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Putting People First

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May 2006
17 May 2006

“Experience design is about the way a person experiences a brand”

Liisa Puolakka
Matt Sinclair, a Helsinki product designer, interviews Liisa Puolakka, Head of Brand Visual and Sensorial Experiences at Nokia, about “fashion, trends, and why experience design is currently such a hot topic”.

A quote:

“You can see [experience design] used everywhere nowadays, but I think the main thing is that rather than just designing an object you take a more holistic approach. That means the design language and how it relates to other products; how does it feel to use, both rationally and emotionally; how it’s packaged; what accessories are available; the kind of environment it may be sold in; what services should be targeted to the consumer of that product. And when you start with that kind of approach you end up with something much more purposeful for the user, but not just purposeful, also more pleasurable, so the consumer is surprised, in a positive way, when they use the product. That’s perhaps why experience design is so talked about right now, because those things relate back to the brand, to the way that consumers think about a company’s image. Experience design is about the way a person experiences a brand.”

Read full interview

(via freegorifero)

17 May 2006

Deloitte’s eye to the future

Deloitte's eye to the future
The professional services firm Deloitte has released today the foresight study “Eye to the Future“, with the enigmatic subtitle “How TMT advances could change the way we live in 2010″. TMT, it turns out, stands for “Technology, Media and Telecommunications”.

The report looks at how technology advances will change the way we live our lives: “Although we won’t be watching holographic TV or travelling to work in flying cars, technology will be far more involved in our everyday lives than ever before – from the car to the classroom, the living room to the office and essentially everywhere in between”.

According to the Deloitte website, the report looks at the impact technology will have on:

  • How we educate our children – What technologies will be used? Will these displace teachers? Will there be increased opportunities for cheating and skipping classes?
  • How we entertain ourselves – Will broadband turn surfing into prime time entertainment? Will next generation video games be able to burn billions of calories as well as develop the mind? Will user generated content be our main form of entertainment?
  • How we work – Will work place boundaries blur, both socially and geographically? Will the office team disaggregate? What role will search have on productivity?
  • How we travel – Will robots be driving our cars? Will the growing use of GPS mean individuals lose their sense of direction? Will the last refuge from the office finally disappear as airplanes, buses and trains get connected?
  • How we communicate – Will more people get connected? Will video calls become the norm?

- Download report (pdf, 449 kb, 24 pages)
- Background story on ZDNet UK

(via The Register)

17 May 2006

Yahoo! relaunches research site

Yahoo! Research project
Yahoo! Research has just launched an updated version of its website.

It focuses on four research areas: search, machine learning, microeconomics and media experiences and design.

The media experiences and design research area has been “set up to explore and invent social media and mobile media technology and applications that will enable people to create, describe, find, share, and remix media on the web”. Notwithstanding Yahoo!’s public commitment to tap into the collective knowledge of its users, this research area (the only one dealing with users at all) seems to be the smallest if we take the number of publications as a measure.

The featured research project in this area, Zone Tag, allows you to quickly and easily upload images from your camera phone to Flickr, and tag them based on your previous tags and those of your network.

Curiously, the site has no rss feed.

16 May 2006

Tech speak confuses everyday audience [Digital Web Magazine]

TCP IP
The acronyms and jargon that litter the Internet landscape fail to convey meaning because they’re based on confusing technical specifications with no immediately recognizable language roots: “TCP/IP,” “MP3,” and “KB,” for example. As a result, millions of people fumble their way through their daily computer use in a state of continuous confusion.

How we think about technology is directly related to how we talk and write about it. As long as we are limiting the discussion to technical specifications, we reduce accessibility, limit usability, and ultimately fail to realize the benefits of these tools for many individuals. And, as businesses, that means we lose potential customers and revenue.

Tech companies have earned a reputation for not caring about how bewildering their products are to the average person. But they should care. For in the increasingly competitive marketplace in which we find ourselves—a marketplace that adds more and more non-technical users every day—a company that makes a product that is easier to use and understand will have a distinct competitive advantage over those that neglect their audience’s needs.

Read full story

(via Usability in the News)

15 May 2006

Major usability and accessibility initiative launched in the UK [BBC]

it enables
The BBC news website reports on the e-inclusion charter, one of the key projects of the it enables consortium, which aims “to research the use of information and communication technology (ICT) by disabled people”.

The e-inclusion charter aims “to provide clear guidelines on how best to develop ICT working to ensure it includes and benefits disabled people”. It is based on the premise that “disabled and older people should have the same rights to participate in the Information Society as other citizens. Information and communication technology (ICT) such as personal computers, mobile phones and interactive TV should be tools that help overcome barriers they face in education, the workplace and social life.”

In the BBC article (excerpt below), the organisers stress that they are aiming at more than just increasing accessibility for disabled users, but want to promote usability improvements for everyone.

The consortium partners include the Alliance for Digital Inclusion (ADI), a pan-industry body focusing on the impact of information and communication technology on our society, with AOL UK, BT, Cisco Systems UK, IBM UK, Intel UK & Ireland, Microsoft UK and T-Mobile as its members, RNID, the Disabled Living Foundation, and the leading technology development consultancy Scientific Generics.

From the BBC story:

Technology firms are being targeted in a bid to make hardware and software easier to use for everyone.

The initiative, backed by disability charities and big firms like BT, aims to make hi-tech firms take usability more seriously.

They want to get companies thinking about how to make goods and services easy to use while design work is done.

Firms signing up will be expected to make big changes to all the things they do that customers encounter.

Despite the involvement of charities that try to raise awareness of accessibility issues, Guido Gybels, director of new technologies at the RNID, said the charter aimed to help everyone.

“We are not talking about small groups of people with specialist needs,” he said.

Instead, said Mr Gybels, the charter wanted to make companies apply accessibility and usability to everything they produce – no matter who buys it or uses it.

Read full story

15 May 2006

Firms turn R&D on its head, looking outside for ideas [Boston Globe]

Lego Mindstorms
The Boston Globe reports on the radical changes taking place in product and service innovation.

Citing the forthcoming book Outside Innovation by Patricia B. Seybold, a Boston high-tech consultant, the article highlights how “companies are shaking up their methods of bringing products and services to market. Among the outside parties they’re reaching out to: their own customers.”

“Through a process known as ”outside innovation,” companies are deputizing customers to help design new offerings, writes Seybold in her book.”

“Seybold, drawing on studies by Eric von Hippel, professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, said forward-thinking businesses are setting up online forums to identify ‘lead customers’, those who are early adopters and passionate users of their products, and work with them to drive innovation.”

The article also quotes Navi Radjou, vice president at Forrester Research in Cambridge, whose new report last month Transforming R&D Culture revealed how companies themselves say that “their inflexible R&D processes weren’t keeping up with evolving customer needs”, and that “the insular mindset of research and development departments” are becoming “a barrier to innovation”.

Read full story

15 May 2006

Defeating feature fatigue [Harvard Business Review]

A mouse pad that's also a clock, calculator and fm radio
“Consider a coffeemaker that offers 12 drink options, a car with more than 700 features on the dashboard, and a mouse pad that’s also a clock, calculator and FM radio. All are examples of “feature bloat,” or “featuritis,” the result of an almost irresistible temptation to load products with lots of bells and whistles,” writes the Harvard Business Review.

“The problem is that the more features a product boasts, the harder it is to use. Manufacturers that increase a product’s capability–the number of useful functions it can perform–at the expense of its usability are exposing their customers to feature fatigue.”

The authors of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business “have conducted three studies to gain a better understanding of how consumers weigh a product’s capability relative to its usability. They found that even though consumers know that products with more features are harder to use, they initially choose high-feature models. They also pile on more features when given the chance to customize a product for their needs. Once consumers have actually worked with a product, however, usability starts to matter more to them than capability.”

“For managers in consumer products companies, these findings present a dilemma: Should they maximize initial sales by designing high-feature models, which consumers consistently choose, or should they limit the number of features to enhance the lifetime value of their customers?”

“The authors’ analytical model guides companies toward a happy middle ground: maximizing the net present value of the typical customer’s profit stream. The authors also advise companies to build simpler products, help consumers learn which products suit their needs, develop products that do one thing very well, and design market research in which consumers use actual products or prototypes.”

Go to abstract page (where you can purchase a pdf of the 11 page study)

15 May 2006

The aim of simplicity [Christian Science Monitor]

A complex mobile phone
More and more, Americans are being caught in a dilemma: They love electronic gadgets with lots of bells and whistles. But they’re also frustrated when they get their new toys home and find out they aren’t easy to install or operate.

As a result, the world continues to be filled with poorly designed products, doomed to either gather dust in a bottom drawer or be returned to the store.

But manufacturers are beginning to see the importance of simplifying their products.

In 2004, Philips Electronics introduced its “Sense and Simplicity” program to make its products more customer friendly. Philips found many devices had functions that consumers had difficulty installing or did not use.

Today, Philips has released or is developing a number of products that reflect its new approach.

Read full story

12 May 2006

Thumb Culture: The Meaning of Mobile Phones for Society (Book)

Thumb Culture
Peter Glotz, Stefan Bertschi, Chris Locke (eds.), Thumb Culture: The Meaning of Mobile Phones for Society, Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2005, 296 pp., pb., 27,80 €, ISBN: 3-89942-403-4.

Synopsis: Mobile communication has an increasing impact on people’s lives and society. Ubiquitous media influence the way users relate to their surroundings, and data services like text and pictures lead to a culture shaped by thumbs.

Representing several years of research into the social and cultural effects of mobile phone use, this volume assembles the fascinating approaches and new insights of leading scientists and practitioners.

The book contains the results of a first international survey on the social consequences of mobile phones. It provides a comprehensive inventory of today’s issues and an outlook in mobile media, society and their future study.

- Visit book website
- Download introduction (pdf, 155 kb, 9 pages)
- Download flyer (pdf, 152 kb, 2 pages)

(via MEX – The PMN Mobile User Experience conference)

12 May 2006

Stanford conference ponders world with machines more powerful than their creators

The Singularity Is Near
“Is technology poised to develop machines that can outsmart their human creators”, asks Tom Abate in the San Francisco Chronicle. “What will happen to mere mortals if such superintelligent machines arise?”

These will be among the questions pondered when experts in artificial intelligence, brain research and other futuristic fields gather at Stanford University on Saturday for what is being called the Singularity Summit.

“Borrowing a term from physics, singularity suggests a horizon beyond which we can’t see. It describes the point at which some form of intelligence spawned by technology gains the ability to rapidly improve its own programming — becoming so powerful that we cannot predict what it might do. At that point, its capabilities could exceed even the power of our imaginations.”

- Read full story
- Listen to Tom Abate’s interview with Ray Kurzweil

11 May 2006

When the new old are eternal youths

Active and ageing
Julia Huber, co-author of Demos‘ ‘The New Old‘ and ‘Eternal Youths‘ reports, recently shared her work and ideas on ageing at the UK Design Council.

She discussed the implications of an ageing population of baby boomers and stressed the need for consideration of the social, cultural and polictical challenges (not just the economic dimensions) of catering for the needs of the ‘new old’, as well as increasing their potential contribution to society:

  • Quality of life for older people is no different to quality of life for younger people.
  • Age is not as important as life stage. People become old at different ages.
  • Elderly people are as diverse as any other group in society. There is no such thing as “the elderly”. Moreover old age comprises different life stages. In particular: 3rd Age and 4th Age.
  • Quality of life in old age combines how we approach life and how we approach death. Furthermore, hope is essential in both life and death.
  • Most spending on the elderly, funds services to tackle physical illness and financial need and neglect the social and emotional aspects of well being.
  • Most of the money is concentrated in institutions while services fail to mobilise the resources in families and communities.
  • “Care” is an emotional relationship not a transactional relationship. As a result the “care” industry succeeds in providing services to support physical and health needs but fails to meet emotional and social needs.

(from the Design Council’s RED website)

10 May 2006

Rotman Magazine on the Creative Age

The Creative Age
“When it comes to innovation, business has much to learn from the world of design”, writes Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management in the Spring/Summer issue of the school’s magazine. “Business people don’t need to understand designers better; they need to be designers – to think and work like designers and to embed design-shop characteristics in their organizations.”

In ‘Designing in Hostile Territory’, Martin discusses what design thinkers can do when they come up against reliability-obsessed, non-design thinkers.

Creativity involves distinct kinds of thinking that must be cultivated both in the individual and in surrounding societies, according to best-selling author and researcher Richard Florida. He talks about why creative capital is drawn to certain places, and the dangers of our increasingly “spikey” world.

Having spent the past decade studying how designers work and create, Darden School of Business Professor Jeanne Liedtka offers ten suggestions to improve our design thinking in “If Managers Thought Like Designers”.

Harvard’s Teresa Amabile – the only top-tier business school professor who has devoted her research entirely to the study of creativity – shows how positive emotional experiences relate to creative thinking on the job.

Creativity often springs from diverse groups of people talking about possibilities – people who look different, think differently, and have different skills and backgrounds. But what combinations of human capital work best? Rotman Assistant Professor Kristina Dahlin attempts to answer this in Maximizing Productivity in Diverse Teams.

Elsewhere in the magazine, Heather Fraser, director of Business Design Initiatives at the Rotman School, talks about ‘design thinking’ vs. ‘design doing’; Tuck School of Business professors Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble explain the importance of forgetting, borrowing and learning for strategic experiments; the magazine features SAS’s Jim Goodnight; Rotman Professors John Hull and Alan White describe new tools for credit risk; and University of Chicago economist David Galenson discusses the difference between ‘experimental’ and ‘conceptual’ innovators.

Download magazine (pdf, 5.6 mb, 116 pages)

(via Noise between Stations)

10 May 2006

How to build a better product—study people [PC Magazine]

Intel's Genevieve Bell observing in a French kitchen
PC Magazine just published a long feature story on how anthropology is moving into the corporation.

Product development has historically been predicated on a “build it and they will come” basis. But times are changing, consumer choice is increasing and the game plan has evolved.

Ethnography, a branch of anthropology, uses a variety of research methods to study people in a bid to understand human culture. Since top companies across several industries are treating ethnography as a means of designing for and connecting with potential customers, technology companies have recently begun investing significantly more research time and money into the field. At chip giant Intel, for example, the company spent approximately $5 billion on ethnographic research and development during 2004.

As the respective leaders in the hardware and operating systems markets, both Intel and fellow tech giant Microsoft have begun using teams of researchers to identify new market opportunities and improve existing products.

Read full story

10 May 2006

Microsoft updates “Tech Tomorrowland” [PC Magazine]

Microsoft's Thomas Gruver demonstrates DigiDesk
Microsoft has officially unveiled its third update to its Center for Information Work, a “Tomorrowland” of technology that attempts to envision what a future work environment might look like.

The new scenario, according to the model Microsoft researchers have developed, will be an increasingly collaborative environment where technology will be used to create context and abstract the gigabytes of information that users will be subjected to.

Technologies such as “DataLens,” “BestCom” and sectioned documents have been designed to segment and partition tasks into manageable chunks that can be accessed by a variety of platforms, Microsoft executives said. Others, such as the “Roundtable” or “RingCam,” are constantly being improved and may eventually commercialised.

The CIW sits on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Wash., and attempts to map out, and address, what issues will be faced by tomorrow’s worker. It’s a combination of focus group, ethnography, and team-building; since the center is housed inside Microsoft’s executive briefing building, vice presidents and other senior executives from Fortune 3000 companies are invited to sit down and explore the technology, according to Thomas Gruver, group marketing manager for the CIW. About 30 tours are given a week. The center is updated about every 12 to 18 months, he said.

Like the concept cars at an auto show, all, some, or none of the technologies will make it to market – or, if they do, they may be tucked inside another product.

Read full story

10 May 2006

Vinton Cerf and Esther Dyson discuss the internet’s future

Esther Dyson
A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal online published a long interview with web pioneer Vinton G. Cerf and CNET’s editor in chief Esther Dyson. The interview is part of a series of articles to mark the 10th anniversary of the WSJ.com website, and focuses specifically on the next 10 years of the internet.

One quote from Esther Dyson:

“I think you’ll see a fundamental shift in the balance of power towards individuals. Individuals will declare what kinds of vendors they want sponsoring their content, and then those vendors will have the privilege of appearing, discreetly, around the user’s content. There will be much less “advertising” and much more communication to interested customers. Advertisers will have to learn to listen, not just to track and segment customers.

So the message to marketers is: If you can’t sell your product (assuming it’s already in the market), fix the product! Don’t try to change the situation by advertising.

Consumers will publish wish lists for marketers to scan. Also, their choices will be influenced by their friends’ comments much more than by marketers’ messages.

On the other hand, it will be much harder for consumers to get free content anonymously, because advertisers will want to know more about the people they are paying to reach. In many cases, whether email or ads, users may even get a share of the marketer’s payments. (See AttentionTrust.org or my op-ed on Goodmail or my post on Release 1.0.)

This makes sense from advertisers’ point of view, but it has a social downside: People who buy Porsches can earn more from marketers than people who buy used cars. People without money will find it harder and harder to get free content — which means a role for nonprofits in funding access to content for all.”

10 May 2006

LeadUsers.nl

LeadUsers.nl
Philips-owned LeadUsers.nl (site in Dutch only) has just completed its second lead user-centric project, which was all about discussing the quality of sleep, reports Trendwatching.

The site has been active since August 2005, and aims to bring together lead users (those consumers that face the needs that will be general in the marketplace, but face them months or years ahead of the rest of the marketplace, and are positioned to benefit significantly by obtaining a solution to those needs) to discuss various topics of interest to both Philips and participants. The aim is to research which new innovative product solutions could best address the needs of these users.

The first topic of discussion and research was video telephony: a number of participants received the latest in video telephony equipment to be tested at home. A new topic will be announced shortly.

9 May 2006

The future of clothes

The Future of Clothes
Clothes are a conundrum for the futurist, writes futurist Joseph Coates in an article, published last year in the international journal Technological Forecasting & Social Change.

They are, he says, nearly universally worn and a worldwide industry spends tons of money to present the new, must-have stuff to would-be customers. And yet, there have been no significant studies of the future of clothing.

In the article, Coates reflects on both how our current fashions came to be, and where they are headed, and emphasises that social trends, marketing, status, politics, religion, globalization, climate, technical innovation (zippers, synthetic fabrics, color-fast dyes) and even health concerns are drivers of fashion change, and that new factors such as the Internet, mass customisation and global warming will also play a role in what we’ll be wearing tomorrow.

He concludes that over the next generation, our clothes will be more comfortable, better fitting, and easier to clean or discard. They will also guard our health and safety, respond to the environment, improve our work and recreation, and communicate with people and things automatically or at the wearer’s discretion.

Download article (pdf, 160 kb, 8 pages)

(via FutureWire)

9 May 2006

Customer Experience is an organisational challenge, suggests business school research

Foviance
London Business School and Harvard Business School speakers took a look at customer experience within business at a Foviance event launching research findings on FTSE 100 management practices, writes Ann Light in Usability News.

Discussing a new report “Wanted: Chief Experience Officer, commissioned from the London Business School by Foviance and prepared with Amit Kakkad [not yet online, it seems], Chris Voss summed up: ‘Nearly all of the UK FTSE 100 companies that we questioned are now seeing attention to the customer experience as important, and cite it as a growing area of attention for the future. In addition on-line experience is becoming as important as face-to-face. However, this recognition of importance is currently not matched within the organisation. Only one third of companies have someone with direct responsibility for customer experience, and on-line and face-to face experience tended to be managed separately.’

Almost all of the companies surveyed (96%) believe managing online customer experience will become more important to them than managing offline customer experience in the future. 71% consider online customer experience to be more important than managing offline customer experience already, and 25% see it as equally important.

Read full story

9 May 2006

Trendwatching report on businesses and co-creation

Vores Oel, an Open Source Beer
Trendwatching has just published a customer-made update, exactly one year after their last coverage, with new insights and hands-on examples of firms already profiting from co-creating with their customers.

They define co-creation as “the phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and experiences in close cooperation with experienced and creative consumers, tapping into their intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in (and rewarding them for) what actually gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed.”

UPDATE:
A critical reflection by Chris Lawer on this report

8 May 2006

Design as play

Ulla-Maaria Mutanen
According to modern western thinking, work and play represent two opposing concepts, writes Ulla-Maaria Mutanen in her blog “Hobbyprincess”.

Play is associated with enjoyment, irrationality, spontaneity, experimentation and fun, whereas work is serious, rational, economical, normal and entirely predictable. The juxtaposition of work and play is partly explained by the Protestant work ethic, which holds work to be a virtue and a model of the good life. According to this philosophy, sensible and hard work could not be, and was not allowed to be fun, entertaining or anything that would promote disobedience, enjoyment and smugness, all of which were thought to be ruinous to true Christian belief.

The juxtaposing of work and play may also originate from the view that play is a child’s activity. Especially within the fields of psychology and education, play among children and animals is studied as a phenomenon connected to biological and cultural development.

Removing play from the scope of socially significant work and adult activities has led to its trivialisation. Play has no place in the professional world or the social innovation system.

In the light of current trends, however, it looks like the role of play in work, especially in design and research work, will have to be re-evaluated. One reason for this can be found in the ongoing innovation crisis within established institutions and businesses. Organisations trimmed to maximise their economic performance no longer represent the kind of environment in which the best new ideas and innovations can develop.

Instead, scholars such as Eric von Hippel and Henry Chesbrough have highlighted how the latest applications are being developed in the fringes, among communities of users, hobbyists and amateur developers.

Read full story (to be published as an article in the Finnish Design Yearbook 2006)