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Putting People First

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May 2006
8 May 2006

Welcome to the new dollhouse [The New York Times]

The Sims
As far as we know, children have always played with dolls of one sort or another to act out variations on their own lives, or lives they observe or imagine. Today, a vast and growing number of kids are doing the same thing — but with a very new tool. Instead of dolls, they are using video games. And perhaps most of all, they’re using The Sims.

Some video games let players battle aliens or quarterback a pro football team; The Sims drops the player into an even more fantastic environment: suburban family life. Each Sim, as the characters are known, is different — one might be an old man, one might be a young girl; one is motivated primarily by money, for instance, while another may want popularity — and it’s up to the player to tend to those needs. As in real life, there are no points in The Sims and you can’t “win.” You just try to find happiness as best you can.

And though video game players are often stereotyped as grunged-out, desensitized slackers, it is the nation’s middle-class schoolchildren, particularly girls, who have helped make The Sims one of the world’s premier game franchises, selling more than 60 million copies globally since its introduction in 2000.

Among psychologists and education experts, it is widely accepted that playing with dolls is a safe and perhaps even essential part of self-discovery and growing up for many children, especially girls. Now, some of those experts are catching on to how quickly video games are moving into the territory formerly dominated by a slim blonde named Barbie.

“It’s not that surprising when you look at the game,” said James Paul Gee, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin who directs a program that studies the intersection of learning and gaming among both adults and children. “It’s a great resource for them to design and think about relationships and social spaces.”

Read full story

8 May 2006

Forty percent of Americans play electronic games, poll shows [Seattle Times]

Nightelf
According to a new AP-AOL Games poll, 40 percent of American adults play games on a computer or a console. Men, younger adults and minorities were most likely to play those games.

Among those who describe themselves as gamers, 45 percent play over the Internet. And more than a third of online gamers spent more than $200 last year on gaming, compared with nearly a quarter of those who don’t play games online.

Online gamers also spent more time playing those games.

Forty-two percent of online gamers said they spent at least four hours playing games during an average week, compared with 26 percent of those who don’t play online. About one in six online gamers play more than 10 hours a week.

The survey results come as Sony Corp., Nintendo Co. and Microsoft Corp. prepare to push their new consoles this week at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. All three are hoping to make broad online features such as multiplayer games, video conferencing and downloadable content a core element of the video game experience.

Read full story

8 May 2006

Usability: it ain’t easy [TelecomAsia.Net]

Mobile phone user in Asia
With more advanced services rolling out across the planet, ease-of-use is becoming crucial to their success, but today’s user interfaces aren’t quite cutting it. Solving that will be a complex task, but the place to start is the users – not just by asking them what they want in future, but what they’re doing with their handsets now.

This is becoming especially true in emerging markets, which are already recognized as the next significant growth segment for mobile, but not at the expense of added functionality.

“Why should this only be for high-end markets?” says John Hoffman, CEO of integrated messaging start-up fastmobile. “Emerging markets could arguably benefit more from simplifying services than more developed markets. Many new customers are using a mobile phone for the first time, so you want to make it as simple to use as possible to help them understand and drive services.”

Either way, usability translates into real money, according to a report released last month by VisionGain, which says that a “robust and customizable” user interface (UI) that is coherent, logical and doesn’t require manuals or training for the user to figure out is one of the key elements that will drive worldwide data ARPU from $5 last year to $22 by 2011.

“The user experience is not just derived through network capabilities or handset design, its software or its hardware alone,” says VisionGain telecoms analyst and lead report author Prachi Nema, “but through the holistic experience delivered by all components of the handset and the network itself”.

Read full story

(via Usability in the News)

8 May 2006

When street ads give you a ring [International Herald Tribune]

JP Decaux
Sometime in the next few weeks, French [JP Decaux] billboards will be able to speak to your mobile phone – but only with your permission.

People with certain kinds of phones who download a special software program and say they want to participate will receive digital advertising when the phone is near the billboards.

It is the latest twist in the budding niche of mobile marketing, wherein the cellphone becomes a conduit not just for communications but also for commerce.

When participating users are near an active advertisement – it could be part of a billboard or a bus shelter poster – their phones will automatically receive a notice that a digital file can be downloaded. The information could range from a ring tone or short video to a discount voucher.

Read full story

(via Pasta & Vinegar)

4 May 2006

Siemens magazine with foresight scenarios

Siemens Pictures of the Future
The latest issue of Siemens’ Pictures of the Future magazine features technology-driven scenarios for our world ten to fifteen years hence, based on the company’s own research, as well as on some other non-Siemens projects and expert interviews.

The magazine, which is available for download (pdf, 7.9 mb, 51 pages), is organised in sections that deal with infrastructure solutions, electric machines (really!) and simulation.

It is revealing and somehow saddening to see that such a huge international corporation as Siemens, can still imagine future changes to be only driven by technological and engineering developments. Somehow this Epcot style utopian thinking, which feels very dated to me, must still be inspiring for lots of decision makers.

4 May 2006

PsychNology, a journal on the relationship between humans and technology

PsychNology Journal
PsychNology Journal is an international, peer-reviewed, on-line journal interested in investigating the relationship between humans and technology from a multidisciplinary perspective.

The term ‘PsychNology’ results from the merge of two words, Psychology and Technology, and has been chosen in order to emphasize the tight relationship connecting the two concepts. It releases three issues a year and publishes orginal papers subject to a review process. It embraces an open access policy to increase accessibility of scientific content and offer colors, videos, off-prints and registration at no cost for readers and authors.

The current issue deals with the digital divide and upcoming issues are planned on emerging trends in cybertherapy, designing technology to meet the needs of the older user, and mobile media and communication.

Past issues have dealt with such topics as usability in electronic environments, body in cyberspace, future interfaces (part a and part b), human-computer interactions, computer support for collaborative learning, and space, place and technology (part a and part b).

(via Nicolas Nova in Pasta & Vinegar)

4 May 2006

Empirical studies of the user experience

Behaviour & Information Technology
The March-April issue of the Behaviour & Information Technology journal is entitled “Empirical Studies of the User Experience”.

Although most of the articles are not for free, the introductory article “User Experience — a research agenda” by Marc Hassenzahl and Noam Tractinsky is. Download it here (pdf, 138 kb, 7 pages). This is the abstract:

“Over the last decade, ‘user experience’ (UX) became a buzzword in the field of human – computer interaction (HCI) and interaction design. As technology matured, interactive products became not only more useful and usable, but also fashionable, fascinating things to desire. Driven by the impression that a narrow focus on interactive products as tools does not capture the variety and emerging aspects of technology use, practitioners and researchers alike, seem to readily embrace the notion of UX as a viable alternative to traditional HCI. And, indeed, the term promises change and a fresh look, without being too specific about its definite meaning. The present introduction to the special issue on ‘Empirical studies of the user experience’ attempts to give a provisional answer to the question of what is meant by ‘the user experience’. It provides a cursory sketch of UX and how we think UX research will look like in the future. It is not so much meant as a forecast of the future, but as a proposal – a stimulus for further UX research.”

(via Kelake and InfoDesign)

4 May 2006

Mining the golden years [Business Week]

The 50-plus market
The sight of customers tying themselves into knots is usually a spur for businesses to invent something better. Yet brands willfully ignore the frustration of a particular market segment, which is growing larger and wealthier each year.

The insults dealt casually to older consumers are numerous: websites that fly in the face of accessibility, packaging that is difficult to open, fiddly IT products that put fashion before easy use, portions that force aging singletons to buy meals designed for kids. Then there are the age-ghetto items, such as stair-lifts, which mainstream advertisers dispatched long ago to a no-man’s-land, sign-posted geriatric.

Today’s oldest consumers were born too early to benefit from the ongoing revolution. Fast-forward through a couple of decades and the world may look very different. The most successful businesses, in all likelihood, will appeal to age, not youth.

Society will change because of population aging. The baby-boom generation’s age now ranges from 42 to 60. As the demographic bulge works its way from mid to late life, businesses will be — as Dick Stroud, author of The 50-Plus Market, states — compelled by economic logic to shift their center of gravity from the younger generation to the older generation

Read full story

3 May 2006

Cellphone gaming lacks pull, report shows [The Washington Post]

Mobile phone game
When it comes to buying and playing video games on a mobile phone, many people have tried it — but few ever try it again.

A report by Seattle-based M:Metrics released yesterday found that prices, choice and lack of interest were the biggest factors that have kept cellphone video game sales from growing in the United States [as well as the UK and Germany].

Less than 3 percent of cellphone users are buying and playing games on their phones — and that number hasn’t grown much in recent months.

The M:Metrics report comes a day after a report from research firm NPD Group found that, despite the popularity of camera phones, only 20 percent of users take and transmit pictures with them.

- Read full story
Read M:Metrics press release
Read NPD Group press release

(via Bob Jacobson)

3 May 2006

Business insights from consumer culture, a top-level conference on ethnography, marketing and business

Business insights from consumer culture
Today starts the MSI conference “Business insights from consumer culture” in Toronto, entirely focused on the use of ethnographic methods in marketing and business. Here is the conference synposis:

For decades, firms have sought marketing insights through the use of ethnographic methods that investigate consumer cultures and subcultures. This conference, chaired by Professor John Deighton of the Harvard Business School, will explore the state of ethnography in marketing today.

In contrast to conventional research that gathers objective data, often by directly asking consumers for their attitudes and opinions, ethnographic research pursues subtler insights that depend more on observation and participation than on the consumers’ self-reports. Ethnographic investigators are alert to the operation of the “taken-for-granted” forces of culture that underlie consumers’ attitudes, opinions and behaviours.

Ethnography poses some difficult challenges to the firms that try to use it. What exactly is it good for? How does it fit into the firm’s decision-making processes? Does it complement or displace other research methods? When, and by what criteria, are its findings to be trusted? When is an insight from culture most likely to give a firm competitive advantage, and when it is most likely to be emulated?

The conference will address these questions with speakers from firms including Intel Corporation, Cheskin, Eastman Kodak Company, Miller Brewing Company, Royal Philips Electronics, and the Procter & Gamble Company, and universities including Harvard Business School, University of Arizona, University of Notre Dame, University of Colorado, University of Wisconsin, MIT, and York University. Each day will conclude with vigorous debate on the presentations.

- Visit conference webpage
Download conference brochure (pdf, 163 kb, 7 pages)
Read post by Grant McCracken about his presentation at the conference

3 May 2006

Girls take over tech revolution [The Guardian]

Girls and technology
“Girls mature more quickly, are said to be more responsible and do better at school”, writes Owen Gibson, the Guardian’s media correspondent. He adds “now media-savvy girls are putting another one over the boys by leading the digital communications revolution.”

“After one of the most comprehensive studies of the effect on children of the explosion in media choices of the past 15 years, the regulator Ofcom said girls aged 12 to 15 are more likely than boys to have a mobile phone, use the internet, listen to the radio and read newspapers or magazines. Only when it comes to playing computer and console games do boys overtake girls.”

“The study, focusing on children aged between eight and 15, also showed the extent to which mobile phones and the internet are taken for granted by primary school children. Their 11th birthday appears to be the tipping point, with eight of out of 10 children having their own handset by that age.”

- Read full story
Read Ofcom press release
Download Ofcom report (pdf, 618 kb, 69 pages)

3 May 2006

A thank you for all those nice words

Experientia
With this post, I just want to publicly thank all those who have written nice words about Putting People First, especially after the recent relaunch.

These include Bruce Nussbaum (also here), David Armano, Alan Chochinov, Ralf Beuker (also here), Rudy De Waele, Bob Jacobson, Nicolas Nova, Paul Greenberg, Matt Zellmer, Kristi Olson, Peter J. Bogaards, Susan Abott, Richard Linington, Paula Thornton and of course Régine Debatty. (I hope I didn’t forget anyone). Also thanks to Mike Young of Logdy and Jeffrey Veen of MeasureMap with their help in letting me experiment with their web analytics services.

For those who have Putting People First in their blogroll, please don’t forget to update the link from blog.vanderbeeken.com to www.experientia.com/blog.

2 May 2006

Australian’s The Age profiles Intel anthropologist Genevieve Bell

Genevieve Bell
“While computer companies spruik the digital home, Intel researcher Genevieve Bell has an eye out for the next big thing”, writes David Flynn in the Australian newspaper The Age.

“As the head of Intel’s user experience group in the US, and the company’s anthropologist, Ms Bell’s mission is to add the vital human element to technology.”

“It’s not good enough to just keep producing technology with no notion of whether it’s going to be useful. You have to create stuff that people really want, rather than create stuff just because you can,” she says.

“Bell’s work has already started to deliver results,” writes Flynn. “Intel recently completed a pilot program in rural India where a single “community PC” provides internet access to entire villages.”

Read full story

(via UPA monthly)

2 May 2006

Where’s the phone? A Nokia study of mobile phone location in public spaces

Table in Nokia's Where's The Phone study
This paper by Jan Chipchase et al., which was presented at Mobility ’05, Guangzhou, China, covers the approach and the outcome of a study, called Where’s-the-phone to identify characteristics of how mobile phones are carried whilst users are out and about in public spaces.

A series of contextual interviews were conducted in public spaces of Helsinki, Milan and New York collecting 419 responses in total.

The results show a strong tendency by gender, with females using bags and males using trouser pockets to place their mobile phones.

Comments from participants suggested users did not place the phone wherever available, but rather considered many aspects, such as the convenience, tolerance to multiple postures, risk of theft, comfort, or impact to their appearance. The authors learnt that bag users miss incoming alerts more often than with other carrying methods.

Based on the outcome of the study, the authors discuss the challenges in designing mobile devices, in particular mobile phones, and suggest that phones need to be more noticeable as a notification device.

Download study (pdf, 343 kb, 8 pages)

(via Carolyn Wei, who also provides some additional notes on the study)

2 May 2006

Mobile computing in high-end retail

LA Promotion handheld device
As mobile computing becomes increasingly popular in the fashion retail industry, challenges emerge pertaining to usability, system tailoring, and enhancing the manager-client user experience.

These issues were addressed at LA Promotion (a facility where selected clients can acquire products three months before the greater public) by an Avenue A | Razorfish team that conducted ethnographic-style observational research, interviewed stakeholders and conducted a usability audit of LA Promotion’s various systems.

The team translated their observations into a series of recommendations, requirements and first prototype, which are discussed in a paper, that was first presented at the dux05 conference and is now published in AIGA’s Gain: Journal of Business and Design.

The prototype focuses specifically on enhancing the mobile device used by managers as they guide clients through their LA Promotion experience.

Download case study (pdf, 761 kb, 8 pages)

2 May 2006

Mobile Essentials: Nokia field study and concepting

Nokia digital reminder shelf
Mobile essentials refers to the objects most people consider essential and carry most of the time whilst out and about.

This paper by Jan Chipchase (Nokia research manager) et al. describes a nine-month cross-cultural field study of what people consider to be mobile essentials, how those mobile essentials are carried and problems typically encountered.

Through careful field observations and in-depth interviews of 17 participants in four cities (Berlin, San Francisco, Shanghai and Tokyo), transitions between different situations turned out to be critical moments in which mobile essentials took on specific value, but also created problems of forgetting and loss.

The paper, which was first presented at the dux05 conference and is now published in AIGA’s Gain: Journal of Business and Design, introduces the notions of Center of Gravity, Point of Reflection and the Range of Distribution to describe user behaviours.

Based on the study findings nine product concepts related to mobile essentials were developed. One of the design concepts was the Reminder Shelf, a place where people could stow their mobile essentials by the door, as well as make digital reminders such as pictures of things to bring that were not on the shelf. The shelf design had a mobile charger to encourager users to put their phone on it.

Download case study (pdf, 381 kb, 8 pages)

(See also this post by Carolyn Wei who provides some longer notes on this study – scroll down)

2 May 2006

Nokia Sensor: from research to product

Nokia Sensor
In May 2005, the Nokia Sensor application became available to the public. This new mobile software allows mobile phone users to communicate within short-range distance via Bluetooth wireless technology without going through a network operator.

Creating the personal identity expression is at the core of Sensor. From there, Sensor users can discover each other’s identity expressions and utilize a number of communication features as long as they are within the range of Bluetooth.

This Nokia paper (first presented at the dux05 conference and now published in AIGA’s Gain: Journal of Business and Design) presents the process through which Sensor came about, through design exploration, iteration through prototypes, user trials on prototypes and finally the product creation process.

Based on this process, a set of general design principles for this kind of mobile software were proposed and validated. Managerial, business-related and technical issues encountered during the various phases are also described.

Download case study (pdf, 7.25 mb, 22 pages)

1 May 2006

Japan’s toys for the elderly [BBC]

Japan's toys for the elderly
Open up almost any children’s toy box and you’ll probably find a few toys that were made or designed in Japan.

The problem for Japanese companies is that the country’s falling population means that there are now less children than before to play with them.

That has led the toy companies to turn to adults as potential customers.

Take the business Tomy, which had a world wide hit with the children’s robot toy Transformers.

One of its latest lines is a doll that is selling very well to adult women, especially women over the age of 60.

Read full story

1 May 2006

Steelcase launches healthcare focused organisation

Nurture by Steelcase
Steelcase Inc., a global office environments manufacturer (and owners of IDEO), today announced the launch of Nurture by Steelcase, a new organisation focused on the healthcare environment.

“Nurture by Steelcase has a bold vision to shape and improve the future of healthcare delivery,” said Michael I. Love, president, Nurture by Steelcase. “Nurture concentrates on space and environments and how products within those environments can help make them more comfortable, more efficient and more conducive to the healing process.”

Nurture brings a holistic viewpoint to healthcare environments and works with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to gain valuable insight into environments that promote healing. Nurture partners with architects, designers and organizations such as Planetree and The Center for Health Care Design’s Pebble Project to research and develop the best possible healthcare environment solutions.

During the past two years, members of the current Nurture team conducted ethnographic research at leading health facilities to evaluate a wide variety of interactions in numerous healthcare environments — especially how caregivers perform their duties and how patients receive their care. “Our team digs deep to evaluate what works, and what could work better,” said Love. “We ask why — and why not? And we continually come away convinced that with all of us working together, we can make healthcare better — without question.”

Read full story

1 May 2006

Why do anthropologists & sociologists study mobile phones?

India mobile phone resale
Anthropologist Ann Galloway is teaching a class this week at Carleton University in Ottawa on mobile phones and everyday life, writes Emily Turrettini in textually.org.

Her course introduction makes a case for qualitative research on mobile phone use:

“It’s estimated that there are 1.35 billion cell phones in use in the world today and almost 500 billion text messages were sent last year alone. These kinds of numbers tell us that mobile technologies will probably take on more and more important roles in how people live, work and play everyday – all around the world. And as we know, that’s exactly what anthropologists and sociologists try to understand!”

“When it comes to cell phones, we try to get to know the life story of the device and all the people it comes into contact with. Sociologists and anthropologists are interested in everything from who extracts the raw materials from the earth, and how the parts are engineered, to who designs the look, feel and functionality of the phone and how it is manufactured. We’re interested in who markets and sells mobile phones, who buys them, how they use them, how they dispose of them and even where they go from there.”

Read full post