Author Archives: Editor

How Will Merging Minds and Machines Change Our Conscious Experience?

One of the most exciting and frightening outcomes of technological advancement is the potential to merge our minds with machines. How might these advacnes affect our sentience, self-awareness, subjective experience, or illusion of self? In short, how might this technology affect human consciousness?

Source: How Will Merging Minds and Machines Change Our Conscious Experience?

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3D Printed Houses: A Design Solution for Affordable Housing

This 3D Printed House Goes Up in a Day for Under $10,000

There aren’t a ton of ways to build a house other than the way houses have always been built, which is to say, by putting up four walls then adding a roof. This ages-old technique had to be modernized at some point, though, and as with everything else in our lives these days, technology’s delivering that modernization. In this case, instead of being built the old-fashioned way, houses can now be printed.
Last week at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, construction technologies startup ICON and housing nonprofit New Story unveiled their version of a 3D printed house. The model is 650 square feet and consists of a living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and shaded porch. It went from zero to finished in under 24 hours, and it cost less than $10,000. Equivalent homes built in developing countries will cost a mere $4,000 each.
This isn’t the first 3D printed house to spring up (or, rather, to be plopped down); there are similar structures created with similar technology in Russia, Dubai, Amsterdam, and elsewhere, but this is the first permitted 3D printed home to go up in the US.
ICON’s crane-like printer is called the Vulcan, and it pours a concrete mix into a software-dictated pattern; instead of one wall going up at a time, one layer is put down at a time, the whole structure “growing” from the ground up. The printer consists of an axis set on a track, giving it a flexible and theoretically unlimited print area.

“With 3D printing, you not only have a continuous thermal envelope, high thermal mass, and near zero-waste, but you also have speed, a much broader design palette, next-level resiliency, and the possibility of a quantum leap in affordability,” said Jason Ballard, ICON’s co-founder. “This isn’t 10 percent better, it’s 10 times better.”
The house has a greater purpose than just wowing techies, though. ICON and New Story’s vision is one of 3D printed houses acting as a safe, affordable housing alternative for people in need. New Story has already built over 800 homes in Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Mexico, partnering with the communities they serve to hire local labor and purchase local materials rather than shipping everything in from abroad.
New Story is in the process of raising $600,000 to fund a planned 100-home community in El Salvador. It will be the first-ever community of 3D printed homes. Printing will begin later this year, and the goal is for families to be moving in by Q3 of 2019. Donors can fund a full house with just $4,000.
Six hundred and fifty square feet may not sound like much space for more than one to two people, but it’s a huge step up from the lean-tos and shacks that make up the slums where millions of people live. ICON and New Story hope the Salvadorian community will serve as a scalable model that can be exported to developing countries around the world, providing a high-quality housing option for the millions who currently lack  one.

slum-tent-Haiti

Image Credit: Adam Brophy


“Instead of waiting for profit motivation to bring construction advances to the global south, we are fast-tracking innovations like 3D home printing that can be a powerful tool toward ending homelessness,” said Alexandria Lafci, COO of New Story.
The homes are built to the International Building Code structural standard and are expected to last as long or longer than standard concrete masonry unit homes.
While 3D printed houses are a great alternative to the flimsy lean-tos millions of people call home, there are some limitations to consider in terms of them being a solution to global housing shortages.
The biggest need for affordable, safe housing in the developing world is in or near big cities; take the slums of Cape Town, Nairobi, or Mumbai as an example. Replacing families’ current homes in these locations with printed houses may prove difficult simply due to space constraints; 3D printed communities are far more practical in rural areas where there’s less population density, and may not be a truly scalable solution in urban areas until the communities get vertical. 3D printed high-rises are already in the works, though not yet for the purpose of affordable housing.
If skyscrapers can be printed and used as offices, it’s only a matter of time before they can be used for housing as well. And in the meantime, $4,000 a pop for a safe, cozy home where there was no home before is a solid step in the right direction.
Image Credit: New Story

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Designing for Curiosity

Using a 5-dimensional Curiosity Matrix to better understand user motivations and behaviors

by Julian Scaff

In the field of psychology, curiosity is a cognitive and behavioral quality that is critical in the investigation of emotion and motivation. The phenomenology of curiosity has wide-ranging implications on a variety of human-centered fields, particularly UX design, because it is such a powerful motivating factor. People will take great risks and endure negative repercussions just to satisfy urges of curiosity, and thus it is crucial for UX designers and researchers to understand the phenomenon in greater detail.

“Curiosity is a powerful motivator with users…”

Historically there has been a lot of debate on how to define curiosity, with some theorists contending that it arises due to rewards for resolving uncertainty and others asserting that there is innate pleasure derived from curiosity-driven behavior. A new study by psychologists at George Mason University (The five-dimensional curiosity scale: Capturing the bandwidth of curiosity and identifying four unique subgroups of curious people) gives us a greater understanding of the roots of curiosity. The study found evidence of five different types of curiosity and four different types of curious people. This research has enormous implications for UX design, because it creates new opportunities to understand the motivations and desires of users, it offers insights into how to design human-computer interactions that align with users’ natural curiosity.

Our traditional understanding of curiosity is that it is an emotion of wanting to know or learn something. For the past century, psychologists primarily looked only at the behavioral traits of curious people, and observed the following:

  • Asking a lot of unprompted questions
  • Reading to acquire knowledge
  • Examining interesting images
  • Manipulating interesting objects
  • Investigating the feelings, thoughts and behaviors of other people
  • Taking risks to acquire new experiences
  • Persisting at tasks that are challenging

Acting on feelings of curiosity satisfies a drive to expand knowledge, build new skillsets, inspire creativity, and even bolster social relationships. Expanding on the simplified definition of curiosity as a strong desire to know or learn something, these behavior traits suggest that curiosity can be more clearly defined as “the recognition, pursuit, and desire to explore novel, uncertain, complex and ambiguous events” (Kashdan & Stiksma, et al. 2017).

In recent years, researchers have started to identify different facets of curiosity, including those that point to cognitive and not merely behavioral qualities. For instance, in 2009 Dr. Kashdan created a Curiosity and Exploration Inventory that identified two facets:

  • Stretching – the motivation to seek out new information and experiences
  • Embracing – a willingness to embrace the uncertain and unpredictable nature of everyday life

While these facets have their strengths, they don’t describe every aspect of curiosity. For instance, curiosity can also be distinguished as either a desire to know for its own sake (interest), or a desire to know because of the frustration of not knowing (deprivation). This distinction is critical for UX design because in many cases we are designing for users who are not exhibiting curiosity for deriving pleasure, but rather to resolve uncertainty and confusion. These are two very different types of motivations.

There are still other types of curiosity, such as thrill-seeking, creative thinking and social curiosity. These also have important implications in UX design, as the curiosity exhibited by a risk-taking entrepreneur, an artist, or a frequent user of social media may not be driven purely by general interest or deprivation of knowledge.

The objective of the most recent study by Dr. Kashdan and his colleagues was threefold: First was to synthesize the research and build a unified framework to define the qualities of curiosity with specificity. Second was take into account the rapid assessment that individuals perform to determine whether A.) a situation has potential to satisfy curiosity, and B.) any negative consequences of pursuing investigation is worth the reward. Third is to approach social curiosity as a distinct dimension, because social relationships are the fabric of human life. I won’t dive into the specifics of the research methodology and analysis, but you can read it here.

The 5-Dimensional Scale

The study by Dr. Kashdan et al. revealed that curiosity is far more multi-dimensional than previously thought. The results of their study are synthesized into a 5-dimensional scale described below:

  • Joyous Exploration – The recognition and desire to seek out new knowledge and information, and the subsequent joy of learning. We can look at this as curiosity for curiosity’s sake, and we e see this exhibited clearly in the ways in which most children learn, and why they incessantly ask “why?” We also see it in many adults.
  • Deprivation Sensitivity – An emotional curiosity driven more by tension and hard labor than by joy, such as pondering complex ideas, solving difficult problems, and striving to diminish gaps in knowledge. Learning new things and acquiring new skills satisfies a curiosity to continuously master new things. People like this often feel a sensitivity to being deprived of challenges. It’s why people do puzzles, take non-degree adult learning classes, and feel satisfaction in learning new skills.
  • Stress Tolerance – The willingness to embrace the stress and ambiguity of exploring new, mysterious or risky experiences. This is the primary driver of people who love to travel and experience new cultures, or go wilderness trekking, even with the discomfort and stress that comes with it.
  • Social Curiosity – The desire to know what other people are thinking and doing by listening to, talking and socializing with other people. People like this love gossip and love to eavesdrop on conversations and observe behavior. They’re not merely nosy; they’re natural anthropologists. Social media and celebrity gossip, for example, feed social curiosity.
  • Thrill Seeking – The willingness to take physical, social and financial risks in order to acquire new experiences. You can think of extreme sports, but this also applies to serial entrepreneurs and stand-up comedians. You can think of it as curiosity of the thrill.

This new five-dimensional scale sheds far more light on the phenomenology of curiosity. However, it is not complete without also understanding the various types of curious people, because not everyone is curious about the same things, or to the same degree. To do this, the researchers scored participants and conducted cluster analysis by common traits. The result was four different types of curious people, who can be described as follows:

  • Fascinated – score high across all types of curiosity, especially Joyous Exploration.
  • Problem Solvers – score high in Deprivation Sensitivity, and medium across the rest of the spectrum.
  • Empathizers – score high in Social Curiosity, and medium across the rest of the spectrum.
  • Avoiders – score low across the whole spectrum, especially Stress Tolerance. Remember that Stress Tolerance is the willingness to embrace stress and ambiguity to acquire new experiences. Avoiders seem particularly repelled by this.

Some other interesting personality traits emerge from these profiles. For instance, the Fascinated type tends to be extroverted, exhibits low stress levels, and on average has a higher income. Problem Solvers tend to be more introverted, are highly driven and score lowest in apathy of all other types. Empathizers tend to be extroverted and are more likely to be women, and exhibit high usage rates of social media. Avoiders tend to have the lowest education levels and lower incomes, and the highest stress levels.

UX and the Curiosity Matrix

These type of data have enormous implications for user research and UX design. Indeed, as a design tool it may be at least as if not more useful than other common methods of personality analysis such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. To make these findings an effective UX research and design tool, I created a chart that I call the Curiosity Matrix.

Curiosity Matrix by Julian Scaff

This matrix can be used in user research to better understand user personality types and motivations, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Answers to questions in user interviews and surveys can be scored on a 5-point Likert Scale, but qualitative answers should also be recorded as a holistic ethnography. Keep in mind that scores will not always align exactly as indicated in the Curiosity Matrix above as curiosity types are more like tendencies on a spectrum rather than absolutely defined.

Questions that can be used to evaluate a user’s curiosity type may include (but should not be limited to) the following examples. Users should be asked to score themselves on a 5-point Likert scale (1=Strongly Disagree, 2=Disagree, 3=Neutral, 4=Agree, 5=Strongly Agree) as well as give qualitative answers, and the researcher may ask follow-up questions for clarity.

I’ve created sample questions for each of the types of curiosity:

Joyous Exploration Questions:

  • I frequently read or seek out knowledge for no immediate reason.
  • I watch documentaries on topics that are not work or school related.

Deprivation Sensitivity Questions:

  • I enjoy tackling difficult problems that mentally stretch me.
  • I frequently take classes, read or use other methods to learn new skills.

Stress Tolerance Questions:

  • I frequently travel to new exotic locations.
  • I’m excited by a new experience where I don’t know what to expect.

Social Curiosity Questions:

  • I frequently eavesdrop on conversations between strangers.
  • I frequently use social media (i.e. several times per day every day).

Thrill Seeking Questions:

  • I participate in sports where there is some risk involved (i.e. snowboarding, skydiving, rock climbing, etc.)
  • I frequently take risks in business and/or social situations.

By identifying the types of curious people for which we are designing, we can create more coherent and compelling experiences. Curiosity is a powerful motivator with users, whether it’s in the drive to acquire knowledge and experiences, the need to close gaps in knowledge, the desire to understand what other other people are doing and saying, or the thrill of “what will happen if I do this…?”. Due to its importance in understanding human psychology and behavior, the Curiosity Matrix should be a standard datapoint in user research and user persona creation.

• • •

The Future of Digital Health: Personalized Health Care Beyond the Doctor’s Office

In an interview at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine in San Diego, Leslie Saxon, founder and executive director of the USC Center for Body Computing, spoke about the Virtual Care Clinic her team is building.
The concept for the Virtual Care Clinic was created in 2015 and has since been the team’s vision for how to create a better future of virtual patient care.
“Imagine a model of healthcare that’s always available and driven by data so you’re continuously collecting data off your body, about your environment, your nutrition, and activity,” Saxon said. “Then it delivers back to you personalized health care throughout your whole life. You don’t have to be in a brick-and-mortar building to get it, and you have access to the world’s best experts.”

Everyday technologies like cell phones, smartphone sensors, cloud storage, and data analytics are playing a critical role in Saxon’s vision. “We now have technologies that can scale and that are in enough people’s hands. We have analytics that can deliver accurate information to people and collect accurate information from them,” said Saxon.
Saxon is most excited about leveraging technology to increase patient participation and form a partnership between the care provider and patient, which enables more personalized and continuous care. She believes these are critical components to improving our current model of patient care, where patients are often disconnected and uninformed.
Ultimately, her hope is to create a global network of health experts that is accessible to all.
“A basic human right is access to health care, but few people have it,” she said. “If we can use digital tools to provide this, that would be an amazing thing.”

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Image Credit: pogonici / Shutterstock.com

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Why Nothing Cuts Through Complexity Like Visual Thinking

Dan Roam is a management consultant who uses visual thinking to make complicated ideas simple. His books Back of the Napkin and Draw to Win explain how anyone can use visual thinking to improve communication, problem solving, and innovation.
“People often talk about the simplicity that’s on the other side of complexity,” Roam said in an interview with Lisa Kay Solomon, Singularity University’s Chair of Transformational Practices. “I have found no better way to get to that simplicity then simply to draw things.”
You don’t have to be an artist to benefit. In the business world, he said, new challenges look complex, like a “conceptual plate of spaghetti.” Visual thinking breaks down problems into their core elements, and by looking at the same images, people can more easily get on the same page.
The results speak for themselves. Roam said a set of 46 pictures explaining the Affordable Care Act landed him an invitation to Fox News and the White House—not because he was the most knowledgeable expert, but because his drawings offered the clearest explanation—and a 1967 sketch on the back of a cocktail napkin launched Southwest Airlines.
The power of the pen isn’t only in what it can write; drawing a picture can be even better.

Image Credit: Leonid Zarubin / Shutterstock.com
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Designing for Emotional Wellness

Technology Can and Should Be Designed for Emotional Wellness

In an interview at Singularity University’s Exponential Medicine in San Diego, Nichol Bradford, co-founder and executive director of Sofia University’s Transformative Technology Lab, explored how new technologies are being designed to enhance emotional wellness and awareness.
Sofia University’s Transformative Technology Lab is certainly a unique space in Silicon Valley. The lab exists specifically to support entrepreneurs and innovators who are building new health and wellness-focused tech in an emerging field called transformative technology.
What exactly is transformative technology? The group defines the term as “science-based hardware and software that can produce reliable and positive changes in the human psychological experience.”

Bradford explains that within our psychological experience, or our wellness spectrum, there are a variety of technologies that can support specific conditions, such as anxiety, stress, and depression. One of Bradford’s favorite examples is an app called Ginger.io, which provides emotional support coaching and uses AI for pattern recognition in its users.
“With their permission the app performs a bit of phone monitoring and establishes a baseline for the user,” Bradford said.
“If someone who is depressed or has been depressed wants to avoid another episode, they can establish a baseline with the system. Then, if the person suddenly changes their behavior—if they’re slowly staying up really late or having a texting war—a coach from the system reaches out to them. This helps people get help in advance of an episode. That’s what a lot of this pattern recognition and live data tracking is allowing for.”
Bradford is most inspired by products like this, where user data is gathered then fed back to users in a way that helps them develop a higher level of self-awareness.
On the other end of the wellness spectrum is what Bradford refers to as exponential wellness. It focuses specifically on people who are using technology to push their psychological capabilities. Bradford said, “We have people in our community who are really pushing the mental and emotional capacity of human beings and pushing boundaries on what is possible for transformative leadership.”

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Bradford is also interested in companies that are using neuro-stimulation and biofeedback. She gave the example of a new FDA-approved electro-stimulation device by a company called Fisher Wallace. The device straps to a user’s forehead and is proven to effectively reduce depression without using traditional drugs.
One of Bradford’s key messages is that humans take direction and coaching really well, and that we should optimize technology around this notion.
“Many people in the wellness space feel like technology is the problem. I think the problem is not that it’s bad, but that it’s not good enough. It doesn’t have a human-centered design and there aren’t enough people saying, ‘how can we use technology to create intimacy and connection?’”
Image Credit: Patrick Foto / Shutterstock.com

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How Investors Can Use UX to Identify Better Startups

This article is based on a presentation by Erik Wingren and Petra Wennberg Cesario

by Julian Scaff

Startups are cool and exciting, and the opportunity to innovate and build a profitable business (or get bought by a big company for a lot of money) is tantalizing for both the founders and investors. But the stark truth is that about 90% of startups fail. Some of the reasons for this are beyond the control of the people involved in the startup, but many of the reasons for failure are absolutely in their control. It’s critical for founders and investors alike to know what those controllable factors are as early as possible. A large majority of those factors have to do with User Experience, and so below I’m going to look at each one of those factors to see how good UX design done early can help a startup avoid common pitfalls, and help investors better evaluate their chances of success.

20-Reasons-Startups-Fail

CB Insights compiled a list of startup post-mortem failures. Not all the reasons for failure have to do with UX, but most of them are either entirely UX or UX-related. This means that UX is by far the number one reason that startups fail. Let’s examine the top factors along with the percentage of failed startups that cite each as a reason for their failure:

1. No Market Need – 42%

This was by far the number one factor of why startups failed. It’s pretty simple: if nobody wants your product, then you have no business. So how can you find out if there’s a market need for your product or service? User research and user testing are the best methods to find this out, and you should know this before you start building anything. A startup that hires a UX designer (or has a UX designer as a founder) before they hire an engineer is already off to a good start.

If you’re an investor, make sure that a startup has done their UX research before they started building anything.

2. Ran Out of Cash – 29%

Typically a lot of engineering time and money is spent fixing bad features, or re-doing work that wasn’t done right the first time. User research, lean prototyping and testing helps ensure that you’re building the right product with the right features before you start building it. In fact, UX has been shown to reduce development time by 30%-50%. That adds up to a lot of money!

If you’re an investor, you want to look for startups that are using UX to build the right product in the right way and not just wasting development money.

3. Get Outcompeted – 19% / Poor Product – 17%

Getting outcompeted and making a poor product are closely related. Most companies don’t have a unique product or service and have to compete in a crowded marketplace. The factors that give products an edge over their competition are typically superior functionality, ease of use, and a positive emotional experience with customers. Factors that kill a product’s competitive edge are poor functionality, complexity, and customer frustration. A study by Gartner revealed that 90% of companies believed customer experience to be their primary differentiator.

Making a really good product is hard, and nobody gets it right the first time. UX design follows an iterative design process, meaning products are developed in lean cycles of researching, testing and improvement, leading to incremental, data-driven design solutions. If a product has flaws (and all do) it’s very difficult to identify those flaws and how to fix them without using the UX design process.

If you’re an investor, look for startups who are leveraging UX design to ensure high quality and gain a competitive advantage.

4. Poor Marketing – 14%

Knowing who your customer is and what they need leads to a deeper understanding of how to market your product to them. Further, UX design helps to create a differentiated brand and product proposition. The best marketing in the world can’t cover up a poor user experience.

In you’re an investor, look for startups that leverage their user experience as an integral part of their branding and marketing experience.

5. Ignore Customers – 14%

This is a no-brainer from a UX standpoint. The UX design process is also called ‘human-centered design’ because the focus from start to finish is on the people who use the product. If a startup isn’t doing UX research and testing, they’re flying blind.

If you’re an investor, look for startups who pay attention to their customers with UX research and testing.

6. Lose Focus – 13% / Pivot Gone Bad – 10% / Burnout – 8% / Failure to Pivot – 7%

Managing a product and a business through iterations and growth cycles is tricky, and it’s very easy to lose focus on the core customers and/or core business model. With it’s user-centered iterative methodology, UX design helps startups to stay focused on core business objectives, the most important features, and to know when to pivot and how. Keeping good focus and getting positive results prevent burnout because teams won’t waste time building the wrong product or features.

If you’re an investor, look for startups who leverage UX to stay focused and respond intelligently to change.

How do you know if a startup has done “good” UX?

Here is a checklist of key indicators that a startup has done good UX and not just thrown around some buzz words:

  • Have they done User Research? When pressed for time, it’s common for research to be the first thing cut, but this can lead to catastrophic wastes of time and money, and ultimately business failure.
  • Do they understand the entire Customer Journey? The user experience doesn’t just begin and end with the customer using your product. To really understand the user, they need to know their entire journey through deep user research.
  • Do they Prototype and Test before development? The most common mistakes that startups make are building products nobody wants, not being able to compete, and building poor quality products. The only way to know they’re building the right product with the right features is if they prototype and test. This also helps ensure they won’t run out of money building the wrong thing.
  • Do they have Senior Design Leadership? It’s critical that design thinking and usability are core company values. This only occurs when design experts are at the leadership table, in the form of a founder, a Chief Design Officer or VP of Design, or a company that keeps a UX design agency on retainer to serve that same role. Senior Design Leadership is so important that some Silicon Valley investment firms will only invest in startups that have designer founders, and many VC firms are hiring designers to help evaluate opportunities.

If you’re a tech entrepreneur, investing in UX design is the most effective way to boost your chances of success. If you’re an investor, it should be the number one thing you look for in a startup investment. Research definitely shows that UX is the key.