Our theme this year is “Design for Human Behaviour”. The long arms of technological advancement are increasingly reaching into all aspects of our lives. And while the challenges that our billions of fellow humans face on a daily basis drives us as designers and engineers to provide valuable answers, we have to first be certain:
“Are we asking the right questions?”

This year Semcon Design Days takes a broad look at human behavior in the hopes of sparking an ongoing discussion that will engage all industries. What design insights can we gain from understanding our behavior? In what ways are our behaviours limiting us, either individually or collectively? What effects are our technological advances having on the behavioural landscape and in what ways can we expect it to change? Do we have the opportunity to consciously affect behavior through design, and what ethical dilemmas does that give rise to?

Behavioural Pathways

Today, we stand at the edge of a long and winding road: a road that has been paved with the innovations of those who have come before us. Through their efforts and ingenuity our lives have primarily been enriched and improved. And while we have much to learn from the successes that have led us here, we must not forget what lies beneath and supports the seemingly solid surface on which we stand. For every successful step forward, there have been countless stumbles backward and sideways.
It is only human to want to sweep our countless failures and scrapped ideas under the rug, but it is at the risk of losing valuable insight. The true failure lies in ignoring the lessons our mistakes can teach us. At Semcon Design Days, we will try to get inside the mind that would rather forget. We will examine the mechanism that allows us to miss the value of our failure.

As we gather behavioural data about our end-users and begin the process of tailoring solutions to their collective needs, there is a risk that we will be content with the knowledge that we’ve satisfied the bulk of the bell curve. But what about users who are categorized on the outskirts of what data decides is normal? Their needs are often critical, and can mean the difference between being able to or not being able to use the spaces, products, and services we create. Missing their needs is like not setting a place at the table for them. That is not who we want to be. That is not how we want to behave as designers.

Sometimes the constraints for the project don’t easily present an opportunity to directly meet all those needs. But sometimes it is our duty to push those constraints and argue for a more inclusive design. At Semcon Design Days we will discuss what roll we have as the voice of the end-users and how best we can be an advocate for their place at the table.

Not all of the behaviours we observe and exhibit provide us with inspiring data points. Whether on an individual level or as a species, there are certainly behaviours we would rather change. From tools of stone to digital phones, the innovations we have developed over the millennia have arguably had a significant impact on both our physiology and psychology.
Now, somewhere in the intersection of behavioural economics, psychology, industrial design, and interaction design we are understanding the building blocks of motivation and decision making and putting that to use. From smarter search engines to better recycling receptacles to fitness wearables to voice controlled homes, design for behaviour change can be a powerful force for good. But with great power, comes great responsibility.
How can we assure that the knowledge we gain translates to end-user benefits rather than economic manipulation?

The rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the internet of things is upon us. The power of cloud computing and neural networks are solving problems once thought too complex for computers to solve. Robots are overcoming previous barriers to real-world application with the help of an array of sensors and an ever-increasing understanding of how to react to the data they provide. The machines are beginning to think for themselves and indeed exhibit their own behaviour, but there is still much work to be done.
This year at Semcon Design Days we will discuss where we are in our quest to teach machines to understand, interpret, and imitate our behaviour. What milestones have we passed, what barriers are we breaking today, and what future behaviours can we expect to see?

And as we grapple with the task of understanding and affecting the behaviours of our end-users, we must be sure to look inward at our own organizations as well. There is a poignant, though often misquoted statement from Mahatma Gandhi:

”If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

How do we as organizations want our internal communication to work? What can we do with the space we work in to invite more creative collaboration? In which ways can we increase the possibility of an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving? This year at Semcon Design Days, we will talk about changing from the inside out.