Humanizing Digital SXSW Panel Recap

Image courtesy of @wenyuzou

You’re in the business of creating digital experiences and you want people to fall in love with them.

Earlier this week during SXSW Interactive 2015, the industry’s top thought leaders gathered to discover great insights that you should be aware of – so you can create engagement that moves audiences.

Speaking of moving audiences, the panel was interactive, allowing attendees to vote on the brands they “love”, “like” and “leave” by raising colored notecards at the appropriate times. From Uber to Instagram, there was a lively discussion on what digital experiences struck a chord.

We Are Already Digital Humans

Just think of all the tech you can’t live without – that fosters human connection and brings a digital edge to the physical world.

Founder and Lead Composer of Made Music Studio, Joel Beckerman, moderated an engaging panel discussion with Google’s Head of Strategic Planning, Abigail Posner, Experience Innovation Director of Lippincott, Randall Stone, and YouTube star / We The Kings bassist Charles Trippy. The discussion heavily focused on “Like It”, “Love It” or “Leave It” human / digital interactions – with some surprising results! There is one thing they agreed on – that the most amazing digital experiences –

  • Give superpowers
  • Unleash deep emotions
  • Extend the rush
  • Inspire more creativity
  • Are a force for change
  • Make you more you
  • Are invisible


Collaboration Is Key

Charles Trippy is the embodiment of the Humanizing Digital concept. By opening the door to his daily life through digital platforms, he has amassed a rapidly growing community of fans who share and take part in his daily life. This was most evident when Charles underwent two brain surgeries, the second of which he was able to record and post for his fans to discuss and share. The vulnerability and authenticity with his fans, allows for a community that can relate to one another, mobilize quickly and collaborate to interact.

The collaboration concept was a thread throughout the discussion. One of Abigail Posner’s favorite and most seamless digital experiences is Google Docs. She notes that technology that has lasted, and not just the latest product to launch, is key to figuring out how to make something people will love. “The ones who get it right stand the test of time and allow us to express and amplify our true selves.” Randall Stone agrees and adds, “crowdsourcing will solve problems in the future.”


The Ones Who Got It Right

Some of the most loved human/digital experiences are the ones that allow us to simply have more time with real humans. Uber is a more “loved” than “liked” experience that is beneficial for both the passenger and the driver. By taking the transactional element out of the equation (in the sense that it happens before you get in the car) – it allows for more real interaction. The time once used to find your wallet and make a business transaction is now filled with conversation and a thank you as you exit.

The experience also can “surprise and delight” as Randall puts it, such as the Resy app, which secures hard to come by dinner reservations when you pay a premium. Instead of ending the experience there, the tech goes further – supplying ideas for off-the-menu items and not to miss food as your reservation time gets closer, so you can extend the rush – impressing your friends and gaining the social currency of knowing exclusive information, so that your time together is better.

Netflix was another loved brand experience that changed the way people felt about consuming TV and movies. It humanized the experience, removing barriers to availability of content and allowing audiences to watch what they wanted when they wanted it. The seamless integration and aggregation was a force of change in the category – and that was another key for what made an experience stand out.

Social media channels, such as Instagram and Snapchat had an interesting generational split. While almost everyone “loved” Instagram – which Abigail credited as being due to everyone being a “visual poet” nowadays, there was barely any love in the room for Snapchat. This could be because teens are using Snapchat not as a means of expressing permanent feelings, but instead a testing ground for what works and doesn’t as they determine how to define themselves to their peers.


The Ones Who Fell Out Of “Love”

Surprisingly, some experiences were the opposite of those listed above. While Spotify is great for the general public to consume music and discover new artists, it’s problematic for the musicians, in terms have how they get compensated. Even die hard fans of the music platform are beginning to be turned off by the ads. The experience is beginning to feel inauthentic and create barriers between fan and performer. Unless it keeps up with what the audience desires, it may soon make people “leave it”.

What about wearable tech, one of the most obvious ways that the physical human world intertwines with digital applications? While certain applications for wearable tech, such as the Apple Watch were loved (Dark Sky precipitation forecaster, for example) the device itself was a “leave it”. Abigail proposed that consumers have not yet been convinced wearable tech is as necessary or vital as the commercials would have you believe, especially for the price point.

While many seem to have gotten it right, there was one area that everyone agreed could use improvement. The panelists acknowledged that the healthcare sector has the largest opportunity for a digitized human experience, most notably the enrolling process. If empathy, mixed with a little intuitive design, could be implemented, it could facilitate healthier people. Some programs are already doing this – rewarding people for the changes they make in their life, which accelerates a healthy change.

The Future of Humanizing Digital

What does the future hold? If you want your digital experience to be relevant in five to ten years, you need to create long, meaningful relationships between the audience and the experience. Don’t forget the humans in the digital equation – using the technology to unleash human needs and desires that were there all along. Remember that digital experiences, like humans, are constantly moving forward – continuing to evolve and create better iterations, not stopping to slow down or move backward. Abigail Posner sums it up well, “The digital experiences that get it right are those that allow us to be real humans.”

Kristen Lueck is Strategist, Culture and Innovation at Made Music Studio. Talk to her on Twitter @former_case.

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