Interfaces Need To Stop Selling Us Stuff And Start Treating Us Like Human Beings

Wolff Olins CEO Ije Nwokorie envisions a future in which technology stops trying to make everything faster, cheaper, and simpler, and instead nurtures the relationships that make us human.

Interfaces Need To Stop Selling Us Stuff And Start Treating Us Like Human Beings
[Photo: Ullstein Bild/Getty Images]

Something major happened in 2007. My daughter got a baby brother.


Oh, and something else happened . . . the iPhone.

About a year later, big sister, in an act of generosity she has rarely demonstrated since, offered little brother her cherished toy phone, with its bright protruding buttons that screamed “press me!”

He took one look at it, gave it an almighty heave, and made a beeline for his mother’s iPhone. And we realized, this guy only had time for things he could interact with directly; input mechanisms like buttons and mice represented an inefficient way for him to make the world do what he wanted it to do.

For business thinkers, designers, technologists, and makers of all sorts, the last 10 years have presented us with an incredible creative brief. Not just for interfaces and creative expressions, but for organizations’ and products’ very reasons for being, for the ways they saw their customers; all was being rethought.

We failed.


Sure, phone calls got cheaper. Booking travel got faster. Information surged to our fingertips more easily. We gained an incredible facility to make things faster, simpler, cheaper, familiar.

To optimize everything.

[Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images]
Optimization celebrates the rational over the intuitive, the functional over the spiritual, the individual over the shared. It is an important tool. But when we set optimization (or its wingmen simplicity and pragmatism) as our main objective, we’re less likely to do things that make the heart sing.

And maybe that’s contributed to the fact that we have too many companies without moral compasses, too many echo chambers accusing other echo chambers of being echo chambers, too many leaders who depend on exclusion and division, instead of inclusion and common good.

We can’t let that happen in our homes.


The ultimate safe space, our homes are increasingly being invaded by services on demand, some of them even ambient and predictive. Our serene, sacred, intimate spaces, now have ears listening in on them, eyes watching over them, people beaming in from thousands of miles away.

For a bit of convenience–anything we want, in near-real time–we are not only trading away the sacredness, we are opting out of some of the things families and roommates did together: the weekly food shop, the visit to the library, the monthly budgeting exercise.

The most articulate promise of the connected is to bring the things, people, and expertise we need to run a smooth home to us, so we don’t ever have to think about it. It’s a thrilling promise on the surface, but is there any outcome that makes us more, not less human?

New forces of AI, machine learning, and ambient technology present us with amazing opportunities not just to design for new realities, but to shape them into better ones: surprising, human, optimistic, thoughtful.

They present us with a new brief.


And it’s an invitation we should accept right now. Not to optimize for their obvious application to our current realities–faster, cheaper, simpler. Not to remove the daily tasks that have helped us forge families and neighborhoods. Instead, to apply our crafts with people at the heart. To tap into the things that define us as human: making things that are more beautiful than they need to be, embracing joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, the in-crowd and the disenfranchised.

Here’s how we can do that:

  • Connected homes should not be about selling people more stuff, but about helping families thrive.
  • VR and AR should not be about replacing, substituting, or even augmenting physical experiences, but about creating new kinds of spaces that make our homes more private, more secure, more intimate.
  • Automation and machine learning should not be about finding cheaper, more efficient ways to execute tasks, but about creating new ways to bridge the gaps that are growing ever larger in our homes: between old and young, the tech-addicted and the tech-phobic.

Maybe instead of connected homes, we should start thinking about Conscious Homes. Places that help nurture relationships frayed in increasingly fraying times; that give us power to define what’s right for us and our families, creating private spaces to switch off or catch up; that bring into sharp relief hyper-local connections so we can help each other in life-affirming ways because of, not in spite of, technology.

That strikes me as a better brief for this next phase of technology in our homes: something that makes us more, not less human.

This article was adapted with permission from the author. Read the original here