Looking back and ahead: Matthias Müller-Prove, one of eight creative specialists in the Project Content Foresight Mobility 2019, has helped shape the desktop publishing and web revolution. What radical changes does he expect next?
Matthias, you are a qualified computer scientist and –as an interaction designer– you are also creating the concepts for digital surfaces. Is there a contradiction in this?
I don’t think so. For me, the user perspective was an essential part of my education. It should be clear to every computer scientist for whom and for what contexts a product is being developed. Everything else leads to incomprehensible apps and systems. That doesn’t mean that every engineer is also a good interaction designer at the same time – but there must be mutual knowledge of methods and competencies in the product team. Communication with software architects and developers is easier for an interaction designer who has a background in computer science.
You said in a that computer science is a social science. What do you mean by that?previous interview
The key factor in digital media is communication. Hence it’s about people and their ideas and how they interact with each other via the network. It is a global organism made up of people, devices, the Internet and information; each subsystem influences the usability and user experience. With the social science perspective, I want to point out that we design the digital interfaces for all areas of the user’s lives – such as work, entertainment, social contacts. Therefore, we should consider the effects and side-effects on our team work and private domains. We have a great responsibility for which we should comit to .ethical guidelines
You have been working in this field for more than two decades. Did that make you a generalist?
The professional experience helps to adopt to new customers and tasks. Every situation is new. However, it’s an advantage to recognize among projects, and to transfer learnings from previous jobs into the future. At the BBDO / KNSK agency, for example, I’ve been a student administrator responsible for their Mac network. I witnessed how classically trained graphic designers and copywriters had to cope with the new desktop publishing world. The problem was almost always the understanding of the new DTP tools. It is never the user’s fault. Usability is a measure of software that causes a certain user experience. The users should be at the center of all software design projects.patterns
Later, you’ve incorporated this experience into your work for the Hamburg software company GoLive…?
Exactly. After the desktop publishing revolution of the 1980s, the web revolution was the next big thing. The agency folks needed powerful and usable new tools to create web sites and online campaigns. – Adobe GoLive – f.k.a. GoLive Cyberstudio – was one of the first WYSIWYG web editors to avoid direct HTML source code hacking. In addition to other tasks, I was particularly responsible for the design of GoLive’s user interface.
Would you describe yourself as a "visionary"?
Sustainable innovations take time – often decades. If you consider, for example, that the first AR (augmented reality) system was developed in 1966… Of course, that was far too early for a succesful market launch, since only now we have VR / AR as a trending topic. The origins of desktop publishing also go back to the 1960s and 70s. Graphical user interfaces and the mouse made a public appearance in the 1980s. Then the shift to the web in the 1990s – more than 20 years after the infrastructure of ARPAnet and Internet was laid. It is not helpful to look into a crystal ball to forcast possible technical futures – you better look at the work of research labs ten or more years ago.
What’s your notion of visions?
A vision is an imaginary point in the future, a desirable scenario, but without terms yet. You start with abstract metaphors in order to be able to think about the future. So maybe a period of ten years can be envisioned. Anything beyond that time horizon is science fiction. In order to get from today to the vision, you need a strategy that breaks the path down into technically feasible milestones. With the right funding, after a few years you will have a platform that can be radically new. The sub-projects can then be developed with agile methods to quickly collect feedback, adjust your strategy and sharpen your vision.
What is the time frame for your customer projects?
Companies are interested in a return on investment. Therefore, it is primarily a matter of pragmatic improvements or the redesign of products or services. The time component comes into play via sustainability, because satisfied users become loyal customers and ultimately also brand ambassadors on social media. With success in the market, companies gain the freedom to deal with their long-term goals and visions.
Are your customers also thinking more and more in this direction?
I perceive the pressure, but also the curiosity of companies regarding the digital change. It is a great challenge to question current business practices and allow open-ended results. Innovation cannot be forced or managed. What can be improved are the environment conditions under which creative ideas have a chance to foster. When talking to customers, I often work with metaphors: Innovation is an open-ended expedition through the Gobi desert or Kilimanjaro, or a trip to the moon.
Where do you think the journey is going next?
Voice-based AI systems still have many flaws. But they are good enough for several applications and are therefore a reality. In my opinion mixed and augmented reality has a lot of potential. Google Glass was a a premature attempt. Pokémon Go was the turning point. Both systems are considered a flop or summer fun the latter. Since then, however, everyone has a clue of the technical possibilities of mobile devices. By principle, I can use any surface as an interactive display. Here in this room is so much dead matter. Walls, windows, table tops – everything could be networked and useful to us in terms of media. I expect a wide range of applications that use the idea of active and dynamic surfaces in a wide variety of contexts.
Let’s run with mataphors: do you have a compass?
For me, history is the toolbox of the visionaries. When you study history, you learn where we come from and you understand that today's state is just an arbritary moment. The future is open and can be shaped. For me this is the best motivation to design and develop good and sustainable systems for people.