These days, it seems like you could spend all your time and money attending one conference after another. Within the next couple of months, there's like a bazillion conferences I want to attend, not to mention the ones I missed in the fall that I would have loved to have gone to, like Design Engaged. None of them is perfect, but all of them have at least a few sessions I'm very interested in. I'm just going to list them in case perhaps you will be lucky enough to attend some of them in my stead.
This is not to mention stuff like SIGGRAPH, Designing User Experience, the IxDG Summit, and probably a host of others coming down the pike in summer and fall. It's simply impossible to attend them all unless you have unlimited free time and cash.
The User Experience of Airplanes
With Airbus unveiling its Titanic-esque A380 today, I wanted to note that I think this is probably the exactly wrong direction for the airlines to head. While other industries are looking for ways to make their businesses more personalized and designed for individuals, monster planes like this one dehumanize us further, cramming 555 people onto one cramped space.
Sure, they claim that some of the plane's extra space could be used for stores, nurseries, and other sorts of recreational spaces, the makers also note that
how the plane's extra space is used will be left up to airlines, whose A380 cabin designs have remained closely guarded. In the future, low-cost carriers could operate the A380 with a single economy-class configuration accommodating as many as 800 passengers.
Gee, how far in the future do you think that will be?
Airports like London's Heathrow are preparing for the new superjumbos by installing double-decker passenger ramps and enlarged baggage conveyers. But...but...did anyone--a designer--think these things through? The experience of airplane travel and of airports in general is currently terrible. Getting on and off planes is particularly odious. It's going to be great when 800 people try to get in and out through two small doors. How long will it take to load and unload not only people but also baggage? All I can envision are more missed connections, more waiting, and less personalized service.
In short, these superjumbos are built for the airlines, not for their customers. Airlines should have learned from their first-class service (and if they haven't, they should learn from Apple or Starbucks) that people will pay more for a better experience. Virgin gets this, I think, but every other airline is intent on playing a losing game with bargain-basement outfits like Southwest. There is another way: distinguish yourself with your experience design. Make the experience user-centric. One of the many beleaguered airlines should take note and hire a designer. Or ten.
Designing for Multitasking
I'm a big fan of having something happening in the background while I'm focused on something else. Like having the tea kettle on while I unload the dishwasher. Even better is doing two things at once, one of which I might only vaguely be aware of. Like when I clean up my desk (and thus remove stuff from around the wireless antenna) and in doing so improve my wireless signal. We don't design for this enough. We're used to focusing on the task at hand. Perhaps overly focused.
We've been designing the equivalent of digital hammers--really nice hammers--that do the task at hand (hammering digital nails) but not much else. They don't recognize us or adapt to us at all, they just do the task when they could be multitasking: collecting data about how it's being used and by whom, adjusting itself to make it more personal and more useful. For most digital things, there's no sense of history and this is something that can be easily gathered. If every time I visit a web site, I go to the same page, chances are, I want to go to that page and the site or the browser should somehow acknowledge that, either by simply taking me there or in some way making it easier for me to get there.
Computers and other digital devices register (and often record) our behaviors like nothing else ever has, except perhaps for royal manservants. And yet, for the most part, they are dumb to the use of this data. Sure, the occasional site welcomes me back, but this is pretty rudimentary. Amazon got this right back in 1996, and despite its current cluttered pages, still gets some things right, like showing me where I've been recently. A couple of years ago, BBCi did that brilliant thing where as you returned to the site repeatedly, you "made a path" through the site.
An important point to make is that the onus wasn't on the user to do these things; the technology was what was smart and remembered. Both of these sites went the extra mile and did something more with the input they were getting in addition to just completing the task. They made completing the task in the future better, and that's something worth designing.