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Putting People First

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December 2006
14 December 2006

Philips Design on sustainability and the virtual world

Chulha stove
The January 2007 issue of ‘new value by One Design’ (what’s up with that name?), the quarterly magazine of Philips Design, is devoted to articles on sustainability and the virtual world. Some highlights:

Helping 400 million people give up smoking
The article provides background and insight on the design and development of the Chulha smokeless stove, a wood-burning stove primarily aimed at people living at very low income in India. Senior Product Designer Karma Lendup Bhutia reflects further on how Philips Design is striving to fully understand and address the needs of emerging markets.

Taking on a Second Life
Philips Design is entering Second Life, as reported earlier, to co-design new products and propositions with Second Life residents, testing virtual ideas and concepts to better understand what people may value. Justin Bovington of the virtual design agency Rivers Run Red, a Philips partner, shares his perspective on the partnership.

14 December 2006

Good user experience at Microsoft

A Changing Culture
The lead article on the Microsoft design site is about changing the corporate culture through a focus on good user experiences.

The article, written by Chris Bernard, Microsoft’s user experience ‘evangelist’ (and also reproduced on his blog), doesn’t provide drastic new insights for readers of this blog.

Bernard though takes his title of ‘evangelist’ (a job title that makes me cringe, as it refers too much to the American Christian right) seriously and sings the praises of his company left and right:

“I feel empowered to be a designer at Microsoft because it’s perhaps one of the only companies that puts as much effort into making great design and development tools as it does in software for consumers and the enterprise. We’re far from seeing the best that Microsoft has to offer with some of the technology that drives Vista, digital devices and cross-platform technologies for the Web. But the tools and the hooks into our technology are there right now. Whether you develop standards based applications for the Web, rich media applications that run in the browser, or have a desire to extend your customers’ reach with next-generation technology on the desktop and in digital devices, Microsoft is creating a new paradigm for creating compelling digital experiences.”

Read full story

A more sobering article on Microsoft’s user experience efforts was written by David Pogue, the technology columnist of the New York Times. He calls Windows Vista great on looks (though in large part copied from Mac OS X), more secure, but sometimes rather inconsistent in its interface implementation. Yet on the whole Pogue gives it a pass.

13 December 2006

Crowdsourcing product development

CrowdSpirit
What blogs, citizen journalism and YouTube have done for media, CrowdSpirit hopes to do for product development, reports Springwise.

“The Scottish-French venture’s focus is on harnessing the power of crowds to allow inventors and adaptors to take their products [currently mainly electronics] to market. By involving end-users in every aspect of a product’s life-cycle, CrowdSpirit aims to set off a crowdsourced manufacturing revolution.”

“How it works: inventors submit ideas for innovative new products and contributors submit problems for inventors to work on. Members vote, define a product’s specifications, and can invest money to finance development. After a first prototype has been created, selected members test and help fine-tune in cooperation with manufacturers. Once the stage of product development has been completed, contributors continue to be involved, for example by acting as a product’s ambassador and promoting it to retailers, or by providing product support, like translating instruction manuals.”

Springwise questions how customer-manufacturers will be rewarded for their efforts: “As trendwatching.com points out in its briefing about the customer-made trend (a.k.a. co-creation), “as co-creators get smarter and realise how much they’re worth, expect kick-backs for co-created goods and services to go up. If you don’t pay a fair share, talented members of the global brain will take their business elsewhere”.”

Read full story

(via David Carlson)

12 December 2006

Don Norman outlines three challenges for HCI

Don_norman
The ever-increasing complexity of everyday things, the ever-increasing burden of security, authentication, and identification and the ever-increasing use of automation are according to Don Norman the three large, overriding issues in the field of human-computer interaction.

After all, he writes in an article in Interactions magazine, “the invisible, ubiquitous computer has arrived, ensnaring almost any conceivable activity within its grasp” and “if the computer is everywhere, then everything is within our domain of study.”

Norman’s main lesson for the field of human-computer interaction:

“Let us learn from the introduction of technology to other domains. Let us work to ensure that the trend toward higher complexity, onerous security demands, and over-automation is stopped. Mind you, the problems faced in these domains are real, so in reducing complexity, we must still figure out how to give people the choices they want and need. In reducing the complexity of security, we must still manage to increase the security, distinguishing when it is necessary to identify someone from when it is simply necessary to know if they are authorized to use a service. And in introducing automation into everyday things, let us provide the benefits but be ever wary of introducing the perils of over-automation.”

Read full story

12 December 2006

We need theories of experience design

The Coca-Cola Pavilion
“We lack an objective perspective to measure the success of our work and commentaries to improve upon it,” argues design consultant Bob Jacobson in a recent post on his blog Total Experience.

Instead we have to place our reliance “on first-hand, insider accounts as a source of knowledge”.

Jacobson focuses particularly on the lack of formal criticism in the field of experience design.

It is a realisation that is all the more prominent to him now that he is working on a book on the field.

“In it, I’ll be highlighting best practices drawn from case studies in a variety of experience-design disciplines. My goal is to extract certain overarching principles and methodologies that can be synthesised as theories of experience design.” […]

“Experience design is still considered mainly an art, because (in my opinion) of a radical disconnect between those who study experience (cognitive scientists, environmental psychologists, etc.) and the designers who create experiences.”

Read full story

7 December 2006

The Boston Globe interviews Marvin Minsky on book “The Emotion Machine”

Marvin Minsky
Carey Goldberg of the The Boston Globe interviewed computer science professor Marvin Minsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on his new book “The Emotion Machine“.

In the book he “argues that, contrary to popular conception, emotions aren’t distinct from rational thought; rather, they are simply another way of thinking, one that computers could perform.”

In the interview Minsky talks about emotions, love, the self, how to build emotions into a machine, and how that might affect everyday life.

Read full story (mirror in Int’l Herald Tribune)

6 December 2006

Motorola’s Motofone experience website

Motofone experience
Motorola put together a fancy and slick flash website describing how they created the user experience for their new Motofone.

The site gives much insight on the design process including sections on the design of the screen, durability, icons, battery life, audio and disassembly. It also features short audio profiles of the project designers.

The Motofone experience site doesn’t say much however about the user interface and people’s interaction with it, traditionally a weak spot in the Motorola experience, nor does it reveal much about how they actually involved mobile phone users in the process. Instead, it puts the emphasis on form factors and mainly positions the phone as a well-crafted object.

Launch Motofone experience website

4 December 2006

Dreaming of people-centred RSS feeds

Rss_icon
To write a professional blog like Putting People First, one needs to scan a lot of material. In fact, Putting People First would be impossible to compile without the help of RSS. I am subscribed to a great many of them. 331 at the moment. You can see them here.

RSS helps me a lot of course. With one click, I can see what has been updated on 331 websites without having to go any of the 331 websites involved, or without having to scan through material that I have scanned or read already before.

But RSS is not yet a mature technology. Much could be improved to make it more helpful, more practical and more pleasurable to use. In fact, if an innovative tech company were to embark on a qualitative, ethnographic study of 10-12 people who use RSS regularly (with both more and less intensity than I do), I am sure that a great many design opportunities would arise. When carefully implemented, prototyped and tested, this could quickly position the company as the leading innovator in this very handy and practical technology.

In its current incarnation, RSS is a simple and blind technology. Through a feed reader (or “aggregator”), I can check a list of feeds (which are basically XML-versions of a blog or website) and display any new or updated articles on these feeds directly in my feed reader.

RSS is not “Web 2.0″ in and by itself. There is nothing particularly social in the experience of using it. RSS feeds do not become better because more people read them.

So let me set out five areas for improvement, which are based on using Bloglines but also largely apply to other online readers such as Rojo and NewsGator:

Feeds are dumb
Most news websites provide thematic RSS feeds. For instance BBC News has a feed on technology-related articles that I am subscribed to. I now receive all the BBC News articles on technology, including many that I am not at all interested in. I cannot refine my feed through the BBC, nor can I benefit from the shared intelligence of the many others who are also subscribed to the same BBC technology feed and have similar interests as I do. We all have to keep on going through the same weeding process and we cannot benefit from each other’s weeding. Yes, there are services as Digg, del.icio.us and others, but nothing that allows me to fine-tune my various feed subscriptions. I am stuck with having to read large amounts of material that I am not at all interested in.

Aggregators are dumb
I have my particular RSS behaviour: I click on certain titles to read the full post or go to the original site that it was posted on. So I portray a certain behaviour through my choices and selections. But this behavioural pattern is not registered and cleverly used to fine-tune my RSS feeds and to gradually supply me with more articles that are relevant for me and weed out the ones that are not.

The way feeds are displayed is too standard and too rigid
The way a reader shows the RSS feeds s not very sophisticated: I get to see the title, an excerpt, the first 50 words or so, or the full post, and it is often not even I who decides on that. When people publish full posts via their RSS feeds (as I do), some things tend not to show up, e.g. YouTube video links. I also loose any graphic sense of the originating blog or site, even though that is sometimes relevant. For instance, BBC News (again) has leading features and smaller stories. In RSS this qualitative difference disappears. I cannot see when a blog undergoes a graphic redesign, unless the author writes about it. I don’t even know when a feed is no longer working, unless I go through convoluted steps, like opening folders, scrolling a lot, and looking at tiny exclamation points. The graphic style of my feed reader is not customisable. I can make the text bigger or smaller, nothing else. Flexible use is also not supported: I cannot choose to be selectively updated on the comments of one particular blog entry, without having to read all comments on all other blog entries of that feed as well. I cannot sort my feeds or my feed results in some meaningful way. I cannot create hierarchies within my feeds: as I may want to read all posts from some blogs but only some from others.

Who are my RSS feed readers?
I have no idea. I know a great deal less about them than I know of the people who access the blog directly. Any free web analytics programme (e.g. Statcounter, Google Analytics, Logdy, MeasureMap, etc.) provides me with much richer insight on my regular blog readers, than dedicated services such as FeedBurner provide me on my RSS readers. I have no insight at all. I only know how many there are and which aggregators they use. Luckily about 10% my RSS readers read the RSS updates every morning via e-mail, so I know those people’s email addresses. I review them sometimes, and it is nice to recognise a company name, a country code, or even a person’s name. It makes it all a lot more human. But I know nothing about the other 90%.

Restricted RSS
RSS is limited to public blogs and websites. We at Experientia use a lot of password protected blogs to manage projects and share their results but these protected blogs don’t provide functioning RSS feeds. I can also not subscribe via RSS to password protected Yahoo! Groups. There is no real clever integration yet between email and RSS, which might be nice given the amount of email spam these days, redirecting POP3 emails to RSS is just for geeks, and sending an email directly from RSS is still impossible.

There is a lot to be done. I didn’t even talk about the process of subscribing itself, which has its own set of problems.

Note that this article is but the point of view of one person, and other people will have other issues and other needs. Yet it’s worth understanding them.

It may also be that some of these functions already exist, that some companies are working on them. I hope they do. But I have not yet heard about them. And this is the problem. After all, I am a heavy user and write every day about people-centred use of technologies. So mine is still the mainstream experience of using RSS.

And frankly, it is just not good enough.

4 December 2006

How long until the mobile is the heart of entertainment?

ReThink
“When we first began thinking of the mobile phone as ‘our identity’ it became obvious overnight that it was the most personal and handy portal for all entertainment services. But how long will it take until that eventuality comes about.”

This is the central question of a rather technology-focused foresight piece published by Faultline, the weekly newsletter of Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm, and reprinted in The Register.

“It’s not hard to see that the mobile phone, modeled as it is more and more on the Star Trek communicator from our childhood TV shows, will take on more and more significance in our lives, acting as the ultimate personal collection of thoughts, memories, schedules, diary, preferences and an indication of just where we are on the planet.”

The article goes on to describe all the upcoming technologies that should make this possible “in the 2010 to 2012 time frame” without even spending one paragraph on what people would actually want or like and how to design for that.

Read full story

4 December 2006

UN warns on password ‘explosion’ [BBC]

Password explosion
“Growing use of the web is stripping people of their personal privacy, warns a UN agency report” reports the BBC.

“The number of passwords and logins web users need makes it inevitable they will re-use phrases, warned the International Telecommunications Union.”

“Re-using these identifiers puts people at serious risk of falling victim to identity theft, said the ITU report.”

“As well as being dangerous, being forced to generate so many login names and passwords wasted time and was very unwieldy, said the report.”

“It called on regulators and businesses to find better ways for people to identify themselves to websites.”

Read full story

4 December 2006

Customer experience strategies revealed as patchy [UsabilityNews]

Customer Engagement Survey
“There is a gap between what organisations realise is important about customer experience and what they are actually doing in practice,” writes Ann Light in UsabilityNews.

“A survey from cScape and e-consultancy records that 64% of company respondents believe joined-up online and offline experiences are essential for engaging with their audience. However, some 60% of companies are either not very advanced at mapping customer experiences and identifying touch-points (36%), or admit they have to start looking at this because they are not doing it all (24%).”

“The survey of agencies and organisations involved more than 800 respondents, all internet and/or customer experience professionals answering questions on customer experience measurement, methods of customer engagement and barriers to effective delivery.”

Read full story

4 December 2006

Stanford Business School launches executive course in customer-focused innovation

Customer-focused innovation at Stanford
The Stanford d.school and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business recently teamed up to teach an executive education course called Customer-Focused Innovation.

According to Prof. Bob Sutton, the course combines “more traditional ‘business school’ case style instruction and lecture at the Graduate School of Business with the more hands-on ‘design thinking’ approach that we use at the Stanford d.school.”

Good for Stanford, but the Europeans are a few steps ahead this time. Major companies in Denmark recently launched an entire people-driven innovation academy aimed at executives, lead by a former senior design anthropologist at Microsoft.

Read full story

(via d.News)

3 December 2006

Temporary ‘social’ cellphone numbers let users stay private [International Herald Tribune]

Private Phone
“In an age of information oversharing, the mobile-phone number is one of the few pieces of personal information that people still choose to guard,” writes Anna Jane Grossman in the International Herald Tribune.

“Unwanted calls are intrusive, time-consuming and can cost money if you are abroad or if, as is often the case in the United States, you pay for incoming calls.”

“Some people have found a way to avoid compromising the sanctity of their cellphone without committing the modern sin of being unreachable. Instead of giving out [their] cell number, [they are] dispersing what has become known as a ‘social phone number’.”

“This is a free number that is as disposable as a Hotmail address. A handful of Web sites are creating these mask numbers, which can be obtained in nearly every U.S. area code. Users can either have a number in their own region, or make it look as if they have an office in New York City when they are actually operating out of rural Maine.”

“For those who sign up, a recording prompts callers to leave a voice-mail message, and a text or e-mail message is then sent to the recipient to announce a new message, which can be picked up on the Web, by e-mail message or by phone.”

Read full story

3 December 2006

Ethnographers uncover the ‘Unknown Unknowns’ about consumers [Advertising Age]

MPlanet
Gerald Lombardi, Ph.D., and North American director of observational and ethnographic practice for pollsters GfK-NOP, believes “ethnographers are essential to the marketing process, particularly at the ‘fuzzy front end’ of product development,” writes Brooke Capps in Advertising Age.

“During his ‘Ethnography & Its Impact on Marketing’ session [at the inaugural MPlanet conference this week], Mr. Lombardi stressed how ethnographers can help uncover the ‘unknown unknowns’ (to quote Donald Rumsfeld) about consumers and use those findings to directly shape more efficient and effective surveys.”

Michael Treacy, co-founder and chief strategist at GEN3 Partners, a consulting firm that specializes in product innovation, agreed. In his ‘Reinventing Innovation in Consumer Products; presentation, he said, ‘Right now we’re not very good at identifying what people need. Sometimes you can do focus group after focus group and [because of certain product limitations assumed by the consumers] often times the customer is the dumbest guy in the room.'”

“In Mr. Treacy’s push for creating a scientific approach to innovation and producing the breakthrough product consumers didn’t know they needed — but fervently embrace — the first step is to use ethnographic studies ‘to the point of being the consumer’.”

Read full story

3 December 2006

Book: Frontiers of Capital – Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy

Frontiers of Capital
Frontiers of Capital brings together ethnographies exploring how cultural practices and social relations have been altered by the radical economic and technological innovations of the New Economy.

The contributors, most of whom are anthropologists, investigate changes in the practices and interactions of futures traders, Chinese entrepreneurs, residents of French housing projects, women working on Wall Street, cable television programmers, and others.

Together the essays suggest that social relations, rather than becoming less relevant in the high-tech age, have become more important than ever.

The book’s editors are Melissa S. Fisher, assistant professor of anthropology at Georgetown University and Greg Downey, lecturer in anthropology at Macquarie University.

Official book website

2 December 2006

Interaction-Ivrea legacy is getting lost

Interaction Design Institute Ivrea
Interaction Design Institute Ivrea ceased to exist nearly five months ago. It survived for a while in Milan (hosted by the Domus Academy), but that is now also finished.

I am not going to analyse the politics of the decline here (a blog post is not enough!) nor the financial intricacies of it all (although a full account of it wouldn’t be bad). Suffice it to say that many Interaction-Ivrea graduates are working for major international companies and that also two of the four Experientia founders are former Interaction-Ivrea staff members (Jan-Christoph Zoels and myself).

That said, the website of Interaction-Ivrea used to be an access point to rich content on projects and on people. I worked on it a lot to help assure that. No longer so.

Although all the content is technically still there (including interviews with people like John Maeda, Ranjit Makkuni and Nathan Shedroff), most of it is not accessible anymore from the home page. The same thing applies to the personal student sites (which former students can no longer update or correct) or staff bio pages. The “people” and “news” menu buttons are no longer even active.

It has become a dead site, which is not managed anymore and with most of the content hardly accessible.

This is not the place now to point fingers. The decline of Interaction-Ivrea was in my mind a process of immense value destruction. It is quite disheartening to see that this now seems to continue.

The main comfort is that good people went through the place and are now changing the fields of interaction design, experience design, and people-centred design all over the world, including here in Italy itself.

2 December 2006

ITU Internet Report 2006 on digital life

ITU Internet Report 2006 on digital life
The eight edition of the ITU Internet Report, entitled “digital.life”, focuses on consumers and looks at how human lives are being continuously shaped and re-shaped by advances in digital technologies.

The report begins by examining the underlying technologies for new digital lifestyles, from network infrastructure to value creation at the edges. In studying how businesses are adapting to fast-paced digital innovation, the report looks at how they can derive value in an environment driven by convergence at multiple levels. Moreover, a great challenge lies in extending access to underserved areas of the world. In light of media convergence, a fresh approach to policy-making may be required, notably in areas such as content, competition policy, and spectrum management. And as our lives become increasingly mediated by digital technologies, digital identities (both abstract and practical) take on a new dimension. Concerns over privacy and data protection do not seem to be sufficiently addressed by today’s online environments. In this context, the report examines the changing digital individual, and outlines the need for improving the design of identity management mechanisms for a healthy and secure digital world.

The report, which was prepared for the ITU TELECOM World conference (December 4-8 2006 in Hong Kong), contains chapters on enabling digital technologies and lifestyles, digital business, digital identity, as well as comprehensive statistical tables covering over 200 economies.

Chapter summaries are already available, and the report’s full contents will be released on December 3.

Visit report website

(via Pasta and Vinegar)

2 December 2006

Nokia Design video scenarios of future mobile device use

Nokia World video
Alistair Curtis, head of design at Nokia, presented several video scenarios of how mobile devices will be used in the future at the Nokia World conference in Amsterdam.

TechDigest, a UK-based consumer electronics and gadgets site, recorded it all and posted it on You Tube.

The first scenario, the ‘Live’ video, shows how we’ll be touching each others’ phones to pass messages in clubs in the future.

The second one, the ‘Explore’ video, shows off the way they think the user interface of phones may go, turning it, according to TechDigest, into a “whizzy touchy-feely touchscreen” type affair.

(Nokia has also posted a video on YouTube and their own blog but it is just a poorer quality version of the Explore video.)

(via Freegorifero)

2 December 2006

Donald Norman on the design of future things

Donald Norman's Horse and Rider
Donald Norman has posted a draft of the first chapter of his new book “The Design of Future Things”.

The book will be published by Basic Books, probably in early 2008. According to Norman it is about the ever-increasing role of automation in our homes and automobiles, why it is being done so badly, with suggestions for doing it right through what he calls “natural interaction”.

Entitled “Cautious Cars and Cantankerous Kitchens: How Machines Take Control“, the first chapter aims to set out the driving questions of the book: “As we start giving the objects around us more initiative, more intelligence, and more emotions and personality, what does this do to the way we relate with one another? What has happened to our society when we listen to our machines more than people?”

Some quotes from the first chapter:

“We fool ourselves if we believe we communicate with machines. Those who design advanced technology are proud of the communication capabilities they have built into their systems. The machines talk with their users, and in turn their users talk with their machines. But closer analysis shows this to be a myth. There is no communication, not the real, two-way, back-and-forth discussion that characterizes true dialog, true communication. No, what we have are two monologues, two one-way communications. People instruct the machines. The machines signal their states and actions to people. Two monologues do not make a dialogue.”

“As our technology becomes more powerful, more in control, its failure at collaboration and communication becomes ever more critical. Collaboration requires interaction and communication. It means explaining and giving reasons. Trust is a tenuous relationship, formed through experience and understanding. With automatic, so-called intelligent devices, trust is sometimes conferred undeservedly. Or withheld, equally undeservedly. The real problem, I believe, is a lack of communication. Designers do not understand that their job is to enhance the coordination and cooperation of both parties, people and machines. Instead, they believe that their goal is to take over, to do the task completely, except when the machine gets into trouble, when suddenly becomes the person’s responsibility to take command.”

“More and more, our cars, kitchens, and appliances are taking control, doing what they think best without debate or discussion. […] The problem is the lack of dialogue, the illusion of authority by our machines, and our inability to converse, understand, or negotiate.”

“Successful dialogue requires a large amount of shared, common knowledge and experiences. It requires appreciation of the environment and context, of the history leading up to the moment, and of the many differing goals and motives of the people involved. But it can be very difficult to establish this shared, common understanding with people, so how do we expect to be able to develop it with machines? No, I now believe that this “common ground,” as psycholinguists call it, is impossible between human and machine. We simply cannot share the same history, the same sort of family upbringing, the same interactions with other people. But without a common ground, the dream of machines that are team players goes away. This does not mean we cannot have cooperative, useful interaction with our machines, but we must approach it in a far different way than we have been doing up to now. We need to approach interaction with machines somewhat as we do interaction with animals: we are intelligent, they are intelligent, but with different understandings of the situation, different capabilities. Sometimes we need to obey the animals or machines; sometimes they need to obey us. We need a very different approach, one I call natural interaction.”

Norman goes on to ask what it would mean to have a graceful symbiosis of people and technology, and argues for a more natural form of interaction, “an interaction that can take place subconsciously, without effort, whereby the communication in both directions is done so naturally, so effortlessly, that the result is a smooth merger of person and machine, jointly doing the task.”

Read first chapter

2 December 2006

Book: Mobile Communications and Society

Mobile Communications and Society
Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective
Manuel Castells, Mireia Fernandez-Ardevol, Jack Linchuan Qiu and Araba Sey
Published by the MIT Press

How wireless technology is redefining the relationship of communication, technology, and society around the world–in everyday work and life, in youth culture, in politics, and in the developing world.

Wireless networks are the fastest growing communications technology in history. Are mobile phones expressions of identity, fashionable gadgets, tools for life–or all of the above? Mobile Communication and Society looks at how the possibility of multimodal communication from anywhere to anywhere at any time affects everyday life at home, at work, and at school, and raises broader concerns about politics and culture both global and local.

Drawing on data gathered from around the world, the authors explore who has access to wireless technology, and why, and analyse the patterns of social differentiation seen in unequal access. They explore the social effects of wireless communication–what it means for family life, for example, when everyone is constantly in touch, or for the idea of an office when workers can work anywhere. Is the technological ability to multitask further compressing time in our already hurried existence?

The authors consider the rise of a mobile youth culture based on peer-to-peer networks, with its own language of texting, and its own values. They examine the phenomenon of flash mobs, and the possible political implications. And they look at the relationship between communication and development and the possibility that developing countries could “leapfrog” directly to wireless and satellite technology. This sweeping book–moving easily in its analysis from the United States to China, from Europe to Latin America and Africa–answers the key questions about our transformation into a mobile network society.