Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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February 2007
13 February 2007

55% of potential 3G portal users are lost due to basic usability issues

New research reveals that up to 55% of potential 3G users abandon value-added services (VAS) due to basic usability issues such as difficulty navigating through menus, inability to find downloaded content, or a forgotten password.

The findings came from live trials conducted by Olista and European mobile operators to identify the common barriers to potential 3G portal and content users.

Further statistics showed that users are confused between streaming and download, an issue further hampered by the bad billing experiences affecting 10 – 25% of users who receive multiple downloads of the same content. This makes disappointing reading and shows the gap between the number of customers who could use VAS and the number who actively do is huge.

Read press release

12 February 2007

Users turn their noses up at mobile TV

Mobile TV
Pricing, quality and reliability issues turn off users of mobile TV and video in Europe
Ex-users outnumber current users, survey of 22,000 reveals

“A survey of 22,000 European mobile users commissioned by Tellabs revealed that a high percentage of early adopters of mobile TV and video services are snubbing a second helping. The research, conducted by M:Metrics in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France and Spain, brought up an interesting issue: on average, former users of mobile TV and video outnumber current users by more than 19%. Users cited price, quality and reliability issues as the main reasons why they do not come back for more.

Forty-five percent of European mobile video and TV users cited pricing issues as a factor causing them to switch off the services. And nearly a quarter (24%) of users who tried mobile video and TV stopped using the services due to concerns about service quality and reliability.

The split between perception and reality was most pronounced in the United Kingdom. Only 6% of those who had never used mobile video and TV cited quality and reliability as reasons not to try such services, but 29% of users had stopped using services because of quality and reliability.”

Read press release

The Register, which featured the news on its website, added:

“The study didn’t establish what technology was being used, so unfortunately there’s no opportunity to compare broadcast with narrowcast solutions. But overall it seems that users aren’t enjoying the experience of video on the move and, once they’ve shown it off to their mates, seem to have little time for it.

This does not bode well for the industry, which is betting a great deal on consumers wanting video on the go and being prepared to pay for it.”

12 February 2007

Ubicomp and user experience at LIFT07

Pasta and Vinegar
Nicolas Nova, one of the organisers of last week’s LIFT conference, has posted what he calls his “not very well structured thoughts on the LIFT07 talks about ubiquitous computing” on his blog Pasta and Vinegar.

“There was a dedicated session about it with Julian Bleecker, Ben Cerveny and Adam Greenfield but some other talks can also be considered as part of that topic (Frédéric Kaplan, Fabien Girardin).”

(I am not really sure where he finds the time to write all this after just having organised a conference attended by 550 people.)

Read full story

12 February 2007

Kids, the internet and the end of privacy: the greatest generation gap since rock and roll [New York Magazine]

Kitty Ostapowicz
As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited.

“[...] the forest of arms waving cell-phone cameras at concerts, the MySpace pages blinking pink neon revelations, Xanga and Sconex and YouTube and and Flickr and Facebook and and Wikipedia and especially, the ordinary, endless stream of daily documentation that is built into the life of anyone growing up today. You can see the evidence everywhere, from the rural 15-year-old who records videos for thousands of subscribers to the NYU students texting come-ons from beneath the bar. Even 9-year-olds have their own site, Club Penguin, to play games and plan parties. The change has rippled through pretty much every act of growing up. Go through your first big breakup and you may need to change your status on Facebook from “In a relationship” to “Single.” Everyone will see it on your “feed,” including your ex, and that’s part of the point.

It’s been a long time since there was a true generation gap, perhaps 50 years—you have to go back to the early years of rock and roll, when old people still talked about “jungle rhythms.” Everything associated with that music and its greasy, shaggy culture felt baffling and divisive, from the crude slang to the dirty thoughts it was rumored to trigger in little girls. That musical divide has all but disappeared. But in the past ten years, a new set of values has sneaked in to take its place, erecting another barrier between young and old. And as it did in the fifties, the older generation has responded with a disgusted, dismissive squawk. It goes something like this:

Kids today. They have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs, fame whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their phone numbers, their stupid poetry—for God’s sake, their dirty photos!—online. They have virtual friends instead of real ones. They talk in illiterate instant messages. They are interested only in attention—and yet they have zero attention span, flitting like hummingbirds from one virtual stage to another.

The author, Emily Nussbaum, then goes on to describe the three main changes that define the younger generation:

  • They think of themselves as having an audience
  • They have archived their adolescence
  • Their skin is thicker than yours

Read full story

(via the Design Directory newsletter of Core77 and Business Week)

12 February 2007

The human factor in gadget, Web design [CNET News]

“Wonder why YouTube skyrocketed in popularity in less than two years?” asks Stefanie Olson on CNET News.

“One obvious reason is that the video-sharing Web site has kept it simple. YouTube doesn’t require a video player download or a special account just to watch a video. With just a click on a link, a video is up and running in a few seconds. It’s a people-friendly design, and that attention to simplicity has paid off.

Experts in the field of so-called human-computer interaction, however, say good design like the YouTube interface is the exception, not the rule. For every slick Apple iPod, there are a dozen washing machines with a baffling array of buttons. And for every simple TiVo interface, there are umpteen TV remote controls that look like something out of NASA’s Mission Control.

Now companies, universities and even government agencies like NASA are investing time and dollars as they take a hard look at how people interact with technology.”

The article and slideshow feature YouTube, TiVo, iPod, Google, Nintendo Wii, the USB cord and the Firefly phone as examples of user-friendly products, while pointing out the BMW iDrive, high-definition television sets, motion-sensitive toilets and the gestural interface from Minority Report as examples of bad design.

Safe choices for the bad design category, I would say: one universally derided product (the iDrive), two categories and one that doesn’t even exist. What about the many, many products that are really badly designed? After all, they claim themselves that “good design is the exception, not the rule.”

That said, the article gives a very good overview of the growth of the field of usability, user-centred design and experience design on the corporate level, and what these skills actually mean.

- Read full story
View slideshow

12 February 2007

Be connected on the go: not anytime – not anywhere [Swisscom Innovations]

Be connected on the go
How do people stay connected while on the go and how are the methods of communicating while on the go evolving? How available do people want to be? How often do they use the Internet and/or their laptop and for which purposes?

In a comparison of extremely mobile and average mobile people Swisscom Innovations, led by senior consultant Valerie Bauwens, has found that most of them did not want to be available anytime, anywhere. This demonstrates that people are well aware of appropriate and less appropriate times and places for laptop and Internet use.

Read full story

10 February 2007

Trend: User generated search engine

Search Wikia
In December 2006, Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales announced the development of a user-generated search engine, called “Search Wikia“, writes Josefine Koehn on CScout Trendblog.

“The goal is to build an open-source based alternative for web search, offering people-powered search results.

Several competing [Wiki] developments are [currently] coming out of beta. There are two parts that are going to be “crowdsourced”, the wiki and the software.

This blog post introduces Search Wikia, but also the other Wiki-named projects — Wikia, Wikisearch/Wikiseek and Wikisaria — to make the difference clear.” [...]

“The success of a user generated search engine, like the project wikisearch, will depend on the the active contribution of the public. Search Wikia founder Jimmy Wales blames other search engines for producing too much spam and hopes to provide better results by letting people themselves judge if a site is good or not. The question is how long it will take to have enough entries to really be comparible to the already established search engines. In the long run it’s all about quality not quantity.”

See also Tagzin and Jatalla, two other user-generated search engines that have recently been launched:

10 February 2007

Ajax vs. page views – web metrics vs. usability [USA Today]

At Yahoo’s finance site, stock quotes update automatically and continually, the numbers flashing green and red as prices rise and fall. Wall Street investors can easily leave a single Web page up all day.

Ajax — the software trick used on the page, Yahoo’s e-mail service and elsewhere — is enabling flashier, more convenient sites. It’s also contributing to Yahoo’s decline in page views, a yardstick long used for bragging rights and advertising sales.

“These technologies have outgrown the metrics,” said Peter Daboll, Yahoo’s chief of insights and the former chief executive of comScore Media Metrix, the measurement company that declared Yahoo second to the online hangout MySpace in page views. “It’s really important as an industry to come back down to earth and off this chest-thumping about who’s biggest.”

More important than “truckloads of page views,” Daboll said, are visitors’ loyalty and their willingness to respond to ads — qualities harder to measure. If a page updates on its own without reloading in its entirety, people may be sticking around longer than the measurements suggest.

Experts say the stubborn attachment to page views also may be keeping some sites from improving their usability.

Jakob Nielsen, a Web design expert with Nielsen Norman Group, notes that many news sites force visitors to click multiple times to read longer stories in sections, even though he would much prefer scrolling down a long story and avoiding interruptions. [...]

Jesse James Garrett, the Adaptive Path president who publicly coined the “Ajax” term two years ago, suggests scrapping page views entirely.

“Page views have been a broken metric for a long time, and the industry has tried to put a good face on that,” he said. “Now a new technology has come along to force the industry to deal with the fact that page views are … not a good way of measuring audience engagement.”

Read full story

10 February 2007

Europe takes lead in Second Life [Reuters]

Reuters Second Life
“Europeans make up the largest block of Second Life residents with more than 54 percent of active users in January ahead of North America’s 34.5 percent, according to new Linden Lab data,” as reported on Reuters/Second Life.

“U.S. residents made up only 31.2 percent of active Second Life users in the month. France has the second-highest number of users after the virtual world became a battleground for the country’s presidential election.

Although French residents had long been a part of Second Life, thousands more joined Second Life in January as demonstrators picketed the virtual offices of Jean Marie Le Pen’s far-right National Front party. Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal also established a Second Life presence.”

Read full story

(via Loic Le Meur)

9 February 2007

LIFT07: the private is invading the workplace, not the other way around

Bruno Giussani (interview) reports on a LIFT conference panel on "dealing with technological overload", that included Stefana Broadbent, head of the User Adoption Lab at Swisscom , Fred Mast, professor of cognitive psychology at the university of Lausanne, and Nada Kakabadse, professor at Northampton Business School; moderated by Matthias Luefkens (interview), media manager at the World Economic Forum.

Broadbent contributes some interesting reflections:

“I’m seeing much more the arrival of the private into the workplace than the workplace into the private sphere. What we are seeing through empirical research is that people are increasingly using IM, e-mail and SMS to keep in touch with their group/family/friends/community, and it’s becoming an expectation to be able to keep our social network alive, and be plugged into it, over work time.”

Giussani comments that, paradoxically, Broadbent is observing and measuring this the country – Switzerland – where the roots of protestant work ethic are.

“She asks who in the room checks private e-mail at work, and all hands go up (although it’s not clear where the border of private and public is). People are happy to be able to continue to bring their social life/network along wherever they go. There is something in the type of channels people are using.

The most fascinating discovery I [i.e. Bruno Giussani] have made this year: a reduction of voice and increase in written channels (SMS, IM, e-mail, tagging, blogging). Everybody expected that with Skype people would be speaking for hours a day, but that’s not happening. It’s more engaging, you have to commit more, you can’t multitask – while requires less commitment, and you can multitask.

I ask Stefana whether rather than to tech the addiction is maybe to social relations: to friends and family and colleagues and where they are and what they do and what they think. In the research we do, she answers, we ask people to keep a diary of whom they communicate with and how. People that are not heavily online, their average number of contact is about 20. People that are online, it goes to 70 upwards. The difference is obviously that the cost of maintaining contacts decreases. 20 is what you can handle with a one-to-one channel; as soon as you add asynchronous channels, we can handle more.

How do we unplug, asks the moderator? Stefana: that’s not a theme. If I unplug, I lose my social intelligence. We looked at small companies, and the availability and reachability of their employees. There was a radical difference between startups and more established companies. The people in the latter can switch the phone off, or answer tomorrow; the former felt they had to be reachable at all time.”

Read full story

9 February 2007

Demos project on user-led service design in local authorities

Demos Project
Demos, the UK think tank for everyday democracy, is starting a project with three local authorities: Lewisham, Knowsley and Bristol, to work out how change happens in local authorities.

The project will focus on two policy areas: young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), and parental engagement in their children’s learning.

“The work has a number of phases. First, we will map the formal services available to NEET young people and to parents in each local authority. Then, we will work with both groups to see the kinds of informal support they access, from family to friends, church or peer groups. The third phase of the project will bring service providers – schools, colleges and social services – together with service users – NEET young people and parents – to collaboratively design a service that works for both of them. The services will then be piloted by each local authority and evaluated by Demos.”

Researchers involved are Matthew Horne, former director of the UK Design Council’s RED unit (whom I presume will take the lead), together with Niamh Gallagher and Hannah Green. Together with Hilary Cottam, Charles Leadbeater, David Albury and Colin Burns, and the rest of the RED team, Horne is currently setting up a social business to design and deliver the next generation of public services. (See also this post).

As well as the services in each local authority Demos will also produce a handbook on how to make change happen in local authorities based on the experiences in Lewisham, Knowsley and Bristol.

The researchers anticipate that this guide will be used by other local authorities interested in the process of change and by national policy makers keen to understand the culture and practices of local authorities.

9 February 2007

Toy fair becomes tech fair for kids [Wired News]

“If you suspect that kids today are growing up too fast, next week’s American International Toy Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center may be all the proof you need,” writes Alexander Gelfand on Wired News.

“In keeping with the general trend toward ‘age compression’ or KGOY (industry shorthand for “kids getting older younger”), toy manufacturers will be introducing a host of adult technologies aimed at small children — including kid-friendly laptops, graphics tablets, digital cameras and a host of other high-tech items.

Consumer electronics for kids is the fastest growing trend in the $22 billion toy industry. With children becoming ever more tech savvy at ever-younger ages, toymakers are scrambling to capitalize on the rapidly growing market for youth electronics.”

The article features the following products:

  • colorful optical mice by Kutoka Interactive
  • digital cameras and graphics tablets by French toy giant Smoby
  • Click & Create With Mia — a kind of Photoshop for tots that teaches kids to draw, paint and animate shapes on screen, and allows them to create posters, invitations and birthday cards
  • the SmartKids laptop for children aged 3 to 6 that features a piano keyboard and bilingual programs in Spanish and English
  • the Marvel Ani-Movie Studio, which allows kids to create digital stop-motion films starring Marvel Comics characters
  • Pressman Toy’s iGamez, which allows kids to play a digital version of Name That Tune
  • Fisher-Price‘s Digital Arts and Crafts Studio, a graphics tablet and software package
  • Fisher-Price‘s Smart Cycle, a small stationary bike that allows kids to peddle their way through a virtual environment on a standard television set
  • Pyramat’s PM440-W wireless gaming chair

Read full story

9 February 2007

Xerox PARC spins off start-up on natural language search [The New York Times]

On Friday, Xerox PARC (or Palo Alto Research Centre) is announcing that it will be “licensing a broad portfolio of patents and technology to a well-financed start-up with an ambitious and potentially lucrative goal: to build a search engine that could some day rival Google,” writes Miguel Helft in the New York Times.

The start-up, Powerset, is licensing PARC’s “natural language” technology — the art of making computers understand and process languages like English or French. Powerset hopes the technology will be the basis of a new search engine that allows users to type queries in plain English, rather than using keywords.

In the fall, Powerset raised $12.5 million in its first round of financing from venture-capital firms and individual investors. The challenges facing it are immense, and the odds of success are long. But the PARC technology, which is a result of 30 years of research, is certain to lend it an aura of credibility.

PARC’s natural-language technology is among the “most comprehensive in existence,” said Fernando Pereira, an expert in natural language and the chairman of the department of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. But by itself, it will not guarantee Powerset’s success, Mr. Pereira said. [...]

Over the past year, PARC researchers have worked with Powerset engineers to build a prototype, but the company does not expect to release its search engine to the public until the end of this year.

Meanwhile, other start-ups and several of the search giants are also working to develop natural-language search technology. The appeal is clear. A successful natural-language search engine could, in theory, answer real questions — for example, what companies did I.B.M. acquire in the last five years? — that existing search engines are not equipped to handle. And it could turn the process of finding information on the Web into a conversation between the search engine and the user. [...]

Researchers have predicted breakthrough applications for natural languages for years, but the technology has proved usable in only limited contexts, turning many experts into skeptics about its potential, at least in the short term. [...]

In a November interview, Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president for search and user experience, said: “Natural language is really hard. I don’t think it will happen in the next five years.”

Read full story

9 February 2007

Jan Chipchase of Nokia on literacy and mobile phone design

Illiterate consumers are in many ways lead users for the rest of us, argues Jan Chipchase, principal researcher at Nokia, at his presentation at the LIFT conference.

A person is literate who can with understanding both read and write a short simple statement on his or her everyday life, and can apply this knowledge to function in a textual environment.

799 million people are illiterate. Illiteracy can be found anywhere, including London, New York and Tokyo. In addition, there are many people who are using devices that do not support their native language.

Mobile devices that were designed with a Western audience in mind are increasingly used in places like Africa and India with much lower levels of structured learning.

Design research, as the only tool that can really address this problem, reveals a number of interesting insights that designers can act upon.

- Download presentation (PowerPoint, 5.5 mb, 82 slides)
Related essay

8 February 2007

Co-leader of IDEO’s Consumer Experience Design Practice on how design can drive growth

Iain Roberts
“Creating a successful brand requires more than visually appealing products. A designer must also consider the holistic experience and contextual use of the product to attract consumers.”

This was the key message of Iain Roberts, co-leader of IDEO’s Consumer Experience Design Practice, speaking about “Persuading through Great Industrial Design” to students from marketing, communications, engineering and design as part of the 2006-2007 Yaffe Center for Persuasive Communication speaker series at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

IDEO is a global industrial design firm whose clients include AT&T, Eli Lilly, Intel, Kraft Foods, Motorola and Proctor & Gamble.

“Roberts identified three key elements of industrial design: Aesthetics (how the product looks), ergonomics (how it works) and manufacturing (how it is made). Mass production is what characterizes industrial design.

Aesthetics, ergonomics and manufacturing are combined with the human factors of empathy, experiences and connections, he said. The designer must consider the consumer’s needs (both expressed and unexpressed), desires and self-image.”

- Read full story
Watch video of presentationAlternate stream (iTunes)

8 February 2007

Information architecture, meet the enterprise web [CMS Watch]

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
“Enterprises have been characterized by a constant tug-of-war between forces of centralization and autonomy,” write Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld in their book Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (currently in its third edition), a section of which was reprinted in CMS Watch.

“We haven’t yet encountered an enterprise website that didn’t suffer from problems associated with decentralization. Put another way, it’s the rare site that is too centralized. Now that websites are recognized as a foundational component of doing business in the 21st century, many early sources of resistance to centralization are wearing down. Business units are beginning to understand the benefits of shared resources and coherent user experience, for their sites’ users as much as for their own bottom lines.

So it’s tempting to consider centralization as the ultimate goal of enterprise IA. It does sound like a nice way to deal with the problem: Just design an information architecture that knits together all units’ content silos in a rational, usable way, and then implement across the organization.

The goal of enterprise IA is not to centralize everything you see. In fact, the goal of EIA is no different than any other flavor of IA: identify the few most efficient means of connecting users with the information they need most. That often might involve adopting some centralizing measures, but it could also mean a highly decentralized approach, such as enabling employees to use a social bookmarking tool to tag intranet content. The point, as always, is to apply whatever approach makes the most sense given your organization, its users, content, and context.”

Read full article

8 February 2007

MIT’s Mobile Experience Lab

MIT Mobile Experience Lab
The MIT Mobile Experience Lab is a new established research lab within the MIT Design Laboratory.

Through its research it aims to radically reinvent and design the connections between people, ideas, physical places and information technologies in order to improve peoples’ life through meaningful experiences.

Ongoing projects are:

The lab is run by Dr. Federico Casalegno, who worked at Motorola and at MIT’s Smart Cities group. Casalegno holds a Ph.D. in Sociology of Culture and Communication from the Sorbonne University, Paris V (July 2000), with a focus on mediated communication and social interaction in networked communities and wired cities.

One of its interaction designers is Héctor Ouilhet (LinkedIn profile), who was an intern last year at Experientia and worked with us on the just launched project, that I just wrote about.

8 February 2007

Microsoft provides more background on Windows Vista user research

Windows Vista user research
Last week I wrote about how ethnographic and contextual research of 50 ordinary families helped design a better Windows Vista.

Today the PR agency Edelman sent me (on behalf of Microsoft) some more background material produced by Microsoft, describing the research done.

Roundtable Q&A: developers tap real-life families to find out what consumers really want from Windows Vista
Using instrumentation, in-home visits and specially designed feedback mechanisms, Windows Vista developers got timely, unvarnished and abundant input from 50 families in seven countries. For more insight into [this], PressPass spoke with three Microsoft officials: Trish Miner, research manager for the Life with Windows Vista program; Tjeerd Hoek, director of user-experience design for Windows Vista; and Richard Russell, development manager in the Windows Core operating system team.

Article: large-scale research project aims to make Windows Vista useful, fun for all
A two-year program tapping 50 families from across the globe to test Windows Vista provides feedback that has been fundamental in helping shape the operating system during product development.

Fact sheet: Life with Windows Vista (pdf, 164 kb, 3 pages)
Fifty families from seven countries, including Japan, Israel and Germany, contributed to the Life With Windows Vista program. Following are snapshots of five families who participated in the Life With Windows Vista program.

The fairly long “Roundtable Q&A” (i.e. interview) is probably the most interesting read-up for professionals. The article on the other hand got me suspicious when I read about a user saying “she was surprised by how comprehensive Windows Vista is and how easy and fun it is to use”.

8 February 2007

Unfriendly technology is creating a digital divide in the workforce, warns Deloitte [Computing Magazine]

Deloitte Tech Predictions
A lack of user-friendly technology in the marketplace is exacerbating a digital divide in the workforce between those who can use technology effectively and those who can’t and is likely to provoke a backlash among users, according to a new Technology Predictions for 2007 report from consultancy Deloitte.

The research predicts that technology vendors will focus increasing resources on the user interface in their products this year, and adds that “certain products have become unnecessarily complex and unusable, due to the incomprehensibility of their user interface”

“Businesses cannot afford to have a digital divide in their labour force,” said Deloitte technology partner David Tansley. “They need to be in a position where the vast majority of employees interact with the vast majority of the technology needed to do their jobs with little need for training.”

Read full story

8 February 2007

Condé Nast Italy launches portal, based on Experientia input
Condé Nast Italy launched today, a fashion, lifestyle and entertainment portal for the young Italian woman.

The new portal upgrades the existing and very popular Vogue/Vanity and Glamour websites.

During the concept development and design of the portal, Experientia was intensely involved in providing its particular user testing and human-centred design focus.

The Experientia team concentrated first on better understanding the lifestyle and entertainment needs of the female readership, so that the new portal would be developed around their context, needs and aspirations, rather than be based on the assumptions the editorial team held about the interests of these women.

In particular, the team did a range of structured interviews, tests and card sorting exercises to arrive at these insights and to inform the information architecture.

They then coordinated the development of three click-through design prototypes that were used to gather feedback from end-users during user testing, in order to provide further input to the final design solution.