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Putting People First

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April 2006
5 April 2006

Newsweek cover story on Web 2.0

Newsweek on Web 2.0
A new wave of startups are making hay out of the Internet’s ability to empower citizens and enrich those who help with the empowerment.

The massive success of MySpace and the exemplary strategy of Flickr are milestones in a new high-tech wave reminiscent of the craziness of the early dot-com days. This rebooting owes everything to the enhanced power and pervasiveness of the Web, which has finally matured to the point where it can fulfill some of the outlandish promises that we heard in the ’90s. The generic term for this movement, especially among the hundreds of new companies jamming the waiting rooms of venture-capital offices, is Web 2.0, but that’s misleading—some supposedly Web 1.0 companies like eBay and Google have been clueful about this all along. A more fitting description comes from Mary Hodder, the CEO of a social-video-sharing start-up called Dabble. "This is the live Web," she says.

Read full story

5 April 2006

Designing for the base of the pyramid

Design for the Base of the Pyramid
Design for the Base of the Pyramid is an initiative by the IIT Institute of Design “to develop human-centered design strategies and concepts for new products, services and businesses capable of generating sustainable economic improvement in the lives of people living in the vast base of the global economic pyramid.”

By taking the time to research and understand the social interaction, economic activity and physical conditions of the areas they aimed to serve, the DOBP teams were able to identify preexisting enterprises, and opportunities to help local businesses innovate. They developed a concept system that ties together services, skill training, and digital networking for exchange of goods and access to resources, working “together to improve not only living conditions, but the health and sustainability of local economies.”

(via WorldChanging)

5 April 2006

Smart Cities 2020 [Metropolis Magazine]

Smart Cities prototype
Emerging technologies are poised to reshape our urban environments.

These days computers are mostly devices in drag. The gadgets that surround us wear the distinctive gear and play the varied roles of telephones, MP3 players, digital cameras, watches and date books. Under the surface, microchips and software are what make these otherwise inert lumps of metal and plastic useful. The same goes for domestic appliances, automobiles, laboratory equipment, prostheses, and the electrical and mechanical systems of buildings.

Our cities are fast transforming into artificial ecosystems of interconnected, interdependent intelligent digital organisms. This is the fundamentally new technological condition confronting architects and product designers in the twenty-first century.

"At the MIT Design Laboratory," writes William J. Mitchell, "my colleagues and I work with teams of students to explore the emerging opportunities this condition provides".

Read full story

4 April 2006

Design revelations from Shanghai [Business Week]

Professor Patrick Whitney
For the last 10 years, the state of mainstream design in China has approximated the first stage of design in the U.S., writes Patrick Whitney in a Business Week column.

Consumers in the emerging mass market are gravitating toward products and messages that represent a new and improved quality of life. In China, sometimes this means copying a successful design from Japan, Korea, or the U.S. At other times, a design would employ a feature more characteristic of China — say, gluing a small diamond onto a mobile phone to give it a sense of luxury.

With few exceptions, Chinese designers, like early U.S. ones, focused exclusively on external appearance. Think of gluing chrome onto the side of a new car. But, like U.S. companies in the mid-20th century, Chinese companies will need to adopt a more sophisticated use of design if they expect to continue to grow.

But last October in Shanghai, the presidents of the Chinese arms of Philips, Sony, Disney, Kodak, and other advanced companies, concluded that the future of digital entertainment in China hinges on gaining a deeper understanding of the way Chinese people live. This will not come from surveys about the things consumers want — that would only lead to incremental changes in what they already have. It will derive from a serious look at the ways Chinese families entertain themselves, finding the patterns, and creating systems of solutions that go well beyond what the families could ask for.

A visit to homes, offices, and stores in China demonstrates that manufacturers are designing more products and services to meet the needs of Chinese users.

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3 April 2006

In a wired South Korea, robots will feel right at home [The New York Times]

Robot in South Korea
South Korea, the world’s most wired country, is rushing to turn what sounds like science fiction into everyday life. The government, which succeeded in getting broadband Internet into 72 percent of all households in the last half decade, has marshaled an army of scientists and business leaders to make robots full members of society.

By 2007, networked robots that, say, relay messages to parents, teach children English and sing and dance for them when they are bored, are scheduled to enter mass production. Outside the home, they are expected to guide customers at post offices or patrol public areas, searching for intruders and transmitting images to monitoring centers.

If all goes according to plan, robots will be in every South Korean household between 2015 and 2020. That is the prediction, at least, of the Ministry of Information and Communication, which has grouped more than 30 companies, as well as 1,000 scientists from universities and research institutes, under its wing. Some want to move even faster.

Read full story

3 April 2006

Making the New York Times online experience simpler and more useful

The new New York Times
The New York Times launched a modest redesign over the weekend and it does a great job of presenting large amounts of information in a coherent, organised way.

Leonard M. Apcar, the New York Times editor in chief, writes: "Our goal when we set out to redesign The Times Web site more than a year ago was to make experiencing The New York Times online simpler and more useful."

Khoi Vinh, who worked on the project, discusses the work on his blog:

"[It is] a great example of how to evolve a user experience rather than reinvent it: the best reaction it could receive from readers (those not among that vanishingly small subset of the general populace who can be called ‘design savvy’) would be something along the lines of “The new design looks just like the old design."

See also: Adam Richardson review

3 April 2006

How Americans use their cell phones [Pew / Internet]

American use of cell phones
The cell phone has become an integral and, for some, essential communications tool that has helped owners gain help in emergencies. Fully 74% of the Americans who own mobile phones say they have used their hand-held device in an emergency and gained valuable help.

Another striking impact of mobile technology is that Americans are using their cell phones to shift they way they spend their time. Some 41% of cell phone owners say they fill in free time when they are traveling or waiting for someone by making phone calls. And 44% say they wait to make most of their cell calls for the hours when they do not count against their “anytime” minutes in their basic calling plan.

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3 April 2006

Xerox center studies ways to make products easier to use [Rochester Democrat & Chronicle]

Xerox Center
In a plain-looking room, a woman struggles with a fuser module on a Xerox copier. She needs to replace the module, which melts toner as images are copied onto a page.

She glances at the module, then the machine, then back at the module. She stoops to look at a door on the copier, looking for directions on how to put the module back in and get the machine working again.

She’s also being watched — and videotaped. She’s one of hundreds a year who become guinea pigs of sorts at Xerox Corp.’s Industrial Design and Human Interface Center in Henrietta.

In this case, a group of designers and engineers is keenly interested in watching her work with the module. The intent of the center is to take input from customers, watch their habits and incorporate that feedback into Xerox products.

Xerox also sends workers into the field to watch how people use their machines, and it gains feedback through Internet monitoring.

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(via Design Tastes Good)