Apps & Humans Building Trust People Skills Time Awareness

Apps & Humans #2: Descendants of the Apps

In Apps & Humans #1, we talked about human personality traits that we can assign to applications.

This time we go in the opposite direction, identifying features specific to applications that we can reverse engineer and transform into desirable human behaviors.

What do we want from an app?

Using apps for so many years, we’ve developed certain preferences and expectations about them.

Typically, we want an app to:

  • Have a user interface that is intuitive, easy to work with, uncluttered by things we don’t use.
  • Be performant, allowing us to get the results quickly, with the minimum amount of effort from us.
  • Be compatible with other contemporary tools and technologies.

The user interface: interaction patterns

In human terms, our “user interface” is about how we present ourselves and how we interact with others.

It starts with how we greet each other: from a simple “hi”, we can perceive a message, which can be anything from “I’m happy to see you” to “I’m in a bad mood, leave me alone”.

When a problem arises and people need our help, do we simplify life for them, or do we complicate it?

In the workplace, we have many interactions and we depend on each other.

Confusius Media Player
A slightly confusing, non-standard user interface.

If our “user interface” seems too complicated or unpredictable, people will tend to avoid us when they can and won’t be so cooperative when we need their help.

We can choose to be “user friendly”.

The performance: reliability and productivity

Just as we want our applications to be fast and stable, others rely on us to respect our commitments and be mindful of their time.

We can focus on:

  • Negotiating realistic expectations related to what we can deliver.
  • Making the effort to deliver on time.
  • Notifying in advance those who are affected if we are unable to deliver what we agreed upon. This gives them some time to adapt and respond to the situation.
  • Being less of a bottleneck to others:
    • Responding to emails without too much delay, or at least sending a short reply with an estimation of when we can deliver a complete answer.
    • Sometimes we need to specifically ask if others are blocked waiting for our tasks to be finished. Human communication is never perfect and it’s useful to clarify this, especially for long running tasks.
    • Knowing when others are dependent on our tasks, we can adjust the priority (or discuss priorities with the appropriate people), so that the least time is spent waiting. It also helps to avoid deadlocks (two parties which are blocked waiting for one another to finish their tasks).
    • Keeping in mind that there may be additional tasks we need to take care of, like submitting timesheet information, participating in various surveys or training sessions within the company. These may sometimes seem less important, but they are part of our job too and some of our colleagues (e.g. from management or accounting) depend on us to deliver them on time.
  • Sharing valuable information that we already have to those who need it.
  • Preparing for meetings so that everyone’s time is used efficiently.
  • Doing our own research before asking for help, so that we don’t ask questions which we can easily answer ourselves.

The compatibility: adaptability and cooperation

Think about a game you enjoyed playing 10 years ago. If you would play it today you will probably still enjoy it, but you’ll realize how much things have changed, how some other games made better decisions in terms of user interaction, or simply how much the graphics capabilities have improved tremendously.

My point is, our knowledge may become outdated. I think we all need to allocate some time for learning, to keep up with changes in our fields of competence and to be open to other tools and technologies than the ones we are used to.

Another point is collaboration: we want apps to exchange files in various formats and be compatible with one another. In human terms, people are more likely to enjoy working with us if our collaboration style can accommodate theirs.

Conclusions and recommendations

Our go-to apps can simplify work for us by behaving in certain ways that we expect and appreciate.

By adopting some of these behaviors and pairing them with human qualities like humor or kindness, I believe we can make the workplace more enjoyable for everyone.

Apps & Humans People Skills

Apps & Humans #1: Personality traits of our software

“Apps & Humans” is a series of posts that explore the “symbiosis” between humans and apps, with the purpose of identifying patterns that we can apply in our workplace interactions.

Note: I use the term “apps” in a broad sense: mobile apps, desktop apps, websites and other software.

If apps were humans, what personality traits would they have?

My psychologist said that I have ADHDD and recommended more defrag sessions.

For this experiment, I will be using the Big Five personality traits (a.k.a. the “OCEAN” model) to reframe several behaviors of our apps in the context of human personality. This may provide insights into how our own personalities can promote frictionless interactions, just like well-designed apps do.

Openness to experience: inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious

The “O” in “OCEAN” stands for openness to experience and it is about the willingness to explore new ideas and seeking out new experiences. It is correlated with intelligence, knowledge, creativity and artistic interest.

Apps that “score high” in openness:

  • Can produce content by themselves: AI-powered apps, music creation apps and plugins, games that generate levels automatically.
  • Can be trained to recognize patterns with AI or by mathematical / statistical means: medical software, data mining tools.
  • Support a wide range of file formats: word processors, movie players.
  • Are a hub for user-generated content: social media apps, blogging and vlogging platforms.
  • Allow the user to be creative within the context of the app: games where player’s choices influence the gameplay for them and other users.
  • Can be customized with themes, plugins (addons) or some even allow source code modification: web browsers extensions, plugins for blogging platforms, games which allow mods.

Conscientiousness: efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless

Conscientiousness is the trait of hard work, reliability, of respecting rules and commitments.

I dare say that apps surpass humans in their ability to persevere and follow rules.

Carefully designed apps can:

  • Have user interfaces that are intuitively organized: streaming apps, modern tools.
  • Remind us of tasks we need to take care of: calendars.
  • Run automated tests to prove the quality of hardware and software: benchmark apps, QA automation tools.
  • Process large amounts of data without making mistakes: database tools.
  • Make us more productive by handling repetitive tasks: tools that allow executing scripting languages.
  • Produce predictable outputs: virtually any application.

Extraversion: outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved

The extraversion trait deals with enthusiasm and assertiveness.

Extraverts tend to be energized by human interactions, while introverts are perceived as being more reserved and reflective.

Apps provide desirable traits from both introverts and extraverts:

  • On the extraverted side, they can be entertaining, assertive and can usually do multiple things at once: games, streaming apps.
  • The introverted qualities of apps include the ability to work in solitude for long periods of time, lack of impulsivity and accurate reflective access to resources: data migration tools, benchmark software.

Agreeableness: friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/callous

People with high degrees of agreeableness are perceived as kind, warm, cooperative and conciliatory.

Unless intentionally designed otherwise, most apps tend to:

  • Display polite or friendly messages.
  • Cooperate with users and other applications.
  • Be compliant with rules.
  • Have no competitive, nor conflict-generating behavior towards the user.

Neuroticism: sensitive/nervous vs. resilient/confident

Neuroticism is a measure of sensitivity to negative emotions like anger, fear and anxiety. People with low levels of neuroticism have the ability to remain calm under pressure and have fewer mood swings.

The apps world is rather calm, as they:

  • Are immune to psychological stress.
  • Don’t get angry, sad or depressed.
  • Can “delay gratification” indefinitely.
  • Are programmed to display healthy amounts of “worry”: e.g. asking users prior to deleting files or alerting when available storage space is running out.
Testing the sound card in Warcraft II, a popular game in 1995

Conclusions and recommendations

From sending emails to making hotel reservations, there is an app for virtually anything.

Their “personality” makes them customizable, efficient, engaging, cooperative and resilient.

We can choose to bring some of these qualities into our workplace and enjoy the benefits of smooth collaborations.

Additional Materials – Wikipedia article about Big Five Personality traits. – (Free/Paid) Personality assessment website. My understanding is that they combine an adapted version of the Big Five Personality Traits with the acronym format introduced by Myers-Briggs. – (Paid) Personality assessment website created by a team of psychologists including Dr. Jordan Peterson.

Note: I am not affiliated with these businesses. I have personally tried both tests and found the results to be reasonably accurate for me.