Designing Positive Technology with Pamela Pavliscak of Change Sciences
Pamela Pavliscak has founded much more than a company, she’s founded a movement. Officially, Pamela is the founder of Change Sciences, a UX research and strategy group focused on developing tech in positive ways. Unofficially, she’s leading the industry in understanding emotional intelligence in the digital age and creating positive tech.
While Pamela comes from a family of engineers, she was always the odd one out. In college, her interest was in language, literature and cultures. After a long trip to Russia in the mid-90s, Pamela was struck by how different technology was between Russia and the United States. From there Pamela studied human computer interaction at the University of Michigan. “It was an eye-opening experience,” Pamela related, “Combining my love of people and culture with tech.”
With her newfound interest in technology, Pamela started experimenting with everything. She found the research piece of technology suited her humanities background and dove right in.
“As important as it is to the development of tech to have men and women coding and designing, we also need to keep diversity in backgrounds.” Pamela shared. It’s clear her own unique background has led her to create an equally unique company and lead a novel movement towards positive technology.
“I’m an optimist about tech.” Pamela said, “We’re doing good things making life easier or better.” When you listen to the news that’s not always what you hear. There are hundreds of articles detailing how we’re getting addicted to technology and how it’s getting people off track.
Pamela had her own realization about the negative impact of technology. She remarked, “I listened to thousands of people in diaries and interviews and I started to see they were becoming miserable.” Instead of viewing technology as a bad thing she asked herself, “How can we move this in a different direction? What if we could study the good things in technology?”
These questions led Pamela to where she is today, empowering companies think about the emotional connection their audience has. “When I started, I was a happiness ignoramus,” Pamela admitted. She hadn’t been listening to TED lectures or reading books on happiness, but when she did turn her attention towards this area, she realized she could use the same theories to develop positive tech.
For 10 years Pamela has worked with companies to tell stories and have a more positive impact on their customers. While in the past her work with Change Sciences has been focused on short-term goals, her work is about to take a major turn. “Our focus in on long-term values, helping companies look at collective wellbeing, making a positive impact on the world.”
Pamela explained, “Tech is super-fast and it’s not sustainable. Where is that going to put us in the long term?” With Change Sciences, Pamela is shifting the design process from just behavioral to emotional.
Describing this shift, Pamela said, “We’ve learned so much about happiness, but only so much has been developed in technology. Delight is fleeting. Rather than look at design of tech as in the moment, we need to see it as supporting wellbeing.”
Pamela used the example of internet ads to explain the principle. These ads only know our past behaviors. They tell us who we were based on our clicks, follows, and shares, but they don’t know who we are now. “What we really want is for technology to know us and grow with us, to participate in the state of becoming and evolving.” Pamela commented.
“There’s a safe place where technology knows us and doesn’t exploit us.” She observed. The mindful tech researcher believes that this is the core frustration with tech, that it doesn’t know who we are as we evolve.
How to Make Technology More Positive
With numerous movements in technology to design with greater humanity, Pamela acknowledges that there isn’t just one way to do it. “It’s a shift in thinking. Rather than just thinking about solving a problem, we need to move beyond neutral to thinking about possibilities.” Developing positive technology is something that we can all do and something we all need to do.
“People will evolve your technology whether you like it or not.” Pamela explained, “Start having conversations about what values we are building towards.” While it’s important to work towards more engagement and more conversions, Pamela emphasizes the importance on building values and creating measures of success for those values in our design.
Creativity, wellbeing, security are a few of the values the founder mentioned. “We don’t need a fancy methodology,” She remarked, “So many great frameworks are in place, why can’t this become part of the process?” Pamela teaches us that making technology more positive is as simple as thinking about our values and creating with greater intention.
“There is no real life and digital life. It’s all life. We can’t step away from technology for a weekend and come back magically balanced.” In all her studies of how tech impacts wellbeing, Pamela found common practices with tech that made people happy.
One of these key practices is to use technology to enrich experiences. “Recent research has shown that if you Instagram a photo of your food, you’ll enjoy it more. You’re savoring the moment.” Pamela shared. Sharing our experiences digitally offers us the opportunity to choose how we tell our story. We extend, enrich, and build new layers of meaning into our experiences as we document them virtually.
We can also interact positively with technology by building self-awareness. “What we want is when tech seems to get us in all our complexity. Those moments are really rare. Tech usually reduces us.” The next steps in chat bot development and every other area are to design tech that understand us.
A huge part of flourishing with technology involves human relationships. Pamela has great ideas about how we can reverse the trend of isolating tech. “Tech is a jumping off point. We strengthen relationships by co-using tech, playing games together, staying connected on Facebook.” Pamela shared. The founder related her own experience catching up with a group for friends and bypassing awkward small talk thanks to having stayed in touch virtually.
The Non-Existence of Failure and The Reality of Working in Tech
“I don’t think about failure.” Pamela said, “Every day there are challenges.” It seems like the founder’s point of view that failure doesn’t exist might have a big impact on her ability to move forward from challenges.
When asked to share a failure, Pamela told By Geekgirl, “When I started I wanted to balance personal life and meaningful work. My biggest failure was when I thought it would be a really good idea to have an office again. I soon realized it was making me and my employees unhappy.”
Change Sciences is all about flexibility. “The regular 9-5 didn’t work and it was a very painful and quite expensive lesson to learn. Now we’re back set up more virtually, but I go through phases where I forget.”
Pamela explained how it’s not so easy to stay on track with your focus. She related, “I get offers to buy us out or join a company, but I have to be true to myself and the culture I created around flexibility.”
Working in a male-dominated field is something Pamela doesn’t really like to think about. “When I started in the mid to late 90s, I never thought it would be an issue,” Pamela shared, “I’ve just proceeded with that principle and started a company. Why not? I scaled back when my kids were younger, of course. There are unpleasant things that have happened along the way, but I’ve bulldozed right through them.”
To get to a place where women are comfortable and celebrated in tech, Pamela thinks that we need to change the way we think. “How business is done, how the environment is constructed, how companies are funded, we need to start thinking of new models rather than incremental changes.” The founder pointed out. The issue of inequality may be in the way things are done and the way we’re taught to think.
Pamela has three daughters and while the youngest appears to be aiming for presidency, her other two have shown interest in technology, so it’s no wonder that she’s thought a lot about what advice to give upcoming women in tech.
“Know that your voice and your point of view is vital to technology,” The founder advised, “We have to bring diversity to the field. There are apps touching millions of lives designed by a small segment of the population. Things are going to be missed.”
To women in the field, Pamela urged, “Take leadership when the chance comes. There’s value in working with a team and mentoring and women take these things seriously. They’re often less apt to take the leadership role.”
Pamela inspires women in tech to think differently and act on observations. With her book, Designing for Happiness, coming out with O’Reilly next year and more on the way, she’s definitely one to keep in touch with. Follow Pamela on Twitter or Medium to stay updated.
What movements do you predict will change the future of technology?
Will tech become less visible and more integrated, be designed to make us happier, or change in a way that few have thought of? Share your predictions with your fellow Geekgirls in the comments below.