April 26, 2018 by Ann Brigida

user interfaceIf you’ve never heard of Daniel Pink, not to worry, I had totally forgotten about a book he wrote in 2005 until the week I got back from Integrated Systems Europe 2018. More on that later. Early February is usually a pretty dreary time of year in parts of North America and Europe. It’s often gray, cold, and uninviting. Despite some potentially spirit-dampening weather, a bright spot had formed in the days just before the world’s largest commercial AV trade show, unnoticed by the 80,000 attendees who visited Amsterdam: AVIXA gathered a group of experts from all over the globe to take a look at user experience (UX) and create guidance for our industry about designing AV systems that put the user’s experience at the forefront of thought.

Did you get that? The AVIXA Standards Steering Committee voted to begin developing an industry standard that considers the people using an AV system first — before selecting equipment; before the system is put together and people start using it. An industry standard that will focus on, as its scope says, “human interaction with AV systems.”

It’s a timely concept and the project excites anyone who wants to follow the lead of the companies we all admire for their ability to provide us with products and services we didn’t even know we needed and now we can’t live without — the ones that seamlessly fit into our lives. What better way to enhance the communication that AV systems provide than to make available to everyone the information that will help you incorporate UX into your business model and project plans?

When InfoComm International became AVIXA, we made it clear that it was more than a name change. AVIXA would approach the vast potential of AV experiences differently, from the way it promoted the industry to potential user markets, to the thought leadership it delivered through its training and events, to the foundational elements that make up the experiences our industry delivers every day — including the user experience. We remain committed to everything that came before — education, certification, performance standards, trade shows, and more. Now we’re also committed to following new lines of design thinking to help illuminate and arrive at the true value of AV. A standard for UX reflects that new thinking.

We’ve officially embarked on this new path. I was talking with the UX task group’s moderator, Pete Swanson, a standards believer and longtime volunteer for AVIXA’s standards program. Pete not only sees the value of standards in general, but he championed the idea and impact this particular standard could have on the AV practitioner’s ability to influence other trades.

“Standards might be seen as a dry topic, similar to QA processes and test plans,” he told me. “But for me they’re an essential part of helping our industry to ‘grow up’ and take our place at the design roundtable in harmony with the other professionals, such as architects, interior designers, consultants and cost planners. Written well, standards become an essential tool in design conversations, discussions around value/cost and ultimately in delivering the outcomes the client expects and needs.”

Let’s face it. There is a widespread perception that AV systems are sometimes unreliable and fall short of the intended usage goals. Who hasn’t been to a meeting or conference where the audio can’t be heard, the presentation can’t be seen, or the movie clip embedded into the keynote speaker’s jazzy opening doesn’t, well, open? Not always, but more often than it should happen, AV systems neither operate as intended nor meet the expectations of users of those systems. We come to expect the unacceptable and do the workaround. There is no established process for research, analysis, design, testing, and improvement of user experiences specific to AV-enabled spaces. That’s about to change.

The ideas of design thinking and user experience aren’t new. One can argue that the concept goes back to the Renaissance, but it’s fair to say that modern-day industrial design started us thinking along this path when Henry Dreyfuss wrote “Designing for People” (1955, Allworth Press). While startling advances in technology have taken place over the years, remember that the original AV system (eyes and ears) hasn’t changed one iota and that’s the system that interprets the effectiveness of the enhanced communication and integrated experiences AV systems provide.  It’s time to begin with that original AV system, and, using all of the information we have on the subject, create guidance so that a user’s experience with an AV system is worthy of the service our industry is capable of providing.

And while user experience design isn’t a new concept, it’s one that’s often ignored in the rush to finish a project, or better yet, to get it started.  

AVIXA is walking its talk by putting this standard into development. It isn’t an easy one. It’s a pretty broad topic in and of itself. The term ‘user’ is a phrase that means different things depending on who you ask. But the task group is eager to get busy and feels strongly that they can put together meaningful guidance. And while it will be challenging, the group has exuberantly accepted the assignment.

“Our group has just embarked on developing the new User Experience for AV Design standard,” Pete said. “In discussions, we identified a one-sentence summary of the goal: Whereas so often the engineering design defines the user experience, we are working so that the definition of the user experience guides the engineering design.” Stay tuned.

Oh, and Daniel Pink? I remembered his book, A Whole New Mind (2005, Penguin Books). While he never used the terms “design thinking” or “user experience,” that’s exactly what his book explores. He makes a compelling case about ‘right-directed’ brain functions ruling the future. He asserts that the Information Age, which replaced the Industrial Age, was, in 2005, being replaced by the Conceptual Age. Here we are, 13 years later. Turns out he was right on target.

If you’re interested in keeping up with the progress of this task group, please don’t hesitate to go to avixa.org/standards, or email standards@avixa.org for information about joining our expert pool or signing up for our quarterly newsletter.

About Ann Brigida

Ann Brigida, CTS, CStd, is Senior Director of Standards for AVIXA. She has served on the Board of Directors for SES, the Society of Standards Professionals, and was the publications council director. A licensed educator and former business owner, Brigida has won numerous writing awards, including the 2013 World Standards Day Paper Competition for her paper, "At Work and Play and Everything in Between: Standards Keep the Ball Rolling." She was named as one of the industry’s influential women in “Power Players: Honoring Exemplary Women in the Industry” in 2015 by SCN (Systems Contractor News).