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On the User Experience of Places

For many of us, the term “Internet of Things” is dead wrong.

Some people think of Stir as a standing desk company. Some think we’re a tech company in the Internet of things category.  We’re really neither, and both. It turns out for many products in the Internet of Things category, it’s not about things, it’s actually about the places where those things are, and the experience of users in that place. At Stir, we see ourselves as a pioneer focused on the User Experience of Place (or UXoP).  We want to positively amplify what people are doing, wherever they are. That first place is a desk.

The UX of Place is the intersection of the physical environment – the world, the office, the home, with connected devices – that people call the Internet of Things, and with adaptive, learning software. And there’s gigantic value at stake here.

At Stir we think a lot about workplaces. During the course of a building’s lifetime there is approximately 30x more money spent on the people in that building than the stuff that fills its interiors. By making refinements to the user experience design of a place, and you can create a ton of value.

What makes a good place? Good places are easy to use, easy to navigate, require no instructions, and create positive physical and emotional responses. There’s a huge opportunity for technology products to enable places and the people in them, to be exceptional. We are moving beyond hanging technology off of our bodies, and toward weaving it into our environment – the “built” places in which we exist. Here’s what I think is important when we do that:

A great UXoP enhances the experience without being the experience. What the space was designed for continues to happen, it just happens better. The technology fades into the background – it becomes virtually invisible.

To achieve this a space needs to do:

1.  Use contextual data for personalization – Meet individual needs better, as opposed to aggregated needs.

2. Adapt / Anticipate  the space learns from you as you use it to improve its performance and support your needs.

3. Create actionable insights  Not data for the sake of data, data to allow devices to gain insights, and those insights can be used to subtly interact and create a positive impact.

4.  Interact without interrupting  people don’t want the hardware and software products built into physical spaces to be metaphorically waving at them all the time and interrupting what’s happening. UXoP products need new ways to communicate.

5.  Empower the user  – While a space may be intelligent, a sense of autonomy for the user (that they are always in control) is critical to a satisfying UXoP.

“A great UXoP enhances the experience without being the experience.”

So why did we choose to develop a desk?

A desk is both a thing, and a place. Something like a billion people in the world spend 6+ hours everyday – most of the world’s business value is created at desks. Your desk should be something more than just a flat place to put your laptop.

The Stir Kinetic Desk was designed with UXoP principles:

  • Contextual Data: It senses and recognizes you when you arrive, logs you into a cloud-based profile, and quantifies the benefits of sitting less like the extra calories you burned.

  • Anticipation and Adaptation: It learns your height, and when you prefer to move.

  • Actionable Insights: Based on your preferences and goals, the desk will find times to suggest a position change that feel like they magically fit into your day.

  • Interact without interruption: When the desk thinks its time to make a change it communicates with you in a subtle and tactile way … that feels like it is taking a breath of air. To move the desk, just tap it twice. There are no buttons to hold down or cranks to turn.

  • Empower the user: The desk never moves unless it’s asked to. A single tap tells the desk you want pause all interaction.

Following these principles, the desk enhances the experience without being the experience.

Users are 3 times more active at our standing desks vs. other height adjustable desks. Stir desk users burn the calories of a marathon every 2 weeks by spending half their workday standing. Stir users experience almost an hour of extra productivity daily by being more active at their desk. And perhaps even more important than that, 9 out of 10 users actually use the word “Love” when describing the Stir Kinetic Desks.

There have been lots of discussions at SXSW of the adventures of building hardware startups. Our adventure is in creating a startup focused on places. Not smaller and faster, but bigger, completely interwoven and totally immersive. The next places could be classrooms, doctor’s offices, parks, malls, cars… Let’s move beyond hanging technology off of our bodies and toward doing even more by weaving our best tech ideas into the places where we are, where we chose to be, to be our best, do our life’s work, and have a positive impact. That’s what we hope is ahead for the UX of Place.

Note: This post is adapted from JP Labrosse’s talk at Hardware House SXSW 2015.

JP Labrosse is the CEO, Founder and Chief Designer of Stir.


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