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Putting People First

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July 2006
31 July 2006

Advertising 2.0 [International Herald Tribune]

The coming age of mass participation
To many marketers, handing control to consumers still seems antithetical to the idea of advertising.

But that may be about to change, advertising executives say, as marketers wake up to the popularity of user-generated content and social networking and acknowledge that on the Internet, controlling the message is often no longer possible anyway.

Several of the largest ad companies have recently moved into the chaotic world of social networking and user-generated content. WPP Group created a joint venture with LiveWorld, an online marketing agency, to develop social networking opportunities for clients. Interpublic Group, meanwhile, created a partnership with Facebook, a networking site for students. Last week, Denuo [a unit of Publicis that specializes in new technology] created a partnership with ViTrue, an Atlanta-based start-up that bills itself as the “world’s first user-created advertising platform.”

31 July 2006

Talk to our customers? Are you crazy? [Fast Company]

Customer observation at Credit Suisse
Stephan Kubler spends each and every working day spying on Credit Suisse customers. He’s part of a small team led by customer-experience renegade David McQuillen, a 36-year-old American who’s challenging the top executives at the blue-chip Swiss bank to get out of their Zurich offices and–gulp!–meet some customers.

Almost every company has something about customer focus in its mission statement. Trouble is, the larger the organization, the more executives tend to insulate themselves from customers. Some rely on customer-satisfaction surveys and focus groups. Others simply assume that customers are just like them.

No, they’re not, says McQuillen. And the problem with thinking they are is that companies end up creating products and processes that suit them, not their customers. “You need,” he says, “to go out and talk to customers to find out what they want.”

Read full story

30 July 2006

The brand underground [The New York Times]

aNYthing
“Aaron Bondaroff, aka A-Ron, whose life weaves through the most elusive subcultures of lower Manhattan, has turned his lifestyle into a business called aNYthing.”

“Young people have always found fresh ways to rebel, express individuality or form subculture communities through cultural expression: new art, new music, new literature, new films, new forms of leisure or even whole new media forms. A-Ron’s preferred form of expression, however, is none of those things. When he talks about his chosen medium, which he calls aNYthing, it sounds as if he’s talking about an artists’ collective, indie film production company, a zine or a punk band. But in fact, aNYthing is a brand. A-Ron puts his brand on T-shirts and hats and other items, which he sells in his own store, among other places. He sees it as fundamentally of a piece with the projects and creations of his anti-mainstream heroes.”

“This might seem strange, since most of us think of branding as a thoroughly mainstream practice: huge companies buying advertising time during the Super Bowl to shout their trademarked names at us is pretty much the opposite of authentic or edgy expression.”

The article then continues into a thoughtful reflection on the nature of branding:

“Of course, companies don’t go into business in order to express a particular worldview and then gin up a product to make their point. Corporate branding is a function of the profit motive: companies have stuff to sell and hire experts to create the most compelling set of meanings to achieve that goal. A keen awareness of and cynicism toward this core fact of commercial persuasion — and the absurd lengths that corporations will go to in the effort to infuse their goods with, say, rebelliousness or youthful cool — is precisely the thing that is supposed to define the modern consumer. We all know that corporate branding is fundamentally a hustle. And guys like A-Ron are supposed to know that better than anybody.”

“Which is why the supposed counterculture nature of his brand might arouse some suspicion. Manufactured commodities are an artistic medium? Branding is a form of personal expression? Indie businesses are a means of dropping out? Turning your lifestyle into a business is rebellious?”

Read full story (permanent link)

30 July 2006

Aging in the 21st century [The New York Times]

Aging in the 21st century
The New York Times Gina Kolata explores the history of aging through several generations of the Keller family in Ohio.

“The Keller family illustrates what may prove to be one of the most striking shifts in human existence — a change from small, relatively weak and sickly people to humans who are so big and robust that their ancestors seem almost unrecognizable.”

“New research from around the world has begun to reveal a picture of humans today that is so different from what it was in the past that scientists say they are startled. Over the past 100 years, says one researcher, Robert W. Fogel of the University of Chicago, humans in the industrialized world have undergone ‘a form of evolution that is unique not only to humankind, but unique among the 7,000 or so generations of humans who have ever inhabited the earth.'”

“The effects are not just in the United States. Large and careful studies from Finland, Britain, France, Sweden and the Netherlands all confirm that the same things have happened there; they are also beginning to show up in the underdeveloped world.”

Read full story (permanent link)

30 July 2006

Techno Tots – why computer savvy users are getting younger and younger [BBC]

Techno tots
Worldwide research on very young children and their use of IT is limited, but one recent report from Sheffield University in the UK called Digital Beginnings makes for interesting reading.

For instance by the age of four, 45% of children have used a mouse to point and click, 27% have used a computer on their own at home, rising to 53% for six-year-olds, and 30% have looked at websites for children at home.

The Child Computer Interaction Group (ChiCI) studies the dynamic relationship between children and computers and feel that children should not start using computers too early in their development.

ChiCI’s Janet Read says: “My own opinion is that 18 months isn’t a good age.

“It’s a little bit ridiculous to think of an 18-month-old child sat in front of a traditional computer.

“That’s not to say there might not be technologies that are adapted to them in the future, but the traditional keyboard, box, monitor and mouse doesn’t seem to fit a child very well.”

So where do the techno tots like to go online?

Not surprisingly, the most popular sites are based on children’s TV shows.

Read full story

28 July 2006

What is the 1% rule? [The Guardian]

Guardian - Technology
Very interesting article on the limits of user participation and co-creation by Charles Arthur in the technology section of today’s The Guardian, here copied in its entirety.

“It’s an emerging rule of thumb that suggests that if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will “interact” with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it.

It’s a meme that emerges strongly in statistics from YouTube, which in just 18 months has gone from zero to 60% of all online video viewing.

The numbers are revealing: each day there are 100 million downloads and 65,000 uploads – which as Antony Mayfield (at Open) points out, is 1,538 downloads per upload – and 20m unique users per month.

That puts the “creator to consumer” ratio at just 0.5%, but it’s early days yet; not everyone has discovered YouTube (and it does make downloading much easier than uploading, because any web page can host a YouTube link).

Consider, too, some statistics from that other community content generation project, Wikipedia: 50% of all Wikipedia article edits are done by 0.7% of users, and more than 70% of all articles have been written by just 1.8% of all users, according to the Church of the Customer blog.

Earlier metrics garnered from community sites suggested that about 80% of content was produced by 20% of the users, but the growing number of data points is creating a clearer picture of how Web 2.0 groups need to think. For instance, a site that demands too much interaction and content generation from users will see nine out of 10 people just pass by.

Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo points out that much the same applies at Yahoo: in Yahoo Groups, the discussion lists, “1% of the user population might start a group; 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content, whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress; 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups,” he noted on his blog elatable in February.

So what’s the conclusion? Only that you shouldn’t expect too much online. Certainly, to echo Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. The trouble, as in real life, is finding the builders.”

UPDATE

Reacting to this post, Business Week’s Bruce Nussbaum asks some very pertinent questions in his blog NussbaumOnDesign:

“If 1% of crowds are creators, then what is the difference between “experts” and “crowds?” What is the difference between professional historians who write encyclopedias and the “masses” of people who do? Where does the real value of crowds lie? Are there higher “quality” crowds where more than 1% of the people create. Is the IBM innovation jam model where tens of thousands of highly trained people “crowd” better at innovation than a more general group of people? Who really participates in social networking and what do they do? Who is active, who is passive and why? Huge questions here on social networking that we really need to answer in this pell mell rush to social networking.”

28 July 2006

Espressamente, Illy’s cult coffee bar [Business Week]

Espressamente bar
Italian coffee maker Illy is out to conquer the “last frontier”—the coffee bar. By rolling out a global chain of licensed cafes called “Espressamente,” Illy intends not only to sell more of its high-quality coffee, but to purvey the original Italian cult of espresso. That means ensuring everything from the barista’s skills and manner to the Italian furniture and interior architecture of the café. It also means coffee as Italians love it: one short, dark shot that coats the tongue with subtle hints of chocolate, almonds, jasmin, and fresh peaches.

- Read full story
View slideshow
Read Illy press release

27 July 2006

Experientia talk: “Innovation in Museum Design” by Arch. Stephen Rustow

Stephen Rustow
Last week Experientia organised a talk on the current trends in museum design by the architect Stephen Rustow.

From 1983 to 1995, Rustow was lead planner, programmer and senior designer on the expansion and reorganisation of the Louvre Museum in Paris with I. M. Pei & Partners. From 1999 he led the work on the renovation and expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in association with Taniguchi Associates in Tokyo. He is now the founding principal of SRA, a specialised multidisciplinary consulting practice working with museums, private collections and architects to plan, programme and design the presentation of cultural collections.

Stephen Rustow used the MoMA and Louvre examples as illustrations of the main models in contemporary museum design:

“The one model is the idea of ‘bringing the merchants into the temple’, so bringing the retail, the restaurants, the sales, the parties to the museum in order to sustain the art activity. The other version is to take the art out of the temple and to make the temple void and to create a kind of ‘Kunsthalle’, where the museum does not exist as a repository of a collection, but as a space where shows are made and things are constantly renewed.”

“This has brought us in a contradiction. On the one hand you have examples such as the Louvre and the MoMA which are subsidising their art and art collecting activity by bringing in other cultural and non-cultural activities to the museum, and on the other hand buildings which were historically built as museum, but have essentially been emptied of their collections in order to renew themselves each time.”

At the end of Stephen Rustow’s 25 minute talk, Jan-Christoph Zoels and Yaniv Steiner of Experientia briefly presented some examples of playful and tangible interfaces and learning environments in museum and exhibition contexts.

The selected group of invitees were all people involved with museum design, museum management and cultural policy in Torino, who are now facing the challenge of maintaining the cultural and urban momentum the city gained during the recent Winter Olympics also in the years to come, especially in view of its selection as the 2008 World Capital of Design and the planned celebrations for the 150th birthday of the unification of Italy in 2011.

Watch Stephen Rustow presentation: part 1part 2part 3

26 July 2006

Homo Conexus

Homo Conexus
A veteran technology commentator attempts to live entirely on Web 2.0 for two weeks.

Sooner or later, we all face the Dodgeball truth. This comes at the moment when you realize that one of life’s possibilities — a product, an adventure, an offer, an idea — is really meant for people younger than you.

This bitter revelation is named for the relatively new Web-based service Dodgeball.com. This is a social networking site, and it represents most of what is supposed to be advanced and exciting about the current wave of “Web 2.0″ offerings. Dodgeball’s goal is to help you figure out, at any moment of the day or night, whether your friends or people who might be friendly are nearby. Toward this end, users construct networks of contacts — you list your friends, they list theirs, and on it goes — and lists of “crushes,” people they’d like to get to know. Then, with your cell phone or PDA, you send Dodgeball a text message saying that you’ve arrived at a particular bar or Starbucks or museum. Dodgeball messages you back with a list of people in your network who are within brief walking distance of your location — and tells them, and your crushes, where you are.

How did I come across Dodgeball? Trying it out was part of a larger journalistic experiment in living a Web 2.0-only life. For a couple of weeks this spring, I shifted as many of my activities as possible onto the Web, using new, hip technologies. Some of these shifts were merely the intensification of practices already familiar to many people — for instance, skipping newspapers and getting news only from RSS feeds and customized news sites. I listened to radio shows by podcast. I got my “authoritative” information from Wikipedia and all traffic and travel info from Windows Live Local and Google Earth.

I went further. I shopped for everything except food on eBay. When working with foreign-language documents, I used translations from Babel Fish. (This worked only so well. After a Babel Fish round-trip through Italian, the preceding sentence reads, “That one has only worked therefore well.”) Why use up space storing files on my own hard drive when, thanks to certain free utilities, I can store them on Gmail’s servers? I saved, sorted, and browsed photos I uploaded to Flickr. I used Skype for my phone calls, decided on books using Amazon’s recommendations rather than “expert” reviews, killed time with videos at YouTube, and listened to music through customizable sites like Pandora and Musicmatch. I kept my schedule on Google Calendar, my to-do list on Voo2do, and my outlines on iOutliner. I voyeured my neighborhood’s home values via Zillow. I even used an online service for each stage of the production of this article, culminating in my typing right now in Writely rather than Word. (Being only so confident that Writely wouldn’t somehow lose my work — or as Babel Fish might put it, “only confident therefore” — I backed it up into Gmail files. And being equally only confident therefore in Gmail, I cheated and made lifesaver backups on my own computer in Word.) And this is only an abbreviated list of what I did on the new Web.

Read full story

26 July 2006

Experientia partner leads new media workshop in Canada

Jan-Christoph Zoels at Banff New Media Institute
Interactive Screen is the title of an acclaimed new media development think tank, organised each summer at the Canadian Banff New Media Institute, to focus on the creative, social and business impacts of digital art, technologies and networks.

The 2006 workshop (August 13-18) is (again) lead by Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels, described in the Banff Centre newsletter as “one of Europe’s leading interface and application designers”.

Interactive Screen attracts a mix of international and Canadian new media luminaries and rising stars to reflect on the current state of the art and the shape of things to come.

The six day program features case studies, workshops, performances and one-on-one mentoring, allowing participants the time and space to share in understanding of the social, cultural and business potential of new media.

This year, Interactive Screen challenges its own boundaries by exploring the ambiguous notion of margins and migrations. Margins can be taken to mean ‘profit’. They also point the way to the ‘outside’. These terms provide participants with a means to turn and twist the meaning of media. Media forms have the power to migrate through the boundaries that define our experience — turning them inside out, and outside in. At the interface, it becomes possible to make ‘profit’ share in the values that we choose to make ours.

25 July 2006

Ruthless focus on the customer [Business Week]

Jeneanne Rae
“From the Mini Cooper to Whole Foods, companies and brands are discovering how superior customer experience keeps ‘em coming back for more”, writes Jeneanne Rae in a long story in Business Week.

Rae is co-founder of Peer Insight LLC, a research and consulting firm, and a former member of the senior management team at design and development firm IDEO.

“Customer experience is one of today’s great frontiers for innovation. While the concept isn’t exactly new—it was coined by designers and became more widely known to the business community through the work of Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore’s 1998 Harvard Business Review article and subsequent book Welcome to the Experience Economy—in my estimation we are still at the dawn of the Experience Age. And, it is my prediction that in this new age, customer experience will decide the winners and losers in almost every industry imaginable.”

The article then delves into themes such as:

  • the importance of “moments of truth” which “occur at the key touch points in a customer’s journey with his product or service environment”;
  • linking “information-technology strategy with human-resource models to create mass customization“;
  • entrusting customers with the “co-creation of the entire experience”;
  • using “an eco-system approach to orchestrate numerous business models that drive customer value”;
  • creating great customer experiences is not “just a matter of design content” but “must be everyone’s job“.

Read full story

25 July 2006

New European interaction design institute

Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design
The Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design [CIID] is a new initiative happening in Denmark. The two key promoters of this initiative are Heather Martin and Simona Maschi [both former professors at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea]. The initial team consists of qualified interaction designers from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

“The aim is to create a high profile design institute, which is small but dynamic and which interfaces with academia and industry. The institute will become an international setting for new thinking in design and technology in Copenhagen. The institute will encourage multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary learning, teaching and consulting in Interaction Design. We imagine that people both from the academic and the industrial world will come to Copenhagen to work with us on innovative products, services and technology for the future. The institute aims to become an international centre of excellence in interaction design and innovation by 2010. The uniqueness of the institute is that it will incorporate an integrated plan of teaching, research and consulting – all in the same building, at the same time allowing them to influence each other in their vision and philosophy.”

(via pasta and vinegar)

25 July 2006

Brand experience in user experience design [UX Matters]

Bang & Olufsen web site
This article by Steve Baty attempts to identify the appropriate role for brand values as one project objective within the broader framework of user-centered design.

If two organizations that provide similar services or products to similar markets both applied a typical user-centered design process, one might logically conclude that they would develop similar Web sites. User research during the early stages of both projects would uncover similar goals and objectives for the target audience—which is the same for both Web sites—and, in turn, would lead to similar results.

Frameworks such as Jesse James Garrett’s “Elements of User Experience” provide a rich structure for practitioners approaching a user experience project, but do little to identify or promote the role of brand during either the definition or design phases of a project. Similarly, process diagrams such as “Designing the User Experience” from the UPA—the “snakes and ladders” poster—focus on the importance of deliverables such as user profiles, task analyses, and usage scenarios portraying user interfaces in ways that do not jeopardize brand perception. Instead, we should consider how the visual design, the interaction design, the information architecture—in fact, the entire user experience—can positively contribute to brand image. By creating a user experience that is appropriate to our audience, business goals, and the competitive landscape, we can positively reinforce our customers’ brand experience.

Read full article

24 July 2006

Britons ‘dependent on mobile use’ [BBC]

Mobile Life
More than 90% of UK mobile users cannot get through the day without using their phone, a survey suggests.

Among younger users, 9% admitted being addicted to their phones and feeling out of control in how they used them, the poll of 16,500 people found.

The study, commissioned by Carphone Warehouse in association with The London School of Economics and Lord Philip Gould, also found many women relied on their phones as a form of security.

Fifty-four per cent of females under 25 had used a mobile when out alone to put people off approaching them, it found.

The mobile has become a new “barrier” for women to fend off unwanted attention, where a newspaper or magazine would have been used in the past, the study said.

Overall, 21% of the people polled admitted using a mobile as a means to stop people approaching them.

- Read full story
Read Carphone Warehouse press release
Visit Carphone Warehouse’s MobileLife2006 website
Download colour report (pdf, 8 mb, 47 pages)
Download black and white report (pdf, 0.9 mb, 48 pages)

23 July 2006

Saving the world, one video game at a time [New York Times]

Madrid game
Video games have long entertained users by immersing them in fantasy worlds full of dragons or spaceships. But Peacemaker, a video game simulation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is part of a new generation: games that immerse people in the real world, full of real-time political crises. And the games’ designers aren’t just selling a voyeuristic thrill. Games, they argue, can be more than just mindless fun, they can be a medium for change.

Games are uniquely good at teaching people how complex systems work. Video games also possess a persuasive element that is missing from books or movies: They let the player become a different person (at least for an hour or two), and see the world from a new perspective.

Featured games:

  • Peacemaker (a video game simulation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict)
  • Food Force (a UN released game that helps people understand the difficulties of dispensing aid to war zones)
  • A Force More Powerful (a game to teach the methods of influencing or changing the political environment using nonviolent methods)
  • Darfur is Dying (a narrative based simulation about surviving in a Darfur refugee camp)
  • September 12 (a simple game to explore some aspects of the war on terror
  • Madrid (a newsgame about the 3/11 terrorist attacks in Spain)

Read full story (permanent link)

22 July 2006

Washers and dryers air messages to PCs, TVs, phones [Associated Press]

Fluidtime laundry interface
After Reuters, now also the Associated Press news agency (as published in USA Today and Wired online) report on the test by Whirlpool, Panasonic and Microsoft, to remotely run washing machines and dryers from a mobile phone or PC (see Putting People First story from a couple of days ago).

The project sounds very similar to the Fluidtime laundry project Michael Kieslinger implemented three years ago for the students at Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in collaboration with Miele Germany, except that the Ivrea project (download case study, pdf, 215 kb, 2 pages) seemed to have a much more intuitive interface (pictured here) than the one featured in the AP story, and was focused on the social sharing of the same washing machine, such as in a student dorm or a laundromat.

22 July 2006

Former Experientia intern Janina Boesch wins 2006 Adobe Design Achievement Award

Manhattan Dissected
Former Experientia intern Janina Boesch just won the 2006 Adobe Design Achievement Award in the category “interactive media” with her RISD degree project “Manhattan Dissected“.

“Manhattan Dissected” is an interactive application based on a subjectively viewed Manhattan. Somewhere between a digital city guide and a personal exploration, this project includes 3D navigation, 360-degree views, photos, sound recordings, and historical information.

The Adobe Design Achievement Awards celebrate student achievement that reflects the powerful convergence of technology and creative arts. Students from schools in 24 countries throughout the world submitted nearly 1,500 entries to this year’s competition. Winners were chosen in nine categories, representing work by some of the most talented and promising student graphic designers, photographers, illustrators, animators, digital filmmakers, and computer artists from the world’s top institutions of higher education.

Janina Boesch was born in 1978 in Bremen, Germany. After completing an apprenticeship to become a digital media designer, she moved to the U.S., where she did a one-year internship at 4 Corners, New York. In 2003, Janina began to study graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design. At RISD, she was not only taught the beauty of typography but also learned to combine her previous interest in interactive media with her new love for clean and thoughtful designs. She recently started to work for the New York Pentagram office, where she became a full-time designer after she graduated in June of this year.

Janina was an Experientia intern in January-February 2006 and worked on several projects, including the design of this blog.

22 July 2006

Whatever happened to… the smartphone? [The Register]

Smartphone
At one time, the future of mobiles looked simple. The smartphone was a new kind of gadget that was subsuming the pager, the camera, the PDA, the Walkman, and almost every other piece of technology you could carry – and offering it in volume at an irresistible price. Often free. Over time, every phone would become a smartphone.

The justification for an all-singing, all-dancing converged device seems as distant as ever. Today ‘dumbphones’, say for example Nokia’s 6230i, or Sony Ericsson’s V630i are more capable than we once imagined they would be.

It’s easy to explain the success of the dumbphone by arguing they add most of the features people wanted. Of course that’s true, but it’s also tautological, and we have to look beyond that, to see what features people either didn’t want, or haven’t used. The phone manufacturers would much rather the smartphone had become an overnight smash, because they command higher margins, and carriers make more money from services smartphones can handle than the dumbphones. Something, clearly, didn’t go according to plan.

But what was it?

Read full story

19 July 2006

Revealing the source code of the creative mind [Wired Magazine]

David Galenson
What David Galenson, professor of economics at the University of Chicago, has found is that genius – whether in art or architecture or even business – is not the sole province of 17-year-old Picassos and 22-year-old Andreessens.

Instead, it comes in two very different forms, embodied by two very different types of people.

“Conceptual innovators,” as Galenson calls them, make bold, dramatic leaps in their disciplines. They do their breakthrough work when they are young. Think Edvard Munch, Herman Melville, and Orson Welles. They make the rest of us feel like also-rans.

Then there’s a second character type, someone who’s just as significant but trudging by comparison. Galenson calls this group “experimental innovators.” Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers.

Galenson maintains that this duality – conceptualists are from Mars, experimentalists are from Venus – is the core of the creative process. And it applies to virtually every field of intellectual endeavor, from painters and poets to economists.

Read full story

19 July 2006

Business Week special report on tech toys

Miuchiz
Working for Clams in Whyville
In a world where kids are spending a significant portion of their lives online, Whyville has pioneered mixing entertainment and education. The virtual world, founded in 1999 by CalTech biology professor James Bower, uses a wide variety of games to teach kids how to manage their money, hone their math and science skills, and even learn how to eat better. It’s a kid’s version of the popular Second Life cyberworld. A growing group of sponsors, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Getty, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Toyota, have created areas within the world where kids can play games to learn about ions or the undersea world, and even customize and arrange financing for a new Toyota Scion. This combination of fun and learning is exerting an undeniable appeal: Over the past year, the service has grown 41% and now has 1.7 million members.

Tech Toys for Today’s Kids
Today toy companies face fierce competition for kids’ attention, not just from traditional industry players, but from video game, consumer electronics, and computer companies. Forget about Santa’s elves banging out wooden soldiers at the North Pole. These days toymakers have to act more like Apple’s Steve Jobs—constantly reinventing their products in sleek labS in Silicon Valley.

Re-inventing HotWheels
After a six-year interlude at toymakers Jakks Pacific and then Best Pals, designer Gary Swisher returned to Mattel in 2005 as vice-president of wheels design. There he oversees the HotWheels, Matchbox, and Tyco lines—the top three in the vehicles category. But a lot has changed since Swisher’s G-Force days. For one thing, today’s kids have grown up with technology. As Swisher says, “it’s just a given for them.” The toy industry has responded by giving classic brands a high-tech twist and introducing all new products that blur the line between toy and tech gadget. Recently, Swisher spoke with BusinessWeek.com’s Jessie Scanlon about the challenge of stewarding an old-school brand like HotWheels in our tech-driven age, the emerging technologies that will affect the toy industry, and Mattel’s Web strategy.

The Tussle Over High-Tech Toys (slideshow)
For a glimpse of [the high tech toys[ you’ll see on toy retail shelves well in advance of the crucial year-end shopping season.

Toys for Tot Testers
At Fisher-Price Play Lab, in the heart of the company’s headquarters, on the outskirts of Buffalo, N.Y., local children get first crack at the toys Fisher-Price will eventually sell throughout the world. And while it may be fun and games for the kids, the testing that goes on here plays a serious, critical role in the development of the products that helped Fisher-Price, acquired by Mattel in 1993, rake in $2.02 billion in sales last year.

More Than Child’s Play
Go behind the scenes at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, where students design the physical and interactive aspects of toys.

Super Design Powers, Activate!
A childhood dream of becoming a superhero fuels the [Mattel sponsored] development at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program of an interactive toy that encourages girls’ imaginations.