How IBM’s Elizabeth Kiehner is Redesigning a Digital Future

by Cate Lecuyer Marian  |  05.17.2017

In the future will we sit in front of televisions with facial recognition technology that can queue up the shows we’re interested in? Will our cars become yet another device to connect online; will we live in a voice-activated world that we view through an augmented reality lens?

These are the types of questions that Elizabeth Kiehner, global design services director and chief of staff at IBM, seeks to answer every day. For two decades she’s led creative and design teams to produce ground-breaking ideas and game-changing digital platforms for brands such as Google, Viacom and General Motors, to name just a few.

Kiehner will keynote State of Design at PromaxBDA: The Conference, leading the session which pulls together some of the most compelling digital content from the past year, and examines where we are in design today in order to glimpse where we are heading.

“The dynamic nature of how things might look in the future is super interesting, and somewhat uncharted,” she says. “Or, it’s being charted now.”

Kiehner is on the forefront of that expedition.

She’s the co-creator of GM’s new OnStar Go offering—what the car company is calling the “first cognitive mobility platform” that uses IBM’s Watson learning supercomputer to plug drivers into connected services and pick up skills based on people’s patterns. For instance, it could pre-order a coffee for pickup from a drive-in window, or use listening habits to create a personalized radio station, according to TechCrunch.

From a media perspective, this creates a whole new channel that marketers can target with content and design creative. It adds yet another layer to what’s becoming a complex playbook of delivery options—from linear and streaming; to social media, mobile, live TV and virtual reality.

“Design will need to be much more flexible and robust,” Kiehner says. “Those platforms will continue to grow.”

It also speaks to the rise of augmented intelligence and the role it plays as the entertainment industry sees a growing trend of hyper-personalization. The future of design will rely heavily on human behavior change, and cultural philosophies on issues like privacy.

“When it comes to some of these future-looking user experiences, it’s understanding the fine line between what is a great user experience and when you start stumbling into a creep factor,” Kiehner says. “Because while you want to be served with a really personalized experience and you want whatever tech you’re dealing with to recognize and know you, you don’t want to feel too Big Brotherish either.”

So with that in mind, what makes Kiehner so sure society is ready to accept connected cars like the ones GM plans to roll out later this year?

“The thing about IBM is nothing we do here is theoretical, or hypothetical, I should say. It’s all very based on what data points we have to support it, what studies we have done.”

IBM interviewed 16,000 people from around the world about their expectations for cars of the future, and used that as a starting point. The company then created a proposal for what it would look like if you put their Watson computer in a car, packaged it up in a VR demo and shopped it around at automobile shows. GM was the first company to express interest and turn the concept into a reality with its OnStar Go platform.

As far as coming up with that next big, industry-disrupting idea, “using AI in some way should certainly be on your roadmap,” she says.

Media companies should also take a page from the financial industry and implement blockchain technology to stop content from being pirated.

And marketers in the entertainment world should also be experimenting with the consumerization of the ‘Internet of Things.’

“Thinking beyond the wearable that we may or may not use …

“Being able to create experiences beyond the television, and beyond what you’re doing online,” she says. “How can you interact with the brand in new and interesting ways out in the physical world?”

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