The User Experience

The end of the year always inspires articles focused on wrap ups and articles focused on predictions for the coming year. I always enjoy reading both, there is always much to be gained from reflection and prediction. That said I am going to leave those topics for others that have already done a great job in providing that information. The Holidays are always a great time to think, I for one like to ponder the world while the family argues about who gets the last turkey leg. My thoughts of late have been about the AV industry and all of the amazing things that are happening.

I do presentations for architects and interior design groups quite a bit. While I am there as an informative resource on topics relating to technology integration I also learn a lot from the audience as we discuss particular pain points they have experienced. When I consult with clients I also ask how their current technologies are working for them, what they would like to have, and any issues they have been experiencing or have experienced with integrated solutions. There are always nuances and some surprises but by far the most common pain point I hear is complication of system use. I can practically hear the groans as you finished reading that sentence as we all spend a great deal of time considering this as we design solutions. The interesting thing about this to me is the industry answer is always “standardization”. If every room is exactly the same or similar than there will be far less issues and virtually no learning curve. This idea is often compared to the tablet or Smartphone, everyone knows how to use one so if we just follow that formula all will be right with the world. However should we not consider that every tablet and Smartphone is customized by the user? Yes, they have the same OS and there are the “mother” apps that are included on every system if you want them or not but that is where it ends. If you take 10 iPhone users and lay their phones on a table you will have 10 different user interfaces. Some use the folders and categorize their apps, some just have apps strewn about, and others have a combination. My favorite is my kids, their phones appear horrifically chaotic to me and it’s hilarious because the actual phone app isn’t even in their task bar. Personally I have all my apps in folders that are color coded, I do not name the folders, I just have a small dot below each one.

So is it completely crazy to tie the user interface to the actual user? I don’t think that answer is one size fits all either, however, I don’t think we should just blanket the end users with standardization and pretend like we have solved the puzzle. We all deal with really bad user interfaces, credit card terminals, ATM machines, vending machines, the list goes on and on. That is not to suggest all of those devices have a bad UI, in fact I think it’s improved greatly, but there are still a lot of bad ones out there. However those are typically single purpose user interfaces, you use them to pull some cash, rent a movie, or get a raspberry coke. We are often asking our user interfaces to do a lot but do they always need to? I see “modes” quite a bit, videoconferencing, audioconferencing, presentation, combine rooms, separate rooms… it is typical and sometimes necessary. I like getting much further into the automation and sensory level. We have amazing access to automation thru sensors and software that can tell the system what it is going to be used for in advance of the event. There are some incredible products such as Utelogy that have created non-proprietary cloud based platforms that can vastly improve the control experience. Fusion and RMS have been widely adopted but there is much more work to be done.  The focus to me is making the end users involvement so seamless and easy that they don’t even really consider the technology. If there is a video conference between 4 locations with the invited participants listed in a calendar system that’s pretty much all the information you need. The system fires at the right time, everyone is connected, and the meeting starts. The only variable that might need to be adjusted is volume and mute state for each location. If we have used a platform based solution than we had monitoring so the system knew that all four locations were on line and then knew that all devices turned on and are working properly. There are analytics that run in the background that can tell those in charge of managing the technologies how things are used, how often, by who, so on and so forth. Using these analytics we have found that there is one professor to every 40 that still uses a document camera at pretty much every university. I am not saying anything here that is new or that has not been done however it’s not being done nearly enough and it causes undue stress for our industry and more importantly our end user community. We look to wireless presentation devices or connectivity at the table to get our content displayed and/or shared. We don’t need to do that, the presentation should be part of the automation. We can easily pull from a network drive, cloud or otherwise, and place that presentation where it needs to go.

The adoption of AI such as Amazon’s Alexa are incredibly interesting and make this conversation even more important. By now most have heard that Mark Zuckerberg has created his own AI solution using a blend of technologies and platforms. This type of thinking is where we really begin to get to the user level experience. If I walk into a room that shows available in the time period my next meeting is and simply say “hello Tesla room” the AI knows who I am by voice recognition and could respond with “Welcome Frank, I see you have a video call with Elon Musk in two minutes, would you like me to bring that up for you?” I reply with a satisfactory “yes” and then maybe its asks, “Last meeting you had the volume at level 7, heat at 68, lights at setting 4, and blinds drawn, would you like to use those settings again?” You get the picture, that’s not something only available in movies or to wealthy users such as Tony Stark or Zuck. It’s available right now and the best part is the technology understands the preferences of the user, not the collective “standard” of the user community. I understand that meetings contain multiple participants in the same room and where I like the heat and where someone else likes it may differ but those are small things to overcome. Trying to get a group of people to agree on where the heat should be set is a problem for Human Resources. The personalizing of the user experience is really about making the technology so accessible, reliable, fast, and intuitive that no one really thinks about it. I truly believe this will be a milestone that people wonder how they ever lived without. The best part is that all of this can be based on a platform that is infinitely expandable and constantly keeps an eye on the entire solution so no one else has to. It also gets better as time goes on, it will learn and adapt based on the individual users, events, and preferences.

It doesn’t really matter the size of the room or who typically uses it. The standardization at that point is every room should have the correct displays, a proper camera, mic(s), and whatever devices that may be required for the users to be most efficient and effective. The user interface does not disappear, it simply becomes what it needs to be. It’s less universal remote and more task oriented or purpose driven. If the AI fires up the room for a local presentation with a Power Point it populates the UI with the controls to advance slides, adjust volume, mute, and that’s it. If it’s a VC call it can populate with camera controls, mic/room mute, volume, ad-hoc dialers/directories, presentation send, and controls to advance slides/scroll content. Fact is all of that can happen without using an AI platform, this can be achieved by simply programming interfaces to only do what the room is tasked to do for that specific event. That said, why not seriously consider AI and how that will vastly improve the user experience for everyone?

Automation, sensors, intelligence, and user level experience is to me the key for truly addressing the pain point of complexity. The only system where complications are impressive and sought after are on timepieces. My boss likes to say that when you ask an engineer what time it is they will answer by explaining how to build a clock. If you ask a lawyer if they know what time it is they will simply say “yes”. Either way no one has answered the original question. If I ask my AI what time it is it will tell me that it is exactly 6:57 PM. That is a great answer because not only is it 100% correct it also means it’s time for dinner. I am meeting Elon, he has some new ideas to run past me……(man crush). Happy New Year to all.

This blog is reprinted with permission from Frank Sabella and originally appeared here.