In a recent talk, XF’s founder discussed the widening digital experience divide and how organizations can leverage AI to create more inclusive digital spaces for their users. In addition to the video (which we hope you’ll watch), we wanted to highlight key points from the talk and offer insights into Experience Futures' approach to tackling this challenge.
The Digital Experience Divide
We live in a world where 80% of internet users have unique digital needs. Whether it's Generation Z, older users, or people with neurodiversity and physical disabilities, the "average user" simply doesn't exist. This means that one-size-fits-all approaches to digital design are no longer effective. The digital experience divide has emerged as a pressing issue, encompassing aspects of design, access, content access, and cognitive access. This divide impacts everything from access to healthcare, finance, education, and more.
Tackling the Experience Divide with AI
The solution lies in harnessing AI to automate and tailor digital experiences to individual needs. This approach not only addresses the issue of inclusivity but also opens up new markets for organizations, driving growth, engagement, and loyalty. Our prediction is that in the coming years, digital experiences - including mobile sites, websites, apps, and content - will be largely generated by AI.
Experience Futures: Bridging Business Opportunity and Social Impact
At Experience Futures, we have a dual approach: our nonprofit focuses on education, awareness, publishing, and creating open-source tools to create more inclusive digital experiences using AI, while our for-profit organization helps companies design new digital experiences for their audiences and employees, aligned with their social impact goals.
Our challenges lie in finding the right way to pitch the intersection of business opportunity and social impact to various stakeholders in an organization. Is it growth for the CFO, employee engagement for the CHRO, or mission and purpose for the CEO? Our goal is to help organizations find the sweet spot where both value and impact can be realized.
Experience Futures Initiatives
- We are developing a process model that helps organizations strategically design and launch digital experiences while aligning business KPIs with social impact KPIs. This model focuses on ethical AI applications, and we are actively seeking partners to workshop this within their organizations.
- We are building the largest repository of inclusive design rules by combining existing guidelines and rules from various sources into a language model that can drive AI queries and content generation. This resource will be publicly available through our nonprofit and integrated into our product software products.
- Shift the mindset within your teams from "design for all" to "design for each". Recognize that unique digital needs require tailored experiences, and that automation can play a significant role in achieving this goal.
- Consider digital sustainability as a way to elevate your organization's ESG strategy. Look for opportunities to incorporate digital accessibility, AI ethics, and inclusive technology initiatives into your ESG goals.
- Embrace generative AI as a solution to engage with users on an individual level. This technology offers a unique opportunity to design for individual needs, but it requires planning and foresight to maximize its potential.
By addressing the digital experience divide and harnessing AI's capabilities, Experience Futures aims to create a more inclusive digital world that benefits all users. Join us in our mission to make this a reality.
Full Transcript of the talk:
Hi, I'm Howard Pyle, the founder of an organization called Experience Futures. And I'll tell you a little bit about that and what we do.
But first, I have a little bit of a dirty secret to tell you a little bit of a confession.
This is how I spell the word restaurant.
And I figured in a group of writers and esteemed communication executives, this is probably the most offensive thing that I could put up on screen. But it gets better. Here's four more times of me trying to spell the word restaurant.
This is how my brain is wired. My brain is wired differently.
My brain is wired around, not being able to really think through language and the way that we're supposed to think through language. And it's not uncommon. I'm crushingly dyslexic. And so is my son. And he also had a hearing issue when he was younger. So he has language and speech issues. He's 10. And it's interesting because I do a lot of work with him. This isn't my business, this isn't my profession, but I wanted to start here to tell you a little bit about what goes into the work that I do.
My background is I was a CTO, I worked in startups. I was a senior partner at Ogilvy where I worked on IBM. Then I went to IBM and I was a VP there and actually John Waters organization where I ran a network of design studios. I was Senior Vice President at MetLife; I ran Global Customer Experience Design and launched the Global Brand - the first new brand in 30 years, rolled out in 40 markets and, now - I resigned from that corporate job a few years ago, and I started a social impact organization called Experience Futures. I'm telling you this, and I'm starting with the fact that I have this intellectual disability.
And I've done these things not as a success story, but there's a different spin on this, there's this twist - to say that I have been able to manage, in a corporate setting as a knowledge worker, as someone who has to communicate, and has had to write 10s of millions of emails and presentations and documents, etc. Because - I have something that I would consider to be, a type of privilege that we don't talk about. I have a lot of different types of privilege. But this one in particular, is very important for us to talk about in our era.
I have digital privilege, which means that I can navigate through our email presentations, because when I was younger, somebody sat me down. Actually it was a couple of people, and showed me how to use early versions of Word processors, early versions of spell checkers. And I have, at this point, probably about half a dozen maybe a dozen different tools that I use on a daily basis even before generative AI and chat GPT and all that stuff, in order to manage and write emails - in order to manage and write presentations.
And still to this day, I will write an email, we use Google workspace. I will look at the Grammarly plug-in, it will go through it and then I've got the Gmail grammar checker, and then I'll take it and I'll copy it into Grammarly. Grammarly will catch things and, I'll copy and paste and send it - and I will still miss that I have the word “and” twice, or that I missed a verb, or that I completely spelled “there” totally wrong.
And as an executive. It's incredibly embarrassing. And it actually hasn't been until the past few years that I've talked openly about how that's there.
And here's the interesting thing - it's not uncommon. It's not uncommon. None of these things are. And so as someone who has built and created communications platforms, digital experiences, brands, software platforms. The one thing that we often get told is that there is a target user or an ideal user. And the thing I'm here to talk to you today about is that - the average user is not average. We're not an organization that focuses just on dyslexia or ADHD or diversity. We're an organization that's looking at this next era of our digital lives, and thinking about how to design for individual need. And that's pretty hard. That's a hard thing to do.
So 80% of Internet users have very unique digital needs. So here's what I mean by that. So if you think about Gen Z, there's a lot of articles out recently, and those of you that focus on workplace and workplace enablement - they don't have training on antiquated interfaces like Excel or Xerox machines. They don't know necessarily how to use the interfaces, they don't know what that little, that little floppy disk icon is. Right? They’re largely mobile-only users. Older users; users over the age of 55 have very specific digital needs they need to be designed for they need to be written for a specific ways. People with neurodiversity, people with physical disabilities need certain types of design and content presented to them so screen readers can access them and use them. And when you begin to rack these things up, you begin to see that there is no such thing as an average user. There is no such thing as a user that has the ideal set of you know, fire behavior, you know, common profile, ability to understand your design. And oh, by the way, your organization is struggling just to maintain that one digital presence, that one digital product and service. How are you going to manage that? How do you deal with that? That's like a problem that's too big to solve.
So I want to tell you a little bit of context here. This is a woman named Ingrid Johnson, she lives in Colorado. And there was a story about her trying to access government benefits in the state of Colorado, and it happened to be an employment, in this case. And in order to access this government website, they wanted to verify her identity. Great, it makes sense, government benefits, verify your identity. So they partnered with this other company - this platform to verify her identity. And the request was to upload a photo of yourself using your phone. But the instructions were vague, they didn't make sense. She had an older smartphone, she didn't know how to do it…
This woman spent two days trying to upload a photo of herself and ended up having to go into a virtual queue to chat with an agent to get verified over video, which took her seven hours. And so when you think about it, we have this crushing problem, where people who need digital access or digital resources are cut off from them, because they don't know how to navigate the digital tools in their lives. And this problem is widespread. And it's not just within government, it's within industry. And it obviously affects the way that we sell; it impacts the way that we engage employees. It impacts the way that we access health care, finance, and education. So this is a widespread, systemic problem. And as companies, both public and private, move to being digital-only, this becomes a radical challenge, and actually is about access. It's about large scale access.
We have a tsunami of digital tools. When you think about managing your healthcare, you've probably got dozens of different tools for insurance, for your doctors, health portals. When you think about managing your finances - think for a second - how many different digital tools do you manage your finances with? How many of them actually work on mobile? I had to answer a question yesterday for my accountant for tax season. And I was on the road with my son. And I only had access to my mobile phone. And the question that he asked me wasn't available to me by using the Fidelity app. Sorry, Fidelity if you’re here. I needed to know the signatures on a specific account. And it just wasn't part of their mobile app. But what if I'm a mobile-only user? So mobile-only users? Let's talk about that for a second. There's a huge correlation between mobile-only users and socioeconomic class.
The vast majority of people that live in households that make less than $30,000 a year are mobile-only. And by the way, 88% of them are non-white. So if you want to design for equity, then design for mobile-only. This is just one example. But how do you do this in a big organization? And this is what we would describe as the next layer of the digital divide - the digital experience divide.
And the academics talk about this as this idea of design, access, content access and cognitive access. Sure, you have a device, you have a computer, you have internet access, but you know how to use it? That's the era that we're entering into. So this is what we're focused on. We're focused on, as an organization addressing the experience divide. How do you give people access to the tools that they need when they need it? And we have to move away from this idea of - in every organization, we're designing for one user, that's our ideal target user.
This idea of one size fits all in digital spaces. Because it doesn't work anymore. It literally doesn't work anymore. So this is where the kind of big bombshell happens. And in this conference - sounds like you talked a lot yesterday about AI. And that's where the real that's where things really begin to change.
So here's the idea: if the average user is an average, and the majority of people have very distinct digital needs, and your organizations have a hard time keeping up with how to manage those things, right now, how on earth could you design for all these individual possibilities?
And the answer is, we can begin to automate different aspects of what different people need. So here is an optimistic, positive potential use case for AI. So if you think about it, there's actually the possibility of understanding what different abilities and different cohorts might need. So I'm an older user, I need you to explain to me why I have to give you my username and password. I only have a mobile device, I need you to present this particular screen to me in a way that I can use it on my mobile device. And if you begin to employ AI to generate different types of experience for different individual needs, not only are you beginning to address that, but you're beginning to actually open up your organizations to new markets, if you're a for-profit organization. And so there's this interesting question that happens, which is, if you agree with that, if you buy that hypothesis. And our prediction is that in the coming years, the digital experiences that we interact with the mobile sites, the websites, the apps, the content will be generated largely by AI.
There's both an imperative, which is for your organization to align that to your social impact guidelines, with your ESG goals, with your DEI values. But you also need to think about the opportunity there, which is opening yourself up to new markets, designing for individuals, driving loyalty, driving engagement with employees. So how do you do that? How do you think about matching that?
So this is, of course, the point at which I'm going to pitch my organization. And I'm literally asking for your help at this moment.
My organization is called Experience Futures. And we have two parts. We have a nonprofit, which is focused on education, awareness, publishing, creating data and open source tools for organizations to create more inclusive digital experiences using AI. But we also have a for profit organization that helps companies create new digital experiences, for their audiences, for their employees, aligned to inclusive goals aligned to their social impact goals, but in order to drive growth, in order to drive engagement, in order to drive loyalty.
So here's the question, and it's a genuine question for this audience, which is, “How do you pitch the intersection of the business opportunity and social impact?” Do you go to the CFO, then pitch growth? Do you go to the CHRO and pitch employee engagement? Do you go to the board and do you talk about social impact goals? Do you go to the CEO and talk about mission and purpose and aligning to that? And this is literally the question that we've been wrestling with for the past year and a half.
We started as a nonprofit, we began publishing, we began doing partnership work with organizations and we ended up creating a separate for profit just mainly to be able to go and sell to the people who need to be sold to and talk about influence and mission to the people who are willing to hear that message.
Because it's very difficult to have the same conversation in both. And as someone who's been an executive at Fortune 100 companies, I can tell you right now, the thing that I will always find is that there's, there's some people in the room that nod their head at the mission. And there's some people in the room that only nod their head at the dollars, and how do we bring them together? So this is the thing that I would ask in this session on influence. And I'm not asking you to quit your fancy SVP job at MetLife and go start a nonprofit. But I would say as influencers in your organization, there is a role, especially for communications leaders, in bringing those two points together. How do you help an organization link together, the idea of value and impact?
Now we do that in other areas, right? When we're thinking about ESG from a sustainability perspective and an environmental impact perspective. But where did that start? It didn't start because everyone in the organization suddenly began to believe that their organization needed a sustainable supply chain. It's when the CFOs began to agree that there would be market risk, and it would be valuable for the organization. So they were willing to invest in it. I mean, let's just be that's just the truth of it. Right? So how do you begin to play out this idea of equity in digital spaces? And I'll tell you, I've been in leadership positions, running design for large organizations where we've had multiple class action lawsuits, because of basic ADA requirements not being met. And when you look at it, there's a dollar problem there. How do you influence that? Do you go to your C suite and pitch them on both? Or do you just go to the business leaders and pitch them on the value? This is the question to ask about this.
So we have two things in our organization that we're focused on, that we're introducing.
One is a process model that helps organizations - it’s like the Higg index and sustainable apparel. And it's like the B Corp certification is this idea of going from strategy down through design, matching business KPIs and social impact KPIs, thinking about how you're applying AI in an ethical way, and launching digital experiences. And we actually believe that there's a way in that there's a need for organizations to have a standardized process model in order to think about how those goals and those values are linked. And we're actually in the process of rolling this out. And we're looking for partners to help us workshop this within organizations.
The other thing that we're doing is we're building the largest repository of inclusive design rules. So you can go to the WC3 consortium, you can go to most organizations, IBM, Microsoft, Google have published Accessibility Guidelines. There’s blog posts, there's rule sets created. We're taking all of that and we're building a language model that we can use to drive AI queries, and generation of content generation of design, by being able to access this large model of inclusive design rules. And we're going to make that publicly available on our nonprofit, but it's also part of the product, the product software products that we're building. And there's really three things that I want to leave you with.
One is that I did some advisory work on a big with a big tech startup last year, and their design team, their whole rally cry was “design for all”. And their definition of design for all was, start with ADHD. And I was like, Well, what about the fact that there's three types of ADHD? And what about how older people and people with ADHD don't actually have the same digital needs. And so suddenly, there's this shift that has to happen within your teams within your organizations that is not designed for all, it's designed for each. And that's an enormous problem. How are you going to do that without automation? It's a real question.
The second is this idea of digital sustainability. I guarantee you that somewhere in your organization you've got a team that's focused on digital accessibility that's focused on AI ethics, that’s focused on how you can make technologies more inclusive. That's like an easy win for your ESG strategy. How do you take those efforts and elevate them and report them out as part of what you're doing in your ESG goals to your board? That's a great opportunity. It's an easy win.
And the third thing is this idea of generative AI can actually be a solution for a lot of the problems that we have about engaging with people individually and it's actually there's an opportunity there to design for individual needs on that, but you have to plan for it. You have to plan for generative AI so with that I'll say thank you very much and I appreciate it.