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Putting People First

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March 2007
31 March 2007

The importance of magic in designing ubiquitous user experiences

Mike Kuniavsky
Mike Kuniavsky, founder of Adaptive Path and ThingM, gave a talk this week at ETech on The Coming Age of Magic.

Phil Windley, Associate Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University, reports:

The idea is that Moore’s Law has pushed the price of computing so low that it is nearly disposable. Computing can be everywhere. […] What does this do to people’s experiences?

People’s reaction to ubiquitous computing devices is to consider them more like animals than they do to rocks and other inanimate objects. People know their Roomba isn’t an animal, but they treat them that way. […]

Taking the desktop metaphor beyond the desktop doesn’t work. […]

The answer is magic. Not in the traditional sense that people understand magic, but specifically in the sense of enchanted objects. This isn’t pretending that technology is magic or lying about how technology works. It’s an abstraction for describing how enchanted objects work.

What sets enchanted objects apart from their static counterparts is their ability to interact. They should be
* Everyday objects
* Familiar – look and act like you’d expect them to
* Physical – there is a physical use mode
* Screenless – no assumption that there’s a text output
* Not human – no expectation that they behave like us
* Not superhuman – ultimately we’re in control of the object

There are some devices now that have these properties. He references the Ambient Orb, the Nokia Medallion, the wand-like Nintendo Wii, and so on.

Or to summarise things with this Kuniavsky quote: “The manuals for magical items have been written for hundreds of years, now it’s possible to make the objects themselves.”

Read full story

It strikes me by the way that also Philips is heading in this direction with its flower-shaped Living Colors mood lighting and the interactive Dimi prototype.

31 March 2007

Mike Kuniavsky on museum experience design

Museum experience design
Adaptive Path co-founder Mike Kuniavsky (blog) held a talk recently about the role that technology can play in helping history museums communicate their core competitive advantage, which he determines to be authenticity. He also provided some examples of projects that he thinks used technology particularly well to do that.

“The history museum’s advantage relative to other activities is direct exposure to real artifacts and experiences. You provide the examples on which explanations of contemporary life, politics, industry, etc, are based. People’s understanding of “here and now” starts with “there and then.” You’re the there. […]

I believe that new digital technologies can greatly lower the costs of communicating the value of authenticity. In other words, they can tell you what makes the real thing REAL.”

His analysis uses four categories – explain, explore, extend and provoke – to organise all the projects he looked at in a benchmark and a downloadable presentation (pdf, 600 kb, 19 pages) contains four of them, one in each of the categories.

The conclusions (on page 18 of the presentation) are also worth a read.

31 March 2007

Intel Technology Journal on “designing technology with people in mind”

Intel on designing technology with people in mind
The current issue of Intel Technology Journal, the company’s R&D webzine, is entirely devoted to people-centred design:

Foreword

Foreword
By Herman D’Hooge
Senior Principal Engineer
Channel Platforms Group, Intel Corporation

Ethnographic techniques

Sideways glances: thinking laterally and holistically about technology placement in the innovation process
Understand how Intel can build successful platforms by gaining a better understanding of people, their homes, social and cultural practices, and the role technologies play in these spaces. With knowledge about people, rather than users, Intel can create technologies that will support meaningful and valued experiences in and of the home.

Real reality TV: using documentary-style video to place real people at the center of the design process
Using video clips from a study of PC usage and meaning conducted in Egypt, Germany, South Korea, and Brazil by Domestic Designs and Technologies Research in 2006, see how the author demonstrates the power of documentary video in ethnographic research and its usefulness as a means for communicating research findings.

Usage-driven technology design

Intel® Usage-to-Platform Requirements process
Delve into the challenges inherent in developing a platform instead of a product and find out how Intel uses a process encompassing research, human factors engineering, use case and requirements processes, and visual conceptualization to build successful platforms.

Usage-based platform design: case studies in thermal design, enterprise manageability, and information access
See how Intel is putting more emphasis on understanding end-users’ needs and integrating user requirements into the process of platform design. Understand how building end-user-focused solutions takes end-to-end effort that applies to products and services beyond Intel platforms.

Bringing the voice of employees into IT decision making
Knowing that understanding end users is critical when designing new technology for customers, Intel looks within the enterprise and finds that researching employees’ IT needs and experiences is critical to the business objectives of a company.

Home PC maintenance with Intel® AMT
Can a home or small business PC be repaired remotely? Can those long phone calls to support centers be reduced or eliminated? Here, Intel’s engineers present a usage model to allow home and small-business PC users to solve daily hardware and software technical problems remotely, with minimum effort on their part.

User experience assessment

Technologies for heart and mind: new directions in embedded assessment
Everyone knows that good habits and prevention are keys to health, but most people lack the capability and motivation to constantly monitor their own health. Margaret Morris and colleagues have developed technologies that fit seamlessly into daily life, providing constant but unobtrusive monitoring and immediate, personalized feedback for both near-term appeal and long-term health benefits.

Assessing the quality of user experience
No longer is it enough for a product to have a technical advantage; nowadays, taking the user experience into account when designing a product is the key differentiator in determining how competitive a product will be in the market. Understand the roll of emotions, attitudes, thoughts, and perceptions across the usage lifecyle and development of a product.

Sidebar

Mapping the digital home: making cultural sense of domestic space and place

31 March 2007

World Association of Newspapers: pay attention to the habits of the young

A young reader
Here’s how to get young people to read newspapers: pay attention to their habits, talk to them about their lives, and invite them to contribute, both in print and online.

That is the message that emerged from the 7th World Young Reader Conference (presentation summaries), where a fresh approach to attracting young readers was presented by those who have succeeded in getting young people interested in their products.

“Stop writing surveys about readership, and start watching people. Learn, look around, open your eyes,” said Anne Kirah, Dean of the 180° Academy in Denmark and a cultural anthropologist who has helped Microsoft design its products. “You need to engage in people-driven research and look at their entire lives. Observe people doing activities that define themselves, and are meaningful to them.”

Ms Kirah said she was distrustful of traditional readership questionnaires because “there is a difference between what people say they do and what they actually do. Do you really know how much time you spend on the internet, or read a newspaper? But you ask those questions. It’s not that people are lying to you, it’s that they really don’t know the answers.”

The problem is compounded when studying young readers, or the “digital natives”, since their habits are completely different those of the “digital immigrants” — those who remember the analog-only world and are the people conducting the studies, and making the decisions at media companies.

Read full story

30 March 2007

Yale symposium on experience design and architecture from a critical perspective

Market of Effects Symposium
Former Interaction-Ivrea colleague Molly Wright Steenson asked me to alert my readers about this Yale symposium on experience design and architecture. Of course I gladly comply out of affection for Molly and because worked in both fields (I actually worked full time in a New York architecture firm for three years, handling their business development).

Market of Effects Symposium

From “Imagineers” to “Futurologists”, from ethnographic research to product branding, architectural designers are evermore concerned with the production of entertaining, interactive, and variable experiences through spatial, surface and material effects. These trends parallel last decade’s identification of the “Experience Economy” and its materialization in the fields of “experience design” and “experience architecture.” Formulated in the late 90s, this economic model is characterized by a progression away from subsistence commodities to a service-based economy, resulting in the trade of service experiences appealing to consumers’ emotions and feelings. Through the thematizing of user needs and the theatrical presentation of the currencies of memory, image, sensorial satisfaction and mass-customization, architecture has responded to market forces with projects that merge technology, narrative and dynamic effects in the built environment.

“The Market of Effects” will serve as a critical forum in which to explore the history, articulation and future of the experience economy in relation to architectural and urban design. The symposium solicits proposals that examine or critique designs that combine interactive and variable effects, the engagement with extra-visual sensation, the layering of data, and the appeal to individual taste and identity to construct a personalized point of sale via the built environment.

Full programme and registration information

(I just hope that Molly will post something online afterwards, like presentations, audio or video, so we can all share in the fun.)

30 March 2007

Living Labs conference in Belgium

i-City PDA
This week Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken was in Belgium to attend a conference where a Living Lab project in the cities of Hasselt and Leuven was presented.

“Living Labs” is a new concept for R&D and innovation to boost the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth in Europe. There are big differences between running Living Labs but they share a vision of human-centric involvement and its potential for development of new ICT-based services and products. It is all done by bringing different stakeholders together in a co-creative way, and by involving people in the streets and the users and user communities as contributors and co-creators of new innovations. In short, they are people-centred technology testing grounds in real-life situations.

The initiative is sponsored by the EU (wiki), but funding comes mostly from national and regional governments and private companies.

The Belgian Living Lab in the small city of Hasselt focuses on wireless technology and location-based services that run on WiFi-enabled PDA’s. About 750 people currently take part in this pilot study. According to Belgian Living Lab coordinator Guido van der Mullen, the process runs like this: (1) thematic working groups (e.g. on healthcare, mobility or culture and tourism) come together to develop ideas for possible applications or industry partners deliver these ideas directly; (2) a team of software developers then develop an alpha version of the application software; (3) this gets tested with all or a section of the users in the Living Lab; (4) input from the user testing is fed into the development of the beta version of the software; (5) this gets tested again; (6) after which the final version of the software gets developed.

Most of the current Living Labs, including the Belgian project, only involve the participating inhabitants in assessing how they react to applications, i.e. as testers, but not in the application ideation stage, which follows a more traditional top-down model still: experts who have ideas about possible applications.

As stated by Olavi Luotonen, the EU’s Living Lab portfolio coordinator, the European Commission hopes that the second wave participants will expand the human-centred approach also to application ideation and not just to application testing. In fact, some of the first wave project are already experimenting with this approach, including the Testbed Botnia project in Northern Sweden. The Botnia project is managed by Mikael Börjeson, who also runs the curiously named “Centre for Distance-spanning Technology” located above the arctic circle, he told me, and CoreLabs, which acts as an operational arm of the European Commission to insure coordination between all the Living Labs.

Fientje Moerman, the Vice-Minister President of the Flemish Goverment and Flemish Minister for Economy, Enterprise, Science, Innovation and Foreign Trade (a mouthful), was particularly pleased with the work done in Hasselt so far. She provided an additional 4 million euro contribution for the project’s 2007 budget and is now exploring how to expand the concept to all bigger cities in Flanders, and turn the Hasselt project into an i-Flanders project.

This is all part of a larger strategy of the energetic Belgian minister to make design and creativity core pillars of her innovation strategy, as demonstrated by the recent founding of such initiatives as Design Flanders and Flanders District of Creativity.

The Hasselt team meanwile has spun off a for-profit company called “City Live” which aims to commercialise its “Community Services Platform”, i.e. the central software that runs all the i-City applications.

The applications we got to see during an interactive tour of the city were as such not that revolutionary and reminded me of many mobile 2.0 applications that have been launched recently, but the nice thing is of course that they are highly location specific and entirely free for the end-user (as the signal comes from a series of wifi hotspots): an application to locate your friends in real time on a map, a tool to upload news items on a local citizen-generated news service, an application to alert the city government via a photo tool about possible problems with roads, rubbish or public furniture, etcetera.

The interface itself was interesting, and – this is nice – the result of a people-centred design approach. The standard issue (HP) PDA (see photo) is divided in four rows: the top one features common applications such as calling, texting, emailing, etc. The second row features people’s favourite applications. The third row is for location-specific applications, e.g. if you were standing next to the station the mobile website of the bus company and the railway company showed up, and maybe also some descriptions of nearby bars. The bottom row finally is for navigation. Each row could be scrolled by a stylus or by touch-sensitive browsing very similar to what you can find on the Apple iPhone.

(Anyone interested in starting a Living Lab should submit an Expression of Interest before 30 April.)

29 March 2007

Designing bosses get results [Financial Post, Canada]

ICOM
Last year, Lance Carlson, president of the Alberta College of Art and Design, set up the Institute for the Creative Process and, for the first time, forayed into research on how to apply the design process to things that aren’t about the look of something — things like the workplace.

“There are practical steps employers can take to use design thinking and plug it in to how they operate and develop their business models,” says Mr. Carlson, who spoke recently at a Calgary Economic Development forum about creativity and innovation in the workplace.

The British Design Council released a study in Britain that showed companies that embrace creative design thinking had a 200% greater profitability than firms that didn’t. “Traditional business thinking is about quantifiable, predictable gains. Predictable and quantifiable is reliable, but it’s not necessarily valid,” Mr. Carlson says. “It is design that makes a difference in the world. You don’t just work at a place because of how much money you’re making.” […]

Mr. Carlson talks about an ethnographic approach to workforce design whereby business leaders analyze their workforce carefully, get to know what makes them tick and develop an innovative business structure that emphasizes creativity and the opportunity to demonstrate innovation.”

Read full story

29 March 2007

Big brands turning to Big Brother [Daily Telegraph]

Ethnographic research
Questionnaires and focus groups aren’t enough – now companies are having volunteers filmed for days on end to see what makes customers really tick, finds Stephen Hoare of the Daily Telegraph.

As development costs escalate so do the risks of a commercial failure. Global brands want to make sure their products succeed across national boundaries and are turning for help to a new kind of market testing – ethnographic research.

In less than a decade ethnographic research – detailed observations of the day-to-day behaviours of a small sample from a target group of consumers to shed light on how they use, choose or buy products – has established itself alongside consumer surveys and focus groups as a leading tool of market research.

Siamack Salari, boss of one firm specialising in this field called EverydayLives, explains ethnographic research as social anthropology meets the internet. Salari’s researchers follow paid volunteers for days filming their every move with a hand-held camcorder in order to uncover hidden truths about the way they lead their lives.

Read full story

27 March 2007

Improving end-user experience [ComputerWorld]

Improving end-user experience
Bernd Harzog discusses end-user experience management in the software section of ComputerWorld, the IT Management magazine.

“Do you find that despite the small fortune you have spent on products to manage your servers, networks and applications, your business constituencies still complain about the performance, usability and availability of key business applications?

If so, it might be time to expand your performance management horizons to include the end-user experience. Traditional monitoring and management tools focus on factors that impact but are blind to the actual end-user experience. While they are excellent at measuring application availability, they provide no insight into real application performance from the perspective of the end user. And what is that perspective? As far as end users are concerned, an application is “not performing” whenever it does not work as expected — when it’s slow, when it’s continually spitting out error messages or when the user interface is so counterintuitive the only option is to create a work-around.

A focus on the end user is the key to driving adoption and efficient and effective use of your critical business applications. This process starts with deciding on your approach. There are three basic types of end-user experience management products: scripted synthetic agents, passive network appliances and passive client agents.”

Read full story

27 March 2007

Book: Anthropology in Consumer Research

Anthropology in Consumer Research
Grant McCracken reports on the upcoming publication of the book “Anthropology in Consumer Research” written by Patricia Sunderland and Rita Denny of the Chicago-based Practica Group.

McCracken wrote the foreword which he published on his blog. An excerpt:

“Not so long ago it received a papal blessed from A.G. Lafley, the CEO of P&G. And with this CEOs and CMOs everywhere began to give the attention new attention. This is, in other words, a crucial moment in the history of the method. It will either grow up to dispatch the larger and more important responsibilities is now assigned. Or it will continue its descent into naïve empiricism, charismatic performance, or the commodity basement.”

Read full foreword

27 March 2007

Small PCs present big problems for users and interface designers [AP]

FlipStart
Watching users fumble and nearly drop an early version of the FlipStart compact PC practically gave Robin Budd a heart attack. The culprit was the three-key sequence, Control-Alt-Delete, required to log off or reboot a Windows PC.

“They would be holding the device in one hand, and they would try to get their three fingers on the keys at one time,” said Budd, senior director at FlipStart Labs, a venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. “You can do it if you’re fairly nimble with your fingers, but it’s sort of a tippy, precarious thing.”

When the shrunken-down laptop goes on sale later this month, early adopters might get a kick out of FlipStart’s solution: a dedicated key marked “Ctrl Alt Del.”

The FlipStart, like other so-called ultra-mobile PCs, may give workers tools to do more from the road. At the same time, the Control-Alt-Delete problem is a reminder to electronics makers that the human body is not keeping up with ever-shrinking gadgets.

Manufacturers have not found “the sweet spot between small enough for portability and big enough to use and interact with,” said Gregg Davis, a principal at Design Central, an industrial design company in Columbus, Ohio.

Read full story

(via Usability in the News)

27 March 2007

Cogito Ergo Nomics [The Truth About Cars]

Power
How easy is your car to use, asks Josh Brannon in an interesting but somewhat older editorial on the automobile blog “The Truth About Cars”.

“I’m not talking about acceleration, steering or cornering. I’m talking about the mental effort required to successfully interact with your car’s secondary features, such as in-car entertainment or the trip computer. While controls like steering (the brilliant simplicity of a wheel), throttle (foot pedal farthest to the right) and braking (second-to-right pedal) are standardized for most vehicles certified for use on a public road, the majority of other controls are confusing enough to plunge an automotive reviewer (or a Hertz Platinum Club member) into RTFM rage.

Sometimes it’s a simple matter of old habits dying hard: in many ways the best interface is one you don’t have to re-learn. If you’re used to having to jab at a button several times to adjust the temperature several degrees while surveying the change on a display that’s located on the opposite hemisphere of the dash, that may be the best user interface—for you.

But that’s not the whole story when something as basic as starting the car has now taken on innumerous forms. Do you A) insert the key in a slot (to the right or left of the steering wheel or in the center console) and turn it or B) insert the key in a hole and push it or C) insert the key into a slot and push a start button or D) ignore the key altogether as long as it’s on your person and then either push a button or twist a piece of plastic adjacent to the steering wheel? Each of these methods are used by at least one current production car—and I’m sure I’ve missed at least one type of ignition sequence.

Changing gears is a similar issue.”

Read full story

27 March 2007

When computers need human help [The International Herald Tribune]

Mechanical Turk
Computers still do some things very poorly, writes Jason Potin in the International Herald Tribune.

“Even when they pool their memory and processors in powerful networks, they remain unevenly intelligent. Things that humans do with little conscious thought, like recognizing patterns or meanings in images, language or concepts, only baffle the machines.

These lacunae in computers’ abilities would be of interest only to computer scientists, except that many individuals and companies are finding it harder to locate and organize the swelling mass of information that our digital civilization creates.

The problem has prompted a spooky, but elegant, business idea: Why not use the Web to create marketplaces of willing human beings who will perform the tasks that computers cannot?”

Read full story

27 March 2007

Intel admits tech can be tedious [The Register]

Professor Genevieve Bell takes questions
Genevieve Bell has a message for technologists who espouse the self-serving view that the more cell phone, laptops and other gizmos we integrate into our life the happier we’ll be: people often get fed up.

That notion may be obvious to anyone who has experienced the simultaneous, and seemingly unending, flow of instant messages, emails and ringing phones, all proclaiming to be urgent. But you generally won’t hear it from the companies who are trying to force their hardware and software down our throats.

Until now.

Bell is a “resident anthropologist” at Intel, who has conducted years of research into everyday people’s attitudes about technology. Her finding is that people are frequently looking for a respite.

“Someone once said to me they thought of their cell phone and the bundle of technology in their backpack as being like a nest of chirping birds and all the little mouths of baby birds all demanding to be fed,” Bell said to a small gathering of reporters. “It had gotten to this point that what they really wanted to do was fling their backpack into the river.”

Bell reached the conclusion by observing people somewhat out of the mainstream. She’s spent a fair amount of time studying enthusiasts of recreational vehicles, backpackers and people who own second homes, usually used for several months out of the year as vacation spots. The idea: these seekers of alternative abodes can tell us a lot about the way we all would prefer to live.

Read full story

27 March 2007

How to improve it? Ask those who use it [The New York Times]

Eric von Hippel of M.I.T., left, and Dr. Nathaniel Sims, with hospital devices Dr. Sims has modified. Mr. von Hippel says users can improve on products.
“Dr. Nathaniel Sims, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, has figured out a few ways to help save patients’ lives,” writes Michael Fitzgerald in the New York Times.

“In doing so, he also represents a significant untapped vein of innovation for companies.

What Dr. Sims did is called user-driven innovation by Eric von Hippel, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. Mr. von Hippel is the leading advocate of the value of letting users of products modify them or improve them, because they may come up with changes that manufacturers never considered. He thinks that this could help companies develop products more quickly and inexpensively than with their internal design teams.”

Read full story

22 March 2007

The Philips ExperienceLab

Philips Experience Lab
The Philips Research magazine provides some more insight in the Philips HomeLab (videos) , CareLab and ShopLab, now grouped under the heading “Experience Research”:

Unfortunately, the article doesn’t contain a lot of news, but it is a nice summary of where Philips is at.

“What will our world look like in ten years? What technologies are round the corner? These are the questions everyone gets asked when you tell someone that you work at Philips. But Philips is asking different questions. Not what can we have, but what do we need? Do people actually want this technology and what should it do? What benefit does it give them? And they are using their ExperienceLab to make sure.

ExperienceLab is the embodiment of Sense & Simplicity: developing technology not for technology’s sake, but to create products that enhance people’s lives in a meaningful way. It’s about listening to our customers and consumers to understand what motivates them, what they want and what they really need. This is the goal of ‘experience research’, with the existing HomeLab, and its new sisters – CareLab and ShopLab.”

Download background (pdf, 559 kb, 3 pages)

22 March 2007

Ancient manuscript teaches machines how to talk to people

How to Talk to People
Ambidextrous magazine, Stanford University’s Journal of Design, has printed an excerpt from the last chapter of Donald Norman’s not-yet published book, The Design of Future Things.

The excerpt, entitled “How to Talk to People”, is part of an ancient manuscript Norman uncovered, written some time in the 21st century, trying to teach machines patience in their interactions with people.

In short, a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek, deadpan must-read.

Download “How to Talk to People” (pdf, 583 kb, 4 pages)

22 March 2007

Information Overload: We have met the Enemy and he is Us

Information Overload
Information is the new currency of our society yet workers’ accounts seem to be mostly overdrawn. A typical worker gets at least 200 emails, dozens of instant messages, multiple phone calls (office phone and mobile phone), and several text messages, not to mention being bombarded by a vast amount of content to contend with.

Information overload has become a significant problem for companies of all sizes, with some large organisations losing billions of dollars each year in lower productivity and hampered innovation.

This week knowledge economy research organisation Basex, officially released its report Information Overload: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us. It discusses the use of technology in the workplace, our human capabilities (cognitive, emotional and social), and approaches to managing the many flavours of information overload.

(via Usability News)

20 March 2007

CNBC on the role of customers in business innovation

CNBC's Business of Innovation
Dominic Basulto reports on part 3 of CNBC’s Business of Innovation series, were Maria Bartiromo and co-host Roger Schank focus on the role of the customer during the innovation process.

“In some cases, it appears that "old dogs" can learn "new tricks" by listening to their customers. At eBay and LEGO, for example, customers are actively leading the product innovation process. Other companies, such as Moen, are tapping into cutting-edge ideas such as customer anthropology in order to understand what customers want and need.

The segment includes interviews with eBay CEO Meg Whitman and former Viacom bigwig Tom Freston, as well as short clips featuring Muhammad Yunus (winner of the Nobel Prize for his work in micro-finance lending), LEGO Mindstorms, TurboTap and Callaway Golf. One of the highlights of the program is the insightful commentary from Eric von Hippel of MIT, who explains how "lead users" are driving innovation in many different industries.”

20 March 2007

Singapore Management University designing campus IT around the user

Singapore Management University
Jonathan Hopfner writes in Managing Information Systems (MIS) how Singapore Management University used the opportunity of an impeding move to a new city-centre campus as a chance to design all the IT infrastructure around the user.

With providing an “interactive, participative and technologically-enabled learning experience” at the heart of the university’s philosophy, SMU’s Office of Communications and IT wanted “pedagogy [to] drive the classroom design, including the technology, not the other way around.”

The IT office went on a study tour “to find out how some of the top universities in the United States put the latest equipment and software to use”. This allowed them to draw up tentative classroom designs, which were evaluated by special interest groups of professors of all the SMU Schools.

Then they created a prototype, “an experimental teaching facility, where design ideas could be tested and put through their paces”.

The article also describes some of the innovative technological solutions that came out of this user-driven design process.

Read full story