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Putting People First

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1 September 2014

Pew Internet research: 15 theses about the digital future in 2025

future-internet-wordle

A canvassing of 2,558 experts and technology builders about where we will stand by the year 2025 finds striking patterns in their predictions, reports the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project.

In their responses, these experts foresee an ambient information environment where accessing the Internet will be effortless and most people will tap into it so easily it will flow through their lives “like electricity.” They predict mobile, wearable, and embedded computing will be tied together in the Internet of Things, allowing people and their surroundings to tap into artificial intelligence-enhanced cloud-based information storage and sharing.

These experts expect existing positive and negative trends to extend and expand in the next decade, revolutionizing most human interaction, especially affecting health, education, work, politics, economics, and entertainment. Most say they believe the results of that connectivity will be primarily positive. However, when asked to describe the good and bad aspects of the future they foresee, many of the experts can also clearly identify areas of concern, some of them extremely threatening. Heightened concerns over interpersonal ethics, surveillance, terror, and crime, may lead societies to question how best to establish security and trust while retaining civil liberties.

More-hopeful theses

  1. Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries.
  2. The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters more planetary relationships and less ignorance.
  3. The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data will make people more aware of their world and their own behavior.
  4. Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.
  5. Political awareness and action will be facilitated and more peaceful change and public uprisings like the Arab Spring will emerge.
  6. The spread of the ‘Ubernet’ will diminish the meaning of borders, and new ‘nations’ of those with shared interests may emerge and exist beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control.
  7. The Internet will become ‘the Internets’ as access, systems, and principles are renegotiated.
  8. An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.

Less-hopeful theses

  1. Dangerous divides between haves and have-nots may expand, resulting in resentment and possible violence.
  2. Abuses and abusers will ‘evolve and scale.’ Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, crime, and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others.
  3. Pressured by these changes, governments and corporations will try to assert power — and at times succeed — as they invoke security and cultural norms.
  4. People will continue — sometimes grudgingly — to make tradeoffs favoring convenience and perceived immediate gains over privacy; and privacy will be something only the upscale will enjoy.
  5. Humans and their current organizations may not respond quickly enough to challenges presented by complex networks.
  6. Most people are not yet noticing the profound changes today’s communications networks are already bringing about; these networks will be even more disruptive in the future.

Advice: Make good choices today

  1. Foresight and accurate predictions can make a difference; ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’
31 August 2014

Converting your home to LED lights is still a challenging user experience

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Switching to LED bulbs in your home is still a bit expensive, but makes a lot of economic sense – as you quickly earn your money back through a MUCH lowered electricity bill. Yet it is quite a challenge for most people.

I just successfully replaced 40 halogen and incandescent bulbs of the most varied fittings, sizes, lighting strengths and shapes. The new bulbs all fit and have the luminosity and color warmth that we want in our house. But I can only conclude that industry and retailers need to do a much better job at explaining the challenges and helping customers understand why to buy LED bulbs and what types to buy.

The first impression most people have of LED lights are usually the display racks in retail stores. The fact that LED lights sometimes come in the most bizarre form factors are off-putting if anything, while key information is largely provided in jargon (kelvin, lumen, fitting mount codes, etc.).

The next thing you might then do is go online and search for more relevant information, only to get lost in myriads of blog posts, tech jargon filled pieces, or product tech sheets. The best backgrounders I found – with some effort – are this one from The Guardian and one from the European Commission (in 22 languages!). Nothing much from industry, where websites focus immediately on individual products.

Then you have to figure out what you need in your house (or office). Besides the fitting mounts, the bulb sizes and the wattages, there are four key things to take into account:

  • Colour temperature: In short, the lower “K” or “Kelvin”, the better. For home use stay on or below 2700K for a warm white.
  • Luminosity or light strength: Commonly described in watt, but the most accurate value is actually “lumen”, or even better “lux”.
  • Dimmability: Some LED bulbs can be dimmed but it is usually never clear if you need a special dimmer for that or can do so with your regular dimmer – so trying out is the only option consumers have. Good luck.
  • Avoiding false savings: As The Guardian writes, “halogen bulbs use so much electricity for the light they produce – just feel their heat – that it’s a false economy to wait until they blow to replace them”.

Finally there is purchasing itself. Most DIY stores and electricity supply retailers limit themselves to the most common bulb choices. Special sizes and fittings are not that easy to find. You may want to buy online (which is what I ended up doing).

It is generally recommended to buy only products from reliable brands (Philips, Samsung, etc.), as there is quite some unreliable junk on the market. But these “reliable” brands may not have the exact fitting mounts, wattage or colour temperature you are looking for. It is also hard to find out what quality control the various retailers have in place, and what guarantees consumers have if a product is not up to par.

In all, this is not a trivial matter. If all homes and offices in a city would switch to LED, much less power would be needed in that city, and this would mean a significant impact on carbon emissions. Governments and media are starting to do their part in helping people navigate this.

Industry is lagging behind. Making the products is only part of the challenge. Guidance in consumer education and behavioural change is hardly addressed. It is a job for service designers and good writers/storytellers.

The industry or retailer that ends up doing that job well will gain quite a competitive edge in a rapidly growing market.

28 August 2014

How EU leaders can listen to the views of their citizens expressed on Twitter

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Vox Digitas
By Jamie Bartlett, Carl Miller, David Weir, Jeremy Reffin, Simon Wibberley
Report, 24 August 2014
ISBN 978-1-909037-63-2
Free download

Over the last decade European citizens have gained a digital voice. Close to 350 million people in Europe currently use social networking sites, with more of us signing into a social media platform at least once a day than voted in the last European elections. EU citizens have transferred many aspects of their lives onto these social media platforms, including politics and activism. Taken together, social media represent a new digital commons where people join their social and political lives to those around them.

This paper examines the potential of listening to these digital voices on Twitter, and the consequences for how EU leaders apprehend, respond to and thereby represent their citizens. It looks at how European citizens use Twitter to discuss issues related to the EU and how their digital attitudes and views evolve in response to political and economic crises. It also addresses the many formidable challenges that this new method faces: how far it can be trusted, when it can be used, the value such use could bring and how its use can be publicly acceptable and ethical.

We have never before had access to the millions of voices that together form society’s constant political debate, nor the possibility of understanding them. This report demonstrates how capturing and understanding these citizen voices potentially offers a new way of listening to people, a transformative opportunity to understand what they think, and a crucial opportunity to close the democratic deficit.

The report is the result of a project conducted by The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, a collaboration between Demos and the Text Analytics Group at the University of Sussex, that produces new political, social and policy insight and understanding through social media research.

The methodological reflections in the executive summary are a worthwhile read for any qualitative researcher, including those working in the corporate realm.

27 August 2014

Service design toolkit

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The toolkit for service design is an introduction to the methodology of service design.

With a simple step-by-step plan it offers you a practical do-it-yourself guide. The kit contains workshop templates, posters, a manual and technique cards, some of which can also be downloaded.

It is the outcome of a partnership between Namahn and Design Flanders.

21 August 2014

E-Government for the post-2015 era: the usage perspective

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E-Government for the post-2015 era: the usage perspective is the title of the 7th chapter of the recent report “United Nations E-Government Survey 2014 – E-Government for the Future We Want“.

The chapter outlines the current situation of e-government usage, particularly the efforts made by the 193 United Nations Member States. It examines various e-government service channels (including mobile and social media), service channel mix and management in a multichannel world, exploring effective channel management strategies (with good opportunities) to increase e-service uptake. The chapter also looks at selected issues related to e-government service usage in several critical areas which can generate high returns for sustainable development, along with good practices; and provides concluding observations, with some policy suggestions on increasing e-service uptake.

The report was completed in January 2014 and launched in June 2014.

20 August 2014

Facebook uses ethnography to deliver more relevant ads

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“As researchers focusing on Facebook’s advertising, we led research trips with a cross-functional team of product managers, marketers, and engineers to Indonesia, Turkey, and South Africa to develop a solid understanding of cultural differences across these countries. [...] Forming a richer understanding of how businesses and people connect with each other—both on and off of Facebook—around the world works will help us develop better ad solutions that drive a positive feedback cycle: we will make better experiences for the people who use Facebook and for the businesses and brands who want to connect with their core customers and prospects.”

Read more here.

19 August 2014

Consumer Insights: The Music Experience in 2014

MusicPhoto

Today, music is as emotionally relevant as ever – and consumers have a myriad of ways to experience it, from streaming and downloading to live concerts and more. Thanks to social media, fans also have unprecedented access to their favorite artists.

Given these changes in the music landscape, the Music Group, which includes MTV, VH1 and CMT, conducted research into the “Music Experience,” taking a deep look into the ever-evolving process of discovering and obtaining music among teens, 20- and 30-somethings, as well as what the fan-music-artist connection looks like in 2014.

The study is based on a quantitative survey with more than 1,200 participants 13-40 years old; “blographies” with 34 participants; secondary research; as well as check-ins with proprietary panels and Facebook groups.

Key findings here.

16 August 2014

How to conduct design research for home healthcare devices

healthcare_device

As healthcare shifts from the hospital to the home, design research must also morph to keep up, writes Shana Leonard.

Who is the typical user of your medical product and what is the use environment? These used to be easy questions for medical device companies to answer. But the increasing shift in healthcare from the hospital to the home has many designers scratching their heads in response.

As the industry adapts to serve these new stakeholders, the focus on user-centered design, observational research, human factors engineering, and generally designing with the user in mind is becoming increasingly critical in order to ensure compliance, minimize risk, and promote market adoption. Designers must be creative and nimble in the face of these complex new challenges.

16 August 2014

How Wells Fargo learned to innovate around the customer

steve-ellis

Wells Fargo, the world’s most valuable bank, learned to innovate around the customer.

In 1999, Steve Ellis, who runs the bank’s wholesale services group, went to a conference where Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems described a completely new era of digital banking that would unfold over the next decade. Nobody else seemed impressed, but Ellis was transfixed. For him, it was an epiphany.

Ellis realized that technology could be used to make the customer’s life easier, streamlining processes to enhance user experience, but he also knew how “customer is king” initiatives could easily devolve into useless platitudes. He wouldn’t find answers in boardroom discussions, but would need to look beyond banking for insights.

So Ellis immersed himself in Internet culture and eventually hit on ethnography techniques, which ha been commonly used in consumer products companies like Procter & Gamble, but were completely foreign to the banking industry. At first intrigued, then excited, he sent his team for training at nearby Stanford university to learn how to perform ethnography studies.

It seemed to be exactly the answer he was looking for. Instead of having executives brainstorm in the corporate offices, they would get out and observe customers as they navigated often confusing banking routines. As they uncovered problems and experienced frustrations first-hand, they could devise solutions.”

16 August 2014

Leveraging ethnography to improve food safety

supermarket

Carolyn Rose explains how ethnography can be used to improve food safety:

If done correctly, ethnography leads to a holistic and unbiased understanding of current practices and the motivations that drive them. Looking specifically to learn the existing challenges, workarounds, deviations and drivers within an interaction, task or activity, we are able to identify opportunities for process-based improvements. Such opportunities can ultimately take many forms, including new work flows, tools and/or techniques. For example, identifying specific areas of noncompliance might lead to new safety training protocols, while identifying comparatively labor-intensive or time-consuming tasks might lead to the implementation of alternative technologies/automation aimed to mitigate bottlenecks.

As such, ethnography can be a critical first step in evolving food safety practices. With a sound understanding of current practices and the real needs and challenges therein, we can make informed and targeted process improvements aimed to optimize efficiency, quality, ease of use, consistency and safety.

12 August 2014

The Internet of Words

internetofwords

In his review of the recent books by Alice E. Marwick and danah boyd, Ted Striphas focuses on how they guide us in understanding how the internet is affecting our language as it expresses our social experience.

“There has been a lot of speculation about social media and what it does to us individually and collectively. But now we’re beginning to see a new generation of writers who are conducting extensive ethnographic research about how people use these and other digital tools. Alice E. Marwick, author of Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age, (Yale University Press, 2013) and danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (Yale, 2014) are among the finest interpreters of the technological changes we have been experiencing. They point to the first decade of the 21st century as the time when, in the wake of the dot-com bust, the tech industry rebooted around social media. And they chronicle how people are coming to navigate a world dizzy with opportunities for self-presentation and interaction online. Along the way, they manage to defuse some of the panic surrounding recent changes, taking aim at concerned parents, plucky teens, hurried journalists, aspiring celebrities, hopeful entrepreneurs, and others who simply assume social media is either a ticket to the big time or an express elevator to hell.”

Ted Striphas is an associate professor of communication and culture at Indiana University at Bloomington. He is the author of The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture From Consumerism to Control (Columbia University Press, 2009).

12 August 2014

White House launches UX-focused Digital Service team

WhiteHouse_Logo

Yesterday, the White House formally launched the U.S. Digital Service.

“The Digital Service will be a small team made up of our country’s brightest digital talent that will work with agencies to remove barriers to exceptional service delivery and help remake the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government.”

The Administration also released the initial version of “a Digital Services Playbook that lays out best practices for building effective digital services like web and mobile applications and will serve as a guide for agencies across government. To increase the success of government digital service projects, this playbook outlines 13 key “plays” drawn from private and public-sector best practices that, if followed together, will help federal agencies deliver services that work well for users and require less time and money to develop and operate.”

It is nice to see that the first item in the Digital Services Playbook — Understand what people need — is identical to the first item in the Design Principles heralded by their British counterpart, gov.uk – start with needs.

So after Gov.uk, we now have the U.S. Digital Service, both with a major emphasis on user experience and user research. Which country will follow next?

12 August 2014

UX without user research is not UX

 

UX teams are responsible for creating desirable experiences for users. Yet many organizations fail to include users in the development process. Without customer input, organizations risk creating interfaces that fail, writes Hoa Loranger of the Nielsen Norman Group.

“User experience cannot exist without users. Creating user interfaces involves intricate and complex decisions. User research is a tool that can help you achieve your goals.

Even the most well thought out designs are assumptions until they are tested by real users. Different types of research can answer different types of questions. Know the tools and apply them accordingly. Leaving the user out is not an option.”

8 August 2014

Dropbox’s Head of Design on the dawn of personalized products

Cuervo

Soleio Cuervo, design lead at Dropbox, spends his time thinking of new ways for products to understand our needs and wants in real time.

After years of firsthand work and observation, Cuervo has seen four ingredients emerge that power personalized products. At First Round’s recent Design+Startup event in San Francisco, he explained each one and how newer and smaller companies can put them together to not only build great products but accelerate progress for everyone:

IDENTITY – The takeaway for startups is that you should actively manage people’s identities in ways that encourage the behavior you want — whether it’s getting people to buy something or converse more with each other or share media. The features on your roadmap should bring out these aspects of your users’ identities whenever possible. And if engagement is your goal, your product should take cues from how people are organically identifying themselves on your platform.

GRAPHS – Just like people have a variety of identities spanning the digital world, they are also members of a growing number of groups, communities and networks that may have nothing to do with the people they know in real life. They belong to interest groups, follow celebrities, connect with professional contacts, tap into media sources for their news, and more. All of these systems of structured relationships act as graphs that can be used to deliver tailored experiences to individuals. As an entrepreneur, you want to select the graphs that make the most sense for your product.

CONTEXT – The new wave of innovation will be all about presenting the right information at the right time given the context of relationships, location, and device. Startups and apps that can filter people’s huge influx of information in a way that seems natural are set up to succeed in today’s climate. Startups looking to launch personalized products should fix their sights on how tasks and needs vary across different devices over the course of a given day.

BEHAVIOR – Don’t be afraid to be opinionated about how your users should behave. You’ve created a product to get them to do something. Get them to do it. “Be purposeful when it comes to driving a particular type of behavior — have a very strong viewpoint about how people should be using the service you’re providing.”

Cuervo’s final development tenet: “Remember that you’re not competing against other services. You’re competing against people’s habits. The companies that are truly out there disrupting things are the ones that drive a wedge into people’s habits. They say things like, ‘You used to walk out to the street to flag a taxi down. Now with Uber you can hail a car from your desk, so break that habit of leaving the building.’ As you’re creating your product, always be thinking about what people currently do and how you can very purposely create a new set of habits around your service. That’s what retention is — helping people build a routine around the utility you provide. Successful tech companies are built on new habits they helped form.”

8 August 2014

Can technology really change your habits?

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Downloading an app won’t get you to change your habits. Vivian Giang writes on the science of what will.

“There are three kinds of behavioral changes, according to Arun Sundararajan, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business whose research program focuses on how information technologies transform business and society:

  • The first includes changing behaviors that you learned through experience, such as the way you manage your time.
  • The second involves retraining your biomechanical system to behave differently, such as not pressing the breaks constantly while you’re driving.
  • The third has to do with physiological behaviors such as smoking and exercising.

The behaviors that have the highest chance of changing even after app usage are the second and third. Why? “Because they’re not changing you. They’re training you to do something differently, so once you’ve trained yourself, you can stop using [the app],” says Sundararajan. When it comes to learned behavior (the first one), there’s a greater chance you’ll revert back to your old behavior after using the app.

If the app only changes your reaction to feedback, such as reprimanding you for checking your social media, then there’s a good chance you’re only changing your behavior because you’re using the app. When it comes to changing, Sundararajan says your best bet is to not put too much stock in the digital and technology.

“Over the last decade, we’ve started to overestimate the power of technology and we reduce the importance of things like community,” he says. “A big part of behavior change has to do with changing the environment that you’re in and changing the interactions that you have with people.””

8 August 2014

No time to think

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Nowadays, people can keep negative thoughts at bay with a frenzy of activity. Kate Murphy writes on the consequences in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times.

“You can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head. [...]

Suppressing negative feelings only gives them more power, leading to intrusive thoughts, which makes people get even busier to keep them at bay.

Studies further suggest that not giving yourself time to reflect impairs your ability to empathize with others. “The more in touch with my own feelings and experiences, the richer and more accurate are my guesses of what passes through another person’s mind,” said Giancarlo Dimaggio, a psychiatrist with the Center for Metacognitive Interpersonal Therapy in Rome, who studies the interplay of self-reflection and empathy. “Feeling what you feel is an ability that atrophies if you don’t use it.”

Researchers have also found that an idle mind is a crucible of creativity. A number of studies have shown that people tend to come up with more novel uses for objects if they are first given an easy task that allows their minds to wander, rather than a more demanding one.”

3 August 2014

The psychological and cultural fallout from the end of privacy

Privacy illustration

Alex Preston explores the personal, psychological and cultural impact of the end of privacy in today’s Observer:

Here lies our greatest risk, one insufficiently appreciated by those who so blithely accept the tentacles of corporation, press and state insinuating their way into the private sphere. As Don DeLillo says in Point Omega: “You need to know things the others don’t know. It’s what no one knows about you that allows you to know yourself.” By denying ourselves access to our own inner worlds, we are stopping up the well of our imagination, that which raises us above the drudge and grind of mere survival, that which makes us human.

I asked Josh Cohen why we needed private lives. His answer was a rallying cry and a warning. “Privacy,” he said, “precisely because it ensures we’re never fully known to others or to ourselves, provides a shelter for imaginative freedom, curiosity and self-reflection. So to defend the private self is to defend the very possibility of creative and meaningful life.”

31 July 2014

The importance of user-focused research in medical device design

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“The human factors activities that deliver safety and effectiveness [in medical devices] do not necessarily deliver a good user experience or, ultimately, a good product,” argues Martin Bontoft in MDDI.

In fact, he writes, “some industry experts have observed unintended consequences of regulating human factors and design: Regulated activities can crowd out unregulated efforts to improve device design, and consequent increases in safety and effectiveness may be at the expense of user experience. In other words: The device is safe, but would anyone actually want to use it?

“The best approach is to conduct user-focused research in conjunction with device-focused user research. Design research includes a range of techniques that provide insights about people—not just users—and that do not require, or even presume, a device. This approach yields evidence that is likely to be relevant to device developers, but it is also relevant to a wider range of stakeholders. It will tell you, for example, not only whether people are likely to want your product, but why or why not, input that is essential to good product development.

Techniques inspired and informed by ethnography, such as contextual inquiry and design ethnography, are key to successful user-focused research. Both of these ethnographic field research methodologies seek to understand and explain—and thereby predict—user behavior, even though that behavior may seem inexplicable and even irrational. However, contextual inquiry best describes the research activities focused on people in a specific context of use, such as an operating theater or with a legacy device, such as an injector. Design ethnography, on the other hand, is slightly more open-ended, less focused on an existing context, and more likely to look obliquely at peoples’ existence, perhaps because the device or context of use is so new.”

28 July 2014

On the importance of forgetting

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The ongoing debate about Europe’s so-called ‘right to be forgotten‘ ruling on search engines has shone a light onto a key pressure point between technology and society. Simply put the ability of digital technology to remember clashes with the human societal need to forgive and forget, writes Natasha Lomas in a thoughtful piece on Techcrunch.

“There’s a problem with total recall. It doesn’t allow us as a society to forget. And that means, paradoxically, we lose something. Perfect memory engenders individual paralysis — because any legacy of personal failure is not allowed to fade into the background. And individuals are not, therefore, encouraged to evolve and move on.

Total recall shuts us down. It encourages conformity and a lack of risk taking. If trying to do something results in a failure that follows you around forever then the risk of trying is magnified — so maybe you don’t bother trying in the first place. It’s anti-creative, anti-experimental, even anti-entrepreneur.” [My emphasis]

“What’s needed, she writes, “are more creative approaches to the storage of information about private individuals.” She adds: “This is not about deleting knowledge or censoring/sanitizing behaviour; it’s about being appropriately sympathetic to the ephemeral character of (human) memory — which, being flexible rather than rigid, allows individuals and societies to move on.”

27 July 2014

Applying insights from behavioral economics to policy design

 

Applying insights from behavioral economics to policy design
Brigitte C. Madrian
NBER Working paper
July 2014

The premise of this article is that an understanding of psychology and other social science disciplines can inform the effectiveness of the economic tools traditionally deployed in carrying out the functions of government, which include remedying market failures, redistributing income, and collecting tax revenue. An understanding of psychology can also lead to the development of different policy tools that better motivate desired behavior change or that are more cost-effective than traditional policy tools. The article outlines a framework for thinking about the psychology of behavior change in the context of market failures. It then describes the research on the effects of a variety of interventions rooted in an understanding of psychology that have policy-relevant applications. The article concludes by discussing how an understanding of psychology can also inform the use and design of traditional policy tools for behavior change, such as financial incentives.

Brigitte Madrian is the Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management at the Harvard Kennedy School.

[HT Emile Hooge]