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Putting People First

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August 2006
8 August 2006

Mobile internet is still a turn-off [The Register]

Hostway user research
Most punters still find mobile internet usage to be a frustrating experience they’d rather avoid.

Despite investment by operators in services such as i-mode and Vodafone Live, 73 per cent of respondents to a new survey said don’t access the net from their mobile. Slow-loading pages (38 per cent) and navigation difficulties (27 per cent) were among the reasons cited why people would rather hook up to the net using a PC rather than a phone. A quarter (25 per cent of sites were unavailable to those with mobile phones.

The survey of 1500 UK consumers, commissioned by hosting firm Hostway, also found that surfing habits varied depending on how people got online. People were content to browse using a PC than when accessing the net from a phone, where they often wanted to find a specific piece of information. Slightly more consumers would rather access maps (49 per cent) than read news and sport (47 per cent) from their phones. [...]

Basic services created the most interest. Survey respondents said that if they could access services quickly, simply and cheaply they would want to access their email on the move (71 per cent) with around half saying that they would also access news and sport (47 per cent) from their mobile.

Read full story

8 August 2006

Cellphones top Iraqi cool list [The New York Times]

Cellphones in Iraq
“Cellphones have long been considered status symbols in developing countries, Iraq included. But in an environment [like Iraq] where hanging out is potentially life threatening, cellphones are also a window into dreams and terrors, the macabre local sense of humor and Iraqis’ resilience amid the swells of violence”, writes Damien Cave in The New York Times.

Cellphones also provide “one of the country’s only safe forms of teenage self-expression.”

Read full story (permanent link)

8 August 2006

Swisscom study on how we use communication means [Business Week]

Stefana Broadbent
A recent Swiss study finds that as the communication options available to us expand, we tend to narrow the uses and audience for each, writes Bruno Giussani in a Business Week guest column.

Cell phone users spend lots of time talking into their devices, but they generally communicate with very few people. Just how few? Would you believe four?

It’s one of the surprising recent findings of a study carried out in Switzerland. In the last few years our communication environment has been expanding at a very fast pace. The lone fixed-line telephone has given way to multiple fixed and mobile phones, e-mail, instant messaging (IM), text messaging, voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) free (or near-free) telephony and videoconferencing, and other interactive channels such as blogs and wikis.

This expanded communication environment raises some questions: Are people “specialising” their use of different communication channels? For example, do mobile-phone, fixed-line, and e-mail users differentiate their usage of those tools in terms of content, communication partners, and habits? Are new channels affecting how existing channels are used?

Stefana Broadbent, an ethnologist working for Swisscom Innovations, a division of Swisscom (SCM), Switzerland’s largest telecom operator, says the answer to each of these questions is yes. [...] What [her study] has revealed is that people “are very good at choosing the best media for each situation.”

Read full story (also on the Giussani blog)

(note that an earlier version of this story, based on her LIFT presentation, was already published previously on this blog – Stefana Broadbent will be one of the speakers at the European Market Research Event)

7 August 2006

Planning Portal – enabling transformational government

Planning Portal
Planning Portal is not only a successful example of technology enablement in service delivery but could prove to be a tremendous asset for local authorities in their quest to develop and deliver citizen centric services, says eGov monitor.

Just under two years ago, the [UK] Government unveiled its ambition to develop a world class e-Planning Service which would deliver new, more efficient ways of enabling the community to engage in a shared vision for their local area.

This new service would also enable access to high quality, relevant information and guidance as well as streamlined processes for sharing and exchanging information amongst key players.

Since then, e-Planning has made significant progress towards meeting its goals, and it has been recognised as one of the major successes of technology aided service delivery. This is especially true for the Planning Portal, which continues to improve itself and has been recognised through numerous awards.

Read full story

6 August 2006

Socio-Digital Systems, a Microsoft research project

Socio-Digital Systems
Socio-Digital Systems (SDS) is one of three groups that make up Computer-Mediated Living, a Microsoft HCI research area that emphasises the primacy of the user in the design, development, deployment and evaluation of technology.

As an interdisciplinary group, SDS brings together psychology, sociology, computer science and hardware engineering to address the problem of designing technology to support people in everyday life.

In supporting everyday life, the researchers, who are based in Cambridge, UK, want to go beyond simple metaphors to daily life (such as bringing the desktop onto your computer screen) and to exploit our familiarity and facility with the everyday world – the physical world and the social world – to inform the design of new hardware and software systems.

The research is grouped under three thematic headings: new communication genres, which are new opportunities for human expression, situating technologies in the home, which requires a qualitative understanding of home life, and the challenges of revealing the invisible, i.e. making some of the invisible properties of virtual landscapes visible.

The website goes on to describe about 17 research projects. Of interest is the strong human-centred and ethnographic design methodology.

6 August 2006

C-Mine, creativity as a tool to transform a former Belgian mining area

Mine at Winterslag, Genk
This updates an original post of 20 March 2006 in order to incorporate developments that took place since:

Like the North-East in England and Zollverein, Essen in Germany, the Belgian former mining area of Winterslag/Genk is using creativity as a tool to transform the area in an innovative, sustainable and qualitative way and to generate new approaches to education, economic development, culture and tourism.

The initiative, which is called "C-Mine" (the “C” refers to creativity), includes:

Educational activities
The educational activities are centred around the media and design academy (site in Dutch only) which is now planning an experience design lab to integrate its various educational functions and increase their value for innovation and regional economic development [disclosure: I was born in the area and have an advisory role in the planning phase of the lab]. The educational mission of the academy and the site in general is aimed at innovative concept and product development. The academy will provide bachelor and master programmes as well as company training.

Creative economy
The design lab (see above) is also at the heart of C-Mine’s strategy for the development of a creative knowledge economy: to provide new input to creative and innovative project and product thinking, to be an incubator of new ideas for the local business community, to attract new design companies and stimulate a design approach within existing ones, to help spin off new companies, and to be a creative project space for entrepreneurial organisations.

Culture
A brand new culture centre will connect artistic creation and production to the development of a creative economy, with each providing added value to the other.

Tourism and recreation
C-mine will be developed as a meaningful experience site for all kinds of visitors, combining its historical mining heritage – including its impressive machine halls – with new creative and design activities.

The city has recently completed a comprehensive master plan. Many of the facilities will already be operational by 2007 and 2008. A more complete overhaul of the site will take place thereafter. The architectural studio 51N4E has been charged with the redesign of the existing buildings and the development of new infrastructure. The project is financed in part by the EU’s European Regional Development Fund.

This post was based on information provided to me by the City of Genk, currently only available in Dutch:
press release (pdf, 68 kb, 2 pages)
project brochure (pdf, 272 kb, 10 pages)

6 August 2006

Searching for a mobile interface [BBC]

Handset design has changed little but supports ever more functions [BBC photo]
Will mobile device manufacturers be willing to take the leap of faith to a new user interface? And if they do, will these new user interfaces catch on?

This is the central question that Spencer Kelly’s of BBC’s Click Online ponders on the BBC website.

He starts from the observation that a quarter of phones returned for being faulty are working properly but that people just cannot figure out how to use them, since there are too many features and the user experience is too complex.

The article analyses various mobile device interfaces, including some experimental ones, such as vibrating touch sensitive LCD screens and motion sensitive controllers.

However, he concludes, to go from good idea to workable product, serious money needs to be invested in its development. Since the market is very conservative, manufacturers don’t want to invest a lot of money doing something brand new if they are not sure users are going to buy it.

Read full story

4 August 2006

Designing for interaction: an interview with Dan Saffer [AIGA Voice]

Designing for Interaction
If you’ve been delighted by your iPod, intrigued with your TiVo, or frustrated by your mobile phone, then you have encountered the work of an interaction designer. And an interaction designer, most likely, has crafted the experience we have with many of the products and services we encounter every day.

Dan Saffer, a senior interaction designer at Adaptive Path, leads us through an exploration of this emerging discipline. Published this month, Saffer’s new book, Designing for Interaction, is a much-needed primer on the topic, helping us understand the design of interactive systems.

Liz Danzico, managing director of AIGA’s Voice talked with Saffer just prior to his book being published in July

Read full story (mirror: Business Week)

3 August 2006

Future-making serious games

Serious games blog
Eliane Alhadeff has published a blog about “future-making” serious games, i.e. games “that challenge us to play at building a better future”.

Although the blog needs quite some design work still – it took me some effort for instance to turn off the music (go to the July 14 post and hit the pause button) and the bloated sidebar suffers from featuritis – I have to say that the texts are cleverly written, the image selection is well-done, and above all I think it is very valuable for all of us to have somebody finally starting to create an overview of what is going on in this field.

Playful learning is definitely an area that will see major growth, and allow for innovative experience design of relevance for many different parts of society, both private and public. Hence the report we published a while back.

I can only encourage Eliane to pursue this path and try to take on a leadership role in the exploration of this field. Her blog has the potential to become a portal on the topic. To start with, she should do some more work on the categories, so that somebody interested in say games and the elderly, or games and the arts, or games and civil society can quickly find some interesting links.

3 August 2006

Experience Design: Principles and Practices

Experience Design Principles & Practices
Dirk Knemeyer of Involution Studios has just posted his slides from his “Experience Design Principles & Practices” course at the IIID Summer Academy/START in Chicago.

Download slides (pdf, 3.4 mb, 72 pages)

3 August 2006

The dashboard as metaphor for the next wave in technological culture

Linda Stone
Linda Stone, former Microsoft and Apple researcher and world-renowned specialist in understanding and quantifying human productivity, stated recently at the Collaborative Technologies Conference in Boston, that continuous partial attention characterises the way most of us react to the world most of the time.

It involves constantly scanning multiple sources of information (e-mail, instant messages, RSS feeds, TV, podcasts) paying partial attention to each. That’s different from old-school multitasking — talking on the phone while stirring a pot of soup, for example — which involves doing multiple nonintellectual tasks at the same time.

According to Stone, the focus for the next technocultural wave (from 2005 to 2025) will be on simplified, trusted communications. We’ll be looking for tools that help us sort through the chaos of overconnectedness and replace it with “meaningful” connectedness: Instead of tracking 3,000 online friends, we’ll deepen our connection with the three or 30 friends who really matter.

If the metaphor for the first generation (from 1965 to 1985) was the PC and for the second generation (from 1985 to 2005) was the Internet, the metaphor for this generation is the “dashboard” — a tool that simplifies multiple sources of information and allows us to focus on what really matters.

- Read full story
– Blog transcripts of Stone’s presentation: Nancy White (mirror), Annette Kramer, Jeffrey Treem

3 August 2006

Couple-surfing to enhance cyber-love [Reuters]

Couple-surfing
A man and a woman sit side-by-side in a New York cafe, drinking beer, sharing food, and not saying a word. Instead of chatting, they are typing on a laptop about the tunes played through a shared iPod.

“Realizing that communicating via typing was far more comfortable … we conducted … our date without speaking. We traded headphones back and forth and typed and ordered beer and wine and more food … The waitress thought we were crazy,” wrote singer Amanda Palmer in her “Dresden Dolls Diary“.

As the Internet evolves — with its webcams, iPods, Instant Messaging, broadband, wi-fi and weblogs — its image as a relationship-wrecker is changing.

Now a sociable habit is emerging among the Netorati: couple-surfing.

Coined by bloggers responding to a Wired column, couple-surfing describes “netaholics” or “infomaniacs” who surf alongside each other — doing together what used to be seen as a solitary activity.

Read full story

2 August 2006

Putting People First official blogger of the European Market Research Event 2006

European Market Research Event 2006
A few days ago, we were contacted by the Institute for International Research (IIR) in New York about the first European Market Research Event, taking place in London from 13 to 16 November this year. Today, we are proud to announce that we agreed that Putting People First will be the “official blogger” of this impressive event.

The European Market Research Event positions itself as the “only practitioner led event focused on the business value of market research and consumer insights”. It was designed to join market researchers, directors of insights and marketers, to discuss the business value of market research.

The speaker line up is impressive and features such companies as Barclays Bank, CNBC Europe, EMI Music, Eastman Kodak, IBM, Intel, LEGO, Lufthansa, Microsoft, Nokia, Pepsico, Price Waterhouse Cooper, Procter and Gamble, Orange, Steelcase, Swisscom Innovations, Unilever and Vodafone. Anne Kirah, Microsoft’s senior design anthropologist, is the event’s co-chair.

The event, which coincides with the UPA’s 2006 World Usability Day, is organised in various thematic “special interest groups”. Themes are Ethnography, Segmentation, Online Research, Global Research, Media, and Usability.

The main conference days (Monday to Wednesday) feature keynote sessions from leading practitioners from Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and authors including James Surowiecki, “Wisdom of Crowds”, and Peter Fisk, “Marketing Intelligence”. Academics from the London Business School, Northwestern University and other institutions also contribute keynote speeches. The afternoons of the main conference days are devoted to in-depth case-studies on Trends, Product Development, Shopper Insights, Return on Investment, Social Research, Branding, Business to Business, and Best Practices in Applying Market Research.

In the months leading up to the event, Putting People First will post several interviews with the organisers and some of the key speakers. During the event we will provide live blogging, including some short interviews with key participants. All posts are accessible from a special page, accessible from the European Market Research Event logo in the left sidebar.

In addition, two of our Experientia partners, Michele Visciola and Jan-Christoph Zoels, will present a 45 min. thematic session on usability as a tool for innovation, and on the importance of empathic market sensing, user experience modelling and design prototyping.

2 August 2006

Book: The Necessity of Experience

The Necessity of Experience
In this controversial book, Edward S. Reed warns that first-hand experience as a way of understanding the world and ourselves is endangered, because our culture favors indirect, second-hand knowledge that is selected, modified, packaged and presented to us by others. Reed offers a spirited defense of unmediated experience against both modernist and postmodernist critics and outlines how to foster this vision of meaningful learning.

Book abstract:

Primary experience, gained through the senses, is our most basic way of understanding reality and learning for ourselves. Our culture, however, favors the indirect knowledge gained from secondary experience, in which information is selected, modified, packaged, and presented to us by others. In this controversial book, Edward S. Reed warns that secondhand experience has become so dominant in our technological workplaces, schools, and even homes that primary experience is endangered. Reed calls for a better balance between firsthand and secondhand experience, particularly in our social institutions. He contends that without opportunities to learn directly, we become less likely to think and feel for ourselves.

Since the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, Western epistemological tradition has rejected primary experience in favor of the abstractions of secondhand experience. Building on James Gibson’s concept of ecological psychology, Reed offers a spirited defense of the reality and significance of ordinary experience against both modernist and postmodernist critics. He expands on the radical critiques of work, education, and art begun by William Morris and John Dewey, offering an alternative vision of meaningful learning that places greater emphasis on unmediated experience, and he outlines the psychological, cultural, and intellectual conditions that will be needed to foster that crucial change.

Edward S. Reed is associate professor of psychology at Franklin and Marshall College, editor of The Genetic Epistemologist, and associate editor of Ecological Psychology. He is also the author of James J. Gibson and the Psychology of Perception, published by Yale University Press. Reed has also been an NEH Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Mary Switzer Fellow (awarded by National Institute for Research on Disability).

- Publisher’s website
Amazon: book page | book preview

(via the European Centre for the Experience Economy)

1 August 2006

Digital diversity – the end game?

Digital diversity
David Gyimah, a video journalist and the director of the Broadcast Journalism Training Council (BJTC), has written a thought-provoking article on the future of diversity in the rapidly developing world of the net and connected mobile devices.

“If the net becomes, as it is demonstrated, THE info source of the day, someone’s entitled to ask, ‘where did all the difference, diverse stuff go?’, asks David.

The article and two associated videos (part 1 and part 2) were prompted by an invitation for David to speak at a Developing Digital Diversity forum at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts where David was scheduled to speak about the Outernet and Game Theory.

The article is published on Morph, the online home of The Media Center Conversation, a global, cross-sector exploration of issues, trends, ideas and actions to build a better-informed society.

1 August 2006

The friendly face of business software [Business Week]

Salesforce screenshot
“The [business software] feature wars are over. The new software upstarts have a powerful one-two punch: cheap startup costs and drop-dead ease of use. While much of the attention in the software industry has focused on inexpensive applications that undercut pricey traditional business programs, it’s the new design movement that could prove more important. In fact, it could end up reshaping the user experience across Corporate America.”

“Forget what the corporate IT department thinks about business software. The actual users will tell you programs like those offered by Salesforce.com may be the first truly intuitive pieces of business software they’ve ever used.”

“To really appreciate the change, consider just how frustrated the buyers of business software had been. Companies spent buckets of money in up-front costs, and then more dough getting that software to work. Even more galling for tech managers is the reality that a lot of people outside of, say, the accounting department, never bother to use the products because they’re too geeky and complicated.”

“That’s why two big software movements have been gaining steam. The first is on-demand computing, where companies such as Salesforce run the program for the customer, selling use of it over the Internet for a monthly fee. The other big trend is the open-source software movement, where vast communities of coders collaborate to build software that’s freely available online.”

Read full story

1 August 2006

The new simplicity at Philips [Business Week]

Home simple home
When Gerard Kleisterlee took the helm at Royal Philips Electronics in 2001 the Dutch conglomerate’s vast empire spanned sectors from TVs and light bulbs to semiconductors and medical devices. But one important thing was missing: a coherent brand.

“It was clear the missing link between Philips’ great technology and business success was marketing,” Kleisterlee says.

Countless focus groups across the company’s divisions all led to the same conclusion: New technology was often just too complex. So Philips stopped talking tech and started speaking the language of its customers.

It’s all part of a new branding effort launched two years ago called Sense and Simplicity. The idea is to create a “health care, lifestyle, and technology” company whose products promise innovation but are easy to use and designed around consumers. Kleisterlee hired a new marketing boss and quickly moved to ensure the company’s strategy filtered down to the troops.

Read full story

Slideshow: The New Simplicity
Philips’ latest design philosophy aims at making people’s lives not just more pleasing but less cluttered. Under the leadership of new Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Ragnetti, Philips products increasingly serve multiple functions. A chair and a TV set, for instance, double as lamps, casting a soft light on their surroundings. A futuristic portable music player encourages strangers to interact through sharing their favorite tunes.

Slideshow: A History of Hot Ideas
Over the decades, Philips has turned out a long series of iconic and fast-selling designs. Here’s a look at some of the most memorable creations by Philips Design.

Slideshow: Products That Just Missed
As part of its innovation strategy, Philips Design works on about three thousand projects in any one year. Some of those projects are more experimental, and never make it to production. Here are a handful of the studio’s concept projects. Others prove too tough to bring to market — or just come along at the wrong time.

1 August 2006

Poverty-stricken Rwanda puts its faith and future into the wide wired world [The Guardian]

Computer classroom in Ruanda
Rwanda’s Vision 2020 project aims to rapidly transform a depressed agricultural economy into one driven by information communications and technology (ICT). If it works, the percentage of Rwanda’s workforce involved in farming will drop from 90% to 50% in 15 years. By then the country should be the regional ICT hub – a kind of Singapore of the Great Lakes.

When the ICT plan was launched in 2000 only one school in the country had a computer, there was a single internet cafe and a handful of science graduates, and fewer than 100,000 of 8 million people had mobile or fixed-line phones.

Today half of the 2,300 primary schools have at least one computer. There are 30 internet cafes in the leading cities and there will be 30 more in even the most remote rural areas by 2007. Telecoms companies hawk broadband internet for home use. More than 300,000 people have mobiles. If a plan to assemble phones locally, and sell them for the equivalent of £19 with six months to pay, comes to fruition the growth will be even faster.

Read full story

1 August 2006

E-mail losing ground to IM, text messaging [Associated Press]

Texting teens
Associated Press has published a feature story on how email is losing favour with young people “to instant and text messaging, and to the chatter generated on blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace,” and how “the shift is starting to creep into workplace communication, too.”

The article, published on the MSNBC website, quotes Anne Kirah, senior design anthropologist at Microsoft [with whom I had the pleasure of working], who reflects on the difference in multi-tasking capabilities between young people and adults:

For that reason, she says bosses should go right ahead and use their e-mail — and shouldn’t feel threatened by IM.

“Like parents, they try to control their children,” she says. “But companies really need to respond to the way people work and communicate.”

The focus, she says, should be the outcome.

“Nine to 5 has been replaced with ‘Give me a deadline and I will meet your deadline,'” Kirah says of young people’s work habits. “They’re saying ‘I might work until 2 a.m. that night. But I will do it all on my terms.'”

Read full story