Shiny Object Syndrom: Technology for Technology’s Sake

Last November I said goodbye to the grey lady, my 2004 Acura TSX which served me beautifully and almost without issue for nine years. In my family we tend to be loyal to our cars, buying them and driving them absolutely into the ground before we return them to the automotive ether and this one was no different. Although the grey lady was wary of her years and creating service bills that was not the reason for my making the change, it was technology. Technology changed dramatically in cars over the last 10 years and, as it turns out, I was a little tired of listening to those poor forgotten discs in the 6 CD changer. Thus, a change was necessary.

I did stay with Acura, a great brand that’s served me well and age incredibly well, and decided to go all out for a 2014 Acura MDX. Not light on gas, but hey, I have always wanted a big, useful car that would laugh at snow and with All Wheel Drive I got just that. Also? I believe we are quickly approaching the death of the driver as the captain of the vehicle, and I’m gonna have fun while I can. But, I digress. The amount of technology in the car is significantly increased over those lowly days in 2004, with an “Integrated Dynamics System” which is as fun as it sounds, numerous power plugins and not one, but two, touch screens to control just about everything in the car. That’s where my joy has quickly faded.

First, I want to be clear, this is an enormous time of change for almost every industry as we adjust to incredibly technology-centric lives. In far too many industries “User Experience” design, research and work overall is not seen a necessity. Second, technology ages quickly and this is a used car, so perhaps Acura has improved the function of these tools in newer models. That all being said, the experience of these screens and overall human interactivity for basic functions in this car are downright miserable in design and I can guess exactly why.

Shiny Object Syndrome

It’s the same reason why we’ll invest heavily in expensive LED screen technology and scramble to find business justifications later, or why some companies continue to make the ill advised choice to build their own _fill_in_this_blank_ piece of software or platform. (See this article on “Platforming“) It’s a human reason really, it is what I call “Shiny Object Syndrome” and even as I write this I recognize that I need a prescription once a treatment is found. It is the want to surround ourselves with the newest, shiniest, brag-worthiest budget busters we can find and call ourselves “innovators.” There are a lot of reasons to want to cling to our “innovativeness” but, long story short, businesses today are dying for it.

However, like any change, embracing technology should be done thoughtfully and with one goal: Improve consumers lives.

Back to the car, and why it’s a problem.

While I’ve only got experience with my own car, and comment on it here, let me be clear that I think this is a problem that is applicable across businesses and industries. We’re creating bad experiences, and it could possibly kill someone.

Yes, that sounds hyperbolic, but let me explain a few things about touch screens.

  1. Screens are made to be looked at. What should I be looking at in my car? The road.
  2. Touch screens have visibility problems in the sun. I live in Georgia, and it’s summer right now.
  3. Screens can be fat fingered, and are not at all tactile, so they are more error prone and required your eyes to leave the road to fix those errors.

So, while I have two tactile buttons to get to the settings menu literally right next to each other, I have no way to change the radio station, adjust the air conditioning fan volume, or switch the source of the music without taking my eyes off the road and fumbling around a touch screen.

While we fight to get teens to stop texting and driving we are literally requiring similar activities to make basic changes to the car’s environment? Who came up with this idea?

Drowning in Tech

We are all swimming in technology today, and for automakers, marketers, hardware makers, and numerous other industries we are now required to be technology and usability experts in order to build a mutually beneficial relationship between our products and our consumers. The problem is: we aren’t. We aren’t investing in the expertise required to tie our technology together and blend it with lives of the humans we are building it for through research.

We are buying technology for ourselves, not for them. Here are a few steps we can all take to fight off Shiny Object Syndrome:

  • Never trust a shiny object because of the shine
  • Challenge your teams to justify their technology investments and the returns they bring for your business
  • When you add technology to your products or experiences consider a user experience research program, and perhaps even hiring an expert

You’ll save money on your technology investments in the long term, and build better experiences for your consumers in the short and long term.

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