Five Ways Technology Will Change Our Lives By 2022

Whether you plan for it or not, your life will change in five years due to information technology breakthroughs. “5 in 5” as it’s called, is an annual series of imaginative predictions revealed by IBM, that aim to change the lives of humans through the implementation of ground-breaking technology. These predictions transparently serve to foreshadow the advanced  innovations that we can expect see in the near future. If the theme is artificial intelligence, you may just find your professional career intersecting with these advanced technologies sooner rather than later; are you ready for change?

AI Mental Health Tools

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience a mental illness in their lifetime, with combined treatment costs being in the trillions – an alarming statistic to say the least. IBM predicts that their breakthrough implementation of AI will change the world for many people living with mental illness, and it’s how they plan on accomplishing this that’s most intriguing.

With the goal of early detection for developmental disorders, mental illness and degenerative neurological diseases, IBM plans on using a mix of automated cognitive systems — “simulation of human thought — to analyze a person’s speech and writing.” We find this advancement to be incredibly exciting; we are talking about cognitive computers here… whoa. Big data is finally ready to make an impact in our daily lives, not just sales numbers.

The use of AI is only in its early stages . IBM plans on using data points in combination with modern wearable devices — watches, monitors, earbuds — and imaging equipment to create a more complete picture of a person’s health than ever before; without the need for an office or specialized tools. Signs that were once invisible will now be transparent and manageable to the patient through wearable devices — this greatly reduces the barriers that healthcare presents to many people. AI technology of this form will alter healthcare as we know it. How many professional fields can lay claim to a statement like that?

Hyper-imaging With AI

The next five years will also reveal a change in how we interact with the environment, but not in the way you might predict. The self-driving car has been a hot topic of late for the sheer fact that human hands no longer need to control the steering wheel — still weird to imagine. Even before most of us see one of these on the road, IBM is already developing cognitive computers that will further enhance their reliability and safety through hyper-imaging — seeing beyond the domain of visible light. The concept of millimeter-wave imaging paired with sensors is making much of the invisible world now visible. Black ice, fog, and distant objects will no longer be out-of-sight; they may remain out-of-mind for us humans but our vehicles will certainly be aware.

In five years this eye-opening technology won’t be limited to our cars, it will translate to our health. Imagine taking an image of your food to determine its exact nutritional value — or lack thereof. Or what about imaging your meds to ensure that you know exactly what you are ingesting. Better yet, what if your video game could pair with augmented reality to physically see through solid objects? Like our own body? Crazy, right?

AI technology through connected devices

Digitizing the Physical World

Data is all around us; every second that ticks away mass amounts of data are being recorded, we just can’t see it. The data that we speak of is commonly used to educate us on our ecosystem although it’s often outdated since it takes so long to organize after collection. Researchers have revealed that data scientists spend nearly 80 percent of their time scrubbing data before analyzing it. IBM is confident that this will change within five years. Real time is going to bring real meaning.

Our human lives are connected with our possessions: watches, phones, computers, appliances, thermostats… the list goes on for days. According to IBM, there are already more than 6 billion connected devices relaying data on a monthly basis — we are truly living in a matrix. Through this digitization of the physical world, macroscope technology will reveal insights on the fundamental issues that affect every single one of us living on earth.

In theory, algorithms and software will soon aggregate, organize, and analyze data on anything we choose, including soil, water, food and even space. And yes, this data will be searchable by all, likely from your phone — if those still exist in five years.

Medical Labs on a Chip

In five years, wearable technology will determine when a person should see a doctor. The guesswork of being human will slowly vanish as nanotechnology advances. With the use of hyper imaging, computer chips will see (read) bodily signs and fluids that are invisible to the naked eye. The way IBM puts it, “The goal is to shrink down, to a single silicon chip, all of the processes necessary to analyze a disease that would normally be carried out in a full-scale biochemistry lab.” Take a minute to visualize that — an entire lab fitting into a silicone chip.

In five years, you and I will have access to handheld devices that can read biomarkers — thousands of times smaller than a human hair — while sending it to a secure cloud without lifting a finger. In combination with other real-time data from devices such as a sleep monitor or fitness watch, AI software can quickly analyze an individual’s health for immediate detection of problems. But will this be fast enough to fill our insatious appetite for immediate satisfaction?

Think about this technology as a liquid biopsy. It’s goal, to revolutionize the traditional tissue biopsy, making it more comfortable, accessible and convenient. Large populations may soon have the ability to detect disease before it even forms. That is, if your healthcare is generous enough to cover it — did we just go there?

Speed of Light Pollution Detection

Most pollutants are invisible to the human eye; unfortunately their devastating effects are not. Methane — the primary component of natural gas — is said to be the second largest contributor to atmospheric warming — yes this is a real ‘thing’ outside of China. In the U.S. alone, emissions from the industrial oil and gas sector account for the largest source of methane output into the atmosphere. The EPA estimates that natural gas systems leaked more than nine million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere in 2014 alone — a number so large that it’s incomprehensible.

In five years affordable sensors will line natural gas pipelines, wells and storage facilities; monitoring for any signs of a leak. The detection process will soon take minutes rather than weeks, drastically decreasing the overall environmental impact. IBM predicts that this sensor technology will do more than detection, it will also reveal the path that harmful gas travels before entering the atmosphere.

Maybe the environment isn’t your first priority, but let’s talk about how sensors can enhance your personal life in five years. This real-time sensor detection process can work on your breath as well; diagnosing respiratory disease will likely become a quick and convenient process. The days of expensive and invasive respiratory testing will soon be behind us.

Does all of this technology have your head spinning? If IBM’s predictions are accurate — their track record being  pretty darn good — the next five years will reveal scientific tools that enhance the way humans live and interact. The invisible world will become clearly visible, opening the door to breakthroughs in health, medicine, and the environment. Maybe then the validity of so many accusations wouldn’t require years of discussion. In five short years these five innovations just might become ordinary.

We happen to have a few predictions of our own when it comes to Technology and human interaction; let us show you what we are working on here at Designing North Studios.

Amazon Alexa: Negotiating With a Belligerent Two Year-Old

Released in November 2014, Amazon’s personal assistant, Alexa, is making her voice heard across the globe. Although her speech is crystal clear, her understanding of the unique environment around her may take some time to develop. She also happens to be a fine listener — as the U.S. court system is discovering. But can she truly assimilate into any family? Well, that depends on how much character you’d say your family has. Our head of technology at Designing North Studios, Nigel Peacock, shares some of the quirks of introducing Amazon’s Alexa into a new home.

“Using Alexa to connect my home was a fairly easy process, and, when paired with a few choice IFTTT recipes — a digital connection between your apps and devices — I soon had our house working like the flight deck of the USS Enterprise — “beam me up Scotty”. Alexa is a font of knowledge and adept at controlling anything from refrigerators to robots yet we don’t have norms to judge our experiences; it still feels pretty experimental at this point.

Similar to how you might engage a ‘real’ family member, Alexa is always listening for the wake-word ‘Alexa’. If any of your household happen to also be called Alexa either a) have them adopted or b) change the wake-word to ‘Amazon’ or ‘Echo’. Option b doesn’t seem seem to invoke the emotional connection you may want with your virtual personal assistant  but it’s probably more humane than off-loading your relatives — we’ll leave this to opinion.

Using the Alexa app you can help her learn by marking how successful a command has been.. This is particularly useful for someone like me having grown up with an affliction such as a London (England) accent. The trouble is that  Alexa very often expects more drawn out syllable sounds than my vocal gymnastics can produce . This provided some low-brow entertainment for my ‘murican family as I attempted the intricacies involved in pronouncing “sauce”.  Is it source, sarse, saass who knows? Least of all Alexa. In my opinion a similar feature applied to drive-through window operators would help the fast food industry cater to those whose dialect is not from the backwoods of Arkansas.

For now Alexa can only listen to one Spotify channel at a time. Not really an issue if your only companion is a solitary online voice assistant. However if you have several family members all equipped with their own Echo Dot then Alexa coupled with Spotify, will provide some interesting playlists. Bursts of Ding Dong Merrily On High interrupted by The Insane Clown Posse regularly featured during our holiday festivities.

If you have any experience negotiating with a belligerent two year-old, then you’ll be well equipped to converse with Alexa. She’s dogged in her refusal to do anything not aligning with her preferred syntax. Being British I’m pre-disposed to say please and thank you regardless of the quality of service. It’s been said that we would thank our torturer if they said please before ripping out our fingernails. Alexa on the other hand has no time for such pleasantries  and, unless you speak to her like the family dog, will bluntly refuse to accept your repeated commands to turn the kitchen light on.”

5 Tips for Managing the Digital Product Design and Development Process

Everybody knows that the three most important words in real estate are location, location, location. But did you know that the three most important words in managing digital product design & development are communication, communication, communication?

No, this is not a new Geico ad. We recently interviewed Designing North Studios’ Managing Director and Executive Creative Director Lisa Peacock  and Head of Technology Nigel Peacock about how best to navigate the sometimes stormy seas of digital design and development. The interview was timely, as we just completed a retrospective on a major digital product design (yet to be unveiled to the public) – a process we undertake religiously after every big digital endeavor.

What tools or processes are most critical to the successful execution of a digital development project?

Nigel:

If the decision is solely ours, then we employ the Agile development methodology, which has consistently worked well for us. Depending on the Nigel_Peacock-colorclient’s preference, we can employ offshoots of Agile such as Scrum, Kanban or even Extreme programming.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t adapt to other more traditional processes, however, such as Waterfall or Critical Path Method (there’s one for the teenagers). That said, we often find ourselves working in a hybrid environment to accommodate a particular client’s internal processes. Whatever the preferred methodology, we do insist that a decision is made early on in the engagement usually during the discovery process which ensures that we get everyone on the same page thus completing stage one of “communication, communication, communication.”

Lisa:

Yes, and I think that the daily stand-ups are probably the most beneficial or critical element of that process. Every team member who is deployed on the project is part of the daily stand-up, and is expected to report on what they’re working on that day, what’s next on their task list, and any blockers or impediments that might cause them to not complete their task.

Nigel:

I would add  that it’s imperative that those meetings are kept to the brief three-point agenda that Lisa mentioned. In fact the meeting leader, the “Scrum master,” has a responsibility to keep the stand-ups organized to the point of being regimented and steer each contribution to a 5-10 minute slot at the same time every day.  Longer discussions can be saved for the “Meet After” or “Huddle.”  Working with a virtual team means that we don’t have the luxury of “water cooler” discussions, so tools like Slack and Basecamp are vital additions to our project arsenal, and allow us to continue conversations outside of the stand ups. Or we can just say “Hi’ to make sure we keep the team socialized and the energy levels up.

You’ve both managed countless digital projects over the course of your collective careers. What are the biggest potential pitfalls to be wary of – the perennial hang-ups?

Lisa:

designing-north-studios-lisa-peacock-pointingTwo Things: Business Requirements and Business Rules. Not keeping requirements top of mind throughout the project, and not documenting the product’s business rules effectively so that they are not lost in the hand-off between Design and Tech is critical. Establishing requirements up front, which is part of an Agile process or any project process for that matter, is the easy part. But it takes strong leadership to continuously circle back and hold both the requirements and subsequent business rules up against decisions points as the team progresses through a project.

Nigel:

Yes, and steady tracking of the requirements and designs makes it easier to eliminate disagreements as they arise. When you encounter a conflict between a proposed UX solution from the designers and a technical solution from the developers, we’ll grab the applicable business set to help inform a direction. I would also add that guiding the customer toward defining the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is paramount to any product launch success. It’s super easy to get excited as the product begins to take shape and keep adding more and more bells and whistles until you eventually have a difficult time reaching the finish line. Keeping a backlog of great ideas, with a quick prioritization indicator for add ons later is critical to keeping the creative thinking logged. It also helps to remind clients that you can eventually get everything you want, but not all at once. This is where Agile, used properly, can be a real asset.

Speaking of settling conflicts, how do you solve conflicts that aren’t necessarily settled by a review of the business rules?

Nigel:

branding-design-gallery01Even the most well documented, evolved business rules can still be open to interpretation when the development rubber meets the road. It’s really important to have members of the design, development, and analysis teams joined at the hip from the project inception to deployment.  Rather than constrain enthusiasm or creativity, we tend to let ideas flow freely, then before committing to them, we’ll have the Tech team make sure that designers aren’t writing checks that can’t be cashed.

Lisa:

Hey now, expertise comes at a cost my friend. Ha! No, this is true. Creativity can jeopardize scope. A good creative director will spot it when its happening. I would also add that the designers can often help to rein-in the tech team too when their solution is more elegant than might be needed for a particular requirement or business rule. Again, daily stand-ups can give tech a better understanding from the design and business teams as to what the customer not only wants but really needs. Then assumptions aren’t made along the way that can cost everybody extra time and money.

You touched on time and money and that translates to budget. What tools do you use for scheduling and for tracking budget?

Nigel:

Typically we use Microsoft Project for the project schedule and Google Docs to communicate high level planning.  Depending on the customer preference we will use a variety of development planning tools, but most often focus on Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS) or JIRA for sprint planning.

Lisa:

In terms of tracking project budget, we’re a Harvest shop. Everyone works to a detailed time sheet that’s approved every week. Harvest reports make it easy to see exactly where you are, and forecast burn rate which is especially helpful when talent is working on more than one project at a time. Specifically, for tracking design deliverables, we like Trello, and find it to be an effective way to assign tasks, see what’s coming up next, what’s in-review with the client, and finally fill-up the complete column once a deliverable has been handed-off to tech.

What happens when a designer or a developer just isn’t getting it?

Nigel:

You know, that’s honestly one of the best parts of our business model. We’re a blend of freelancers who have worked together on a variety of projects. When we select our team, it’s after Lisa and I have a good feel for the type of client we’re dealing with, the type of project we’re tackling, and the methodology that’s going to work best for the client. We handpick the team from there. We’re not saddled with having to use anyone “on the bench” just because they’re filling seats at an office.

Lisa:

And look, despite that flexibility, we still need to have the fortitude to acknowledge when we’ve got the wrong person for a particular task. We recently had a very talented designer who came out of the chute with the client’s favorite overall design for a digital product, but whose follow-up design comps kept missing the mark. Rather than beating our head against the wall, we just made the change; swapped out one talent for another talent more suited to the pace and ‘feel’ for the product brand direction. It worked out great, in no time, we were back on track. It was the right move.

Nigel:

Again, our business model gives us a lot of flexibility. We usually shoot for the Extreme Programming model in that we assemble a team dynamic which comprises a mix of business experience, technical talent, innovators, and leaders but most importantly a team that works together, understands each other, and just gets off on producing quality products.

Any final thoughts or advice?

Nigel:

No process is perfect. We see digital product design & development as an iterative process always. We’re continually improving and refining how we tackle new projects. But without question, effective communication between team members and between DN and the client, is paramount. And actually, a true strategy we believe in.

Lisa:

I agree with Nigel, and would add that having people who are generally happy, energetic, and who come to the table with the DN mindset we’re always looking for in our stars, is what I strive for. We put together teams filled with people who enjoy what they do. It makes life much easier during crunch time. You can have the best full stack developer on the planet, but if everyone hates working with him, it can make for a rough project. Respect for one another and collaboration are key.

Nigel:

And I think that when team members have a common goal and a mutual respect for one another, it also eases the process. When everyone has a solid understanding of the scope of the project and has respect for each other’s abilities, it goes a long way. 

Top 5 tips for effectively managing a digital product design & development project:

_______________

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

Conduct daily stand-ups. Every team member knows what he or she is working on that day and that week. Blockers are addressed and mitigated.

_______________

2. Revisit requirements & business rules.

They’re established during discovery with the client and are revisited frequently – Scope creep kills the project, erodes motivation, and makes planning a pain in the ass.

_______________

3. Establish an MVP.

Make sure the project plan has a clear definition of the MVP and successfully execute that first. Refer to the “wouldn’t it be great” list later, and don’t let that distract anyone.

_______________

4. Assemble the right team.

And don’t be afraid to make changes when needed. One wrong apple makes the whole tree look like it needs water.

_______________

5. Iterate.

No process is perfect, so keep striving to refine your processes with each new project. Wisdom comes by learning something every single day.

_______________

Ready to get started on a new digital product or redesign?

GIVE US A HOLLER

_______________


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My, How Design Has Changed

 

That sounds a bit like a grandma or a too-doting-an-aunt remark. But now and then I’m overwhelmed with conflicting feelings about the current state of digital design. When I started some two decades ago, it was a holistic, all-consuming affair. I studied media arts & graphic design at the University of Arizona, and web design & usability at UCLA when they were embryonic topics. I led Ernst & Young’s bicoastal design team for its Center for Technology Enablement group when email was just beginning to replace the interoffice memo.

Sure I’ve evolved. I no longer write HTML from scratch. We employ BaseCamp, Asana, Pre.Vue, Slack, and Skype to communicate and manage projects instead of the hand-built HTML project sites I used to craft. I rarely sit in person with a hefty laptop to present design concepts or wires to our clients – we meet virtually with Google Hangout, GoToMeeting, Join.me, or BlueJeans.

The scheduled photo shoots with a lighting guy, a stylist, and an assistant to nab the right shot for brand, web, and print pieces has morphed into the hunting, decision, and purchasing process from sites like Stocksy, CreativeMarket, VisualHeirarchy, et al. Designers can combine hi-resolution photography with well-designed themes, PSD smart objects, and helpful vector layout kits (not to mention Sketch). Laboring for hours over code to produce clickable user experiences is over – InVision, Solidify, and Axure have deftly allowed our team to provide UX prototypes for our clients that already look real. This ensures a collaborative, iterative design process that’s both quick and cost-effective.

As a firm, we still insist that clients do not skimp on brand development. But the basement competition allows you to flash a five-dollar bill on Fiverr or a couple hundred bucks on 99 designs – presenting a logo as a *brand* to the unwitting. Even websites can be quickly produced by the layman with SquareSpace, Wix, and the forthcoming phenomenon of The Grid.

And yet, as much as it sometimes feels as if a once respectable vocation has turned into a used-car business, I must say, I relish the change. Now small businesses that could not have afforded design studio contracts can have a relatively professional looking digital presence and take advantage of our increasingly digital economy. For these smaller clients, design studios might now be able to play a more strategic role, offering direction, consultation, and best practices.

In a sense, this evolution has sculpted the brand identity of our virtual team at Designing North Studios. We’ve been able to aggregate a team of stars who have the deep knowledge to both consult and implement. The digital revolution has permitted us to bring so many stars together because we’re not shackled to a single zip code. And due to the extraordinary volume of noise in the digital landscape, having a team who can make a business audible above the cacophony does add value. We can take our years of experience in listening, researching, strategizing, and finally designing to re-imagine user experiences and create strong brand identities that are intrinsically tied to clear business goals.

I guess it’s okay that I’m no longer slogging through HTML in every nook and cranny of our projects. It doesn’t make me less of a designer. In fact, it allows me to focus more deeply on the creative elements that add that hover above – that provide authentic differentiation. In the end, it’s great design if it successfully accomplishes what your business set out to do. Period.

Thanks for the therapy session. I’m cool now.

Note: I still love and prefer meeting clients in person whenever it works for them!

/Lisa

How about you?  What do you miss? Do you agree that the evolution is a net positive?
 

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6 reasons to (ahem) love tech gadgets

In January you made a resolution to improve yourself. In February you expressed your love. March typically is when all of that positive progress kind of fizzles and I say no. Keep it going. There are several gadgets out there that will help you continue being stronger, faster, and (ahem) harder.

Activite Pop
www.withings.com/us/withings-activite-pop.html

Google “fitness tracker” and you’ll get a plethora of results to suit your fancy. Want a big computer to put on your wrist that tells you your BPM and reminds you to buy milk? It’s out there. How about a tracker that acts like your mom and tells you to sit up straight? That exists too. But what I’ve been looking for is fitness tracker that well….doesn’t look like a fitness tracker. And we might just have that with Withings’ Activite Pop. It looks like a Swatch but with awesome extras. It syncs with your smart phone and tracks activity, sleep, and swimming. Lasts 8 months without charging and it has a silent vibration alarm. Most important of all, it doesn’t scream to the world that you’re obsessively tracking your steps and analyzing if that 30 minute run gives you enough room within your daily diet to squeeze in a donut. (FYI: It doesn’t unless you’re eating one donut hole. Plain.)

Bragi Dash
www.bragi.com

This headphone won the CES Best of Innovation Award 2015 and I’m not surprised.
Obviously it’s a wireless headphone that can play music from your smartphone.
It’s also a fitness tracker.
It’s waterproof so you can (in theory) swim with it.
It’s got an ear bone microphone so it picks up vibrations from your voice, not background noise. It isolates noise so you can block out babies crying on the plane.
It can make eggs on toast.
It takes your dog out for a walk.
It helps you decide whether you should eat burritos or sushi for dinner.
Ok, so it doesn’t do the last three things but what it’s promising is alot and the reviews for this headphone has been overwhelmingly positive. Right now this headphone is only available as pre-order but if it truly offers everything it’s listed, Bragi raised the headphone bar to a level that I’m excited for other companies to follow.

Smart Shirts

YES. Yet another item that tracks your activity! In theory the data will be more accurate because the sensors are tracking data from different points on the shirt. Not just from one point on your arm. These may seem ridiculous and overpriced but I really like the idea of body sensors becoming part of our lives in non-intrusive ways. Yes it appeals to the super OCD fitness freak who wants to know how hard they’re breathing when they hit a certain BPM. But imagine what it could do for tracking the health of loved ones? Imagine your grandma who lives 100 miles away is wearing this shirt and she starts to have a heart attack. You could receive an alert telling you what’s going on inside your grandma’s body within seconds. This isn’t just technology for hard core fitness nuts, it could be a way to monitor the health of our loved ones in real time.

Hexoskin and OM Signal offer some of the cooler looking designs for smart shirts. Ralph Lauren is actually using OM Signal’s technology in their Polo Tech Shirt.

All very pricey especially if you wanna buy more than one shirt. Who’s going to buy just ONE shirt? That would be a very stinky shirt indeed. But give it time. Fitness trackers were once overpriced too, now you can get them for under $70. I’m hoping smart shirts become popular, developers create interesting apps to go with it, and the idea of tracking our loved ones health from afar becomes an economical and easy choice.

Petcube
petcube.com

Many would agree that the one place where they’re guaranteed love is from their dog or cat. So it makes sense that you want to be connected to your pet as much as possible. But what do you do if your workplace won’t let you bring your pet to work? Sure you can get a Dropcam so you can watch your pet from home. But Petcube not only lets you see your puppy sleeping on your bed. You can also play with your puppy with the built in laser pointer from whatever remote location you’re at. The Petcube includes 2-way audio stream and a 138 degree wide angle lens that streams glorious 720p of your furry friend.

Teledildonics

You gotta hand it to the adult toy industry for pushing the bar as far as possible in the realm of pleasure. They find a need and they fill it. Are you and your loved one currently doing the long distance thing but video chatting isn’t enough? Kiroo has created a Fleshlight and a massage tool that are connected through Bluetooth. Proving yet again that if you add Bluetooth to anything, it makes the product ten times better. The idea is you and your partner could have a sexy yum yum time together in real time even if you are miles and miles away from each other. He would have the Onyx (the Fleshlight), the woman would have the Pearl (the massage tool), make sure Bluetooth is turned on, the wifi signal is strong, and boom you two are literally in sync.

Couple
couple.me

There are alot of social networking apps targeting smaller groups, specifically couples. Couple is the most impressive out of all of them. Yes it offers what you typically expect from an app to keep you updated on everything your partner is seeing and thinking. You can post pictures, write love notes to each other in the timeline, create to-do lists, update a shared calendar, and find restaurants where you can actually talk to each other IRL. But the cutest feature by far is “thumbkiss.” You open the thumbkiss feature, wait for your partner to join, match your thumbs, and the phones vibrate when your thumbs kiss. Is this a dorky way to express your love? Sure, but damnit this thumbkiss sure makes me smile.

Elaine Adolfo is a professional amateur of dance and all things tech. When she’s not helping the Stanford Center for Internet and Society improve technology and law as their Associate Director, she’s scouring the web for all things odd, brilliant, and life changing. Follow her site elaine.la.

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