Why I Want To Be More Like Tony Stark


As we kick off a new year, we all naturally look forward, thinking more about the future.

What kind of future are we building?

When I say we, I’m not just asking about our team, or our company …but the digital industry …the web, mobile, tablets, desktop, the whole the ecosystem system we work in as Strategists, User Experience Architects, Designers, Writers, Developers, Product Managers, Engineers, even investors, entrepreneurs, and ultimately users and customers..

What kind of future are we building?

Today we live in a federated digital ecosystem. With our smartphones and wireless broadband, we can choose to be immersed in a digital ecosystem of email, calendars, banking, shopping, social, sharing, commenting, creating, reputation and identity. This is the online universe we (as an industry) have built for our users, our customers, and ourselves.

The limiting factor of our federated digital ecosystem is attention.

Let’s be real. There is a finite amount of attention anyone we apply to our ecosystem. There is only so much attention anyone can apply to email, only so much attention we can apply to social platforms, to shopping, to creating, to scheduling, to managing money,  and so on…

This creates frustration via what H.A. Simon first wrote about as a, “poverty of attention,” giving rise to the idea of an attention economy.

Attention applied to our digital ecosystem won’t always continue to spike like has in the past two decades as it has been. (Spikes have been driven by introductions of big platforms PCs, broadband, smartphones, now tablets.)

[side note]  We can all start preparing for the next big spike, which will be interactive TVs, (Apple, I’m looking at you.) which will enable of “couch commerce.” When we start applying more of our attention to our digital ecosystems via the big HD display in our living rooms, we’ll have closed one of the last big gaps in our attention.

What kind of future are we building?

In order to continue to drive growth, we’ll need to shift from building federated experiences to integrated experiences.

Love it or hate it, Apple has started us down the path of integrated experiences with Siri. Siri gives us a glimpse of living in an integrated digital ecosystem.

Apps like Siri, can act as our agent, integrating information and transactions from a broad array of platforms, apps, and tools. (Sure, Siri ultimately doesn’t work all that well all the time, but when it does, the experience is transformative.)

The future we should be building looks more like Iron Man, and less like Minority Report.

Minority Report gave us a look at how far gestural interface could go.

Ask folks in the industry for an example of  what the user interface of  the future looks like, and the gesture interface from Minority Report is what you’ll most likely get.

I disagree. The world imagined in Minority Report is still one which the user is left to knit all the pieces of the ecosystem together. Sure the interface has left behind the mouse and keyboard for a much more intuitive way to deliver  input, but it doesn’t go far enough.

JARVIS has become my shorthand for what a fully executed integrated digital ecosystem looks like. Watching Tony Stark interface with J.A.R.V.I.S. whether in his home , in his lab, or in the suit is far more inspiring.

Iron Man's JARVIS shows us gesture, sytax, and a little AI.

JARVIS may take a while, but it’s a great experience to shoot for.

Let’s start getting smarter about how we build user experiences by designing them to exist within an integrated digital ecosystem from the first wireframe. Ask ourselves how what we’re building can work better when it connects to the digital ecosystem of our users better. Siri is a start. OpenGraph is a start. Microformats are a start.

It’s exciting to think about how much work we all have yet to do. The challenge is to move from a federated, to a integrated digital ecosystem.

As we look forward, we should at least think about what we’re collectively all building towards.

Let’s build the future together.

P.S. In the end, Tony Stark has way more fun than Captain Anderton, so I’d rather be Stark.

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