»New worlds. New technologies.« My thesis at icon incar


My gateway to the big far world: ICQ

315148150 – I can still remember this number. It’s the number that connected me to the world just after I turned 13. It’s the one that enabled me to stay in touch with friends in the city, along with people in other countries and on other continents. Sometimes even with people whose face I had never seen before in real life.
I entered that number for the zillionth time. First a grey screen appeared, then a blue one and the last one was green. This number allowed me to run a website with thousands of visitors per month just in my early teen years, to lead a gaming clan and to keep contact with friends who lived far away.

A few months ago, I tried to use this number again but the account had been deleted. Not only the data was gone but also an identity. Even though all the data was gone, one noise emitted by my cheap computer speakers my bulky monitor, will always stay with me. Whenever I received a new message, it let out an “ahh ohh” – the signal to open ICQ.


Things have changed a lot since then. Cell phone contracts dropped in price, smartphones saturated the market. Big CRT monitors were replaced by sleek, light flatscreens and a computer’s processer, which back then kept cool thanks to a blaring fan in egg shell colored housing, is now an elegant black cylinder with blue edging that goes by the name Amazon Echo. Instead of a blaring fan, we hear a pleasant voice, which reminds us of the “ahh ohh” of times past, though the shape has changed.

In contrast, a smartphone lets out a “bobb bling”, checks in by vibrating quietly in our pocket or a computerized voice named Siri asks, “How can I help you?” Since we are no longer glued to the computer we have different expectations how we want to receive messages. Instead of sitting on the desk in front of the monitor we chat with friends over a glass of wine, watch a movie or bake with sticky hands.

Working as an intern, a graduating student and then a project manager

In April 2016, I set off for Munich to start my internship at icon incar. Enthralling projects, a foosball table, cooking and eating together and, not least, the great team, convinced me to stay longer at the agency than the six months originally planned. Luckily, at icon incar I had the chance to write my thesis for my Communication Design degree at University of Applied Sciences Darmstadt, so I delved into the project head first.

I researched, tested and fine tuned my thesis statement. I sketched, edited and thought hard about how we can make the future better. My topic was “New Worlds – New Technologies” and I concentrated on push messages in the context of smart homes. My research revealed that smart home users have mixed feelings about push messages. On the one hand, people are content to stay in the loop. Fear of missing a message has penetrated many people lives, which explains why many always have their phone nearby.

On the other, a phone buzzing or beeping as you juggle hot pizza boxes in one hand while digging in your pocket to find change with the other can be a nuisance. The problem today is that devices check in when they receive information. A text message, a reminder at a set time, or the fact that someone on YouTube, whose name you can only pronounce with a piercing voice, is live on Instagram. All this comes from the sender, but doesn’t actually involve the receiver.

Priority and do not disturb functions would get the ball rolling, with IFTTT and other services you can program automatisms. People already speak about “scenes” for smart home products. All this nods in the right direction, but if we take a step back and look at it as a whole, we obviously have only just begun. In a world in which everything is becoming smarter, the annoying “ahh ohh” will be replaced by an unobtrusive and agreeable butler who identifies the situation a user is in and decides if they should be disturbed or not. Until then, we will encounter the good old “ahh ohh” in various iterations.

Today, I’m a project manager at icon incar. After finishing my thesis, they offered me a permanent position. My answer, of course, was yes; I couldn’t turn down the chance to shape the future of user interfaces and user experiences.

Even though I don’t use ICQ anymore my smartphone still buzzes on my desk and the mail software is popping out a sound every now and then like it’s ten years ago. Times have changed but some things are still the same. We’ll see what the future brings and how we’ll receive new information. I’m excited to see what comes next.