Designing Big Data for Humans

(with a Little Help from Hollywood)

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We humans are inherently emotional, imperfect creatures. As a designer, I’ve made the mistake of assuming that users of whatever product I’m designing will follow the task flows, organizational structures, and nomenclature that I’ve imposed on them perfectly and without hesitation. I’d been forcing users to adapt to my way of thinking.

I’m not the only one guilty of this behavior. Numerous applications and digital experiences put this burden of attention and effort on the user. As the user, you end up doing much of the work.

You end up having to:

  • Puzzle through that long list of functions in the drop down menu to figure out which one applies to you
  • Swipe through 10 screens of content to find the app you really want
  • Do numerous searches and phone calls to find another way to get home when the airline cancels your flight without any alternatives

In all these cases, while technology and intelligent algorithms are implicitly present, they still aren’t helping the user.

What Hollywood can Teach Us

While much of the technology featured in Minority Report — from retina scanners to crime prediction software — was prescient and is only now starting to be realized, the user interface itself leaves much to be desired. It looks good, but the burden of attention and effort is on the user to learn a new type of multi-touch language to control the computer. The user must learn custom gestures and finger movements! The user must wear a specialized new input device in the form of three-fingered gloves!

Contrast that to Spike Jonze’s movie Her. The interface between human and machine is so seamless and effortless that the character played by Joaquin Phoenix can fall in love with his operating system. His OS is aware of the context of his calendar, contacts, and — through his smartphone’s camera — every experience he sees. With that context, every suggestion becomes more relevant as the OS learns more about him over time. It’s a futuristic world with intelligent machines and predictive algorithms, but the technology does not overwhelm the human. Instead machines compliment humans.

The lesson I’m driving at here is why not let the computational power of a machine that understands context start to remove some of the burden on the user? Let the human focus on what a human does best.

Designing for Humans

To meet this goal there are a few key design principles that we’ve focused on here at Trifacta, but that I believe apply readily to any design team in the data space:

01. Visually Simple and Functionally Strong

02. Elegance at Scale

03. User Empowerment


This article was originally published in UXMag.

Written by

Leadership coach & champion of difficult people; designer of human experiences; ex-Facebook; surfer, traveller, mom;

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