counter

Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
Audience Business Culture Design Locations Media Methods Services Social Issues

Children


Disabled


Elderly


Gender


Teens


Advertising


Branding


Business


Innovation


Marketing


Mechatronics


Technology


Architecture


Art


Creativity


Culture


Identity


Mobility


Museum


Co-creation


Design


Experience design


Interaction design


Presence


Service design


Ubiquitous computing


Africa


Americas


Asia


Australia


Europe


Italy


Turin


Blogging


Book


Conference


Media


Mobile phone


Play


Virtual world


Ethnography


Foresight


Prototype


Scenarios


Usability


User experience


User research


Education


Financial services


Healthcare


Public services


Research


Tourism


Urban development


Communications


Digital divide


Emerging markets


Participation


Social change


Sustainability


October 2006
31 October 2006

The impact of Ajax on user experience

Ajax
Cindy Lu of HFE Consulting, a New Jersey-based user experience consultancy, just published an article on the impact of Ajax-based web applications on user experience.

While this first article of the two-part series looks at the positive impacts of Ajax on the user experience, an upcoming second article will address some of the problems.

“Ajax has been a hot topic since Jesse James Garrett coined the term and published the essay ‘Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications‘ in February, 2005. Numerous Ajax-based web applications and development toolkits have been rushing to the internet in the past year. Web-based applications have become richer and more responsive, not only closing the gap with the desktop but also presenting new and fun ways for user-web interactions.”

“According to SitePoint and Ektron’s survey of 5,000 Web Developers ‘The State of Web Development 2006/2007‘, 46 percent of respondents said they will tap the AJAX model for a project in the next 12 months. Gartner estimates that by 2010, at least 60% of new application development projects will include the Rich Internet Applications (RIA) technology.

“If you are user experience designers (UXDs), usability practitioners or user interface developers, you should follow this new technology trend closely because Ajax is all about improving user experience. This article provides a brief overview of Ajax, the impact of Ajax-based web applications on user experience and recommends some strategies for being part of the technology wave.”

(The article has been published on the website of Apogee Usability Asia Ltd, a company based in Hong Kong, China which positions itself as “Asia’s leading usability research & consulting services provider”)

Read full article

30 October 2006

A closed mind about an open world [Financial Times]

Open Source
People are not only risk averse but also openness averse, writes James Boyle in his Financial Times column.

“We are likely to undervalue the importance, viability and productive power of open systems, open networks and non-proprietary production.”

Boyle asks his readers to test themselves on a series of questions, which assume it is 1991 and you have no knowledge of the past 15 years. In this thought exercise most people would choose for closed systems when asked on how best to develop an internet, software or an encyclopedia.

“Partly this is because we still do not understand the kind of property that exists on networks. Most of our experience is with tangible property; fields that can be overgrazed if outsiders cannot be excluded. For that kind of property, control makes more sense. We still do not intuitively grasp the kind of property that cannot be exhausted by overuse (think of a piece of software) and that can become more valuable to us the more it is used by others (think of a communications standard). There the threats are different, but so are the opportunities for productive sharing. Our intuitions, policies and business models misidentify both.”

Read full story

28 October 2006

12 consumer values to drive technology-related product and service innovations

Social Technologies
Press release by research and consulting firm Social Technologies on the top “technology values” for the future, published on PRWeb:

Washington, DC (PRWEB) October 23, 2006 —- Technology-related products and services will increasingly be shaped by 12 underlying principles or “technology values”. These values —- such as simplicity, efficiency and personalisation —- represent the characteristics that consumers will look for in products, services, and technologies over the next 10 to 15 years. This is the conclusion of a new study from the Washington, DC-based research and consulting firm Social Technologies.

The 12 values will have broad impacts across the public and private sectors, with consumers’ collective preferences driving the shape and direction of products and services, according to the report, which draws on more than six years of company research into emerging technologies and changes in global consumer lifestyles. Companies will need to embrace these principles in product design and marketing — and understand the emerging technologies that will be needed to support these values — if they hope to align with consumer needs and desires now and in the future.

As Tom Conger, founder of Social Technologies, notes, “In crafting this research we didn’t want to simply look at what was possible based on a technology point of view or what was happening in the research lab. Instead, we wanted to examine what people actually need and want from future technology-related products and services [my emphasis] based on today’s trends and change drivers. We also wanted to look at which emerging technologies were going to help fulfill these needs and desires in the future.”

For instance, to remain competitive, product makers in many sectors will need to accommodate the value of “user creativity”—the growing desire and ability of millions of consumers to create, augment, or influence design and content and share these creations with their peers.

Methodology: The study’s authors began by creating an inventory of roughly 150 consumer needs and desires, drawing from Social Technologies’ knowledge base of global technology and lifestyle trends, then applying a futures mapping process to extract the 12 key themes. Each theme was then individually validated and amplified through intensive research. To complement the report, Social Technologies has launched a series of workshops to help organisations apply the concept of technology values to practical questions.

The 12 technology values are described in detail on the PRWeb website. Briefly, they are:

  • Appropriateness
  • Assistance
  • Connectedness
  • Convenience
  • Efficiency
  • Health
  • Intelligence
  • Personalisation
  • Protection
  • Simplicity
  • Sustainability
  • User creativity
27 October 2006

Orange reports on the workplace of 2016

The way to work
Orange’s Future Enterprise Coalition has released a report discussing at the place and manner of work in 2016,” writes Bill Ray in the Register.

The Way to Work (pdf, 1.5 mb, 40 pages) is the second report published by the coalition. The first, Organisational Lives (pdf, 1.4 mb, 44 pages), looked at how individuals might be using mobile technologies in the future.”

“The coalition feels the way in which society approaches intellectual property is going to be a key: if large companies maintain a stranglehold on their IP, innovation will be stifled and the workplace of the future will be little more than a cubicle farm.”

“But that is the least optimistic of the four scenarios proposed, with others suggesting a more flexible working environment becoming normal and the line between employee and freelancer becoming ever more blurred.”

“This change will effect what companies are, with the days of reliable blue-chip monoliths being numbered, and even large companies having to become more flexible and less risk adverse.”

“In a survey, commissioned by Orange, over 60 per cent of British workers said IT had given them more freedom over the last five years. For that trend to continue employees are going to have to take more responsibility for their own careers, as well as financial planning, and the report suggests that unions and other professional bodies might fulfill that role.”

27 October 2006

The difficulties of Web 2.0 measurement

Web measurement
Ann Light reports in Usability News about an interview with Eric T. Peterson on the difficulties of Web 2.0 measurement that appeared on the eConsultancy site.

“Peterson is a veteran of web analytics and tackles Web 2.0 features and concepts with the eye of someone who has grown used to a rich stream of information from page hits.”

“As he puts it, with Web 2.0: ‘A lot of what is really important is happening either a) off the website proper, such as RSS or b) below the level of the page view’.”

“‘The former creates a challenge because, well, it’s hard to measure stuff that is out of your control. The latter because so many of the web analytics applications out there treat the page view as canonical.”

“‘Ask yourself: what about AJAX applications allowing multiple user ‘events’ without a page reload? What about podcast ‘listens’? What about people who are tremendously loyal to your content but never visit your web site? What about mash-ups like Google Maps? The list of challenges Web 2.0 is creating for us is long, to be sure.'”

“When asked if he feels there’s an urgent need for appropriate metrics to be sorted, he says: ‘if, as an industry, we don’t, we’ll be in exactly the same space two years from now that we are today: bickering about the definition of a ‘unique visitor’.'”

“The rest is brief, interesting, perhaps alarming, and worth a read as an introduction to the issues.”

Read full interview

27 October 2006

Third generation Living Labs: the quest for user-centred mobile services

Living Labs
Faced with a context of a vast and still growing supply of relatively cheap and effective information and communications technology (ICT) and stimulated demand for new solutions to achieve mobility, even seamless mobility, Prof Jan Annerstedt and Sascha Haselmayer raise the issue of understanding user needs and of feeding that understanding into applications:

  • “How to foster – at the very early stages of the product cycle – user-oriented or user-centred mobile applications for business firms and for public agencies, for professionals as well as for ordinary citizens?”
  • “How to face the quest for novelty among ICT applications with regard to actual user needs, when many current applications in a world of increased mobility have emerged unexpectedly from the twists and turns of invention as digital technology was combined with other technology, often driven by advanced user-demands for new mobile applications?”

Annerstedt (a professor at the Department of International Economics and Management, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, where he holds the UNESCO Chair in Communication) and Haselmayer (co-founder of Interlace-Invent, a research-based consultancy firm in Copenhagen with operations across Europe, and an expert in Knowledge and Innovation intensive Urbanism) wrote a paper addressing these questions, based on their analytical insights and practical experiences while engaged in companies and city regions that appear to be more prominent than others in developing specialized software and other technology in support of mobility.

They focus specifically on the so-called “Living Labs”, which they see as “one of the most vitalizing modes of fostering user-led or user-centric innovations”.

“A Living Lab is an open innovation space, which recognizes the design and development roles of users or user communities even in the early phases of an innovation process. A Living Lab contains a set of facilitating instruments to sustain effective interactions between the producers and users.”

The authors are most interested in the third generation of Living Labs that cover an entire city area which operates as “a full-scale urban laboratory and proving ground for prototyping and testing new technology application and new methods of generating and fostering innovation processes in real time”, in other words as von Hippel-inspired local, user-driven innovation environments.

Currently, Living Labs initiatives have been taken by groups of stakeholders in cities like Almere (the Netherlands), Barcelona (Spain), Copenhagen (Denmark), Lund-Malmö (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), London (United Kingdom), Mataro (Spain), San Cugat (Spain), Sophia-Antipolis (France), Stockholm (Sweden), Tallinn (Estonia), Torino (Italy), Bergslagen/Grythyttan (Sweden), and Kalmar/Västervik (Sweden).

The paper was presented at eChallenges 2006, Barcelona on 26 October 2006 and can now be downloaded from the Living Labs blog.

Read full paper

26 October 2006

The Economist on mobile telephony and banking

Wizzit
“Most South Africans do not have bank accounts. But most do have mobile phones,” writes The Economist today in a story about mobile telephony and banking with a particular focus on Africa.

“About half a million South Africans now use their mobile phones as a bank. Besides sending money to relatives and paying for goods, they can check balances, buy mobile airtime and settle utility bills. Traditional banks offer mobile banking as an added service to existing customers, most of whom are quite well off. But Wizzit (an innovative provider of financial services), and to some extent First National Bank (FNB) and MTN Banking (a joint venture between Standard Bank and a mobile-phone network), are chasing another market: the 16m South Africans, over half of the adult population, with no bank account. Significantly, 30% of these people do have mobile phones. Wizzit hired and trained over 2,000 unemployed people, known as Wizzkids, to drum up business. It worked: eight out of ten Wizzit customers previously had no bank account and had never used an ATM. […]”

“In most of Africa, meanwhile, only a fraction of people have bank accounts—but there is huge demand for cheap and convenient ways to send money and buy prepaid services such as airtime. Many Africans, having skipped landlines and jumped to mobiles, already use prepaid airtime as a way of transferring money. They could now leap from a world of cash to cellular banking. […]”

“The technology remains clunky in some cases, with downloads requiring dozens of text messages. Several rival platforms are still in the fight, but so far those that emphasise simplicity and ease-of-use over state-of-the-art technology and security have made the greatest strides.”

Read full story

26 October 2006

Knowledge@Wharton on getting to the heart of the customer

Getting to the heart of the customer
Knowledge@Wharton, the always excellent online magazine of the Wharton School has published a special report on ‘Smart Growth’ (pdf version) with the subtitle: ‘Innovating to Meet the Needs of the Market without Feeding the Beast of Complexity’.

The report, which is written in collaboration with George Group Consulting, addresses how managers can avoid the creeping impact of complexity and clutter on operational processes and costs.

Interestingly, the first chapter of the three-part report discusses “ambidextrous” thinking where companies “identify the unmet and unarticulated needs of the customer and align their innovation processes to those insights“. The long chapter also discusses the importance of rapid and iterative prototyping during development.

“Companies must discover what innovations customers are willing to pay a premium for, identify their own competitive strengths and free up innovation capacity by removing or managing complexity within the organization’s products, services and operations. The potential reward is a better bottom line and increased visibility with customers, as companies invest in understanding customers’ needs while shedding the excess clutter that can bring down their rivals.”

“According to the book Fast Innovation: Achieving Superior Differentiation, Speed to Market, and Increased Profitability, by George Group’s Michael L. George, James Works and Kimberly Watson-Hemphill (McGraw-Hill, 2005), sources for analyzing customers’ needs might include ethnographic studies; face-to-face interviews with end-users and customers; diaries and intercepts; and expert advice and trend analysis on technology and markets. These help companies measure, explore and make tradeoffs among customer requirements, the authors write. Where differentiation in offerings is calibrated carefully to customer needs and fast-tracked to market, there is larger-than-usual opportunity to realize premium prices before commoditization.”

“What the authors found was that many companies spend too long in development time, and too little time and money in the upfront stage, leading to an inadequate understanding of customer needs. Companies are then compelled to commit more investments post-launch as they begin to understand customer responses and tweak their offerings.”

In an accompanying podcast (with transcript), Mike McCallister, CEO of Humana, discusses balancing innovation and complexity in the health care industry. Humana advocates a consumer-centered model — one in which product innovation is driven by consumer needs.

“Placing the consumer at the center is not easy,” McCallister admits, “because with innovation comes the potential for additional product and service complexity; the trick is delivering complexity only where consumers are willing to pay for it.”

26 October 2006

Making computing a people science [Computer News Middle East]

Intel
Intel’s people-centric approach is the top story on the website of cpilive.net, the website of Dubai-based Corporate Publishing International, which publishes amongst others Computer News Middle East.

“With its strong move into ethnographic studies, technology major Intel is all set to re-define the PC experience from being a computing centric one to a people centric model.”

“Intel’s ethnographers (also referred to as social scientists) believe that technology has to cater to human values of emotion and family more than just computing requirements.”

“Human beings fundamentally do not care about technology. What they care about are the emotions they feel when they use a product to achieve an objective at work or family life. As a technology company, Intel wants to push the boundaries and think about how we can make our products deliver on this aspect,” said Herman D’Hooge, Innovation Strategist, Platform Architecture and Solutions Division, Intel.

“Ethnography, the branch of anthropology that provides scientific description of individual human societies will therefore help the Intel team of scientists study human relationships and come up with ways in which technology become a part of enhancing human interaction.”

“You have to look high up on the scale by looking at human interaction. So Intel is taking a top down approach and understanding the customer first, instead of the technology,” D’Hooge added.

Read full story

26 October 2006

Book: Worldchanging – A User’s Guide for the 21st Century

Worldchanging
A new book—an outgrowth of a popular Web site—focuses on simple and complex innovations that could solve global crises,” writes Reena Jana in Business Week.

“The three-year-old Web site Worldchanging.com has quickly established itself as a source for original, sophisticated reporting on green technology and humanitarian tools and organizational models, among other altruistic topics. The editors’ focus is on how people can cross-fertilize innovative ideas and collaborate on solutions to a variety of international environmental crises ranging from the quest for alternatives to Big Oil to the dearth of clean water in developing nations.

“Worldchanging’s executive editor, Alex Steffen, has now edited a book version of the site, Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, which will be published in November [The foreword is by Al Gore and the introduction by Bruce Sterling]. Part encyclopedia of socially conscious companies and movements, part picture-book (it includes gorgeous color photographs by leading photographers such as Edward Burtynsky), and part how-to instructions on becoming a greener consumer or business, the nearly 600-page volume is an invaluable resource you can use without booting up your computer (and so use electricity) to access Worldchanging.com.”

Reena Jana recently chatted with Alex Steffen about Worldchanging’s concrete goals, the inspiration for the book, and how businesses and consumers might benefit from the examples presented in the volume and on Worldchanging.com.

- Read interview
View slideshow

26 October 2006

Launching event: European Network of Living Labs

Living Labs
On 20 November 2006, Finland will host the seminar “European Network of Living Labs: A Step Towards an European Innovation System”, which launches this new European Network of Living Labs.

“A European Network of Living Labs is a collaboration of Public Private Partnership where firms, public authorities and people work together with creating, prototyping, validating and testing new services, businesses, markets and technologies in real-life contexts, such as cities, city regions, rural areas and collaborative virtual networks between public and private players. The real-life and everyday life contexts will both stimulate and challenge research and development as public authorities and citizens will not only participate in, but also contribute to the whole innovation process.”

“The Living Labs concept is about moving out of laboratories into real-life contexts, and therefore entails a major paradigm shift for the whole innovation process. This is a natural move for ICT, life sciences and any innovation domain that deals with human and social problem solving and people’s every day lives.”

“However, this new approach to research for innovation is a huge challenge for research methodologies, innovation process management, public-private partnership models, IPR’s, open source practices, development of new leadership, governance and financial instruments. The complexity increases remarkably with the international nature of a European Network of Living Labs. This is why the EU Commission has allocated 40 Million euro for piloting a European Network of Living Labs.

“The project portfolio includes 12 Living Labs sites in Europe, China, India and Brazil. The projects will identify, prototype, validate and test new ICT services and technologies in process engineering, creative knowledge work and rural and remote areas in Europe. It will also exploit how this new way of innovation facilitates new reference architecture and technology platform development. The project portfolio is industry driven with participation of most major European and global corporate players, though there is clear public, private, civic collaboration throughout.”

The November launch seminar is targeted to public sector leaders, research and corporate management and other experts in EU countries. The seminar will be organised in cooperation with the Finnish Government Information Society Programme, the Center for Knowledge and Innovation Research (CKIR) of the Helsinki School of Economics the European Commission and several enterprises.

26 October 2006

Interfaces for people, not products [UX matters]

Ux_matters
“The digitising of information, the rapid rise of digital information systems, and increased access to those systems by a broad range of people have challenged the way in which we look at specialists and the roles they play”, writes Jonathan Follett in UX matters.

This also means that “we are also increasingly responsible for managing everything from our bank accounts to our credit, our insurance plans to our retirement plans, our health care to our education. This responsibility is time-consuming—and while we are no longer amateurs, we’re not really experts either. Herein lies a great challenge for information designers, who must format data to aid understanding, decision-making, and efficient task completion.”

“How do we find a way to enable people to more easily and powerfully interact with their data that is stored across applications from competing corporate entities and government agencies? Progress on the data side is well underway with widespread adoption of formats like XML and RSS. On the user interface side, we can encourage the adoption of standards and patterns.”

Read full story

23 October 2006

Whitepaper: Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture

MacArthur
Peter Morville found an interesting whitepaper by MIT’s Henry Jenkins about media education, entitled “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture” (pdf, 354 kb, 70 pages), on the website of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Learning Initiative (see also here).

Here is what Morville wrote about it:

Henry presents eleven new skills or literacies

  • Play – the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem solving.
  • Performance – the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery.
  • Simulation – the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes.
  • Appropriation – the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.
  • Multitasking – the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition – the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.
  • Collective Intelligence – the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal.
  • Judgment – the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.
  • Transmedia Navigation – the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.
  • Networking – the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information.
  • Negotiation – the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

…and three concerns:

  • The Participation Gap – the unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare youth for full participation in the world of tomorrow.
  • The Transparency Problem – the challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways that media shape perceptions of the world.
  • The Ethics Challenge – the breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants.

Henry also argues that “textual literacy remains a central skill in the twenty-first century” and that traditional research skills “assume even greater importance as students venture beyond collections that have been screened by librarians into the more open space of the web.”

In considering goals and challenges regarding the education of our two daughters over the next decade or so, this feels like a pretty good roadmap.

23 October 2006

The wisdow of the few: web sites eye vast number of users to identify experts

PicksPal
“A small number of Web sites seeking to turn the wisdom of the Internet on its head by sifting through its vast number of users to identify a handful of experts,” writes Alan Sipress in the San Francisco Chronicle. “If this novel approach withstands scrutiny, the reverberations could extend well beyond sports betting to include stock trading, popular culture and other realms.”

“For the past decade, much of the Internet has been animated by the “wisdom of crowds,” the notion that the tremendous masses drawn to the Web can together provide collective knowledge that outperforms even that of experts. By marshaling the knowledge and tastes of millions of people, the Web has fundamentally changed the way people can gain knowledge about their world.”

“But this wisdom of the crowd could be outsmarted by what Michael Arrington, editor of the TechCrunch blog, recently dubbed the “wisdom of the few.” Sites like PicksPal rely on input from the masses chiefly as a venue for auditioning prospective experts, on the theory that these virtuosos could provide more accurate information and predictions than the crowd.”

“If you figure out which ones did the best and get rid of the ones who have no idea, you’d do even better. Distill it down to the people who really know,” Arrington said.

“[…] As more Web sites try to find ways to tap the expertise of smart people, a great debate is shaping up between two competing models for harnessing the human mind.”

Featured sites: PicksPal, Marketocracy and SocialPicks.

Read full story

22 October 2006

‘Presence’ technology building cell phones to anticipate your mind

Presence Technology
“Cell phones that know where you are, what you’re doing and can anticipate your very needs was a popular subject in 2003 and is back in the headlines following an article last week in The Chicago Tribune”, writes Emily Turrettini on her popular blog textually.org.

A new generation of cell phones that know where you are, what you’re doing and anticipate what you’ll like is being developed in labs and tested in markets around the world.

Industry designers hope to strike a balance between a gadget that will learn enough to please its owner without becoming annoying.

“We want it like having a concierge in your pocket, not Big Brother,” said Martin Dunsby, senior vice president with Openwave Systems Inc., a wireless software firm.

Called “presence” technology, the new gadgetry is intended to make portable devices easier to use.

The system will combine knowledge about where someone’s phone is with his calendar schedule so, for example, it can send incoming calls to voice mail when she’s in a conference. Eventually, the system may turn up her home heating system 10 minutes before arrival.

IBM researchers last month announced a test in collaboration with Telenor, a Norwegian telecom.

“There are a lot of sensors and information sources,” said Vova Soroka, research manager for IBM’s lab in Haifa, Israel. “They have motion sensors and biosensors of all kinds. You could even tell from a sensor in the phone whether someone is walking or bicycling.”

While there’s no simple way to design a device that will cater to owners without stalking or bugging them, Soroka said one key is allowing customers to opt in to services.

Read full story (Chicago Tribune)

22 October 2006

Hybrid journalism: mixing pros and amateur-generated content

We Are Smarter Than Me
In a long post today Bruno Giussani argues that the latest trend in media and knowledge creation and dissemination is hybridisation of professionals working with users and user-generated content.

“It’s no longer just the professionals observing reality from their separate vantage point; it’s not pure ‘user-generated content’ and ‘collective intelligence’. The first model is outdated; the second overhyped. The real thing is a mix of the two, using the tools of the Internet: everyone contributes ‘with some slight editing’.”

He analyses a number of examples of this approach including:

  • NewAssignment, the brainchild of Jay Rosen, the head of NYU’s Department of Journalism. It is defined as an “experiment in open-source reporting” where “pros and amateurs cooperate to produce work that neither could manage alone”, an “open collaboration over the Internet among reporters, editors and large groups of users can produce high-quality work that serves the public interest, holds up under scrutiny, and builds trust”. Even assignments are determined this way, hence the project name;
  • Citizendium, started by one of the Wikipedia founders, Larry Sanger, “to try to correct the problems that plague the big open-source encyclopedia by engaging experts to maintain standards and accuracy over what the crowd creates”;
  • the project by the curators of New York’s Museum of Modern Art to display amateur-produced videoart selected on YouTube;
  • the book project ‘We are smarter than Me‘, “a study on the impact of social networks on traditional business functions that will be authored by a large crowd of ‘ams’ coordinated by the ‘pros’ of MIT, Wharton Biz School, and others” (see also my post earlier today).

Bruno is now hunting for some good examples from Europe.

Read full post

22 October 2006

Style, function and the imperfect cellphone [International Herald Tribune]

Apple
“No object has had as dramatic an impact on our lives in the past decade as the cellphone. Only the computer comes close. But more of us use a cellphone, and our relationship with it is more intimate. So why are they so badly designed?” asks Alice Rawsthorn, who is the design critic of the International Herald Tribune and was director of the Design Museum in London from 2001 to 2006.

Rawsthorn is not just referring to the physical design, but also the user interface:

“By redesigning their software to incorporate each new function on a piecemeal basis within the same small box, many companies have ended up with incoherent user interfaces. That’s why cellphones can seem difficult to use, and why you have to relearn how to perform basic tasks whenever you buy a new one. This problem is complicated by the historic division between design and engineering in many companies, and by the power of the cellular networks, which impose their own demands on the design of new models.”

But she provides another reason why there are so few distinctive cellphones: the dominance of a few very big manufacturers. “The price of entry is too high for the small, entrepreneurial companies that tend to drive design innovation in other sectors.”

However, “all this could change if a dynamic new player entered the market, and the likeliest contender to do so is Apple.” An Apple phone, she thinks, “would involve rethinking everything about the cellphone and how it works, including the role of the networks.”

Read full story

22 October 2006

Innovative user interface design [uiGarden]

Fisheye menu
Tim Fidgeon writes in uiGarden about new types of web user interfaces that are taking advantage of users’ increasing levels of internet sophistication and faster connections. These new interfaces often allow users to view and manipulate large quantities of data.

The four types of user interface Fidgeon explores are

  • Slider-based filtering which allow users to broaden and narrow a wide range of filtering criteria, as can be seen on Amazon’s Diamond Search;
  • Fisheye menus to navigate long, ordered lists. An example can be seen on this demo site;
  • Treemaps display rows of data as groups of squares that can be arranged, sized and coloured to graphically reveal underlying data patterns. This user interface design can be used to present complicated data relationships (such as hierarchical relationships). An example can be found on the Smartmoney website, where a tool allows visitors to view information on hundreds of stocks at a glance (see “The Markets” in right-side box);
  • Drag-and-drop which works like a Windows or Mac interface and can be found on Panic Good’s online store.

Read full story

22 October 2006

We Are Smarter Than Me

We Are Smarter Than Me
We Are Smarter Than Me is “a business community formed by business professionals to research and discuss the impact of social networks on traditional business functions”.

The central premise of We Are Smarter Than Me is that “large groups of people (“We”) can, and should, take responsibility for traditional business functions that are currently performed by companies, industries and experts (“Me”)”.

One of their first initiatives is a network book: “We are inviting thousands of contributors from leading institutions (Wharton, MIT, and Pearson) to participate in a revolutionary publishing project – a “network book” to be published in 2007 by Pearson Publishing. Each contributing member will be an author. In addition to research that will be conducted by MIT and Wharton faculty, a conference called Community 2.0 will be held next spring.”

The people behind this initiative are Barry Libert, ceo of Shared Insights, Jon Spector, vice dean and director of Wharton’s Aresty Institute of Executive Education, Thomas W. Malone, Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and founder and director of the newly founded MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, Tim Moore, editor-in-chief of Pearson Education and Dr. Yoram Wind, Lauder Professor and Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and founding director of the Wharton “think tank,” the SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management.

21 October 2006

MacArthur launches $50 million digital media and learning initiative

MacArthur
The MacArthur Foundation launched its five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative in 2006 to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialise and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to developing educational and other social institutions that can meet the needs of this and future generations.

The Digital Learning Initiative is exploring the hypothesis that digital media tools now enable new forms of knowledge production, social networking, communication and play. Through the use of such tools, young people are engaged in an exploration of language, games, social interaction and self-directed education that can be used to support learning. They are different as a result of this use of digital media, and these differences are reflected in their sense of self, in how they express their independence and creativity, and in their ability to learn, exercise judgment and think systemically.

The Digital Learning Initiative acknowledges the emerging vernacular of young people who are “growing up digital” and embraces the writing, thinking, and design tools of the digital age. It is seeking to answer questions such as: Are young people fundamentally different because of their exposure to technology? What environments and experiences capture their interest and contribute to their learning? What are the implications for education? It includes ethnography, the development of media literacy, and the connection between games and learning.