Adobe Think Tank Luminaries Dish on Trends Influencing Experiences

Panelists from Chobani, T-Mobile, Microsoft, and other leading companies gathered at Adobe Summit to discuss how emerging tech will change the customer experience.

With the rise of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), mixed reality, and voice, businesses are entering uncharted technological territory — one that is ripe with opportunity. Opportunity to really connect with customers and deliver personalized, real-time experiences. Opportunity to take advantage of your experience system of record, which combines effective data with impactful content to deliver these experiences.

But how should they take advantage of that to impact personalization and designing experiences, and what precautions should they keep in mind? That’s the question industry luminaries discussed on Monday at Think Tank by Adobe, produced in conjunction with the company’s annual digital marketing conference, Adobe Summit.

Ray Wang, principal analyst, founder, and chairman at Constellation Research, moderated the panel that included leaders from Microsoft, Accenture, Hootsuite, T-Mobile, Chobani, and more.

“Everybody saw AI as a big technology, and also mixed reality and making [it] important in terms of experiences,” said Ray. “Next, there seems to be a growing movement around personalization, data, and privacy. Last, on design-led thinking, people realized that this is an executive function.”

Ray commented that talking about customer experiences broken down into the topics of emerging technology, personalization, and design-led thinking helped get people talking about real problems.

Emerging technologies will augment, but not replace, humans

New technologies, particularly AI, augmented reality (AR), and voice will significantly drive productivity, the panelists said. But the job will be to enhance the work of humans.

“It will automate things where I’m not adding value,” said Wendy Steinle, head of digital experience and web strategy at Adobe. “What are the things that only I can do? I need to focus my time there — I think about AI in the same way.” Imagine, she said, creating a presentation, but instead of having to manually make changes to a text box or color, you could use AI, and interact with the interface via voice to create the slide, allowing you to spend more time developing the content.

“AI has a role in making humans better,” said Giles Richardson, vice president of digital journeys at T-Mobile.

When talking about the emerging technology of immersive media, the panelists agreed that augmented reality probably has the least amount of friction to adoption. “Everybody’s walking around with a cell phone that has AR capabilities,” said Jeriad Zoghby, global personalization and Southwest agency lead at Accenture Interactive. “Turning a physical store into a dynamic experience for you while you shop, that’s curated to me as an individual — that’s not 2030 — that’s like the next two-to-three years.”

Personalization is a necessity, but it must be respectful and ethical

Personalization is no longer an option, said Jeriad. “I watched the space go from interesting to ubiquitous.”

But as personalization further develops, the framework must shift from prediction to anticipation. Predicting a customer journey results in defining it, while anticipation means being ready to meet a customer’s needs at the time, he said. No one wants an Uber waiting outside their house before they call for it — “that’s creepy.” But we want one quickly available when we request it on our own terms, because that’s empowering.

As companies collect data, they also need to be transparent, Giles said. Customers should be able to know and control what information a brand collects. In addition, the sharing of that information should benefit them, not just provide companies with another way to sell products.

The group anticipates some form of regulation surrounding data privacy. Kelly Soligon, general manager of Microsoft Stores, thinks that being more transparent with consumers is the key: “What’s known about them, how it’s being used, and then letting them be part of the equation of how they want to be marketed to and exposed to things.”

Leland Maschmeyer, Chobani’s chief creative officer, sees consumers monetizing their personal data as one way to recognize the value in it. But consumers may not mind trading privacy for convenience, believes Penny Wilson, Hootsuite’s chief marketing officer. “Time is the other thing that is a luxury these days. To create a good experience for me is to save me time, get me to the end result that I’m looking for faster,” she said.

Design-led thinking is a cultural shift, not an action

Design-led thinking will require organizational changes, but it also will require leadership, said Khoi Vinh, principal designer at Adobe. “You need a champion,” he said. “You can’t have the cultural shift without a real human being championing it.”

Leland expanded on Khoi’s idea that this should be an executive pointing out the resources necessary to enact (rather than just symbolize) change.

“What people often confuse design with is the color of the drapes,” said Leland. “[They think] it’s always about some sort of aesthetic component to what’s going on. Design is the understanding and the implementation of desirable change. Basically you understand the ideal state that people want, you understand the gap between that state and where you are now, and you figure out how to build the bridge between the two.” Your design leader needs to be someone to lead a capability for implementing and marshalling resources to enact change.

Another part of the culture change for design-led thinking is ingraining the idea that everyone in the company is a designer, and making sure all employees are empowered to have a design-thinking mindset, said Malthe Sigurdsson, head of design at Stripe.

As businesses review different protocols for getting things done, such as design thinking, agility, and growth hacking, companies should keep in mind that many of these are complementary, Leland said, and a holistic, design systems-approach could be useful in determining how to coordinate various protocols.

This leads to the concept of prototyping being used throughout the organization, not just in product design, said Cecilia Farooqi, director of digital design at Equinox. “The concept of prototyping can be used in any part of the business. You can prototype service, you can prototype process, and then you’re not investing as much money into it before proving it out.”

The group also considered whether the customer knows best. “They know what they want and your job is to deliver what they want, but at the same time they don’t know how to get there,” said Cecilia.

The key in design-led thinking is finding the balance between developing what the customer said they want, what they might actually need, and what your business creates. “There’s a tipping point of including the customer, but not sacrificing your brand or your design principles,” added Kelly.

Companies must recognize the consequences of technological advances

Technology is assumed to be a good thing, Leland said, but with it comes philosophical, ethical, and fundamental questions that need to be debated.

Everything in our culture is connected, whether it’s social, cultural, technological, political, or economic, Wendy added. “If you make a change in one [area], it will impact the other. There are so many exciting things happening in technology today, but you have to be thoughtful of the downstream implications and plan for that to design the technological future the way we really want it to be.”

Visit the Think Tank by Adobe page to watch the full discussion, and see what people are saying on social with #AdobeTT.