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June 2006
1 June 2006

Experience things before they exist [The Economist]

Carl Bass
As the new chief executive of Autodesk, a software company that pioneered the market for computer-aided design, or CAD, 24 years ago, Carl Bass feels that his role is also to ensure that customers will “get what they don’t know to ask for, […] the ability ‘to experience’ a thing before it is built.

Before bending actual metal for a new Boeing aircraft, for instance, its designers ought to be able to feel what it will be like to sit in as a passenger, to fly it as a pilot, and to fix it as ground crew. Architects should be able to enter a building that exists only in their imagination and their software in order to see how light falls into it at noon in January and dusk in June. They should also be able to simulate the experience of people trying to get out of a building in a hurry if, God forbid, someone were to fly an aeroplane into it; to feel how it shakes in an earthquake, and so on.

If all this sounds like the visions of “virtual reality” long touted by science fiction and Hollywood, that is unfortunate but unavoidable. Ordinary people are already having the sort of experiences that Mr Bass describes, through the medium of online games such as “Second Life”, which lets its visitors create anything they can imagine: with a few clicks, they can build houses, islands and spacecraft, and walk through or fly over the things created by other players.

To be useful to real-world engineers, however, Mr Bass thinks that virtual reality should stimulate as many of the five senses as possible. In software today, says Mr Bass, “we’re at a pretty crude approximation of sight only.” Within a decade or so, he thinks, Autodesk should be able to model touch and hearing as well, although smell and taste will be harder. Designers, architects and engineers, by the sound of it, might soon be wearing wired gloves and full-body touch-suits.

Read full story

1 June 2006

Nokia design director describes second stage of mobile communications

This afternoon Nokia’s Design Director Marko Ahtisaari talked about “Mobile 2.0: Social Renaissance” at Reboot 8.0 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

In his talk, which is summarised by Nicolas Nova on Pasta & Vinegar, Ahtisaari described the second stage of mobile communication. The mobile industry today has a huge scale: it reached 2bn mobile subscribers today. Ahtisaari believes the next 2bn are very different, in terms of usage patterns and income. To him, there are seven challenges that can be opportunities.

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1 June 2006

Latest issue of UPA’s UX Magazine devoted to usability in Pacific Rim

The latest issue of User Experience (UX) Magazine, published by the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA), is devoted to “usability around the Pacific Rim”.

Zhengjie Liu writes about usability and user-centered design practice in China, Cindy Lu discusses the opportunities for the usability community there, and others describe the situation in Hong Kong, Japan and New Zealand. The magazine also includes features on designing an interface for Chinese migrant workers to fill the communication gap with their children at home, and how user expertise can make RFID technology welcome.

Unfortunately the peer-reviewed magazine (disclosure: my business partner Michele Visciola is on the editorial board) is not online. Printed copies are distributed to all UPA members (I am one of them), but the website only features summaries of the articles of the previous issue.

Some time ago, I raised this with editor-in-chief Aaron Marcus, arguing that the magazine should be fully available online, as the PR benefits would be much greater than the possible reduction in membership. I think there are substantial benefits to be gained for all, if the UPA were to modernise its web presence (its website looks dated, doesn’t work equally well on all browsers, and doesn’t allow for reader participation), develop a real strategic presence online, and become a more active part of the online discussion on usability, user experience and experience design. I believe such a strategy might actually raise memberships, and offset any losses from making the members-only magazine publicly available.

As some of my readers will be going to the UPA’s annual conference in Broomfield (Denver), CO from 12 to 16 June (my partner Michele will also be there), I hope this can be one of the topics being discussed there.

1 June 2006

Technology leaves teens speechless [USA Today]

Texting teens
College suitemates, even roommates, pick up their phones to text each other. Otherwise, they’re communicating via instant messaging or the social networking sites MySpace and Facebook.

With their mouths largely shut but their laptops and flip phones open, teenagers’ bedrooms are beginning to sound like the library. So is the dinner table.

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1 June 2006

ICT trends are changing how we teach and learn

Learning beyond the classroom
Computers and technology are blurring the line between what we think of as traditional education – that is, going to school and sitting in classrooms; and what we think of as homework – that is, reading textbooks and studying for exams.

This was the topic of discussion at the second East Asia Regional ICT Conference entitled ‘Learning Beyond the Classroom: How ICT is Shaping the Learning Revolution‘, organised by the British Council (Thailand) in Bangkok, Thailand.

“What is happening now is we’ve been overtaken by students’ experience of ICT outside schools,” says Tony Hacking, director of education and development at the UK-based company UniServity, and a keynote speaker at the conference.

Because of the impact of ICT, policymakers and school administrations in countries like the UK and Singapore are re-examining the notion of learning. Experts agree that “learning” no longer confines students within the physical limits of a classroom.

The twenty-first century classroom, says Hacking, is one that allows students to learn in many different scenarios – not just ones where the teacher stands in front of the classroom. Settings should involve students engaged in authentic, real-life activities, not in contrived role-plays.

“The key concept is that we need to view learners as individuals in the learning communities,” says Hacking. With ICT as a catalyst, the learning model is shifting away from teacher-led to community-led and is heading toward personalised learning – enquiry-led, student-focused, student-developed, and student-led.

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1 June 2006

Ethnographic study of robotic products in the home

This paper by Jodi Forlizzi (assistant professor at the HCI Institute and School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University) presents an ethnographic study of robotic products in the home.

The experience of floor cleaning was studied with six families. Each family was given a robotic vacuum or a stick vacuum that offered the same vacuuming functionality.

The robotic vacuum affected significant change in the families, while the stick vacuum did not. Families cleaned more often, more members of the family cleaned, and people made social attributions when using the robotic vacuum. In addition, the robotic vacuum affected generational difference in how elders as opposed to non-elders cleaned.

Design implications for social robotic products in the home and next steps for understanding their contexts of use are presented based on the findings of this study.

Download study (pdf, 2.1 mb, 10 pages)

(via Managing Innovative Thinking + Design)