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Putting People First

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November 2006
17 November 2006

Interview with IDEO chief creative officer Jane Fulton Suri

i-mag
Steve Hardy has published an interview with IDEO chief creative officer Jane Fulton Suri on his popular Creative Generalist blog.

Jane Fulton Suri is chief creative officer at IDEO, with special emphasis on the contribution of human insight, creative practice and design thinking to client companies. She came to design from human factors psychology to pioneer the integration of social science-based approaches with design, grow a flexible community of practitioners, and evolve human-centred design methods, including empathic observation and experience prototyping, across the company’s client projects worldwide. In addition, Jane published a book last year about intuitive design titled Thoughtless Acts?

The interview starts off right away with a future vision for an empathic economy:

“In an empathic economy the provider/supplier of goods and services would be keen to reach an empathic understanding not just of consumers, but also of many other people within the business network upon whom business success depends: the farmer who grows/gathers the raw material, the processor who creates the basic technology, the distributor who ships it around, the sales-person, the trash collector (think “life-cycle” and interdependent human network).”

“By calling it the “empathic economy” I’m emphasizing that part of the inspiration and motivation for innovation that comes from creativity sparked by emotional, human, empathic resonance with other people’s conditions, not only the more traditional functional analyses of interdependencies that might be more common. As our networks and supporting technology become more sophisticated the interdependence between many different kinds of individuals across the globe becomes more apparent, more accessible and more visible. It seems natural that companies will/can soon have a much broader view of sources and opportunities for innovation in their business than simply around the offer that they make to a consumer.”

Read full interview

(via the Idea Festival blog)

17 November 2006

European Market Research Event – Day 2, afternoon

European Market Research Event
Mike Spang, Kodak

Mike Spang has the long job title: “Business Research Director, Document Imaging, Corporate Business Research, Eastman Kodak Company”. He spoke about how Kodak went about creating a satisfying global corporate web experience.

To put it in somewhat of a context, about five years ago Kodak had to rapidly reinvent itself as a digital camera company, and so the website had to also change from a portal for photography to a portal for digital imaging, with 80 percent of the web visitors being regular consumers.

The website also had to provide people with an experience beyond just camera purchasing. As one can read in an article in Business Week that was just published, CEO Antonio M. Perez “aims to make Kodak do for photos what Apple does for music: help people to organise and manage their personal libraries of images. He’s developing a slew of new digital photo services for consumers that he expects to yield higher returns.”

Spang described how Kodak through a clever use of user-centred design and a wide range of usability methods, was able to reinvent its web site, make it truly global and incorporate input from users worldwide.

The techniques used included open ended site surveys, heuristic evaluation, focus groups, cognitive walkthroughs, card sorting, usability testing (in lab, remote, web-based), visitor satisfaction assessments, multivariate design testing, and web traffic analysis.

Since there are more than 50 different national versions of the site, the research took place in the UK, Germany, France, China, South Korea and the United States.

Download presentation (pdf, 2.8 mb, 44 slides)

Emmi Kuussikko, Sulake Corporation

Emmi Kuussikko is a research manager with particular responsibilities for market and user insight at the Sulake Corporation, an interactive entertainment company based in Finland. Sulake is responsible for Habbo Hotel.

Habbo is one of the largest teen online communities in 29 different countries. It is a virtual world for young people, a massively multiplayer online game where teenagers create their own personalised virtual characters and interact with other characters in the community. It has 7 million unique users monthly, mainly in the 13 to 16 year old age range, and over 60 million characters have been created globally.

Since it is the community that creates a truly unique gaming environment and a great deal of the changing content is created by the users themselves, they strongly feel they own the brand and the Sulake Corporation just manages it with them.

Research in this online environment is of course also done online. The user base is very loyal and they are very eager to participate in surveys. So actual data collection is very fast. A survey can collect over 40,000 answers in just a few days.

Here are some of the results from a recent survey done globally.

Most teens spend more time on the internet (>90%) than TV (~60 %). Mobile usage is mainly used for text messages, followed by camera use and game playing. One third listen to music on the mobile phone, especially in the UK and Italy. Teens mostly use the web to stay in contact with their friends: IM and email. Then come games. The research provides also a more detailed insight into youth characteristics regarding life style and values:

  • No 1 value: having warm social relationships with friends and family; no 2 value was having fun, and no 3 was security
  • Many are rather conservative in their values
  • Fame, wealth and influence are important to about half
  • They generally have a very positive self-image
  • They endorse a socially responsible world-view
  • Even thought most claim to be tolerant, many have negative attitudes toward minorities. But they would like to have friends from other countries.

Kuusikko’s presentation started to become really interesting when she presented user segments, and the spread of these segments by country.

The user segmentation was based on a cluster-factor analysis. Trying to create maximum divergence between groups and minimum within, provided an accurate and reliable method for identifying groups with similar characteristics. The variables examined were personality, values, attitudes, subculture membership, areas of interest.

Five user types were found: achievers, traditionals, creatives, rebels and loners.

Sulake also uses a more selective community of 200 users to generate, co-create and test new ideas in a continuous and open dialogue.

I hope to be able to add a download to Kuusikko’s presentation shortly.

Mehmood Khan, Unilever

Mehmood Khan is the eccentric thinker who is the Global Leader of Innovation Process Development at Unilever.

Unilever‘s mission is to “add vitality to life”. It manages 400 brands spanning 14 categories of home, personal care and foods products “that help people look good, feel good and get more out of life”.

Khan has been with Unilever since 1982 and has worked in wide areas of the business: marketing, exports, procurement, business development and innovation. He has been pioneering new business for Unilever in places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia and North Korea, along with developing new portfolios in China and other countries in East Asia.

In his presentation, entitled “A holistic approach to innovation”, Khan described the key features of Unilever innovation.

According to Khan, innovation is about turning creativity in a successful enterprise. At Unilever innovation is customer-focused which allows the company to keep its brands connected to people’s lives. The innovation learnings and in particular the customer focus have also shaped the vitality brand strategy.

Download presentation (pdf, 136 kb, 17 slides)

17 November 2006

European Market Research Event – Day 2, morning

European Market Research Event
Due to travelling, it took me a few days to write up my summary of the Tuesday presentations at the European Market Research Event, but here we are. In this write-up I will concentrate on five speakers: James Surowiecki, Roula Nasser in the morning session, Mike Spang and Emmi Kuusikko and Mehmood Khan in the afternoon.

James Surowiecki, author of “The Wisdom of Crowds”

James Surowiecki is an extremely well-skilled public speaker. He managed to give a detailed and well-structured 45 minute presentation on his book “The Wisdom of Crowds” with many examples, without notes and without slides.

His argument is that crowds are often smarter collectively than even the smartest individuals it contains. He claims that “If you can figure out ways to tap into the collective intelligence of your organisation and the collective intelligence of your consumers, you can radically change your capability to resolve problems and to forecast the future.”

Surowiecki gave many examples of how that is being done:

  • NASA using volunteers to classify Martian craters in a programme called Clickworkers,
  • Iowa Electronic Markets: the use of markets to predict elections. People buy and sell shares to predict the outcome of US Presidential elections. They were more accurate 3/4 of the time than any Gallup poll.
  • Hollywood Stock Exchange. People buy and sell shares in how well movie releases will do. They give a better answer than any other method. They also picked 7 out of 8 of the major Oscar winners.
  • Other examples include HP where employees could buy or sell shares in how well printer sales were going to do, and it outperformed internal forecasts. Siemens also used this technique to predict how long a particular software product development is going to take. Microsoft has also done something similar, and Google has launched PROPHET, which predicts 200 events of all kinds and they have been almost perfectly correct.

But crowds only act intelligent under three conditions:

  1. Aggregation. It is about the aggregate judgment of lots of individuals, not about consensus.
  2. Diversity. The crowd, the group is cognitively diverse with differences of perspective and differences of heuristics. Homogeneous groups tend to reinforce their own thinking. Diversity mitigates this effects of peer pressure, which can be very powerful.
  3. Independence. The people within the crowd act independently. They think for themselves and rely on their own information, own ideas. Our natural tendency to imitate and protect our reputation can move us away from this independence.

According to Surowiecki, one of the implications for market research is that you want to ask people not what they think of a product, but instead you want to ask the question: “how successful do you think this product is going to be” or “how many people do you think will buy this product by February”.

Roula Nasser, P&G

Roula Nasser is Director of Customer and Market Knowledge of the Global P&G Beauty.

Her talk, entitled “Driving Consumer & Market Understanding to New Heights: A Roadmap for Success” set out a market strategy and vision, but was unfortunately a bit weak on examples.

P&G has put a lot of emphasis on focusing on the future, or in their own jargon: from hindsight, to insight, to foresight. To do that, they have been investing a lot on new capabilities to get at consumer attitudes; on understanding the changing dynamics of the marketplace, particularly the differences between the developed and the developing world; and on making research and researchers strategic.

Nasser then went on to say how important it is to have visible support from company leaders, and went into a long and elaborate praise of A.G. Lafley who is P&G’s chairman, president and CEO.

Lastly, she stressed how important it is to think about consumers in new ways, by seeing them as people and developing a more personal relationship, and to use more involved shadowing techniques, which they call “Walk with Me”: go and visit people in their homes; live on the budget of a low-income consumer for a week; shop with consumer’s grocery list, budget and children; serve in jobs where P&G products are used.

The examples, from China and South Africa, illustrated how such an approach can lead to real benefits for advertising. There were however no examples of what this deeper people-centred approach might mean for P&G’s product innovation.

17 November 2006

France Telecom on disability and innovation

i-mag
France Telecom has launched i-mag, a new interactive e-magazine on innovation.

The first issue looks at the Group’s involvement in the field of disability, from the designing of new communication services, to working on new interfaces.

This initiative is part of France Telecom’s strategic programme NExT (New Experience in Telecommunications), which aims to “make the customer the centre of his or her communications world”.

France Telecom takes a design for all approach: “Facilitating access for all customers to all its products and services”.

The Group is developing new communication services “that use the communication mode most suited to the person you are calling”. They are also developing new interfaces, including those that use haptic technology. The longer-term goal however is “to come as close as possible to real face-to-face conversation between two people”.

17 November 2006

Design Council presentation on designing new public services

designing_public_services
Jennie Winhall of the RED unit of the UK Design Council has posted a presentation on designing new public services.

The presentation sets out why we need a new generation of public services and a new (design-led) method of creating them. She talks about the Design Council’s two healthcare projects, designing for behaviour change and transformation design.

- Download presentation (pdf, 12.5 mb, 54 slides)
Download script (Word document, 104 kb, 6 pages)

17 November 2006

Yaniv Steiner speaking on rapid prototyping at World Usability Day Italy

Michele Visciola introducing Yaniv Steiner
Last Tuesday people across the globe attended World Usability Day gatherings and events, an initiative promoted by a professional association called the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA).

Experientia partner Michele Visciola is the president of UPA-Italy, and in that capacity he organised the World Usability Day in Italy at the Bicocca University in Milan.

One of the speakers was Yaniv Steiner, Experientia’s director of R&D and the founder of Nastypixel which is a “prototyping sweatshop”. He has been teaching at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea and currently also lectures at the University of Architecture in Venezia and the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.

The audio of Yaniv’s presentation on rapid prototyping is online (in English, with a short Italian introduction by Michele Visciola in Italian) and so are his slides and a number of links.

Régine Debatty, who was also a speaker at the Milan event, has a nice profile of Yaniv on her blog we-make-money-not-art.

13 November 2006

European Market Research Event – Day 1, afternoon

European Market Research Event
During the afternoon sessions of the European Market Research Event, I attended presentations by Clive Grinyer of France Telecom Orange, Sarah Pearson of ACB/University of Sussex and Francesco Cara of Nokia. There is also a short write-up of a talk by Valérie Bauwens of Swisscom.
 

Clive Grinyer, France Telecom Orange

In his highly entertaining presentation, thought-provokingly called “lipstick on a pig”, Clive Grinyer reflected on the relation between usability and design.

Grinyer once worked with Jonathan Ive in a company called “Tangerine”. After some time at Samsung and the Design Council, he joined the legendary Orange mobile brand where he is the head of design and usability and develops user interfaces on handsets, mobile portals and web services, thus helping to create the next generation of communication services.

During his talk, Grinyer spent a lot of time reflecting on the perceived and actual role of design.

Design is more than just the work of a magician designer, a decorator or an innovative engineer. It is more than fashion or product design (with all respect for Jonathan Ive).

Design is really about creating a complete service experience, an approach which has been pioneered by Steve Jobs.

But quite often companies still have the tendency to put lipstick on a pig, to render something attractive that is underneath unattractive.

Grinyer in other words is upset by the superficiality of design and advocates a people-centred approach. People, he says, are old and young, have different values and different levels of comfort with technology. They are not just between 16 and 25.

Because many people have different views of what simplicity is, also designers do, and Grinyer provides us with some funny examples of ‘simple solutions’ designers have come up with.

He says that we often end up with a situation where:

  • Technology rarely works
  • Usability is poor and uncovered too late in the process to correct
  • Customer uptake is slow or doesn’t happen
  • Revenue is reduced
  • Customer experience is random and brand delivery is inconsistent
  • In short, technology rarely just works

Did you ever try to set up email on a phone?

Orange tries to design the full experience across many touchpoints.

To do that well, you need to find out who your customer really is, what they really do, what they want to do, and somebody needs to show them what is possible, what is next, and make them want to do it!

Companies and designers also need to be aware that customers always tell the truth, but not always the way you think.

Experimentation is therefore important, designers have to come up with more than one idea, and you have to test things with real people.

In the end, Grinyer says, design has both a scientific and emotional side. Usability and ergonomics provide the physical and cognitive knowledge but design also delivers attraction, delight, comfort, safety, enjoyment, pride, clarity, wow and awe.

Designers in other words need to design the full experience.

Download presentation (zipped PowerPoint, 6.2 mb, 64 slides)
 

Valérie Bauwens, Swisscom

Another excellent talk took place while Clive was speaking, so I could not attend it. It was by my Belgian compatriot Valérie Bauwens, who is a senior user researcher at Swisscom’s Customer Observatory and who works closely with Stefana Broadbent.

Valérie was kind enough to guide me briefly through her talk afterwards.

Swisscom’s User Adoption Lab has been looking specifically at how people use technology in their daily lives, by doing in-context interviews and observing people in their homes.

A key result of the research is that each communication tool is specialised in its use, depending on its functionalities.

Download presentation (pdf, 875 kb, 29 slides)
 

Sarah Pearson, ACB/University of Sussex

Sarah Pearson, who is a managing partner of ACB at the Sussex Innovation Centre of the University of Sussex, presented the results of an elaborate ethnographic study on “the impact of personal video recorders on television audience behaviour during commercial breaks using video ethnography”.

In short, PVR’s (which are TiVo-like devices) allow you to fast forward advertisements and are perceived to be a massive threat to the advertising model.

Research done in focus groups and in labs confirmed the perception of this threat.

During initial research Pearson found however that there was an amazing difference between what people perceive of the technology, and what people actually do.

Pearson today presented a more elaborate piece of ethnographic research, which was funded by a (very worried) consortium of Ofcom, Channel 4, Channel Five, iTV and Initiative.

The research wanted to go beyond claimed behaviour and to get a deeper understanding of people’s actual behaviours.

It turned out that there was a somewhat surprising tendency among the majority of participants to initially watch live TV and only revert to the PVR as a kind of back-up. Not surprisingly, of the 3480 opportunities to see adverts, 70% were live and only 30% were time-shifted. And only two-thirds of the time-shifted ones were actually skipped. So 80% of adverts were still viewed entirely, which means that PVR’s are not going to have such an impact as once feared.

I was hoping for some more insight on the fast-forwarding behaviour. It seemed to me that ads were browsed and skimmed like pages in a magazine and some of them merited more in-depth investigation. However, Pearson didn’t provide much insight into this, in part because of NDA restrictions.”

Download presentation summary (pdf, 20 kb, 2 pages)
 

Francesco Cara, Nokia

Francesco Cara, who is the director of Nokia Design, Insight and Innovation, provided the last talk I attended during the day.

Cara, who has a cognitive science background, provided a talk on organic innovation, where innovation is created in dialogue with the end-user, in an open, interactive way.

Nokia, argues Cara, advocates a human approach to technology, with a strong emphasis on dialogue. Fast prototyping and ethnography are crucial, with the latter assuming a strategic role.

Cara provided the case study example of Skype, which is a typical example of convergence, bringing together voice telephony, instant messaging and broadband access.

The ethnographic and contextual interview study, which took place in Germany and Brazil, explored who the Skype users really were and how they used the service.

Some of the learnings showed that Skype should not be seen as a replacement but as an additional that has a number of quite distinct features: such as openness (the channel remains open), targeted and intimate, low virality and enriched communication.

13 November 2006

European Market Research Event – Day 1, morning

European Market Research Event
The European Market Research Event that I am attending today and tomorrow started off with three parallel sessions: usability, online research, and best practices in research techniques (tomorrow there are four).

My selection of talks is purely based on personal preferences and obviously only a snapshot of about a third of the event.

I have the conference CD’s with most of the presentation files and have uploaded some of those that I attended on this blog (with approval of the authors involved). If you are interested in the presentation files of one of the other talks, just let me know.
 

Flemming Ostergaard, LEGO

I started off the day with Flemming Ostergaard, Marketing Innovation Director at Lego, whose talk “Leveraging Ethnography and Anthropological Research to Innovate” describes how LEGO works on understanding kids and kids play and how to translate these insights into new products and play innovation.

LEGO as a company is facing some major challenges, e.g. the huge pressure from tech toys, the fact that kids are getting older younger, and the shortened production cycle, that have made innovation crucial for the company.

To innovate they need a much sharper understanding of the needs of kids. To achieve this, LEGO uses a variety of user research techniques, including:

  1. Be the Kid – participatory observation where adults became kids;
  2. Know the Shopper – observation & desk research, particularly looking at the interaction between children and parents and at how children shop;
  3. Find the Forces – context and trends research;
  4. Find the Fun – ethnographic research (15 days of hanging out with kids);
  5. Map the Industry – innovation diagnostics with a focus of trying to understand the ingredients of successful innovation;
  6. Find the Stories – context research through talking to authors and scriptwriters.

This research brought about an insight into some of the core values that are crucial now, such as complexity, new playing fields and the need for privacy.

LEGO uses a six pillar approach to turn these values into patterns and “innovation vectors”, and looked for instance at a privacy-inspired solution, called “Mutants by Mail” that covers all the needs of the parents, but also of the child, through a clever use of the mobile phone.

In addition to straightforward user research, LEGO also builds on the power of user communities, through its use of ‘Adult Fans Of Lego’ (the so-called AFOL’s) in the development of the second version of MindStorm, and in user co-creation, through its already well-known LEGO Factory.

A big issue is still the ‘creative leap’: how to take the insights that were gained from understanding and make these into relevant new products concepts. Ostergaard had to admit that the company is are not fully there yet. But one of the ways to make sure user research and creativity are well integrated is by involving creative people part of the full research process, not just the design process.
 

Tony Linford, Hi-Tec Sports

Tony Linford, the marketing director of Hi-Tec Sports, took a much more intuitive and much less formalised approach to user understanding.

Hi-Tec is an English manufacturer of sports footwear, founded in the 70’s by Dutch entrepreneur Frank Van Wezel.

The key to innovation, according to Linford, is a mixture of being very close to the end users, emotional and intuitive understanding of their needs, a highly scientific, problem-solving approach which leads to a series of steadily improving prototypes, and simple entrepreneurial guts to go for something that you think makes sense.

Hi-Tec works a lot with individual lead users, such as professional golfer Padraig Harrington, for whom they developed a set of new high-performance golf shoes.

The company’s latest concept is 4:SYS (pronounced “Forces”). It analyses the different forces applied by the barefoot during the running gait and came up with a sole that mimicked and helps this natural pressure.

Download presentation (pdf, 264 kb, 20 slides)
 

Anat Amir, O2

Anat Amir, who is the head of product experience and research at O2, a UK telecom provider, gave the last talk I attended in the morning.

Amir was one of the people in charge of a 6 month pilot study or user trial with 375 participants in Oxford, UK of Digital Video Broadcast (DVB-H), which is multi-channel TV broadcast directly to mobiles.

Although the pilot study had mostly a technical aim, and the results were quite positive, Amir hinted at a number of usability, context of use and user experience issues that I would have loved to hear more about, but that were difficult to discuss at this stage because of NDA.

More information about the project can be found on the Arqiva website.
 

13 November 2006

Experientia interviews Anne Kirah, senior design anthropologist at Microsoft

Anne Kirah
Anne Kirah (bio) is senior design anthropologist at Microsoft’s MSN Customer Design Centre. In this interview, she talks on the importance of taking off your blinders and focusing on the real lives of real people. She discusses her work at Microsoft and her latest challenges.

She highlights that “it is just as important understanding people who are not using technology as it is to understand people who are using technology” and describes what the challenges were in changing Microsoft from a tech-centred company to a people-centred one.

She reflects on how companies can change to have a people-centred focus no matter what their products and services are, on the new 180º Academy where she is directing the programming, and on her new consulting activities.

The interview, which was conducted in October, is published as a prelude to the European Market Research Event that Anne co-chairs and Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken will attend and blog about.

- INTERVIEW

Anne Kirah (bio) is senior design anthropologist at Microsoft’s MSN Customer Design Centre. In this interview, she talks on the importance of taking off your blinders and focusing on the real lives of real people. She discusses her work at Microsoft and her latest challenges.

The interview was conducted by Mark Vanderbeeken and took place in October 2006.

* * * * *

STARTING OUT AT MICROSOFT

How did you start your work as an anthropologist for Microsoft?

When they hired me eight years ago as the first official anthropologist, they weren’t sure what to do with me, so they had me design my own job. I soon realised that Microsoft had until then the tendency to come up with feature and product designs within the confines of its own walls. Microsoftees just didn’t have much of an idea what real people in their everyday and not so everyday lives were doing. After all, I think it is just as important to understand people who are not using technology as it is to understand people who are using technology when you are meant to be building products or services that are meaningful, relevant and useful to people in their everyday and not so everyday lives. What went on in the minds of Microsoft’s brilliant software engineers and of people outside the walls of Microsoft, was not always very congruent. So I created the Real People Real Data (RPRD) programme for Windows XP’s development cycle.

Tell me more about how you started out with the RPRD programme.

At first I went to meetings and listened to people (employees at Microsoft) talking. They were just on another planet for me. It was like going to another country where I didn’t speak the language. Then there was the disconnect with what was going on outside Microsoft. For example I was asked to go out and watch people purchase computers, and set up an internet connection. In the usability lab it took on average 3 hours (three hours!) to set up computer and internet. But outside the lab none of the 40 families I studied were able to set up the internet. Those 40 families by the way were randomly chosen families from all over the United States (not just Redmond, my first big win). Later on I would also get them to realise the importance of research outside the United States. So none of the 40 families were able to do it by themselves without serious technical support, and even then they took much longer than the average usability lab time of 3 hours. This told us that people who signed up for usability lab assessment were not average people, but rather techno hobbyists who knew something about usability.

So Windows XP was changed to accommodate those insights.

Not immediately. Microsoft first launched the beta of XP and the same thing happened. We had 1000 beta testing consumers and I had my 40 families also setting up the beta. My families were plaguing the tech support guys assigned to the beta. At first my boss was furious and asked me what was wrong with my people. Later on we found out that the 1000 beta users were again IT-pros who enjoy taking software home, while my 40 families were more representative of everyday people. I had made a video of the first field study, which showed a very angry customer who couldn’t manage to set up his computer. I was called in by the Vice-President of Windows who asked me what I needed to stop humiliating him. That is when Real People Real Data got a budget and it became possible for us to impact not only the future design of XP and other products, but to change the company culture to focus on people. It didn’t hurt either that during my first year at Microsoft, I had the intense surprise of going to our company meeting with 40,000 other people and have Steve Ballmer name the Real People Real Data programme as a symbol for what we were going after.

That must have been very moving.

It was. But most moving were the comments from the families. The families are those who really inspired me by giving me the opportunity to see into their lives and letting me understand their aspirations and motivations. This allowed me to transform these data into meaningful and relevant information for software engineers, so that they could make changes to the designs of our products and services in order to meet those people’s aspirations and motivations. A couple aged 78 came to the “release to manufacture” of Windows XP. They had written a letter to me, which was read out by the VP. It said they couldn’t believe that Microsoft would be interested in them and that they were stunned to see their thoughts and ideas incorporated in to the design of Windows XP. Afterwards tons of software engineers were in tears to meet them saying that they finally understood whom they were building for. Honestly I cried too! The moments I have truly loved at work are the moments when the deepest cynics got a twinkle in their eye and I could see change, change from tech-driven to people-driven. That is what I am most proud of, not the features and services that have come out of it.

[Anne adds after the interview that Howard, who was the husband of the 78 year old couple died recently at 85. “I found out that tech support for Windows VISTA had a corner of their office called: “Howard’s corner” dedicated to making the product acceptable to Howard as a symbol for everyday people in their everyday lives. I went to Howard’s funeral and delivered a speech for the family. It was very moving and most importantly of all, I realised that Howard was a symbol for so much and he will live on in the hearts of many people in my company.”]

FROM TECHNO-DRIVEN TO PEOPLE-DRIVEN

Changing a culture…

My work on the RPRD programme was in fact the start of a revolution within Microsoft, and helped the company change from techno-driven to people-driven design. I did of course have some impact on Windows XP but I am much prouder being part of the cultural change at Microsoft than I am of the products and features that have been impacted by Microsoft’s anthropological research. Today, I firmly believe that products and services that are not grounded in understanding the people they are being made for, will result in failure.

What came after your Windows XP experience?

I worked on a product that failed. We predicted it, the group went ahead anyway and it failed. This failure gave me credibility since we had predicted it. I since worked with mobile applications and Messenger, both MSN in general (in Europe people often think it is only Messenger), as well as individual apps such as Hotmail, communications, MSN Spaces, etc.

You worked mainly on mass-market consumer applications?

People are not just consumer or enterprise or whatever. We switch roles all during the day and when we have data relevant to an area within Microsoft, we give them to that area.

Fair enough. But these are all apps that are also consumer apps.

No, XP is also enterprise. There is a Messenger that is for enterprise. There are calendar issues that are not consumer. And when we have relevant data for these areas, they go to the enterprise people.

Microsoft makes quite some applications that are only for business.

The problem is that you are thinking within a mental model of business vs. consumer. In the course of any given day, real people are in both spheres and they overlap! I even worked sometimes in the small biz space when I had relevant data. In fact they are integrated. I have a big issue with how we are taught to think. It is as if we have to unlearn to get to what I think is fairly obvious. I believe strongly that if you want to innovate, you must take off your blinders built through your education and your work experience. As long as you are blinded by these two things, you can not see the world and the potential around you. You can only make changes incrementally based on the lack of understanding of what is really happening around you.

So you don’t focus on particular types of applications?

The data my team collects are holistic. It is not for any one product, be it service enterprise related or consumer related. It is related to the real lives of real people, not to market segmentation. I can easily get annoyed with market segmentation that is purely built on averages and superficial field research. There are plenty of people out there calling themselves ethnographers who do work that is of dangerously poor quality. Of course, we can argue the same for nearly all disciplines. But I am obviously only one person and therefore tend to focus on areas that can have impact for as many people as possible.

How has the user-focused process evolved since?

Let me first say that I never speak about users. Did you wake up this morning defining yourself as a user? No. Maybe you woke up with an alarm clock, so you are an employee. Maybe you woke up with a baby, so you are a father. Maybe you woke up with your wife or lover, which makes you a spouse or a lover. But you sure as hell didn’t wake up and say: good morning world, I am a USER. If we create jargon to deal with our research, then we are no better than the engineers and anyone else who doesn’t speak the language of everyday people in their everyday lives and not so everyday people in their not so everyday lives or any combination thereof. The kind of innovation I am involved with means changing the cultures at work by speaking the same language and culture as the people the company is innovating for.
 

EXPLORATORY AND REACTIVE RESEARCH

Describe me Microsoft’s people-centred development approach then.

We do both exploratory and reactive research. Exploratory research means taking off the Microsoft hat and studying life stages and life events associated with a life stage. This means looking at people who are at a basic level focused on everyday aspirations and motivations. For instance, a new mother needing support or trying to figure out the best diaper to buy, or a lonely single person looking for someone to love. We look for patterns across life stages, within life stages, across cultures, and within cultures, and we make design recommendations based on the themes that emerge.

How does that then lead to new applications?

From the exploratory research, we get data that are being condensed into themes. We then have these very cool ideation sessions — brainstorming, story boarding, rapid prototyping, dream ideas based in the motivations and aspirations of people — with the programme and product managers (the PM’s). We create lists of concept ideas, which we prioritise based on market research and design research, and then develop into new features, products and services. Even when a programme manager comes up with an idea for an app on their own, they first of all ask if we have data to support the concept and we work with them to be sure the idea is relevant, meaningful and useful.

Where do Microsoft’s user experience designers fit into this process?

They are part of the link between our data and the coders. For example on my old team the user experience designers worked with the data from the field and the PM’s, and bridged the link through design. I am not a designer… I can’t design anything. I can come up with ideas, concepts that need to be transformed.

How would you describe this transformation process?

It’s like an illustrator, an interpreter. You have to read the book first to be able to illustrate. In fact, they are the most important part of the process because they breathe life into the concepts. But in the end, we are a team. Let me give you an example. One day not so long ago a designer, a PM and myself brainstormed on a certain topic. By listening to the two others, and thinking through the themes, I came up with a patentable idea. They immediately told me that I should patent it. I said no, WE patent it. Nobody and I mean nobody comes up with an idea alone. I just don’t buy that. We might feel we do at times, but we forget the experiences and people behind these experiences that are inherent to our ability to come up with ideas. I would never have come up with that idea if I hadn’t been sitting and discussing a topic with people of a different mindset than my own, each representing different styles and different parts of the process. So they deserve as much credit as I do. I came up with the concept idea with them, not alone. WE came up with the design together. All of this is teamwork and this is vitally important to me.

You also mentioned reactive research.

Reactive research is when you study a particular product or product area. For example when Messenger was not succeeding in Japan, my team was sent there to figure out why and to come up with solutions that would be meaningful and relevant to the Japanese. It turned out that in Japan synchronous communication is considered the rudest form of communication possible. So we made Messenger asynchronous, which means that you can send a message even if the other person is not online. However in doing this, we realised that this intervention, which originated from a culturally specific need, was also meaningful for the rest of the world. In the end we changed the platform globally.
 

WINDOWS VISTA

Do you also do reactive research on Windows, for example, to help prepare a new release?

Yes, we do and have done. For Vista there have been six real people feedback programmes that are directly related to what you ask: Windows Vista user experience, customer love, living with Windows Vista, working with Windows Vista, living with Windows Vista global, and Windows desirability. In short, they addressed living with Vista at home, at work, in different countries and in different contexts. But all this is done as a team: usability, design research, coders, programme managers, software engineers and anthropologists. I am proud of my team, of the other teams that I worked with. They are amazing people. Success is built upon working together as a team.

I am asking this question about Vista for three reasons: it is a major release, it is the Microsoft programme that most people will use in a few years and it is promoted with a strong emphasis on the user experience. So I am trying to better understand what is behind that claim, and how you have helped in making that happen?

Well, I am the founder of the Real People programme and worked on Vista at its earliest stages. I left Windows 3-4 years ago though I since still had meetings with the people over there. I started the Internet version of the Real People programme and our data often overlaps. In fact, we became now completely integrated after a recent reorganisation. But Vista is not really my baby.

Fair enough. You started out by talking about the change from a tech-centred to a people-centred company. Is Microsoft now a people-centred company?

Parts of it are, parts of it are not. But that is the direction they are going and it warms my heart.
 

TOWARDS A NEW EDUCATIONAL MODEL

Where are the biggest obstacles still?

Well, you can change people by giving them experiences that change them. It starts with the education models that do not take into account people-centred design enough, that are not equipped to address the rapid changes that come with the technological revolution (as opposed to the incremental changes of the industrial world), and that do not yet see the world as a global world, though it IS.

You told me that you are involved with some new initiatives, in part dealing with education, which are not immediately connected to Microsoft…

I am very loyal to Microsoft which has given me amazing opportunities. But yes, I am now on a 50% leave from Microsoft, working as a corporate consultant and helping set up an academy.

Let’s talk about the academy first. How will it change education?

In fact there are two academies. The first one (see also article on Putting People First) is a 9-module course for people in the workforce now. It will start off next year. It’s called 180° Academy, based on the concept that we want to turn people 180° around. The other provides a fulltime Masters and PhD. It is not ready for a few years and is only in the concept stages. Both were formed with a focus on front end research before concept making and the commercialisation of concepts.

The 180° Academy was started by some top Danish business…

Yes, companies such as Bang & Olufsen, Lego, Novo Nordisk, Gumlink, Middelfart Sparekasse, Nokia, and Danfoss. I was hired to create the curriculum and hire the faculty. I am just so passionately involved with it. It has given my life new meaning because all I really want to do is save the world and to be able to touch the lives of powerful people (me not being powerful), I have a chance at it. I truly believe that the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. It is the most exciting thing I have ever done.

What makes you so excited?

My passion for working at the academy and in educational world in general is based on my deep belief that we need to change the educational system to be successful in any industry. I work on change management in my consulting work for the same reasons because companies just can’t afford to wait for the educational revolution to take place. They really want to turn things upside down a bit. This all goes back to people-centred design. How can companies change to have a people-centred focus no matter what their services and products are? How can education change to create people who can adapt to this rapidly moving world and focus on the matters of the heart? This is where my passion is and where I will continue to work for the rest of my working years.

You are advocating a new educational approach…

Education has to stop creating models and start giving people tools that help them adapt to rapid change, that allow them to take “context” into account. Each situation is different and you need to have a new tool kit each time. Education should stop creating a one-directional model. The world is not linear. Production and design is not linear. Even the word iterative can be annoying because then it just becomes one linear process on top of another – the same old thing over and over again. I know I am being provocative, so I apologise but if I could stand on top of the Eiffel tower and be heard. Here are some of my core ideas on this:

  • Values from connecting the heart and mind
  • We work too much with our blinders on
  • Innovation comes from learning to see people and things through new lenses
  • Observing the lives and the environment of people
  • A willingness to build with the people we observe
  • Allowing for values of the heart and mind to be embraced
  • Being humble and practicing humility
  • and taking risks!

There are still too many top-down models in just about everything. In education. In politics and governance. In urban planning. Etc. We have to find more creative ways to work bottom-up, to let people co-create.

That is my mission in life. We are on the edge of a revolution and I think we will see a paradigm shift in the next five to ten years when we will get the people with blinders on either to see the light or to move on.
 

CORPORATE CONSULTING

You are also getting involved in corporate consulting…

Yes, it’s currently called the Kirah Group, although we keep changing the name of it. We are focused on the stage before they realise they need companies like yours [i.e. Experientia, an experience design consultancy]. We run workshops with the top management of companies to help them see that by understanding people, environment, context, you can actually open your minds and see the vast areas of innovation. If you ask the wrong questions you get the wrong answers. I set them up to hire people like your company to help them.

The name sounds a bit like a family consultancy. The Kirah’s.

LOL. There are four of us. We are in a sense a family, very close-knit people whom I love dearly: my partner Stefano, my colleague Soren and his wife Vivi. We are very diverse and supplement each other very, very well.

You are basically working on a strategic level rather than doing actual on-the-ground research?

Yes, we focus on strategy, vision and change management.
 

EUROPEAN MARKET RESEARCH EVENT

And now you are co-chairing the European Market Research Event.

I participated in the Market Research Event in San Francisco last year. It provides an opportunity for those working in market research to link better to product development and to learn about different methods and practices in the industry. I got involved more intensely when I sent them some reflections on the San Francisco event. I also adore the other co-chair of the European event, Christian Madsbjerg of RED Associates, a great company.

Anne, thank you so much.

My pleasure.

* * * * *

 

Anne Kirah serves as a senior design anthropologist for Microsoft’s MSN Customer Design Center and is responsible for global field research and participatory design. Her primary focus is on future product innovation and people centred research for MSN. Kirah recently won the award for MSN Contributor of the Year (2004).

Kirah is currently working with a consortium of Danish industry leaders to create a curriculum and hire faculty for a new global innovation school called 180º Academy, and is also a partner in the Kirah Group which does consulting work.

Kirah, who joined Microsoft in 1999, previously worked as a research associate for Boeing, the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer. She helped conceive quantitative research surveys for use onboard lengthy international flights and led a team of field researchers seeking input from passengers and crew to improve customer and employee satisfaction of aircraft design.

Kirah has lived and worked extensively in Europe and Asia and is fluent in English and Norwegian. She also has some knowledge of French, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese. Kirah has written award-winning newspaper articles in Japan, edited and written books about contemporary Norwegian society and won several research grants, fellowships and scholarships.

She holds an upper level graduate degree in social and cultural anthropology from the University of Oslo, Norway; a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Washington and an undergraduate degree in social and cultural anthropology, with minors in the sociology of education and developmental psychology from the University of Oslo, Norway.

Kirah has two children, Aase and Miriam, and lives in Paris, France. Away from work, Kirah is involved in her children’s activities, cooking, writing, rock climbing and running.

Download interview (pdf, 188 kb, 8 pages)

10 November 2006

Making the case for ease, elegance and endurance

chop sticks
The Boston Globe has a nice background story on the upcoming Core77 panel discussion on the future of design and technology.

“John Maeda is a professor at MIT’s Media Lab, and a nationally recognized computer scientist. His early computer art experiments, for example, were a precursor to the interactive graphics common on websites today.” […]

“Maeda is now a “repentant” technowhiz and a leading apostle of simplicity. In 2004 he founded the MIT Simplicity Consortium at the Media Lab, which works with major corporations to design technologies for simplicity-driven products. He’s just published a book called “The Laws of Simplicity,” a guide to simplicity in the digital age. He ruminates about simplicity on his Simplicity blog, and next week he’ll discuss strategies for making products simpler at a panel discussion in Boston on the future of design and technology sponsored by Core77, a New York-based design networking organization that publishes an influential design blog.”

“There is huge pressure to make products smarter and more technologically imbued, which ends up almost backfiring,” says Allan Chochinov, a designer and partner of Core77. “End users feel they can’t use them. They make us feel dumb or incompetent.”

Read full story

8 November 2006

Experientia shows gesture-based interface at international art fair

Artissima
At Artissima, the international fair of contemporary art in Torino, visitors are able to use simple hand and arm gestures to browse a visual catalogue of recent art work exhibited at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, an important museum in the city.

The technology is based on sophisticated gesture recognition, while the end-result for the visitor is a radically simple content navigation system in which the images are projected on a large screen, and interaction is performed via nothing but a flat luminous surface.

The project was developed by Jan-Christoph Zoels, Yaniv Steiner and Ofer Luft of Experientia, the Turin-based international experience design consultancy.

A prototype of the gesture-based interface was previously used to navigate Google Earth and to guide club dancing during a music rave. The various interfaces are all based on the smartRetina™ technology, which provides the designer with a programmable “eye”, allowing him to easily design new experiences and interactions which do not require a tangible interface.

YouTube video

8 November 2006

In London next week

European Market Research Event
Next week I will be in London to attend the European Market Research Event and to blog from the conference.

I am listing here just a handful of the many speakers of the three-day event (in no particular order) to give you an idea: Anne Kirah, Senior Design Anthropologist Customer Design Center, MSN/Microsoft Corporation; James Surowiecki, Author, “The Wisdom Of Crowds“; Roula Nassar, Director Global Hair Care Consumer and Market Knowledge, Procter & Gamble; Flemming Ostergaard, Marketing Innovation Director, LEGO and Helene Venge, Global Marketing Manager, LEGO Interactive; Anat Amir, Head of Product Experience and Research, O2; Valerie Bauwens, Senior User Researcher, The Customer Observatory, SWISSCOM; Clive Grinyer, Director of Design, France Telecom Orange; Margaret Alrutz, Senior Design Researcher, Steelcase Iterative Design and Customer Feedback; Francesco Cara, Director Nokia Design, Insight, and Innovation, Nokia.

There are many more.

So read this blog if you want to know what the event is all about. A second edition is already planned for June 2007.

(And if you are around in London or at the conference, please let me know.)

6 November 2006

Bad usability calendar

Bad usability calendar
Since it is World Usability Day next week (with us of Experientia taking charge of the Italy event), I couldn’t resist posting this hilarious ‘bad usability calendar’.

It was created by the Norwegian usability consultancy Netlife Research.

Nothing beats humour in getting your point across.

Download calendar (pdf, 886 kb)

(via justaddwater.dk)

6 November 2006

The People will be heard: Interactive technology in public spaces

AllOfUs kiosk
“In their efforts to compete with other and more dynamic providers of information and entertainment, many museums are listening to their visitors more closely than ever before,” writes Jennifer Kabat in a long story on the website of the Adobe Design Center.

“In some cases museums—famously top-down institutions—are even incorporating the views, critical choices and contributed content of visitors into their programs. They are also re-examining the ways in which visitors interact with objects and spaces, as well as each other. For help with both of these approaches they are turning to a growing sector of the interactive design world; one that specializes in interactive museum displays.”

“Thus, the best interactive exhibits are open-ended. They encourage visitors to be active participants in the experience rather than passive consumers of information. They take their visitors’ views seriously and break down the hierarchy of institutions.”

Acknowledging the debate (“The idea of the audience taking control sends shivers down many a curator’s spine”), Kabat provides some very good examples of thoughtful integration of user-generated content in museum and exhibition contexts.

Read full story

6 November 2006

Interview with author of Designing Emotions book

Designing Emotions
Marco van Hout, who manages the blog Design & Emotion, just published an interview with Pieter Desmet, the author of the book “Designing Emotions”, about product design and emotions.

Here is Marco’s introduction to the interview:

“Dr. Pieter Desmet is an assistant professor at the Department of Industrial Designof the Delft University of Technology. His background is in industrial design, and his research for his PhD degree focussed on emotional product experience. His award winning research has been published in several journals and presented at international platforms. Pieter’s dissertation “Designing Emotions” is one that can be found on the desks of many (designers) and also for me was one of the first real encounters with this very interesting topic. I would like to suggest everybody to order this book, read it and realise that this is the best starting point you could have wished for. Pieter has done a fantastic job in summarising the complex and transforming it into the understandable. He has used his product emotion measurement tool PrEmo to help companies understand the emotional impact of their products and is a frequently invited speaker.”

Read interview

5 November 2006

Digital utopia

Digital utopia
A new breed of technologists envisions a democratic world improved by the Internet, writes Dan Fost in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“The new Internet boom commonly referred to as Web 2.0 is really an exercise in digital democracy,” he writes.

“Dubbed Digital Utopians by some, and Web 2.0 innovators by others, this latest wave of tech gurus champion community over commerce, sharing ideas over sharing profits. By using Web sites that stress group thinking and sharing, these Internet idealists want to topple the power silos of Hollywood, Washington, Wall Street and even Silicon Valley. And like countless populists throughout history, they hope to disperse power and control, an idea that delights many and horrifies others.”

“The core of the Web 2.0 movement resurrects an age-old debate about governance and democracy, one that was argued by political philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Alexis de Tocqueville: Are the benefits of democracy — taking advantage of what Web 2.0 proponents call the wisdom of the crowds — worth risking the dark side of mob rule?”

Fost realises that the Web 2.0 movement is not without its share of critics.

Andrew Keen warns against the dangers of embracing technology’s level playing field. Keen, 46, a former professor and philosopher turned tech entrepreneur, published a tract this year, ‘Web 2.0 Is Reminiscent of Marx‘, and is working on a book lambasting ‘The Cult of the Amateur‘.”

“Keen dismisses what he calls the ‘militant and absurd’ buzzwords of Web 2.0: Empowering citizen media, radically democratize, smash elitism, content redistribution, authentic community.”

In his article Fost traces the notion of digital utopia back to the early days of computing, in particular the liberal politics of the 1960s anti-war and civil rights movements, arguing that “underpinning the technology movement has always been a sense of community.”. He then goes on to describe how utopians today organise themselves, but also how in the end business always takes over.

Similar warnings for realism come from Aleks Krotoski in an opinion piece in The Guardian, while reviewing the book “The Victorian Internet” by Tom Standage, who is the technology editor of The Economist.

Standage argues that today’s ‘electronic superhighway; is the heir to the more revolutionary 19th-century ‘highway of thought’. Like today’s utopians, the telegraph’s development was accompanied by cries that it would hold the answer to human fraction and foible. But in the end it was unable to stop the advance of the 20th century, economic downturn and its own inevitable downfall. It only helped spread the news faster.”

Discussing user-generated content, Krotoski writes “these spaces are increasingly being taken over by London stock exchange traders with agendas. Viva which revolution?”

- Read article by Dan Fost (San Francisco Chronicle)
Read article by Alex Krotoski (The Guardian)

5 November 2006

The Guardian magazine devoted to Web 2.0

Guardian Weekend Web 2.0 issue
Weekend, the colour magazine of the British newspaper The Guardian, is devoted to web 2.0.

It includes a lead feature by award-winning novelist John Lanchester, which doesn’t contain a lot of new insights, but provides a good overview of the topic for those who are less familiar with it. The ending though is thought-provoking:

“It struck me that everybody on the net is sitting alone at a computer screen, and many of them are wishing they weren’t alone, while also, often, in some deep way, preferring that they are alone and being nervous of the alternative. Sit someone at a computer screen and let it sink in that they are fully, definitively alone; then watch what happens. They will reach out for other people; but only part of the way. They will have “friends”, which are not the same thing as friends, and a lively online life, which is not the same thing as a social life; they will feel more connected, but they will be just as alone. Everybody sitting at a computer screen is alone. Everybody sitting at a computer screen is at the centre of the world. Everybody sitting at a computer screen, increasingly, wants everything to be all about them. This is our first glimpse of what people who grow up with the net will want from the net. One of the cleverest things about MySpace is the name.”

The Web 2.0 issue also contains a series of interviews of “the smartest and the luckiest entrepreneurs who demolished the old internet and built a brand new one”, i.e. the people behind the companies Bebo, Blogger, Craigslist, del.icio.us, Digg, Feedburner, Flickr, Last.fm, Netvibes, Technorati, Wikipedia, WordPress and Writely.

4 November 2006

Gannett to crowdsource news [Wired News]

Crowd-sourcing
“The publisher of ‘America’s newspaper’ is turning to America to get its news,” writes Jeff Howe, who coined the term ‘crowdsourcing‘, in an article on Wired News.

“According to internal documents provided to Wired News and interviews with key executives, Gannett, the publisher of USA Today as well as 90 other American daily newspapers, will begin crowdsourcing many of its newsgathering functions. Starting Friday, Gannett newsrooms were rechristened ‘information centers’, and instead of being organized into separate metro, state or sports departments, staff will now work within one of seven desks with names like ‘data’, ‘digital’ and ‘community conversation’.”

The initiative emphasizes four goals: Prioritize local news over national news; publish more user-generated content; become 24-7 news operations, in which the newspapers do less and the websites do much more; and finally, use crowdsourcing methods to put readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers and researchers in large, investigative features.

- Read full story
Post on Crowdsourcing blog with reprint of Gannett article
Post on Crowdsourcing blog with reprint of memo by CEO Craig Dubow to Gannett staffers

4 November 2006

Book: The Cell Phone – An Anthropology of Communication

The Cell Phone
“Mobile telecommunications have had a dramatic effect in many regions, but perhaps nowhere more than for low-income populations in countries such as Jamaica, where in the last few years many people have moved from no phone to cell phone. This book reveals the central role of communication in helping low-income households cope with poverty.”

“The book traces the impact of the cell phone from personal issues of loneliness and depression to the global concerns of the modern economy and the trans-national family. As the technology of social networking, the cell phone has become central to establishing and maintaining relationships in areas from religion to love. The Cell Phone presents the first detailed ethnography of the impact of this new technology through the exploration of the cell phone’s role in everyday lives.”

Authors are Heather A. Horst, a postdoctoral scholar at the Annenberg Center for Communication of University of California Berkeley, and Daniel Miller, who teaches at the Department of Anthropology of the University College London.

- Publisher’s web page on this book
Amazon link

3 November 2006

Goodbye, mobile phone bills. Hello, advertising. [International Herald Tribune]

Blyk
Pitching itself as the world’s first advertising-supported phone company, a Finnish company called Blyk plans to roll out a free mobile phone service next summer aimed at 16- to 24-year- olds, first in Britain and then elsewhere in Europe, writes Thomas Crampton in the International Herald Tribune.

“Crucial to Blyk’s system will be creating advertisements that attract users, said Antti Ohrling, co-founder of Blyk and chairman of Contra Advertising, based in Finland.”

“We intend on only advertising information that people want and in a fun way,” Ohrling said. “To succeed, we must offer an enjoyable and simple user experience.”

As one could expect, the company’s staff list is filled to the brim with former Nokia people, including its CEO Pekka Ala-Pietilä, a former president of the Nokia Corporation, and Marko Ahtisaari, its highly regarded director of brand and design, who is a former Director of Design Strategy at Nokia (and son of a former Finnish president).

But claiming an advertising supported mobile phone operator as a “disruptive and potentially revolutionising new medium” seems a bit much.

Read full story

UPDATE: 7 November 2006

Meanwhile Business Week picks up on the story. It also underlines the “gold-plated” make-up of the company. Apparently the billionaire chairman of the German software maker SAP is one of the investors. But the question remains: “Why are so many smart people backing a company that has no revenue and doesn’t even plan to start operating until next year?”.

The trick is in the advertising. “Messages will be targeted to users and be integrated seamlessly with the handset.” Advertising will “never interfere with the primary function of the phone” and “if you do it in the right way, it’s something people [will] find useful and fun.”

“If the company’s approach proves successful, industry watchers say, it could dramatically affect the mobile phone industry and pose a serious threat to existing operators.”

Though Blyk will function as a “so-called mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO, meaning it will market service under its own brand but use the wireless network of an operator still to be named”, the company still faces serious challenges.

“For example, getting young people to sign up for the service will be a challenge, as will the logistics of shipping customers the SIM cards they need to use, and making sure the technology works. […]”

“Blyk must also convince advertisers. […] It will be difficult to measure what effect the ads are having.”

Read full story