I spoke at SouthBySouthWest Interactive (SxSWi) in March 2015 about emotion and inclusion in wearable technology design.
It was a 1 hour talk to explore how work in assistive technology for people with physical or cognitive capacities is relevant to the creation of future wearable devices that are more than watches and more than about fitness and notifications.
I brought together the work I do in sensory user experience, assistive products that are already in use and research on what may happen both in technical and neuroscientific terms.
The theme that was most important was emotion. More particularly, positive emotion and how it is part of what we describe as happiness.
Happiness seemed to be core idea I came across in other SxSW sessions and conversations I had with other festival goers.
I think there's three reasons that happiness is back on the agenda.
Firstly, we have a more nuanced view of what comprises happiness. It's not just about sentiment and joy.
As Paul Dolan describes in his book, Happiness By Design, there's also purposefulness, misdirected attention and time. A sense of purpose is what supports our sense of contentment in doing things that are boring but worthwhile. Having our attention drawn to annoying or painful things is how we can be destabilised from our sense of wellbeing. Finally, time is how all of these ideas are settled in our minds, both the conscious and unconscious parts.
Secondly, fractures are appearing in the concepts of Behavioural Design (or Nudge Theory).
The ideas of manipulating user behaviour through design has a clarity that was appealing to business and politics. Yet, like the Focus Groups of the 1990's, that simplicity is not quite enough. Understanding individual emotions, not just group behaviours, becomes more important as the devices we use become more intimate and more personalised. Behavioural Design bypasses these areas and thus is valid but not sufficient for future design.
Finally, I think that there is finally a settling down of the ideas of Physical and Digital.
Societies, especially Western ones, bounce between dichotomies of binary, apparently oppositional, ideas before settling into a calmer synthesis. The last 10 years have been filled with all digital and all physical ideas that cannot cope with the fact that we live in a world where ideas and products can simply transmute and transition from and to either state. Accepting that flexibility means that ideas of core meaning, like happiness, become relevant. The manufacture of the product, its physicality or not, is irrelevant. We can do it all. Now, it's better to ask why? Questions of metaphysics and phenomenology are relevant when the How and What of a product cease to be questions.
Happiness matters and we do now have the tools to examine its meaning for users. This will mean a greater depth to product testing but that's not something to be afraid of.
Rediscovering our complexity and our humanity is a good thing. We can be more content, more purposeful and happier that what we make makes others happy too.