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Putting People First

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April 2007
12 April 2007

In Europe, the social network as digital friend [International Herald Tribune]

Xing
“When it comes to social networking Web sites, Europeans see things a little differently,” writes Thomas Crampton in the International Herald Tribune.

While the Continent’s innovators in business, social and mobile networking Web sites expect growing demand for their services, users will be looking for something like a digital cocktail party hostess.

“The ideal social network should work as a computer-enhanced friend that suggests people you ought to know,” said Lars Hinrichs, the founder of the Xing social network, based in Hamburg. “Networks are filled with people who would be connected to one another if they knew their own common interests.”

Founded in 2003 in Germany, Xing has a relatively complex interface that provides details of interests, experience and personal history.

The site has proved highly popular among businesspeople in many countries, particularly Germany, with a formula that Hinrichs said could cut into the space now occupied by headhunters.

Read full story

12 April 2007

New tricks and old dogs

New tricks and old dogs
The third episode of the CNBC television series “The Business of Innovation” is devoted to understanding people’s needs.

How can companies with successful businesses convince their customers that change is needed? How do you take old companies, products, processes or systems and make new uses/markets/industries for them?

“It’s not that customers don’t know what they want. It’s rather they don’t say what they want,” says Vikrum Akula, CEO & Founder of SKS Microfinance.

“User innovation has always been around,” says Eric Von Hippel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of Democratizing Innovation (MIT Press). “The difference is that people can no longer deny that it is happening.” Indeed, it is “very likely that the majority of innovation happens this way,” says Mr. Von Hippel. Such innovation, he says, has a “much higher rate of success”.

Episode 3 examines how successful companies use their customers to innovate. Our expert panel offers ways in which customers can be used as a resource as well as methods useful in bringing reluctant customers into the innovation process. (Not to mention ways new customers might be discovered who might want your innovation.)

Featured guests are Meg Whitman, CEO of Ebay, Tom Freston, former president of Viacom, Vikrum Akula, CEO and founder of SKS Microfinance; and Richard Posey, CEO of Moen.

Watch programme

11 April 2007

How Second Life changes customer service

PA Consulting in Second Life
The virtual world could become the first point of contact between companies and customers and could transform the whole experience, writes Jo Best on Silicon.com.

“Some [companies] believe Second Life could one day become a first point of contact for customers.

Like many other big brands, PA Consulting has its own offices in Second Life and has learnt that simply having an office to answer customer queries is not enough. Real people, albeit behind avatars, must be staffing the offices – in the same way having a website is not enough if there isn’t a call centre to back it up when a would-be customer wants to speak to a human being. In future, the consultants believe call centres could one day ask customers to follow up a phone call with them by moving the query into a virtual world.

And hanging around in Second Life is more fun than being stuck on hold. […]

However, currently Second Life and its imitators remain relatively niche in usage terms and have their own technology boundaries – not all consumers, particularly the older community, have the tech savvy or indeed the hardware necessary to make use of virtual worlds.”

Read full story (mirrored on Business Week)

10 April 2007

Ubiquitous computing is messy

Ubicomp cup
I missed this article when it came out, but when Intel’s chief anthropologist Genevieve Bell writes (she describes herself as “a cultural anthropologist with a primary concern in information technology as a site of cultural production and the consequences for technology innovation and diffusion”), I pay attention – even a year later.

The article, entitled “Yesterday’s tomorrows: notes on ubiquitous computing’s dominant vision”, was written together with Paul Dourish (professor of informatics and computer science at UC Irvine) and published in April last year.

It starts from the premise that the ubiquitous computing vision is now over a decade old, and argues for a “ubicomp of the present” which draws “on cross-cultural investigations of technology adoption” and “takes the messiness of everyday life as a central theme”.

“Our failure to notice the arrival of ubiquitous computing is rooted (at least in part) in the idea of seamless interoperation and homogeneity. The ubicomp world was meant to be clean and orderly; it turns out instead to be a messy one. Rather than being invisible or unobtrusive, ubicomp devices are highly present, visible, and branded, but perhaps still unremarkable in the sense explored by Tolmie et al. Ubicomp has turned out to be characterized by improvisation and appropriation; by technologies lashed together and maintained in synch only through considerable efforts; by surprising appropriations of technology for purposes never imagined by their inventors and often radically opposed to them; by widely different social, cultural and legislative interpretations of the goals of technology; by flex, slop, and play.”

Download article (pdf, 240 kb, 11 pages)

(via Small Surfaces)

10 April 2007

Some of my favourite blogs nominated for Webby award

Webby
Some blogs that I have been following for a long time, and have sometimes written about, are now on the Webby award nominee list.

They are UX Magazine in the category Blog – Business; we-make-money-not-art in the category Blog – Culture/Personal; and WorldChanging in the category Magazine.

Voting begins today and ends on 27 April. Login here and vote.

9 April 2007

Simplicity: the ultimate sophistication

Stones
In this week’s UIEtips, Joshua Porter (blog) talks about the debate around simplicity and how this will affect each of us as we balance new functionality requests.

“Most designers place simplicity above all else. We value simple things because they do all the things we need easily and none of the things we don’t. Simplicity is harmonious. Even Leonardo Da Vinci said “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” This is one of my favorite quotes, and it plays on the idea that being simple isn’t banal, it’s elegant.

Don Norman recently ignited a discussion about simplicity in his piece Simplicity is Highly Overrated. He observes that although designers treat simplicity as the ultimate goal, many consumers, when faced with a purchase decision, choose complexity instead. He uses examples from shopping in South Korea: people there choose complex, feature-laden electronics and SUVs over simpler ones. Norman says that people choose complexity because they assume a complex product is more capable.”

Read full story

9 April 2007

Experience or don’t experience. There is no try.

Origami Yoda
“The word “experience” comes from the Latin word “experiri”, or to try,” asserts Chris Fahey, co-founder of Behavior, an interaction design consultancy, in his blog GraphPaper.

“It’s strange, then, that in modern English the two words, “experience” and “try”, have such different meanings: when we try something we tend to take a sip or a nibble, get our toes wet, or go for a test drive around the block. But when we experience something, we allow it to overtake and engulf us, we admit it fully into our spaces, our lives. A deeper and more lasting understanding is achieved, something fundamentally different than what we get from merely trying something.

The purpose of user experience design, or UXD, is to understand that user behavior can be seen as part of a holistic experiential model instead of as a shallow, temporary hit-and-run encounter. In the domain of user experience, then, we must not mistake trying something for experiencing it.

The most revolutionary products, the things you “never knew you wanted but can’t live without”, only catch on when people are able to move quickly from trying to experiencing.”

This leads to some interesting ramifications.

Read full story

8 April 2007

Consumer technology: is “ease-of-use” a myth?

Ease-of-use
A panel recently discussed the growing problems with product design features vs. the cry for “make it easy to use” and where designers and developers have to address this issue to win back consumers.

Speakers were Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO; BJ Fogg, founder of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab; John Paczkowski, senior editor of AllThingsD.com of the Wall Street Journal; and Tim Plowman of Intel’s Digital Health Group.

The forum, which took place on 4 April, was presented by the MIT Club of Northern California, the Stanford Center for Longevity, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, and SmartSilvers Alliance.

EETimes Online has posted an excellent article about the presentation entitled “Ease-of-use crisis: Designers or ‘feature creeps’?”.

A panel of experts on “ease of use” whose experience ranges from technology design to behavioral psychology agreed rather ruefully Wednesday (April 4) that one of the most complicated challenges in electronic engineering is simplicity.

Their conclusions echoed the irony of one audience member—an attorney with Silicon Valley law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati—who defined “technology” as “something that doesn’t quite work yet.”

Panelist B.J. Fogg, a psychologist who founded Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, summarized the issue by saying that “every possibility you add to an interface increases your likelihood of failure” in the marketplace.

Tim Plowman, a professor who has studied human behavior at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Clara University, addressed the basic issue of convincing designers to devise interfaces that are intuitively accessible to users of all ages and levels of technical sophistication. “It is much, much harder,” he said, “to achieve simplicity in interaction design.”

Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO, a firm that designs user-centered products and services, noted that older users are slower to adapt to electronic device complexity because older users are more complex themselves, with “more things on our minds.” He said, “Among us wrinklies, it’s less likely that we’ll get it right away, unlike younger people.”

Read full story

8 April 2007

Nearly half of customer problems relate to handset configuration

Handset configuration
A new study from WDSGlobal has found that up to 47% of all technical support calls taken by mobile operators relate solely to handset configuration. This makes failed access to data services such as email, WAP and MMS one of the most time-consuming and costly support issues faced by the mobile industry today.

Based on research conducted across seven European call centre operations, WDSGlobal also discovered that without automated configuration services (which allow the support agent to remotely send configuration settings over-the-air (OTA) to the handset), such calls can take up to 17 minutes to diagnose and fix. This is almost twice as long as the average duration of a technical support call.

Read full story

5 April 2007

Mixed feelings [Wired Magazine]

The five senses
See with your tongue. Navigate with your skin. Fly by the seat of your pants (literally). How researchers can tap the plasticity of the brain to hack our 5 senses — and build a few new ones.

“We humans get just the five [senses]. But why? Can our senses be modified? Expanded? Given the right prosthetics, could we feel electromagnetic fields or hear ultrasound? The answers to these questions, according to researchers at a handful of labs around the world, appear to be yes.

It turns out that the tricky bit isn’t the sensing. The world is full of gadgets that detect things humans cannot. The hard part is processing the input. Neuroscientists don’t know enough about how the brain interprets data. The science of plugging things directly into the brain — artificial retinas or cochlear implants — remains primitive.

So here’s the solution: Figure out how to change the sensory data you want — the electromagnetic fields, the ultrasound, the infrared — into something that the human brain is already wired to accept, like touch or sight. The brain, it turns out, is dramatically more flexible than anyone previously thought, as if we had unused sensory ports just waiting for the right plug-ins. Now it’s time to build them.”

Read full story

4 April 2007

McKinsey on how businesses are embracing Web 2.0. But why are they afraid of blogs?

Business and web 2.0
McKinsey is out with a Global Survey that shows business execs love user-driven collaboration, especially peer-to-peer networking, web services, social networking, podcasts, wikis and RSS feeds. But execs do not like blogs very much.

“The rising popularity of user-driven online services, including MySpace, Wikipedia, and YouTube, has drawn attention to a group of technological developments known as Web 2.0. These technologies, which rely on user collaboration, include Web services, peer-to-peer networking, blogs, podcasts, and online social networks.

Respondents to a recent McKinsey survey show widespread but careful interest in this trend.1 Expressing satisfaction with their Internet investments so far, they say that Web 2.0 technologies are strategic and that they plan to increase these investments. But companies aren’t necessarily relying on the best-known Web 2.0 trends, such as blogs; instead, they place the greatest importance on technologies that enable automation and networking.”

According to Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week, companies are afraid of blogs

“Only 16% of the companies surveyed said they were investing in blogs, compared to 63% for web services, 28% for peer-to-peer networks, and 19% for social networks.

78% identified web services as the Web 2.0 technology/tool most important their their business.

McKinsey doesn’t try to analyze why execs aren’t investing in blogs as a Web 2.0 tool but I will venture to suggest that most managers are afraid of blogs. Very few blog themselves and when they do, it runs through the marketing or PR departments. Managers in general still worry about loss of control with blogs. Letting their employees and consumers into the conversation and allowing them their say frightens them.”

Read full story (Registration required)

4 April 2007

Social-networking sites have business uses too [The Economist]

Social networking for business
The most avid users of social-networking websites may be exhibitionist teenagers, but when it comes to more grown-up use by business people, such sites have a surprisingly long pedigree, writes The Economist.

“LinkedIn, an online network for professionals that signed up its ten-millionth user this week, was launched in 2003, a few months before MySpace, the biggest of the social sites. Consumer adoption of social networking has grabbed most attention since then. But interest in the business uses of the technology is rising. […]

To work well in the business world, social networking has to clear some big hurdles. Incentives to participate in a network have to be symmetrical, for one thing. The interests of MySpace members—and of jobseekers and employers—may be aligned, but it is not clear why commission-hungry salespeople would want to share their best leads with colleagues. Limiting the size of the network can reduce its value for companies, yet confidentiality is another obvious concern for companies that invite outsiders into their online communities. “Social networking sounds great in theory, but the business benefits are still unproven,” says Paul Jackson of Forrester, a consultancy. But if who you know really does matter more than what you know, it has obvious potential.”

Read full story

4 April 2007

Experientia interviews Paola Zini, director of Torino 2008 World Design Capital

Paola Zini
Core77, the online design magazine, published today an interview with Paola Zini, the director of Torino 2008 World Design Capital, conducted by Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken.

The interview is the first of many as Mark is pleased to announce that he will be editing the monthly online magazine of Torino 2008.

In the interview, the young Torino 2008 director talks about why Turin was chosen for this initiative and how she wants to use the opportunity to broaden the concept of design: “We want to focus on design as a process that can be applied to products, communication, public policy, education and services. Torino World Design Capital wants to broaden the concept of design as much as possible, emphasising innovation that starts from our society’s needs.”

She presents the overall theme of flexibility and the year’s four thematic phases.

Zini is convinced that the initiative can strengthen the position of Turin and Piedmont on the international map of design, and spread a design culture with our citizens and within companies, within schools and institutions.

Yet the organisers also think further and want to start creating a debate on what a national strategic design policy in Italy could be like.

The interview features some highlights of the programme, which will be announced in more detail on 18 April.

Questions were also contributed by Régine Debatty of we-make-money-not-art and Chiara Somajni of Il Sole 24 Ore/Ventiquattro – (Many thanks to both of course!).

An Italian article based on the interview was recently published in the cultural supplement of Italian business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

A copy of the (English) interview can also be found below, without however all the photos that liven up the Core77 version.

***

Paola Zini is the face of a new and dynamic Italy. Driven, warm, reflective, convincing and humble enough to admit every so often that she has no answer to a particular question. It took the popular Mayor of Turin, Sergio Chiamparino, quite some convincing to get her to take on the job of leading Torino 2008 World Design Capital, but in the end he prevailed and I am more than happy he did. With Paola new ideas will be nourished and old ideas will be renewed.

The interview took place in February 2007, and was conducted by Mark Vanderbeeken, senior partner of the Turin-based international user experience design consultancy Experientia, and author of the people-focused innovation blog Putting People First, with valuable support from both Régine Debatty (famous arts and technology blogger at we-make-money-not-art.com, and former Turin resident) and Chiara Somajni (a journalist of the Italian business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore and its associated magazine Ventiquattro

Core77, the online design magazine, published this interview as an article on its website. This is a copy of the interview as it was published by Core77.

* * * * *

You are a new face for many people, so let’s start with you introducing yourself and telling us how you became the director of this initiative.

I am Paola Zini, 32 years old and for the past five months have been the director of Torino 2008 World Design Capital. I actually have an economics background, and worked before mainly on the topic of urban economic development–particularly Turin’s development. Up till recently, I was involved with the implementation of the first strategic plan of the city, which by the way was the first strategic plan of any Italian city, and this has definitely been a crucial factor in me now being able to coordinate this design year.

You worked for an organisation called Torino Internazionale.

Yes, it is a mixed public-private agency that is in charge of the city’s strategic plan. Working on economic development also meant promoting design in Turin and in Piedmont, and that was the origin of what I am doing now. So the relationship with ICSID–the international design organisation–grew out of our activities within Torino Internazionale. It was a gradual process that eventually lead to the nomination of Turin as the first World Design Capital, with its own organisational committee.

* * * * *

THE TURIN NOMINATION WITH ZINI AS DIRECTOR

Why did ICSID choose Turin?

ICSID was looking for a city to host its headquarters, and Turin was one of the candidate cities. (The organisation ultimately took up residence in Montreal.) We participated because we thought it would be good for Turin to host another international organisation [in addition to several United Nations offices], and in particular one that dealt with the topic of design. Our proposal was more than a mere political one: we had the support of important foundations and of ADI, the Italian Association of Industrial Design. With our proposal we created strong international relationships, got to know players in the field of design worldwide, and were able to share the history of our city that is now reinventing itself. We just had the Winter Olympics, one of the events in this carefully prepared transformation trajectory. All this provoked a process whereby ICSID started focusing not just on the move of its headquarters, but also on its communication strategy. So our proposal and our changing city became a very interesting European reference point for ICSID. That’s why our city has been chosen as World Design Capital.

You then became the director of this initiative, which is not an obvious choice in this country where power positions are often in the hands of older, well-connected men. You are instead a young woman who is not originally from this city. Why did they choose you?

I think the organisers wanted to give a strong signal by making an unconventional choice. I have to thank the Mayor, Sergio Chiamparino, and the people of our Board for insisting on me accepting this offer.

* * * * *

A CITY IN TRANSFORMATION

The project has very high-level support and comes after a series of major events, including the Winter Olympics, through which Turin is trying to reposition itself on the global map. What is the impact you are trying to achieve?

There are many events now–not just in Turin, but also in the wider region–that aim to reposition this territory. The Winter Olympics were of course crucial in making people understand how committed the city administration was to the development of its future. The Games were not a goal in itself, but a first step in a process. The design year will be very different from the Winter Olympics; we want to stimulate a large number of activities all over the region. It will not be a curated festival, but a collective one, made by all those who live here, by our citizens and by students, but also by those who come to visit us professionally or as tourists.

What image do you want to leave behind? How would you like Turin to be perceived in 2009?

We would like to position Turin throughout Europe and throughout the world as a city that is renewing itself, as a city in transformation. Turin has always been seen as the city of FIAT, maybe also as the city of Juventus, but there are other and newer facets of the city that we cherish and are now being embraced by the citizens. We would like to share these concepts with all those who don’t know Turin yet.

How does Turin want to use design in its transformation and what is the role of Torino 2008 in that?

The title of World Design Capital is not awarded to cities that are already design capitals and that are already known as such, but to those places where design is used for the social, cultural and economic transformation of the city. Turin has already made big steps forward in its transformation process. Ten years ago, Turin was a very different city from what it is now. Its economic make-up has changed fundamentally. The cultural industries have diversified our region and there is now a strong service sector. So a lot of transformation has actually taken place already. I think that the title of World Design Capital can help people realise that design, as a process of qualitative change, can further improve many things.

So are these the main goals: change the image of the city and change the mindset of the people?

Those are indeed two important goals: strengthen the position of Turin and Piedmont on the international map of design, and spread a design culture with our citizens and within companies, within schools and institutions. We also want to leave some legacy behind. This year should be more than a thought-through, qualitative event, but the start of a wider change process. Everything we do should have an effect after 2008, and all activities should leave something behind, physically or culturally.

* * * * *

FLEXIBILITY

What issues are you trying to address?

Cities today are in constant change, and these changes affect all aspects of the social, cultural and economic life of a city. Think about the radically changing composition of the population, and what that means for social integration and our public services. Think about our changing living habits and what that means for mobility and our transport infrastructure. Think about how the concept of work is changing and what that means for companies. These are just a few examples. We citizens are changing our own behaviour constantly to adapt to these changes. Our design and research activities have to take on a flexible approach as well to adapt to the changing nature of things. Design can be a very valid tool in continually confronting these changes.

Flexibility is the “fil rouge” of the year.

The theme builds upon the very idea of what a World Design Capital means for ICSID. What can design do to help a city in transformation? We think that flexibility is the answer. To be “adaptive” or “responsive” means finding answers to the many changes. Because these changes often happen very fast, it is crucial to be able to adapt to this evolving context with appropriate tools, and design is one of them.

The year is divided in four thematic phases.

Yes there are four phases, each of roughly three months, and each phase has a focus. The first one is called public design, so it is about making people aware of the power of design, of the value it can have in improving our daily lives. The second phase is more connected to the business world and the focus is here on understanding how design can transform the economy of our region and of our planet. Then there is the phase dedicated to education and design. This third phase will also overlap with the time when Turin will host the World Congress of Architecture, so there will be many young people in town. The last phase is a crucial one because it closes and summarises the year, and is about design policy. We want to invite national design institutes from all over the world: centres that are responsible for policy development, for making their countries more competitive, and for raising the level of quality.

* * * * *

BROADENING DESIGN

Let’s discuss some of these four focus areas a bit more in depth. First, what do you mean by “design”? What are its boundaries? What do you want to focus on? Do you consider the redesign of work flows and social relationships within the public administration or the industry to be part of your focus?

Many still think of design as styling. We want to focus instead on design as a process that can be applied to products, communication, public policy, education and services. Torino World Design Capital wants to broaden the concept of design as much as possible, emphasising innovation that starts from our society’s needs. Conveying this contemporary interpretation of the word “design” implies a cultural challenge that will require extensive communication and education.

Indeed, many still see a designer as somebody who creates shapes and forms. How will you change that way of thinking?

This is one of the missions of Torino World Design Capital. Nowadays, it is impossible to speak about form as a goal in itself, disconnected from its function and its economic repercussions. That’s why the first part of the year is aimed at the general public, not at a professional audience, because we want to reach out broadly about what design can be and how it can affect our daily lives. Norman Potter wrote in his seminal 1968 book “What is a designer” that all people are in fact designers, because we all create something. I think it is very important to focus on our basic education: we are setting up an initiative aimed at primary schools, to share with children what a design project is and what the word designer means.

* * * * *

DESIGN FOR INNOVATION

You spoke about innovation earlier on. “Design” and “innovation” are on everybody’s lips. Design is seen as a tool for business innovation and this thinking is getting a hold in Italy too. Do you think Italy is indeed going through a cultural shift? If so, how is this happening? How will Turin 2008 contribute to it? What, for instance, can companies expect from you in this sense? What is your vision on design and innovation?

Innovation is still often seen as something that happens in research centres. Obviously this is part of the story, but there is more. Design can act as an innovation tool as well, and we need to support that. To stimulate this type of innovation, the Regional Government of Piedmont will soon launch an initiative to create better synergies between designers and companies–not just companies that are already using designers, but also those that are not yet convinced of the benefits of a design approach, or those that need to become more acquainted with the design process.

How else do you plan to structure the collaboration with companies?

Most of that planning is now in the making. There is great interest from companies, and also from abroad. I think it is because we are the first World Design Capital, because Italy is seen as an interesting design context, and because we recently hosted the Winter Olympics. Not just local, but also foreign companies are now planning to be present here in 2008.

* * * * *

THE ROLE OF ITALY IN THE GLOBAL DESIGN CONTEXT

Italy has played a leading role in design in the past. Today all eyes are turned towards the more edgy and innovative British and Dutch designers. Who do you think is showing the most stunning creativity in Italian design? Or do you think that these geographical boundaries are no longer relevant today?

Geographic boundaries are not so relevant anymore; innovation can be Italian, British, German or Dutch. I don’t believe that Italy or any other country possesses a magical creative or design formula. What matters is dialogue and where that dialogue takes place. Next year one of the meeting points will be here in Turin, so it will be about Italian culture dialoguing with other design cultures. The last part of the year, which is devoted to design policy, is all about that dialogue. We will invite Design Centres from all over the world and give them their own spaces, much like the national pavilions during the Olympic Games. The goal is to have each of them share their design culture with us and with each other. At the end of the year, Turin will then inaugurate its own Design Centre.

Are you thinking about a national design policy for Italy?

There is no national public entity in Italy that implements and promotes a strategic design policy. There is however ADI, the Italian Association of Industrial Design, that has been promoting the Italian design culture for over fifty years, with internationally known initiatives such as the “Compasso d’Oro” award.

Which countries are you planning to involve?

During the last part of the year, we want to focus with these international design centres on exchanging international experiences, creating a network of relationships, and starting a debate on best practices in national design policies worldwide. We have already initiated relations with Hong Kong, Montreal, Nagoya, Taipei, Budapest, Copenhagen and Singapore.

* * * * *

MILAN

It is however the city of Milan which is seen as Italy’s design capital. How do you plan to articulate the relationship with Milan during (and possibly after) 2008?

When you read about cities and regions nowadays, you hear a lot about competition, but also about exchange. Turin has looked at Barcelona a lot to compare its own development over the last ten years. It is of fundamental importance for us to collaborate with Milan. We cannot be in competition. Turin is working hard to become a design capital but it is not yet one. It still has a lot to learn from Milan. Having more than one design-oriented city can only be an advantage for our country. If ten Italian cities would be known internationally as design cities, it would only increase the international credibility of Italian design and of the role of design in our culture. I view our relationship with Milan as one of mutual exchange, rather than one of competition.

* * * * *

COME VISIT US

I heard that you are eager to have many young creative people from all over Italy and all over the world come visit Turin during 2008. What can they expect? Why should they come?

We would really like to involve creative and young designers, as visitors, as a critical audience, as contributors in the events, or as active participants that help to shape this event. Hence the relevance of the initiative of the Piedmont regional administration that I told you earlier about: foreign design students working with local companies will provide the former with new professional experiences and the latter with fresh and creative design ideas, developed by people who come from very different contexts. The World Congress of Architecture provides us with another opportunity to bring together the worlds of education and design straining with the international stars of design and architecture.

So the summer is the liveliest period of the year?

For sure it will be the time when we organise many activities for students, and will involve design schools from all over the world.

How can people participate?

The wider public will be immersed in a city that will host a large number of initiatives: exhibitions, conferences and events that are conceived with the aim of connecting ordinary citizens with design. There will also be a number of installations that will be set up in very popular squares and locations. People who are professionally involved with design will be treated to many debates, meetings and discussions. But they will also be involved in actual creation: at New Year’s Eve for example, when Torino 2008 will be inaugurated, we will invite some designers to dress up the city with ad hoc projects to provide visibility to the event and to strengthen its identity. In the summer we will focus on students who can join training projects specifically created for 2008: summer schools, workshops, and the World Congress of Architects are some of the key events for them.

What are some of the highlights of the year?

We cannot disclose everything yet, but definitely New Year’s Eve which will be the event that will launch the entire year: we are working on a big celebration that will involve the entire city, with specific events in the various historical squares of Turin. In May we will host some major activities devoted to graphic design, publishing and advertising. The Design Houses, which will host the world’s main Design Centres, will provide an opportunity for learning and sharing, but also for involving all the citizens.

Thank you.

4 April 2007

More and less: Designing for high-stakes decisions

More and less
We all want options, but when does having choices prevent us from finding solutions? Dmitri Siegel looks at how people make important decisions and how design can help.

“Freedom of choice is such an unassailable value in America that it is considered a solution in and of itself to social ills, from failing schools to the insolvency of social security. As a society, we view choice as the manifestation of our most exalted ideal: freedom. The value we place on decisiveness was reflected in President Bush’s assertion, “I’m the decider. I make the decisions. The proliferation of choice can have unexpectedly negative consequences. Expanding the number of options often comes at the cost of finding solutions. Nowhere is this trend more evident than online—and the stakes have never been higher. Increasingly, our most significant decisions—such as whether or not to have a medical procedure or how to best to plan for retirement—are being made using web-based applications. As it turns out, many are poorly suited to helping us sort through the ever-growing range of possibilities. So why do these interfaces so often fail us when we need them most? And what unique challenges are there in designing systems that help us make high-stakes decisions?”

Siegel then goes on to describe that there are two types of decision-makers — maximizers and satisficers — and how one of the two types are generally happier. He also illustrates how human beings are not wired to make rational decisions.

So what does that mean for designers?

“The striking thing about most research being done on how design can help enable meaningful decision-making is that it often requires stepping back from specific design problems in order to focus on the question of what to design rather than how to design. Refocusing the mission of design can bring valuable insights into how to make information more useful, and useful information more accessible.”

The article ends with a discussion of recent books by John Maeda and Peter Morville and current research at Philips Design.

Dmitri Siegel is the Art Director for urbanoutfitters.com. He is also creative director of Ante and Anathema magazines. He teaches at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

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3 April 2007

The Vodafone journey

The Vodafone Journey
One of the sections of Vodafone’s new website is called The Vodafone Journey.

The first item in the menu of this flash-based mini-site are Vodafone’s customers. Ten stories explain how Vodafone has changed the way people work and play. The stories are quite promotional, but they nevertheless clearly emphasise the people-centred approach of the company.

Nice too is that the people featured are from New Zealand, Germany, Australia, Greece, Tanzania, Ireland, Spain, Egypt, UK and Italy, and that everyone speaks their own language.

3 April 2007

International Journal of Design launched

International Journal of Design
Yesterday the Taiwan-based Chinese Institute of Design published the first issue of the International Journal of Design. It is available on-line at www.ijdesign.org.

“International Journal of Design is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to publishing research papers in all fields of design, including industrial design, visual communication design, interface design, animation and game design, architectural design, urban design, and other design related fields. It aims to provide an international forum for exchange of ideas and findings from researchers across different cultures, by encouraging research on the impacts of cultural factors on design theory and practice. It also seeks to promote transfer of knowledge between professionals in academia and industry, by emphasizing research where results are of interest or applicable to design practices.”

The editorial team, which is lead by Lin-Lin Chen (Graduate Institute of Design, National Taiwan University of Science and Technology), consists primarily of people from the academic world, and includes amongst others Christena Nippert-Eng and Ken Friedman. It is their aim “to publish high-quality design research, and to disseminate this research to the widest possible audience.”

Some highlights from the first issue:

  • A Usability Evaluation of Web Map Zoom and Pan Functions
    Manlai You, Chun-wen Chen, Hantsai Liu, Hsuan Lin
    abstracthtmlpdfinteractive demo
     
  • Guerrilla Wars in Everyday Public Spaces: Reflections and Inspirations for Designers
    Kin Wai Michael SIU
    abstracthtmlpdf
     
  • Framework of Product Experience
    Pieter Desmet, Paul Hekkert
    abstracthtmlpdf

The on-line version is open access, freely available for anyone, anywhere to download, read, distribute, and use for non-commercial purposes with proper attribution. A printed version of the journal will also be available for the cost of printing and distribution.

2 April 2007

The Collaborative State

The Collaborative State
How working together can transform public services

Demos, the UK think tank for everyday democracy, has published a collection of essays by leading thinkers and practitioners that assesses how far the UK has already come towards a more collaborative style of government and sets out international case studies of some of the most interesting initiatives to date. It concludes by asking how future governments can use collaboration as a key design principle for transforming the UK’s public services.

“Competition and choice have become the watchwords of public service reform over the past decade. But while these principles have delivered some important gains, they are not enough in isolation. Tight accountability and choice have often come at the expense of fragmenting the way that schools, hospitals and councils provide their services. Service improvement has come at the expense of the capacity to solve local people’s problems.

If we want to sustain improvements into the next decade, then we need a new generation of reform that builds on experiments with collaboration between both different parts of the public sector, and between institutions and the people they serve. Joined-up government, place-based policy making and co-production with citizens offer exciting new possibilities for creating flexible, dynamic and democratic public service organisations.”

- Read table of contents
Download publication (pdf, 1 mb, 203 pages)

2 April 2007

Tony Blair on user needs

Tony Blair
Tony Blair in a recent speech discusses how he envisions public services to be reformed and emphasises on empowering the user, diversity in supply, personalisation of services and finally the public sector work force.

“[…] The key to understanding what we are trying to do from government on the public service programme is that we are trying to move from a situation where you have very much a monolithic, very paternalistic service in which the services are handed down to the customer or user of the service, move to a far more personalised service where people feel that they have a far greater say in how the service is done and run, where things are very much more tailored to the individual needs of the user. […]

What is driving part of the change in public services is that people say, “look in every other walk of life you know the service runs after me, in the public services, particularly with this new investment, I want the same type of relationship, I want to feel it is a relationship where I, the user of the service, have got some power over it.”

So out of that has really arisen what I would say are basically four principles of public service reform. The first is to put more power in the hands of the user.”

Read full speech (as published in eGov monitor)

2 April 2007

France caters to market for the most simple of computers [International Herald Tribune]

Easyneuf
I just wrote on Core77 how French Internet service provider, Neuf Cegetel, has taken inspiration from the legendary Minitel to develop the Easyneuf computer based on a similar low-cost model, aimed at people who are unable or unwilling to buy a computer.

Usability seems to have been a major issue, as can be read in a report by Thomas Crampton in the International Herald Tribune:

To Neuf, the issue came down to the difficulty that first-time computer users experience in dealing with Windows.

“Nearly 80 percent of all current customer calls relate to problems with Microsoft Windows,” said Frédéric Charrier, manager of the Easy Neuf project. “We decided it was easier to build our own platform to limit potential problems.”

“Our promise of customer service forced us to conceive everything from the consumer perspective in order to reduce calls,” Charrier said. “This starts with the instruction book containing many photos, goes as far as the simplified computer interface and goes down to a redesign of the keyboard.”

Also, the software is entirely open source.

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