Letting Experience Lead Technology

The leader of a global design firm on why you should put user experience in the driver's seat when adopting new technology.

John Barratt speaking at the Skift Global Forum

TEAGUE is a Seattle-based design consulting firm that specializes in technology and travel, and works with some of the most successful companies on the planet, including Intel, Microsoft, Boeing, and Marriott. When John Barratt, TEAGUE’s president and CEO, spoke at the Skift Global Forum in New York City last week, his focus was not on the dazzling technology that will make innovations like autonomous vehicles a reality, but on human experience.

“What we’re seeing in the autonomous-vehicle space, particularly the car space,” Barratt said, “is a real rush to be part of the market — and it’s essentially a technology rush.” What TEAGUE has done, Barratt said, “is taken a step back from that. We’ve said, ‘No, let’s focus on the pedestrian, and let’s focus on the passenger in this autonomous car of the future.’” It’s critical, he said, because “if pedestrians and the passengers don’t feel safe, if they don’t feel confident, and they don’t feel in control of a situation that, frankly, they’re ultimately not in control of, it will slow the adoption of autonomous vehicles.”

That way of thinking represents a shift away from a primary focus on product development, toward what Barratt describes as “designing experiences fueled by technology.” That phrase — “designing experiences fueled by technology” — got me thinking: What does it mean in the context of business events and meetings?  

One example that comes to mind are Brain Dates, created by the Montreal-based company e-180, which uses technology to match expertise with challenges shared by conference attendees to set up face-to-face, peer-to-peer learning sessions at events. Brain Dates are networking on steroids, but they are also an extremely efficient way to acquire knowledge in a rapidly changing world. As Brain Dates creator Christine Renaud told Convene: “The idea of learning from another human being who has gone through something similar, and then learning from his or her successes and also failures, is something that is so individualized, so agile, that it allows for people to move very quickly and to learn very quickly.”

Another example of experience-based meeting technology is Slido, which Skift used to facilitate Q&A at the Global Forum, allowing attendees to anonymously submit questions for presenters into a web-based platform. Skift made it easy for attendees both to access and understand Slido — it was integrated into the meeting app, and labeled not as Slido but simply as “Sessions Q&A.”

At the Forum, Barratt also shared three key lessons from TEAGUE that, he said, have the potential to help others thrive in a complex technological environment:

1. Fix the seams. In the travel industry, “there is this kind of utopian vision out there of a singular app or a singular technology or company that can knit the entire passenger journey together,” Barratt said. “That’s a fantasy.” But what is a fruitful, he said, is exploring how to “fix the seams” between human and digital interactions.        

2. Adopt ‘co-making.’ “Today’s problems and technologies are so complex that no single company can solve all them all,” Barratt said, “so manufacturers, suppliers, [and] service providers need to come together early in the innovation cycle to solve some of these problems.” It’s very difficult, because it means that companies need to be willing to share intellectual property. “But the companies we work with and the companies we use that utilize this practice of co-making,” Barratt said, “are the ones that create the products that are the most successful.”          

3. Embrace experiences as your new brand currency. “If you embrace this notion of experiences — of using new technologies and the data available to personalize experiences for your customers — we think you can prosper moving forward.”

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.