'Each surface can be an interactive display'
Looking back and forward: Matthias Müller-Prove, one of eight creative specialists in the Content Foresight project, has experienced and shaped the desktop publishing and web revolution. What radical changes does he expect next?
Matthias, you are a computer scientist and, as an interaction designer, also a designer of digital interfaces. Is there a contradiction in this?
I don't think so. For me, the user perspective was an essential part of the training. Every computer scientist should be clear for whom and for which contexts the respective product is developed. Anything else leads to incomprehensible apps and systems. That doesn't mean that every engineer is also a good interaction designer - but the product team must have mutual knowledge of the methods and competencies. An interaction designer with computer science roots will find it easier to communicate with software architects and developers.
You said in a previous interview that computer science is a social science. How exactly did you mean that?
The central factor of digital media is communication. So it's about people and their ideas and how they interact over networks. In this global organism of people, devices, the Internet and information, each subsystem influences usability and user experience. From a social science perspective, I want to point out that we should design the digital interfaces for all areas of life - such as work, entertainment, social contacts - and that we should consider the effects on living together. We have a great responsibility and we should follow ethical guidelines.
You have been working in this field for more than two decades. Has this made you a generalist?
Our wealth of professional experience helps us to adapt to new customers and tasks. Every situation is new. However, it is advantageous to recognize patterns with other projects and to be able to carry the lessons of previous jobs into the future. At the BBDO/KNSK agency, for example, as a student administrator I was responsible for their Mac network and witnessed how the classically trained graphic designers and copywriters now had to cope in the desktop publishing world. The problem was almost always the understanding of the new tools and thus the usability. I learned that the user is the measure of all things.
And you later incorporated this experience into your work for the Hamburg software company GoLive...
That's it. After the desktop publishing revolution of the 1980s, the web revolution was on the horizon. Agency people needed new tools to understand and use to create websites and online campaigns. GoLive Cyberstudio - later Adobe GoLive - was one of the first web editors to make not only the HTML source code, but also the web layout directly editable. Among other things, I was responsible for the design of the GoLive user interface.
Would you call yourself a "visionary"?
Sustainable innovation takes time - often decades. If you consider, for example, that the first augmented reality system was developed in 1966... That was, of course, far too early for market-ready products, since VR/AR is only now a trend topic. The origins of desktop publishing also date back to the 1960s and 70s, before the mouse and graphical user interfaces became established in the 1980s. Then there was the shift to the web in the 1990s - more than 20 years after the infrastructure was laid with ARPAnet and the Internet. A look at the research labs ten and more years ago, rather than a look into the crystal ball, is therefore of more help in anticipating technological developments.
What do you mean by visions?
A vision is an imaginary point in the future, a desirable scenario for which there are no concepts yet. So you first use abstract metaphors to think about the future. Perhaps a period of ten years can be recorded in this way. Everything beyond that is science fiction. To get from today to vision, you need a strategy that breaks down the path into technically realizable sections. With the appropriate funding, after just a few years you will have a platform that can be radically new. The subprojects can then be developed according to agile methods so that feedback can be collected quickly to adjust your strategy and sharpen your vision.
What is the time horizon like in your customer projects?
Companies are interested in the return of investment. That's why pragmatic improvements or the new conception of products or services are the main focus. The time component comes into play through sustainability, because satisfied users become loyal customers and ultimately brand ambassadors in the social media. With success, companies gain the freedom to deal with their long-term goals and visions.
Do your customers increasingly think in this direction?
I am aware of the pressure but also the curiosity of companies to face digital change. It's a big challenge to question current business practices and allow for open results. You can't force or manage innovation. What can be improved is the environment in which creative ideas have a chance to unfold. I often work with metaphors when talking to customers: Innovation is an open-ended expedition through the Gobi desert or to Kilimanjaro or a trip to the moon.
Where do you think the journey will take you next?
Speech-based AI systems still have many deficits, but are already good enough for numerous applications and thus reality. I see a lot of potential in the area of mixed and augmented reality. Google Glass was a harbinger and Pokémon Go was the turning point. Both systems are considered flops and summer fun. Since then, however, everyone has had an idea of what the technical possibilities of portable devices are. In principle, I can use any surface as an interactive display. Here, in this room there is so much dead matter. Walls, windows, upholstery - everything could be networked and serve us medially. Applications will soon follow that use the idea of active and dynamic surfaces in a wide variety of contexts.
Let's stick with the visual language: Do you have a compass?
For me, history is the tool of the visionary. When you deal with history, you learn where we come from and you realize that today's state is only a coincidental moment. The future is open and can be shaped. For me, this is the best motivation to design and develop good and sustainable systems for people.
Many thanks for the interview, Matthias!
After studying computer science at the University of Hamburg with a focus on human-machine communication, Matthias worked for international IT companies designing interactive products for corporate software, web publishing and mobile devices. After working for P.Ink and Adobe, he moved to Sun Microsystems and Oracle. Matthias has been working as a freelance innovation and interaction designer for 4 years. He is also founder and organizer of the uxHH network. As a freelance lecturer he passes on his knowledge in the areas of Information Architecture, Branded Interaction and Urban User Experience to students. Further information & contact: mprove.de, @mprove
Über Content Foresight
Wie werden wir Medieninhalte in Zukunft aufnehmen? Welche Fortschritte wird es in der Mobilitätsbranche geben? Und wie wirken sich künftige Trends und Entwicklungen in der einen Branche auf die andere aus? Bei Content Foresight erforschen wir gemeinsam mit Mobilitätsanbietern, Soft- und Hardware-Herstellern, Unternehmen aus der Medienbranche und hochqualifizierten Kreativen neue Innovationspotentiale mit einem Zeithorizont von 5 bis 15 Jahren. Matthias Müller-Prove ist einer von acht Kreativen, die gemeinsam mit den Mobilitäts- und Medienpartnern neue Visionen entwickeln. In der Arbeitsphase, die sich über einen Zeitraum von sechs Monaten erstreckt, agieren die Kreativen nicht als Auftragnehmer: Mit ihrer visionären und ergebnisoffenen Herangehensweise beschleuingen und treiben sie den Innovationsprozess in einer frühen Phase.mehr erfahren →