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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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June 2007
30 June 2007

78 steps to configure email on a Nokia 3G phone

People power
Alex Nisbett is creative director of the service design practice of IDEO in London.

On his Buena Vista blog, he reports that configuring email on a 3G Nokia 6233 needs a whopping 78 steps.

No wonder that people are willing to pay up to 600 USD to get a device where this procedure is a bit simpler.

All 78 steps

30 June 2007

Innovative service design concepts in the US

People power
Peer Insight, a research and consulting firm focused on service innovation and customer experience design, just published ‘Seizing White Space – Innovative Service Design Concepts in the US‘.

The report was developed for Tekes, the main public funding organisation for research and development in Finland. It was written by Stephen Ezell, Tim Ogilvie, and Jeneanne Rae. Jeneanne used to be at IDEO, and is often to be found making a very interesting point about Service and Experience in Business Week magazine.

Even small service companies can be successful in competing against large corporations in the global environment, provided that they understand very clearly the needs of their customers and that they know how to package their service concept. According to a recent report prepared by Peer Insight (USA) for Tekes, customer experience is becoming an even more important competitive factor than the service product itself. The report analyses innovative American service concepts from various sectors.

“Business development in services companies, regardless of the sector, must begin with the customers, not the competitors. Today’s customers are very demanding and aware, which is why launching a new service requires deep insight into currently unmet customer needs and the ability to turn this knowledge into a unique customer experience. An increasing number of successful service companies are born out of an entrepreneur being able to meet customer needs that have been overlooked and unrecognised by traditional companies,” says Tim Ogilvie, CEO of Peer Insight, a research and consulting firm.

The case studies reveal how service innovators go beyond the traditional types of innovation and explore the white space in their markets. That is, they look beyond the traditional competitive levers to uncover new ways to create value for customers. The analysis using the Ten Types of Innovation shows several new areas in which service companies are innovating – including the value network, the channel, and the business model – to create high-growth businesses. The most innovative firms in our research are skilled at (1) focusing on the white space that competitors have overlooked, (2) getting deep insight into customer needs in that white space, and (3) translating those needs into unique customer experiences.

- Read press release
Download report (pdf, 3.8 mb, 86 pages)

(via Alex Nisbett’s Buena Vista blog)

30 June 2007

The vision deficit

Stones
The shape of things to come has never been so inadequately imagined. Peter Lunenfeld suggests that designers can overcome the vision deficit by taking on the future as a client, in an article published on Adobe Design Center’s Think Tank, a series of in-depth articles that examines the sometimes tense but always intimate relationship between design and technology.

“In a global economy, when the nationalist impulse is either outmoded or suspect, I propose a new mode of design education, one that can in fact be carried over into designers’ professionals practices. Why not posit the future itself as one of the designer’s chief clients? More than that, why not pick a better future as that client?

Let’s think of the future as either a pro-bono client or a partner in an entrepreneurial enterprise. Both of these strategies take payment, or even profit, off the table at least for the time being. Taking the future as a client also gives the designer a certain space to breathe. The future is one client that can legitimately claim the right to all of the designer’s time and creativity.

All well and good you might say, but how can we adopt the future as a client, what methods are available to us? One that I have been exploring is scenario planning, or, as I’ll explain later, the development of bespoke futures. […]

I’m interested in taking this corporate scenario planning and subverting its methodologies, audiences, and outcomes, creating what I call bespoke future.”

A professor in the graduate Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design, Peter Lunenfeld writes about design, art, film, and the broader culture in an era of computational ubiquity, studies that fall under the emerging rubric of Digital Humanities. His books include The Digital Dialectic, Snap to Grid, and USER: InfoTechnoDemo. His forthcoming book is The War Between Downloading and Uploading: How the Computer Became Our Culture Machine. He is the editorial director of the award-winning Mediawork series for the MIT Press.

Read full story

30 June 2007

Motion presence – a Motorola field study on sharing motion information

Motorola
Crysta Metcalf, principal staff anthropologist at Motorola’s Social Media Research Lab has been active recently. After a paper on sharing practices, her colleague Frank Bentley, a Motorola senior research engineer, now also posted an article and presentation on “Motion Presence” that he co-authored with her.

Abstract
We present the Motion Presence application, an augmented phone book style application that allows close friends and family to view each other’s current motion status (“moving” or “not moving”) on their mobile phones. We performed a two week long field trial with 10 participants to observe usage and investigate any privacy concerns that might arise. We found that our participants used the motion information to infer location and activity as well as to plan communication, to help in coordinating in-person gettogethers, and to stay connected to patterns in each others’ lives. Participants saw the motion data as mostly confirming their existing thoughts about the locations and activities of others and expressed few privacy concerns. In fact, they frequently asked for more information to be shared to make the application more compelling.

In a blog post Bentley reflects on the meaning of simplicity, which to him “centers on an alignment between the user’s mental model of a system and the actual model running inside the system.” He then expands on the concept of calm technology, introduced twelve years ago by Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown of Xerox PARC.

“They saw a need for people to be aware of their environments, but without being distracted from their primary tasks. Relevant data would be ambiently displayed for people to notice through motion, sound, light, color, etc. Besides the ambient nature of these displays, I think one of the most salient points of this work was that the data being displayed was actually the raw data of bits traversing a network, and not some abstraction or inferred value that might not be as easy to understand. There was no confusion…if the wire was moving, bits were flowing. This simple piece of information could be used by the people in the room to infer whatever they needed at the time…whether it was a good time to print, check email, download a large file, etc.

We used this principle when we created the Motion Presence application. We shared fairly raw context data of if a person was moving between places or stationary at a place (we purposefully did not want to disclose actual locations). We observed that users easily understood the system and were able to use this information to infer activity, availability, location, destination, and time to destination given existing complex social knowledge about others in their close social circle. We could have tried to infer availability from location, time, motion, etc. but we believed that doing so would be confusing and frustrating for users since they would not be able to understand the complex model used to determine availability. And the second it was wrong once (which it certainly would be), users would likely lose faith in the system and not trust it in the future. The motion data was seen to be accurate and users trusted it and thus were able to trust the inferences that they made from it.

The learnings from the Motion Presence application demonstrates the power of people in applying complex social knowledge to inference problems. This is something computers are not very good at, even if they could get all of the raw data, but human brains are wired to deal exactly with these types of situations. In building social systems, let’s try to keep the system simple, and take advantage of the power of people to interpret simple, raw data in a social context.”

- Download article (pdf, 140 kb, 10 pages)
View presentation (via Slideshare, 29 slides)

29 June 2007

Alcatel-Lucent’s Alex and Lucie on user-centric experience

IMS
The website of Alcatel-Lucent, the global communications solution provider contains an entire section on user-centric experience. It is the first item of the site’s main menu, in fact.

“As end-users increasingly demand a more sophisticated communications experience tailored to meet their unique needs, putting them at center stage is what it will take to successfully compete. With Alcatel-Lucent’s user-centric applications and solutions, you will be uniquely positioned to deliver an enriched communications experience to consumers and enterprises — anytime, anywhere, and on any device.”

The section contains quite a lot of material, including:

29 June 2007

Motorola ethnographic research on shared experiences to inform ICT innovation

Motorola
Crysta Metcalf, principal staff anthropologist at Motorola’s Social Media Research Lab has just published a presentation entitled “Investigating the Sharing Practices of Family & Friends to Inform Communication Technology Innovations“.

“When we talk about the “user experience” the main emphasis is often on an individual’s experience with a particular technology. Even with a purported social technology, for example a social networking site, we still tend to create for the individual’s interaction with the site (how does someone find their friend, how do they access this site easily from a mobile device).

However, designing for sociability means thinking about how people experience each other through the technological medium, not just thinking about how they experience the technology. The emphasis is on the human-to-human relationship, not the human-to-technology relationship. This is a crucial difference in design focus. It means designing for an experience between people.

Of course designing for an experience between people doesn’t mean ignoring the interaction with the device, but it calls for taking something else into account. That “something else” is often another person or people. How do we, as developers of communication technologies, make the communications more interesting, more exciting and more stimulating for the receiver? How do we help our users meet the needs of the other people in their social network? How do we create a shared experience that is equally compelling for all participating parties? When we begin to think like this, we truly start to think of designing social software, social applications, social media.

We’re currently exploring such questions in our research on social group relationship maintenance. Ethnographic studies of five social groups around the country, from the southwest coast of California to rural Iowa to the New York City area, are revealing behavioral patterns around shared activities, storytelling, and attention exchange that we can use for applications innovation.”

Download presentation (pdf, 1.23 mb, 26 slides)

29 June 2007

Carphone Warehouse study on the role of mobile phones in our daily lives

Carphone Warehouse
UK retailer Carphone Warehouse published the latest findings from Mobile Life revealing the strength of people’s attachment to their phones as well as how they have become integral to modern day life.

The study, which was done in conjunction with the London School of Economics (LSE) and Lord Philip Gould, also includes the results of a unique ethnographic experiment depriving 24 people of their phones for a week to better understand how they shape our behaviour.

Findings

  • One in three people would not give up their mobile phone for a million pounds or more, with women leading the way on those most likely to refuse.
  • 76% of people believe it is now a social requirement to have a mobile phone.
  • 85% of people think having a mobile phone is vital to maintaining their quality of life.
  • One in five 16-24 year olds think having a mobile phone decreases their quality of life.
  • Most young adults who took part in the ethnographic experiment felt mobile phones were not just a tool, but a critical social lifeline for feeling part of a friendship group.
  • Most of 16-24 year olds would rather give up alcohol, chocolate, sex, tea or coffee than live without their mobile phone for a month.

- Read press release
Go to Mobile Life website (with report downloads and videos)

28 June 2007

Portable objects in three global cities: the personalisation of urban places

In bag
With Daisuke Okabe and Ken Anderson. Draft of a chapter forthcoming in Rich Ling and Scott Campbell Eds., The Mobile Communication Research Annual Volume 1: The Reconstruction of Space & Time through Mobile Communication Practices. Transaction Books.

Mizuko Ito reports on her blog that a few years ago she was part of a collaborative fieldwork project with colleagues at her lab at Keio and at Intel’s People and Practices group.

They did data collection in three global cities — London, Los Angeles and Tokyo — looking at what young professionals carried around with them in locations outside of home and office. The authors were interested in issues of device convergence and how portable media players and different aspects of financial transactions were moving to the digital space and have just completed a draft of a paper on the three-city study.

Abstract

The mobile phone has become the central node of the ensemble of portable objects that urbanites carry with them as they negotiate their way through information-rich global cities.

This paper reports on a study conducted in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and London where we tracked young professionals’ use of the portable objects.

By examining devices such as music players, credit cards, transit cards, keys, and ID cards in addition to mobile phones, this study seeks to understand how portable devices construct and support an individual’s identity and activities, mediating relationships with people, places, and
institutions. Portable informational objects reshape and personalise the affordances of urban space. Laptops transform cafés into personal offices. Reward and membership cards keep track of individuals’ use of urban services. Music players and mobile devices colonise the in-between times of waiting and transit with the logic of personal communications and media consumption.

Our focus in this paper is not on the relational communication that has been the focus of most mobile communication studies, but rather on how portable devices mediate relationships to urban space and infrastructures.

We identify three genres of presence in urban space that involve the combination of portable media devices, people, infrastructures, and locations: cocooning, camping, and footprinting. These place-making processes provide hints to how portable devices have reshaped the experience of space and time in global cities.

Download paper (pdf, 300 kb, 17 pages)

Since then, Daisuke Okabe and Mizuko Ito have been conducting a longer term follow on in this work, focusing on Tokyo. They have been following a more diverse set of participants over two years, looking at how their “portable kit” changes over time. A short essay reports on where things stand at the moment.

28 June 2007

Yaniv Steiner launches Wikipedia in Second Life

Brunel University
Say a term or a word, and the ring will search it in wikipedia, getting the information directly to your second life ear.

Yaniv Steiner, Experientia’s director of R&D, has been working (together with some of our other collaborators) on Feedamass, a new application that can take information from Wikipedia, Google Definitions, and what not, and send it in a clear text format to almost anything. In other words, you ask a question and Feedamass answers it immediately, e.g. as a text message on your mobile phone. Now it has been implemented in Second Life.

Feedamass, the “know-it-all” sidekick that fetches information to nearly any device, is also eligible to function on virtual spaces as well. Second Life, for instance. Its services might be needed not just in the real world, but habitantes of online communities, and their aliases, might also find it useful to have answers “whispered in their ears”.

From word definitions to encyclopedic entries, from “what’s ‘Gesundheit’ in spanish” to “how to change my avatar’s hair-style”, Simulated characters will surely encounter the necessity to know stuff. And just as people employ Feedamass to retrieve content as SMS to their mobile-phones, as an example, web entities might also like to send out for data, without leaving the screen.

Feedamass can manifest itself on different interfaces. It can be part of a toolbar, or a HUD (Head Up Display), just like it is able to take the form of a chatting contact on an IM application, or an E-mail address to where queries are sent.

- Read more
View video

28 June 2007

Brunel University in the UK opens user-centred design centre

Brunel University
“Brunel University [in the UK] is the latest higher education body to launch an initiative […] focusing on user-centred design, and has devised an education and research programme that will explore how methods used in psychology, physics and technology can be applied to product and industrial product design,” writes Design Week.

“The Human Centred Design Institute, led by Professor Joseph Giacomin, head of design and perception enhancement systems research at Brunel, and Professor Neville Stanton, a member of the DTI Human Factors National Advisory Committee, will pull together a host of design consultancies and practitioners, academic researchers, engineers and scientists, to develop ‘design processes for the 21st century’. […]

Over the next three years the centre is to publish design textbooks and will organise seminars and an international conference on user-centred design, to be held in London in early 2009.

A newly created one-year MA course in user-centred design launches this autumn, and undergraduate design students will have access to the centre’s teaching resources.”

Not a very promising design statement however is the poorly implemented website of the centre. It even has technical problems, with lack of font consistency, under construction pages, not-loading photos, and jumping text margins.

Read full story

27 June 2007

Intel exec calls for user-centred design of healthcare IT

Intel's MCA
HIMSS Summit 2007, the ‘leadership event’ of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, got underway Monday with a plea from an Intel Corporation executive that the healthcare IT vendor community build more “elegant” devices that reflect a real understanding of how people use technology,” writes Richard Pizzi in Healthcare IT News.

Douglas Busch, vice president and chief technology officer at Intel’s Digital Health Group, opened the annual Summit of healthcare IT leaders with a keynote speech explaining his company’s commitment to a ‘user-centered development process’ that took as its point of departure the way healthcare providers interact with information technology. […]

Busch said that it was critical to see how providers behaved in the clinical environment, and not simply to rely on the statements of the physicians and nurses under observation.”

Read full story

26 June 2007

On the ground running: Lessons from experience design

Adam Greenfield
As products and services become increasingly integrated, more and more companies are marketing experiences. Adam Greenfield takes an excellent street-wise look at an emerging practice on Adobe Design Center’s Think Tank, a series of in-depth articles that examines the sometimes tense but always intimate relationship between design and technology.

“The long-standing distinctions between products and services are beginning to break down. Traditionally, a product was physical and discrete, something obviously demarcated in space and time. The designer’s brief rarely encompassed more than the form of an object, and use would be considered only in terms of a narrow range of scenarios. But, driven by lightweight and ubiquitous networking and the open standards it gives rise to, all of this has started to change: no longer can the designer of any product assume that it will stand on its own, autonomous and serenely uninvolved with the wider world.”

Adam criticises experience design “as it is currently conceived” as too narrow and confined, arguing that it “leaves little room for the self-evident (and lovely) messiness of our lives, and not much in the way of flexibility should the scenario of use deviate to any significant degree from that contemplated at design time.”

For instance, “as things now stand, experience design’s Achilles heel is customer service. A combination of low wages, disinvestment in training and deeper cultural factors has left American businesses without a large pool of workers motivated to provide customer service at the level routinely specified by designers. The result is that experiences seamless on paper break down the moment a human being enters the loop.”

He then goes on to point out how “highly designed experiences tend to suffer from a consistent range of limitations” and argues that designers should “conceive of desired experiences as overarching but essentially open narratives, into which individual consumers can insert or extract components at will.”

Adam Greenfield is the author of Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing. He is principal of New York City-based, strategic design consultancy Studies and Observation.

Read full story

26 June 2007

The Slow Home movement

Slow Home
Following the Slow Food movement’s recent expansion into the areas of urban planning (“Slow City“) and design (“Slow Design“), the newest Slow area are is the home. WorldChanging reports:

The newest slow kid on the block is the Slow Home movement, a web-based design community and resource library dedicated to taking residential architecture back from the grip of the “cookie cutter houses and instant neighborhoods” churned out by community-blind development corporations, to revive the presence of good design and empower individuals to create homes that will support and fulfill them for a long time. It’s a sustainable approach in that — like with all products — a commodity that is longlasting both in terms of material quality and evolving personal taste can prevent waste and produce trusting relationships between people and their environment.

Read full story

25 June 2007

Audio interview with Johannes Vandermeulen of Namahn

Johannes Vandermeulen
Joannes Vandermeulen is founder and head of business development of the Namahn agency in Brussels, Belgium.

In this interview with IA Voice, Joannes talks about his ideas, the workflows in his agency and the user centered design process.

The IA Voice site, which is managed by Wolf H. Nöding, german language representative of the IAI, contains a wide range of interviews, including with Peter Morville, Jesse James Garrett, Peter Boersma, and Louis Rosenfeld. The site also features a four part series on faceted classification.

Listen to interview (mp3, 10.3 mb, 30 min.)

(via DdUX)

23 June 2007

Jyri Engeström on the future of participatory media

Jaiku
Jaiku co-founder and former Nokia ethnographer Jyri Engeström (bio | Jaiku site) recently gave a presentation on the future of social media, entitled “Microblogging: Tiny social objects” at Reboot 9.0 and at Mobile Monday Amsterdam.

Why do people like microblogging? Because most people can’t write several blog posts per day/week but like to keep conversations alive around topics and they like to stay connected with each other in a simple and easy way (accessible through different interfaces and/or devices), including the mobile phone obviously.

- Presentation slides
Presentation video (49:40)

23 June 2007

Matt Jones, former UX director at Nokia, now moving to BBC and Dopplr

Matt Jones
Matt Jones, former director of user experience design for Nokia Design Multimedia, announced a few weeks ago that he was leaving Nokia.

According to a blog post today, he will now be working four days a week at BBC’s Vision department , collaborating with content creators and commissioners to investigate and demonstrate how better to use the internet to help deepen/broaden the stories being told and worlds being built.

The fifth day is devoted to Dopplr, the “online service for frequent travellers” [of which I am a member], where he is the design director.

23 June 2007

Improving the retail customer’s experience when clothes shopping

Social shopping
Last month I posted a story on a smart dressing room trial at New York’s Bloomingdale’s, reported in the New York Times. Meanwhile the San Jose Mercury News provides some more depth on the prototype and introduces another one.

“A New York technology company called IconNicholson has developed a “magic mirror” that enables customers to view themselves in a series of outfits – without ever having to remove their garments. What’s more, shoppers who try on actual outfits can stand at the mirror and invite their friends to review the look via the Web. Those friends then can comment by sending text messages that pop up on the mirror’s surface.”

Closer to home, tech giant Cisco Systems has developed a system to allow shoppers to electronically check the store’s inventory for the correct size garment. They can then talk by phone to a salesperson, who will bring the item directly to their changing room stall. That way, shoppers don’t have to go through the hassle of getting dressed and trekking back to the display rack.”

The article then delves into the question why prior efforts to install technologies in fitting rooms have faltered, and what shoppers “really” want.

- Read full story- IconNicholson’s social retailing concept overview (includes video)- Cisco’s retail industry solutions

Note that the Cisco website contains a whole lot of information on technological solutions to improve the customer experience, including an August 2006 benchmark study (pdf, 488 kb, 10 pages), a January 2007 brochure on in-store media solutions (pdf, 768 kb, 4 pages), a March 2007 newsletter on retail trends (pdf, 148 kb, 3 pages), and many videos.

23 June 2007

Bringing together nature and technology, tradition and vanguard in southern Italy

Interferenzes
Sustainable tourism is one of the main focus areas of the Dott07 initiative (a year of community projects, events and exhibitions in North East England that explore what life in a sustainable region could be like – and how design can help us get there).

Programme director John Thackara has invited Leandro Pisano and Alessandro Esposito to an upcoming expert meeting.

Pisano and Esposito are partners in Ufficio Bifolco, a marketing and cultural planning company that works on ICT strategies for development of rural areas in South Italy.

They are producers of two festivals in Southern Italy – Interferenze and Mediaterrae – that bring together nature and technology, tradition and vanguard, past and future, local and global. This unique convergence of sounds, images, landscapes and carnival rites of a rural land, are signals of new ways we might visit and experience new locations.

(via Doors of Perception)

23 June 2007

Usability 2.0 – The Movie

Usability 2.0
What is the next generation of web usability? What are some of the usability gains and challenges arising as a result of Web 2.0 technologies such as Ajax; how is usability viewed within companies today; and what is the ROI of good usability practice?

The WebGuild‘s April event on Usability 2.0 was a highly informative and entertaining session. It was also well attended with upwards of 300 people present. The panelists provided a wealth of useful and practical information coupled with great anecdotes. Panelists included Luke Wroblewski, senior principal designer at Yahoo! Inc., Jon Wiley (blog), user experience designer at Google, Inc., Sean Kane, director, user interface engineering at Netflix, and moderated by Reshma Kumar (blog), WebGuild vice president and user experience forum chair.

Just out on video, the comprehensive panel discussion covers a huge range of topics, including general design; usability testing; information architecture; the qualitative and quantitative measurement of user experience; and the use of specific tools and techniques.

At two-and-a-half hours long it’s a full-length feature film, but the speakers are excellent and the content high quality.

Watch video

(via Usability News)

22 June 2007

Innovation in experiential services – an empirical view

Innovation in Services
The recent “Innovation in Services” paper by the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), contains a long chapter by LBS researchers Chris Voss and Leonieke Zomerdijk, entitled “Innovation in experiential services – an empirical view“.

The introduction to the paper is already indicative of the angle taken in this publication:

Research conducted for this report emphasises the importance of nontechnological innovation in the economy. One of the findings is that the full utilisation of technology often requires firms to use it in an innovative way and this is often accompanied by changes in the skill mix and organisational changes. Knowledge of the customer, i.e. the ‘demand side’ of the equation is particularly important as many services are simultaneously created and consumed at the same time.

The chapter itself deals with experiential services and the customer journey approach:

This chapter examines innovation in experiential services. These are services where the focus is on the experience of the customer when interacting with the organisation, rather than just the functional benefits following from the products and services delivered. The report is based on a continuing research programme on experiential services at London Business School. It draws on a recent case-based study of eight design agencies and consultancies and nine successful experiential service providers. The report addresses the question of how do experiential service providers innovate, in particular the content and the process of innovation including organisation for innovation. Studying innovation in experiential services facilitates wider reflection on the subject of service innovation.

The research found that experiential services are often designed from the perspective of the customer journey rather than as a single product or transaction; the service is seen as a journey that spans a longer period of time and consists of multiple components and multiple touchpoints. The journey perspective implies that a customer experience is built over an extended period of time, starting before and ending after the actual sales experience or transaction. During a customer journey, numerous touchpoints occur between the customer and the organisation or the brand. These touchpoints need to be carefully designed and managed. The research shows that innovation takes place at each of these touchpoints as well as of the overall journey itself.

Download paper (pdf, 1.5 mb, 198 pages)