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Putting People First

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June 2006
14 June 2006

Nokia on mobility and development

Mobility and Development
The latest edition of Nokia’s online magazine Culture of Mobility is devoted to Mobility and Development, exploring how mobility can make a difference to the environment, society and the way we live.

The magazine features an introductory report on how cellular technology is promoting home-grown prosperity in the developing world, a series of four journalistic trend impressions, as well as “insight” interviews with Aditya Dev Sood of CKS, Bangalore, Carlos Drews of WWF Costa Rica, David Keogh of the Grameen Foundation and Ulrike Rivett of Cell-Life, Cape Town.

13 June 2006

Older Consumers Flex Their Muscle (and Money) Online [The New York Times]

Older consumers online
Any child knows that good things happen when grandparents reach for their wallets. Internet executives are starting to remember the feeling.

Older shoppers, who generally sat out the Internet’s first big commercial push, are helping to feed the surging Web economy. Many of them now have a few years of Internet surfing behind them — enough to give them enough confidence to click the “buy” button. And because this group has far more disposable cash than any other, executives who have not already begun tweaking their strategies to reach them will probably do so soon, online analysts and executives say.

“This group has been kind of overlooked until now,” said Heather Dougherty, an analyst with Nielsen/NetRatings, an online consultancy. “But the older boomers are far from newbies at this point. We’re not talking about people who are 100 years old and haven’t seen a computer.”

Ms. Dougherty said a recent Nielsen survey found that 27.4 million people age 55 and older bought something online in the last six months, compared with about 26 million a year ago. By contrast, the number of adults who bought something online in the last year actually dropped, to 107.4 million from 112 million.

Read full story (permanent link via reddit)

13 June 2006

Pentagon sets its sights on social networking websites [New Scientist]

National Security Agency
New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon’s National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks. And it could harness advances in internet technology – specifically the forthcoming “semantic web” championed by the web standards organisation W3C – to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals.

Americans are still reeling from last month’s revelations that the NSA has been logging phone calls since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The Congressional Research Service, which advises the US legislature, says phone companies that surrendered call records may have acted illegally. However, the White House insists that the terrorist threat makes existing wire-tapping legislation out of date and is urging Congress not to investigate the NSA’s action.

Meanwhile, the NSA is pursuing its plans to tap the web, since phone logs have limited scope. They can only be used to build a very basic picture of someone’s contact network, a process sometimes called “connecting the dots”. Clusters of people in highly connected groups become apparent, as do people with few connections who appear to be the intermediaries between such groups. The idea is to see by how many links or “degrees” separate people from, say, a member of a blacklisted organisation.

Read full story

13 June 2006

Ethnographic studies of ubiquitous computing

Ubiquitous sensors
Ethnography has become a staple feature of IT research over the last twenty years, shaping our understanding of the social character of computing systems and informing their design in a wide variety of settings.

The emergence of ubiquitous computing raises new challenges for ethnography however, distributing interaction across a burgeoning array of small, mobile devices and online environments which exploit invisible sensing systems. Understanding interaction requires ethnographers to reconcile interactions that are, for example, distributed across devices on the street with online interactions in order to assemble coherent understandings of the social character and purchase of ubiquitous computing systems.

The scientific study “Supporting Ethnographic Studies of Ubiquitous Computing in the Wild” by Andy Crabtree, Steve Benford and Chris Greenhalgh of the University of Nottingham, and Paul Tennent, Matthew Chalmers and Barry Brown of the University of Glasgow (to be published in Proc. ACM Designing Interactive Systems 2006) draws upon four recent studies to show how ethnographers are replaying system recordings of interaction alongside existing resources such as video recordings to do this and identify key challenges that need to be met to support ethnographic study of ubiquitous computing in the wild.

Download study (pdf, 849 kb, 11 pages)

(via Pasta and Vinegar)

13 June 2006

Putting the customer in charge [CNN/Business 2.0]

Threadless
Every company claims it listens to feedback from customers. But some startups are turning their customers’ ideas into the basis of their business.

At the online T-shirt emporium Threadless, shoppers suggest, rate, and buy T-shirt designs from other users. Online retailer Etsy provides a platform for users sell their handicrafts on its website, and lets customers vote on which products should be featured on its homepage. And electronics maker Slim Devices plans to let customers sell their own open-source software and even add-on accessories for its digital music gear.

By definition, these companies are selling precisely what consumers want. “It’s the open-source software concept applied to product marketing,” says Georg von Krogh, a professor of management at Switzerland’s University of St. Gallen.

But where open-source programmers donate code for fame rather than fortune, these companies often reward customers with cash for contributing ideas.

Read full story

12 June 2006

Are virtual worlds the future of the classroom? [CNET News]

Whyville
This summer, as many as a million virtual kids could catch an infectious virus known as Whypox, causing them to break out in red welts and spout “Achoo” whenever chatting with friends.

Meanwhile, at the beach, crowds of “tweens,” 8- to 12-year-olds, will see their popular hangout beset with so-called red tides, as the seashore changes from blue to red with phytoplankton blossoms.

Are these two signs of a crumbling world? No, they’re learning tools for Whyvillains, the residents of an online virtual world whose population of kids has grown to about 1.6 million since its inception in 1999. Children in Whyville earn “clams” through activities and games, and use that virtual money to buy face decorations for their otherwise plain avatars. Then, they typically socialize with peers via chat, bulletin boards and the city’s mail system.

In educational circles, Whyville’s private universe is known as a multiuser virtual environment, or MUVE, a genre of software games created to inspire children to learn about math and science, among other subjects. Unlike most game software and social networks, which elicit negative associations for some parents and teachers, MUVEs are structured environments with rules for behavior, yet no pat formula for action. Designed to provide problems to solve that don’t involve slaying monsters, MUVEs compel kids to figure out the issues to succeed in the environments or have time to socialize.

Learning-based virtual worlds are growing more popular in schools and among children, thanks to ongoing efforts by universities and private companies.

Read full story

12 June 2006

Organic launches Experience Labs

Organic's Experience Lab
Organic, the digital marketing agency, just launched a new “Experience Lab” initiative to supplement the agency’s 18-month-old Persona Room, which looks at consumers’ media consumption and device usage behaviors.

In a strange and somewhat dubious mixture of ethnography — where you observe people in their own environment — and lab testing — which is often criticised for its lack of contextual relevance — Experience Labs recreate the living space of target customers, allowing Organic and its clients to look at a “day in the life” of the consumer and to understand how the consumer uses devices and consumes media.

Scott Weisbrod argues in his blog Experience Planner that this is probably due to the fact that Organic’s “whole design team can’t go into a customer’s home. The experience lab bridges that gap by bringing the ‘customer’ into the company.”

12 June 2006

Google targets mobile future [BBC]

Google mobile search
The man in charge of the Google mobile mission is Dipchand “Deep” Nishar. He believes that when people are out and about, they want very different answers from Google than they would if they were sat in front of a PC.

For instance, he said, the first result that comes up after typing “film” into a PC browser is the Internet Movie Database.

“But type ‘films’ into a mobile browser and you are most likely going to see a movie,” he told the BBC News website.

“The same search query, because of the context, means very different search results,” said Mr Nishar. “Search on mobiles is about finding not browsing.

This means that Google has to slice its huge corpus of data differently for mobile users and tailor results to where people are sitting or standing when they make the query.

What is also important to realise about mobile devices, said Mr Nishar, is that they are far more personal than a home computer.

“A PC is much more of a shared device,” he said. “But a mobile is not something I share with anyone.”

Read full story

12 June 2006

The ethnography of marketing [Business Week]

Computer use in India
The new core competency is ethnography. Companies use it to gain insights into the culture and behavior of their customers. But the demands of business are different from those of an anthropologist doing field research. The most obvious is speed. Where anthropologists may take years to do one study, businesses need results in weeks.

The other difference is scope. Global corporations need detailed consumer data from dozens of cultures. In China, the coast and desert, north and south, have different cultures. In India, there are over 100 languages, dozens of castes, and major differences in religion. Companies must gather and compare huge amounts of information.

To address this issue, the Institute of Design under Patrick Whitney and Associate Professor Vijay Kumar have developed the User Insight Tool, an ethnographic methodology designed specifically for business. It relies on disposable cameras, field notebooks, and special software that teases out new understandings from consumer observations.

- Read full story
Read Business Week profile on Patrick Whitney
– NEW: Read Steve Portigal reflection on this story

11 June 2006

Interaction-Ivrea’s final show

Limited edition
I have just uploaded a series of short features on the graduation projects by the final students of the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, now located in Milan.

List of featured projects (some of which were supervised by Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels):

- Ana Camila Pinho Amorim: uni.me
– Aram Saroyan Armstrong: Pooptopia
– Dave Chiu: Thimble
– Didier Hilhorst: Patchwerk
– Oren Horev: Talking to the Hand
– Tristam Sparks: Undiscovered Country
– Victor Szilagyi: herescan
– Nicholas Zambetti: Occasional Coincidences
– Alejandro Zamudio Sánchez: Mulecular Urban Ludic Entity (MULE)
– Haiyan Zang: Control Freaks

Download graduation speech by Jan-Christoph Zoels, senior associate professor at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea and senior partner of Experientia, at the graduation of the last 17 graduate students of Interaction Design Institute Ivrea.

As of next week, the Institute will be entirely absorbed within the Domus Academy‘s ‘I-Design” programme. Domus Academy will keep on using the brand name “Interaction Design Institute” but not the staff nor the vision of the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea.

11 June 2006

Hooked on the virtual world [International Herald Tribune]

South Korean gamers
“An estimated one million South Korean gamers suffer symptoms of serious addiction, experts say. These people are so obsessed with online gaming that they neglect eating and bathing, skip school or quit jobs, playing the games for hours or days at a stretch – and in several cases a year, until they drop dead.”

“‘If other countries have drug and alcohol problems, we have online gaming addiction,’ said Kim Hyun Soo, a psychiatrist in Seoul whose clinic receives one new serious gaming addict a day.”

Read full story

The problem outlined in the article is in fact not at all confined to South Korea. In another article the Herald Tribune covers the global nature of game addiction and writes about new treatment centres for obsessive gamers opening in the United States, the Netherlands, France and China.

Read full story

11 June 2006

Don Norman on the need to call people people, not customers, not consumers, not users

Usability test
“Words matter. Psychologists depersonalise the people they study by calling them ‘subjects’. We depersonalize the people we study by calling them “users.” Both terms are derogatory. They take us away from our primary mission: to help people. Power to the people, I say, to repurpose an old phrase. People. Human Beings. That’s what our discipline is really about.”

“If we are designing for people, why not call them that: people, a person, or perhaps humans. But no, we distance ourselves from the people for whom we design by giving them descriptive and somewhat degrading names, such as customer, consumer, or user. Customer – you know, someone who pays the bills. Consumer – one who consumes. User, or even worse, end user – the person who pushes the buttons, clicks the mouse, and keeps getting confused.” […]

“People are rich, complex beings. They use our devices with specific goals, motives, and agendas. Often they work with – or against – others. A label such as customer, consumer or user ignores this rich structure of abilities, motives, and social structures.”

“Time to admit that we are people, that we design for people. Yes, I know, the various terms arose from the need to distinguish the many different roles people play in the world of artifacts, machines, and gizmos: those who specify, those who distribute, those who purchase (customers), those who actually use them (users). Those who stand by and watch. But that is still no excuse. All of them are people. All deserve their share of dignity. Their roles can be specified in other ways. It is time to wipe words such as consumer, customer, and user from our vocabulary. Time to speak of people. Power to the people.”

Read full post

11 June 2006

Transforming everyday objects into game controllers

Control Freak clamp
Control Freaks, the Interaction-Ivrea graduation project of Haiyan Zhang, “explores new gaming experiences that fold the world into play by using existing situations and environments as game playing moments.”

“Control Freaks are devices that attach to everyday objects, turning them into hosts and enabling them to become game platform controllers. The properties of the host object – its movement, vibration and sound – can be translated into control functionality for a game. The situation, location and behaviour of the host become enablers for opportunistic play experiences. Control Freaks can turn any object in any situation into the focus of a play adventure.”

UPDATE: Read Régine Debatty’s review of this project

(This post is the tenth in a series of short features on the graduation projects by the final students of the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, now located in Milan. As of next week, the Institute will be entirely absorbed within the Domus Academy‘s ‘I-Design” programme.)

11 June 2006

MULE: reclaiming the city through pervasive play

Monkey
Alejandro Zamudio Sánchez (interaction design sketchbook | UltraSuperUich) is convinced that the potential for play lies in everyone, everywhere: “games can make people rediscover and re-imagine the space they inhabit, simultaneously allowing alternative ways of socialising and self-discovery”.

The hilarious tongue-in-cheek project is called “Mulecular Urban Ludic Entity” or in short “MULE“. It was developed as a graduation project at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea and “employs interaction design to enable play experiences in urban settings — hinting at the creation of an urban gaming culture”.

MULE is a “cultural platform for generating and making visible alternate perceptions of the city. Using technology-mediated psycho-geographical play experiences, MULE triggers emotional responses in players, enabling novel ways of reclaiming public space-time.”

“To test the possibilities of the platform, a series of pervasive games were designed and prototyped — all of them using geographical elements and physical space.”

“Players find and decode graphical messages hidden in the city, such as camera-phone readable 2D barcodes [the so-called ‘sema-codes’] or invisible UV graffiti. Players then send these hidden messages to the Mule, using their mobile phones. This action enables them to score points and report their location to the system.”

Alejandro Zamudio summarises by saying that MULE “empowers players to assume a ludic-critical stance towards urban life.”

Unfortunately, nothing of this project is as yet online but this post will be updated when other information becomes available.

(This post is the nineth in a series of short features on the graduation projects by the final students of the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, now located in Milan. As of next week, the Institute will be entirely absorbed within the Domus Academy‘s ‘I-Design” programme.)

11 June 2006

Designing meaningful coincidences

Timely Speaker
Occasional Coincidences is the title of the Interaction-Ivrea graduation project of Nicholas Zambetti. It looks at how systems that recognize and present meaningful coincidences can be designed.

A few days ago, Régine Debatty summarised the project on we-make-money-not-art:

“In the past, scheduled TV and radio broadcasts carried with them an implicit occasion. Housewives would schedule their tea time to enjoy a soap opera. Upon hearing the introduction to their favorite detective show, children would rush to their room in search of their secret decoder ring. After the dinnertime variety show, fathers would sit by the radio or television for the nightly news. These now quaint examples of media occasion demonstrate how scheduled media broadcasts stimulated popular discussion and supported social behavior indicative of commonalities of interest.”

“Unlike the collective cultural rhythm fostered by scheduled media broadcasts, today’s on-demand media has encouraged media isolationism.. We’ve become immersed in ourselves, fiddling with personal media players loaded with enormous amounts of music and video in hopes of crafting the perfect soundtrack to our daily lives.”

“However, the personal nature of our media selections offers opportunities to build meaningful media-related social behaviors and relationships. Coincidences of media selection can be a meaningful indication of similarity between people and can act as a mechanism to reintroduce media-centered social occasions.”

“Zambetti designed two retro-looking objects and a software that recognize synchronous coincidences as they occur. For him, coincidence-awareness supports the personification of objects and software, deepening our relationship with them.”

Read full post by Régine

(This post is the eighth in a series of short features on the graduation projects by the final students of the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, now located in Milan. As of next week, the Institute will be entirely absorbed within the Domus Academy‘s ‘I-Design” programme.)

11 June 2006

Discover and experience location-based services

Herescan desktop
From advertising, to gaming, to civic services, location-based media are augmenting our surroundings with layers of information. But how to juggle all these services?

herescan is a suite of tools that allows you to discover and experience location-based services and media while you are out and about”. It was developed by Victor Szilagyi as his graduation project at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea.

“The system comprises of a mobile application, a server-based content aggregator and a hardware peripheral that makes you aware of the content around you without keeping you glued to the screen.”

herescan is designed for urban explorers — individuals looking to sample the full range of experiences their surroundings can provide.”

“By employing a wander, discover and train model, herescan slowly learns your tastes and suggests relevant content and services. While moving through town, herescan continually searches the internet for content related to your location and serves up new perspectives into your everyday environment — from news clips and archival photos to llive recordings from the performance venues that give your hometown its unique flavour.”

The project was co-supervised by Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels in his capacity as senior associate professor at Interaction-Ivrea.

Visit thesis blog

(This post is the seventh in a series of short features on the graduation projects by the final students of the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, now located in Milan. As of next week, the Institute will be entirely absorbed within the Domus Academy‘s ‘I-Design” programme.)

11 June 2006

Enabling democracy through communications technology

Undiscovered Country
The Undiscovered Country (a.k.a. “Waterfall”) is a proof of concept prototype that gives people the ability to give direct responses to issues facing their government on a range of social scales. It was developed by Tristam Sparks as his Interaction-Ivrea graduation project.

“The prototype collects opinion using a seamless joining of authoring and aggregation. Citizen data is added as a new issue or as reaction to existing ones. This information is tallied on the fly and entered into a visualisation that represents and emergent group opinion. This loop imparts a sense of editing and contributing to a larger conversation.”

“The non-linear, multi user interface is expandable to a community of any size. It is a tool for the government and citizens to observe and interact with each other.”

Visit thesis website

(This post is the sixth in a series of short features on the graduation projects by the final students of the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, now located in Milan. As of next week, the Institute will be entirely absorbed within the Domus Academy‘s ‘I-Design” programme.)

11 June 2006

Morphing and transforming objects as new interfaces

The TactoPhone interface
Oren Horev calls his Interaction-Ivrea graduation project “Talking to the Hand: an exploration into the interactive qualities of shape shifting technologies“.

The assumption is that by changing their shape, digital artificats such as hand-held devices and computer peripherals can provide the user with a deeper understanding of their status. His thesis blog (see link below) is therefore called “shapeshifters”.

Orev developed several examples: A cube-shaped external hard drive indicates the level of synchronisation with the source computer by twisting itself, misaligning its shape.

A touch pad morphs in relation to the objects and applications being pointed at. It shows hidden qualities of an object — a big or small bump, for example, represents the size of a folder, while a rhythmic movement indicates the beat of an internet radio station.

There is even a TactoPhone (pictured) with an active 3D surface.

Visit thesis blog

(This post is the fifth in a series of short features on the graduation projects by the final students of the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, now located in Milan. As of next week, the Institute will be entirely absorbed within the Domus Academy‘s ‘I-Design” programme.)

11 June 2006

Patchwerk, a social tool to analyse popularity and status in the digital world

Patchwerk
Patchwerk is a social tool that analyses popularity and status in the digital world. It was developed by Didier Hilhorst as his graduation project at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea.

“A suite of web-based tools allows people to manage and track their digital identity and compare their status with others, individually or in groups.”

“The Patchwerk web application gathers what you publish and what is published about you. It lets you manage your publications in a centralised and easy-to-use environment. You can join groups, add friends and compare yourself to others”

You can access Patchwerk through a widget or directly through its website.

The project was co-supervised by Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels in his capacity as senior associate professor at Interaction-Ivrea.

Download thesis report (pdf, 911 kb, 47 pages)

(This post is the fourth in a series of short features on the graduation projects by the final students of the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, now located in Milan. As of next week, the Institute will be entirely absorbed within the Domus Academy‘s ‘I-Design” programme.)

11 June 2006

Thimble, a location-based social network for lending and renting using reputation as currency

Dave Chiu
“Sharing is not currently typical behaviour in society. Future services, which emphasise sharing, require a shift in human behaviour. One requirement for this shift is trust.”

This starting assumption, which was initially developed within an Applied Dreams workshop, provided Dave Chiu (personal blog) with the inspiration for Thimble, his thesis project at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea.

“Thimble is a location-based social network that enables lending and renting using reputation as currency. This service helps you find people nearby who have the things you need, and improves your chances of borrowing or renting items. Thimble capitalises on trust within existing social networks and helps you build a history of borrowing and lending, which you can then use when negotiating for access to things outside of your social network.”

“On the Thimble website, you can search for things you need and find people who may have them in your local area and your social network. Depending on your relationship with them, you may contact them directly or through the service. The terms of any resulting transaction are recorded on Thimble and both parties rate the outcome of the transaction with a qualitative and quantitative thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Over time, these ratings compile as your reputation, which you can then use when negotiating for access to items.”

Dave is now implementing some of his ideas on reputation by helping RapLeaf (blog), a web-based reputation management system.

Visit thesis website

(This post is the third in a series of short features on the graduation projects by the final students of the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, now located in Milan. As of next week, the Institute will be entirely absorbed within the Domus Academy‘s ‘I-Design” programme.)