The problem with putting the future in a box

To explain complex situations, we often need to simplify. That’s a given unless everyone around you has the same experience as you. Today I was looking at this chart below which shows the areas of application for wearable technology from Beecham Research. At first glance the chart makes a reasonable attempt to quantify where everything wearable can work (which would initially appear quite useful) but for me that’s where the bigger problem begins. These kind of charts which carry some level of  promise to unlock parts of the future by saying ‘where things fit’ but often fail to communicate the full story. In some ways this chart contradicts the point the broader research is trying to make (read more on that here).

Wearable Technology chart

The conventional world is obsessed with putting things into boxes that already exist. We inherently feel the need to evaluate something and rationalise it against something we already know and understand or relate it to our own challenges. The problem is when convergence occurs, the boxes break down and these charts become a difficult task to design and still look useful. Convergence is a critical word for the future – technology that never belonged together before suddenly merge and become something new and disruptive. Wind the clock back fifteen years, converge a phone, camera, internet and social behaviour – and you have something to tell the story still to come. But you won’t find a chart that tells this or predicts this story or Kodak’s future – just ones that say phones will have cameras and that people will connect with each other.

These charts don’t ask questions and won’t provide answers when a question is asked. Taking the chart above, what if someone created a glamour product which incorporated safety and communications? Those sections don’t belong together in the chart – they are bound to their box. The Internet of Things and wearable is not about technology working in isolation, but how it all works together once connected. It is about “what if”, not just “what”. The irony is that the original Beecham Research tries to talk about this, but then uses a chart that puts everything back in a neat little box.

Good visualisation can tell the real story without missing factual information. In my opinion it is often a story best told from the end user perspective for a subject like wearable tech in order to show how tech like NIR spectrometers such as the SCIO will be embedded in many different devices (not just scientific as spectrometers have been used in the past). It is important to show how they will change behaviour and impact industries in ways they have not anticipated and how things that never belonged together before will in the future. Perhaps a more fitting style of infographic might have been similar to this below which shows a complex series of themes and interrelationships, yet still allows the information to be digested easily.


Perhaps all research companies should consider how much more useful their information and findings could be if they collaborated with storytellers, artists, user experience designers?

Convergence is a critical part of the future to come. It is the  fusion of industries, technology, devices, places, people, behavior and things. Convergence does not fit in a single box. The more we try, the more the point gets missed.




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