After moving out into the countryside, I had been away from Manhattan for a while, but had to fly back for a wake up two weeks ago. After reaching SoHo, my old neighborhood, I saw the same horrific behavior that made it easy for me to leave New York: Everybody walks around staring at their phones. People in cafes are staring at their phones. Drivers in traffic are staring at their phones. People go dogs and stare in their phones.
Jonathan Ive is one of the few industrial designers who has changed human behavior worldwide. By collaborating with Steve Jobs to develop the first iPhone, he unknowingly helped start the age of the addictive glass rectangle. Can either he or Jobs be blamed? Of course not. Their goal was to achieve a fantastic technological achievement encased in a large UX object. They could not have expected their object to be abused in mass, which more than the inventors of broadcast television technology could have expected sofa potatoes, or the inventors of butter could have expected morbid obesity.
"If you design a car," one of my design professors once said to us, "someone will use it to rob a bank." Maybe it's a decent take on designers' responsibilities, but that's what I take for purpose of this article.
My point is that Ive uses amazing power as a designer, and I believe that while iPhone has produced socially harmful results, Ive's fanatic focus on UX can be used to fix many important things in this world that are in desperate need. Now that he left Apple, here is my imaginative list of what I'd like to see him tackle next.
I don't think I want to see that Ive design a library. I'd like to see him redo the entire library system as a community gathering point and make it as easy as addictive as an iPhone. You can go there to find information and find it easy. Information will be presented extensively and in multiple media; for example, if I went there to investigate timber frames, I would find books, drawings, pictures, interactive 3D holographic models, videos of people explaining the various joints, lists of companies building timber frames, the availability of nearby schools teaching the craft, VR visits to famous timber frame structures around the world. Assistance would be a combination of human (for personal touch) and AI (for performing drudgery).
The information, knowledge would be presented in such a tempting way that one could lead the library out of sheer boredom, but would always stumble upon something productive that interested them and engaged them.
I'm not talking about that Ive just design a plane interior – I'm talking about the whole thing.
Current flight is a collection of separate, dirty experiences. Transportation to the airport, through traffic. Parking the car if you bring your own. Check-in procedure, when online check-in is not available. The safety line, which is often reduced by several passengers who appear to fly for the first time and / or cannot follow the instructions. Overpriced, sub-quality food at the terminal. Waiting for the gates, with sharp explanations provided for delays or accurate predictions for actual times. The ineffective boarding process, where the first one attempts to monopolize as much storage space as possible to the detriment of those boarding later. The discomfort of the aircraft itself. Luggage retrieval. Download mile transport to your ultimate destination.
Could all this be made into a seamless or at least minimal minimal experience? For economy class, no less? How much of this complicated process can be controlled by intelligent design?
A system of complete situational awareness
I am sure this would be hijacked by the military, but here on the farm my wife and I need a comprehensive surveillance and communication system covering a vast area containing occasional danger .
We have five dogs and about 200 free-range birds (chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, etc.). Occasionally one of the dogs escapes, makes it a nearby farm and begins to tear through the trash. Sometimes there is a bird, and just days later we find the bloody feathers indicating that a reef attack occurred on some remote areas of the property. Dead copper heads occasionally find their way into the garden. Armed hunters accidentally rejected our property at night. And the biggest problem with everything is that my wife and I often have to contact each other, but with 42 hectares of land, are often far apart and have no way of communicating (there is no cell service out there).  What we want is to be able to look at a screen and see exactly where each of our animals is. We would like to see snakes, reefs, coyotes and other predators like flashing red shapes. We want to know why an unknown, uninvited vehicle has hidden appearance at the end of the driveway and makes its way to our house. If there is a thunderstorm, we cannot see what is near the power station, and we will probably experience a blackout, we want to know. We want to be notified when men with rifles trace through our forest. If I'm on the mower with noise-canceling headphones, or running a chainsaw in the back yard, I want my wife to be able to hit a button, and I can immediately hear her.
All of this would obviously require a system of sensors, cameras and communication lines. And almost forgotten, it would have to run from a renewable energy source – sun, wind – not because we are green, but because our area is exposed to blackouts.
I am desperate to see how a designer like Ive, who is trying to simplify complexity, will cope with this.
Health Insurance System
Maintaining your personal health should be, at least in selfish America, the most important thing you do. Still, the people and institutions that care about our health are part of the most opaque, expensive, confusing and nonsense system that many of us deal with.
There is no good system for choosing a doctor. There is no price transparency. There is no one to tell if a doctor prescribes a particular medication because he or she deserves it. There is no telling what you will be charged for.
The policies are confusing, the choices confusing. There is a lot of information that needs to be transmitted, and health professionals present most of it poorly.
I would like to see that Ive curl all this complexity into a simple series of experiences. I have no doubt that the task is probably impossible – but I say that people said the same about the first iPhone.
A Subway System
Something going on in New York: You take the subway to an unknown stop; you go out to the street at one of several exits; You are on the wrong side of the street than you were planning to open. This seems to happen a lot when it rains, and you are forced to wait for a crossroad and soak up water, then you learn that there was a much closer exit to the destination.
On top of basic signage and orientation needs, the subway is another area where there is much existing real-time information, but very little of it makes the way to the end user in time. On my last trip a helpful friend came to me that an express train I needed to take to meet him had been redirected to the local network, which meant I could grab it at a nearby station rather than a further one. This was appropriate for me, and I would never know if it hadn't been the friend who had written me.
At the station myself, I met a family of five tourists, one of them pregnant, another with a toddler. They had trouble working on turnstiles and I had to intervene to get them through. When the express train arrived, they boarded it with me – not realizing that it was not the local train they needed after the doors had closed. I had to work out the transfer for them and make sure they got off at the right stop to do it.
How many times a day does it just happen because information is not communicated? Wouldn't "I want to get from point A to point B" in a system where all the information on how to achieve it is an incredibly easy experience?
And of course I would like to ride in a subway car that was even designed by Ive.
I know that all these things are pipe dreams; Ive's success has made him fabulously rich, and at that level, I doubt he's exposed to such plebiscite UX problems. But man, I'd like to see the difference his level of detail could do with any of these.