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December 2006
31 December 2006

UK Design Council on user-centred design and experience design

Design Council
The re-designed website of the UK Design Council features a series of new sections, including some on user-centred design and experience design.

User-centred design
The central premise of user-centred design is that the best-designed products and services result from understanding the needs of the people who will use them. User-centred designers engage actively with end-users to gather insights that drive design from the earliest stages of product and service development, right through the design process. Psychologist Alison Black gives an insight into how a user-centred approach can lead to innovative products and services that deliver real consumer benefit.

Experience design
Experience design concentrates on moments of engagement between people and brands, and the memories these moments create. For customers, all these moments of corporate experience combine to shape perceptions, motivate their brand commitment and influence the likelihood of repurchase in the future. Brand experience has the power to engender a greater degree of empathy, trust and loyalty from both customers and employees. Ralph Ardill of the Brand Experience Consultancy gives an overview of how experience design delivers new insights into how brands are perceived.
 
Unfortunately the experience design section is strongly brand-focused and therefore company-centric, rather than people-centric, and the write-up is seriously criticised by Peter Merholz, president of Adaptive Path, in a reaction to this post entitled “Experience design is not about brands“: “For ‘experience design’ to truly succeed as a discipline, it will need to distinguish itself from brand strategy and design, and demonstrate its distinct value as a contributor to business. Unfortunately, the Design Councils attempt at definition simply muddles things further.

Other sections that caught my eye:

  • Roger Coleman explains how inclusive design ensures that goods, services and environments are accessible to more people.
  • The ability of trends research to generate vital insights into customers’ and users’ future needs is making the practice increasingly important for all sectors. Trends expert James Woudhuysen explores the issues
  • The UK services sector is growing, but service design and its management are often poorly planned, argues Bill Hollins. This article reveals how companies can gain competitive advantage by applying design techniques when creating and improving their services.
  • Interaction design is the key skill used in creating an interface through which information technology can be manipulated, writes Nico Macdonald. As products and services are increasingly being created using information technology, interaction design is likely to become the key design skill of this century.
27 December 2006

The price of smartphone complexity

Mobile device
“Incredibly, one in seven mobile phones are returned within the first year of purchase by subscribers as faulty, according to research by Which?,” writes Doug Overton, head of communications at WDSGlobal, in Mobile Marketing Magazine.

“This statistic will doubtless raise eyebrows and drive speculation over product design flaws and standards in build performance. Further analysis into the nature of these returns, however, reveals the even more disturbing statistic that 63% of the devices being returned have no fault.”

“This figure, unearthed as part of a study into mobile device returns trends in the UK, places mobile phone ‘No Fault Found’ returns at a level 13% above the average for the consumer electronics sector.”

“With operators, manufacturers and retailers collectively covering administration, shipping and refurbishment costs approaching £35 per device, this equates to a potential cost to the UK mobile industry of £54 million, and more significantly a global industry cost of $4.5 billion (£2.3 billion).”

So why are so many devices returned without fault? WDSGlobal is working alongside a leading UK mobile retailer to implement mechanisms and services to significantly reduce the impact of the No Fault Found phenomenon. Analysis of over 15,000 monthly calls arriving at the specialist retail returns/diagnostics line provides a valuable insight into the causes behind the trend.”

Read full story

24 December 2006

Web 2.0 puts production in hands of many but rewards in hands of few

Web 2.0
“Web 2.0, by putting the means of production into the hands of the masses but withholding from those same masses any ownership over the product of their work, provides an incredibly efficient mechanism to harvest the economic value of the free labor provided by the very many and concentrate it into the hands of the very few,” argues business writer Nicholas Carr in his blog.

“Richard MacManus’s new analysis of web traffic patterns helps illustrate the point. Despite the explosion of web content, spurred in large part by the reduction in the cost of producing and consuming that content, web traffic appears to be growing more concentrated in a few sites, not less. Using data from Compete, MacManus shows that the top ten sites accounted for 40% of total internet page views in November 2006, up from 31% in November 2001, a 29% increase. The greater concentration comes during a period when the number of domains on the web nearly doubled, from 2.9 million to 5.1 million.”

“One of the fundamental economic characteristics of Web 2.0 is the distribution of production into the hands of the many and the concentration of the economic rewards into the hands of the few. It’s a sharecropping system, but the sharecroppers are generally happy because their interest lies in self-expression or socializing, not in making money, and, besides, the economic value of each of their individual contributions is trivial. It’s only by aggregating those contributions on a massive scale – on a web scale – that the business becomes lucrative.”

Read full story

(via Marketing & Strategy Innovation Blog)

22 December 2006

Best wishes from Experientia | Auguri da Experientia

wishes
More than 2000 people read Putting People First every day, a good 60% via rss and email, the rest directly on the site. I don’t know most of you, so only a few people got our email card, but there is of course this blog to wish you all a vibrant 2007!

Experientia has had a very successful 2006 and we are working for many major companies now, both from Italy and abroad. We will soon update our website to share some of these experiences with you. In two weeks we will also be moving to bigger quarters: a very beautiful apartment in the historic heart of Torino, and two floors down from where we are now. We hope that some of you can come visit us in 2007. Meanwhile take a look at this Flickr photo set to see the view from our new offices.

And do keep reading! I am not sure that I can keep up the grueling pace of over 700 posts in a year, but I will keep trying to share the culture of experience design.

Enjoy your Christmas

Più di 2000 persone leggono ogni giorno Puting People First, un bon 60% tramite rss ed email, il resto direttamente sul sito. Non conosco la maggior parte di voi, così solo poche persone hanno ricevuto la nostra email d’auguri, ma ovviamente c’è questo blog ad augurarvi un felice 2007!

Experientia ha trascorso un 2006 pieno di successi e ora stiamo lavorando per molte importanti aziende, sia italiane che straniere. Aggiorneremo presto il nostro sito per condividere alcune delle nostre esperienze con voi. Nel giro di due settimane ci sposteremo anche in una nuova e più ampia sede: un bellissimo appartamento nel cuore del centro storico di Torino, due piani più sotto di dove siamo ora. Speriamo che qualcuno di voi possa venirci a trovare nel 2007. Nel frattempo (e solo se non siete di Torino!) date uno sguardo a questo set di foto Flickr per vedere la vista di cui si può godere dai nostri nuovi uffici.

E continuate a leggerci! Non sono sicuro di mantenere ancora lo sfiancante passo di 700 post in un anno, ma continuerò a cercare di condividere con voi la cultura dell’experience design.

Enjoy your Christmas

22 December 2006

UK foresight studies identify emerging trends over the next 50 years

Sigma scan
Via the BBC I found out about the Sigma and Delta foresight scans, with nearly 250 papers that look ahead at developments over the next 50 years.

The research was commissioned by the UK Office of Science and Innovation‘s Horizon Scanning Centre, and complied by futures researchers, Outsights-Ipsos Mori partnership and the US-based Institute for the Future (IFTF).

The papers look forward at emerging trends in science, health and technology. As well as assessing the current state of thinking they also examine the possible implications for society.

SIGMA SCAN

The Sigma Scan is set up as a database of 146 issue papers that provide a brief description of a particular trend or development and a projection of how, given a range of possible conditions, it may unfold in the future and influence the course of events over the next 50 years. The site navigation is rather idiosyncratic and not very user-friendly. But in fact, it is not so bad: you just click on one of the five themes, and on the next page simply hit the “search” button. Here are some of the papers that caught my interest (in no particular order):

  • Come together: Virtual communities, multiple identities?
    New forms of communities are emerging, enabled by new technology and drawn together by shared interests from across the globe. As membership becomes more common, we may see people adopting multiple identities in the convergence of virtual and real worlds. The phenomenon has the potential to unleash huge creative forces and foster social capital. However it may also challenge legislators as it permits new forms of criminal behaviour.
     
  • From consumer to creator: The content revolution and the rise of the creative class
    Consumers are harnessing media previously beyond their grasp technically or economically to express themselves creatively and to earn money. This has come about through innate creativity; accessibility of equipment (eg digital cameras); means to manipulate content (eg easy-to-use software); virtual sharing communities. Creative content may grow exponentially, spawning a new ‘creative class’. Consumer behaviour may change from plain consumption to customisation or co-production.
     
  • The digitisation of knowledge: The wholesale transfer of conventional knowledge media to online sources
    Forms of knowledge and the means of sustaining them for public good are moving online at an exponential rate. The continuation of this online trend may herald radical changes in learning and work. It may or may not imply radically different patterns of knowledge use.
     
  • Technology to empower the greying generation
    Currently, we design for a ‘youth-obsessed society’. It is often thought by designers that older people have little interest in design and in many situations the issue becomes not one of tastes but of needs. However, information technologies are becoming ever more essential for participating in modern life. Potentially they provide a valuable means of keeping people mentally active and in touch with friends and family, as well as providing a convenient means of doing shopping and obtaining advice. Yet computers can be very hard for older people to use, leading to their exclusion from this central aspect of society. There is likely to be high demand for significant redesign of user interfaces – for example, the introduction of speech recognition or the improvement of haptic (touch-sensitive) interfaces.
     
  • Sensory transformation: life in a cloud of data
    Over the next ten years, increasing numbers of computational devices may be embedded in physical objects, places, and even human beings, that would provide considerable amounts of additional information about their environment. Access to this information may enhance our sensory experience, but also stretch our sensory capacity beyond current capabilities. Information technologies (e.g. ambient displays and so-called “calm” technologies) look likely to play a major role as a medium and mediator of social and professional communication. Also, by 2015 displays and interaction may be ubiquitous and provide rich sensory experiences. High-resolution and haptic (or force-feedback) displays, that allow users to feel and touch virtual objects with a high degree of realism, could become more immersive and lifelike.
     
  • Virtual democracy?: Political activity goes online
    Democratic politics may increasingly be conducted online. Ease of access may allow citizens to virtually interact with political representatives eg mass referenda. Vast numbers may be able to register their opinions on topical issues almost instantaneously. This may revive the democratic process but also prompt debate about the nature of democracy itself, increasing pressure for constitutional reform and the creation of new outlets for participation in public life.
     
  • The end of ownership?: Ubiquitous leasing of manufactured goods
    Virtually all fixed assets may be leased to businesses and consumers rather than be owned by them. Leasing could extend from property and large machinery (e.g. all vehicles might be leased) to smaller appliances (e.g. computer hardware, furniture).
     
  • Innovation communities: Open-source, cooperative R&D
    The information economy allows technology development through global research and development, but high costs for specific applications sometimes make it risky, especially in competitive industries. Private and public sectors may combine resources to develop solutions more quickly, efficiently and mitigate risk. Internet and collaborative tools may facilitate this, with open source model allowing savings in costs.
     
  • Technology’s child: the advent of young, tech-literate commercial talent
    The economy may become dependent on those who are highly technologically skilled. While some workers may be immigrants, the majority are likely to be have grown up with the technology and been through a work focused, IT-oriented education. Without re-education or re-skilling, declining demand for unskilled labour may depress their earning potential and prospects. The knowledge economy’s increasing importance may mean increasing inequality.
     
  • From information to insight: Intelligent support and the conquest of information overload
    Computer agents equipped with artificial intelligence may automatically scan, filter and process information, reporting it to users in various targeted forms to aid business and personal life. Able to monitor, analyse, learn and understand natural languages in real time, these systems may help people become highly information-literate, process vast information quantities effectively from multiple inputs, and enable faster informed choices. This may boost productivity.

DELTA SCAN

Also the Delta Scan works as a forum for scanning the science and technology horizon over the next 50 years. The forum contains a hundred outlook pages covering a wide range of scientific disciplines and technologies. The Delta Scan was produced by the Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley think-tank, as part of a project for the Horizon Scanning Centre of the United Kingdom’s Office of Science and Innovation. The database is hosted by the Stanford University Foresight Research group, housed in the university’s Wallenberg Center. Also here a selection of papers:

  • Ambient displays at the human-computer interface
    Developments in display technology may increase the repertoire of interactions between users and digital media by increasing the number of sites for ‘ambient’ displays.
     
  • Computing on the human platform
    Interaction between personal electronic products, mediated by human skin, may lead to new, and greater use of, invasive applications.
     
  • The end of cyberspace
    The concept of cyberspace as a distinct geographical entity has influenced the way we think about information technology, e-commerce, copyright, and high-tech products. New technologies are revealing a more complex relation between data-space and the real world, with consequences in all these areas.
     
  • New technologies for cooperation
    New technologies for cooperation and a better understanding of cooperative strategies may create a new capacity for rapid, ad hoc, and distributed decision making.
     
  • The rise of proactive and context-aware computing
    Proactive and context-aware computer systems that anticipate users’ needs and perform tasks in a timely and context-sensitive manner may begin to have an impact within the next 10 years.
     
  • Human brain: the next frontier
    The next 20 years are likely to witness a revolution in our understanding of the human brain, with implications for virtually every domain of human activity, from mental health to software design and academic performance and real-life decision- making.
     
  • Artificial extensions of human capabilities
    A wide range of technologies, from pharmaceuticals to implantable devices, and specialised cognitive or behavioural training (leading to regional brain activation through functional imaging), will enable extensions of human bodies, senses, and capabilities. This will lead to redefinition of various boundaries: natural versus artificial, alive versus dead, individual versus collective.
     
  • The rise of applied anthropology
    The rise of applied anthropology is likely to challenge the traditional structure of the discipline.
     
  • Studying human behaviour in cyberspace
    Cyber-ethnography, defined as the study of online interaction, is likely to become an important area of anthropological research as more and more human activities are conducted in cyberspace.
22 December 2006

Fiat engages in online dialogue with its customers

Fiat
“Fiat is promoting its new ‘Bravo‘ car model engaging a transparent and sincere discussion with its potential customers through the blog Quelli che Bravo,” writes Emanuele Quintarelli on his blog.

“The name is not so innovative, mimicking a well known italian soccer related TV program, but the approach is indeed quite new: presenting the ideas, the actual phases of design, drafts, materials, reflections and several considerations about the challenges involved in a 6 week process (for a car this is an extremely fast cycle).”

“Comments are moderated but visitors can still make their points to get answers (and Fiat employees are effectively giving answers) and the blog is well integrated with videos on YouTube and photos from Flickr.”

“The idea is to show the real people that are often hidden behind a product, their faces and their work. Not only strategic analysts or branding managers but also men that assemble the pieces a car is made of.”

Read full story

22 December 2006

Usability as strategy (or Usability 2.0)

Closed Loop Marketing
“Organizations aiming to tap into the full power of usability are those who are willing and able to utilize it as one of their core principles,” argues Lance Loveday, founder and CEO of Closed Loop Marketing, in a guest column in GotoMedia.

“But this is not for the faint of heart. To be willing to change your entire online marketing approach, and possibly even your business strategy, in response to what your customers tell you they want requires an unwavering belief that a good customer experience will yield good business results. It also requires the ability, and even willingness, to be wrong on occasion.”

“This requires a level of transparency and humility that does not come naturally to most organizations. It takes leaders who believe that focusing on the needs of their users is not just a good thing, but the best thing, for their business.”

Read full story

20 December 2006

Nokia research on shared phone practices

Shared phone practices
What happens when people share an object that is inherently designed for personal use?

Jan Chipchase and Indri Tulusan of Nokia Research set out explore this topic during a July 2006 field study in Uganda with a brief to understand how people share mobile phones. The research builds on prior research from India, China, Nepal and Mongolia and Indonesia.

Research abstract

The research team identified 6 shared use practices:

  • an informal service called Sente that essentially enables a mobile phone owner to function as an ATM machine;
  • mediated communication that neatly side-steps issues of technological and textual literacy;
  • the ever popular practice of making missed calls;
  • the pooling of resources to buy the lowest denominations of pre-paid airtime and extend the access days for the phone that is topped up;
  • the use of community address books to reduce errors and (supposedly) encourage phone kiosk customer loyalty;
  • and finally Step Messaging – the delivery of text and spoken messages on foot.

Whilst the baseline benefits of sole ownership and use of a mobile phone are personal, convenient, synchronous and asynchronous communication, the personal and convenient aspects of mobile phone ownership are compromised by sharing. This support the notion that phone sharing (as it is defined at the beginning of the essay) is seen as more of a transition to sole ownership than a naturally stable state.

For many poorer consumers in emerging markets other people’s perception that you are connected is the status symbol, a sign that you have arrived and in some senses are worth connecting to. When most of the members of a person’s peer group , or society are connected the focus of status shifts to the brand and model of device. phone ownership is not the same as use – if there are cheaper ways to communicate these will be used.

We are increasingly coming across what have termed unlikely consumers, where feature rich and once premium devices in the hands of the very poor and the myriad of ways the devices get there we have dubbed sideways adoption. Today the front-line of telecommunications innovation is in connecting the unconnected, and its a matter of time before today’s unlikely consumers become tomorrow’s innovators.

- research abstract
- research essay
- PowerPoint presentation (7 mb)
- list of related research

20 December 2006

Alcatel-Lucent CTO sees telco future of “comminfotainment” [International Herald Tribune]

Olivier Baujard
“When Olivier Baujard looks into his digital crystal ball, he sees us all being customers of ‘comminfotainment’ providers.”

“Within five years or so, the familiar land-line “telco” and even the mobile operator will disappear, in his view. Instead, broadband service providers will replace them, selling packages, bundles or channels of communications, information and entertainment.”

“As the new year draws near, it is worth stopping for a moment to look forward, and Baujaurd’s view of the future is worth taking under advisement since, as chief technology officer of Alcatel-Lucent, the telecommunications equipment giant, part of his job is to peer a few years downstream.”

Read full story

20 December 2006

Vodafone’s Receiver magazine on gaming and playing

Vodafone Receiver 17
Vodafone has just published the 17th issue of Receiver, its online magazine on the future of communications technologies, which is entirely devoted to gaming and playing.

“While the urge to play is a human universal, gaming cultures differ widely across different societies – that goes for the games people enjoy as well as how they enjoy them. You can play with interactive media alone or to socialise, to compete or to relax, at home or in the street. What is play and what’s in a game?”

In “The space to play“, Matt Jones, director of user experience design for Nokia Design Multimedia, explores themes from his research into the universal human urge to play – and how it relates to the way we design our technology, our environments and our future.

Lucky Wander Boy – the microsurgeon winner” is the title of a story about a man who finds a purpose through and is ruined by his obsession with video games. It is written by D.B. Weiss, who is currently in the headlines for working on the script for a movie adaption of the “Halo” video game series.

In “Gaming International“, Jim Rossignol, a British technology author specialising in video games, tells us about his experiences in Seoul and compares European and Asian approaches to gaming.

Mobile gaming – the troubled teenage years” is the title of a contribution by technology writer Stuart Dredge, in which he takes a look at the future of mobile gaming, focusing on how mobile games could move beyond the familiar hits like Tetris and Pac-Man to new concepts blending innovation and connectivity.

In “Games in spite of themselves“, Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn of the Belgian design studio Tale of Tales discuss “The Endless Forest”, a multiplayer game in which everybody plays a deer.

In “Playing by creating“, David Edery, the Worldwide Games Portfolio Planner for Xbox Live Arcade (Microsoft) tells us why we should be excited about user-generated content.

Playing the news“: games are the new news, argues Gonzalo Frasca, a video game theorist and developer, currently researching serious gaming at IT University of Copenhagen, and the co-founder of Powerful Robot Games, a studio known for its work on election video games as well as its newsgaming.com project.

In “Three play effects – Eliza, Tale-Spin and SimCity“, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, a digital media creator and scholar whose current work focuses on digital fiction and play, looks at three different models of what we experience through play.

Finally “Interaction as an aesthetic event“, is the title of the contribution by media theorist Lev Manovich, a Professor of Visual Arts at UCSD, in which he takes a look at the playful user interaction in recent cell phone models and other personal information technology.

20 December 2006

More on Dutch cultural heritage and audience understanding

Dutch heritage conference
Last week I wrote about the lack of online audience understanding at Dutch cultural institutions.

Jos Taekema, director of Digital Heritage Netherlands, provided me with some further insight:

“For sure Dutch heritage institutions could do a lot more on understanding the needs, ideas and desires of their audience, but it is not correct to think that they are entirely on a different planet. The bigger institutions (like the National Library, the National Archive, the Rijksmuseum, Naturalis, the Van Gogh Museum, the National Museums of Ethnology and Antiquities) do indeed conduct online research, mainly through Ruigrok/Netpanel. The Dutch Association of Archives provides a sector arrangement on web usability tests via a specialised consultancy. The Museum Association in collaboration with TNS/NIP is the main provider of audience research of physical visitors via the museum monitor.”

“During the conference next year though it will be useful and interesting to put a stronger emphasis on qualitative research and the appropriate methodologies.”

17 December 2006

What if your laptop knew how you felt? [Christian Science Monitor]

Mona Lisa
“Faces reveal emotions, and researchers in fields as disparate as psychology, computer science and engineering are joining forces under the umbrella of ‘affective computing’ to teach machines to read expressions,” writes Cristian Lupsa in the Christian Science Monitor.

“Computers can now analyse a face from video or a still image and infer almost as accurately as humans (or better) the emotion it displays.”

Mind Reader, a system developed by the MIT Affective Computing Group uses input from a video camera to perform real-time analysis of facial expressions.”

“If [these researchers] succeed, your computer may one day ‘read’ your mood and play along. Machines equipped with emotional skills could also be used in teaching, robotics, gaming, sales, security, law enforcement, and psychological diagnosis.”

Read full story

17 December 2006

The home is not about efficiency or technology

Intel's Genevieve Bell observing in a French kitchen
Genevieve Bell, a highly respected anthropologist and director of user experience at Intel, writes in the latest issue of Fast Company about the fallacy of trying to make the home more rational:

“The challenge for technology companies isn’t to see the home as another place where we can rationalise production.”

“The digital home is never going to be about technology–it’s about the people who live there. We have slow-moving cultural paradigms, and ‘home’ means something in our imaginations. In England and America, you say, ‘My home is my castle.’ In India, people talk metaphorically about their homes as ‘pure’ and the outside world as ‘polluted.’ In Indonesia, home means grace, modesty and simplicity.”

“The things that people care about aren’t changing– we’re curious, we want to be socially connected and spiritually inspired. The home is not a blank slate waiting for technology to arrive.”

Read full story

17 December 2006

User interface of the $100 laptop

User interface of the $100 laptop
The user interface for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, the initiative to put $100 laptops in the hands of children around the world led by Nicholas Negroponte, the founding director of the MIT Media Lab, “uses a highly abstracted spatial navigation metaphor, an extension of the familiar desktop metaphor, for easy, intuitive navigation that makes the most of the laptop’s networking capabilities. “

“The OLPC interface is icon-based and has four levels of view: Home, Friends, Neighborhood, and Activity. Users can move outward from the Home view, where they can set preferences like color, to the Friends view, where they can chat with their friends, to the larger Neighborhood view, where they can locate other users and gather around an activity. The Activity view looks inward: children, alone or together, can focus on a project at hand. In each view, a toolbar-like frame is available that organizes navigation, people, activities and files around the four sides of the view.”

Lisa Strausfeld, Christian Marc Schmidt and Takaaki Okada of Pentagram Design are working on the design of the laptop interface in close collaboration with the OLPC development team, including president Walter Bender and designer Eben Eliason. Production on the laptops is scheduled for mid-2007.

Read full story

UPDATE – 2 January 2007

- Low-cost laptop could transform learning [AP article]
- One Laptop Per Child News
- Article on the OLPC Sugar User Interface emulator
- OLPC Human Interface Guidelines

- Video demo of the OLPC Sugar User Interface

UPDATE – 11 January 2007

- $100 Laptop’s/OLPC’s user interface looks good, but …

17 December 2006

Can mobile phones give you ‘presence?’ [International Herald Tribune]

Mobile phone presence
The International Herald Tribune today features serial entrepreneur Jyri Engeström and his Jaiku mobile phone software, “which allows people to learn where their friends are, what they are doing, who is with them and what time they last used the phone (and for how long). The service also alerts users when a friend posts a photograph or blog entry on the Internet.”

“For those who do share their whereabouts and activities through Jaiku, a photo and their status appears on friends’ phones. Actions like selecting a quiet ring tone will tell all friends that you cannot be disturbed.”

The article goes on to raise some important privacy and social concerns.

Read full story

17 December 2006

Dutch heritage conference highlights lack of audience understanding

Dutch heritage conference
Last week Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken spoke at a cultural heritage conference in the Netherlands on audience research and playful interfaces. It was a revealing experience.

Current practices in people-centred design, user research and participatory processes have barely affected Dutch cultural institutions.

Culture and heritage institutions have a supply driven approach, and this applies also to their digital and online services. They do a lot, but know virtually nothing about the demand: their (potential) audience’s size, composition, habits, values, needs and expectations, and on what that might mean for the online offerings and the relation between online and offline. They have no empirical tools to gain such understandings and often see demand driven approaches as a threat to their core mission.

Visit our site

This is confirmed by the report “Visit our site” (“Bezoek onze site”) published last week by the social and cultural planning office of the Dutch Government (available as pdf in Dutch only). The report provides an overview of the current state of digitisation of the cultural “supply” (i.e. the enormous amount of materials that together constitute the Dutch cultural heritage), in order to make it “available” to a wider audience.

The introduction already reveals the main issue: “Given the amount of materials, not everything can be digitised”, and therefore “experts set priorities based on the demand of the audience — the presumed demand that is, because information on audience demand is scarce.” [My translation]

“A main reason for digitisation is the wish to make cultural contents available to a wider audience. However most institutions know little about the demand, i.e. the needs and expectations of their visitors, and therefore have no idea to what extent the information they supply addresses a demand.”

The report shows quite clearly that web statistics and a few occasional surveys are about the only information that Dutch cultural institutions have about their online audiences. The various chapters have long sections describing the information that institutions supply and short ones on what they know about their audiences, and this applies across the board: theatre, visual arts and architecture, music, cinema, multimedia, museums, archives, monuments, archeology, and public broadcasting, with libraries perhaps being somewhat of an exception.

The lack of insight in current people research practices is also revealed by the report itself. In a final chapter it addresses the “three methods to understand how cultural information is used on the internet”, which turn out to be web statistics, audience questionnaires and interviews, and general opinion polls. The report doesn’t acknowledge the qualitative research methods that provide an insight in what people actually do rather than what they say they do, such as contextual inquiries, ethnography, task and flow analysis, shadowing, card storing, etc.

Click to the past

“Click to the past” (“Klik naar het verleden”) is the title of a 2006 report (also available as pdf) published by the same Dutch government office. It provides probably the best available insight on the users of digital heritage information online. It is based on a doctoral dissertation by Henrieke Wubs, one of the report authors.

A statistical (cluster) analysis of a national survey of the Dutch population (2003) identified a number of user types, depending on their interest and participation in cultural heritage. The survey, which was wide-ranging and covered many aspects of social and cultural involvement, assessed both physical and virtual visits to cultural institutions.

The clusters are: all rounders (4% of the population), which are very active lovers of the cultural heritage, art lovers (8%), members of cultural heritage organisations (5.6%), collectors (8%), browsers (9%), family visitors (16%), day tourists (11%), passive readers (8%), and the non-active population (30%).

The cluster analysis was then refined through focus group conversations, with the participants representing each of the clusters that were identified. The rich qualitative data provide probably the best available insight into habits, values, needs and expectations of the (potential) Dutch cultural audience.

Museum examples

Revealing were a series of conference presentations on the latest tools developed by top Dutch museums. The world-renowned Rijksmuseum for instance experiments a lot with new online tools, including AJAX applications, rss feeds, widgets and educational games. But they just push things online, based on a hit-and-miss approach, hoping that people will like it.

Villa Koopzicht

One welcome exception was the presentation by serial entrepreneur Jeroen Loeffen of Villa Koopzicht.

Loeffen is a serial entrepreneur. His latest venture is based on a very simple platform to create user- or community-generated web journals. He has been implementing this bottom-up communications approach first in schools and in networks of children and youngsters, learning a great deal about these digital natives in the process.

But he has also convinced the Dutch Postal Services (KPN) and a major insurance company to apply the same system for their own internal communications.

Interestingly, Loeffen confirms that these user-generated journals in a very short time become the dominant communications channels of the organisations involved, who are usually not prepared for this. Senior management are having the most problems with these channels they do not control and see them often as threats. Loeffen’s key task at the moment is consulting management in making a major cultural leap.

His main recommendation to the cultural heritage sector: if you really want to go for participatory processes and give your audience a say, be prepared to fundamentally change your institutions.

15 December 2006

Cisco focuses on end-user experience [IDG News Service]

Cisco's human network
“Cisco’s development approach is changing as the consumer and enterprise worker experience becomes more important [and] is learning how to please novice users,” writes Stephen Lawson on IDG News Service.

“The shift comes as the company both moves into the consumer arena through service providers and its Linksys brand, and tries to give networks a bigger role in enterprise applications that face regular employees, Charles Giancarlo, Cisco’s chief development officer and president of Linksys said Wednesday at the C-Scape analyst conference in San Jose, California.”

“While I don’t expect us to be the equivalent of Sony any time soon, more and more we’ll be in front of the consumer, and more and more we’ll be certainly in front of the business user, with our phones, with the user interface on the PCs, with Telepresence, et cetera,” Giancarlo said.

Cisco’s corporate website now features a range of human network stories to underline its commitment to the user experience.

Read full story

15 December 2006

The user experience of executive dashboards

Example dashboard screen
“Executive Dashboards present an interesting array of design challenges ranging in all areas of user experience,” writes Joe Lamantia on Boxes and Arrows, and he mentions information design, interaction design and information architecture as examples of the challenges involved.

[An executive dashboard is a portal that combines business intelligence systems and browser-based applications to summarize the status of a complex enterprise for senior decision-makers.]

He will address these challenges in a six-part series over the next few months.

The first article looks at problems facing dashboards “which can be addressed by using a system of components that fit together to form a whole.”

“Much like IKEA uses interchangeable islands, counters, and cupboards to create a custom kitchen, by using a system of tiles, it is possible to create an executive dashboard that effectively serves all its users.”

Read full story

15 December 2006

Interview with author of “Designing Pleasurable Products”

Designing Pleasurable Products
Design & Emotion published an interview with Dr. Patrick W. Jordan, owner and ceo of Contemporary Trends Institute [CTI], an international trends and branding consultancy, former vice-president of Symbian, and author of the book “Designing Pleasurable Products” which is often quoted in articles and books that focus on the emotional experience of design and products.

I particularly like the fact that Jordan prefers the term ‘pleasure’ to ‘emotion’. It is a broad concept that is also a guiding principle in our own work.

Read full interview

14 December 2006

Design 21, a social design network, in partnership with UNESCO

Design21
Design 21: Social Design Network is an online community, created in partnership with UNESCO, where members of the design community, socially conscious individuals, local governments, businesses and non-profit organizations (NPOs) can address social concerns and create smart solutions through design.

It’s a place where like-minded people can connect to share resources, inspire each other and take action.

Design21 seeks to explore the relationship between design and society. They believe that design should be more than an aesthetic exercise; that the real beauty lies in its potential to improve the way that we live and interact in our communities and our environment.

(via David Report)