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March 2006
4 March 2006

Upcoming conferences on intelligent environments

Two upcoming conferences are exploring some of the implications that widely distributed technologies in our living environments (also called ambient intelligence, intelligent environments or ubiquitous computing) might have for people and the way we live.

International Symposium on Intelligent Environments: Improving the quality of life in a changing world
Cambridge, UK, 5-7 April 2006
The symposium, organised by the Intelligent Environments Group at Microsoft Research Cambridge, will bring together top researchers from a variety of disciplines, including artists, philosophers, computer scientists, designers and sociologists, to discuss and debate how intelligent environments can contribute to improving the quality of everyday life.
Official site

Second International Conference on Intelligent Environments
Athens, Greece, 5-6 July 2006
On the road to the realization of the Ambient Intelligence (AmI) vision, physical space becomes augmented with computation, communication and digital content, thus transcending the limits of direct human perception. An Intelligent Environment consists of a set of technologies, infrastructures, applications and services operating seamlessly across physical environments (e.g. neighbourhood, home, car), thus spanning all the different spheres of everyday life. Their inhabitants, humans and agents, will carry out tasks, most of which will be very similar to those that we do today, only their activities will be very different. The introduction of ICT and its applications in order to support these activities (and improve the efficiency of tasks) will change many of their parameters and properties, especially those related to space and time.
The conference features a number of special sessions (sometimes with rather unique titles), focusing on smart home environments, ambient networks, end-user support, crisis and modernity, interacting with ambient intelligence, metapolis, communities and the self, mobile computing and spoken language dialogue systems.
Official site

All relevant conferences and events can be found in the (shared) experience design calendar, which today contains 42 upcoming events.

4 March 2006

Donald Norman awarded Benjamin Franklin medal for his work on user-centred design

Donald A. Norman of Northwestern University and the Nielsen Norman Group will be awarded the 2006 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science “for the development of the field of user-centered design, which utilizes our understanding of how people think to develop technologies designed to be easily usable”.

This was announced this Wednesday by the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia, USA. The ceremony will take place on 27 April 2006.

For 182 years, The Franklin Institute has honored the greatest men and women of science, engineering, and technology. The Franklin Institute Awards are among the oldest and most prestigious comprehensive science awards in the world.

Among science’s highest honors, The Franklin Institute Awards identify individuals whose great innovation has benefited humanity, advanced science, launched new fields of inquiry, and deepened our understanding of the universe.

2006 laureates
Background story (Philadelphia Business Journal)

4 March 2006

The importance of context in assessing the user experience of mobile devices

In her blog gotomobile design ethnographer Kelly Goto reflects extensively on the importance of context assessment and the challenges of usability testing when assessing the user experience of mobile devices, as opposed to other electronic devices.

“Surrounding the entire mobile user experience, and setting it apart from the experience of using other web-based or electronic devices, is the all-encompassing factor of context.

Since the product or service is expected to be accessible at all times and in such a variety of situations, insights into the end-user’s lifestyle is far more critical in the mobile industry than it is during the development of more traditional products.

How, when, why and most importantly – where interaction takes place – are major considerations that are often overlooked or disregarded during the authoring process. Accurate testing should always consider context.

For best results, the user-centered approach employs not just traditional marketing research techniques, but also contextual inquiry, or methods that involve asking questions and observing within the subject’s own context.”

Read full post

3 March 2006

Motorola contest encourages visions of seamless mobility

Motorola is undertaking some interesting initiatives to deliver on its corporate slogan of ’seamless mobility’, reports Marek Pawlowski in the blog of the PMN Mobile User Experience conference. Today it announced the winners of its MOTOFWRD competition, which encouraged university students from throughout the UK to submit their visions of a connected future, prompting a wide range of essays, animations and videos exploring the way in which telecoms, media and computing are converging.

The overall winner was Richard Long, a student at Birmingham University, whose essay entitled ‘Seamless Dreamless’ described a world in which users can interact directly with their surroundings through mobile networks.

Key to this vision is the ‘portal’, a wearable device which serves as an interface between the human user, their contacts and their physical environment.

The mobile industry is becoming more and more aware of the opportunity for the handset to serve as a gateway to the embedded intelligence in home appliances, media systems and public terminals. By virtue of its ubiquity and wireless capabilities, the mobile phone is the natural choice for controlling services such as hone automation, electronic ticketing and media consumption.

However, this evolution of the mobile from a device which helps us interact with other people to a device which helps us interact with the physical environment is presenting unique interface and design challenges.

PMN will host a debate on these issues as part of the forthcoming Mobile User Experience conference on 31 May and 1 June 2006 in London.

- Read full post
– Further information on Motorola’s MOTOFWRD website
– See also my earlier post on the USA winner of the same competition

3 March 2006

Tomorrow’s world: testing the ultimate high tech house [Financial Times]

The Financial Times reports on Project:LIFE, a unique research project by David Wilson Homes and the University of Nottingham’s School of the Built Environment, to understand how the design of the home affects how we live together and to enable future houses to incorporate elements needed for today’s lifestyles.

“Last spring, I spent a weekend with my family in an experimental house that was decked out to test drive some very high-end design and technology innovations. After my stint in the Project:LIFE house on the outskirts of Sheffield, one test family of four – the Parnells – moved in for a six-month study, which ended in January.

During this time, the company behind the project, David Wilson Homes, and a team of researchers, monitored the Parnells and the different ways they used the house.

James Wilson, the company’s development director, wanted to find out how people lived in their homes. It’s something all builders should think about, but the subject hasn’t been given much thought since the 1920s.”

Read full story

3 March 2006

E-revolution forces Danes online [BBC]

Denmark was the first country in the world to make public services available online and is now going a step further – forcing its citizens online.

Since the beginning of February, for instance, companies dealing with state institutions must submit their invoices electronically. Around 15 million transactions that the state previously handled in paper are now managed electronically – with huge benefits.

Some companies have complained about being forced to do things electronically. And the changes are now affecting the wider public.

Jeppe Stransberg, a critic of what is called “e-government”, says making this kind of thing compulsory is not the right way forward. The government acknowledges the complaints, but insists that compulsion is necessary.

The e-invoicing project was given an award for innovation by the European Union, and many other countries are watching the Danish experience closely.

Read full story

3 March 2006

User-led innovation projects at BBC

In her Outside Innovation blog, best-selling author and management consultant Patty Seybold engages MIT professor Eric von Hippel (author of Democratizing Innovation) in a lively debate about lead users and lead customers.

In a response Matt Locke, Head of Creative Research and Development of BBC New Media, reports on the user-led innovation projects at the BBC:

“You might be interested in the open innovation projects we’re developing at BBC New Media in the UK. I’ve long been a fan of Eric Von Hippel’s ideas on user innovation, and we launched our own ‘toolkit’ environment last May –

Backstage provides RSS feeds of BBC news, weather and other content, and encourages lead-users to ‘build your stuff with our stuff’. The resulting ideas and prototypes are hosted on users sites, but linked to from the backstage site. We’ve see a huge number of prototypes generated by this community, and we’re starting to go out to the developers and commission some of the prototypes into full services. We’re also experimenting with design challenges on the site (e.g. a recent competition to ‘hack the tv schedule’).

The main driver for launching backstage was the recognition that users were hacking their own services using our content anyway, and that we should embrace this and provide the tools to make it easier, rather than rty and stop it. We’re also developing other open innovation projects to increase the number of ideas we get from outside the BBC. The second of these – Innovation Labs – is aimed at independent New Media companies in the UK, and we’re just about to go into 3 weeks of rapid prototyping with teams selected through this process. The innovation Labs site is at“.

2 March 2006

Better Connected 2006, a UK survey of local authority websites, shows mixed results [eGov Monitor]

Local authority internet services in the UK are showing signs of improvement, though the overall level of progress is slowing, a major survey reveals.

The eighth annual Socitm Insight survey of local authority websites – Better Connected 2006 – also concluded that general improvements in the functionality of council websites is being offset by a reduction in overall usability.

The survey found that a total of 60 councils now offer the highest level of ‘transactional’ website whereby customers can access council services online. This figure has increased from 38 last year and in London alone it means that more than four-in-ten councils are now rated as transactional.

But beneath this highest level the survey found that improvement has stagnated. For example the number of councils with “content plus” sites – the level below transactional – remained the same over the past year at 226, while the number of content sites – the second to lowest rating – fell by only 11.

Tests on council search engines showed only one-in-ten sites could find the four most common terms researchers believed any local authority site should be able to handle.

Read full story
Read report summary

2 March 2006

It’s design, not technology [EE Times]

It seems engineers and programmers are discovering the importance of user experience and understanding the “invisibility” of technology:

“It appears as though the cold, soulless world of submicron silicon geometrics and robotic place and route iterations are giving way to a warmer, fuzzier engineering realm in which designing for the human
experience is trumping the engineering ego trip.

Design, not technology, has captured the consumer’s imagination, as anyone who has twirled a fingertip around iPod’s elegantly simple dial pad can attest.

Silicon and software technology are becoming transparent and invisible in today’s computer and communications media-intensive world. It’s an environment in which “invisible facilitation” is rapidly emerging as the design rule of the day.

From the perspective of computer science, communications and electronic engineering, the design of human interfaces, as opposed to technology, has never been more important. Enter Margaret Mead and the notion that the social sciences and humanities are emerging as bedfellows to science and technology, especially in today’s electronic-intensive media culture and society.

As technology, culture and media converge, designers of all stripes, including electronic engineers, are being compelled to take a “cross-disciplinary” approach to product design.”

Read full story

(via Langemarks Cafe news aggregator and Design Tastes Good)

2 March 2006

Ethnographic study on shopping in Paris airports

Aeroports de Paris presents the first ethnographic study about men’s buying behaviour in an airport. This unprecedented survey was carried out in January 2006.

In an airport environment, a man travelling on his own becomes a true shopper: He is more autonomous; he takes responsibility for his own shopping and buys more easily. Most men when alone at the airport go through a methodical and quite thorough shopping tour. Contradicting their urban shopping habits, they stop by almost every window and enter in several boutiques.

Their behavior is totally different from the man travelling with his spouse who generally relies on her to guide him. More experienced than him, she validates his choices.

The airport environment greatly modifies the behavior of male passengers. Shopping and window shopping, generally considered as trivial activities, become here natural conduct. Downtown, only 1 man out of 100 enters in a perfume shop alone; at Aeroports de Paris, the visit rate totals 21%!

Read full story
Download press kit (pdf, 1.3 mb, 14 pages, in French)

2 March 2006

Interview with head of Yahoo! Research [Tech Confidential]

In a long interview with The Deal’s Tech Confidential, Prabhakar Raghavan, head of technology research at Yahoo! Inc., says Yahoo!’s goal is to let Internet users retrieve precisely the information they’re seeking on the Web without having to search for it.

“We have this huge mountain of data, and it raises fascinating questions about how we can use that to better the experience for our users,” he says. “How do you create a sentient network of properties that seems to give the user exactly what they’re looking for at every point, and not just with a search emphasis”?

Read interview

1 March 2006

Interviews with Don Norman and Patrick Baudisch in Stanford magazine

The second issue of Ambidextrous Magazine, a project of the Stanford, features interviews with Don Norman and Patrick Baudisch.

In a long interview with Bjoern Hartmann, Don Norman reveals that he is working on a new book with the working title: the “design of intelligent everyday things” or the “psychology of machines”.

Patrick Baudisch (website) is a HCI research scientist at Microsoft Research. In this interview with Doantam Pham, he talks about interaction design and its challenges.

1 March 2006

Michigan Governor talks design and innovation [Business Week]

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm tells Corporate Design Foundation Chairman Peter Lawrence about her plan to make the state the innovation capital of the U.S.

At the very start of the interview, she outlines a user-centred vision of design:

To me, design is more customer-focused — which is exactly what it should be if you’re going to sell a product today. You’ve got to make sure that the product is designed in a way that doesn’t just work, but is really responsive to the customer.”

She then continues about the importance of creativity and design:

“The bottom line for why design is important to the State of Michigan — especially a state that has been challenged by a global economy where we see manufacturing jobs leave — is because future growth will be based more and more on the creative work that goes into making great products, or developing great cities, or even providing great customer service. We are going to base our economy more and more on our intellectual property, on the creative side, the value-added side of what we can offer. We have a strong record as a producer of new products, and now we want to make sure that Michigan’s brand image is all about innovation, design and creativity.”

Michigan by the way is not only the heart of the American automotive industry, but also the home of innovative office furniture companies like Steelcase and Herman Miller.

Coincidentally or not, just a few days ago I was at a talk organised by Domus Magazine where the president of my own region Piedmont (a region with a rich automotive tradition as well) talked about the importance of design. In describing the challenges and opportunities in post-Olympic Torino, Mercedes Bresso (also a woman) underlined the crucial importance of the nomination of Turin as the first World Capital of Design. It might be noted that Piedmont is also the only region in Italy that has a regional councillor in charge of innovation.

Read interview

(originally published in the @Issue Journal of the Corporate Design Foundation)

1 March 2006

Grocery checkout, Italian style

DIY checkout or self-scanning has long been called the next big thing in supermarkets, but perhaps because of the hellish line situation, Inferno-familiar Italians were quick to adopt them.

Unicoop Firenze was the first Italian retailer to introduce self-scanning in its stores back in 1998. Now, Unicoop has decided to continue the evolution of self-scanning solution in the remainder of its stores.

According to a recent survey conducted in the supermarkets of Unicoop Firenze, the self-scanning system is used mainly because the consumer can avoid wasting time and repetitive operations, even if a small percentage of the consumers states that they use it simply because it is fun.

Furthermore, with this system the number of men tempted to go shopping has increased.

It is particularly appreciated by many elderly people because they can keep the amount they spend under constant control.

Another surprising fact is that the percentage of errors (or thefts) is extremely low: just 0.3%.

Read story in Wired MagazineRead press release about self-scanning in the USADownload Coop Firenze case study (pdf, 508 kb, 2 pages)

1 March 2006

Computer technology opens a world of work to disabled people [The New York Times]

[New flexible work] arrangements are bringing jobs to thousands of people with disabilities, including those with spinal cord injuries and vision loss. Fast computers and broadband connections have become so inexpensive and reliable that location is now not an issue for certain jobs, like customer service.

At the same time, an abundance of technology is available to help disabled people operate computers, like software that lets a blind person use a keyboard instead of a mouse to navigate a program, and voice synthesizers that turn text into speech. There are also alternatives to the mouse for people with limited use of their arms.

Read full story

1 March 2006

Interview with Keith Instone on the User Experience Network

Live from Internet User Experience 2006, Tim Keirnan and Tom Brinck interview friend and fellow usability professional Keith Instone about his work with User Experience Network.

“UXnet was formed to help make connections between the people and organisations that represent User Experience disciplines, and to encourage interchange and cooperation.”

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