Being Human in the Digital Age

John Henken | May 12, 2016

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the world around us and the speed at which it is moving. I recently had the honor of being a speaker at the TAD Talk event at Bemidji State University before an audience of students, designers and industry veterans. The set-up was similar to the popular TED Talk series. My topic was “Being Human in The Digital Age”. Here is the gist of my conversation.

Digital technology is progressing at such a fast pace that it has outraced our ability to create legislation and even etiquette for its proper use. Bad behaviors abound from texting to sexting and everything in between. We can connect with anyone in the world in seconds, but some of us have tuned out those right beside us. We can source information and products from the digital marketplace, but others can steal critical information about our private lives. We feel connected to more people even as we isolate ourselves in front of our glowing screens! We are inundated with streams of information and data!

This creates new opportunities and new responsibilities for those of us who design experiences and develop content. Our industry continues to thrive in the Digital Age because of the inherent human need to connect; preferably face to face. So how do we create content and experiences that bring out the human in us all?

It begins with understanding what human’s desire from interaction:

  1. To connect with others in different numbers and different levels of depth
  2. To have enriching experiences that may educate, surprise, and delight
  3. To share those experiences with others
  4. To feel acknowledged and appreciated
  5. To have a voice and be heard

Designers are storytellers at heart. So, let’s tell great stories tailored to satisfy these needs! Let’s ask smart questions and be terrific listeners. Let’s really understand our audience. (Are they social? Do they have a sense of humor etc.?) Let’s craft content that is easy to access and simple to grasp. (Less truly is more!). Let’s talk with our audience and not at them. (The best brands have leveraged technology to have dialogues with their customers that are meaningful to both parties.) Let’s set aside our designer egos and entertain ideas from all corners. Let’s mix our media! (Draw them over with cool architecture and lighting and then give them some engagement options: either face to face, a self-guided digital touchscreen or a link to learn more later.)

Being human in the Digital Age requires discipline and focused thinking about what approach might be most appropriate for your audience.

Let’s create a great story and then find interesting ways to tell it. Often the real product is far more compelling to engage with than looking at it on a video screen; mixing the real and the digital can be even more compelling! (Look at the crowds the International Auto Show draws!) Let’s use architecture to support the experience. Wherever and whenever possible, let’s design places for people to connect with each other and deepen relationships.

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