Designing Technology for the Remarkable Human

August 09, 2016
By Andrea Sutton

I purposefully use my smartphone without a protective case, tempting gravity to pull it from my hands. I do this to remind me of my human senses. My finger can detect the subtle difference between the brushed silver surface of the phone and the highly polished logo on the back. It’s a stunning reminder of human sensitivity, and how good our interfaces have to be to control a Cloud and a Network.

Maturing design at a 130-year-old company

Design had to mature many times at 130-plus-years-old AT&T. One of my favorite stories that highlights design here happened during the 1933 World’s Fair. The AT&T design team needed to present technology of the time as a benefit to humans.

In 1933, that technology was the telephone.

They wanted to avoid static exhibits and dioramas. The team focused on live experiences to give the fairgoers first-hand knowledge of what it was like to communicate using this new technology. They could listen in on calls, talk long distance around the world and chat with AT&T employees who explained the human element of the communications industry.

With these remarkable exhibits, AT&T designers focused beyond machines and technology. They highlighted the life-changing possibilities technology could bring to the modern world. They created standout experiences.

To make great design take shape at AT&T, we have to do this again.

Complex technology in the hands of humans

When maturing AT&T design these days, we’re taking cues from our history.

“It’s not the cloud, but it’s the way the cloud makes life less costly, more secure and gives network engineers more freedom by tracking the health of their networks,” says Christopher Triplett, UX Architect on the Business to Business design team. “We’re empathizing with that guy, putting the customer back into the strategy for every tool we create.”

Our technology offerings go beyond communications. We’ve entered into entertainment, high-speed connectivity and networks on demand. We have to match these advances with the sophistication of our interfaces.

There was a time when it was okay for our customers to fill out detailed online forms to manage services. The forms triggered support teams. Then, the customer had to wait (sometimes days or longer) for a fix, a delivery or a truck roll to add a service.

Now, the speed and automation of AT&T tech services demands higher quality software products that puts power and control in our customer’s hands with automation. Creating the software tools to make this a reality is forcing a revolution. To conceive our products, we must begin with Design Thinking

Now, we’re using our customer’s viewpoint as the firestarter for concepts, the spark that ignites our design process and drives every design decision that we make.

We’re evolving our own brand of Design Thinking that puts the customer in the driver’s seat. Think about a network engineer who needs a streamlined tool to create a new network; or a college student taking DIRECTV back to school; or a mom trying to buy a phone for her 13-year-old.

“We are re-thinking every interaction and every experience – personalizing experiences for the most satisfaction and the best deal,” says Stacy Newton, leading many consumer design initiatives for

It’s in our DNA to think of humans first. 

Just as this trait lies in our DNA, it lies in our software’s DNA. This is underpinning the growing Design team inside AT&T’s Digital Experience Division, and giving us a seat at the worldwide conversation around enterprise design.

AT&T hasn’t always been thought of as a design leader. Though, design is a vital part of our history – helping people find that human connection to technology. It’s our future, too.

Andrea Sutton - VP Design & UX - Digital Experience

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