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Putting People First

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January 2007
31 January 2007

The TRIL Centre: ethnographic research on ageing to develop healthcare technologies for the elderly

The TRIL Centre
Intel and the Irish government are building the TRIL Centre, the largest research initiative in the world dedicated to developing health-care technologies specifically for the elderly.

The TRIL Centre is a collection of research projects addressing the physical, cognitive and social consequences of ageing, all informed by ethnographic research and supported by a shared pool of knowledge and engineering resources.

The researchers will aim to develop technologies that can allow the elderly to continue to live independently and at home. They’ll focus on technologies that can improve social health and community engagement for older people, detect and prevent falls in the home, and help people with memory loss to remain independent.

Combined, Intel and the Industrial Development Agency Ireland, a government organization that seeks investments from overseas companies, are contributing $30 million over three years to the initiative, which will include collaboration with three Irish universities and 50 to 100 new researchers at Intel in Dublin.

Read full story (InfoWorld)
Read press release

More on TRIL’s use of ethnography:

By direct investigation and observation, ethnographic research of older people in their day to day lives and their interactions with carers and the healthcare system will equip the TRIL Centre teams with a real-world understanding of what old people need, what they find acceptable and how their quality of life can be improved.

By observing people ‘in their natural habitat’, the use of ethnography in technology research helps to identify what they find easy, what they find difficult, what would assist them day to day and how their needs can be supported by judicious interventions and devices. Ethnography uses anthropological and observational techniques to answer questions such as ‘what do people really want’, and ‘would a particular product find mass acceptance’. But it also reflects a philosophical foundation, particularly in respect of the TRIL Centre research programme, that research must have real-world impact, must change people’s lives and must have value and application beyond the laboratory.

The work of the ethnographic team based at NUI Galway will inform the design, implementation and usability of new technologies developed for older people. Ethnographic information provides guidance and feedback to the engineers and scientists who design and produce the new technologies and to the older people who use the new technologies. The Irish Centre of Social Gerontology (ICSG) will unite the various engineering and design strands of the TRIL Centre through enhanced multidisciplinary information systems that link design to application, with a personalised focus on the experiences of older people in their own space and place.

31 January 2007

User research helped design a better Windows Vista

Windows Vista family research
Two mainstream articles on Windows Vista underline the growing importance of qualitative user research in the design and development of technological products.
 

Microsoft views family input as key to its Vista [Los Angeles Times]

“Vista’s debut today marks an unprecedented effort by the company to solicit the feedback of everyday users. It’s a recognition that computers play an increasingly integral role in daily life and that using one should be simple and intuitive.

To better understand how people use computers in their lives, Microsoft found 50 families from around the world who, over two years, lived with Vista from its early test phase, known as Beta 1. Microsoft created a way for these families to offer daily feedback — by sending smiles or frowns — and company executives periodically dropped by to observe people using the operating system.

This group of beta testers sent 5,000 comments and identified 800 bugs that no one else had found.

Trish Miner, research manager for the Life with Windows Vista family feedback program, said the program offered surprising insights: including how changes to the Web browsing experience had some unintended consequences.”
 

Families spend two years ‘living with Windows Vista’ [ABC News]

“Microsoft has taken unprecedented steps to make sure that even the most techno-phobic users can get what they want and need out of the software. They’ve recruited 50 ordinary families from around the world to test the software and help the company shape it into a user-friendly and intuitive system that’s as good for grandma as it is for the grandkids.

“We wanted to make sure that our key customers were involved from the beginning,” said Trish Miner, research manager for the “Life with Windows Vista” program for Microsoft. “We also wanted to make sure that everything they wanted to do they could do easily.”

Miner credits the families who were picked from focus groups and through various online methods, with identifying over 800 bugs in Vista during the two year program, but also says they helped make the software what it is today by finding things they liked and didn’t like about it.”

31 January 2007

Healthcare 2.0?

Healthcare20
Yesterday Steve Case (of AOL fame) announced the launch of a new healthcare web portal, revolutionhealth.com, that will, in his words, “transform a broken industry by putting health care back into the hands of the consumer.”

The offering aims to bring web 2.0 features to healthcare – ratings, smart search, discussion boards, social networking, shopping tools for health insurance and health products, and so on.

“Isn’t it crazy that we have ratings to help us pick movies, restaurants and hotels,” Case wrote in an introductory letter quoted by CNN.com, “but no comparable tools to help evaluate doctors, hospitals and treatments?”

Read full story

30 January 2007

Sentimental journey: on computers and emotions [CIO Magazine]

Boring
“New computer software applications—in the labs and in the market—are using emotion as data input and responding to it”, writes Esther Schindler in CIO Magazine.

“For business purposes, it isn’t necessary for a computer to emote—as long as it can respond to our emotions.

We want companies (and the systems they build, whether silicon- or carbon-powered) to acknowledge and respect our feelings, particularly when those feelings are strongly felt. Enterprises are starting to see good dollars-and-cents reasons to take action on emotion. “Research shows that if you respond to a customer within 24 hours of an angry experience, you are likely to recover the customer and to create [vendor] loyalty,” says Bar Veinstein, NICE Systems’ director of product marketing.

The intent isn’t to create an empathic artificial intelligence that experiences emotion. In these applications, the software analyzes human behavior and helps humans to make better business decisions. Many of these projects are still in the research labs, but a few are available as enterprise products.

“According to Dr. Marc Schröder, a senior researcher involved with the W3C Emotion Incubator Group, the computer experience must become more natural, or the average user will be unable to cope with increasing human-machine interaction complexity. Schröder explains, “By ‘natural,’ I mean closer to the type of human interactions that we all have every day, with friends, family, strangers, bosses, employees, etc. You know from the twitch in your boss’ face that now would be a good moment to stop contradicting…and you know from the face of your wife that today was a good day. Words are not needed for you to understand this.”

Read full story

30 January 2007

Two-thirds of Brits use just 4 functions on their phones [Cellular News]

Brit texting
Over half (53%) of Brits feel that modern technology has now become too complicated and could turn their back on technology, according to the latest report from PayPal, as covered in Cellular News.

The age old problem of setting a video recorder still exists for one in three Brits, even though they have been in the mainstream for 27 years.

DVDs offer a more complex challenge with four in five (77%) not feeling confident to set one to record.

Also, mobile phones are now ubiquitous, yet many remain baffled by their features. The majority, almost two thirds (61%), use only four features on their mobile phone – calls, text messages, alarm clock and camera – while two fifths don’t even know if their mobile phone has a camera function.

Read full story

(via textually.org)

30 January 2007

Nickelodeon begins a web site focusing on interactive play [The New York Times]

Nicktropolis
“Nickelodeon, the popular children’s cable network, is pushing hard into the online world with Nicktropolis.com, a new Web site that will let its young users enter their own world of Internet activities,” writes Geraldine Fabrikant in The New York Times.

“The web site, which is to be activated today, is aimed at children ages 6 to 14, and plays heavily to their appetite for games, the company said yesterday.

Nickelodeon was prompted to join the surging world of online activities for children in part by research that showed that 86 percent of 8- to 14-year-olds were playing games online, more than 51 percent were watching TV shows and videos online and 37 percent were sending instant messages, the company said.

In virtual worlds like Nicktropolis, visitors create alter egos — termed avatars — which then interact with other avatars and the web site environment, like people do in the physical world.”

Read full story

29 January 2007

Nokia usability analysis of secure pairing methods

Pairing
A few weeks ago Nokia Research published the results of a usability analysis of secure pairing methods.

Abstract
Setting up secure associations between end-user devices is a challenging task when it needs to be done by ordinary users. The increasing popularity of powerful personal electronics with wireless communication abilities has made the problem more urgent than ever before. During the last few years, several solutions have appeared in the research literature. Several standardisation bodies have also been working on improved setup procedures. All these protocols provide certain levels of security, but several new questions arise, such as “how to implement the protocol so that it is easy to use?” and “is it still secure when used by a non-technical person?” In this paper, we attempt to answer these questions by carrying out a comparative usability evaluation of selected methods to derive some insights into the usability and security of these methods as well as strategies for implementing them.

Download study (pdf, 637 kb, 25 pages)

29 January 2007

Harvard Business Review on understanding the customer experience

Harvard_shieldbusiness_1
“Companies that systematically monitor customer experience can take important steps to improve it—and their bottom line,” argue Christopher Meyer and Andre Schwager in the February 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

“Because a great many customer experiences aren’t the direct consequence of the brand’s messages or the company’s actual offerings, a company’s reexamination of its initiatives and choices will not suffice. The customers themselves—that is, the full range and unvarnished reality of their prior experiences, and then the expectations, warm or harsh, those have conjured up—must be monitored and probed.”

“Such attention to customers requires a closed-loop process in which every function worries about delivering a good experience, and senior management ensures that the offering keeps all those parochial conceptions in balance and thus linked to the bottom line.”

“This article will describe how to create such a process, composed of three kinds of customer monitoring: past patterns, present patterns, and potential patterns. (These patterns can also be referred to by the frequency with which they are measured: persistent, periodic, and pulsed.) By understanding the different purposes and different owners of these three techniques—and how they work together (not contentiously)—a company can turn pipe dreams of customer focus into a real business system.”

Christopher Meyer is the chairman of Strategic Alignment Group, a consultancy based in Portola Valley, California, that specializes in innovation and time-based competition. He is the author of Fast Cycle Time (Free Press, 1993).
Andre Schwager is a former president of Seagate Enterprise Management Software and a founder of Satmetrix Systems, a customer experience software company based in Foster City, California.

Read full story

29 January 2007

Harvard Business Review features user-centered innovation as breakthrough idea for 2007

Harvard_shieldbusiness_1
The Harvard Business Review has published its annual list of Breakthrough Ideas for 2007, written out in “twenty essays that will satisfy our demanding readers’ appetite for provocative and important new ideas”.

Eric von Hippel wrote the entry entitled “An Emerging Hotbed of User-Centered Innovation“.

Eric von Hippel is the T Wilson Professor of Innovation Management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the scientific director of the Danish User-Centered Innovation Lab in Copenhagen. He is the author of Democratizing Innovation (MIT Press, 2005).

“In an array of industries, producer-centered innovation is being eclipsed by user-centered innovation—the dreaming up, development, prototyping, and even production of new products by consumers. These users aren’t just voicing their needs to companies that are willing to listen; they’re inventing and often building what they want.”

“[…] This process of users’ coming up with products is increasingly well documented, and some companies, at least, are actively trying to take advantage of it. But what about governments?”

“[…] Government support has typically come in the form of R&D grants for scientific researchers and R&D tax credits for manufacturers. This focus on technology push has not attracted much controversy. But recent research shows that the 70% to 80% of new product development that fails does so not for lack of advanced technology but because of a failure to understand users’ needs. The emergence of user-centered innovation clearly shows that this near-exclusive focus on technological advance is misplaced.”

“Denmark is taking this sea change in the nature of innovation to heart. In 2005, the Danish government became the first in the world to establish as a national priority, in the words of a government policy statement, ‘strengthening user-centered innovation.'”

“By championing a new innovation paradigm, the Danish government is encouraging numerous methodological flowers to bloom—from programs that improve manufacturers’ understanding of users’ needs (through ethnographic research, for example) to techniques for identifying user-developed innovations that manufacturers can produce.”

Duncan J. Watts wrote another thought-provoking essay, “The Accidental Influentials,” in which he argues that “social epidemics” are not in large part driven by the actions of a tiny minority of special individuals, as is the dominant belief.

“We studied the dynamics of social contagion by conducting thousands of computer simulations of populations, manipulating a number of variables relating to people’s ability to influence others and their tendency to be influenced.”

“Our work shows that the principal requirement for what we call “global cascades”—the widespread propagation of influence through networks—is the presence not of a few influentials but, rather, of a critical mass of easily influenced people, each of whom adopts, say, a look or a brand after being exposed to a single adopting neighbor. Regardless of how influential an individual is locally, he or she can exert global influence only if this critical mass is available to propagate a chain reaction.”

Understanding that trends in public opinion are driven not by a few influentials influencing everyone else but by many easily influenced people influencing one another should change how companies incorporate social influence into their marketing campaigns. Because the ultimate impact of any individual—highly influential or not—depends on decisions made by people one, two, or more steps away from her or him, word-of-mouth marketing strategies shouldn’t focus on finding supposed influentials. Rather, marketing dollars might better be directed toward helping large numbers of ordinary people—possibly with Web-based social networking tools—to reach and influence others just like them.”

Duncan J. Watts is a professor of sociology at Columbia University in New York. He is the author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (Norton, 2003)

(via Bruno Giussani’s Lunch over IP)

28 January 2007

Intentional Software: programming that captures the intentions of computer users [New York Times]

Charles Simonyi
“Most software isn’t much good,” writes in The New York Times. “Too many programs are ugly: inelegant, unreliable and not very useful. Software that satisfies and delights is as rare as a phoenix.” […]

“Bad software is terrible for business and the economy.” […]

“The reasons aren’t hard to divine. Programmers don’t know what a computer user wants because they spend their days interacting with machines. They hunch over keyboards, pecking out individual lines of code in esoteric programming languages, like medieval monks laboring over illustrated manuscripts.”

Charles Simonyi, the chief executive of Intentional Software, a start-up in Bellevue, Wash., believes that there is another way. He wants to overthrow conventional coding for something he calls ‘intentional programming,’ in which programmers would talk to machines as little as possible. Instead, they would concentrate on capturing the intentions of computer users.”

“Mr. Simonyi, the former chief architect of Microsoft, is arguably the most successful pure programmer in the world, with a personal fortune that Forbes magazine estimates at $1 billion.” […]

“He designed Microsoft’s most successful applications, Word and Excel, and he devised the programming method that the company’s software developers have used for the last quarter-century.”

Read full story

27 January 2007

World Economic Forum on Web 2.0 and emerging social network models

World Economic Forum on Web 2.0
Today the World Economic Forum hosted a session on Web 2.0 and emerging social network models. Others call it user-generated content or participatory media.

A video broadcast is available.

The one-hour session, hosted by Peter Schwartz, chairman of the Global Business Network, addressed two core questions:
1. What is driving the emergence of virtual communities? Is the rapid rise in their valuations justified?
2. How are companies beginning to use social networking strategies for product and market development, as well as for communication?

Participants were:

  • Caterina Fake, Founder, Flickr, USA
  • William H. Gates III, Chairman, Microsoft Corporation, USA
  • Chad Hurley, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, YouTube, USA
  • Mark G. Parker, President and Chief Executive Officer, Nike, USA
  • Viviane Reding, Commissioner, Information Society and Media, European Commission, Brussels

Dennis Kneale, managing editor of Forbes Magazine acted as the session challenger. He took his job seriously, pointing most of his fire at the one non-US panel member: EU commissioner Viviane Reding.

Reding held herself grandly and made according to me an interesting and thoughtful point about the protection of individual rights in this new world. Not present was Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. But you can read some of his ideas on a blog post by Bruce Nussbaum.

At the end of the session, Chad Hurley made headline news by announcing that his team is working on a revenue-sharing mechanism with YouTube users that will “foster creativity”. [See AP | BBC]

27 January 2007

Tadam: reinventing the puppet theatre experience

Tadam
Puppet theatre is a triple craft. It is about the crafting of the puppets and the set. It is about the skill of operating the string-suspended marionettes in a convincing and lifelike way. And it is about theatre, which means storytelling and continuous engaging interaction with the audience. It is, in short, about the making of magic.

A few months back I was a jury member of the EUROPRIX Top Talent Award, a contest for the best in European multimedia from young producers, and was delighted to see the puppet theatre reinvented in Tadam, an entry by students of Gobelins, a Paris school of visual communication.

The young team responsible for Tadam (a French onomatopoeia used to express an excited announcement) have deeply understood the fascination of this magic and the three essential aspects it implies, and created an interactive and computer-supported experience that brings delightful freshness to the old art.

The joy of crafting is present in just about everything the project contains: from the soldering of the theatre frame out of metal tubes, to the knitting of the red and gold theatre curtains, from the careful computer rendering of the puppet faces (based on the actual faces of the project members) to the hand-sown clothes of the digital marionettes, from the intricacies of computer coding to the hand-drawn storyboards, and from the electronics-in-a-wooden-box prototypes to the sweet toy instrument music.

The marionettes are digital and only exist on a projected screen. Yet, they are operated like any other marionette: a skilled puppeteer holds a wooden cross that manipulates their arm, leg and head movements, and brings thrilling life to the inanimate forms.

Finally, the direct interaction between the puppeteer and the digital marionette allows for a direct dynamic with the audience, which is essential to this type of storytelling.

As a bonus, the making-off video is a splendid presentation of the project, conveying very well the pleasure the young team felt while working on their challenge.

Technical description

Tadam is a multimedia puppet show which brings computer animations to life and stages the animation film in a traditional theatre. Users initially build up a plot scene by scene through the director module and can select different well-designed graphic environments and themes. The show can be pre-cut in several parts. Using software similar to moviemaker, static sequences (e.g. transition, fade or text) or sound effects can be added, edited and saved. The puppeteers are free to manipulate 3D marionettes in real time by interacting with a wooden cross lever which is equipped with movement sensors. The puppet’s mouth can even be animated by speaking through a microphone. Once the show is performed, it can be burned on DVD. Tadam is hand-crafted and fully customisable for beginners or professionals.

Tadam, which was rightfully selected as a Europrix Top Talent Award 2006 winner in the category “Digital Video & Animations”, has a project website in French only. The Medias section also contains a shorter presentation video (which is however not as good as the “making-of” one, due to poor music and voice choices).

27 January 2007

Philips integrates experience research in healthcare innovation

CareServant
During the recent Philips Innovation Event Asia in China, Royal Philips Electronics showed some examples of how the company integrates experience research in personal healthcare innovation.

Activity Lamp
As people grow older, their sight, hearing, memory and cognitive ability start to deteriorate and their physical mobility decreases. Researchers at Philips have developed the Activity Lamp, a lighting concept that produces optimal lighting conditions so that elderly people can continue to enjoy leisure activities such as reading, playing cards, embroidery, etc.

CareServant
The Philips CareServant has been designed for use on hospital wards and in care organizations. It is TV-based and therefore very easy to operate via a simple remote control. CareServant delivers a range of information, communication and entertainment services, such as audio- and video-on-demand.

smartBed
When it comes to people’s health, it is clear that prevention is better than cure. Where illness cannot be cured, disease management at home is better than hospitalization. Philips has developed an unobtrusive solution, the smartBed, to monitor the quality of sleep, and garments for heart failure management to monitor the early indicators of decompensation i.e. the deterioration of the status of a heart failure patient. The technologies will also support the physicians in the treatment of patients with a chronic heart disease.

“Our people-centric research involves understanding what people actually want from technology to improve their daily lives,” said Rick Harwig, Chief Technology Officer of Royal Philips Electronics. “For this purpose Philips Research has built two new research laboratories in Europe, next to the existing HomeLab. One for personal healthcare technologies (CareLab) and another for atmosphere creation for retail (ShopLab). Here people are confronted with the latest innovations and we are able to research the functionality and acceptability of the concept, as well as the way people experience it.”

Read press release

26 January 2007

Book: Designing Emotions in Online Travel

Designing Emotions in Online Travel
The new book Designing Emotions in Online Travel by Soraia Cardoso of Sotopia Usability and René Vaartjes, provides new insights on how to arouse positive emotions at travel websites by using specific graphic elements, colours and online functions to ultimately increase online bookings.

About the book (from press release)

Not only deficiencies in web usability but highly in emotional persuasion ability are impacting the end user satisfaction and bottom line costs for both travel companies as well as tourism destinations. In a world where capitalism is king we tend to look for meaningful sensorial experiences, things worth to remember rather than pursuing.

Developing a design toolkit to enable designers to design for emotion is the central issue of the book “Designing Emotions in Online Travel”. The information gathered from online surveys and 200 in depth one-to-one interviews in “Designing Emotions in Online Travel” take us on a journey through the emotional stages of people while booking a holiday online.

These findings provide great insight on what people find important when searching for a holiday destination. It turns out that facts and figures are not enough. They want to get emotional; they want a journey through the senses. Tickling one’s imagination through visuals, colours, and engaging functionalities is the key to designing for emotions. The secret is when and how in the booking process this should be done. This book promises to remind us the importance of the preliminaries; it’s all about giving before taking.

Abstract

Emotions influence our well-being as well as our purchase decisions. From a design perspective, it is worthwhile to know more about how we can elicit emotions through design. We also need to know more about the way we can identify the relevant
emotional aspects and how we can evaluate the emotional influences of a particular design.

This book focuses on the design and functions of travel websites. How do they influence the emotions of the visitor? The central question of this book is:

How can graphical elements and online functions evoke positive emotions so that visitors to travel websites are encouraged to book online?

An emotion is a mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes. Expressing emotions does not depend on a person’s culture. However, specific communication elements evoke different kinds of emotions in people from different cultures. An online travel a website only evokes any emotion if it is seen as relevant to a visitor’s concern.

Through quantitative and qualitative research, this study proves that consumers judge the attractiveness of a product or service based on their own perception, feelings and emotions. Subjects of an online survey defined that the main emotions evoked during their visit to a travel website are: ‘curious’, ‘inspired’, ‘desiring’, ‘enthusiastic’, ‘fascinated’, ‘attracted to’, ‘looking forward to’, ‘satisfied’, ‘relaxed’ and ‘stimulated’.

The analysis of photos collected during a qualitative research and the outcome of an expert review analysis of eight travel websites results in a set of recommendations on how to evoke specific positive emotions to improve travel websites and convert visitors into loyal customers.

About the authors

Soraia Cardoso is an international specialist in design, web development, and usability. She has a broad knowledge of employing usability and design methods to optimize websites, applications, and software products. It’s her devotion to make them user-centered, task-oriented, enjoyable and usable! Soraia is founder of Sotopia Usability Consultancy which clients include major Dutch and International Organizations. Soraia holds a Master of Arts in media and information design.

René Vaartjes is specialised in design, design management, idea generation and concept development. His creative mind results in solutions for uncommon challenges in online media. His experience in marketing and communication includes the development of cross-media campaigns, community building, viral marketing and customer observation. René holds a degree in Design Management and Marketing.

25 January 2007

Another Microsoft user experience “evangelist”

The Doblin Trinity
Microsoft has hired William Tschumy as its second user experience “evangelist”, with the aim of supporting Chris Bernard “to communicate Microsoft’s position on the importance of user experience in software design”.

Bernard started his Microsoft evangelising in June 2006 on the TypePad blog Design Thinking Digest.

Tschumy, who was director of experience strategy at Scient, lead information architect at Walmart.com and director of experience at Flock, has written a nice short piece on why he has taken on that role.

Read full story

25 January 2007

The Enchanted Office: “Once Upon A User Interface”

The Enchanted Office
Microsoft has published The Enchanted Office, an online comic (created by Vera Brosgol) to sell the benefits of Office 2007, in particular “the power of the ribbon” and “the huge productivity gains” it will bring about.
25 January 2007

Nokia study on how rural India benefits from mobile communications

Mobile Development
Mobile communication is revolutionizing economic and social life in rural India, spawning a wave of local entrepreneurs and creating greater access to social services according to a new study by The Center for Knowledge Societies (CKS) commissioned by Nokia.

Mobile communication is revolutionizing economic and social life in rural India, spawning a wave of local entrepreneurs and creating greater access to social services according to a new study by The Center for Knowledge Societies (CKS) commissioned by Nokia. The research identifies seven major service sectors including transport, finance and healthcare that could be radically transformed through mobile technologies.

Mobile phone ownership in India is growing rapidly, six million new mobile subscriptions are added each month and one in five Indian’s will own a phone by the end of 2007. By the end of 2008, three quarters of India’s population will be covered by a mobile network. Many of these new “mobile citizens” live in poorer and more rural areas with scarce infrastructure and facilities, high illiteracy levels, low PC and internet penetration. The study looks at how their new mobility could be used to bridge the growing economic and social digital divide between rural and urban areas.

The research is based on detailed ethnography and participant observation among communities living in three rural areas of India – Badaun in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Satara in the state of Maharashtra and Chittradurga in the state of Karnataka – as well as one urban area, Bangalore. Researchers meet with small business owners, farmers, home owners and others to understand how mobile communication has already transformed their daily lives and the further potential of mobile communications to enhance livelihoods.

The study encourages national and international governments, the mobile industry and NGOs to work together to support the development of these services by increasing access to, and use of, mobile communications in rural communities.

- Read full story
Download report (pdf, 15.7 mb, 114 pages)

25 January 2007

Jeffrey Veen chats with Irene Au, director of user experience at Google

Google
In the following transcript, Jeffrey Veen (one of the founding partners of Adaptive Path and current Design Manager at Google) talks to Irene Au (Google’s Director of User Experience) about the ins and outs of working at Google, and the colorful path she took to get there.

An excerpt:

“In a lot of conventional companies, design is kind of a top-down process. Where you think about who are your target users, what’s the market you’re going after, what are their needs. You do requirements-gathering, and then you design the experience around that, and then you tell the engineers to go build. Here, the way products are conceived a lot of times, it’s an engineer has some kind of idea and then starts building it and then — as it gains momentum — a product manager and a designer might become attached to it. So it’s a very bottoms-up kind of process, which is very different to how designers are trained to think about product development. Yet I still think that there are ways that designers can work within that environment and still have products be use-driven and design-driven, but the ways in which you go about getting yourself inserted might be quite different than [at] other cultures, [which] are maybe more top-down, or product- or marketing- or design-driven.”

Read full interview

24 January 2007

Business apps giant SAP gets Web 2.0 bug [CNET News]

SAP All-in-One
Martin LaMonica reports on CNET News that “business applications giant SAP this year will be rolling out enhancements meant to make end users more productive through easier collaboration, according to company executives.”

“These additions are being designed around so-called Web 2.0 technologies, such as shared Web pages called wikis, as well as online forums and mini applications called widgets. The goal is to make it easier for knowledge workers who use SAP products to collaborate. […]

SAP is far from alone in getting the end-user collaboration bug. IBM on Monday debuted its own Web 2.0 strategy, introducing two new tools that bring social-networking instruments such as blogs and wikis to its Lotus suite and portal software.

For these entrenched business software companies, the idea is to invest in end-user productivity to entice customers to upgrade. SAP earlier this month said it expects to miss its 2006 sales target.

More workers are expecting the same “user experience” at work that they get on the Web, noted Joshua Greenbaum, principal analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting. Introducing Web-based collaboration can help sway a customer decision to upgrade.”

Read full story

24 January 2007

Microsoft and user experience

Microsoft Expression
David Verba, director of technology at Adaptive Path, reflects – with some frustration – on how Microsoft interprets user experience.

According to Verba, “Microsoft still thinks more bells and whistles means richer experience and richer experience means better experience.”

“I attended Microsoft’s Expression Session yesterday, the launch event for their new Expression suite of products. I came away hopeful and frustrated in equal parts. Microsoft has jumped with both feet onto the User Experience bandwagon. It’s just not clear that they understand what User Experience means.

The first red flag was this quote: ‘Design is form + function + flair‘ followed up with the Mont Blanc Diamond pen as an example. Just picture a Mont Blanc pen literally encrusted with diamonds. Admittedly I’m not the target audience for such a thing but it does highlight the fact that ‘design’ is not equal to ‘good design’, nor is it something that is lathered onto a product.

More telling was this snippet. After stating ‘the experience is the product‘ (I heard that exact phrase several times), they stated ‘platform+tools+craft = UX‘. As with the design quote, they conflated user experience with good user experience. Craft was defined as ‘that thing that designers do’, which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t combined with ‘designers work in Photoshop and produce tiffs’. There was no sense of design strategy, or even design on a deeper level than visual design. There is also something that seems disconnected about discussing user experience and user centered design by discussing tools and platform rather than talking about the user and their interactions with your product.

And finally, there was a graphic at the end that showed a spectrum from web applications to desktops applications, with the former labeled ‘basic user experience‘ and the latter labeled ‘best user experience‘. Microsoft still thinks more bells and whistles means richer experience and richer experience means better experience. Good user experiences can be affected by visual design or richer interfaces but its foundation needs to be the appropriate interface to what the user is trying to accomplish.”

Read full story

(See also this post by Antoine Valot and a first Microsoft reaction by Chris Bernard.)