UX And The Rise Of Smart Cities

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The world is becoming more connected by the day as new; technology, forms of communication and methods of transferring digital products, are introduced on a daily basis.

As a result, entirely new industries are being formed with disciplines and job roles that didn’t exist five years ago.

Terms such as Industry 4.0, digital transformation, artificial intelligence and technical debt, were either seen as being something from science fiction or unknown completely a short while ago, while they are now amongst the biggest buzzwords for the biggest businesses on the planet and the global digital industries.

The concept of the Smart City has, in fact, been part of the lexicon for a number of years as well as the general idea of what one is.

It has been known for decades that traffic systems, buildings, public transport, healthcare and security could be dramatically improved with the help of technology, however, few ventures really inspired a revolution.

IBM has been one of the leaders pushing the idea of the Smart City for a long time, as highlighted by a campaign they started over 8 years ago and seen in this commercial from 2012.

However, as data capture, data analytics and technology have come on leaps and bounds over the past few years, the concept of genuinely smart cities has come to life.

This has meant that technology and the digital world is as much a part of our physical lives as our online ones.

As a result, digital specialists can now look a the way tech is helping people in metropolitan areas, in order to inform the design and experience of online users.

So how will this be done?

The Augmented Reality Revolution

Virtual reality headsets have been on the consumer market for a number of years now and the technology has come on leaps and bounds recently.

Virtual experiences can seem incredibly visceral and there is a huge demand for virtual experiences to be created for businesses hoping to deliver something that will be more engaging than anything a consumer has seen before in the shape of advertising, as demonstrated in this video. (Though the graphics leave a lot to be desired…)

However, despite the popularity of VR and its applications for video games and selling products, it has yet to prove itself as a technology that will be used as part of creating a smart city.

However, the use of augmented reality is an entirely different story.

AR will allow designers to blend the real world and the digital one seamlessly and though the technology has not developed as quickly as many would have hoped, it is only a matter of time before the digital world blends with the physical.

The theme has been explored in multiple stories like The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell, where the lines between what is real and what is digital is blurred.

When it comes to UX specifically, industry professionals should be looking at human behaviour in the real world, just as they do in the digital one, and in time this will become normal.

For example, right now, UX specialists will be A/B testing different pathways through platforms, different colour patterns and micro-interactions on a daily basis.

However, as AR becomes more commonplace, it’s likely that UX specialists will focus on testing different prompts and micro-interactions which are augmented in the physical world.

As a result, UX specialists should aim to learn from the data captured in smart cities, to track how people behave depending on the time of day, month and year, as well as weather conditions and any other physical element which can be measured.

The lesson here, is to prepare for the AR revolution.

Though a nightmare vision of such a future, shown in this short film, may put you off…

UX should be invisible

What defines good user experience? Is it astronomical conversion rates? High satisfaction ratings from users? Industry awards One definition of good design, is when it is hardly noticed at all and it doesn’t even get noticed.

Smart cities using AI and data to manage traffic flows don’t change the colour of stop signals, they don’t alter the entire layout of road systems, they simply change the regularity of red and green signals from traffic lights in live response to traffic levels.

The point is, the data and technology being used to help people navigate smart cities, isn’t reinventing the entire wheel, it is simply making small and regular adjustments in reaction to real-time problems.

This is a lesson that UX specialists take into account when trying to radically change a platform or website when simply making certain elements of it, will solve the problem in a faster and more efficient way.

The near future

 As mentioned above, it’s only a matter of time before most cities implement a range of solutions to dramatically improve the experience of people living and travelling within them.

The challenge for city planners, businesses, UX specialists and governments, will be how to create a holistic approach to digital design which bleeds into the physical world.

Though it is an exciting one at that as a whole new age of user experience design will begin.

The question is whether conventional design and UX will even exist in 20 years time, as AR and holograph technology becomes more mainstream.

The likelihood is that UX will take on an entirely different meaning as the evolution of smart cities progresses and the importance of designing and improving of physical public spaces, is just as big when looking at the digital experience a person will have as they move through a specific location.

For now, it might be wise for UX specialists to start reading up on their urban planning, architecture and human behaviour in the physical world…

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