Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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October 2006
9 October 2006

IBM invests $100 million in usability [CNET News]

IBM Mainframe
“IBM will spend $100m over the next five years to make its mainframe line easier to administer and programme, the company said on Wednesday,” writes Stephen Shankland in CNET News.

“IBM’s decades-old mainframe lineage, called System z and running the z/OS operating system, has grown increasingly distant from mainstream computing with the rise of computers running Unix, Windows and Linux. Big Blue is trying to change that with a modern user interface, visual programming tools and other developments, the company said.”

Read full story

9 October 2006

Gartner: Prepare for consumer-led IT [CNET News]

Gartner analysts predict “there will be a large-scale shift in technology influence toward consumers and away from central corporate IT department”s.

The corporate technology research company this week is hosting Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., where analysts are presenting research on the “consumerization” of IT.

In a keynote speech on Monday, Gartner’s director of global research, Peter Sondergaard, warned conference attendees that “consumerization will be the most significant trend to have an impact on IT over the next 10 years”.

Gartner researchers argued that “the biggest impacts of Web 2.0 within enterprises are collaboration technologies–notably blogs, wikis and social networking sites–and programmable Web sites that allow business users to create mashup applications”.

Gartner also predicted “that 80 percent of Web applications will use AJAX”.

Read full story

8 October 2006

Fabrica at Centre Pompidou, Paris

Established in 1994 on the initiative of Luciano Benetton and Oliviero Toscani, Fabrica is a communications research centre whose range of activities extends from graphic design to cinema, taking in industrial design, writing, interactive media, photography and music on the way.

Housed in a strikingly simple and rigorous building by Tadao Ando, in Treviso, Italy, it is a unique institution, led by an international team, that encourages the creative development of selected young professionals from all over the world, who are granted a one-year scholarship to work on the projects they submit.

Responsible for many media campaigns for major organisations (Reporters Sans Frontières, World Health Organisation) this private-sector research centre encourages cultural cross-fertilisation and a global consciousness in all its fields of activity. Conceived by the Centre Pompidou, this exhibition presents a number of the projects developed at Treviso.

Accompanied by a film programme and a series of musical performances, the exhibition offers an opportunity to discover the scope of Fabrica’s work, which is redefining the frontiers between art and communications.

(via Design Observer)

8 October 2006

Video material on experience design

This blog has one major defect: it is focused on text-based resources. Some searching on YouTube, Yahoo! Video and Google Video resulted in quite a lot of relevant video material. Here is a what I found:

I am only scratching the surface here. Frankly, we need a blog to catalogue experience design related materials on the web. I don’t have the time to do it. Anyone interested?

7 October 2006

Executive briefing on customer centred innovation

Innovaro, the UK innovation consultancy, recently published a three-page executive style innovation brief on customer centred innovation.

The aim of the paper is to provide companies with a better understanding of the four approaches to increased customer focus at the start of the innovation process: personas, ethnography, fan bases (or “lead users”) and participatory design; to help them choose the most appropriate technique for the circumstances present; and to actually deliver the greatest impact.

Thanks also to the examples from such companies as Aviva, BMW, eBay, IDEO, Intel, Lego, Microsoft and Philips Design, the paper provides a quick overview to what is currently state of the art in corporate user-centred design and innovation. It also provides insight in why particular companies focus on a particular approach and what they want to achieve with it.

Download briefing (pdf, 560 kb, 3 pages)

7 October 2006

Of tails and walls [International Herald Tribune]

The Long Tail
“The old model [of the global marketplace] was one of control,” said Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine and author of the book “The Long Tail“, while he was recently in Paris. “Companies could control the user experience, and they could control the marketplace.”

“The new model is we all exist in this big mush, this big heterogeneous conversation out there,” he said. “You can’t control how people get to you, you can’t control where they go, you can’t control what they say about you. You can only participate.”

Anderson said most Web sites, including that of Wired magazine, were now getting more than half of their traffic from search engines and blog links.

“So the traffic is being driven not by our brand or our internal navigation system,” he said. “It’s being driven by the fact that we are part of the conversation, that there are links out there to our content because there are no barriers and that Google can find our content.”

Read full story

7 October 2006

Interview with Stanford design school director

George Kembel
George Kembel (34), the executive director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the “”) at Stanford University, recently shared his thoughts on design with EE Times editor at-large Rick Merritt. Some excerpts:

“We’re moving to a more human-centered approach, using a culture of prototyping and multidisciplinary teams to design not just products, but experiences.”

“You look at the whole life cycle of the experience and anywhere along the way you might find an insight that would drive your design.”

“When you have a team with an engineer, a designer, a business exec and social scientists, you can’t expect them to get along. They have different vocabularies, values and ways of looking at problems. The design methodology is what holds the team together. When you have a disagreement, the prototyping work externalizes their assumptions and becomes a broker to help them through the process.”

“We approach the design of the Design School in the same way we ask students to approach design. We prototype everything–the space, the classes, the curriculum. At the end of every class we debrief what worked and what didn’t, and retool the class on the fly.”

Read full interview

6 October 2006

Customer-centric digital signage in retail environments

Retail experience
“A retail executive who is considering a digital signage system shouldn’t let the tail wag the dog,” writes Peter Vrettas in Extended Retail Solutions. “Content, rather than hardware or software, drives digital signage. And the best digital signage systems are focused on customer-centric content – messaging that puts your customers first by telling them what they want to know, delivered in a way that they enjoy. If you can communicate a relevant message and allow customers to control their shopping experience, you’re more likely to gain their loyalty and ultimately their business.”

“Using RFID and other technologies, digital signage systems can be designed to work at the department and individual levels, targeting specific customer profiles with the type of product information they want, delivered in the way they want to receive it.”

“Today’s digital signage systems have also transformed customer communications into a two-way street. They also allow retailers to receive important information on customer preferences and buying patterns that can impact vendor selection, buying, inventory and other supply chain decisions.”

Read full story

(via the NEXT retail experience, a blog of Alexander Wiethoff)

6 October 2006

Interview of BT futurologist Ian Pearson

Ian Pearson
Ian Pearson works as a Futurologist for BT, where he tracks technological and societal developments to make predictions for the future. Specialising in the long term, Pearson uses his background in science and engineering, together with analytical tools, business skills and good old fashioned common sense to develop his predictions.

Sali Earls of ITWales indulged in a bit of crystal ball gazing and spoke at length to Ian Pearson, discussing the sometimes dark, often controversial visions for the future brought about by technological advances.

Read interview

(via Pasta & Vinegar and the Pantopicon blog a thousand tomorrows)

6 October 2006

GE’s Kitchen of the Future with more talking refrigerators

GE's kitchen dashboard
While the GE research question seems entirely valid (“How can we create products to enhance people’s entire kitchen experience?”), the final prototype that came out of its research on the ‘kitchen of the future’ is exactly what you do not want a kitchen to look like: a huge and complex looking dashboard full of blinking and twirling windows that talk to you in a 21st century Epcot style.

I would argue that ubiquitous computing doesn’t mean omni-present interfaces, but rather hidden technology helping people in a way so they don’t even notice the presence of technology. Ubiquitous computing to me is technology that is not present in the user experience.

GE started from the right question but, due to lack of user research, their entire concept of the future was based on what engineers and designers could dream up, which ended up being a technology-centred vision of the future.

Here is how they describe it themselves:

“You are at the office and decide to invite friends over for dinner that night. What’s for dinner? Just pick up the phone and call home. Your kitchen can give you a heads up on what foods you have in the refrigerator and pantry, suggest menus that use some of those foods, and once you’ve selected the menu, it will supply a grocery list for other items you need to pick up.”

“The concept kitchen is envisioned as an interconnected suite of products with interactive controls. This suite of appliances is designed for efficiency. A modular approach to the kitchen configuration affords efficiencies in energy, advances in usability and a sleek minimal style.”

“The entire suite offers a full-width display combined with touch sensors across the entire surface. What does that mean for consumers? Imagine new possibilities for recipe presentation and entertainment. In total, this surface affords multiple levels of interaction and the navigation of complex information.”

Read full GE press release (and make sure to watch the videos).

If you read Spanish, you should compare this with some of the more interesting work going on in Spain at the moment, which is all about design for the senses, and embraces the user experience of people with disabilities or different abilities. [Thanks, Regine]. We need a ‘slow food’ of technology, I think.

(via freegorifero)

6 October 2006

Schools and universities setting up shop in Second Life [USA Today]

Universities in Second Life
“Some 60 schools and universities have set up shop inside Second Life — most in the past year,” writes Gregory M. Lamb in USA Today. “They join a population that includes real-world business people, politicians, entertainers, and more than 800,000 other ‘residents’ of the virtual world.”

“For the first time this fall, a Harvard University class is meeting on its own ‘Berkman Island’ within Second Life (SL). ‘Avatars,’ visual images that represent the students and teachers, gather in an ‘outdoor’ amphitheater, head inside a virtual replica of Harvard Law School’s Austin Hall, and travel to complete assignments all over the digital world.”

“Some 90 Harvard law and extension school students taking the course, called ‘CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion,’ can receive real college credit. But anyone on Earth with a computer connection can also take the course for free. Students are participating from as far away as South Korea and China.”

Read full story

5 October 2006

World Usability Day on 14 November – major event in Milan

World Usability Day
The Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) organises on 14 November 2006 its second global World Usability Day, with events in more than one hundred cities around the world.

The World Usability Day event in Italy, which is also aimed at a non-specialised audience, will take place at the University of Bicocca in Milan on 14 November from 10am to 2pm. The aim is to share a design culture that puts people and usability at the centre of innovation. In particular, the day will focus on two themes:

  • How prototypes can promote usability – with speakers Yaniv Steiner (software prototyping specialist), Daniele Galiffa (3D user experience specialist), Prof. Roberto Polillo (HCI and prototyping specialist) and Roberto Giolito (Advanced Design Manager at the FIAT Group).
  • Integrating usability and creativity to achieve ‘pleasure of use’: with speakers Régine Debatty (we-make-money-not-art), Giovanni Padula (founder of CityO and Creativity Group Europe), Jan-Christoph Zoels (user experience designer and Experientia co-founder), Prof. Giorgio De Michelis (computer science) and Prof. Sebastiano Bagnara (cognitive psychology).

The Italian event is sponsored by Experientia and organised by Experientia’s president Michele Visciola, who is also the president of the UPA-Italy chapter, member of the editorial board of UPA’s User Experience Magazine, and author of a recent Italian book on web site usability.

During the event, which will be moderated by Visciola, Matteo Penzo will present the UXNet network.

More information can be found on

5 October 2006

Denmark’s largest companies launch user-driven innovation academy

180º Academy
In just a few weeks, seven of the biggest players in Danish business and industry will launch a new innovation and concept initiator study programme called the 180º Academy (“One-Eighty Academy”), with the first group of students starting classes in June 2007, writes the Danish Mandag Morgen / Monday Morning Weekly (and here reported for the first time in English with the kind permission of the weekly).

Lego, Danfoss, Nokia, Gumlink, Bang & Olufsen, Novo Nordisk, and Middelfart Sparekasse are the seven companies who have taken the initiative to found and invest in the new educational institution, which offers courses in the Danish town of Middelfart and abroad.

The study programme is the only one of its kind in the world and is, according to its founders, a break from the traditional innovation concepts in Denmark.

It is practical, interdisciplinary and radically user-driven. It combines humanistic methodologies together with design and business thinking. Above all, it is about people, not technology, as is confirmed by Microsoft’s well-known design anthropologist Anne Kirah, who is Director of Development for the programme.

“The aim of the programme is to help students remove their mental blinders and be able to look beyond a company’s own production-related comfort zone. It is about breaking away from the focus on technological possibilities and learning instead about the future needs of the consumer,” says Anne Kirah.

According to its founders, the establishment of the Academy is a direct result of the acute need in Danish business and industry, to learn new user focused innovation methodologies. And businesses do not believe that existing university-level innovation study programmes meet their needs.

The Academy has hit a sore point in the Danish innovation strategy: the very gap between what companies want and what the state education system actually offers. The education programme also raises a number of fundamental questions as to what the recipe for effective innovation should be, particularly as the programme is a radical change to existing areas of study within the education system.

The 180º Academy follows the MBA model, where the instruction is planned to meet the needs of part-time students to fit around a student’s job. The course contents have been inspired by some of the world’s leading design and innovation schools, including the Stanford Institute of Design and the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Features of the programme can be summarised in the following four points:

  • The programme breaks away from technology driven innovation and concentrates instead on applying ethnographical methodologies for systematic collection of knowledge and data about life patterns, so as to identify needs that companies have not yet uncovered.
  • The education is interdisciplinary and trains students to operate in all areas of the innovation process from data collection and needs analysis to design development and development of prototypes and, finally, to commercialisation of the product.
  • The programme is practical. Students are not examined or assessed according to academic performance, but rather from practical experience with innovation.
  • The education programme has been privately funded and is conceived as supplementary education for employees and managers who already have several years of employment experience.

According to Anne Kirah, traditional, technology driven innovation is a relic from the industrial revolution. This type of innovation is no longer sufficient today in an era when a product’s lifecycle is becoming shorter and shorter. There is a constant need to know and adapt to consumer needs.

“The majority of companies make technology driven innovation. They are more concerned about making modifications to a product they already know. They have tunnel vision. How can you get any new ideas if you only ever look at existing possibilities and at what your competitors are doing? You cannot be innovative from within your own comfort zone.”

“At 180º Academy we will teach students to open their eyes to completely new markets, by analysing people’s needs,” says Anne Kirah.

During their course, students will be introduced to the traditional, ethnographic, participant observation methods, whereby they have to go out and observe people in their everyday lives before even attempting to put words and thoughts together as to which products they are likely to need in the future.

Students will then be thrown into a creative design phase, whereby they first have to analyse the data they have collected, learn various tools for idea development, and get to know the development of prototypes so as to finally be in a position to work with the actual commercialisation of the product.

Read backgrounder (pdf, 180 kb, 6 pages)

(Experientia/Putting People First will shortly publish an interview with Anne Kirah, in part also as its contribution to the upcoming European Market Research Event, which Kirah co-chairs.)

5 October 2006

Book: Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge

Designing Interactions
Digital technology has changed the way we interact with everything from the games we play to the tools we use at work.

Designers of digital technology products no longer regard their job as designing a physical object—beautiful or utilitarian—but as designing our interactions with it. In Designing Interactions (which is not only a book but also a DVD), Bill Moggridge, designer of the first laptop computer (the GRiD Compass, 1981) and a founder of the design firm IDEO, tells us stories from an industry insider’s viewpoint, tracing the evolution of ideas from inspiration to outcome.

Moggridge and his forty interviewees discuss why personal computers have windows in desktops, what made Palm’s handheld organizers so successful, what turns a game into a hobby, why Google is the search engine of choice, and why 30 million people in Japan choose the i-mode service for their cell phones. And Moggridge tells the story of his own design process and explains the focus on people and prototypes that has been successful at IDEO—how the needs and desires of people can inspire innovative designs and how prototyping methods are evolving for the design of digital technology.

The early chapters are mostly about invention of precedent setting designs, forming a living history. The center section is structured around topics, so that one can find several opinions collected together for comparison, about designing in a particular context. The later chapters move more towards the future, with trends, possibilities and conjectures. The introduction and final chapter combine to describe the approach to designing interactions that has evolved at IDEO. The book is illustrated with more than 700 images, with color throughout.

Says John Thackara in a short review of the book: “Gillian Crampton Smith answers the question, “What is Interaction Design?” The original designers of The Mouse tell us why and how they did it. There are fascinating encounters with Brenda (Computers as Theatere) Laurel and Will (The Sims) Wright. Larry Page and Sergey Brin describe how they made the ultimate less-is-more interface for Google. Service designers Live|Work, Fran Samalionis, and Takeshi Natsuno describe how they derive useful purposes for all this tech. Hiroshi Ishii, Durrell Bishop, Joy Mountford and Bill Gaver describe their ongoing efforts to design multi-sensorial computing. Moggridge concludes by discussing “Alternative Nows” with Dunne and Raby, John Maeda and Jun Rekimoto.”

On the website you can see small video segments of all interviews.

5 October 2006

Digital wellbeing and deglamourising choice [WorldChanging]

Digital Wellbeing
“In our consumer experience, there are three things we value tremendously: choice, results and access,” writes Sarah Rich on “Each of these aspects feeds a cycle of spending, unpredictable satisfaction, and eventual disuse. Reducing overconsumption has to go beyond trying to make consumers want less, to giving their desire a new and more appealing target.”

“A number of innovative teams (concentrated particularly in London) have been developing systems and infrastructure that can unsnarl the consumer paradox and take simplicity and sharing into trendsetting domain. At London Design Week, a company called Digital Wellbeing (blog) debuted with a “digital lifestyle” retail concept that puts heavy emphasis on the relationship between user and object, and the streamlining of options to facilitate more authentic customer satisfaction while marketing less stuff.”

“Digital Wellbeing Labs doesn’t directly address sustainability, but they do address a number of market issues whose transformation would shift consumer experience from the root, changing the way we form and pursue our desire to own things. “

“All in all, the concept is a smart formula for a new consumer future, in which ubiquitous digital commodities don’t come with a clutter of useless features and marketing hype. Because electronics manufacturers target early adopters, say the DWB curators, product competitiveness currently boils down to how many fancy functions a new product can be packed with. The Digital Wellbeing rebellion, then, preceeds early adoption, hitting the consumer who hasn’t yet been told what to want.”

“For an individual, this model has fairly clear appeal: it’s more customised and personally-relevant. But higher up the production chain, this argument isn’t currently an easy one to win. Nevertheless, Digital Wellbeing seems to be forging ahead without a doubt that it’s possible to transform patterns all the way from concept through production, to sale and use; it’s only a matter of proving — as with nearly everything in a sustainable future — that the end result of changing old habits is an increased quality of life.”

Read full story

5 October 2006

Jan Chipchase of Nokia on connecting the unconnected

Connecting the Unconnected
Earlier this week, Jan Chipchase of the Mobile HCI Group at the Nokia Research Center in Tokyo, spoke about connecting the unconnected at the Nokia Technology Media Briefing in Helsinki.

The presentation introduced some of Nokia’s field research methods, points to why pretty much everyone on the planet can appreciate the benefits of having access to a mobile telephone (personal, convenient synchronous and asynchronous communication), and introduces findings from a recent field study in Uganda and Indonesia into shared phone use.

“I’ll expand on couple of points of the presentation in the coming weeks – in particular the practice of pooling resources to buy air time; the on-foot delivery of messages sent to phone kiosks – something that we’ve termed step messaging; and my personal favourite sente – the informal practice of sending money as airtime that effectively enables the owner of a mobile phone to offer basic ATM services. All examples of innovation through necessity.”

- Download presentation (pdf, 2.2 mb, 43 slides)
Other Jan Chipchase presentations

4 October 2006

Microsoft Home showcases new prototypes of technology for daily living

Microsoft Home
“As part of its ongoing investments in exploring how software-driven innovations might influence consumers’ lives over the next five to 10 years, Microsoft Corp. recently unveiled a host of new and updated technologies in the Microsoft® Home. The latest scenarios on display, highlight prototype devices and software designed to deliver enriched entertainment, information and communication experiences throughout the home.”

“Visitors to the Microsoft Home, located inside the company’s Executive Briefing Center on the Redmond campus, can experience consumer technology innovations that are likely to emerge in Microsoft and partner products over the coming decade. These new technologies are presented through hands-on scenarios that highlight the following themes:

  • Place: delivering timely, relevant information to people based on their location, whether inside the home or nearby;
  • Participation: several emerging technologies designed to extend people’s self-expression;
  • Discovery: intelligently bringing people the content they care about most and at the time when they’re in the mood to enjoy it.”

Read full press release

4 October 2006

How the human experience drives design at Nokia

The human experience at Nokia
Nokia’s ‘culture of mobility‘ web magazine (frequently reported on on this blog) has suddenly disappeared from the company’s home page. Perhaps not surprisingly given the fact that so few people were writing about it.

From human experience to individual tastes…
In my quest to understand why, I came across a section announced as ‘How the human experience drives design at Nokia‘, but when ‘reading more’, the same picture suddenly gets another title: ‘Nokia’s newly unified design team is attuned to the tastes of the individuals‘.

…and back to human inspirations
I frankly do not think of experience research as taste research, but I guess this might be due to the copy writers. The ‘In Focus’ section covered by this title includes a nice little portrait of Marko Ahtisaari (also covered earlier here), Nokia Design’s strategy head, who follows the path of “street anthropology that explores the rich tapestry of people’s everyday lives.”

“One of the most important trends is the big human fundamental to make something your own over time. People definitely have a role to play in completing the design,” Ahtisaari says. “We see both physical adaptation, such as the way people in India use light emitting diodes to enhance religious iconography, and software adaptation, which has been made easier through straightforward scripting languages like Python.”

“Nokia is continuously working on new forms of interaction with devices,” he says. “In so doing we keep asking questions about how people are using and adapting our products so that we can find the next path forward.”

4 October 2006

Philips: LiveSimplicity

It’s been a couple of years ago since Philips launched their “Sense and Simplicity” slogan. With this slogan Philips tries to underline their goal to design products that are easy to use and understand.

But what is simplicity? Recently, Philips has launched the online LiveSimplicity forum, on which people have a chance to tell what simplicity means to them. And to discuss about it with others.

According to the site, “maybe one day we’ll find all the solutions” to this question.

(via Bruce Nussbaum and SteveWeb)

4 October 2006 on status skills

Viking Cooking Schoool
The people from have identified a new trend which they have dubbed “status skills”:

Their definition:
“In economies that increasingly depend on (and thus value) creative thinking and acting, well-known status symbols tied to owning and consuming goods and services will find worthy competition from ‘status skills': those skills that consumers are mastering to make the most of those same goods and services, bringing them status by being good at something, and the story telling that comes with it.”

They note that this is not an anti-business trend. “It still relies on a dominantly capitalist system, in which consumption remains important, yet is partly replaced by another highly valued, status-providing activity: mastering skills, and the show & tell circus that comes with it. Which opens entirely new markets for both providers of skills, and those skillful consumers who may become competing producers of (niche) goods and services.”

“Furthermore, ‘skills’ joining tangible, shiny things and mind-blowing experiences as providers of status is by no means the only shift to watch in the status space. What if a ‘doing the right thing’ lifestyle gains in appreciation? Where does leading an eco-friendly existence fit in, and the praise that one increasingly will get from that? Or the virtual world, in which one’s gaming skills, or one’s profile popularity (and number of friends), or even the appearance of one’s avatar determine how much praise or scorn is received?”

The trend report is structured in three areas:

  • Dedicated status skills provider: “entities that are exclusively dedicated to helping consumers to acquire skills”;
  • Corporate classes: “brands that are assisting consumers in acquiring skills as a way to make the most of their purchases from that brand”;
  • “Ventures that enable consumers to show off their skills“.

Read trend report