Claudio Guglieri, Microsoft: « Our job is to design the products we wanted to have as kids »

A few months ago, Claudio Guglieri, Design Director at Microsoft, started an experiment. For a couple of weeks, he measured his daily screen consumption through the Moment app, tracking his continuous interaction with his phone and computer. The results left him amazed, and quite scared. He was using digital screens way more than the average american, and in fact, those devices were so entrenched in his daily life that they started to feel like “digital homes”. As a long-time and accomplished designer, he quickly realized the implications of this new way of life for his work and that of his peers, building and constantly improving such products. With this in mind, he developed a critical thinking on what it means to be a designer today, or as he calls it, a “home-builder”.

KMF met him at the KIKK Festival where he was closing the event with his talk, “Home”. He then explained to us his views on the future of interfaces and interactions.

KMF : Hello Claudio. Can you introduce me to your “Home” talk?


Claudio : Home is a talk about our relationship with digital interfaces. These days, many of dimensions of our lives are dominated by a screen. And we don’t realize it. You work with a screen, you talk to your friends using a messaging app, you watch movies or play videos games, again, using a screen. It gets us to a point where we work, communicate, relax, learn about the world and learn new skills with screens. Today, if I want to cook something, I don’t go to my friends anymore saying “what was that thing you cooked last time?” No, I just go online. It’s easier. But many of those things, not that long ago, we wouldn’t need a screen for it. We expanded ourselves in different ways, now everything is screen-dominated. The point of my talk is to dig deeper in that relationship and understand the factors that, as product designers, we can do in our apps to make sure users “feel at home”.


Why is it so important?


I can clearly see how the products and games that I used back when I was a kid have shaped who I am today. I learned team spirit playing at Starcraft, creativity with Photoshop. Now that the barrier of creation is so low, it is our job as designers to create the products we wanted to have as kids, and to inspire the next generation of creators. What product designers are doing right now is building spaces where users are spending most of their time, their “digital homes”. This is different from designing for marketing sites that serve one purpose (ie. promoting a product, spreading a message) which I have been doing for a long time. Drawing on the “Home” analogy, those sites are like hotels, where all that matters is the unforgettable experience customers are having. Take the chocolate on the pillow, this is brilliant but we wouldn’t want that in our homes everyday. Talking about design, it means creating an user-experience that is not filled with striking animations and effects, but rather based on the 3 UX pivots : repetition, evolution and ownership.


Could you tell me more about those 3 key factors?


When I used the app Moment, I realized I was looking at my phone more than 50 times a day. That’s less than my coworker, who was using it 72 times! So we have to think about repetition when we make design decisions. This applies also to the evolution of the products. Christina Wodkte said: “users hate change that doesn’t make their life better, but makes them have to relearn everything they knew.” Take two examples: one is the Dvorak keyboard – an alternative keyboard layout that was never adopted because the constraints were higher than the benefits – and the other is Google search – it hasn’t changed for ten years, yet there the system is constantly improving. Finally ownership is how to balance the users needs and the business objectives and to create a perception of control for users, to satisfy them.


Talking about that, there has been a lot of discussion on our addiction to screens and the part designers play in that situation. What is your take on that?


I address this question in my talk. There is this book from Adam Alter, Irresistible. It tells us that addiction isn’t always tightened to substance abuse, but can also come from our growing consumption of devices. That’s not a new idea. I had friends when I was young who were addicted to video games. It always existed. Now that it’s so present in our lives, we’ll just be more aware of the consequences.

But let me be honest, it is our job. Every single product that you see out there has what is called a habit loop. When you’re using Facebook, you keep scrolling, commenting, sharing, then someone is seeing it, liking it, and so on… They are building a loop that keeps you hooked (see book « Hooked: How to build habit forming products » by Nir Eyal). Same thing for Instagram, every single app. Are we concerned about these habit loops being healthy? What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? I look at my phone. Is that really healthy? What are the consequences of that?

I could argue that attention deficit disorder we have right now is due to the large amount of information available and forced to us everyday. But we don’t digest information anymore, we scan it! Who reads an article online? You need to be really willing to read an article to finish it. It’s not healthy to look at your watch or your phone so many times a day. As designer, we should ask ourselves: “how can we give you what you might need yet keep you healthy?” It goes by keeping you engaged with people around you. Making sure we put our users upfront. We design for their own good, not for our metrics and engagement return.


Especially if, as you said, we are becoming more and more intimate with our digital products. What potential risks do you see in this ever close relationship?


The risk is not be able to have conversation with people face-to-face. Not only to relate with them, but to empathize with them. Now, we are so used to digest violence that I think being exposed to it so much is making us less empathetic,, less able to relate to other people’s pain. We’re growing used to getting a little bit insensitive in that sense. The risk is that.


The lack of empathy, isn’t it what is trying to tackle Virtual and Augmented Reality? How do you feel about those new technologies?


You’re touching a really interesting point. Right now Augmented Reality is still a concept, it’s beautiful but it hasn’t reached a critical mass or users. iOS just released its ARkit, it’s becoming a thing and an easy first step towards the augmented reality world. I’m excited about that. In my new work (note: as part of the Fluent Design team at Microsoft), we are taking care of the next visual language of Windows 10. Fluent Design means we have to make sure there’s a consistent language you can translate across devices, from your phone to your augmented reality headset. How can we actually have a solid foundation for developers to develop their own app in our ecosystem?

From a design perspective, AR is opening another dimension, we won’t be limited by a screen. But we still need to understand the human behaviour. We already have a base in industrial design, now it’s how we can apply what we know from how things are used to what we know of those technologies. It’s super interesting.


What do you think would be the most effective applications for those technologies?


It’s hard to say. IKEA released this AR feature to see your own furniture at home. It’s not going to change the world but it’s an obvious use of it. The question is: “what apps that we use would make more sense on a AR mindset?” The first thing that came out when AR came out was lots of ruler apps. Now with your phone you can measure everything and it feels so natural. I have seen experiments of being able to tag locations – something that Yelp did a while ago – but suddenly on my phone I will see a tiny overlay that says “this restaurant is pretty good, you might like it”. Or even being able to identify people. If I want to get your contact, you have to tell me your phone number, name and personal info. With AR, you might just capture someone’s face and suddenly have all the information. It’s a frictionless access to reality.


Most of the current applications are commercial ones. In a Medium post, you said that Augmented Reality “will soon affect the design of private and public spaces as we know them” and take us to a “clutter free world.” Do you think it could help us in some way regain some control over our environment?


We can only guess. In a perfect world, yes. For example, think about Times Square in New York. It has become a landmark for advertising. That wasn’t originally intended but it is now part of the culture of the city. But cities are a place where we are meant to coexist and to relate to each other instead of being free-roaming places to see advertising. So AR can also lead us to a Blade Runner-like world. Look at this Hyper Realityvideo. There is this fear that all the knowledge that Facebook or Google have about us is going to become exposed. It could be really freaky.


This leads us to the debate on privacy. How do you see this notion evolving today?


I think we are already giving up on privacy. It feels like today people are not that concerned about privacy, they would rather choose convenience. We post things on Instagram, we share our locations everywhere, and I don’t think people are concerned about privacy that much, which feels wrong and it might have a backlash at some point.


What do you think about privacy by design?


Is it our duty as designers to make sure people don’t forget about the value of privacy? Yeah, I think so. Let’s say, Terms and Conditions. Who reads that? It’s meant not to be read. Ideally, we would be able to sell innovation and being honest with people. Right now, it does feel sometimes that we’re doing things for the sake of things, fascinated by the aspects of it. I think it’s part of the human nature, we just think about the right-now, not the future.


Talking about the future, what are your next projects coming up?


I joined Microsoft two years ago and I am very excited by my work on Fluent Design. There is a change of mindset brought by Satya Nadella, to empower people to do more, whatever it is and whatever devices they are using. I think that Microsoft is shifting towards creativity as the new productivity. The Gen-Z are super creative, they want to express themselves. And our job is to help them.

From a personal perspective, I am continuing the research I have been doing with Home, probably evolving that into something more tangible like a book.

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