// you’re reading...


Future Users? Cool Technology?

So who are these Future Users we’re talking about? And what do we mean by Cool Technology? Why should the former care about the latter?  And why should we care that they care about it? All these questions, and many more besides, are exactly the kind we hope to understand better at Unsheffield.

Future Users at Unsheffield

I have no doubt that Unsheffield attendees will be a mix of both the Future Users and the makers of Cool Technology, not only at the unconference sessions, but also the public workshops.

The focus of the event is squarely on the user side.  We want the makers and hackers to come away with a better understanding of who that demographic is, why they aren’t current users, what needs to happen to turn Future Users into current users, what the producers can do to help make that conversion, and why they should.

Going the other way, we want the Future Users to have a better handle of the possibilities of Cool Technology, what ‘s involved with creating it, and to have broken down some of the myths of technology, dispelled some of its magic.

So who are these Future Users then?

Traditionally they’re the kids, young people, the next generation.  Or they are the silver surfers, elderly folk with more time to tinker with ‘IT’. But of course, it’s bigger than that.  Some thoughts we’ve had while putting the Unsheffield programme together.

  • A significant question at the moment is raging around the question of Digital Britain. The digital inclusion agenda is asking all manner of questions about the infrastructure that allows people to have access to high-speed broadband, and everything that brings with it. Not everyone can get broadband, and even those who can can’t afford it. How do we bring them into the fold? And then there are very effusive topics of privacy, trust and identity to address.
  • There’s also a whole generation that don’t understand social technology and how it can add value to an organisation. The Social Media Surgery we are bootstrapping at Unsheffield is specifically targetted towards public, third and education sector bodies to show them how simple it can be to use some of the tools and techniques that are around right now to reach out and involve their stakeholders.
  • Of course, the same tools and techniques can equally be used by businesses to find new markets. Especially in times of economic gloom, innovation goes beyond giving your product a new lick of paint or adding some fancy and ultimately unnecessary features, but to unearthing hidden markets of Future Users and engaging them effectively – on the consumers’ terms. The technology is out there to do that right now.
  • The emerging generation that already use text messaging, social networking, multiplayer gaming, mobile and geo-locative technology, is also a Future User group. What’s going to be really interesting is how these people are using technology that is out there right now in ways that we hadn’t intended or imagined. I think that’s an absolutely crucial area for producers of technology to understand that will influence how they adapt their approaches to technology development as well as the evolution of their technology solutions.

So what about the Cool Technology?

For many people though, the question is why would they want to get involved with Cool Technology? As early adopters or geeks many of us have some sort of pathological fascination with shiny new tech.  Sometimes because it’s new and shiny, other times  because it actually is just that bit ‘cool’. But why do so many people just not get it? Has it got something to do with how we ‘sell’ the technologies, how we share our passion for technology and its wealth of possibilities into being able to show genuine relevance, rather than some geeky fanboy gush?

The technology challenge is finding something useful to produce, something that is valuable to Future Users. It’s not good enough to produce technology for the sake of it.  The analytical processes that inform user needs assessment are as key as the creative processes to spark innovation, but are traditional models for creative analysis still applicable?

I think it’s worth mentioning that we don’t necessarily need to create new technology either. Cool things can be done with the stuff that’s out there already. How much of it can we recycle and repurpose, re-appropriate to make relevant to people who aren’t taking advantage now?  What does that mean for the supply chain and the software development lifecycle?

Of course, when we have re-packaged technology, as producers we should think about doing it in ways that don’t put people off when they use it. Understanding user experience, user interaction and accessibility are absolutely crucial to eliminating the obstacles to technology adoption.  There are plenty of software applications (and physical items of hardware) out there which are great at what they do, but require some kind of mind-meld with their makers to understand how you actually get anything done with it.  And frankly, even for the most die-hard geeks, these are simply not worth the effort to persist with. The old adages are still relevant – technology is just a means to another end, and it shouldn’t get in the way of achieving that end.

The Hive Mind Speaks

A bit of crowdsourcing on Twitter threw up some interesting initial thoughts about what our theme means to people involved in technology. From the same starting point, others have also talked about, among other things:

  • what we can learn from the history of technology and the internet
  • how users have changed in the last 5, 10 and 15 years
  • how localisation and relevance affect technology adoption
  • the influence of roleplay and game techniques on technology development and user engagement
  • alternative human interface devices and wearable technology
  • the language of technologists and ‘normal’ people
  • machines as users, and the impact on human processes
  • technology skills development, eco-technology and the developing world
  • physical/mechanical technology and the bridge with the digital world

So these are just some thoughts of the vast range of topics that we want people to get immersed in at Unsheffield. Who are the Future Users to you? What can we learn from them? What should we do to get them involved in the world of Cool Technology? And where next?

  • Share your thoughts in the comments below.
  • Add an idea for an unconference session you’d like to host or take part in on our session forum.
  • Put together a 20:20 slideshow presentation and submit it for the Unsheffield USE Stimulus launch night, to get the minds of all our participants ticking – more details of that to follow shortly.

More from this series

  1. Talking to Future Users -
  2. The Dirty 'G' Word -
  3. No Future Shock -
  4. Future Users? Cool Technology? (This post) -

No related posts.

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.


6 comments for “Future Users? Cool Technology?”

  1. [...] creating it, and to have broken down some of the myths of technology, dispelled some of its magic. Future Users? Cool Technology? Posted 3 seconds ago [...]

    Posted by Future Users? Cool Technology? « Unsheffield | 28 May 2009 11:00
  2. Future users are just people who find and use technology based solutions to everyday tasks. It’s a mental shift. ‘I want to find out more info on…’. Some will go to the library, but some will jump to Google and get the results there and then.

    Posted by Chris | 28 May 2009 13:15
  3. I think *everyone* will become a future user of cool technologies. Even if they don’t know they’re using them.

    Take ATM machines, mobile phones and Sat Navs. 20 years ago they were the stuff of science fiction.

    Doesn’t matter how ‘Cool’ a technology is, for it to take off and become mainstream it has to be simple enough that your granny could use it.

    Posted by Richard@Home | 28 May 2009 16:28
  4. [...] some inspiration? Try the Future Users? Cool Technology? [...]

    Posted by unsheffield | USE Stimulus: Call for Submissions | 1 June 2009 12:27
  5. I’m not sure that tagging ‘cool’ is helpful…it implies something that’s not enduring but faddish and shallow.

    Those working in developing emerging markets of tech often talk about ‘The Next Billion’ – something that’s perhaps a more succinct and flexible theme to encapsulate the themes you’re hoping to explore.

    Posted by Imran Ali | 1 June 2009 20:48
  6. [...] counter-intuitive to most of us geeks. Cool technology, as the folks behind Unsheffield have defined it, is stuff that’s interesting and useful, but also capitalises on stuff that’s already [...]

    Posted by Unsheffield | No Future Shock | 4 June 2009 10:50

Post a comment