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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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December 2005
31 December 2005

User-driven innovation in Danish industry

Fora_innovation
FORA, a research and analysis division under the Danish Ministry for Economic and Business Affairs, has just issued three industry reports on user-driven innovation, and a general report summarising the results and recommendations.

This final report recommends that better research and education in knowledge and skills related to user-driven innovation be implemented. Furthermore, the report recommends the establishment of dedicated knowledge centres that can facilitate co-operative efforts with companies in analysing customer demands.

Read (English) summaries and download (Danish) reports:
- Synthesis and recommendations
- Danish electronics industry
- Danish medical device industry
- Danish fashion industry report
- Danish fashion industry survey

(via CPH127)

30 December 2005

GIS technology and the end-user experience

Gis_user_experience
GIS is a technology, not a business process. As a result, taking GIS into the field by itself creates a number of potential challenges. Applications can be too slow, with learning curves that are too steep for rapid acceptance among end-users.

To ensure a successful transition, utilities will likely need to implement GIS with integrated field design. When considering your options, it is important to focus first on the end-user — not the solution itself.

New tools for field users should be easy to operate — preferably easier than accepted methods. The ideal field design solution incorporates all the information and functions needed to complete the job — such as work orders, specifications, GPS data, design tools, and maps — in an intuitive interface.

Read full story (EnergyPulse.net)

29 December 2005

Video games as substitute play environments for children

Henry_jenkins
A long essay by Henry Jenkins explores the cultural geography of video game spaces, one which uses traditional children’s play and children’s literature as points of comparison to the digital worlds contemporary children inhabit.

Specifically, it examines the “fit” between video games and traditional boy culture and reviews several different models for creating virtual play spaces for girls. So much of the existing research on gender and games takes boy’s fascination with these games as a given. As we attempt to offer video games for girls, we need to better understand what draws boys to video games and whether our daughters should feel that same attraction.

The essay starts from a reflection on the changing spaces of childhood. In the nineteenth century, children living on America’s farms enjoyed free range over a space which was ten square miles or more; boys of nine or 10 would go camping alone for days on end, returning when they were needed to do chores around the house. Henry did spend childhood time in wild woods, but these are now occupied by concrete, bricks, or asphalt. His son has grown up in apartment complexes and video games constitute his main playing spaces.

Read full story

(via John Thackara)

29 December 2005

PC or people – who’s the boss? [CNET News.com]

Bill_buxton
Even though the days when computer-human interaction revolved around the C: prompt are far behind us, one legacy from that era remains.

Despite sundry advances in operating systems over the intervening two decades, it’s still not entirely clear who’s the boss: the human operator or the PC.

For the folks who helped usher in the C:-prompt era, it’s a matter of high priority. That’s one reason why Microsoft’s research division just hired Bill Buxton, a designer and expert in human-machine interfaces.

Buxton will focus on software design issues that stem from the “society of devices” taking shape now. As more people begin to use mobile phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants) or cars and appliances with on-board computers, software makers have a whole new set of challenges not seen in PC software.

CNET News.com spoke to Buxton about the importance of getting design right in the emerging world of ubiquitous computing.

Read full interview

28 December 2005

How women and men use the internet

Pew_logo
According to a just released report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, women are catching up to men in most measures of online life. Men like the internet for the experiences it offers, while women like it for the human connections it promotes.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project produces reports that explore the impact of the Internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life.

Read report summary
Download full report (pdf, 815 kb, 51 pages)

28 December 2005

Mobile services and applicability issues, in Vodafone’s Receiver magazine

Receiver_14
Vodafone has just published the 14th issue of Receiver, its online magazine on the future of communications technologies.

The current edition is devoted to applicability issues in mobile services: how can we work, learn, cooperate and know better using mobiles? Some articles:

Jonathan Donner (Microsoft Research India)
User-led innovations in mobile use in sub-saharan Africa
Outline of a nationwide mobile information system to support Rwanda’s HIV/AIDS care and treatment activities

Marc Prensky
Mobile phone imagination – using devices kids love for their education
Prensky believes that especially with kids, cell phones are the ideal platform for computer-aided learning. In this article, he gives us some idea why.

James Katz (Rutgers University)
The future of a futuristic device
Katz explains why so many users perceive the mobile phone to be a futurist tool, and tells us what users will want in their phones beyond the glittering shell.

Mark Lowenstein (Mobile Ecosystem)
The next generation of usability – re-thinking the mobile device
Lowenstein sets up ten principles for optimizing the user experience in the face of an explosion of wireless applications and the fast growth of both network and device capabilities.

Lars Erik Holmquist (Victoria Institute, Sweden)
The mobile user experience – how boundaries between devices are starting to disappear

How to create seamless interaction between mobile devices.

28 December 2005

Towards a learner-centred education system

Nesta_vision
The British educational thinktank NESTA Futurelab argues that the logic of education systems should be reversed so that the system conforms to the learner, rather than the learner to the system. This is, according to them, the essence of personalisation, which demands a system capable of offering bespoke support for each individual in order to foster engaged and independent learners able to reach their full potential.

Two recent documents are available for download:

Vision document (pdf, 776 kb, 20 pages)
What new sites, spaces, tools and approaches are needed to support a learner-centred education system? And what role might digital technologies play in supporting these changes? While our classrooms have changed little in the last 100 years, our approach to teaching and learning has moved on and is set to evolve further with the introduction of a more personalised model. Are we taking the pportunity provided by the Building Schools for the Future programme to design radically new learning spaces that support the changing needs of learners, teachers and communities?

Personalisation and Digital Technologies (pdf, 1.3 mb, 31 pages)
The ‘Personalisation and Digital Technologies’ report moves the personalisation debate forward by focusing specifically on the potential of digital technologies in four key areas: enabling learners to make informed educational choices; diversifying and acknowledging different forms of skills and knowledge; creating diverse learning environments; and developing learner-focused forms of assessment and feedback.

28 December 2005

Japan’s humanoid robots – better than people [The Economist]

Japan_robots
With too few young workers supporting an ageing population, somebody—or something—needs to fill the gap, especially since many of Japan’s young people will be needed in science, business and other creative or knowledge-intensive jobs.

Many workers from low-wage countries are eager to work in Japan. The Philippines, for example, has over 350,000 trained nurses, and has been pleading with Japan—which accepts only a token few—to let more in. Foreign pundits keep telling Japan to do itself a favour and make better use of cheap imported labour. But the consensus among Japanese is that visions of a future in which immigrant workers live harmoniously and unobtrusively in Japan are pure fancy. Making humanoid robots is clearly the simple and practical way to go.

Read full story

28 December 2005

Success code for CEOs: get a design [India Times | Economic Times]

 
To be competitive, companies need more than managerial decision-making capabilities; they need their people to be more creative and innovative.

Therefore, leading management thinkers, corporations like Procter & Gamble, Nissan and Ford, and B-schools like Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), London Business School and Wharton are now training managers to think like designers.

Design, however is not just limited to creativity; it requires a deep understanding of human behaviour and needs, as well as the skill to synthesise different, and often conflicting, trends and ideas. Experts argue that these skill-sets could well be what managers need to have in order to drive today’s corporations.

Read full story

28 December 2005

Age of information overload [CNN]

Information_overload
Books are being scanned to make them searchable on the Internet. Television broadcasts are being recorded and archived for online posterity. Radio shows, too, are getting their digital conversion — to podcasts.

All these new resources have vast potential to shape how we live, study and think.

Read full story

22 December 2005

Making stores into destinations [Business Week]

Hot_shops
Drawing in consumers means studying their lifestyles and creating destinations where they delight in spending leisure time.

To capitalize on the increasing prosperity of its customers, retailers must compete against the hugely expanded range of leisure pursuits on offer in the “experience economy.”

To catch the public’s eye in a marketplace overflowing with choice, forward-looking store owners are giving people more exciting things to see and do in their shops, positioning shopping as a leisure “experience.”

But, says Tamar Kasriel, head of knowledge venturing at consultancy the Henley Centre, offering extra “experiences” will only benefit a business if the experience builds on the brand.

Read full story

22 December 2005

Do your word processing on the net, then tag and share your documents [International Herald Tribune]

 
Victoria Shannon of the International Herald Tribune believes that in the world of Web 2.0 an internet-based rival for Word will soon emerge. Some excerpts from her article:

“One [program] that I have been trying is called Writely. You sign in free and within a moment or two, you are creating a document that can be saved or sent in a variety of formats, including HTML for the Web and a version that Microsoft Word programs can read.”

“It has all of the basics features – but few of the more complicated. But Writely isn’t meant to be a word-processing software replacement. Its goal is something else altogether: to share a text document among several writers or editors who can edit it or collaborate on it.”

“And since all of the work is done on the Internet, not on your laptop or desktop computer, the files are saved on Writely’s servers. That offers another benefit: You can save a document from home and gain access to it at work, for instance. Or add to it from an Internet café at every city on your vacation or business trip.”

“Of course, if you can’t get to the Internet for whatever reason – server down, no Internet café, no wireless signal – you can’t get to Writely. Is the Internet reliable, secure and ubiquitous enough to replace Microsoft Word? That is the pressing question for this and all of the other “Web services” cropping up.”

Read full story

22 December 2005

New design guidelines for technological products and services aimed at children

 
Manufacturers and service providers are starting to design, test and launch a stream of new products specifically for young children. To support the development of these new products and services, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has published a guide.

The leader of the task force which produced the new guidelines, Anne Clarke, says that ‘children under 12 years of age are becoming a significant consumer group for advanced computing and communications services. In some cases, children as young as four or five are using 3G phones and the Internet’.

ETSI unites around 700 member companies active in telecommunications and broadcasting from nearly 60 countries, including manufacturers, network operators, administrations, service providers, research bodies and users.

One of the features of the guide is the description of the attributes and requirements of young children, for ICT services, at various stages in their development. This means that the telecoms industry and service providers have, for the first time, an understanding of the age-related requirements of this key market segment. The guide also contains technical rules and practical safeguards.

The next step in the programme is to develop guidelines for service providers who are providing services specifically for young children.

Read full story (by task force leader Anne Clarke in Usability News)
Download ETSI Design Guide (type in the guide number “202 423″ to search for it)

22 December 2005

Design strategy now also at Davos

Davos2006
The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (25-29 January) is devoted to creativity.

One of the eight sub-themes is on “innovation, creativity and design strategy”, exploring how “business, government and social innovators are taking on new creative capabilities and innovation strategies in response to a rapidly changing global landscape”.

Business Week’s Bruce Nussbaum, who will be attending, informs us that this is more than just a theme, but an entire category of programmes, meetings, dinners and late-night talks.

The panels include “Doubt and Decision-Making”, “Biomimicry–Nature’s Innovation”, “Innovating in Innovation”, the mysterious “Video Game Zombies and New Innovation”, “Basic Solutions For Africa” and “Prepping for the Post-Knowledge Economy”, the latter moderated by Nussbaum and including the chairmen and ceo’s of the Virgin Group, IDEO, Siemens, Nike and Motorola.

See Nussbaum’s blog for more information.

21 December 2005

The internet is broken [MIT Technology Review]

Internet_is_broken
The Net’s basic flaws cost firms billions, impede innovation, and threaten national security. We simply can’t keep patching the Internet’s security holes. While researchers are working to make the Internet smarter, experts like Google’s Vinton Cerf warn that this could make it even slower. It’s time for a clean-slate approach, says MIT’s David D. Clark.

As Nicholas Carr reports, “The current issue of MIT’s Technology Review features dark new predictions about the net. In the story
David Talbot suggests that the internet, designed for fairly simple communications between fairly small groups, may finally be cracking under the weight of its ever growing complexity. He writes that “for
the average user, the Internet these days all too often resembles New York’s Times Square in the 1980s. It was exciting and vibrant, but you made sure to keep your head down, lest you be offered drugs, robbed, or harangued by the insane. Times Square has been cleaned up, but the Internet keeps getting worse, both at the user’s level, and … deep within its architecture.”"

The article — the cover story in Technology Review’s December 2005/January 2006 print issue — has been divided into three online parts: part 1, part 2 and part 3.

21 December 2005

Interview with Mozilla’s User Experience Lead Mike Beltzner

Firefoxlogo
Karl Long of Customer Experience Strategy pointed to a very recent interview with the user experience lead at Mozilla, Mike Beltzner.

It does rather focus on browser development than it does on user experience, and it needs some more editing, but it has some nice insights on where Firefox is going.

Read interview

20 December 2005

John Thackara lecture on solidarity economics & design: life after consumerism

Thackara_portraithome
Last week John Thackara, director of Doors of Perception and author of In the bubble: designing in a complex world, lectured at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) on Solidarity economics and design: life after consumerism.

The word ‘development’ implies that we advanced people in the North have the right or even obligation to help backward people in the South to ‘catch up’ with our own advanced condition. No, it doesn’t make sense. The concept of development is further devalued by the impoverished but destructive mindset of economics. The North’s purse strings are clutched by people who define development narrowly in terms of growth, jobs and productivity – and ignore broader measures of sustainability and well-being.

A renewed sensitivity to context, and to social relationships, is a key aspect of the transition from mindless development to design mindfulness. But even this new approach can be a mixed blessing. One b-school professor now talks about “harvesting lifestyles”. By what right do we swan around distant cities capturing information about people’s lives?

If we are to exchange value – rather than just take it, or act like cultural tourists – what do we have to offer? One contribution is that fresh eyes can reveal hidden value and thus mobilise otherwise neglected or hidden local resources. Visiting designers can act like mirrors, reflecting things about a situation that local people no longer notice or value. Shamefully, too many visiting designers promise
local people they will do this, but never get around to sharing their conclusions and documentation.

Click here to download the first half of the lecture (25 mb)

Click here to download the second half of the lecture (24 mb)

Click here to download the question and answer session after the lecture (40 mb)

Click here to download an edited version of the lecture as a podcast (29 mb)

20 December 2005

Creative brain drain in New York [International Herald Tribune]

Creative_ny
They may not have the money of the hedge fund managers who line up at bonus time at the open houses for $5 million homes, and their numbers do not equal those of health care workers. But New York City’s creative sector – which includes architects, potters, filmmakers and clothing designers – has long helped fuel the city’s economy because of its size and its role in drawing the wealthy to town.

But relentless inflation in real estate and health care costs is endangering New York’s long dominance in the creative sector, according to a new report, as artists and companies migrate to less expensive cities eager to lure them.

For example, 20 years ago, New York was the headquarters for half of the world’s advertising agencies, but it is now home to fewer than a third, according to the report, written by the Center for an Urban Future, a New York research group that analyzes urban policy issues.

Read full story
Download report (pdf, 452 kb, 32 pages)

20 December 2005

A hybrid approach of rapid user research and feature experimentation on the marketplace

Kuniavksy
Mike Kuniavsky, author of the book Observing the User Experience, was recently in Japan which inspired him to write a thoughtful reflection on the current value of user reseach, based on his observations there.

“The Japanese classic Modernist “supply-driven” model means that a company produces stuff based on internal gut-level determination of what’s interesting (usually done by executives or project managers). Sometimes it sells, sometimes it doesn’t. When it sells, they make more. When it doesn’t, they don’t.”

“This is in contrast to the philosophy I see at work at large American and European companies that have enthusiastically adopted end-user research methods taken from marketing techniques and pioneered by the social sciences.”

“Maybe, just maybe, the current capabilities to prototype, engineer and distribute product variations on a core idea allows for ideas to be tested, and markets to be primed for the acceptance of new ideas, without conclusive documentation from end-user research.”

“Thinking that there’s a single product and a single answer, and that research should continue until that’s determined, is an equally Modernist idea, from a time when retooling was incredibly expensive. Now, as one hardware designer in San Francisco told me, it’s possible to sketch some ideas on a piece of paper, fax it to China, and have a working prototype designed and engineered in a month, and to have production samples soon thereafter. I’m sure this doesn’t work for revolutionary ideas, but ideas based on technologies that the engineers and designers are comfortable with–but that’s probably where most hardware designs are.”

“With technological and design possibilities like this, maybe a hybrid approach is appropriate. One that’s not based on the idea that the user research is useless (“they don’t know what they want” and all that) and also not based on the idea that only deep, exhaustive field research can produce insights that lead to product features. Maybe the hybrid approach is an iterative one based on iteration between rapid research and feature experimentation.”

Read full post

(thanks Régine)

20 December 2005

Renewing Britain’s legacy of innovation [Business Week]

Cox_review
Business Week comments on the recent Cox Review of Creativity in Business (see also my previous post) and publishes excerpts of an interview with the author Sir George Cox. According to the magazine, the report’s findings are worrying.

“Far from reassuring Britain that its creative edge is well-honed and immune to the global competition, Sir George discovered that the country needs immediate economic and academic support if it’s to remain a creative leader. He noted that Britain’s proportional R&D spending lags behind not only that of the U.S. but also France and Germany. Less than one-third of British companies have launched a new product or service in the past two years.”

“To make matters worse, the report found that Britain has only 5 to 10 years to get its act together before Asia and Latin America threaten to dominate the world of innovation. In the past few years, Korea and Taiwan have built vast design centers to showcase national work and house creativity conferences.”

Read full story