For this year's Core77 Design Awards, we're conducting in-depth interviews with each of our jury captains to get in a glimpse into their creative minds and hear more about what they'll be looking for in this year's awards submissions.
As an active member in the world of interaction design, Joana Lehman, Executive Producer at the design firm Small Planet, sees on a daily basis the ins and outs of the world of UX while also participating regularly in active conversations about where groundbreaking interactive technologies have us headed. In a recent conversation with the 2018 Core77 Design Awards Interaction Jury Captain, she shared her thoughts on what innovations are really going to change the way we interact with products in the future and what makes something like an app a truly valuable addition to someone's life.
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Can you tell me more about your role as Executive Producer at Small Planet?
Small Planet is a digital product studio, and we primarily make mobile products for folks like Planned Parenthood, Aetna, Disney, NPD, and other prominent brands. We do everything from strategy and concepting, UX and design, and development and quality assurance. We're a little unusual in that we do design and development right here in Brooklyn, and our teams are fully integrated. Some places favor design or development, but we do both at such a high level and our sweet spot is right at the cusp of where those two particular services meet. As a Producer, my role is to help facilitate communication across the teams — internally and externally. Communication is absolutely paramount to a successful project, and we're a very opinionated crew with a lot to say. A Producer at Small Planet is a triple-threat: a blend of a project manager, account manager, and a product manager. We're also the team cheerleaders and, sometimes, team therapists when needed. As Executive Producer, my role leans more towards the account and product side, so I tend to focus more on strategy, but I still take on all those other aspects of producer-ness.
What are some of the projects you worked on this year that you were most excited about?
It was really interesting getting to work on an open-source blockchain project. It isn't just for cryptocurrency! I was also very excited to continue our work on Planned Parenthood's birth control and period tracking app, Spot On. It's very gratifying getting to improve and iterate on a product over time.
In what ways have you seen interaction design change and evolve over the past couple of years?
Cross-platform design has thrived, perhaps more out of necessity than anything. We have to account for scalability and acknowledge that users will be on their watches, phones, tablets, laptops, desktop, TVs, and wherever else there's a screen — and that those users expect a seamless interactive experience across all of those platforms. I'd also like to think we're getting better at accessible and inclusive design.
Spot On, an app created for Planned Parenthood by Lehman's team at Small Planet
What's kinds of projects or innovations within interaction design are you most excited about as of late?
Voice control is pretty exciting and weird. I personally don't love it, and find it so awkward to announce that I need a timer set, so I'm very curious to see how that will evolve over time. Will it get better, or will we just get used to it?
What do you see for the future of interaction design?
This past year has been a big one for establishing AR/VR into the mainstream—how do you predict we'll be interacting with technology in the future or what do you hope to see? VR is pretty interesting, but there are so many challenges to overcome still. How do you make sure someone doesn't feel like a disembodied floating head without giving them a bunch of other controllers to grip or gloves to wear? How do we make that experience safe without having to ask people to use a dedicated space, free from furniture to trip over? It's really exciting, but I still find VR headsets a bit offputting. I don't like that I'm effectively blindfolded. As for AR, I'm not entirely convinced that mobile is the best place for it. Holding up a phone to see a virtual shape in real space is like Alice trying to peer through the tiny door into Wonderland. The interfaces are too small to be useful viewing portals, and I think that's what's preventing people from finding really useful applications for AR for mobile. I think it'll make a lot of sense in car windshields for wayfinding (provided it can be done safely), and in glasses (which maybe gets into VR territory). Then it's more immersive and lives in the place a user actually wants to see it. Now that's exciting! What I really hope to see is user-driven ingenuity, that lays aside gimmicks and actually helps people get at what they want — be it a utility or a game. If a product gets out of my way and lets me do the thing I want, then I'm happy.
There's also a certain level of responsibility designers must take particularly in this age when it comes to tech addiction, creating products that aren't just addictive but also useful and helpful. What are your best words of advice for designing an interactive product that creates meaningful interactions?
Provide user value. If your user can't answer "What's in it for me?," you've made a nice advertisement but not a great product. We've seen businesses create products that ostensibly meet their marketing goals, but they veer away from creating something useful or meaningful for their users. Notifications that get users to come back to your product can be great for engagement, but the best way to keep people engaged is to give them something valuable to do in the first place.
What are you hoping to see in submissions this year?
We know what all the design conventions are these days, particularly for web and for mobile, so I'd love to see designers break with those conventions in an exciting but practical way … no pressure, right? Projects that challenge expectations, but are still very usable, will likely get the highest marks from our jury!
The Core77 Design Awards Interaction Jury
2018 Interaction Jury Captain Joana Lehman will be joined by these designers for the awards selection process:
Leslie Dann, Associate Partner, C&G Partners Yumi Endo, Lead Designer, United Nations OCHA Brian Patrick Kelly, Director of Experience Design, Verizon
Thinking of submitting to the Interaction category in the 2018 Core77 Design Awards? Submit today—Final Deadline is March 29th!