On April 18th, I attended the Smart Cities Summit hosted by Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
I spent time at this day long seminar to learn more about the role technology and design plays in planning spaces and communities of the future. It's a different lens on UX than I've so far seen through, but was no leap in concept. In the wake of a recent lay off, I was hungry for a challenge and something new. Additionally, I was inspired to attend by a job I had recently applied to, and the event was introduced to me by a friend who works on MistIQ Technology at Harrisburg University.
The lineup was full of great speakers and a variety of topics related to design and technology applications into smart spaces. Smart spaces discussed ranged from struggling infrastructure communities (with flooding problems), to large metropolises (San Diego) and touched on technological advances in medical equipment which evolved from using data to learn more about people. Complex social and geographic factors can now be articulated, visualized, and mock solutions projected.
While I was certainly intrigued at the interfaces of some amazing innovations like Johns Hopkins Telemedicine Kiosk, Microsoft's Holo Lens, ESRI projects, and examples of Augmented Reality, there was a deeper lesson I gathered from the day.
Service + Innovation = business case
The point that resonated with me the most was the resounding echo from one speaker to the next that design is technology agnostic; you must get to the bottom of the problem you’re trying to solve before you decide on the technology to solve it. Conversely, technology can be used to uncover problems. If you continually analyze, you will be able to use technology discover problems that you may or may not have been originally out to solve. There were showcases of case studies, along with some curriculum tie-ins from the university.
A great example that was brought up by Alan Mitchell, Executive Director Cities Global Center of Excellence of KPMG was about how cities often look at problems they need to solve by better utilizing existing services. In reality, those services may not be of real need, nor solve real problems by the people. A city that constantly floods could spend time working on better ways to alert the public of impending floods, while ignoring the reason they flood in the first place and therefore exploring more viable, long-term and possibly more cost effective options to serve their public. Problem discovery can help focus on discovering incentive, which changes behavior. Experience Design is at the heart of better services, an equally important outcome of these studies.
This tied in to another design principle for me, and one that is often lacked in technology explosion; People.
As a user experience designer, I found a lot of the technology that these specialists use to be fascinating. The real-life applications seem endless, and made me think about communities in a different light. The challenges they are faced with vary greatly, yet they are all tasked with solving basic needs and providing services using good experience design from the results.
Some examples of technology that’s being used for data analysis and problem discovery are ESRI and ICT4SIDS Partnership, which is a project from the University (The Center operates at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and is supported by a Grant from IBM.). The Action for Sustainable Development organization continues to grow its "Global Civil Society Platform To Engage with the Sustainable Development Agenda" by aggregating environmental, economic, data into action to improve the lives of underprivileged all around the world.
Technology gives us the ability to discover insights from a fast-moving reality. This reality is not all new, but the data we have to learn from is constantly new. Variations in things like labor force changes, economic and policy changes all affect decisions made by leaders, and we are growing more ways to dissect, distribute and strategize in a powerful way. With the future at stake, it's important we remember that technology is only a means to an end.
As a designer and a citizen, I hope to see more techniques applied to better humanity by way of problem-finding as a foundation to solving them.
Following this summit, I went on to Lead the design of a revolutionary new software product that is currently under development to help healthcare strategists and providers make sense of data to serve real people. You can read more here: http://pivotal.co/.