Today, the so-called ICT (information and communication technology) is pervading almost every production process, both horizontally (across products) and vertically (when machines, shops floors and supply chains become the reference). We have tons of smart factories that aiming to reach flexibility and higher adaptation to variegated goals, such as performance, production quality and overall efficiency need to (still, instead of what people might think of being afraid of) rely on the human factor to picture the canvas of Industry 4.0 trends, lines and new patterns.
Our century changed forever production systems that the previous generation was confronted with, as novel technologies, computer tech, products and wide range of services have been born to fight against a neat, stable, controlled worldwide competition. Here, the sensitivity to react in a short time becomes the assurance to respond to steady and unpredictable changes.
To meet these demands, integrating the human factor in such complex technology development cycle is a milestone required when is time to shift from a pure technical landscape into a sociology-technical one.
When I try to explain this aspect to my grandmother she nods simultaneously to my changes of tone. To be clear with you, this attitude instead of being reassuring is only increasing the sense of uncertainty on the nature of our conversation communication’s outcomes.
If you wonder about her age, she could easily be part of the niche of the greying segment of society. She is triggered to learn new thing, don’t get me (and her!) wrong, but the fact to be considered is that she needs more time and support to maintain the pace and adapt to the increasing complexity of scientific topics or technological systems I and my cousins could be keen to present her with the same gorgeous enthusiasm than we were children.
Right. Until now everything appears to be (almost) clear when this group of nephew, myself included, enjoying their coffee and homemade pastries served in the well-known domestic kitchen, are keen to share some exciting features of their usable technologies wares with the woman that supported them to become strong, adult and (indirectly) closer to geeks.
Imagine for a moment that the same person, instead of being the grandmother I know, was a skilled worker in the product chain of an international electronic company used to a continuous hectic stimulation to adapt to a higher complexity of the systems that must be assembled. Considering this actual scenario, her previous rhythmic pace of nodding to my claims could have been a sign of something else: an automatic response.
What is true is that the previous generations of workers employed since years in the electronic industry have been through a cognitive reshaping.
Is obvious that the mutant technological stimuli and cultural changes comes with the automation revolution are better handled by new generations of workers who have been born in a time when being quick and reactive in the processing of tons of technological wares is no form of exception!
Our society is changing and within it, new approaches integrate users as a valuable source for new ideas and innovations. The latter is intimately linked with the user factor when the keyword of development want to be considered as the unique option to pursue.
Think about how every product before its launch requires an amount of research and qualitative surveys on what, how and why the user might be open to buying something new, different. But, trying to be more precise, which are the added values of such innovative products destined to change users’ daily routines and maybe even some technological-social integrations being part of the same production process?
To address these challenges the motto is clear: (re)invent and combine technology and social science. Such holistic and interdisciplinary open dialogue is able to offer a reply to the changing production and workforce in high wage countries that, to grant their citizens higher life expectations, are working hard to qualify and continue to play in the game.
With the intent to explain some trends that define social science, I’ll do a step back to clarify – briefly – its role in the technology and the industrial environments. I’ll give as granted that we know that its research domain is oriented to frame and describe what is connected to the human factor, such as the prediction of experiences, affection, cognition and behaviour.
For social science, the context and the emotional states of humans are always subjected to change, as well as the individual cognitive abilities defining attitudes and background of diverse generations across a life span. There is a recognition behind this admission: history showed that human beings are extremely adaptable when it is time to (re)act and accept different situations. We are doing so in very interesting ways: a diverse syntax articulate factual replies and concrete solutions that could (cor)respond to a similar semantics shaped by the time, the context and the culture of reference. The latter, in mutual harmony with ancient standards and other qualitative factors, are the elements that allow to such empirical methodology to reach a reliable and valid prediction of outcomes.
Integrate social science in a work environment let us explore the principle of usability since the product design phase, sliding into it through the user experience stages, while we maintain our eyes open even to these aspects:
- Deal with complexity: when we need to figure out key aspects of human cognition and decision making along with the production system;
- Meet the requirement of user diversity: when we need to recognize how demographic variables play a huge difference in the diverse skills and flair for dexterity demonstrated by diverse users;
- Handle diversity: when we want to invest in interactive communication channels and events with new cultures to understand what defines our society current needs and future expectation in terms of product design.
- Measure technology interaction: when it is time rate and monitor the turning points that enable shifts forward our hybrid system and the interface it would be in the future.
As well as…
- Frame usability and user experience: when we open to consider emotions, expectation and values that should be reflected in new technologies. Asking ourselves what would be the impact in terms of cognition is the first step toward a clear image on what would define half of the product!
- Provide experimental and empirical metrics: when we want to envisage new forms of contexts, disciplines and possible alternative collaborative frameworks to develop prototypes aiming to reach reliable qualitative outcomes.
Human Factors and Usability Engineering considerations in the development of a device should involve the three major components of the device-user system: (1) who are the users, (2) which are or should be the device use environments and (3) why user interfaces should maintain certain components.
In emergent and challenging industrial sectors, such as consumer electronics, usability appears to be widely acknowledged as a priority in the design phase. Is here that interfaces are tested according to their layout, while labels and buttons should pass the test of being understood within seconds, and icons of applications must immediately determine and match their purpose of use.
Even emergent business models are more keen to dedicate more space, time and investments to usability. The purpose is always the same adagio: increase human satisfaction.
This is the core that assesses the potential of a new product line or strategic venture. Good interfaces reflect the desire to reduce time and train for users empowered by an immediate knowledge. When that happens, they sign a contract with the company in terms of satisfaction, loyalty and engagement for the future. Think on the Apple or Samsung aficionados.
Usability is a criterion able to empower both clients and users, looking to obtain interesting returns of investment (the so called ROIs). The principle is easy: considering all the expenses, as for example the price of the total costs required to select, purchase, operate and maintain up-to-date a product, if they decrease steady on the long run than the ROI is good.
The social factor is even important to maintain the aim to reach and control a high-performance culture since the design and early production phases. Is at this moment that matching with the diverse employees’ perspective grant a company to have a good format, aligned to offer a meaningful product with a technology able to ensure interactive pleasure and fun.
Think on the multiple cased of start-ups coming up in the market with a great and sustained product. Well, the ones that become now wealthy and international icons, invested first even in their workers and teams’ well-being, dedicating resources to working ethics, environmental justice, vocational training and work-life balance. These are emblematic cases when the motivation and sense of purpose at work reflect the attitude of every single employee. When everyone aims to reach higher values to make sense of specific and worthy user experience, the traditional motivators of money, career, competition are immediately fading, leaving terrain to knowledge and expertise that enable every single role to be recognized as fundamental within the iterations of such user-oriented product’s cycle.
The same positive influence that is sawed when transparent communication, shared information policy and the appreciation of innovative and implementable ideas reflect the mutual trust between team leaders, managers and workers aiming to sustain, together and on the long run, such interdisciplinary team culture, oriented to the user technological empowerment.