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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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May 2007
29 May 2007

New experience design school in the Netherlands cancelled

Experience Design at Utrecht School of Visual Arts
According to DdUX, the Dutch experience design network, the new bachelor degree in experience design at the Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands (see earlier post), which was due to start in September, has been cancelled “due to lack of interest”.

The four-year degree programme was to be lead by Rob Van Kranenburg, who used to work at Virtual Platform, De Balie, the New Media Department of the University of Amsterdam, and Doors of Perception. He published on RFID and Ambient Intelligence.

28 May 2007

BBC News speaks to Jan Chipchase of Nokia Design

Phone straps
BBC News has just published a feature on Jan Chipchase, principal researcher at Nokia Design and frequently featured on this blog.

“Jan Chipchase tours the world looking at how people use mobile phones in their everyday lives and, more broadly, how people live.

Mr Chipchase’s focus is on the uses to which people put their phones; where they keep them, how they answer them, and a million other details about our relationships with these devices that have helped shape our world.

On the street, in homes, in the office, in pockets, handbags, at the marketplace, and in the community – Mr Chipchase tries to put mobile phone use into the context of the culture and landscape he is in.”

Read full story

28 May 2007

Spanish translation of Experientia interview with Anne Kirah

Anne Kirah
Luis López Toledo, a Chilean industrial designer, has published a Spanish translation of the interview I did last year with Anne Kirah, former senior design anthropologist at Microsoft’s MSN Customer Design Centre, and currently dean of the new 180º Academy in Denmark.

Thank you Luis.

- Read interview in Spanish
- Read interview in English

25 May 2007

Designing the user experience of a phone for the elderly

Jitterbug
“Jitterbug’s well-designed mobile—and the smart service behind it—was created to appeal to even the most technophobic seniors,” writes Jesse James Garrett, Adaptive Path president, in a Business Week article.

Selling technology to technophobes may not seem like smartest business strategy, but when the technophobes in question are the 100 million baby boomers and seniors in the U.S., bridging the technology gap starts to look like a real market opportunity.

For mobile-industry veteran Arlene Harris, the opportunity was too good to pass up. Harris is the mastermind behind Jitterbug, a company launched last October that combines a unique mobile phone (designed by Jitterbug and manufactured by Samsung) with a suite of services designed to meet the needs of older users. Because Jitterbug controlled both the product and service design, it’s able to deliver a seamless, innovative cross-channel experience, a rarity in the mobile-phone industry.

Providing familiar touchstones to ease the mobile-phone experience became a major part of Jitterbug’s design after early research showed that older users found conventions like signal strength meters unfamiliar and confusing. Instead, when you open a Jitterbug phone it emits—get this—a dial tone.

Read full story

25 May 2007

UK report on culture, participation and the web

Logging On
The UK think tank Demos has just published a new report on culture, participation and the web. Based on UK case studies, it provides insight and lessons learnt on how new and emergent web technology can increase public participation in culture, and on how to organise online engagement.

“The report looks at the convergence of three trends:

  • technological change
  • the way that people engage with culture
  • the policy aim of increasing democratic participation in culture, with particular regard to audiences described as ‘hard to reach’.

What these trends have in common is a movement from passivity to engagement, from uni-directional flows to interactivity, and from the few to the many.

Digitisation has changed everything. It has created public expectations for on-demand, constantly available, individualised access to products. It has also challenged the assumptions of cultural sector professionals that their role is to oversee public access to culture in the sense that they act as gatekeepers to what is produced, what is shown and how it is interpreted. In the analogue world, the public was able to engage with culture on terms set by experts and professionals: content, pricing, format and timing were all decided by the producer. In a world of infinitely replicable and manipulable digital content, this no longer applies. The full implications of this for the cultural sector are not yet clear.

In the brief history of the internet, the cultural sector has followed two related paths: on the one hand, the digitisation of content and provision of information and, on the other, interactivity and opportunities for expression. Some have seen these as in binary opposition.

The truth is that they are inexorably merging. But the big question is where do we go next? How can policy intervention best meet with technology to achieve the aim of bringing about a more democratic culture? What will be the role, opportunities and limitations of online culture in a rapidly changing world?”

Download report (pdf, 719 kb, 93 pages)

25 May 2007

Designing Web Navigation: Optimizing the User Experience

Designing Web Navigation
Designing Web Navigation: Optimizing the User Experience
By James Kalbach
Publisher: O’Reilly Media, Inc.
First edition: August 2007 (est.)
Pages: 412

Thoroughly rewritten for today’s web environment, this bestselling book offers a fresh look at a fundamental topic of web site development: navigation design. Amid all the changes to the Web in the past decade, and all the hype about Web 2.0 and various “rich” interactive technologies, the basic problems of creating a good web navigation system remain. Designing Web Navigation demonstrates that good navigation is not about technology-it’s about the ways people find information, and how you guide them.

Ideal for beginning to intermediate web designers, managers, other non-designers, and web development pros looking for another perspective, Designing Web Navigation offers basic design principles, development techniques and practical advice, with real-world examples and essential concepts seamlessly folded in. How does your web site serve your business objectives? How does it meet a user’s needs? You’ll learn that navigation design touches most other aspects of web site development. This book:

  • Provides the foundations of web navigation and offers a framework for navigation design
  • Paints a broad picture of web navigation and basic human information behavior
  • Demonstrates how navigation reflects brand and affects site credibility
  • Helps you understand the problem you’re trying to solve before you set out to design
  • Thoroughly reviews the mechanisms and different types of navigation
  • Explores “information scent” and “information shape”
  • Explains “persuasive” architecture and other design concepts
  • Covers special contexts, such as navigation design for web applications
  • Includes an entire chapter on tagging

While Designing Web Navigation focuses on creating navigation systems for large, information-rich sites serving a business purpose, the principles and techniques in the book also apply to small sites. Well researched and cited, this book serves as an excellent reference on the topic, as well as a superb teaching guide. Each chapter ends with suggested reading and a set of questions that offer exercises for experiencing the concepts in action.

- Publisher page
- Amazon page
- Table of contents (pdf, 160 kb, 3 pages)
- Index (pdf, 668 kb, 8 pages)
- Sample chapter: Types of navigation (chapter 4) (pdf, 13.3 mb, 39 pages)
- Colofon

(via DdUX)

23 May 2007

Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path on delivering value through experience

Jesse James Garrett
Jesse James Garrett, president and founding partner of Adaptive Path, gave a very good presentation on business as a design experience at MX San Francisco, an Adaptive Path conference focusing on how design has emerged as a strategic force in business. The presentation is now available on video.

Jesse James Garrett is the author of The Elements of User Experience (New Riders), and is recognised as a pioneer in the field of information architecture.

Experience strategy (aka design, innovation and a bunch of other things) has been written about a lot over the past couple of years. On the business front, Bruce Nussbaum has been the great champion covering design voraciously for BusinessWeek and really bringing it to the attention of executives all over the world.

Yet, as much as BusinessWeek covers the space and as much as Steve Jobs is respected for his design prowess, we still don’t see great examples of what I’ll call “capture-the-imagination-innovation”.

Apple has received millions of media impressions praising its achievements, executives admire Jobs, and if you extract various pieces of various articles written about him and his beloved company, you’d have a playbook for how he achieves his successes.

Despite all this, we still get products that are driven by technology and features, not by experience and imagination or vision. Most products created are not driven by a dream, like the one George Eastman had when he went out to create a photographic apparatus that could claim “you press the button, we do the rest”. At one point, the camera required a 19 step process to operate.

At that time, the complexity of photography was finally reduced to a simple interaction, and somehow we’ve managed to make it complex again, beyond just pushing the button, when you consider the settings for example, which could be helpful, if they were only easy to set.

That aside, Jesse James Garrett reminds us about the power of having a vision or a dream first, then figuring out how to make it real.

He also addresses the need to approach “design” with a systemic approach and ask questions like “What does it take to make a product we can’t live without?”

He talks about Microsoft word, VCR’s that had so many features and functions that getting it to record something was often difficult, and even TiVo. Though not directly, he’s basically speaking about the concept of divergence and not convergence (though his brief references to the iPhone could take exception to that).

Furthermore, he talks about the process and focus on delivering value through experience and not necessarily through technology or features. Those should only support a well-defined experience, which means that once you’ve defined the dream, once you’ve seen the light, you can be guided to build a product that you might consider a person… something with character and something that you have an emotional attachment too.

Designers have dreamt for a long time. The hurdle to seeing their dreams through is often a lack of discipline for selling that dream to the client combined with a client driven by fear and a lack of vision.

We have a long way to go on the road to “capture-the-imagination-innovation”.

View presentation

23 May 2007

Are design fairs really effective?

London Design Festival
Jude Stewart ponders in a Print magazine article (reprinted by Business Week) if design fairs are really effective in drumming up business, boosting education, and promoting awareness of tomorrow’s next design capitals.

Design fairs make big promises to participants and visitors alike: creative rejuvenation, intelligent debate, matchmaking for employees and partners, convenience for major buyers, a boon to design education, and for tourists, fun. Design fairs represent a new wave in how designers promote themselves. In the past three years, Europe has gone from the twin hegemony of London’s 100% Design and Milan’s Saloni Internazionale del Mobile—both furniture fairs—to a calendar thick with inclusive design events, many in the EU’s emerging member states. As governments, sponsors, universities, and designers pour funds into these events, it’s worth asking: Do they really work? What are they even aiming for?

The article covers the London Design Festival, Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, Budapest Design Week, Istanbul Design Week and Belgrade Design Week.

Read full story

23 May 2007

Google’s new ‘Website Optimizer’: what does it mean for user-centred design?

Google Website Optimizer
When Google releases a product it can be cataclysmic for the companies that inhabit that area, writes Harry Brignull, user experience consultant at Flow Interactive, in Usability News.

Google Website Optimizer, a user-centred design tool, has just been released. Should we all be looking for a new job?

Google Website Optimizer (GWO) is free, it’s easy to use, and unlike conventional user testing, you don’t need a research lab nor pay for participant recruitment since you tap into your existing website traffic.

This is how it works – GWO allows you to evolve your site by monitoring live user behaviour. You give it a number of different page elements and it alternates between combinations of them on your site. It then calculates the conversion rates with the live data and gives you a report showing which combinations are the most successful. It’s like natural selection – the good combinations win, the bad ones die, and you sit back and watch it all happen. It’s frightening how quick and cheap it is to run these tests.

But here’s the weakness: GWO only records behavioural information – it doesn’t record intentions.

Read full story

23 May 2007

The New Yorker on the feature paradox

Feature creep
James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, has written a short article in The New Yorker on the feature paradox.

“The fact that buyers want bells and whistles but users want something clear and simple creates a peculiar problem for companies. A product that doesn’t have enough features may fail to catch our eye in the store. But a product with too many features is likely to annoy consumers and generate bad word of mouth, as BMW’s original iDrive system did. [...]

The strange truth about feature creep is that even when you give consumers what they want they can still end up hating you for it.”

Read full story

23 May 2007

Vodafone’s Receiver magazine is “at home”

Vodafone Receiver magazine
The latest issue of Vodafone’s Receiver magazine (#18) is entitled “at home” and is introduced as follows:

Digital media are entering the connectivity as a matter of course era, and they are entering the “home zone”: the home (for many young people: the bedroom) has become the centre of their connected world. Once upon a time communications technologies belonged to the world of work – they now provide people with socialising tools they have long taken for granted. Technology becoming intuitional and ubiquitous prompts sociologists to speak of a privatisation of the public through communications and a fragmentation and/or expansion of the concept of home. How come?

Some of the articles it contains:

  • Socializing digitally
    Danah Boyd
    So what exactly are teens doing on MySpace? Simple: they’re hanging out. Of course, ask any teen what they’re doing with their friends in general; they’ll most likely shrug their shoulders and respond nonchalantly with “just hanging out”. Hanging out amongst friends allows teens to build relationships and stay connected. Much of what is shared between youth is culture – fashion, music, media. The rest is simply presence. This is important in the development of a social worldview.
     
  • Homecasting: the end of broadcasting?
    José van Dijck
    The internet never replaced television, and the distribution of user-generated content via sites such as YouTube and GoogleVideo, in my view, will not further expedite television’s obsolescence. On the contrary, they will introduce a new cultural practice that will both expand and alter our rapport with the medium of television — a practice I refer to as “homecasting”.
     
  • Connected strategies for connecting homes
    Mark Newman
    Do consumers actually want a connected home? I’m not sure that many of us even understand the concept. But what we do want is the freedom to time-shift and place-shift the services we already have. We want to be able to take the services we use at work into our homes. And the services we receive at home into the office or away with us on business or on holiday.
     
  • Keeping things simple
    John Seely Brown
    Well-designed media provide peripheral clues that subtly direct users along particular interpretive paths by invoking social and cultural understandings. Context and content work efficiently together as an ensemble, sharing the burden of communication. If the relationship between the two is honored, their interaction can make potentially complex practices of communication, interpretation, and response much easier. This is the essence of keeping things simple.
     
  • Appliances evolve
    Mike Kuniavsky
    Today, information is starting to be treated in product design as if it was a material, to produce a new class of networked computing devices. Unlike general-purpose computers, these exhibit what Bill Sharpe of the Appliance Studio calls “applianceness”. They augment specific tasks and are explicitly not broad platforms that do everything from banking to playing games.
     
  • Socializing digitally
    Leslie Haddon
    There have been numerous occasions where technologies have entered our everyday lives through the influence of users, or at least some users, in ways that were unanticipated by industry. In relation to a number of important innovations it is users themselves who have developed or adapted the technology to fit into their lives and their homes. But as we shall see, that is only one side of the coin. Users can also be quite discriminating.
     
  • The new television
    Louise Barkhuus
    From ancient tragedies and comedies to theatre and, later, movies, it is evident that people enjoy being entertained by stories — regardless of the medium. Television is yet another step in the evolution of media that tell these stories, and just as television did not kill the movies (although it had an impact by decreasing their prevalence), interactive games and the internet will not render television obsolete. We will merely see innovative versions of moving pictures that can satisfy the needs of the 21st century’s embedded acquaintance with a multitude of media.
     
  • Pleasant, personalized, portable – the future of domotic design
    Fausto Sainz de Salces
    The home environment can greatly benefit from mobile technology that enhances the user’s experience through easy interaction with the immediate environment. Designing the home of the future, integrating communication devices, is not an easy task. It is a challenge that includes consideration of home dwellers’ opinions, preferences and tastes

The magazine now also comes with its own blog.

22 May 2007

Interview with Mike Kuniavsky

Mike Kuniavsky
Tamara Adlin, a user experience consultant in Seattle, just published a long interview with Mike Kuniavsky on her interesting website UX Pioneers.

Mike Kuniavsky (blog) researches, designs and writes about people’s experiences at the intersection of technology and everyday life. Companies and universities around the world use his 2003 book, “Observing the User Experience,” to understand and teach techniques that bring the design of products closer to the people who use them. His next book, “Smart Things,” expected in 2007 from Elsevier, will discuss user experience design for mobile devices and ubiquitous computing. He has also contributed to a number of other books, including the encyclopedic “HCI Handbook” (also to appear in 2007) and his articles regularly appear in MAKE magazine. He is a regular presenter at academic conferences focusing on user experience design and ubiquitous computing. In 2001 he cofounded Adaptive Path, a leading San Francisco internet consultancy. Previously, he founded the Wired Digital User Experience Lab for Wired Magazine’s online division, where he served as the interaction designer of the award-winning search engine, HotBot.

In the interview, Mike reflects the origins of his interest in HCI, interface design and ubiquitous computing, discusses using magic as a metaphor for embedded computer user interface design, and presents ThingM, a company focused on developing and designing smart objects for everyday life.

Read interview

21 May 2007

Nokia Experience Beta

Nokia Experience Beta
Nokia Scandinavia just opened a new portal called Nokia Experience. The site offers a central access point for all services available for Nokia Nseries devices, in collaboration with local suppliers such as EA Games and “Posten”, the Swedish mail office. The site which still is beta, is filled with solutions, services, downloads and how to’s. The public launch is scheduled for sometime next week.

Nokia states that the main objectives for this site are:

  • “to increase the visibility of our services, making sure that the latest services can be found easily
  • to train our customers, operators, retailers
  • to get in touch with the most advanced end-users and promote the Multimedia Computers”
21 May 2007

CHI 2007: when user experience becomes religious experience

CHI 2007
Ann Light of Usability News reports on the session on ‘Home Spirituality’ at CHI 2007, one of the more unusual topics to appear there.

“Three papers had been grouped together within this session and while there was some bewilderment on the part of two of the presenters over why they had been included, a common set of user issues emerged that highlighted this less considered aspect of design and usability.”

Her article covers the following three talks:

Sabbath Day Home Automation: “It’s Like Mixing Technology and Religion”
by Allison Woodruff (Intel), Sally Augustin, Brooke Foucault
Presents a qualitative study of the use of home automation by 20 Orthodox Jewish families. Offers insights and design implications for user experience with smart home technology and religious technology.

Enhancing Ubiquitous Computing with User Interpretation: Field Testing the Home Health Horoscope
by William Gaver, Phoebe Sengers, Tobie Kerridge, Joseph “Jofish” Kaye and John Bowers
The paper illustrates how designing to encourage user interpretation may supplement sensor-based inferencing in a home environment. Offers a new approach to those interested in developing domestic ubiquitous computing applications.

Home Networking and HCI: What Hath God Wrought?
by Erika Shehan and W. Keith Edwards
We analyze why home networking is difficult, argue that the HCI community needs to be involved in resolving these problems, and discuss potential research efforts in home network usability.

Read full story

18 May 2007

Book: Sketching User Experiences

Sketching User Experiences
Sketching User Experiences
Getting the Design Right and the Right Design
Bill Buxton, Microsoft Research
Morgan Kaufmann Publishers
May 2007
Paperback – 400 pages

Excerpt from a book review by Jessie Scanlon in Business Week:

“While Buxton’s insights are geared towards companies making software or products that depend on software, the book is jargon-free, and most anyone in the business of creating products will learn from it.

“My belief is that one of the most significant reasons for the failure of organizations to develop new software products in-house is the absence of anything that a design professional would recognize as an explicit design process,” writes Buxton.

He argues for a holistic approach to experience-based design, showing how the weakness of software product development can be complemented by the strengths of traditional product design and vice versa. But mostly, he argues strongly for an explicit and distinct design process that’s integrated into the larger organization and supported by executive leadership. [...]

He argues that designers are uniquely trained to focus on the human side of product development, to consider the behaviors and experiences associated with or enabled by these new technologies. “To design a tool, we must understand the larger physical, social, and psychological context in which it will be used. And that’s something designers are trained to do,” he says.”

- Read full review
- Download book flyer (pdf, 539 kb, 2 pages)

17 May 2007

Young women now the most dominant group online in the UK

UK internet population
Young women are now the most dominant group online in the UK, according to new research from net measurement firm Nielsen/NetRatings, reports the BBC.

Women in the 18 – 34 age group account for 18% of all online Britons.

They also spend the most time online – accounting for 27% more of the total UK computer time than their male counterparts.

Of UK males active online, the 50+ age group is the most prevalent.

The breakthrough of these groups will come as a surprise to many who regard the internet as being largely dominated by young men.

Interestingly, the number three site for young women is The Full Experience Company, which is based on an interesting gifting concept:

“Smart Box™ offers recipients the choice between 40 different activities, spa and therapy days, and hotels in the UK or France, all based on a specific theme. So you only need to choose what theme to purchase, not to select what they will actually do – You don’t have to choose the date, the place, or the experience for others… “

- Read full story
- Download press release (pdf, 128 kb, 2 pages)

15 May 2007

Improving the lives of those with dementia and their carers through design

Alzheimer100
Alzheimer100 is a UK project that aims to come up with creative solutions to the challenges presented by dementia.

Alzheimer100 is a part of Designs of the time, a year long project based in the North East and lead by John Thackara (recent interview: En / It), exploring how design can make a positive difference to our daily lives.

People with dementia, their carers, service providers and experts in the field lead the project. The groups work together to share their experiences, thoughts and ideas via videos, photographs, journals, web logs and other means and design new services and products.

The aim is that over the course of the Dott 07 year, and beyond, an innovative pilot will be produced that will improve the lives of those with dementia and their carers through design. The possible outcomes are very broad, however, and will not necessarily focus on the new, with existing services also being scrutinised to see how they could be added to or improved.

15 May 2007

The Times profiles Nokia user researcher Jan Chipchase

Jan Chipchase
“I’ve got a fair idea of what you’re carrying in your pockets,” Jan Chipchase says, somewhat ominously. “I spend a lot of time rooting around in people’s bags. And fridges.”

So goes the opening gambit of a self-described “professional, authorised stalker”. Employed by Nokia, the largest mobile phone maker, he tracks human behaviour around the world to help to design the phones of the future.

A trove of mobile trivia, Mr Chipchase (actual job title: principal researcher) knows, first-hand, that burkha-wearing students in Iran cheat in exams using hidden Bluetooth headsets; that 50 per cent of the world’s women keep their phones in their handbags (and miss 30 per cent of their calls); and that most Asian early adopters who watch mobile TV ignore the mobile part and tune in from home.

In the past year, he has left his Tokyo base to visit 15 countries. He has studied the behaviour of mobile-phone owners from the shanty towns of Soweto to the bedrooms of Seoul’s painfully tech-savvy teens, trying to work out what handsets will look like 15 years from now.

Read full story

15 May 2007

Balance generated content – towards the end of user generated content?

Ballpark
Laurent Haug, founder of the LIFT conference, argues on the blog of the Swiss internet consultancy Ballpark, that we are moving away from the “all users are born equal” utopia, and entering a more balanced, productive and sustainable era where powers are divided again.

He distinguishes between three types of people:

  • the users, the legendary and volatile “content generators”, needed to scale the system to a dimension where it starts to matter.
  • the drivers, those building the community framework and, indirectly, allowing the participation incentives to flourish.
  • the experts, bringing credibility to the whole edifice by sharing their extensive knowledge of their part of the knowledge long tail.

Read full story

14 May 2007

The art of forgetting in the age of ubiquitous computing

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger
As humans, we are regularly flummoxed by what we have forgotten — the name of someone we’ve just run into at a show, the location of the all-important corkscrew or bottle opener, one of our many passwords. What we remember is, for most of us, less of a problem. But now a public-policy expert warns that computers, by default, remember way too much — and perhaps should be trained to forget things the same way we do.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (blog), an associate professor of public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, says in a “working paper” that the seemingly endless expansion of computers’ storage capacity means that more and more elements of our lives are being recorded, and more and more of the recordings are being saved. This “will profoundly influence how we view our world, and how we behave in it,” he writes. “If what we do can be held against us years later, if all our impulsive comments are preserved,” he says, the “lack of forgetting” could lead us to “speak less freely and openly.”

The solution? Mr. Mayer-Schönberger proposes “that we shift the default when storing personal information back to where it has been for millennia, from remembering forever to forgetting over time.” Laws, he argues, should require various kinds of software to forget information after some period — days or weeks for surveillance cameras, for instance, maybe years for Amazon’s records of our book purchases. Users could change the expiration dates of information they want to preserve, he says, but otherwise forgetting would once again be the norm.

(via The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Register)