to the human eye: A visual exploration for IBM Watson in collaboration with Athletics NY

Humanizing the digital – or giving technology a face

To give new technology a face means to cross borders of visual expression. As we seek to bridge the interaction between humans and technology, our approach towards design and technology is emotional. Based on extensive research and years of experience, we develop visual representations that establish proximity. To create visuals for sometimes more, sometimes less tangible technologies requires us to acknowledge the complexity and individuality of every single case. Interacting with an avatar differs a lot from communicating with a car, for example, and the design processes differ just as much. The goal is the same – to minimize barriers and to create intuitive connections.

— Interacting with an avatar differs a lot from communicating with a car, for example, and the design processes differ just as much. The goal is the same – to minimize barriers and to create intuitive connections.

IBM Watson: To approach a visual representation that both relates to the brand identity and is easy to grasp, an extensive research and development process is essential

While dealing with several projects aiming to humanize technical entities in the past, we have worked on the IBM Watson avatar, which is a vivid example. The task was to give an increasingly human-like technology an identity that is authentic and trustworthy. As an avatar lives through interaction, the design process was preceded by an intense research and exploration to anticipate possible scenarios. To realize the transformation between analog and digital, different sets of behaviours and how they would be represented in terms of movement, shapes or materiality were developed. Although the interaction with artificial intelligence is somewhat predefined, this is not supposed to be noticeable at any time in order to ensure authenticity and create trust. To explore how A.I. communicates with humans, we developed a system that is adaptable, context-aware and data-driven to run in real-time. We focused on how the avatar could respond to different data sources and inputs to perform in a variety of industry contexts. The creative design process was then based on the premise to make the representation as tangible as possible in its interactions, enabling an intuitive relationship with the humanized technology. In order to achieve intuitivity and accessibility, the definition of the visual identity for the digital assistant was the key to create consistency.

The creation an intuitive and emotional connection was the guiding principle of our visual exploration for the ET Brain avatar.

For the visual representation for ET Brain, Alibaba's cloud platform avatar, we explored in a collaboration with Wolff Olins, how it might look, feel and behave in different scenarios and dimensions. We investigated aspects such as reactive lighting, glow, shape and motion to define and visualize different moods. Avatars and digital assistance have reached an intuitivity that integrates almost seamlessly into our everyday lives. By now, we often do not even think about the fact that we are dealing with an A.I. when we are interacting on personal devices, which illustrates how quietly technology is adapting to humans and vice versa.

Research for IBM Quantum: The dynamic visuals catch attention and create proximity, which causes curiosity and the urge to decipher the visuals.

Illustration of future technology: Motion, shapes and colours bringing life to abstract systems

The fast evolving, innovative spirit of technology continuously creates new touchpoints and platforms that crave new forms of attention and although we are getting more and more used to it, the digital still depends on a visual representation that makes sense to the human eye. Especially when it comes to more complex and thus abstract technology such as quantum computers, nanobots or innovations around the IoT and the like, brands and corporations are challenged to present their advanced systems to the crowd and make their functions comprehensible. Even if such technologies are still in development and rather futuristic, the need for a formal language is inevitable – perhaps especially in the early stages – to create access and understanding. In contrast to an interface that needs to be designed for interaction, these representations for innovative systems are required to illustrate highly complex ideas to make them tangible and somewhat real in order to communicate about them. The way to find a suitable aesthetic expression in these cases is especially process-oriented. In depth-research in combination with practical knowledge and a close interdisciplinary collaboration are key to realizing projects that shape the face of future technology.

— These representations for innovative systems are required to illustrate highly complex ideas to make them tangible and somewhat real in order to communicate about them.

Reinforcement learning: a visualization of the machine-learning training in process.

Developing visual languages to let technology speak

Besides making sense of technology, building a relationship with technology is more than just interacting with a computer. We are naturally handling our personal devices such as phones, tablets and laptops because they are designed with a strong focus on intuitivity. However, more and more technical elements in everyday life are rather public, evoking a need for a common way of understanding. Take, for example, the future of driving. The idea of autonomous driving has become very concrete by now and we will probably see concepts on how to integrate such technologies to a city infrastructure in no time. Not only do the drivers need to learn how to handle the future car, but also, other road users, like pedestrians or cyclists need to be sensitized to such innovations. What feature does a car need to communicate with its environment when it is a vehicle and a driver at the same time?

— Besides making sense of technology, building a relationship with technology is more than just interacting with a computer.

Intense research and development preceded the development of a visual and interactive language model for the autonomous driving project with GM (Confidential/2019).

In 2019, we had the pleasure to deep-dive into this interdisciplinary topic together with the research team at General Motors. The intention was to develop a visual language that enables communication between pedestrians and autonomous cars by not only transmitting messages, but also by creating an emotional bond. Our approach to this complex endeavour was based on intense strategic planning linked with extensive research. As languages are systems, the starting point was to define relevant parameters for the given requirements. During the R&D phase, we included a virtual reality software to develop a prototype that consisted of hardware as well as a holistic concept. By translating technological possibilities into tangible, emotional concepts, we created a comprehensible system that works for the individual – and collective – understanding. Embracing the future of communication, this project showcases how the intersection of technology and design can bridge the human and the machine.


Do you have a technology that needs a face? Get in touch via info@onformative.com