Up until recent times, the role of design is to mask technology underneath by styling it. It gave the market rise of product styling and packaging.
The role of design is shifting from styling and packaging to facilitating experiences enabled by technology. It is no longer about what a technology can do per se, but how human behaviours can be shaped that is enabled by technology and facilitated by design.
However, a pleasant user experience cannot be designed when a technology is not ready. This case is true with emerging technologies such as virtual reality, holograms, and drones alike.
Touchscreen is a popular technology now amongst smartphones, tablets and display advertising. Even though it was available in the 80s and 90s, it did not take off. Why? Because it was an emerging technology that was not ready to be adopted by the society.
It was not readily adopted by society because it was in a phase where new technology functionalities are looking for a fit with new market applications while improving its efficiency and effectiveness. In essence, an emerging technology is looking for functionality-application fit. Drones for example, is being experimented to be applied in surveillance and delivery, but yet to be adopted in a large scale.
What separates between emerging technology and mature technology is the cycle of iteration and society acceptance. A mature technology is the continuous improvement it has gone through with much iteration and is therefore accepted by the society to perform a specific function. An emerging technology has less iterations of continuous improvement and is not widely known or accepted by the society.
Technology-focused companies are prone to the pitfall of launching new products with emerging technology that are not ready for the market yet. On the other hand, without them launching and failing, we would not see new improved products by the same or other companies.
Hence, how does one know when an emerging technology is good enough to be used? Here are 7 conditions.
1. When a technology is profitable enough to be sold as a product or service.
The basis of a profitable product is a healthy profit margin and repeat purchases. Increasing profit is the result of lowering production expenses, or increasing revenue, or both. While repeat purchases depends on the product’s lifecycle. Hence, champions need to work with business departments like R&D, sales, marketing and finance to determine the optimal pricing and cost based on the value it serves the customers.
2. When a technology is cheap enough to scale.
It does not matter if a technology product is profitable but cannot be scaled much. There is a fine difference between profitability and scalability. It is the quantity versus cost price. A technology can be priced highly with healthy margin but is not making enough sales due to high cost. The production cost of technology must be cheap enough to acquire more sales, which enables organization to scale.
3. When a technology is readily accessibly by suppliers.
A piece of technology is usually made with various technical components. Are these components or the whole piece readily available from suppliers? If you choose to collect different components and assemble yourself, it affects your production time. Otherwise, by allowing the same suppliers to manufacture and assemble, organizations are at risk of exposing its IP.
4. When a technology has a timeline realistic enough to be manufactured.
This is especially true when manufacturing new line of products. Often times, there will be setbacks somewhere along the production process due to human and technical reasons. This can negatively affect the organization especially in human expectations and cashflow.
5. When a technology is high enough in quality to perform optimum function.
An optimum function is the highest level of technical performance a technology can perform with minimum error rate. An invention starts out as falling short in performance against ideal expectations human places on it. Iterations of continuous improvement through time are the only way to ensure a technology can perform in optimum function.
6. When a technology is easy enough to use.
Ease of use is affected by usability of a product. When choosing between two similar technology products, users will choose one that is easiest to use because humans intuitively choose the path of least resistance. The interaction between human behaviours and technology affects usability. This can only be achieved by testing it in real life through trial and error.
7. When a technology is a required component to solve a user’s needs or satisfy desires.
A gorilla glass is a necessary component that makes up the touchscreen, which delivers the seamless experience smartphone intended. Knowing which technology affects specific experience matters. However the experience of users must be designed first to meet their needs and desires before allocating which technology is appropriate for the creation of the experience.
These are the 7 conditions to know whether an emerging technology is good enough to be adopted by the mass. It takes these conditions to cross the chasm from an emerging technology to a mature technology.
What does this mean? Until these conditions are met, it does not matter how well a user experience has been designed using emerging technology. It will not work well because the functionality is not efficient and effective enough to provide an optimum user experience around, resulting in failure of user expectations and satisfactions.