Here at Core77 HQ, as online storytellers and designers, we're always interested in new ways of communicating ideas through digital media. That's why we were especially interested in the work of designer and creative director Alexis Lloyd. Lloyd is an award-winning researcher and user experience designer whose work focuses on exploring the newly available possibilities of emerging technologies. She designs and builds compelling experiences that demonstrate innovative ways of engaging with information and with the world around us, most recently as Creative Director ofThe New York Times R&D Lab.
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At The Times, Lloyd's team identified trends then created apps and prototypes, "to facilitate innovation and thoughtful consideration of the future of media." During this September's Core77 Conference, Lloyd will discuss the importance for designers to help shape future interactions with machine intelligence—from collaborating with automated systems to augmented abilities.
Here, we discuss the opportunities and challenges with working on interdisciplinary teams, storytelling and the botifesto with Lloyd:
Core77: Your work at the R&D Lab capitalized on the collective knowledge from diverse teams of designers—product, big data, user experience, service, visual communication. What is the single most important strategy for leading these types of interdisciplinary teams?
Alexis Lloyd: Working with an interdisciplinary team creates fantastic opportunities but also presents unique challenges. The best ideas at the R&D Lab came out of the synthesis of approaches that naturally happens when you have people from different domains working closely together. This approach challenges team members to explain assumptions or perspectives that are inherent to their discipline and to consider viewpoints that may not have occurred to them otherwise. As a result, you get more in-depth, rigorous, creative thinking and problem solving.
The Listening Table is an augmented piece of furniture that hears and understands the conversations happening around it.
However, in a more traditional team, people come to rely on the common domain knowledge shared by both colleagues and managers in a number of ways. Colleagues with similar backgrounds and interests can help you improve your skill set, and managers with deep domain knowledge can provide in-depth career and project guidance. In a multidisciplinary team, those aspects are more challenging, so I think one of the most important strategies for leadership is to hire people who have a strong sense of self-direction, motivation to learn, and excellent communication skills. It's also essential to always ask lots of questions that help you learn more about your team members' areas of expertise in order to provide effective support for their projects and broader career goals.
Object Record explores everyday objects' relationships to different environmental conditions and their subjective responses to changes in those conditions.
At The New York Times, you argued for new forms of storytelling. What are some examples from The Times and beyond that exemplify this trend and how are these examples important for designers?
I think the most critical lesson for designers in thinking about new forms of storytelling is that, as new technologies emerge, it is important to deeply understand the affordances and constraints of each new platform or toolset. The best storytelling takes advantage of those new affordances and consciously works to challenge assumptions about the way things have been done before. There's a tendency not to question assumptions about form and content that are often simply the secondary effects of an older technology or circumstance. For examples, much of the way in which stories get told by news organizations are the result of constraints inherent to print media and distribution—constraints which shouldn't apply to digital platforms but are often inherited.
I wouldn't point to any single example as inspiration, but rather, I would encourage designers to deeply understand the medium in which they're working and try to challenge your assumptions about how stories need to be told.
Delta is a real-time visualization of The New York Times' structure as observed by the readership's navigation of the website.
Recently your focus has been on machine intelligence and bots (including the botifesto). Why should all designers turn their attention to this expanding technological space?
I think there's a wealth of creative possibility that is yet to be fully explored in terms of how human intelligence and machine intelligence can collaborate and complement one another. Current approaches to bots and interactions with machines tend to involve making those machines act and converse as much like people as possible. The goal in these cases is to make a bot pass the Turing test with flying colors. I think this goal in incredibly problematic and doomed to fail in all but the most simplistic interactions. In a way, machines that attempt to behave like people are the skeuomorphs for AI, in the same way that the first digital file systems were full of desks and file drawer metaphors —they're the things that people are designing because we don't have new mental models in place yet.
It's far more compelling to think about the unique capabilities of machines and understand how to really take advantage of the botness of the bots rather than turning them into second-rate humans. Fascinating possibilities start to emerge when we consider machines as a parallel species that will coexist alongside us, not replacing us but potentially complementing us and interacting with us in strange and curious ways. What unique insights can we gain from the computational gaze? What are the yet-to-be-imagined interactions with our computational companions?