Reto Wettach – Designing Services for a Technological World

Technology is a physical expression of the services we deliver - and getting the physical aspect is vital, says Reto Wettach

We are physical creatures. We can solve tasks and be creative physically. We can learn, we can perform very complex tasks with our body. If you play Scrabble, you play better if you physically move the roles around. We learn physically – mirror neurons are an important part of how we learn.

How could mobile phones develop to a more physical experience? How about cars, as experience becomes an important differentiator? The understanding of technology and people is really important in designing innovative processes. Even face to face experiences like being served by a waitress or other interactions like call centres are dependent on understanding technology. Retails stores are trying to build up databases of what’s happening there, to better understand their businesses, and to start turning the customers into experts that help design the service experience.

Two of his ex-students started Flipboard – a news aggregator which has a rich experience that allows you to have a mental model of what it’s about – and which is enormously enjoyable. They worked on the flipping experience for ever to get it right. It couldn’t be too fast or too slow. Mark Zuckerberg has said that the biggest mistake Facebook made was betting too much on HTML5 rather than native. HTML5 is an abstraction – there’s a layer between it and the core device. They spent 18 months on getting the experience wrong.

Native Instruments build software for music devices. A couple of years ago they started producing devices to control their software – dumb devices, with changing colours, that make the experience so much more enjoyable. You want to be part of the experience of music in a club, not just clicking your mouse. It created a richer experience – and protected them against software piracy.

The discussion about mobile payments has been going on for such long time. Everyone wants to be the mobile wallet. Square has brought us a physical system, one we’re familiar with. It’s nice – it’s like a handshake. That was a symbol that we had a deal – so is this. Developing hardware is much easier than it used to be – hardware has become modularised. You can use off the shelf pieces to build new things. “Aware” medication bottles can sense when they’ve been opened and closed – used light and sound to remind people – and even contact family or the doctor to communicate if medication is being taken.

How is this done in a design practice? We need new tools in the design process. Paper prototyping doesn’t work for mobile services. We designed a tool which works on Android and iPhone – it’s very stupid. It just gets a bit of information, and allows users to send back responses. But there’s a hand-run dashboard running in the background, that allowed them to compare with what the user had said in interviews. If the services became too customised, the user became afraid. It’s dangerous to be too customised. But this is a good example of how to use technology in a design process.

A student’s masters project (which will be launched on Kickstarter) is a bluetooth sensor on wheels, which tells a smartphone that you’re moving, activating it to track your journey. It increases the value of the experience, and is based on a finished module he bought off the shelf.

When we work in this technological field, we should share our knowledge. We are building on the work of others – it’s part of what I do in university. One tool is Fritzing, which allows people to share ways of building things.