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How does technology affect how you use, experience or interact with a place?

Let’s start by cutting a few corners. It’s a good thing, right?

Last year without impunity or fanfare the Toronto Transit Commission (the TTC) cut off the corner of their monthly passcard; their beloved Metropass. The design improvement was meant to assist people to pass it through the reader more efficiently at the turnstile. I often wonder if the average public transit commuter even noticed it or gave it another thought.

This simple enhancement made me consider how conveniences such as these are continually implemented for the purpose of increased productivity.

The most obvious place I can think of this happening is in the automobile.

Today’s advanced technology allows us to see behind the car, assist us with parking (in some cases), automatically adjust lighting and turn on the wipers when it rains practically helping you drive the vehicle. In some ways the advanced skill in driving is slowly being eliminated.

Is that in order for you to have a better driving experience?

The reason for the cut in the TTC Metropass is said to reduce the time people spend fumbling the card around at the turnstile.

The angle points forward. Slide it through. Basta!

It was actually styled after the cards prepared for the CNIB to assist visually impaired passengers. A very intelligent decision. The universal change offers the average rider a convenience that makes their lives that much easier.

It is a brilliant improvement or simply another step closer to The Machine Stops?

Why permeate thinking with redundant activity?

In conversation with some friends recently we were discussing how technology has increased the rate of learning their children were experiencing. We all laughed when one of my colleagues mentioned that his daughter was questioning the need to learn advanced math because it was much simpler to use technology to find the answer. She argued that her time could be better spent learning new ways to apply technology to solve more complex problems. She suggested that computing power is there for us to utilize so why should we not continue to have it serve us, allow us to figure out further advancements and leave the basics to the machine?

Smart kid.

Sure, a slightly myopic view from a child but an interesting point when considering how technology permeates our daily lives. Kids are fully immersed and expect technology to simply work and be readily available.

Regardless, having an understanding of how technology affects us is one thing but without education we are certainly doomed. I am sure my colleague has instilled a clear sense of the importance of the basics of education in his daughter.

How does technology affect the space you inhabit?

The conversation about how technology influences our lives got me thinking about how technology affects a designer’s influence on space. As designers of physical space we can no longer avoid considering current and future advancements of technology, their impact on space and how we use it. It has to permeate our thinking. No longer can we consider technology as an add-on or a nice to have. It now needs to be inherent in how we design space because it is a big part of how people experience space.

Personally and as a consumer I have noticed it’s not often that advancements in technology are front of mind anymore because of the innate nature of how it weaves into our daily lives. It seems to be an expectation. Technology is now part of us. It makes our lives easier, simpler and takes away the tedious nature of mundane tasks.

Good or bad it does the math for us and will continue to do so. Here are a few observations that I bet we all hardly think about and some questions to get you thinking about how future technologies might affect space further.

  • The TTC Metropass. Swipe. How is the swipe placed? What’s coming? Scanning a barcode on your smartphone? How will that change terminal design?
  • The movie ticket. When is the last time you stood in line to buy a ticket? Do you use a kiosk? Scan a barcode? How will the entrance sequence to a theatre be affected?
  • Office security. Do you still use a key? Will our phones be the keys of the near future?
  • Computers. How few corporations aren’t using wireless now? How does that affect desk space and your workspace? What changes when you can work anywhere?
  • Banks. If you actually go into one anymore there is the ATM. Banks are now moving toward a retail experience. What other technology is woven in that you don’t realize? Do you interact with technology before a person or instead of a person?
  • Grocery stores. Self-serve check outs. No more errors. No more fuss. What does that do to customer flow? How does your experience change?
  • POS terminals. They are everywhere. Retail, restaurants, gas stations. It’s easy to spend money. They come to you now. Does that change how much you tip when you do?
  • The interwebz. In the web world we are always talking about making navigation easy for people. It is generally how we evaluate the design of a site; simple, easy to use and effective. How often do you shop on-line now?

If any of these examples are lacking, complex and not easy to understand or use we move on.

Usually irritated.

Am I on the right track here?

When we consider the design of physical space we have to think about how these common advancements affect the attributes of space. We have to understand how current and emerging technologies will affect the user experience. Technology changes the approach we take to physical space design right down to the colour of the walls, selection of materials and as fundamental as the configuration of a room.

We all need to be nerds and geeks.

We have to get it when it comes to technology.

We should understand how advancements in technology have the potential to change how people use space and we have to encourage our designs to respond to that. If we aren’t considering it we are late.

Very, very late.





Over to you:

How has technology affected your daily life? Has it made your life better? What challenges have you experienced? Does technology and the space it permeates work in unison?


About this Author: Ralph Dopping (199 Posts)

A quirky sense-o-humour coupled with an indelible sense of stylish sarcasm makes it difficult to take the world too seriously doesn't it? My faves: fun, passion and hard work. I work here everyday:

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

Nice post Ralph! This is a very interesting discussion when overlaid with the idea of customer experience. How does the technology and the space work together to enhance or diminish a customer's experience? Also, are we using technology because we can, and not because we should? For instance, is an auto-kiosk really a better choice than a staffed desk in Situation X? It might not be, even though spatially it works, and economically it is less expensive (at least in the short term).


Technology cannot be ignored, but hopefully it can be controlled and put to its most effective use.


Though technology has made life easier, it has bought along a lot of worry which I really didn't need. Maybe I am addicted or maybe I am a little maniac - checking emails, replying to them, managing payments through the online thing (panic, panic, panic!) and many other things. I feel I still haven't found the balance!

Latest blog post: Where did everybody go?


Kaarina's reflection on where the line blurs between convenience and carelessness is worthy of much further discussion and meditation.


I need a dramatic example to live up [grin] to my drama queen status here...


Just because the porn is there, it's presence seems to preclude and, ultimately, dismiss the question of whether porn is right or wrong. Or useful. Or harmful. We don't even have to get into the question of the state of the porn industry and it's impact on the identity and Destiny of the young "actresses" and "actors" who are "exploited" (or not) for the consumer's pleasure.


I think this dilemma is what Martin Luther King, Jr. was thinking about when he asked us to consider the problematic of technology and virtue.


A less dramatic example?


Just because we can connect with 5,000 people on Facebook, must we engage 5,000 friends? To what end? At what cost to them? Us?




I love technology. I can't imagine living without a computer that had 3 monitors. When I visit my parents, who only have one monitor on their computers, I feel lost. I want to have Tweetdeck on a screen and FB take up another, while I work on the third. Or maybe FB goes away and I am watching a film on Netflix. Now that I think about it, three doesn't even seem like enough now. Maybe 5 for my next computer?


Even the technology that I can carry around, like my iPhone 5 and iPad II, are wonderful. I do most of my novel writing on my iPad, with the blue tooth wireless keyboard. I just like how it feels, so I even use it when I'm sitting at my desktop....with all its monitors.


Soon Google will have their glasses out, which will let me wear a monitor on my face. That will be awesome.


The biggest thing I can think of, design wise, with regards to technology, is that if you are considering a public space, you better make sure there are lots of electrical outlets. People like me need more power (with apologies to Tim Allen).


I admire and value technology and the people who use their brain power to advance it. But I don't get thrilled by it to the point where I have to use it, or buy it. However, I thinks it's vital to know what's out there, and if you can, know how to use it, especially if you want to stay competetive in your area of expertise!

As a consumer, I'm in love with design over function. I love old Ford trucks, and older models of Mercedes and Jaguars, etc. There isn't one make/model of car on the market today that I like. I love the leather smell of my grandparents' VW Beetle, and the sound of it's engine.

It all comes back to my lifestyle and what makes it feel enriched. I'm always going to be drawn to the simple and beautiful. When it comes to washers and dryers though, I want the top of the line! Lots of laundry here. Toilets, too. LOL!

rdopping moderator

Hey  @KDillabough   Very good point. I see it like this. Our minds are sometimes occupied with thinking about simple tasks instead of the complex ones of innovation. I see making certain things easier as a positive but also see the negative side of a world of conveniences taking away the routine pleasure in a task such as window shopping for a gift at Christmas. I overheard a conversation yesterday between two colleagues how the one had dome most of her holiday shopping in an afternoon on-line. Good or bad? Depends on what you prefer.


I was getting at the observation of how space is affected by these technological innovations which is an important part of how us designer think about space. The recognition that certain generations don't even think about certain conveniences anymore is an important factor to consider when shaping space.


Thanks for your comment. Always a pleasure.


I have a love-hate relationship with technology. Perhaps I wouldn't feel that way so much if the arts...drawing, painting, doing arithmetic, colouring outside the lines with real crayons...not computer-generated...were equally valued. There's a fine line between convenience and robotic-non-thinking. After all, if technology removes the need to "think about it", what are our minds for? Just my two cents, FWIW. Cheers! Kaarina

rdopping moderator

Hey  @Adam | Customer Experience  stellar questions. The interaction here has been nothing short of challenging. I love it.


Personally, I think people don't consider the advances in technology until it's not there or doesn't work. We take it for granted. That is both good and dangerous and it is easy to discern the differences.


I understand your approach with something like an auto-kiosk. If you take away the routine task of ringing through a transaction (like at a bank) and focus on serving the customer's needs as in a retail store (finding the right fit for a problem or finding a solution for a product line) then the service offering can be enhanced, can it not? I guess I am saying that it may be advantageous if you focus on serving the customer in an enhanced fashion and reduce cost by avoiding routine tasks like check out. My grocery store has an automated check out with 6 stations per customer service rep. It seems to work well.


We definitely need to be cautious when applying technology to design solutions but I would rather that than ignoring it altogether.


Thanks for furthering the conversation. Cheers!

rdopping moderator

Another interesting  perspective @Hajra  I suppose this need to be connected is going to need some very strong conviction to maintain as a reasonable balance. I too have found that the connected-ness of technology has had some adverse affects in my daily life. I agree that a good balance is needed but how one defines that is going to be as individual as a fingerprint.


Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful interpretations. Cheers. 

rdopping moderator

 Very interesting analogies Stan @Faryna The adult film industry example is brilliant.


I see technology as a catalyst for change and not as an inhibitor. Regardless of the fact that we have advancements that make some of the routines of our lives simpler we can always choose to accept it. Like your example of the adult film industry there are certainly harmful spin offs as there are with technology advancements if we blindly accept them as the norm, however, these same advancements allow us through their conveniences to use our capacity for advancing our own thinking. Sure, you can use that for good or for bad but I don't think the vehicle is what drives the choice you make.


MLK was prolific and he was right. We need to think about how we affect our world and the problem is that there are very few chess players out there thinking 3 moves ahead. Facebook is an excellent example of that. It can be very damaging if misused. There are numerous examples of that but there are also great benefits so while choosing to have 5,000 pseudo "friends" may preclude you from some real life experience the platform offers interconnection that in our past was very difficult to achieve.


I certainly love this type of interaction on the subject. It is going in a different direction but in a good way has enlightened me to some sense of how the affect of today's advancements have likely not been socialized and absorbed as readily as I may have though. At least not with the generation I feel I connect with.


i wonder how a young Millennial would react to this?

rdopping moderator

Ha, ha  @ExtremelyAvg we need a lot of electrical outlets, for sure! Thanks. The amount of electricity we consume will only increase over time as all these advancements continue to grow. So damn true.


Hey, you make an interesting point. That is virtual space. those Google glasses are the first step to a virtual reality that will need design similar to your virtual world that you built with your colleagues. Now there's a design challenge with very few limitations. 


Considering that idea the notion that surfaces start to become active surfaces seems like a viable solution to remaining connected in virtual spaces. We are working with a client now that has table top computer screens that you can interact on (it's a bank) which is very cool. That is what sparked this post because we have had to change their design to suit not only the new table but other advances to enhance the banking experience all driven by user experience with interactive surfaces. Very advanced stuff.


The virtual reality of a few years ago is almost here. Maybe design of space will be less about experiencing the physical space and more about interacting with a virtual world. Who knows?

rdopping moderator

Very intriguing comment  @BetsyKCross  There seems to be a strong sense of nostalgia for a time in your youth which draws you to product with an aesthetic that from a technology perspective is not advanced. The functionality of the cars you describe are not what draws you to them but moreover their nostalgic feel. The design is from a time where craftsmanship holds value over today's technological advancements. It doesn't seem to jazz you that a car can almost drive itself. Am I close?


But, having said that the conveniences of modern technology have not gotten past you. I can see where your priorities lie (today). I like your comments about lifestyle and being drawn to the simple and beautiful. Very admirable but I do wonder how technology of today has advanced that ethos. Has the advancement of technology allowed us to experience the simple and beautiful things in life more readily but taking away the redundancy of some routine tasks? Is that good or bad thing? Not sure. Yet.


I love to look of old vehicles too. I use them to create my art. If you are interested I started a series that is slowly building. And I mean slowly as i rarely find time to work on these.


 @rdopping I checked out the pics! Exactly what I love! Even the tractor...painted a picture of one years ago-a red one from a family farm with kids sitting on the huge rear wheel and front of it.

Beauty for me come more in the nostalgia of a thing. You hit it! I don't like jewelry at all, but I will wear anything passed down through the family. But that has nothing to do with technology. Does it? Beuaty and tech come together for me in things like refigerators- the ones that are new and function well, but look old fashioned.

I also think that we lie to ourselves when we think that we like tech. because it gives us more time to do what we love. It's true that I'm not scrubbing clothes all day, but I'm also not using that extra time to dance, etc! LOL!

Great thoiughts today!

rdopping moderator

 @BetsyKCross Well maybe you should. Dance, that is. With all the free time you have now that tech has taken over cooking & laundry you can certainly do some of those things that are nipping at your heels. Like writing some more of those great story lines. Cheers!


I now have to paint a hallway. IRL. :-)