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Data Should Be a Two-Way Conversation, Not Just a Marketing Tool


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From tracking devices that inspire people to get up and move to goggles that add a digital overlay to the material world, electronics are becoming inseparable from our everyday lives.

The data revolution is in full swing, and companies now have access to an unprecedented amount of information about our activity. But for this technology to truly enhance our lives, the data revolution must coincide with a user experience revolution.

Our electronics no longer separate us from the physical world but can actually contribute to and reshape our experience of it. However, many companies lack the imagination to take advantage of this opportunity. They glean data only to optimize marketing and operations, and in doing so, they miss out on the chance to play an integral role in improving users’ lives and strengthening their relationships with consumers.

Data Should Be a Two-Way Street

Data should be a two-way conversation, not a mining operation. Consider fitness trackers like the Jawbone UP. They not only monitor how you sleep, where you go, and how many steps it takes to get there but actually use this information to alter your behavior, suggesting ways to sleep better or exercise more. These trackers are not just digital logbooks, though. By turning data into an interaction with users, Jawbone and Fitbit act as catalysts for change. This is why these tech companies are associated with healthy living — not just zeros and ones.

Other companies could use their data for this same kind of mutually beneficial relationship. Visa, for example, has a ridiculous amount of purchasing information: what people buy, where they go, what they like. The company uses this data for marketing purposes, but it could be doing so much more. This data could generate a menu of new experiences for the user: new food choices, new nightlife options, and new vacations. But Visa is just sitting on this potential because it doesn’t think of data as a two-way street or ask if anything more is possible.

Data Tracking Should Be Intuitive

More intuitive ways to gather data are springing up all the time, but many businesses fail to take advantage of them. Look at the healthcare industry as an example. The intake process is still a series of antiquated form-based interfaces on iPads that get passed from one sick person to the next.

Much of the information on these forms is already recorded on the electronic health record, and Google probably knows most patients’ symptoms before they even enter a doctor’s office because patients look them up before making an appointment.

Eventually we should reach a point where checking in is the beginning and the end of the data-entry process for the patient and the healthcare provider. Hospitals could even create an experience where a small microphone picks up a patient’s name and connects that greeting to a voiceprint, providing all of the necessary data for each appointment. We have the potential to streamline an inherently stressful process, but only if the healthcare industry is willing to question what’s possible and turn the data it collects into a conversation with each patient.

Data Interfaces Should Be Intimate

Data isn’t just numbers. It shows the intimate minutia of our day. Fitness trackers record our sleep and exercise habits. Web searches represent our hopes and fears. The GPS on our phones show where we go, whom we’re with, and how we spend our time. Tracking this data represents a personal involvement in users’ lives, so the user interfaces should feel intimate and human.

Experiences are already beginning to elbow their way off of our screens and into our lives. Amazon’s Echo is a great example of a well-designed user interface. Instead of relying on a screen, Echo communicates through a voice interface. Her ability to respond is incredible, and the voice quality is remarkable. The physical object is barely noticeable because the user can simply talk. That’s the future of reimagined interface design.

The User Experience Revolution Begins with Imagination

To build a two-way, intimate, and intuitive data conversation, businesses need to enter the design process with the user experience in mind. Everyone from the CEO to the design team should be trying things firsthand — wearing wearables, spending too much time in virtual reality, and 3D-printing tools instead of buying them.

Turning these personal experiences into breakthrough innovations is just a matter of imagining what’s possible and tying it to what’s practical. Curiosity should be an integral part of the development process, and we should question and consider everything.

We live in the age of imagination, where anything is possible. Brands have a wealth of information about their users, while designers have the power to turn this data into truly streamlined, intuitive experiences. We just have to be willing to imagine what’s next to maximize the data revolution and enhance the human experience.

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