Calm technology and its competitive advantage | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 13, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, June 13, 2019

Calm technology and its competitive advantage

Technology is pervading every sphere and technological advancements are rapidly impacting our lives. Today, we spend a good amount of time dabbling with technology – be it while using apps on our smart phones or for that matter, playing games. 

We also spend a significant amount of time learning new technologies and understanding how to use new products. With so much of time devoted to technology, it often tends to become more of a distraction.

Keeping the usability of a well-designed product in mind, calm technology plays an important role in delivering superior user experience and making the product safe.

Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, two computer scientists, first used the phrase “calm technology” in one of their published articles in 1995. 

Most recently, a user experience expert Amber Case has published a book on calm technology and its uses.

With the proliferation of computing in every space, calm technology is going to draw more attention in the coming years for designing and making of new products.

Calm technology is a type of technology that interacts with humans within humans’ environment instead of being intrusive or distractive. It is the output of a well-thought-out user experience design.

For example, if a mobile app wants to send a user an alert, it vibrates gently instead of making a loud noise or exhibiting some distractive behaviour.

With the proliferation of computing and communicating devices such as mobile phones and internet of things (IoT), design will play an important role to ensure all these new products and services operate in non-intrusive ways.

The technology companies in Bangladesh are now moving towards creating products and selling those to international customers. 

While most of these products are software centric, a good number of companies may emerge in future to create products using both hardware and software.

For them, to become globally competitive, they need to focus on delivering superior user experience. Adoption and application of calm technology will provide them with the much-needed advantage to compete globally.

Businesses in Bangladesh are also adopting new technologies rapidly as they embark on the transformation journey. For them too, adopting calm technology will be beneficial as it will improve workplace safety and worker productivity.

Calm technology has a few distinctive characteristics. First, it needs to be minimum attention seeking. Most of the product designs don’t pay enough attention to this area.

But it is important that the devices operate within the users’ domain and hence behave like non-existent entities.

Their style of communication also needs to be non-intrusive and properly aligned. For example, pressing a button on a television remote may activate a wide array of software loaded in the television device.  However, users should not feel that way.

The television set may offer an appealing view due to its good aesthetic design, but it should not attract anybody due to the complex software loaded inside it. The technology should be conscious enough to communicate with minimal distraction.

Visual notification techniques such as flashing lights are good in achieving such objectives. Buzzers are effective for communicating with users when users are not in the line of sight. At the same time, loud, prolonged buzzers create a distraction.

Also, technology should work even when the product fails. For example, an elevator should be able to let all individuals evacuate safely when it malfunctions due to disconnection of power supply or any other fault.

Companies in Bangladesh are fast automating their factory floors. These new machines should improve the overall safety of the factories, even if they fail.

Additionally, technology should be minimal in its degree of application to achieve the desired outcome. Over application of technology to create a product where the intended outcome doesn’t need such advanced application is not desirable.

This will help to make the product relatively simple and user-friendly. This will also address the concern for user privacy.

For example, several Bangladeshi IT companies today are developing apps and deploying those to the users’ mobile.

Often, these apps scan a user’s phone book, photographs stored in the mobile phone, text messages and other content though that is not necessary. Such practices raise privacy concerns and erodes the trust of users.

Finally, technology should take care of general human behaviours. Complying with behavioural norms helps faster adoption of technology. For example, incorporating a ride sharing app in two-wheelers may initially appear strange.

But in cities such as Dhaka, such an innovative idea has gained popularity very quickly due to traffic congestion problems.

Similarly, there were other instances of failure due to lack of clear understanding of the technology and its use.  

There are several ways to verify a calm technology before adoption. In most cases, organisations should focus on a few important factors.

First, the alignment of the new technology with respect to the organisation’s strategy is important.

Second, the ability to meet the stated business objectives by deploying minimal technology should be examined. Finally, adherence to the calm technology characteristics should be examined.

Going forward, adoption of calm technology will create a good degree of competitive advantage for businesses.

Companies in Bangladesh should also start focusing on this aspect while developing new technology-based products or while adopting a new technology for their respective organisations.

The writer is a partner at PwC. The views expressed here are personal.

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