Monday, July 29, 2013

The Unexpected Uses of Technology

The other evening out tasting beer at a brewery with my 20-something kids one of them took out their iPhone and used the front-facing camera as a mirror. I had never thought of that, but then I am not prone to looking into a mirror whilst drinking a black ale.

On inquiry, I found that this was not a usual action but something spur of the moment, rarely done, if ever. We all acknowledged that there is an app (or several) for that, but the fresh thing was that it was spontaneous and almost like the device was not a phone with an embedded camera used as a mirror, but the device was a mirror. The action was simple and natural.

I spend a lot of time at work helping people use technology designed for the task they need to complete. When they do not fully understand how to use a software program, or collection of tools, I often cheerfully say: "try to think like the program!" Which means to adjust the user actions to match the what the application expects.

Is that an echo of Mr. Jobs? Should we have to adapt our actions to fit the expected use or could we adapt a tool for a completely different use the designer never thought of? If I had a hammer, could it be used as a catalyst of love? As with most things, both/and is most likely the answer.

Being in the Google Glass Explorers program has informed my view a bit. The Glass program is about finding the use case and discovering how the device might be used. Sure there were several applications released when the device was released, but if we look at the growing list of applications and even the uses Glass is put to everyday, it is clear that a well-designed tool can be useful in many contexts, even ones the designers did not consider.

What ways have you used a device, tool, or application in a way different from its intended use?