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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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March 2007
10 March 2007

Jan Chipchase of Nokia on delegating positive experiences

The art of delegation
Jan Chipchase, a user anthropologist at Nokia, thinks that at some point we may well be able to delegate entertainment experiences to other people, to be enjoyed at your leisure at a later time and date.

“Experience shifting raises all sorts of interesting questions about empathic design, where from an physiological-emotional perspective experience designers will literally be able put themselves in someone else’s shoes.

What are the characteristics of the people whose experiences will define, well, the essence of the experience we wish to design for, to communicate? It can be anything from designing an out of the box experience to learning, knowing what it feels like to walk in a Sao Paulo subway station, the touch of a razor from a Chinese back street barber, and yes, will encompass sexual encounters.

In this world DRM boils down to removing experiences from human memory and the inevitable badly written DRM leaves its host as a vegetable.

A new profession will arise – people whose job it is to experience stuff, and who will be judged on their ability to capture the subtleties of any difference process, task or context. With a distinction between raw experiences and those enhanced though stimulants, or post production.”

Read full story

10 March 2007

Sociology at Microsoft

Marc Smith
The software giant wants to better understand how people interact on the Internet.

Marc Smith, the senior research sociologist at Microsoft Research, believes that now is a good time to practice his trade. Thanks to the Internet, there is unprecedented access to sociological data. And thanks to computers, sociologists are better able to sift through that data, find trends, and test models.

At Microsoft, Smith uses public Internet data to look at the social phenomenon of online communities, and he tries to make them better for people and better for business.

He recently gave a presentation regarding his work at Microsoft’s TechFest in Redmond, WA, an annual event at which Microsoft researchers from around the world share their latest work.

Technology Review caught up with Smith to ask him about the field of cybersociology.

Read interview

9 March 2007

MIT Media Lab Europe founder starts Distance Lab

Horizon building
Stefan Agamanolis, founding research director of MIT Media Lab Europe (which closed in January 2005) has meanwhile embarked on a new initiative, the Distance Lab located in Northern Scotland.

The mission of the lab is to invent and commercialise new products and services that help to wipe out the disadvantages of distance in several key domains, including learning, health, knowledge, relationships and culture.

Distance Lab is a distributed research laboratory developed with the Scottish Highlands & Islands Enterprise that aspires to be at the international forefront of innovation in digital media technologies. Launched in January of this year, it has its first office at Horizon Scotland in Forres, near Inverness.

Commenting on the lab, chief executive Stefan Agamanolis said: “We have seen many examples of how digital media can help us overcome distance in the areas of learning and healthcare as well as in our everyday relationships with distant family members and friends. The job of Distance Lab is to take these technologies to a new level, focusing on design factors to make them much more usable and effective than they are now, and to enable new activities over a distance that weren’t possible before.”

One of the areas Distance Lab will explore is how digital media can be used to create new kinds of tourism experiences that, for example, take place in remote areas or that convey cultural heritage over a physical or temporal distance.

(thanks, Joëlle Bitton for this tip)

8 March 2007

Canadian HOT Topics magazine on user experience

HOT Lab
HOT Topics is a monthly online publication of the Human-Oriented Technology Lab at Carleton University. This month’s topic is “User Experience“.

Marc Hassenzahl on User Experience
Marc Hassenzahl’s research in the area of product evaluation has had him thinking about the relationship between pragmatic and hedonic qualities of products for years. In this interview he takes a broad look at the research in the area of user experience to explore the reasons people like products. While usability, an ‘instrumental’ quality, is without a doubt important, Hassenzahl considers ‘non-instrumental’ qualities such as hedonic aspects (stimulation, identification and evocation). Then, looking at the relationship between instrumental and non-instrumental qualities generally, he provides some unsight into how to potentially resolve the dilemma of whether instrumental qualities (e.g. usability) influence non-instrumental qualities (e.g. judgments of aesthetics) or vice versa. He concludes by providing a view on the multi-faceted ways to conduct research in this area.

Usability, Aesthetics, Emotions and the User Experience
Sascha Mahlke’s research in the area of aesthetics, emotion and usability has led him to conduct a series of experiments to explore how people experience technology. While acknowledging the importance of usability, his research also addresses non-instrumental qualities (aesthetic and symbolic aspects) and emotional responses. In this article, Sascha reports on a series of studies he has conducted. In Study 1 using real products, he looks at whether usability assessment and aesthetic response correlate with the emotional response and overall judgment of a product. In Study 2, he reports on a controlled experiment that sought to reveal dependencies between usability, aesthetics, emotional response and overall judgment of a product. In Study 3 he explores the influence of context on various aspects of the user experience.

7 March 2007

Searching for Michael Jordan? Microsoft wants a better way [The New York Times]

Microsoft
Internet searching was at the forefront of the technologies that Microsoft displayed on Tuesday at an event intended to showcase the company’s research prowess, reports in The New York Times.

“Despite a lack of visible progress in catching up with Google, the leader in Internet search engines, Microsoft says it still believes that it will eventually turn the tables by improving the quality of its search results and by changing the way computer users search.

It is all part of an arms race for search supremacy that has engaged top researchers at both companies.

  • During a morning session for more than 300 visitors at the Microsoft Conference Center, Lili Cheng, a user-interface designer for the Windows Vista operating system, showed off a new service called Mix that will allow Web surfers to organize search results and easily share them.
  • A second tool demonstrated, called Web Assistant, is intended to improve the relevance of search results and help resolve ambiguities in results that, for example, would give a user sites for both Reggie Bush and George Bush. Among other things, the results can be refined based on records of earlier searches by thousands of others and the ways those users changed search terms when they did not get the results they were seeking.
  • Susan Dumais, a veteran Microsoft search expert, has built a tool to help determine relevance called Personalized Search. It pulls together several hundred results and then compares them with the index that Windows users can build of the documents on their hard drives, a feature called Desktop Search.”

Read full story

7 March 2007

People searching for online health advice favour sites with a human touch, research suggests [BBC]

Personal testimonies
People searching online for health advice often reject sites giving high quality information in favour of those with a human touch, a study suggests.

Researchers found people use an initial weeding out process to deal with the minefield of health information of variable quality available.

However, this tends to mean they quickly eliminate most NHS and drug company websites, they said.

The study was funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council.

The researchers examined the internet search strategies of people who wanted to find specific health information on topics such as high blood pressure, the menopause and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Read full story

6 March 2007

New interface at the confessional

Confession
The Catholic Church has invented a new confessional interface, or so it seems on this hilarious video from Spain.

Enjoy.

5 March 2007

Where artists and inventors plot to save the world [The New York Times]

Chris Anderson
An article by Saul Hansell in The New York Times provides a good insight into the socially responsible direction Chris Anderson is taking the famous TED conference.

“The art being discussed is likely to be photography of genocide victims; the architecture, environmentally sustainable AIDS clinics; and the technology, water-purification systems.”

Anderson, a wealthy former magazine publisher of British origin who founded Business 2.0, the Internet-age business magazine, took over the TED conference from its founder, Richard Saul Wurman, and “absolutely, completely, totally believes that those three days at TED can change the world” [these are the words of Steve Rosenbaum, a longtime TED participant and the chief executive of Magnify Media, a Web video company].

[TED gave me] “a sense of possibility, that people can reach beyond where they are and do things that are surprising,” says Anderson.

Nice is that edited highlights from the conference presentations, called TED Talks, are available to watch online or to download for free – sponsored by BMW. And this after the BBC called the event “too intellectual”.

“So far the talks have been viewed 5.5 million times by 2 million people.”

Now they are creating — guess what — “a social networking system that will seek to be a sort of MySpace for the change-the-world crowd.”

Read full story

5 March 2007

Design led futures

Design led futures
“Design prototyping is an excellent way to bring imaginable future(s) to life, to make them visible, tangible, ‘experiencable‘ and allow people to deal with their meaning(s) in versatile ways,” writes Nik Baerten on his foresight blog A Thousand Tomorrows.

“Prototyping – whether conceptual or physical – makes for possible contextual scenarios in the foresight-sense to give rise to possible scenarios-of-use in the user centred design-sense. As such, in foresight activities these designs not only help to evoke more in-depth qualitative reflections from stakeholders, they can also give direct leads as to how to take up certain strategic challenges posed by the scenario, thereby co-creating new value(s).

In ways reminiscent of experimental projects by Philips Design as well as the EU research project Designing for Future Needs (see also here), and with a time horizon of about 10 years, industry partners and students at Victoria University of Wellington School of Design in New Zealand envisioned future solutions in an initiative titled Design Led Futures.

Professor Simon Fraser started it in order to challenge students “to step back from the constraints of daily practice, to look beyond the immediate product, to look at it in context, and to investigate the broader issues that surround it – human issues, issues of society, culture and behaviour – including emotional issues that are fundamental to industrial design as a discipline.”

So far three projects have been concluded, in which the focus lay explicitly upon the overall experience rather than the mere object of design :

  • Domestic Bliss: students were required to create a new understanding of the role that appliances (such as fridges, washing machines and cookers) might play in the architecture and culture of the home
  • Inside-Out: project on the theme of outdoor living and the role that appliances might play in making this possible and pleasurable
  • Energising Water: project to explore and create a new understanding of the base material of water by creatively applying existing or new, specifically developed technologies

Check out the fascinating concepts that students developed.”

4 March 2007

New Web sites connect lenders and borrowers [International Herald Tribune]

Zopaanimmg
About a year and a half ago I wrote about Zopa, a P2P banking service in the UK, and therefore a potentially disruptive innovation in the financial services sector. The International Herald Tribune has meanwhile discovered it as well:

A Web site based in Britain, Zopa.com, and another in the United States, Prosper.com, have started businesses that connect individuals eager to borrow money to other people willing to lend, offering both sides better interest rates than banks.

Banking analysts suggest that these hyper-efficient operations, with few employees and no costly real estate, could force changes to established banks.

Read full story

3 March 2007

New USA Today website is all about social networking

USA Today
USA Today’s new website went live this morning, writes Todd Zeigler, senior vice president at The Bivings Group, an internet communications firm.

“You can read a note from the editors about the redesign here and a breakdown of the new features here.

The key here is the social networking component. Users can create profiles that include personal information, blog entries, photos and a list of friends. These profiles are then linked to every time a user comment on articles.

The site also includes tons of other features such as tagging, voting on stories, RSS feeds, etc. The user interface includes a good dose of Ajax, which is smart. It will cut down on page views a bit but it creates a much better user experience.

In order to succeed online newspapers are going to have to build vibrant communities around their websites. With its new site, USA Today appears to be doing just that.”

Or is this just another community oriented news site, as one of the commenter asks.

3 March 2007

Nokia Research on new potentials for car sharing

Car sharing
Nokia Research has published a short paper by Stephan Hartwig and Michael Buchmann on how mobile communication services can become a next generation ride-sharing tool, with a potential to mitigate traffic- and emission problems in the 21st century.

There are 500+ million privately owned passenger cars worldwide, thereof 236 million in the US. These cars travel in the magnitude of 5 trillion km per year. Let’s assume 2 empty seats per car and a small hypothetical value of only 5 cent per km and per seat, the potential value of empty travelling seats amounts to 500 billion €.

The memo points out that current low popularity of car pooling results from technical constraints rather than lack of attractiveness of ride-sharing as such, and explores how mobile communication services can cross-link supply and demand of these empty seats.

Download paper (pdf, 363 kb, 11 pages)

3 March 2007

Mobile communication, a professional social network for mobile society researchers

Mobile communication
And more on social networking: after the professional email groups there are now the professional social networks.

Mobile Communication – the social implications of mobile communication is a social network for mobile society researchers. The new site is focused on the academic analysis of mobile communication in society.

Members create their personal chat group, share photos and videos, post in a forum and are related to one another on the basis of their institutional affiliation or scientific background.

The network, hosted on Ning (which by the way is very slow), was created by Richard Ling, a sociologist at Telenor’s research institute located near Oslo, Norway. It has currently 12 members.

What does this mean?
Are email groups things of the past? What is the real difference between email groups and these social networking sites, except that you can upload video and photos? Should Putting People First become a social networking site too? Or is it one already? Is there a need for a new social networking site?

(via Smart Mobs)

3 March 2007

Social networking’s next phase [The New York Times]

Gina Bianchini and Marc Andreessen founded Ning, a social network
Brad Stone writes in the New York Times about companies that are helping large corporate clients create services resembling MySpace or YouTube to bring their customers together online.

Next week Cisco Systems, a Silicon Valley heavyweight, plans to announce one of its most unusual deals: it is buying the technology assets of Tribe.net, a mostly forgotten social networking site, according to people close to the companies’ discussions.

It is a curious pairing. Cisco, with 38,000 employees, makes networking equipment for telecommunications providers and other big companies. Tribe.net, run by a company with eight employees, has been trampled by newer social sites like MySpace and Facebook.

But along with the recent purchase of a social network design firm, Five Across, the deal will give Cisco the technology to help large corporate clients create services resembling MySpace or YouTube to bring their customers together online. And that ambition highlights a significant shift in the way companies and entrepreneurs are thinking about social networks.

They look at MySpace and Facebook, with their tens of millions of users, as walled-off destinations, similar to first-generation online services like America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy. These big Web sites attract masses of people who have dissimilar interests and, ultimately, little in common.

The new social networking players, which include Cisco and a multitude of start-ups like Ning, the latest venture of the Netscape co-creator Marc Andreessen, say that social networks will soon be as ubiquitous as regular Web sites. They are aiming to create tools to let ordinary people, large companies and even presidential candidates create social Web sites tailored for their own customers, friends, fans and employees.

Read full story

2 March 2007

Venture philanthropy fund uses design thinking and ethnography to help solve real-world problems [Business Week]

Acumen Fund
Billing itself as a nonprofit venture capital firm, the Acumen Fund uses the principles of design to solve the problems of the poor. Just as the Procter & Gambles and Motorolas of the corporate world conduct extensive ethnographic research on consumers, Acumen finances companies that create from the bottom up. Instead of shoppers at a Los Angeles mall, however, it begins with people in villages like those in Thathia, a tiny village in Kannauj, India.

“Start with the individuals,” says founder Jacqueline Novogratz. “Build systems from their perspective. Really pay attention, and then see if they can scale.”

Under Novogratz’s leadership, the New York-based fund manages $20 million in investments in companies that fall within three portfolios: health, water, and housing. It’s not a lot of money compared with any of the traditional venture funds in Silicon Valley. But Acumen’s goal is not to launch initial public offerings. Rather, Novogratz and her team are building prototypes for new business models that measure returns in social benefits as well as monetary rewards.

Observing customers to uncover their unmet needs, creating prototypes of new products and services for them, iterating and improving those until they work, looking for new business models—these are all the critical fundamentals of design that Acumen uses in its work. At a recent workshop given by Tim Brown, chief executive of the innovation consultancy IDEO, these same principles of design thinking were inculcated in eight Acumen Fellows, the young professionals the venture fund sponsors to work with its companies in Africa and Asia.

Read full story

2 March 2007

GE’s user-friendly healthcare concepts for Africa [Business Week]

GE dye dispenser
GE Healthcare sells $15 billion a year worth of big X-ray machines, CAT scans, and ultrasound testing equipment. The healthcare division of General Electric (GE ) usually differentiates its products by getting better and faster readings from its instruments—”feeds and speeds,” as Lou Lenzi, the general manager of global design at GE Healthcare, puts it.

But to compete today, GE needs to focus on the human side of the equation, from ergonomics to emotions. And it needs to do that for cultures all around the world. For insight and inspiration, GE Healthcare recently turned to the undergraduate students of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., one of the world’s top design schools. Consumer-product companies have long sponsored classes at Art Center, but this marked the first time GE Healthcare turned to students for ideas.

Read full story

1 March 2007

A participatory conference model at NESTA, London

Uploading...innovation
Two days ago Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken was at the NESTA Uploading…Innovation event in London.

NESTA, which stands for National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, has beautiful well-equipped offices in the centre of London (no wonder, given their £ 350 million lottery-funded endowment), and is increasingly becoming a strategic player in informing the UK innovation policy, in part also due to the new leadership of Jonathan Kestenbaum (who was appointed chief executive of NESTA last November).

The event itself brought about a whole range of ideas (that you can read about here, here, here, here and here – and these are just a few). What I think was also really unique was the process itself.

NESTA organised this event “to learn from those people who have been at the forefront of the development of new participatory ways of working, those who have harnessed the network effects of emerging technologies of collaboration to create new business models, new products and services, to bring about culture change within organisations and disruptive innovation to their sectors.”

So they brought about 150 people together for an afternoon. How do you manage a participatory conference? How do you get 150 people to exchange their ideas and learn from it in the process?

The solution they came up with involved the collaboration of Steve Moore of Policy Unplugged, who created a bottom-up process. Simply said, the afternoon was divided in two blocks, with six to seven people making a 3 minute pitch for a particular topic and then breaking out into discussion groups to deepen it. Both the pitches and the discussion groups were open: if you felt like it you could make your own pitch, you joined the discussion group that you liked, and in the discussion group you contributed or listened as you felt like.

This approach was based on the premise that 5% of the people speaking 90% of the time is not the best way to stimulate knowledge sharing and that we are in many ways all experts. In other words, it functioned like a live version of a web forum.

Mark’s own group discussed the lack of a Europe-wide discourse on people-focused innovation (e.g. on experience design & innovation; sustainable & innovation; participation & innovation), with most of the discourse either being American or country-specific, and what can be done about it. Some good ideas came up and we are exploring a new online magazine on some best practices that he hopes to tell you more about soon. Any ideas and input are of course welcome.

1 March 2007

The face of the $100 laptop [Business Week]

The face of the $100 laptop
Business Week features a long story on Sugar, the breakthrough graphical user interface on the so-called $100 laptop. User testing only started this February when about 2500 beta test machines were shipped to beta testing countries, an approach that received a lot of criticism.

“The so-called $100 laptop that’s being designed for school children in developing nations is known for its bright green and white plastic shell, its power-generating hand crank, and for Nicholas Negroponte, the technology futurist who dreamed it up and who tirelessly promotes it everywhere from Bangkok to Brasilia. What has not received much attention is the graphical user interface—the software that will be the face of the machine for the millions of children who will own it. In fact, the user interface, called Sugar, may turn out to be one of the more innovative aspects of a project that has already made breakthroughs in mesh networking and battery charging since Negroponte unveiled the concept two years ago.

Sugar offers a brand new approach to computing. Ever since the first Apple Macintosh was launched in 1984, the user interfaces of personal computers have been designed based on the same visual metaphor: the desktop. Sugar tosses out all of that like so much tattered baggage. Instead, an icon representing the individual occupies the center of the screen; “zoom” out like a telephoto lens and you see the user in relation to friends, and finally to all of the people in the village who are also on the network.”

Read full story