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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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March 2006
10 March 2006

“Value creation through experience” executive course

Joe Pine and Albert Boswijk of the European Centre for the Experience Economy contacted me this week about their "Value Creation through Experience" executive course, 23-28 April in Norcia (Umbria), Italy.

It is a five-day intensive course providing a "new look at the experience and transformation economies". The list of speakers looks promising:

  • Felix Lozano of E-Cultura (Madrid) presents their view of how to create meaningful experiences in the Imagination Society.
  • Duncan Stutterheim of ID&T will convey the inside story how he got to the market of 20 year olds, how he has built a dance imperium with mega dance parties of 50.000 people. He now runs a broadcasting station, several bars and restaurants.
  • Bart van Kampen entrepreneur ‘pur sang’ will describe how he achieved to get 1.3 million visitors a year to his Beverwijkse Bazar, a weekend market.
  • Rob Wagemakers will share his architectural insights, experience by design.
  • Mark William Hansen of LEGO will explain how Lego approaches their customers and how they handle the great power of communities and experience co-creation.
  • Jeroen Ankersmit (CEO) of ROCA and the College Hotel will share his learning concept of the best concept and design hotel of Europe.

Read full conference description

10 March 2006

Wireless networking baffles some customers [Reuters]

More American homes are discovering the joys of Internet surfing from anywhere in the house through a wireless network.

But successful installation can be a headache, especially for the less technologically inclined. For those without a friend or relative steeped in the technology arts or access to a professional, returning the gear may be the only option.

Dena Andre, 57, returned her NetGear router to the friend who gave it to her last January after she failed to get it to work.

When she tried a Linksys router, it took multiple customer service calls, both her daughters, her piano teacher and her friend to figure out why she couldn’t get her two Dell computers on the network.

They all failed.

Richard Doherty, an analyst with the Envisioneering Group in Seaford, New York, estimates that more than a third of home-networking customers just give up and return their routers, network cards and other products.

Read full story

10 March 2006

Jim Wicks on weaving design into Motorola’s fabric

Jim Wicks, the Vice President and Director of Motorola’s Consumer Experience Design (CXD) organisation, explains how design has become tightly woven into the company’s planning and strategy.

"What we’re doing with RAZR and PEBL is appealing to something that we think is really important in the market that we sense a groundswell in. People’s real desire is to have something a little simpler. Things that support the core use cases that they care about, like community building, messaging, basic capturing and sharing of images, simple browsing, and obviously voice communications."

"If you look at what most people are doing with their devices and what they say they care about most, you would offer functionality that addresses those primary uses really well. Plus you would create something that ‘meets their style,’ something that they see as an object of personal expression that they feel very good about, proud about, and comfortable with carrying around."

"I don’t see the customer experience as a vast amount of things. It’s about how you feel about your device; it’s about the physical piece; it’s about the software in your fist; it’s about the connectivity to services. These things make up the whole experience, and the desirability of the physical device is a big piece of that."

Read interview

10 March 2006

Design for social justice

Core77 just published a highly recommendable thought piece by the Design Council’s Jenny Winhall on the power we have as designers in shaping the society in which we live.

It is a strong and well-crafted article that describes many of the reasons why I (and my partners, I may say) am involved in user experience design and are so enthusiastic about it.

Jennie Winhall, who is a senior design strategist for RED, the social and economic ‘do tank’ within the UK Design Council, claims that when one seriously starts reflecting on the many ways that design governs us, we realise, that design and therefore leadership are value-based. Designers and leaders shape preferences.

Politically speaking, design can exclude or include all manner of people in all manner of ways throughout society. Design is political because it has consequences, and sometimes serious ones.

The power of designers is that we can design things to have different consequences. The crucial and political question for designers becomes "how can we use design for social justice?".

Nowadays the world of design is changing. Design used to be done by specialists for users. From now on, in a growing number of fields, design will be done with users and by them. In this context, the designer is becoming the facilitator–the enabler–rather than the dictator of what people themselves want to do.

At the same time there has been a shift in conventional politics; a realisation that top-down policies no longer work, and that public services in particular must be redesigned around the user. Conventional policy makers are not readily equipped to do this. Designers are.

Winhall then highlights the values of user-centred design, which she describes as a "political standpoint in itself" and she goes on to say that "participatory design work, if done well, can be fundamentally democratic, giving ordinary people a voice and an opportunity to influence outcomes."

At the Design Council they call this approach transformation design. It is the design that facilitates collaboration between designers, policymakers, economists,  social scientists and ordinary people in order to solve complex socio-economic problems.

Read full article

10 March 2006

What do European businesses and citizens think of widespread RFID use?

Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, announced today a Europe-wide consultation study on RFID at the Cebit technology fair in Hanover.

RFID is a technology that puts a small amount of computer memory into a tag readable at a distance by radio.

It promises to revolutionise the way we track items – and even people, which worries civil liberties groups.

The aim of the consultation exercise is to gauge reactions to RFID by both businesses and citizens in Europe.

While praising the benefits of the technology, Reding also warned that wider use of RFID would not be allowed to undermine the fundamental liberties that European citizens enjoy.

Read full story [BBC]
Background stories: Reuters, CNN

10 March 2006

The role of ethnographic research in driving technology innovation – Lessons from Inside Asia

In a story in Pakistan’s Daily Times, Bill Siu (whom I presume to be an Intel Vice-President), shares some of the insights gained from Intel’s ethnographic research in Asia.

The Inside Asia project team, led by Dr Genevieve Bell [which is part of the People and Practices Research Team of Intel] spent two years conducting ethnographic research among 100 households in seven Asian countries, including India, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Korea, and Australia.

The article then continues with a focus on such uniquely Asian issues such as the emphasis on community, the sharing of technology, the difficulty of accessing electrical power in rural regions, the technological infrastructural delivery in cities (to buildings, rather than to apartments), the religious and spiritual resistance to the Western concept of being ‘always on’, and Asia’s fairly large internet cafés with up to 50 PC’s.

Intel has already begun to translate the findings of the field research conducted in Asia into new technology products and has introduced two innovations for Chinese consumers: the China Home Learning PC and the iCafé platform.

The China Home Learning PC supports educational experiences and development through a unique combination of hard-key switching between “educational” and “general” mode and a novel use of touch screens and voicematching to coach children in Mandarin and English.

Intel’s iCafé platform is a major new computing platform customized for the nearly 200,000 Internet cafes (or “iCafés”) in China, where people socialize, send e-mail, watch movies, and play online games. Intel’s new platform technology is expected to transform the way iCafés do business.

The writer suggests that more is to come. Because the PC as we know it was built from the ground up with a Western set of values and constraints, how might a PC look if it were built from the ground up in Malaysia or India or Kenya or Egypt?

- Read full story (Pakistan Daily Times)
- A longer version of the same article can also be found on the Intel web site

9 March 2006

Improving usability to drive customers to self-service

In the fourth quarter of 2005, Forrester Research conducted a survey of more than 100 companies with annual revenues of $200 million or more. According to Nate Root, the author of the resulting study, one trend became crystal clear: Respondents want to shift more customers to self-service channels like in-store kiosks, telephone systems and the Web.

They also said that they perceive usability improvement as the key method of moving those transactions.

“Companies with significant investments in self-service channels usually have pretty clear metrics on how many customers choose self-serve and how much each of those interactions costs,” said Root in an interview. “So they have good visibility into which types of changes ‘move the needle’ on self-service volume. Their experience trying to move that needle has shown that usability improvements, which are usually relatively cheap and quick to make, are better levers to pull than rewards and loyalty programs, which are usually big, expensive projects.”

Read full story (Kiosk Marketplace)

8 March 2006

Wi-fi set to re-wire social rules [BBC]

Once the net becomes ubiquitous like power and water, it had the potential to be “transformative”. The divide that separates people from their online lives will utterly disappear. Instead of leaving behind all those net-based friends and activities when you walk out of your front door, you will be able to take them with you.

The buddies you have on instant message networks, friends and family on e-mail, your eBay auctions, your avatars in online games, the TV shows you have stored on disk, your digital pictures, your blog – everything will be just a click away.

It could also kick off entirely new ways of living, working and playing. For instance, restaurant reviews could be geographically tagged so as soon as you approach a cafe or coffee shop, the views of recent diners could scroll up on your handheld gadget.

Key to the transformation would be mobile devices that can use wi-fi. These handsets are only just starting to appear but will likely cram a huge amount of functions into one gadget.

Read full story

8 March 2006

Britain turns off and logs on [The Guardian]

More time is now spent on the internet than on watching TV, according to Google survey

Television addiction has been Britain’s national pastime for years, but experts agree that viewers around the country are increasingly switching on their computer screens instead of their TV sets.

A Google survey found that the average Briton spends around 164 minutes online every day, compared with 148 minutes watching television. That is equivalent to 41 days a year spent surfing the web: more than almost any other activity apart from sleeping and working.

And it is a phenomenon that is set to grow, with two thirds of respondents in the Google survey saying that they had increased the time spent online in the last year.

Read full story

7 March 2006

You can’t understand the future without demographics

Futurist Andrew Zolli, founder of Z + Partners, reflects in a Fast Company feature on the future demographics of society.

The composition of a society–whether its citizens are old or young, prosperous or declining, rural or urban–shapes every aspect of civic life, from politics, economics, and culture to the kinds of products, services, and businesses that are likely to succeed or fail.

With a huge increase in the number of older consumers [in the US and Europe], entirely new entertainment, culture, and news markets will open up–film, television, books, and Internet sites pitched more to the Matlock set than to the Eminem crowd. Also, older people tend to vote more frequently, and they will wield significant political clout.

The demographic concentration of boomers at the top of the population pyramid, backed by their vast reservoirs of disposable income, represents the next American gold rush. By 2011, the 65-and-over population will be growing faster than the population as a whole in each of the 50 states. The Boomer Binge will have begun.

Read full story

7 March 2006

Digital media ‘empowering users’ [BBC]

Empowered users
As more media become increasingly available in digital formats, and traditional models of media packaging and distribution start to unravel, “the customer is king” is fast becoming the industry’s new catchphrase.

During a session at the Financial Times Digital Media Conference on what media consumption in the UK might look like in 2012, several speakers predicted a big rise in the sharing of information among online communities with common interests.

“The scope will exist for far greater personalisation of all forms of content, and end users will be empowered and have greater influence, controlling how, where and at what price they consume content,” Ed Shedd of the UK consultancy firm Deloitte told the FT Conference

“The trick for media companies is how to embrace multiple content in a profitable way.”

Read full story

7 March 2006

Most web users only visit six sites

Directgov
Web users now have almost 76 million sites to choose from, yet most only visit six on a regular basis, it was revealed today.

The research, published today by Directgov, points to a new era in the use of the internet that experts are calling the ‘Supersite’ phenomenon. The study found that half of internet-using Britons (51 per cent) visit just six or less sites on a regular basis.

People are now using the internet more smartly, visiting a handful of destination websites that have emerged as ‘Supersites’ due to their importance to people’s lives. The survey found that using one banking, shopping, travel and holiday website is enough for most of us. Britain’s most popular so-called supersites now include Ebay, Amazon, Google, Lastminute.com and National Rail Enquiries.

The study comes as the government launches a one-stop-shop website where people can do everything from renewing their driving licence, car tax or passport to finding out about local schools, childminders and recycling.

Jim Murphy, Cabinet Office Minister with responsibility for Directgov, said: “If you can order your shopping, manage your bank accounts and book cinema tickets online – why shouldn’t you expect the same convenience online from Government? A few clicks and you’re there – that’s what people expect and demand from their services today and Government is no exception.”

Press release
Background story [Daily Telegraph - Web user]

6 March 2006

Complexity causes 50% of product returns [Reuters]

Customer_service
Half of all malfunctioning products returned to stores by consumers are in full working order, but customers can’t figure out how to operate the devices, a scientist said on Monday.

Product complaints and returns are often caused by poor design, but companies frequently dismiss them as “nuisance calls,” Elke den Ouden found in her Ph.D thesis at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands.

A wave of versatile electronics gadgets has flooded the market in recent years, ranging from MP3 players and home cinema sets to media centers and wireless audio systems, but consumers still find it hard to install and use them, she found.

The average consumer in the United States will struggle for 20 minutes to get a device working, before giving up, the study found.

Read full story

6 March 2006

Half of American children obese by 2010, 38% of European ones [AP]

Overweight_children
Associated Press reports that according to a study published in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity, rates of childhood obesity are expected to skyrocket in the coming years, with half of the children in North and South America obese by 2010 (via FutureWire).

Europe doesn’t fare much better, with 38% of kids there expected to be overweight within five years. Even China will see its population of obese children increase to 20% in that period.

“The Western world’s food industries without even realising it have precipitated an epidemic with enormous health consequences,” said Dr. Philip James, chairman of the International Obesity Task Force.

As in the US, the combination of junk food, poor overall eating habits and less exercise is to blame for the problem worldwide. The trend has crucial implications on the future health of the young generation — most notably, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. “This is going to be the first generation that’s going to have a lower life expectancy than their parents,” said UK surgeon Dr. Phillip Thomas. “It’s like the plague is in town and no one is interested.”

To fight the epidemic, radical steps need to be taken, says Dr. James. He believes that all marketing aimed at children — especially for food — should be banned.

What can designers do to change this trend?

Today I was reading Open Health, the UK Design Council report on creating new healthcare systems, which starts out with a poignant analysis of the current state of institutionalised health care:

“Healthcare was shaped by the 19th century problems of contagious and acute disease, and institutionalised in the organisational model of the mass production era. Those structures now have to cope with a new epidemic of chronic disease. Without significant changes, health spending in real terms would have to double within 15 years to keep pace with demand, with health spending rising from 7.7% to 11per cent of GDP within a decade.”

The Design Council report claims to show how designing from the individual’s point of view could provide the key to solutions to this problem.

Another topic much addressed in this blog is children. Experts are now arguing that legislation is the only solution to address childhood obesity and that it is not going to be enough any more just to say to the consumer they have to change their behaviour. This will of course have major implications on food, media and toy industries. But what can companies do? What can designers do?

6 March 2006

Sun making user interaction intuitive through SPOT sensors [San Jose Mercury News]

Sun_java
What if you could transfer the address book from your old cell phone to a new one by tilting the old phone like a pitcher and wirelessly pouring hundreds of numbers into the new phone — instead of punching in each one?

Life would be a bit easier. Enabling sensor networks to do these types of tasks is expected to become easier now that Sun Microsystems’ research lab has developed wireless sensors that run Java programming applications.

The Santa Clara-based server-and-software company is announcing today that the research and development community will be able to experiment with the Java-based Sun SPOT sensors starting in May.

The Sun SPOT developer’s kit could change the way consumers interact with their home entertainment systems.

“In consumer electronics, they have a lot of knobs and a lot of dials. Consumers are really intimidated by a lot of this stuff,” said Randy Giusto, group vice president of Mobility, Computing and Consumer at the IDC research firm. But hand gesture technology that uses wireless sensors may mean Guisto will no longer “have to grab one of the 20 remotes that I have in my house that never seem to work right to control this stuff.”

Read full story
Related story in World Changing

6 March 2006

Media Lab director on confronting social problems and user-driven innovation [Christian Science Monitor]

Mit_media_lab
A long article in the Christian Science Monitor reflects on the new directions for the MIT Media Lab, including how it will relate with its sponsors. Director Frank Moss also speaks about confronting social problems and user-driven innovation.

Moss wants to more strongly focus the Media Lab on confronting “some of the looming social problems we have today,” including the healthcare challenges of an aging population and [...] the directions education will head in when 100 million children in the developing world begin to learn via computer and even create their own programs.

As Moss and others see it, more innovation is going to bubble up from the users of technology themselves, [even if] that [may] mean that labs such as his could become obsolete. “I’d rather get behind it and help our sponsors understand how their businesses change when creativity comes from the bottom up.”

Read full story

5 March 2006

The art of building a robot to love [The New York Times]

Emuu
If robots can act in lots of ways, how do people want them to act, happy or sad, bubbly or cranky?

Reporting on the recent conference on human-robot interaction in Salt Lake City, Henry Fountain of the New York Times tries to address the question what humans want in their robots and concludes that it is emotions like those they encounter in other humans.

“People respond to robots in precisely the same way they respond to people,” said Dr. Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University.

A robot must have human emotions, said Christoph Bartneck of the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. That raises problems for developers, however, since emotions have to be modeled for the robot’s computer. “And we don’t really understand human emotions well enough to formalize them well,” he said.

Read full story

5 March 2006

CeBIT Usability Award 2006

Cebit06_logo
For the first time in 2006, Deutsche Messe AG will select a project from the iF digital media category to receive a CeBIT usability award.

This special prize goes to the most usable and user-friendly project, with the emphasis on intuitive navigation that is ideally geared to the target audience.

Any project submitted in the digital media in CeBIT’s International Forum Design (iF) award scheme is automatically eligible for this special award, at no extra cost.

The winner of the CeBIT usability award 2006 will be announced at the awards ceremony on September 1, 2006.

The winner will be included in the press publicity and public relations campaign for CeBIT 2007. The inclusion of the winner’s name in the CeBIT visitor advertising campaign as well as in press releases covering the award and finally, on the CeBIT homepage, corresponds to a media volume worth EUR 250,000.

(CeBIT is the world’s leading trade show for solutions, products and services from all areas of IT and telecommunications, which will take place in Hannover, Germany from 9 to 15 March 2006).

5 March 2006

Microsoft’s Windows Vista mainstraims user experience discourse

Windows_vista
The Windows Vista campaign is very much centred on the concept of “user experience”: the Vista promotional website contains an “Experiences” section with a subsection on “User Experience” (currently not yet online). Also the “Features” section contains an extensive subsection on “User Experience”.

This is excellent news. Part of our jobs as user experience specialists or experience designers has always been convincing other people about the importance of taking the user experience into account.

Now that Microsoft is doing that on a massive scale, we should be delighted. Not only because it takes some work of our shoulders, but mostly because the more people are convinced about the importance of taking the user experience into account, the more work we will get and the more interesting this work will become.

It is true that Microsoft is not the first large company promoting the importance of user experience (see for instance the efforts of Apple and Philips in this area, to name just a few), but Microsoft is such a huge player with such a major impact on the public discourse and the corporate way of thinking, that we can only assume that our field will become totally mainstream in the next few years.

4 March 2006

Creativity, design and business at Kellogg School of Management

Kellogg_manquestion
Need proof that the business world is playing catch-up in regards to creativity, innovation and design?

The prestigious Kellogg School of Management is hosting a four-day learning session on managing product design and development this month. Here’s the program content:

- Introduction to Product Development
- Scenario Planning
- Strategy in Design
- Recognizing Gap Analysis in the Design Process
- Customer-Focused New Product Research
- Innovation and Creativity
- Essentials of Industrial Design
- Human Factors
- Managing Intellectual Property
- Communication Challenges in Product Development
- Management and Metrics for Product Development

(via Logic+Emotion)