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Putting People First

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April 2006
30 April 2006

China needs design that sells [Business Week]

Chinese mobile phone user
In an editorial for Business Week, Patrick Whitney, Director of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology, argues that companies designing products for the China market should have a design strategy that is more than just creating “either cheaper versions of Western designs or slightly modified versions of local products”. Instead, he says, design has to be “used at the front end of the development process to help discover what [Chinese] citizens need.”

“First, they will [need to] adjust their design process to reflect the fact that there is no “China market.” Rather, the country has 30 markets, each one influenced by its own climate, economy, language, history, geography, and culture. China’s consumer needs are as complex as Europe’s.”

“Second, they’ll realize surveys, focus groups, and other standard tools of market research don’t cut it. Not only is China as diverse as Europe, it is made up of novice consumers unaccustomed to such a variety of offerings.”

Ethnographic user research will help companies “understand the granularity of the Chinese markets and develop products that won’t languish in the warehouse.”

Read full story

30 April 2006

In today’s high-tech dating world, roses are often read

Roses online
In this age of high-speed instant communication, the manner in which potential lovers interact is a complicated, tiered system that has reconfigured the way we court.

Gone are the days when potential paramours exchange phone numbers and contemplate too long and hard over a call.

“New technologies have expanded our ability to communicate while increasing the possibilities — and emotional impact — of dating,” says Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University who specializes in the evolution and future of sex, love and marriage and gender differences in the brain and behavior.

“The technology has made it more emotional. Not only can you express your emotions almost instantly and have the other person respond, but if you express yourself and they don’t respond, you instantly want to know why not.”

Read full story (Times Leader, Pennsylvania, USA)

30 April 2006

Poor user experience puts consumers off mobile TV in droves

Mobile TV
Consumers want mobile television but are being put off by poor design and user experience according to research released today by user centred design and research consultancy Amberlight and reported in Picturephoning.com.

Weaknesses include:

  • Poor quality reception – patchy 3G coverage with interruptions
  • Slow start up speed – The time taken to access the service through menu structures and connection time was between two and five minutes
  • Cost – flat rate vs pay-as-you-go issues were raised in the study
  • Usability -Many aspects of the service were simply considered unnecessarily complicated to use
  • On screen displays – such as details of current show and channel were considered important
  • Programme guides – not easily available

This research proves that there is a demand for mobile TV but that it’s currently being stifled by poor design and implementation. If operators could make their services easy to use and competitively priced then there is a real opportunity to become a valuable tool for people with time to kill.

For more information or to receive a full version of the report: contact Patrick Herridge Parys Communications. pherridge@parys.com.

29 April 2006

Designing usable sites for children and teens

netsmartzkids
Just as any audience presents certain challenges and affordances, new considerations must be made when designing effective sites for a young audience. However, it is often difficult for an adult designer to accurately remember what it is like to be 10 years old, and so it is important to turn to research conducted with children and teens to get a sense of their preferences.

The Nielsen Norman Group conducted two separate usability studies with children (ages 6-12) and teens (ages 13-17). Based on the results of their two studies, The Group compiled 70 design guidelines for developing more usable sites for children and 60 guidelines for developing for teen audiences. While much of what they found is intuitive, other findings offer new and interesting insight.

Read full story

(Related: Evaluating the usability of educational websites for children)

28 April 2006

Whirlpool’s push to jump-start innovation [Business Week]

Whirlpool's Pia refrigerator
In 2000, writes Business Week, Whirlpool’s machines had been reduced to commodities. The company needed “to reinvent its corporate culture” and “figure out the answers to basic questions that managers everywhere struggle with: How do you define innovation? How do you measure success? How do you teach people to be creative?”

After some failed unstructured attempts, “they realized in 2002 that they had to bring more order to the innovation process. For starters, they decided that new ideas would have to enhance the company’s existing brands or products. Top management would evaluate and fund all new proposals at monthly innovation-board meetings. These groups, in turn, reported to Whirlpool’s nine-member executive committee. Green-lighted projects would be assigned to pros — representatives from the design, market research, R&E, and manufacturing departments — to see them through.”

“To make it easier to design products that reflected consumers’ needs and desires, […] innovators [had] to demonstrate that their proposals were something that real people would buy [and that] the new product would command above-average markups”. This of course involved consumer research.

“Since 2003, innovation revenue has quadrupled annually, easily surpassing goals. […] Moreover, Whirlpool is no longer caught in a price war.”

Read full story

28 April 2006

Adam Greensfield on the unique challenges of designing for ubiquitous computing

Everyware icon
“Sometimes a change in technology has implications that are so epochal that everyone must wrestle with them, accommodate them, or prepare for them,” writes Adam Greenfield, the author of “Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing”, on the Adobe website.

“The revolution in information technologies known as “ubiquitous computing” (or ubicomp) is the most recent such change, and it is beginning to impact the practice—and the business—of digital design,” he continues in this long article, where he explores some of the unique experience design and interaction design challenges, and gives an insight into the new responsibilities this brings about the for the designer.

“The home, the garment, and the store become sites of processing and mediation. Ordinary objects are reimagined as places where facts about the world are gathered, considered, and acted upon. And all the familiar rituals of daily life—things as fundamental as the way we wake up in the morning, get to work, or shop for our groceries—are remade as an intricate dance of information.”

He outlines how the role of design will change fundamentally when we for “these boxes we call computers” and concludes “The role of designer assumes a new importance in this context—a new responsibility for ensuring that, wherever possible, the ubiquitous systems we make together improve (or at the very least do not unduly burden) the everyday lives of their users. But if everyware calls upon its designers to act with unusual delicacy, and above all compassion for the needs of a hugely enlarged and diversified user base, it also presents rich opportunities for personal development and growth on the part of those designers. Everyware extends our efforts in that beautiful, endlessly intriguing, occasionally exasperating, place where we all live and breathe.”

Read full story

(via Ann Light in Usability News)

27 April 2006

Mayo Clinic’s SPARC lab gets physicians to think like designers

Mayo clinic's SPARC lab
Last summer, the world famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, opened SPARC, a clinical innovation lab that operates like a design shop and that specializes in the “patient experience.” Doctors, nurses, and other staffers do what designers do: They interview, shadow, and observe customers (in this case, patients) to uncover their needs, brainstorm with abandon, and engage in rapid prototyping

SPARC is not simply a research lab or a medical clinic. It’s both. Real patients see real doctors and, in doing so, participate in experiments (they’re briefed and asked for permission). Instead of being shunted off-site, the program is based in the Mayo Building like any other clinic; it occupies a corridor that used to house urology. The acronym, which stands for “see, plan, act, refine, and communicate,” is meant to remind participants of the design-oriented methodology so they’ll continue to employ it when they return to their departments.

The idea grew out of the realization that outpatient care is overdue for fresh ideas. “Medicine has changed, people have changed, technology has changed, but the exam room isn’t so different than it was in the 1800s,” says Dr. Michael Brennan, an associate chair in the department of medicine, where the program originated. Mayo wants its doctors to apply the same experimental approach to clinical innovation that they apply to scientific innovation.

The inclusion of actual patients is critical. Understanding user needs, after all, is a tenet of smart design, says Armbruster. There are three types of needs: those that are explicit and tacit and can be identified by surveying and interviewing people; those that can’t be articulated but become apparent through observation; and latent needs, the hardest to root out. “The only way to identify them is to make something and have people experience it,” says Ryan Armbruster, SPARC’s director of operations and design.

- Read full story
Related story (Business Week)
Download case study, produced by Steelcase (pdf, 426 kb, 10 pages)

27 April 2006

Uday Dandavate on striking a balance

Uday Dandavate
Through Core77, I learned about the thinking of Uday Dandavate, a principal of the participatory design agency Sonic Rim.

Dandavate, who is trained as an industrial designer and is from Indian origin, is a thorough believer in the duty of every designer, every manager and every leader to reach out to everyday people so that they have a real opportunity to participate productively in whatever matters to them, carefully framed within a broader concept of sustainability and human dignity.

He speaks, I think, clearly and deeply about some of the ethical and philosophical reasons why many of us, including we here at Experientia, do what we do. It is therefore my pleasure to write about him here.

During the IDSA Western District conference, Dandavate presented a talk entitled “The Scam Called Experience Design.” As reported by Stephanie Munson in Core77, Dandavate said: “We can’t hope to design experiences for people; rather, what we can (and should) do is co-create with the people for whom we are designing. In order to do so, we need to be empathisers, and in order to become empathisers we need to visit people’s homes and their imaginations. Designers should be looking for inspiration not in the slick design magazines (although we all love them), but in the real world and the world of imagination. Only by understanding deeply what experiences people dream of and aspire to can we then hope to innovate the tools they will use to get there.”

In the article “Striking a balance” (which he allowed me to post directly on this blog), he explores the idea of sustainability in design and innovation more deeply. “The imperative,” he says, “is to redefine the innovation process and align it with the skills and energies of the vast majority of people who are being forced to the sidelines.”. He speaks about the responsibility of companies to “gain empathy for the needs of ordinary people who will ultimately live with their inventions” and to engage in people-centred innovation. But he also stresses the responsibility of the consumer: “Every individual needs to take responsibility as a consumer for supporting an economy which creates work and an opportunity to live life with dignity for people of every skill level.”

Download article (pdf, 88 kb, 3 pages)

In the article Designs with Thought, published in The Hindu, India’s national newspaper, he speaks more about the Indian context. “Any innovation should have a relevance to society,” he says. “It is very important for designers here to enlarge their vision globally, but work in accordance with specific local needs and conditions.”

27 April 2006

Samsung’s DigitAll magazine devoted to design

Samsung's DigitAll Magazine Spring 2006 - illustration by Cam Chesney
The Spring 2006 issue of DigitAll, Samsung’s webzine, has just been released and it is entirely devoted to design – with a big slant towards industrial and product design.

The magazine, which is luckily not as over-branded as the last issue (which was just plain awful) despite its URL, contains some interesting feature stories.

The edge effect by John Thackara
John Thackara asks “how to design a world that relies less on technology and more on people?” and claims that the “edges may hold more answers than the center”.
A short excerpt: “The capacity to think across boundaries, to spot opportunities at the juncture of industries and draw relevant analogies from seemingly unrelated industries, is as valuable as deep experience of a single sector. “Sow the seeds of change at the margins,” says business writer Julian Birkenshaw. “That’s where they will do best. Go for multiple actions at the fringes. Let direction arise.” When edge people, ideas, and organizations are brought together, something interesting happens. We need to recombine relationships—among people, ideas and organizations. We need to search out scientific, natural, and cultural knowledge that is usually ignored—whether it is mimicking biology or learning from traveling storytellers in India. Putting old knowledge into new contexts creates new knowledge.”

Detail dreamer
Yun-Je Kang, 38, is the creative director of a Samsung cluster design team responsible for new AV products such as home theater systems, TVs, and DVD players. In this interview he argues for the need to find “a beautiful balance between form, usability and function”, underlining that the company now has to focus on “how to make sure new features are really convenient and easy to handle from the user’s point of view.”
Yet, he is not a fan of co-creation in design: “It’s one thing to say that consumers should be able to choose between products. But professional designers bring skills to the table we can’t expect consumers to have: namely, a sense of creativity and emotional insight about design, just to start. When it comes to TV design, the best way consumers can enter the design process is to design the space where they’re going to put their TV. Let the designers do the designing.”

27 April 2006

Philips/Visa usability study shows consumers like contactless payment technology (NFC)

NFC payment kiosk
From a shared Philips / Visa press release:

“Royal Philips Electronics and Visa International released the results of a new usability study of Near Field Communication (NFC) and contactless payment technology, which showed that consumers like the convenience, ease of use and “coolness” of making transactions with their mobile phones.”

“NFC facilitates secure, short-range communication between electronic devices, such as mobile phones, PDAs, computers and payments terminals via a fast and easy wireless connection. Combined with contactless payment technology, NFC can enable secure and convenient purchases with a mobile device.”

“Using an NFC-enabled mobile phone, participants in the usability study conducted transactions in several different scenarios – making a purchase at a coffee shop, downloading a movie trailer in a DVD store, shopping from a TV at home, and buying concert tickets from a smart poster.”

“Participants in the usability study accepted and appreciated the concept of incorporating information transfer and secure payment functionality into mobile phones. Retail purchases with a mobile phone were particularly well received, as participants found Philips NFC technology and Visa contactless payments easy to understand, convenient and fast.”

Of interest is that the press release mentions that several major trials are underway around the world to understand the benefits NFC technology can bring to people’s everyday lives. These trials include the Philips Arena stadium in Atlanta (to easily buy goods at concession stands and apparel stores), City of Caen in France (secure payment in selected retail stores, parking facilities and information download about famous tourist sites, movie trailers and bus schedules), the German public transport network operator RMV (to buy, store and use tickets around the bus network in the city of Hanau, near Frankfurt), and Taiwan’s Proximity Mobile Transaction Service Alliance (secure payments for access to Taiwan’s public transport network)

Read full press release: Philips | Visa

(via UsabilityNews)

26 April 2006

Nokia online magazine on music and mobility

Mobile disco
Nokia’s online magazine Culture of Mobility has been updated again. This time it is entitled Mobile Disco and deals with mobile music.

The magazine features an introductory report by Ludovic Hunter-Tilney and a series of journalistic trend impressions. The magazine continues with “insight” interviews and a series of projects and personal recommendations, grouped under The Lab.

26 April 2006

Implications of ethnography for design

CHI 2006
Apparently, Paul Dourish‘s paper on the implications of ethnography for design has caused quite a stir yesterday at the CHI conference. Since it is so topical to the themes of this blog, here is the abstract and the download link:

Abstract
Although ethnography has become a common approach in HCI research and design, considerable confusion still attends both ethnographic practice and the metrics by which it should be evaluated in HCI. Often, ethnography is seen as an approach to field investigation that can generate requirements for systems development; by that token, the major evaluative criterion for an ethnographic studies is the implications it can provide for design. Exploring the nature of ethnographic inquiry, this paper suggests that “implications for design” may not be the best metric for evaluation and may, indeed, fail to capture the value of ethnographic investigations.

Download paper (pdf, 324 kb, 10 pages)

26 April 2006

Digital kids series

Digital kids
“Digital Kids” is the title of a series on the C|Net News.com website, where Stefanie Olsen examines the young generation’s unique immersion in the Web, cell phones, IM and online communities.

Articles include:

When digital kids rule the classroom (26 April 2006)
Teachers may be the masters in the classroom, but when it comes to mastering technology, a growing number of schools are turning to students.

Kids outsmart web filters (19 April 2006)
Last November, Ryan, a high-school sophomore, figured out a way to outsmart the Web filters on a school PC in order to visit the off-limits MySpace.com while doing “homework” in the computer lab.

MySpace reaching out to parents (11 April 2006)
The media frenzy around MySpace.com has struck a nerve with parents fretting about what their kids are doing online.

Teaching kids to drive the Net (4 April 2006)
Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t run on the ice. Look both ways before crossing the street. For most people, they’re lessons learned at an early age.

26 April 2006

Mediamatic publishes comprehensive reader on RFID

Mediamatic RFID Reader
Mediamatic, the Amsterdam cultural institution, has published a comprehensive reader on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), as a preparation for their upcoming workshop on The Internet of Things (9-11 May – speakers include Régine Debatty and Malcolm McCullough).

“Radio frequency identification is a technology that is now rapidly developing. A growing number of logistical companies sees the advantages and possibilities of RFID for managing large bodies of objects. But to what uses can this technology be applied that are not in the logistical realm? How can it serve and/or change society and human interaction? How does it change the concept of information and information networks as we know them today? This reader compiles a number of resources on the technical and philosophical aspects of RFID.”

(via Bruce Sterling)

25 April 2006

Philips Next Simplicity Event

Philips simplicity event
Core77 reports on the NYC press event for the Philips’ Next Simplicity show, and somehow can’t get over the “attractive host-models”. This age-old trick still seems to work.

The show itself included “5 “islands” of concept products, neatly divided into Trust (medical), Care (home), Glow (lighting), Play (home entertainment), and Share (photos, messages)”.

“Many of the concepts were compelling: The Ambient Experience CAT Scan media room has gotten a lot of media attention of course, but its companion toy scanner with stuffed animals for kids to play with in the waiting room, pre-scan, was a nice touch; the Chameleon Lamp–which matches its color to whatever material you put in front of its lens–was a cool trick. But a couple concepts were kinda sad (the Herbarium herb-growing gizmo would horrify any right-minded gardener…or any right-minded person, for that matter)”.

- Read full story
Read Bruce Nussbaum’s reflections on the same event

UPDATE:
Charlie Kondek of the Ann Arbor office of the PR firm Hass MS&L contacted me to alert me to a YouTube video on the event as well as a photo gallery.

25 April 2006

BBC unveils radical revamp of website [The Guardian]

BBC Creative Future
The BBC today unveiled radical plans to rebuild its website around user-generated content, including blogs and home videos, with the aim of creating a public service version of MySpace.com.

Ashley Highfield, the BBC director of new media and technology, also announced proposals to put the corporation’s entire programme catalogue online for the first time from tomorrow in written archive form, as an “experimental prototype”, and rebrand MyBBCPlayer as BBC iPlayer.

Mr Highfield’s presentation, Beyond Broadcast, outlined a three-pronged approach to refocus all future BBC digital output and services around three concepts – “share”, “find” and “play”.

- Read full story
Related story (The Financial Times)
BBC press release

UPDATE 26 April 2006

The BBC Creative Future review has attracted extensive commentary in the Media Guardian:
BBC chief unveils plan for future and warns of losing young viewers (by Owen Gibson)
BBC reaches out to new generation (by Ben Dowell)
BBC reveals broadband ambitions (by Julia Day)
Rivals round on BBC initiative (by Stephen Brook and Chris Tryhorn)

The Media Guardian also published a synthesis with the key points of the Creative Review, as well as the full speech of Mark Thompson, the BBC’s director general.

25 April 2006

New Berlin School of Creative Leadership

Berlin School of Creative Leadership
This morning I interviewed (pdf, 100 kb) Prof. Dr. Pierre Casse, who is coordinating a conference for the IEDC-Bled School of Management (disclosure: a client of mine).

Prof. Casse recently became the academic dean of the brand new Berlin School of Creative Leadership.

The mission of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership at Steinbeis University Berlin is to become the world’s leading institute for quality executive education and research into creative leadership.

Founded by Michael Conrad (former Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett Worldwide), the school is aimed at top creative executives from the worlds of entertainment, media, advertising and marketing.

At its heart is the Executive MBA in Creative Leadership. This 18 month, part-time global program (80 days total) focuses on strategy, innovation, change management, and executive leadership skills. Coursework is designed to meet the needs of creative executives and inspire new management thinking about future communication and leadership practices. The program is organized into six two-week modules in Berlin, Chicago, New York and Tokyo.

By staging high profile international events – industry symposiums, global executive conferences for creative directors and executive leadership seminars and workshops – the Berlin School fuels open dialog within the creative community, tackling key issues such as new leadership practices.

The school works closely together with the Art Directors Club Germany and leading experts in international industry and academia. The Berlin School and the Executive MBA in Creative Leadership are affiliated with the Kellogg School of Management and the Medill School of Journalism through a formal partnership with the Media Management Center of Northwestern University.

In the interview, Prof. Casse mentioned explicitly the influence of Richard Florida and Thomas L. Friedman on the development of the school.

25 April 2006

Podcasting fails to impress, claims Forrester

Podcasting
Podcasting is not attracting users, despite consumer awareness of the new form of content delivery, finds a new study by Forrester Research (as reported by Usability News).

The research and analysis company found that while a quarter of all online consumers have expressed interest, only 1% of US households downloads and listens to podcast content.

Charlene Li, a principal analyst at Forrester, warned that companies should should not heavily invest in the technology at this point: ‘Companies should not be dashing out to create expensive original content for a small audience unless they gain value from being seen as innovative.’

Read full story

25 April 2006

Stuff the kids [The Guardian]

Stuff the kids
It bombards them with adverts, seduces them with merchandise – and then fills them with additives. In an exclusive extract from his explosive new book, Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) reveals in The Guardian how the fast-food industry exploits its key audience – the very young.

Some excerpts from the article:

“Before trying to control children’s behaviour, advertisers have to learn what kids like. Today’s market researchers not only interview children in shopping malls, they also organise focus groups for children as young as two or three.”

“At a focus group, kids are paid to sit around and discuss what they like to buy. The idea of creating a squeezable ketchup bottle came from kids in a focus group. Heinz earned millions of dollars from the idea; the kids who thought of it were paid a small amount. Advertisers study children’s drawings, hire children to take part in focus groups, pay children to attend sleepover parties and then ask them questions late into the night. Advertisers send researchers into homes, stores, fast food restaurants and other places where kids like to gather. They study the fantasy lives of young children, then apply the findings in advertisements and product designs.”

“The fast food chains now work closely with leading toy makers, giving away small toys with children’s meals and selling larger ones at their restaurants.”

“”McDonald’s is in some ways a toy company, not a food company,” says one retired fast food executive. Indeed, McDonald’s is perhaps the largest toy company in the world. It sells or gives away more than 1.5 billion toys every year. Almost one out of every three new toys given to American kids each year comes from McDonald’s or another fast food chain.”

Read full story

25 April 2006

The latest from GAIN, AIGA’s Journal of Business and Design

GAIN, AIGA's Journal of Business and Design
GAIN, AIGA’s Journal of Business and Design, is a rich resource for user experience designers.

They just published for instance a series of papers that were originally presented at the dux 05 conference and I highlight some here:

The Mobile Storefront: let your fingers do the shopping
The Mobile Storefront Case Study is a project to improve the retail user experience for shopping and purchasing ringtones, games, pictures, and other content on handsets.
Abstract | Full paper (pdf, 348 kb, 7 pages)

Designing speculative household cleaning
This report examines the impact of aging on housework in the context of product design and presents a human-centered approach to designing cleaning products.
Abstract | Full paper (pdf, 7.7 mb, 7 pages)

Design-led passenger environment and passenger experience
This paper explores the need for design-aid tools to help designers understand and communicate the end-user perception of comfort, focusing in particular on the case of railway passengers.
Abstract | Full paper (pdf, 712 kb, 5 pages)

Augmenting the City: the design of a context-aware mobile web site
This paper presents the design of “Just-for-Us” – a context-aware web site for mobile devices augmenting the social experience of the city. The produced solution augments the city through web-based access to a digital layer of information about people, places and activities adapted to users’ physical and social context and their history of social interactions in the city.
Abstract | Full paper (pdf, 1.5 mb, 7 pages)

Also in GAIN, you can find a lengthy interview with Michael Benedikt, who is writing a general theory of value.