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Putting People First

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June 2006
11 June 2006

Pooptopia, a pet waste removal urban game

Pooptopia
Pooptopia, the Interaction-Ivrea graduation project of Aram Saroyan Armstrong, is a pet waste removal service/game that explores the interplay of service design and entertainment.

A few days ago Régine Debatty summarised Pooptopia on her own blog we-make-money-not-art as follows:

“Pooptopia pushes the boundaries of the rising service economy and joins a new breed of games that reclaim the urban environment for play, while struggling to become economically self-sustainable.”

“Pooptopia LBS is a pet waste removal service for city neighbourhoods. It utilises location-based technology to locate, monitor and respond to problem areas. The service incorporates stakeholder action into the solution by empowering dog owners, poo-haters and poo-hunters to easily mark the location of pet waste for pick-up by the Pooptopia service and municipal sanitation workers.”

“The goal of the Dark Treasure (Tesoro Scuro) game is to discover dog poo, make a picture of it and email it, with the location of the finding and your name or the name of your team. The claim will earn you points. You can earn double point if you also mark the exact location of your discovery on Pooptopia’s Tesoro Scuro Map. This “treasure map” is used to create nightly pick-up routes for the Pootectors, Pooptopia’s pet waste removal squad. Over time this data helps define zones as “Pooptopias” and “Puptopias”, which affects the cost of dog ownership and rewards responsible canine-loving communities: the poorer the rating, the higher the service fee.”

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

Visit thesis website

(This post is the second 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

uni.me, a new mobile communication service centred on people’s availability

uni.me
What if a mobile phone could provide easily glanceable information of people’s availability?

To answer that question, Ana Camila Pinho Amorim developed uni.me, a new mobile communication service and Ana’s graduation project at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea.

uni.me supports us in the management of our social network. People’s availability is the main criterion of uni.me’s interface design, which is centred on people and time, rather than folders and functionalities, and explores the distribution of people on (and off) the screen as the way to define people’s availability to one another.

As illustrated by the image on the left, the essence of the interface visualises our availability. The phone user’s availability to others is defined by opening and closing her scope of availability [light-blue circle], and therefore including more or less people within it. Other people’s availability to the user is visible by the colour change of the bubbles: people represented in white are currently available to her, people in blue not.

In fact, the interface is much richer and also allows for address book functions, text messaging, voice and data transfer, call and calendar management, etc, all of which is described in detail in the thesis report.

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

Download thesis report (pdf, 7.55 mb, 60 pages)

UPDATE: Read Régine Debatty’s review of this project

(This post starts 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.)

10 June 2006

Five hot products for the future [CNN]

Social network movie tickets
The Institute for the Future couldn’t get clients to read its trend forecasts. So it started giving away prescient product ideas instead.

Trendspotting is serious business. So much so that the Institute for the Future, a Palo Alto-based think tank, produces an annual 96-page 10-year forecast – an exhaustive compendium of societal and technological trends, widely regarded as the bellwether of long-range planning.

Just one problem: “Clients weren’t reading the reports,” admits Jason Tester, the IFTF’s research and design manager [and an alumnus of Interaction Design Institute Ivrea].

So, in summer 2003, Tester tried a different tack that became known as “artifacts from the future”: mocked-up products claiming to be from, say, 2009. You might go to an IFTF presentation and see baskets of finessed fruit that promise cognitive enhancement. Or you might wake up in the hotel where the IFTF seminar was being held to find your newspaper dated 10 years hence.

Artifacts were intended to start conversations. They worked. Mark Schar, senior vice president of financial software company Intuit, an IFTF client, says, “When you present forecasts to a group of executives, you’re standing there and waving your arms a lot. When you put an artifact in front of them, they go, ‘Oh, I get it.'”

Read full story

9 June 2006

SAUMA – Design as cultural interface

Mukana
SAUMA [Design as Cultural Interface] presents innovative contemporary design from Finland. The works in the exhibition, currently on view at the World Financial Center in New York, explore new approaches to usability, user experience and the design process itself.

SAUMA introduces fifteen installations including new portable devices, an experimental kitchen, an urban sauna and gaming prototypes. Other exhibition items study the ideas of portability, sensory experiences and the ways in which we navigate our urban environment.

(via Core77)

8 June 2006

SAP and user-centered design

SAP
The SAP Design Guild is a site full of user interface and user-centered design resources, created by the business software company SAP.

“User-centered design of business applications is fundamental to SAP’s software approach. Hence the existence of the SAP Design Guild. This Website is dedicated exclusively to demonstrating this commitment and sharing knowledge with the user interface community at large. The SAP Design Guild is a stage for UI people: Here they can exchange information and opinions on visual and user interface design issues. In addition, SAP offers its design resources here, be it style guides, methods, or insights on how a user-centered development process should be carried out and how the mind change within a company towards user-friendly software can be facilitated.”

The site contains a great number of articles, design resources with glossaries, toolkits and ‘cookbooks’, including an entire section on user-centered design, the editions newsletters, as well as ‘design tidbits‘, editorials and stories.

8 June 2006

FORERA, a European Foresight agency

FORERA - European foresight
FORERA (an acronym of “Foresight for the European Research Area”) is a European research unit that provides forward looking intelligence to support decision making and improves the use of foresight as an instrument for policy making on European research.

The backbone of the FORERA activities is that future-oriented thinking is a necessary policy response component to the environment of accelerated socio-economic and technological changes.

Therefore, future-oriented technology analyses and studies (including strategic Foresight, forecasting and technology assessment) are embedded in the activities undertaken by the FORERA Action to deepen the understanding of changing challenges and opportunities.

The publications section contains a number of articles and papers on ambient intelligence and converging technologies. They also seem to be preparing a European foresight academy.

8 June 2006

Arts and crafts for the digital age [The New York Times]

Pico-Cricket Kit
At first blush, the PicoCricket Kit resembles a plastic box of arts and crafts supplies, crammed with colored felt, pipe cleaners, cotton and Styrofoam balls.

But this is a craft kit for the digital age. It includes electronic sensors, motors, sound boxes, connecting cables and a palm-size, battery-powered, programmable computer.

By combining the traditional materials with high-tech ones, children as young as 9 can invent interactive jewelry, fanciful creatures that dance, musical sculptures and more, said Mitchel Resnick, an assistant professor of learning research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

Mr. Resnick, whose work with children and learning at the Media Lab helped the Lego Group create its highly successful Mindstorms robotic construction kits in 1998, said he wanted to produce something in which the emphasis was not on the building of mechanical objects.

Instead, he said he was more interested in encouraging the creation of something artistic, and delivering a technology and programming language that would let young people take more control of how their creations would behave.

Read full story

7 June 2006

Eldy, an operating system for the elderly

Eldy desktop
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports that Eldy, an Italian non-profit organisation aimed at promoting computer skills and access to new technologies, is about to launch a version of the Linux operating system that has been conceived for those who have never accessed a pc before, and in particular those over 55 who have difficulties with understanding terms like “blog”, “chat”, “e-mail” and “url”.

“We are convinced that by creating an operating system with a usability aimed at those over 55 who access a pc for the first time, we can help reduce the digital divide, especially if we also develop some contents that stimulate the creativity of the users,” explain those in charge of the project.

The operating system can be installed (with a very simple installation procedure) on a regular pc or on specially developed hardware. Without being experts, users can navigate the internet, chat, make video calls, use e-mail, view movies and manage multimedia contents from photos to music to e-books. They will also have immediate access to the latest news, the weather forecast and to a simple word processing tool. The ease of use will also be manifest in the graphic design and the highly understandable language itself (e.g. “mail your letter” rather than “send your e-mail”).

The Linux distribution – based on “Slax” – can be downloaded for free. In the future the developers want to add software to their operating system allowing people to manage their healthcare bills, to write legally valid auto-declarations, to access particular services of the “post office online” and the “church online”, and to use e-commerce services.

6 June 2006

User Experience 2.0: Any User, Any Time, Any Channel

TechSmith
The latest Morae/Tech Smith white paper argues that with the evolution of Web 2.0, the fields of design and usability will continue to merge and that designers will have to be able to easily observe and analyze the user experience without being experts in usability.

“Understanding the user experience will be critical for success in the Web 2.0 environment. Organizations will need more agile methods for conducting user experience research because, more than ever, poor user experiences will limit market adoption and quickly open up opportunities that competitors can exploit.”

[However] “in the rapidly dynamic and increasingly self-structured Web 2.0 environment, it is clear that traditional user experience research methods will be of limited use, and even then only in the most structured areas of the user experience continuum. As more users move into the more self-structured environment of Web 2.0, a new paradigm for user experience research will be required – one that fits with Web 2.0 and can help it deliver on the promise of richer, usable user experiences.”

“This paradigm must include research methods that allow organizations to capture the experience of any user, any time, and on any channel, and also allow designers to easily observe, record and understand the user experience.”

Read white paper

6 June 2006

Nokia study reveals consumer demand for digital convergence

Nokia camera
Almost one in two people around the world now use their mobile device as their main camera, over two thirds predict a music-enabled mobile will replace their MP3 player and nearly half want to connect up their mobile device with their home electronics. According to new research from Nokia, consumers are not only embracing convergence but clamoring for more of it.

The research involved interviews with 5,500 respondents aged 18 – 35 years old across eleven countries in March 2006. 500 interviews were conducted in the following countries Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, Saudi Arabia, UK and USA.

- Read Nokia press release
Read BBC story

6 June 2006

Mobile user interfaces – it’s time for a new paradigm

Fjord on mobile user interfaces
Olof Schybergson and Mike Beeston, resp. creative director and managing director of Fjord Ltd in the UK, write about the need for a new paradigm in mobile user interfaces in the 3G Portal.

“Mobile technology is changing societies faster than any other technology, and the pace of mobile innovation and adoption is truly staggering. An increasing amount of consumption and tasks are now carried out on the move. With increased capabilities of the phones, user behaviour also evolves. The rapid technical change and equally rapid user adoption poses some real challenges for interface designers. Interface solutions that seemed nicely scalable and intuitive only a few years ago are already showing severe strain as they are trying to accommodate all the complexity mediated through our mobile devices.”

“We feel that the recent ‘arms race’ between handset manufacturers has mainly been one about hardware. Key areas of differentiation have been camera megapixel count, size and clarity of screen, battery life, and overall form factors like the size and the elegance of the device. However, with loyalty, churn and customer satisfaction goals, the focus will increasingly shift towards the user experience of the device. A key part of that experience is the user interface. And the time is ripe for some radical innovation.” […]

“The reason why mobile phone interfaces need to re-discover simplicity is clear: they are used while on the move!”

Read full story

5 June 2006

Innovation through design thinking

Tim Brown of IDEO
In an hour-long MIT World video of an event organised by the MIT Sloan School of Management and the MIT Leadership Center, Timothy Brown, CEO of IDEO explains the relationship between design thinking and innovation, reports Dominic Basulto in Fortune Magazine’s Business Innovation Insider.

According to Brown, design is everywhere around us – on the covers of business magazines, as part of consumer experiences at companies like Nike and Apple, and increasingly mentioned by Fortune 500 executives as an important way to grow a business. For many companies, design thinking is a way to create the future.

To support this view, Tim Brown produces a wide array of examples from Corporate America. Motorola uses design thinking to create new products and service offerings. P&G uses design thinking to come up with new products to solve problems, like how to clean carpets. Microsoft uses design thinking to explore where technology will go in the future, especially as it relates to the Windows computing platform. JP Morgan uses design thinking to come up with financial solutions for clients with 401(K) accounts. Kraft uses design thinking to improve the supply chain and boost overall business value.

Read synopsis and watch video

5 June 2006

Anthropologists help IT focus on how employees really work [Computer World]

Alexandra Mack and Jim Euchner of Pitney Bowes Inc.
The IT world has a bias that automation is always good. Technologists bring that bias to the drawing table when they design products, and it can sometimes blind them to the true needs of users. Enter anthropologists, who are trained to ask questions about how people work, how they relate to others, which tools they use and which ones they don’t. That kind of research allows anthropologists to see the world from users’ perspectives.

Although IT anthropologists are far from common, some companies and IT shops are hiring them to provide that insight, which in turn helps technologists develop applications and systems that best meet users’ needs. IBM computer scientist Eser Kandogan sums up the relationship like this: A technologist can make a tool usable; an anthropologist can make sure it’s used.

- Read full story
Read side story on ROI of anthropologists in IT

5 June 2006

Book review: Paper Prototyping

Paper Prototyping
Pabini Gabriel-Petit just published a lengthy book review of Carolyn Snyder’s book “Paper Prototyping: The Fast and Easy Way to Design and Refine User Interfaces”.

The book, which is the only complete guide to paper prototyping, “teaches you everything you need to know to successfully do paper prototyping and offers many practical tips.”

However, writes Gabriel-Petit, “only about a third of the book is actually about doing paper prototyping. The majority of the book’s content comprises a basic reference on usability testing. While some of the information on usability testing describes how to test paper prototypes, most of it is applicable to any type of usability testing. If you’re already an expert in usability testing, you may not find this information as useful, but Snyder has honed her approach to usability testing over her many years of experience as a usability professional and provides a wealth of practical information.”

“The book’s companion Web site provides a rich trove of resources for paper prototypers, including PDF versions of templates, forms, checklists, handouts, and procedures from the book; links to Web sites where you can obtain the supplies you need to create paper prototypes; and an extensive list of references, including articles, papers, and books.”

Read full review

5 June 2006

Can collaboration help redefine usability?

Upa_logo
“Imagine if [you] could go to a web site that served as a single point of entry to a rich, ever-evolving knowledge base reflecting the current state of the [usability] field,” ponders Charles B. Kreitzberg in the third issue of the UPA’s Journal of Usability Studies.

“This knowledge base would incorporate both formal and tacit knowledge. It would integrate empirical findings with practical techniques. It would include theory and opinion. All the information would be organized for easy retrieval, appropriately tagged and presented so that the reader could easily distinguish between generally accepted ideas and more speculative ones. Readers could add comments in a way that preserved the integrity and usability of the information. Editors would monitor and summarize these comments so that they did not clutter up the articles and would aggregate and link them so that ideas from diverse sources were easily accessible. Over time, these comments from readers could inspire research, serve as the foundations for documenting best practices and help refine the organization of the knowledge base.”

“Today, pieces of such a knowledge base exist. There is a small but interesting HCI/usability section of Wikipedia (Wikipedia Contributors, 2006b). The Usability Professionals Association has recently launched its Body of Knowledge (BoK) project. There are countless usability blogs, message boards and listservers. But to my knowledge, no one has attempted to integrate all this information into a single, collaborative knowledge space. I believe that creating such a knowledge space would be of immense benefit to the usability profession and would be a wonderful platform on which to refine our understanding of social computing and knowledge management.”

Download article (pdf, 128 kb, 3 pages)

5 June 2006

Focusing on the ideal user experience

Black
In a thoughtful reaction to the Bruce Nussbaum statement that “innovation is the new black” [or was it Michael Bierut‘s?], Jared M. Spool reflects in detail on the cases of Apple and Netfix, the two innovation examples that many top executives at practically every corporation regularly discuss.

“What Apple and Netflix did, while not simple, was straightforward. The value they created came from innovations that dramatically improved the user’s experience. They looked hard at the current experience and focused on designing an ideal one.”

“Those insights led to industry-changing innovations that have made an indelible impression on businesses everywhere.”

“Understanding the user experience isn’t new. It’s something designers and researchers have done for years. However, because it’s linked to innovation and innovation is now an important corporate objective, its value has increased.”

“Now organizations realize they have to study how users currently experience their products and service. From this, they derive insights into how to make improvements and those improvements go into the design the teams aspire to achieve.”

“As innovation is now the new black, experience design is the fabric of new insight. The work designers do is now the hot spot to be.”

Read full story

2 June 2006

UK Design Council launches Design Factfinder to demonstrate the value of design for business

Design Factfinder
The UK Design Council yesterday launched Design Factfinder, a unique online information tool designed to help business advisors, design businesses and educators demonstrate the value of design to potential clients and students.

The site contains extensive evidence — in the forms of facts, regional and sector reports and case studies — comprehensively proving the importance and value of businesses using design. The evidence comes from the Design Council’s National Survey of Firms 2005, and complements other initiatives and resources, such as the Cox Report and DTI Competitiveness studies.

In the launching press release, the Design Council claims that almost half of all UK businesses are heading for long-term decline by failing to invest in design.

The figures are based on a UK study of 1,500 companies of all sizes and sectors. Within this, one group of businesses which saw the positive impact of design across their operations was singled out. Among these companies, every £100 of design investment saw a return of £225.

Yet 45% of all UK companies are failing to invest in design at all and only 16 per cent believe it is crucial to success.

The Design Council is now warning that businesses which don’t recognise the value of design are leaving themselves increasingly vulnerable in today’s competitive global business environment.

2 June 2006

RFID: Frequency, standards, adoption and innovation

Mediamatic RFID Reader
Three European experts, Matt Ward, Rob van Kranenburg and Gaynor Backhouse, have published a guide to Radio Frequency Identification technologies.

So far, the key driver for the development of RFID systems has been the desire to improve efficiency in globalised supply chains but implementation of the technology has been problematic. This is partly due to the manufacturing costs of tags, which are currently too high to justify widespread deployment across supply chains in the way that was originally imagined, and partly due to concerns over the potential for infringing the privacy of consumers who purchase RFID-tagged products. In addition, there are concerns about the health implications for staff employed in RFID-enabled workplaces, although this has not received as much attention in the press.

This TechWatch report provides a brief discussion of these issues as well as a detailed examination of RFID technology, including some of the current uses within research, administration and teaching and learning. The report also includes an overview of the significance of RFID as an enabling technology towards achieving the ‘seamless’ and ‘calm’ vision of ubiquitous computing, the role of the Internet of Things, and plots a future trajectory for RFID development within the wider context of wireless, networked environments.

The report is available in three download formats: Word (427 kb), pdf (309 kb) and Open Office (236 kb – zipped).

(via Doors of Perception newsletter)

2 June 2006

Why “humane” might be a better word than “usable”

Humanized
“A lot of people call good software ‘usable’. But what does that mean?”, writes Atul Varma in the new blog of Humanized.

“Taken literally, something is ‘usable’ if it can be used. Calling an interface ‘usable’ is kind of like calling food ‘edible': it’s setting the bar pretty darn low. And as such, it doesn’t really say much about the interface (or food) in question. At Humanized, we try to avoid using words like ‘usable’ and ‘usability’ because we think that they’re confusing at worst, and don’t mean enough at best.”

“That’s why we’d rather just use one term, with one clear definition, that sets the bar pretty high. It doesn’t require any modifiers, and it doesn’t leave anything out. It’s called humane. An interface is humane if it is responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties. It’s really that simple: if you ever use an interface and can honestly say that it’s responsive to your needs and considerate of your frailties, then it’s a good interface. An interface that just works.”

Read full post

(via Usability in the News)

Fair enough I’d say, but how would you then call the discipline if usability is no longer good? In fact, the Humanized people themselves write about “users” and “usability” in their web texts.

1 June 2006

Banks creating a better branch experience

Bank branch experience
The local NBC station in New York ran a story about how banks are changing to create a better in branch experience, writes David Polinchock in his blog The Experience Economist.

In particular, they were showing a new branch for the Bank of Smithtown, that included a coffee bar and a children’s play area. They spoke to the manager there, who gave one of the most compelling arguments for the need to create better experiences that David ever heard: “Typically a bank like this in the suburbs would do $1 million to $1.5 million a month (and) would be a fairly successful branch. When we first opened, this branch did a $1 million a week for the first 25 weeks.”

Read transcript and watch video