What’s your favorite dinosaur?
Most folks go ‘later-Mesozoic’, for a Cretaceous bad-ass like T-Rex, Spinosaurus, Triceratops, etc.
Few go for the earlier ‘betas,’ those sausage-fingered, blobby dudes, with the ‘fresh-from-the-primordial-sludge’ smell. If a museum DOES feature these earlier lizards – we’re talking deep Mesozoic, here – it’s usually a ‘blob-on-a-rock-clearly-regretting-the-terrestrial-move’, or a half-hearted mural in muddy colors of blockheaded stumpy things. Those earlier guys barely feel like a footnote, despite kicking out a boatload of iterations and lasting hundreds of millions of years.
Cut to the “Internet of Things,” “smart”, sensor-embedded environments. And the Burgerville bathroom.
Now I LOVE Burgerville. It looks weird when you type it, but it’s SO GOOD. I recently went to use the restroom at the Burgerville restaurant in Gresham, OR. It went something like this:
I come in and notice the water running in one of the three sinks bathroom empty, faucet going full tilt, handle up.
Mental note: “idiot didn’t know it wasn’t automatic!”
I push down the handle and shut it off. I do my stuff, then when I go to wash MY hands, I wave them in the area of the sensor under the faucet a few times before I remember, again, it’s a manually-operated sink.
I turn to the soap dispenser. I’m thinking “manual”. I’ve been primed for this user experience – I know how to navigate.
I press the dispenser to pump out soap. None comes. It doesn’t budge.
Because… it’s MOTION-ACTIVATED! The FAUCET was MANUAL, but not the soap dispenser.
I put my hand under, cursing. Nothing. I wave. Nothing. Wave again. Nothing.
The light is on, I hear it making machine-y sounding noises, so the power is working, but…THERE’S NO SOAP. Curse, move to sink on left. Hold hand under. Nothing. WAVE HANDS, soap dispenses onto countertop. Curse, place hand under, wave with other, get soap ON HAND. Seethe. Rub soap in, then place hand under faucet to rinse. Nothing. Wave. Nothing. Curse. Remember AGAIN that FAUCET IS MANUAL. Lift handle, rinse. Turn to paper towel dispenser.
Sign on front: ”pull down towel with both hands”, but no towel visible. Think: ‘YEAH, I GOT THIS, HOMES.’
Reach around side for those spinners (the ones they tell you to use if a towel isn’t visible?), probe with fingers, then hands. No spinners. Curse.
Pat up the sides through the wet tracks of those who’ve come before, until I’m patting the top of the damn thing. Nothing. Realize: must be a sensor underneath! Curse. Put hands under. Nothing. Wave. Nothing. Wave again – nothing.
Reach around, find a handle underneath – invisible, from my angle.
Pull handle, nearly tear dispenser from wall. Three realizations: (1) it’s a PUSH handle; (2) I’m not the first to pull; and (3) none of us ‘pullers’ have been gentle by this point in the chain of fail.
I push the dispenser back against wall, hoping the screws don’t fall out. I push the handle several times to dispense unapologetic towels.
VERY GENTLY take towel with both hands and tear praying dispenser doesn’t crash to floor. Dry hands.
As I leave, I notice some idiot has left the faucet running. Realize it’s me. Curse. Return to sink, push down handle. Leave.
The franken-tech clusterf— of incompatible systems exploding around us is the result of individual solution providers (soap dispensers, towel dispensers, faucet manufacturers, etc.) each tackling their use-case-in-isolation, with no-one fighting for an overall experience that feels right. That’s why we’ll be stuck waving our hands under manual sinks and standing in front of our smart home locksets with dead phone batteries for a while to come.
We are in the early Mesozoic Era of connected environments interface. And it looks pretty slimy from the Burgerville bathroom.
But it will get better.
We have to go from ‘use’ cases to ‘love’ cases. I don’t need a “smart” environment – I’ll take a “stupid” one…that cares a lot more.
Sausage-fingered-lizard UI will make way for velociraptors, and ultimately delicious, delicious chickens.
We’ll need experience designers and technologists who understand, deeply, the emotional weight of need states and our urgent journeys through them. They’ll need to grok us and how we’ll crash their parties and trash their assumptions with our messy, irrational, emotional selves – and love us for it. These folks won’t just build solutions we’ll use, but the experiences we’ll love.
We aren’t counting our chickens yet, but we’re investing in a few and starting to break a few eggs trying to make irrationally beautiful omelletes – and I hope more people will, too.
We’ll love you for it.