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Exclusive Interview with Joe Toscano, former Experience Designer - R/GA at Google

Joe Toscano is pursuing a career in helping people understand automation through his writing and speaking opportunities. Prior to that, however, Joe worked as an experience designer at Google where he worked on numerous critically acclaimed projects. In the build up to his involvement at UX Next, we spoke in depth with Joe in detail about personalization, conversation, & customer experience.

UX Next

Can you discuss your experience & your current venture?

Sure, ya. I think talking about my experience could go on for a bit so I’ll shorten it and just say I’ve been designing and developing for about 6 years now and been apart of projects that have gone on to win some attention including a D&AD for User Experience Design, several Silver Lions at Cannes, and some mentions in FastCo. Outside of work I’ve been writing for InVision and other global publications for a couple years now and have had my work promoted by several prominent companies outside of my own including McKinsey, Awwwards, and others. My writing has also been translated into several different languages to help make education more accessible across the globe, including French, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Spanish, and more.

My most recent project is a book called Designing Intelligence. In the book I take my best shot at outlining the Artificial Intelligence space and how/why Conversational Interfaces will be such a big thing in the era of computer automation/ambient technology. I also do my best to outline how it all plays out in the future because I believe it’s important that we, as technical creators, understand the impact we’re making on the world, both good and bad. I think there are too many of us focused on the how of production and not the why, which can become dangerous if we don’t come up for air every so often.

I hope my book inspires an age of amplified human intelligence, and ethical automation.

To what extent do you believe personalization is important to the future of UX?

I think it’s huge. Think of the interactions you have with family and friends. The reason we keep these people so close is because they know us more intimately than anyone else. Sometimes to the extent that we don’t even need to say anything and they just get us. It’s an incredible phenomena.

When a product can replicate that feeling (without being creepy), it’s an incredible experience for the person using it.

How important is the balance between personalization and privacy?

I think it’s incredibly important. However, I don’t think a lot of people understand the importance of it, and, especially with younger generations, I don’t think they care. However, I do believe this lack of caring comes from a lack of understanding about how powerful their data is.

I think what we’re experiencing right now in data privacy is no different than what we saw with the opt-out model of emailing in the late 90s/early 2000s where people were automatically signed up for lists and willfully gave their information away because they didn’t realize what was going to be done with it. It didn’t take long for them to catch on, and now everything is opt-in because the consumers demanded a change, at scale.

I believe in the very near future consumers will become much more data savvy and we’ll see a similar paradigm shift in the privacy of data.

What role do you believe conversation will have in UX?

My personal belief is that conversation is the next paradigm in Human-Computer Interaction.

If you think of the history of HCI, we first saw Binary as the initial HCI. This was very technical and very difficult to work with, so very few people used computers.

The next major paradigm was assembly languages and CLI, which became popular in the 60s and 70s. However, anyone using computers still had to learn another language just to use it. For this reason, this interaction model was still very difficult as well, and very few people wanted to learn how to operate computers.

It wasn’t until graphical computing came around in the late 70s/early 80s that we saw a mass consumer market spawn. This was because people no longer had to learn the system’s language, they just had to learn the system itself — in a point and click manner. It’s much easier to point and click on something than it is to learn a new language. We see the same mannerisms in children who are unable to speak but capable of pointing at what they want.

I believe conversation will be the next (and maybe final) major paradigm in HCI. I believe this because it’s the first time in the history of computing that we don’t have to learn the system’s language or the system itself, the computer is learning us. Conversational interactions are the definition of intuitive computing — when perfected, anyone will be able to use a computer at this point.

Why do you believe chatbots can improve customer experience?

I kind of touched on it in previous answers, combined, but I believe that the personalization and intuitive use, at scale, will create incredible experiences.

If we do this the right way, conversational agents will become an extension of our self and will amplify our intelligence. Collectively we’ll be able to reduce or completely eliminate the ROTE, meaningless tasks in our life and focus on the meaningful parts of life.

When it comes to customer experience, that means spending more time focused on your customers, human-to-human, which is how business is meant to be done.

How will AI & ML enhance the brand experience?

This is an interesting question, but I’d lump it similarly with the previous one. I believe AI & ML will, when done properly, scale the persona of a company/brand at an individual level. It’s an incredible thing to think about, but essentially we’ll be able to take the thing that makes a brand what it is and let everyone experience that as if they had the person/company/brand in a one-on-one conversational setting.

You’re speaking at UX Next, 30-31 October in Palo Alto, why are you excited to get involved with UX Next?

Oh man, this is an easy question. Finally!

The reason I’m so excited to be working with UX Next is to have the opportunity to be a part of something that is hosted by so many global experts. I’m humbled to even have the opportunity. I can’t wait to hear everyone else speak, I’m going to learn so much!

Who are you most looking forward to meeting at UX Next?

Oh geeze, follow up the easy one with the hardest one!

There are several I’m very interested in:

Gareth Griffiths and Guy Lebanon, just because I’m super strategy focused and I love listening to strategy people talk. I know that sounds crazy but I love it. I believe if design doesn’t have strategy, it’s just art, and I know these two are going to bring some serious points to talk about.

Ryan Williams and Samantha Starmer, because I’m incredibly interested in what’s happening in the physical world and I’m a huge fan of the companies they’re both representing. I’m especially stoked about Ryan’s because I grew up in an auto body shop. I love cars, but you’d never know it until you got me in one or started talking to me about how I’ve always wanted to design one.

Lastly, but not least important, Lisa Falkson. I’ve met her in person and she’s amazing. Not only really easy to talk to but also brilliant and well experienced. I can’t wait to hear her talk.

Oh, and also Nandini Stocker. Nandini has helped me a TON with my book, so I feel like I know her and her work pretty well. I’m not sure the content of her talk will be too surprising for me, but I can’t wait to see her speak in person and feel her stage presence. I’m pretty stoked about that one on a more personal level.

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