Extrasensory technology and Living Services: A new design paradigm
Written by David Wall, Experience Director at Fjord
A target purpose at Fjord is to design for and around Living Services. These are services that can be defined by, and designed around, the needs of individuals rather than generic services defined by companies for mass consumption. As technology builds up to become more connected with more of our things digitised, our expectations likewise evolve to be more individualised and fluid. This matters as design shaped by these fluid expectations and shifting technology that drives change today, will be more likely to impact the service ecosystems of tomorrow.
How might our current design methodologies and tools address the new challenges / opportunities that Living Services provides us?
Are they sufficient or might they also undergo transformation to better meet the needs of Living Services?
It’s hard to say for sure, but what’s great is we can start looking at new and emerging technology such as IoT, AI, AR, VR, biofeedback etc. for further clues or insights. As these technologies provide us more extrasensory experiences with our environment and each other, for now, I’ll simply refer to them by the umbrella term of “extrasensory technology”, using XST for shorthand.
The uniqueness of Living Services is that it presents us with a different context altogether. XST allows for more fluid, integrative and highly adaptable experiences. While still in its infancy, XST provides a new way to ideate, create and prototype Living Services in highly adaptable ways that other mediums will increasingly fail to do.
As Fjord is already at the nexus of Living Services, the time is ripe now to pioneer a new paradigm and create a lasting social / business impact. As we design for the full spectrum ecosystem, the need to gauge how people feel, think and move through (and around) Living Services is not just essential, but mandatory for any design business to remain relevant into the future.
Living Services describe the wider service ecosystem – across environments and technologies but also how it shapes our human relationships across all contexts. As designers, we use a variety of tools / methods to evaluate the contexts and people we design for (and around). These help us quickly generate new approaches, test, learn and make better design decisions as a result. XST as an emerging medium and enhancement to a designer’s toolkit, is likely to play a significant part in the future of design.
So how might we start using XST to better support designing for and around Living Services today?
Here’s a couple of small experiments I’ve been involved to provide an early foray into what might just be a new design paradigm:
EEG supported user testing – mapping cognitive load to task / scenario based user research
We trialled an EEG technology to analyse cognitive load over time during customer research. The aim was to gain further insight into how well reported / or observed ease of use, correlated with cognitive load captured. This method also proved helpful as an additional lens to gauge when participants may have been influenced by the effects of “demand characteristics” (what they think a facilitator wants them to say or do) and “social desirability” (present themselves in most positive light or be liked overall).
Comment on early results
The use of EEG in a testing environment wasn’t core to the insights we needed, more of a supplement really. There’s some background research to suggest that even though the commercial EEG sets aren’t high in resolution for the full gamut of brain activity, it’s sufficient to get a view at overall cognitive load. One participant, as an example, reported ease of use on what was being tested although it was clear he was struggling with the task (outlined on above diagram). We didn’t need the EEG device to tell us that, but it was interesting to note how it correlated with our insights. This also was helpful as another way to communicate results to the client and provide further weight to what was reported.
Team: Katy Willis, Dennis Alvarenga, David Wall
2. EEG with VR – Enhancing immersion through bespoke VR experiences controlled by brainwaves
Rather than simply employing EEG to gauge cognitive load for testing, we flipped this around and asked instead how might we provide an immersive way for people to gauge their own emotions? What if their emotions could directly affect and act on their immediate environment? What if it was more a creative tool?
To play with these ideas, we built a number of simple experiences in VR – the medium better suited for immersion. The initial idea was to aid mind state volition by providing people with visual and audio rewards responsive to their changing moods (guided by EEG). Immersed in VR, the hypothesis was that we could enhance target mind states like focus and engagement and perhaps build effective alternatives for dealing with everyday stress, disconnection and disengagement.
Comment on early results
Even though we’re at the very broad end of experimentation, not at all the specified end, there’s a case to keep refining and learning. Another question we started with is how might similar experiences within VR enhance this? There’s a number of other projects already underway that report promising outcomes and here’s a good personal account of the benefits of affecting mind states with EEG and physical feedback.
So far with the few that trialled it, the more engaging aspect was the challenge of manipulating VR objects and the gamification of doing so in a group setting. But the isolating element of VR doesn’t support this well. So next version is an AR experience that allows people to lift the X-Wing from Star Wars using their mobiles and brainwaves! Most people actually have mentioned this movie scene afterwards.
Another useful finding is that people appeared more immersed on the Google Daydream rather than the VIVE headset. This might be simply because the VIVE straps are in the way of the Muse EEG device (one has to hold on to the VIVE, which likely breaks immersion).
Personally, I’ve gained a fair bit of control of my brainwaves output since starting this project. It might be that I’ve been just testing different VR environments with the EEG hooked up too many times! But it’s too early to say what degree VR enhances people’s mind state volition or what other “real life” applications exist (although we’ve discussed many). At the moment this one is more about play and possibilities.