Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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November 2005
11 November 2005

Philips Research testing prototypes at HomeLab

The new HomeLab allows Philips to test its new home technology prototypes in the most realistic possible way.

The research facility, which is located on the Philips campus in the Netherlands, is essential in speeding up the time-to-market for technological innovation.

Philips researchers carefully watch how tenants are living with these technologies 24 hours a day through tiny cameras, microphones and two-way mirrors that are hidden unobtrusively throughout HomeLab.

According to the scientists who developed Philips HomeLab, being able to study people in their natural home environment for long stretches of time will help them to develop better products, faster. It gives them a true sense of how people are interacting with technology beyond the initial “newness” euphoria, and the test subjects act naturally because they are in a comfortable home setting—not a stuffy laboratory.

Read full story

(Photo: Philips)

11 November 2005

People-centred innovation climbs the agenda

Rachel Jones of Instrata reflects on the recent “People-Inspired Innovation” conference organised by Chimera* at Adastral Park, Ipswich, UK.

When she was last year part of the DTI mission to the west coast of the US (see earlier post), she focussed on the integration of user research in the innovation and design process and looked at such companies as the BMW DesignWorks innovation group and Intel‘s research in China.

At the “People-Inspired Inovation” conference there were several new examples, including the smart mailer for SME’s that Pitney Bowes developed through user research, and BBC Creative R&D broadening innovation in a similar vein to Flikr by opening up data assets, providing tools and cultivating communities.

* Chimera is a spin-off of the University of Essex that combines the social and technological sciences to generate insights into personal and social use of information and communication technologies by understanding people; what they do, how they do it, and how this changes over time. They believe that only by doing this can we design and build successful products and services or accurately inform corporate strategies and public policies.

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11 November 2005

The Guardian on text messaging research

Men keep their texts short and snappy while women have seized on the mobile as a new way of expressing support and affection, according to sociologists at Sheffield Hallam University.

But the researchers [also] found that women also used the ubiquitous mobile to avoid awkward conversations.

One interviewee said it saved having to make excuses on the phone if you could just text and say you couldn’t go out with someone.

The study, led by Dr Simeon Yates, found that rules about mobile phone etiquette have yet to be set, meaning that what counts as polite and acceptable use of the mobile phone in public differs from person to person.

Read full story


11 November 2005

BBC organises innovation labs

As part of the process of opening up its new media production and development to independent producers, the BBC is collaborating with Creative London, ERDF Objective One, Yorkshire Forward, Screen Yorkshire, North-West Vision, and Unexpected Media on a pilot series of ‘Innovation Labs’ in February and March 2006.

The Labs are creative workshops in which interdisciplinary teams of professional creative technologists, application designers, software developers and interactive media designers will have the opportunity develop prototypes for innovative applications and services which could be commissioned by the BBC.

Read full story

10 November 2005

Business Week interviews Peter Morville on ambient findability

Business Week just published an interview by Liz Danzico (AIGA) with author Peter Morville on his new book Ambient Findability and on what it means to be able to find anything from anywhere at anytime, thanks to ubiquitous computing and the Net.

“Intelligence is moving to the edges, flowing through wireless devices, empowering individuals and distributed teams. Ideas spread like wildfire, and information is in the air, literally. And yet with this wealth of instantly accessible information, we still experience disorientation. We still wander off the map.

How do we make decisions in the information age? How do we know enough to ask the right questions? How do we find the best product, the right person, the data that makes a difference?

In Ambient Findability, Morville searches for the answers in the strange connections among social software, semantic webs, evolutionary psychology and interaction design. And, he explains how the journey from push to pull is changing not only the rules of marketing and design, but also the nature of authority and the destination of our culture.”

Read full story

10 November 2005

Growing up with the wired generation [The Guardian]

Being sent to your bedroom used to be a punishment: now it’s a teen dream. Through personal computers, mobile phones and gaming consoles, teenagers are spurning antisocial angst for a culture of “connected cocooning”.

It’s a phrase coined by music channel MTV to describe how the current 16-to-24-year-old “MTV generation” is permanently plugged into a network of digital devices, bringing the world to their fingertips in a way no previous generation has ever experienced.

Such limitless communication is having a revolutionary impact on the way young people interact, socialise, work and play. This tech-savvy teen tribe is united as never before, with the lonely search for identity set to become a vision of the past.

Read full story

10 November 2005

Arup on foresight and innovation

Chris Luebkeman, director for global foresight and innovation at the innovative top engineering firm Arup, talks in a series of short videos about foresight and innovation.

“Foresight is not crystal-ball gazing, it is not about predicting trends. Instead, foresight helps others frame their thinking about what might, what could or what would happen, given certain circumstances [and can therefore] help companies think about the future of their business.”

Arup’s foresight and innovation division encourages companies to think about global drivers of change, and how these could influence their strategies.

View Arup’s foresight site

(thanks, Jan-Christoph)

10 November 2005

Ease of use is key to uptake of mobile data services, suggests study

Ease of use determines take-up of mobile data services. This is the most prominent conclusion of the Action Engine Worldwide Mobile Usability Study, a first annual worldwide study on the usability of mobile data services and application delivery, as reported upon by Ann Light in Usability News.

When asked which factor most influenced their purchasing decision, 59% of respondents cited ‘Ease of use/Positive user reviews’ as their most important buying criteria, exceeding ‘Value for Price.’ For respondents based in Europe, this percentage rose to 95%, demonstrating the strong impact that usability has on product sales.

The study included participants located in various countries throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region. Survey questions were developed from the usability criteria defined in “The 7 Rules of Mobile Data User Experience”, a paper written by wireless industry specialist Elliott Drucker.

Read full story
Read Action Engine press release
Download results (pdf, 224 kb, 16 pages)

9 November 2005

Edification and commutation: canons for experience design

In his blog Total Experience, designer Bob Jacobson just wrote about the “canons” for experience design.

Canons are rules that define a profession’s ethics and by extension, the practice of the profession itself.

In his post, he proposes two canons for experience designers, motivations more profound than moving goods, selling politicians, or hyping destination resorts: experience design must edify and it must commutate.

Read full story

9 November 2005

Gel and euroGel 2006 announcement

A few months ago I wrote about the Gel and euroGel conferences in 2006. Mark Hurst just posted a partial line-up of speakers.

The euroGel 2006 conference which will take place on 1 September 2006 in Copenhagen, Denmark, features: Han Bennink, drummer and multi-instrumentalist, the Netherlands; Vuk Cosic, ASCII artist, Slovenia; Max Gadney, head of design & audience insight, BBC News Interactive, UK; David McQuillen, vice president customer experience, Credit Suisse, Switzerland; Christoph Steinbrener and Rainer Dempf, artists, Germany; and Jimmy Wales, founder, Wikipedia and director, Wikimedia Foundation, USA and Africa.

The Gel 2006 conference, scheduled for May 4-5, 2006 in New York features: Katy Börner, associate professor of information science, Indiana University, and curator of Places & Spaces; Geoffrey Canada, president, Harlem Children’s Zone; Seth Godin, bestselling author, entrepreneur and agent of change; Mark Hurst (the Gel host); Jane McGonigal, game designer and editor of Avant Game; Erin McKean, editor-in-chief, The New Oxford American Dictionary, and editor, Verbatim magazine; Craig Newmark, founder,; Douglas Rushkoff, bestselling author and thinker on new media and popular culture; and Cathy Salit, president and CEO, Performance of a Lifetime.

9 November 2005

British start-ups leading European innovation in the mobile phone industry [International Herald Tribune]

From wireless rat-catchers to search engines, from gambling specialists to e-mail developers, British companies are leading European innovation in the mobile phone industry, taking over the center of gravity in cellular entrepreneurship from the Nordic countries, many in the industry say and a new study supports.

The innovating companies are not the biggest on Europe’s telecommunications landscape – they are not the cellphone network carriers or the phone makers, for example. Rather, they are the entrepreneurs who are finding niches and building on creative ideas to feed a global market demand for more mobile services and features.

Read full story

8 November 2005

MIT’s Fab Labs unlocking imagination around the world [CNN]

MIT has established seven so-called Fabrication Labs in places as distant as Norway and Ghana. Each lab has tool sets that, costing about $25,000, would be out of the reach of most fledgling inventors.

Advocates of such “Fab Labs” think they have the potential to vastly expand the creative powers of tinkerers and usher in a revolution in do-it-yourself design and manufacturing that can mpower even the smallest of communities.

“If you give people access to means to solve their own problems, it touches something very, very deep,” said Neil Gershenfeld, an MIT physicist and computer scientist whose is among the movement’s chief proponents. “Somehow it goes back to nest-building, or mastering your own environment.

Read full story

8 November 2005

Experientia website now also in Italian

We just finished the Italian version of the website of Experientia, the new experience design company that I am a partner of.

Any comments from our Italian readers are more than welcome.

8 November 2005

Social networking in the banlieue riots

John Robb has been applying the analytic paradigm of shared, open source networking tools to urban warfare in his blog Global Guerrillas and has come to some highly original and thought provoking insights.

His latest comments on what is happening in the French urban banlieue these days are some of the best I have read on the issue.

Perhaps slightly outside of the regular scope of this blog, but definitely worth sharing.

8 November 2005

UK parliamentary secretary calls for customer-centric government services

Jim Murphy, parliamentary secretary at the UK Cabinet Office, recently gave a speech entitled “Towards Customer Centric Government: Strategies for Service Transformation“.

Reporting on this, Ann Light in Usability News is particularly struck by the section on relevancy: ‘We live in a world where the old political contract – between a deferential citizen and a paternalistic Government cannot deliver. We want a more grown–up relationship. We recognise the need for citizens to have both ‘choice’ and ‘voice’, Choice in how they use public services. And a voice in how these services are created around them. Choice to those whose voice is traditionally not heard in this debate.’

At heart of this new choice and voice is technology: ‘Thanks to IT, families, regardless of economic background, will be able to get the same level of service. And IT can help dismantles the barriers put up by producers and geographic environment. For example, The Citizens Direct consumer helpline and Web site creates a common process and single interface to trading standards offices across the country. A complainant gets service at the best level not just the level afforded locally.”

Read full speech

8 November 2005

First Italian Information Architecture Summit

The first ever Italian Information Architecture Summit will take place on 24 February 2006 in Rome and registration is free.

The main force behind this endeavour is the highly dynamic Emanuele Quintarelli, who has already confirmed me in an email that Peter Van Dijck, Peter Boersma and Luca Rosati will be presenting.

Although the main conference site is in Italian, I am sure that lots of information will be available in English, as Emanuele already blogged about it in English on his own site InfoSpaces.

7 November 2005

Reflecting on DUX 2005

Luke Wroblewski writes in his blog Functioning Form about his experiences at the recent Designing for User Experience Conference (DUX 05) in San Francisco November 4-5th.

He concludes that “user experience design, its methodologies, and terminology are now well established within many companies”. There was, he says, “a large amount of consistency across a wide range of speakers: they did ethnographic studies, they made wireframes, they ran usability tests, they had interaction designers in house, and so on down the line.”

But he argues for a strong design lead:

“What was missing for me were the “big ideas” that leapfrogged existing processes and broke new ground in digital product design. The role of a strong design lead with a product vision was only mentioned at the tail end of the closing plenary.”

7 November 2005

User interfaces for physical spaces

A couple of months ago I posted about a very exciting experience design case study by Marc Rettig and MAYA Design on work done for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

On Monday 12 December the Information Architecture Institute organises a workshop entitled “User Interfaces for Physical Spaces“, where you can learn all about how, in “working with the Carnegie Library to understand how digital, physical, and human aspects of the library converge, MAYA developed an information architecture that gives the library a framework not only for a single renovated space, but also for system-wide organisational change and ongoing evolution.”

Read all about the event

(Thanks, Peter Merholz, for pointing this out to me).

7 November 2005

Fast Company profiles fast cities

Fast Company and Richard Florida’s team just published a small report on up-and-coming hubs for creative workers–places that draw people who are talented, tech savvy and tolerant.

Ten of them are in the United States, another five elsewhere in the world. Read also how they came to this classification.

7 November 2005

Users turned off by mobile TV

Newly published research shows little interest among consumers for watching television on their mobile phones.

Fewer than one in five of the 1,500 UK consumers questioned in a recent poll said that they wanted to watch TV on their mobile phone, and 70 per cent said that they actively did not want to use their mobile for viewing such content. [...]

The research will be grim reading for Nokia, which has just launched its first handset designed for mobile television, and the media companies backing the technology.

Read full story

(Similar but shorter story in The Guardian)