Technology’s dull, and we’re to blame

Session Title

Technology’s dull, and we’re to blame


Cennydd Bowles, Clearleft

Session Type: Presentation

Personality matters. It has profound effects on our social encounters — friendships, romances, careers — and can make the difference between a pleasant relationship and a regrettable one. But to learn about something as complex as someone’s personality, we need to spend time with them. It takes more than fleeting observation: only when we see how they someone copes with different situations can we begin to understand who they really are.

Since personality is always framed and affected by the world around us, behaviour naturally varies. It’s a celebrated part of being human — after all, if you behave the same in a nightclub as in a library, you won’t be invited out again.

But yet our technology is entirely tedious, and it’s designers who are to blame! For years we’ve been striving for consistency and predictability in all environments, forgetting that real life doesn’t value this monotony.

One way to make technology more interesting is through minor behavioural variance.
Introduce a dash of mercurial quirk (a mobile that loves going on rollercoasters, or software that adapts to your hungover state) and over time our users can form opinions about system’s underlying personality. This can lead the way to emotional, long-term connections between people and technology — and excitingly, we already have the jigsaw pieces we need to start this journey.

So instead of just making technology simple and reliable, perhaps it’s time to look beyond constant behaviour to the realm of personality. Clearly there are risks. The world doesn’t need another Clippy. But if we get it right, we’ll be designing systems that people genuinely care about — and that’s what this conference, and this session, are all about.

{Attached, an MP3 snippet of a lightning talk I gave on a similar subject. Note that time constraints forced the rushed delivery.}


Cennydd Bowles leapt into the mysterious world of user experience seven years ago and hasn’t shut up about it since. He’s now working for Clearleft in Brighton UK, while moonlighting as a UX mentor, community evangelist, speaker and writer.

Cennydd’s writing and design work has been published in influential magazines and blogs (including A List Apart, Johnny Holland and .net magazine), and he is co-founder of the UX London conference. He blogs at Ineffable and his previous clients include Gumtree, JustGiving, UpMyStreet and WWF.


  1. Posted September 16, 2009 at 7:14 pm
  2. Posted September 16, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Make that – oh, for an Edit button!

  3. Posted September 21, 2009 at 5:26 pm