Humanizing Technology


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A Better Way to Build More Human Technology Products

“When the point of contact between the product and people is a point of friction, the designer has failed,” said Henry Drefuss, acclaimed industrial designer and author of Designing for People.

This is especially true for technology products, which are mostly created to be used by humans for the purpose of living better lives. If people don’t feel comfortable with a particular piece of technology, they will stop using it. That’s why for every successful tech product that catches fire, there are dozens of others that flame out.
So how can tech designers make their products less frictional? How can they humanize technology?

A humanized tech product has highly complex engineering work on the backend that is simple for people to understand and intuitive to use on the frontend. Humanized technology isn’t technology for technology’s sake. It’s technology that works easily and well—serving a higher purpose.

The Google search bar is a perfect example. Google has done an incredible job of making it easy to navigate the vast sea of information on the internet. It has created a highly functional technology that enables anyone anywhere to search the entirety of the web and access knowledge via a simple text box. Not only is the search process a very human experience, it has arguably made our lives infinitely better and more productive.

That said, creating humanized technology is easier said than done. Here are four steps to follow in the path to designing products that users will love.

Embrace social/emotional intelligence

Start by building social and emotional intelligence into your design process. You are, presumably, working on a solution to a problem or set of problems faced by your potential users. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, what is the emotional journey users are going through while they’re dealing with the problem? What are some of the solutions that users could be presented with to address the problem?

For example, consider a customer service agent working at a call center. These people are on the receiving end of dozens of stressful situations every day. They’re often handling upset customers and yet they’re expected to always keep their cool and never raise their voice. Now, let’s say you’re designing a technology product that makes their job easier so they can better help those customers.

To build social and emotional intelligence into your product, begin by having hundreds of conversations with service agents to better understand their pain points and identify their most common problems. One such problem they face is lack of timely information. To solve customer issues quickly, agents must have as much information as possible about why a person is calling, including whether they’ve called in the past and what the previous interaction looked like. A product that agents will embrace is one that can immediately put all this information at their fingertips.

Provide the right cues

At our company, we make a HR technology platform for employees who are experiencing mistreatment (or other unsettling circumstances) in the workplace and need a safe space to voice and resolve their concerns. These people are going through tough experiences and these experiences are hard to talk about.
Often, employees struggle to articulate exactly what they’re feeling and thus are reluctant to report issues. So, it’s critical to give them a technology solution that helps them navigate what they’re going through and provides cues about what information is relevant so they can easily document their experience.

The technology should ask relevant questions. Was your personal space invaded? Did you experience discrimination? How did the experience affect you? Questions like this are necessary to help users process exactly what occurred.

This is a product with emotional intelligence. It empathizes with the user and understands why a particular experience is a problem. Take microaggressions as an example. These are brief but commonplace indignities and insults that can have lasting effects on the receiving individual.

Additionally, these interactions are subtle, subjective forms of mistreatment with lots of gray area. A humanized technology solution helps highlight what the user is experiencing and why it’s a problem. For example, it can provide relevant prompts such as: It’s a problem for me because I feel I’m being racially profiled and I’m not free to express myself. A solution with emotional intelligence will quickly recognize the salient aspects of a problem and find effective ways to mitigate them.

Offer a different kind of escape key

Here’s another example of humanized technology in action. Say you’re making notes at your desk about a co-worker who has acted inappropriately. And then, suddenly, you notice that person is standing behind you. We know that perpetrator will increase their abuse if they think their victims are documenting their experience or telling others about it. That’s why we recently created a new “safe exit” feature in our software. If a person is documenting examples of abuse and the abuser walks in on them, they can simply hit the safe exit button, which immediately takes them out of our product and straight to a random web page. It’s a “boss button” for abusive situations.

Make privacy paramount

When designing humanized technology, it’s important to keep in mind that privacy is of vital importance. At Speakfully, we subscribe to the principles of “Privacy by Design.” This is an industry framework for proactively embedding privacy into the design and operation of our products and our business practices.

We operate under the assumption that privacy is a fundamental requirement and that user consent is required for every iota of data we collect. What’s more, we ask explicit permission before sharing any data and we immediately delete data upon request.

A truly private and humanized experience means directly telling your customers, “We know you may not feel OK sharing your data but if you do feel OK, rest assured that we will treat your data—and you—with the utmost respect.” That kind of message gives people the trust and confidence they need to use your solution.

In the end, humanized technology will help you grow your userbase, increase customer loyalty and build a trusted brand. And that will set your business apart in a market rife with technology solutions that often fail to take the user into account.


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