Putting People First

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June 2007
14 June 2007

Daily reporting from the UPA annual conference (3)

Yesterday the regular annual conference of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) started.

Jakob Biesterfeldt (User Interface Design, Germany) and Robert Gillham (Amberlight, UK) continue their reporting from Austin, Texas:

‘The conference started off with keynote speaker Bill Buxton from Microsoft Research. Trying to pinpoint the object of design, Bill stated that “we are deluding ourselves if we think that what we design are the things we sell. Instead, we must design the individual, social and cultural experience that they engender and the value and impact that they have.” When we design interactive products, we should not start with screenshots of any kind, but rather sketch out storyboards that illustrate the user experience. We should put great emphasis on the transition between the states that you would typically see on screenshots. Arrows as used in page flow diagrams should be much more elaborate, indicating the dynamics of transitions over time.

In the afternoon, Susan Dray and David Siegel reported from their experiences in intercultural usability studies and gave away some tips for overcoming cross-cultural challenges, something many American participants still seem to find scary – so our International Usability Partners network definitely does make sense.

The UPA is by the way planning to bring its annual conference to Europe within the next two or three years.’

Amberlight (UK) and User Interface Design (UID) are founding members of the International Usability Partners (IUP). The IUP are a network of independent usability companies who provide usability services worldwide, based on a common understanding of best-of-class quality and methodology.

On Thursday Jakob and Robert will present the paper “Guidelines for Successful Recruiting in International Usability Studies” exchanging experiences from numerous usability studies across borders, cultures and languages. Their ideas on successful recruiting in international usability studies are available here.

13 June 2007

The human face of product development

Contextual research
Tom Shelley reports in Eureka magazine on the latest thinking in how to ensure that products truly fulfill customer needs and aspirations – and succeed in the marketplace. The story is largely based on an interview with Apala Lahiri Chavan, managing director of Human Factors International India.
How can you ensure products really satisfy the needs and desires of the people for whom they have been made? One way may be to adopt the methods of ethnography, the science of studying human behaviour in the field. Now known as Contextual Innovation, this new approach has been pioneered in India and since taken to the US.

I doubt that the approach originates from India, but the story does contain a very nice example of context-specific methodology:

In a study of designs for ATM machines in India, the team came up with the idea of little books of tickets called an ‘emotion ticket’. “Each ticket looked like a cinema ticket,” Chavan explains, “and was associated with a different emotion: anger, surprise, happiness, loathing, courage, disgust, despair, mirth and pity.” In other words, the ‘nine rasas’ in Indian performing arts, as depicted by illustrations derived from Bollywood films. However, for China, they use Jungian Archetype Folk Probes, where people associate how they feel about a product or service idea with characters from Chinese mythology.

Shelley also presents some nice examples of how Intel designed the Eduwise [controversial because of its similarities to the One Laptop Per Child concept] and other culturally specific products for use in classrooms and other developing countries.

Eureka is a magazine targeted at mechanical design engineers in the UK industry. It sees its role as one of discovering and disseminating new ideas and technologies which engineers can use in current and future designs.

Read full story

13 June 2007

John Thackara on designing with people to address climate change

John Thackara, programme director of Dott 07 (and featured this week in Business Week as a top cutting-edge designer) shares his opinion on design and sustainability in this month’s edition of Blueprint Magazine.

“As designers, are we guilty of killing the planet? Eighty percent of the environmental impact of the products and buildings that surround us is determined at the design stage, after all. The ways we have designed the world force most people to waste stupendous quantities of matter and energy in their daily lives. Playing the blame game is pointless. Yes, humanity has trashed the biosphere by design – but the best way to redeem ourselves is to become part of the solution. […]

[We need] to wise up to the fact that there’s a truly gigantic design opportunity here. Someone has to redesign the structures, institutions and processes that drive the economy. Someone has to transform the material, energy and resource flows that, left unchecked, will finish us. […]

Transformation on this scale won’t happen if we approach it top-down. In Dott 07 in North East England, we are not telling people to behave sustainably. We are designing, with them, more sustainable ways to organise daily life – ways that bring material benefit in the immediate term. Our idea is that if these small steps succeed, even in part, then others can quickly follow suit, better and faster. This way, governments can focus on removing obstacles to change, rather than try to lead it from the top.

Dott 07 is not about traditional design. We don’t design artefacts at all unless they are a necessary part of a sustainable solution. We don’t design communication campaigns telling people how to be green. We’re spending very modestly on our big festival, in October, where the focus is mainly on people, not things.

We’re doing a lot of design, but we’re doing it with the people of the North East, not for them.

Read full story

13 June 2007

Daily reporting from the UPA annual conference (2)

Jakob Biesterfeldt (User Interface Design, Germany) and Robert Gillham (Amberlight, UK) continue their reporting from the annual conference of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) in Austin, Texas.

In line with their talk on Thursday, they took part yesterday in a full-day workshop on cross-cultural user interface design/analysis, held by Aaron Marcus, and learned more about how to define cultural dimensions and how these affect user interface design.

Jakob Biesterfeldt: “Culture is usually referred to as patterns of values, attitudes and behaviours which are shared by a group of people. Cultural differences affect how people from different cultures interact with products, software or websites. In turn, this affects how we go about designing interactive products. It affects our methods, our designs, our products. It can simply influence the choice of UI colours all the way to the decision to sell the product in a specific target market or not.”

Amberlight (UK) and User Interface Design (UID) are founding members of the International Usability Partners (IUP). The IUP are a network of independent usability companies who provide usability services worldwide, based on a common understanding of best-of-class quality and methodology.

On Thursday Jakob and Robert will present the paper “Guidelines for Successful Recruiting in International Usability Studies” exchanging experiences from numerous usability studies across borders, cultures and languages. Their ideas on successful recruiting in international usability studies are available here.

12 June 2007

Daily reporting from the UPA annual conference

Over the next few days I will post daily reports from the annual conference of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) in Austin, Texas. Experientia partner Michele Visciola, is there, as well as Jakob Biesterfeldt (User Interface Design, Germany) and Robert Gillham (Amberlight, UK), companies that Experientia works frequently with.

Amberlight (UK) and User Interface Design (UID) are founding members of the International Usability Partners (IUP). The IUP are a network of independent usability companies who provide usability services worldwide, based on a common understanding of best-of-class quality and methodology.

The full partnership has collaborated on Jakob’s and Robert’s conference paper “Guidelines for Successful Recruiting in International Usability Studies” exchanging experiences from numerous usability studies across borders, cultures and languages. Their ideas on successful recruiting in international usability studies are available here. The paper will be presented on Thursday, 1:30 pm.

10 June 2007

Videos available of the IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference

Strategy Conference
The Chicago-based IIT Institute of Design strongly believes in human-centred innovation which “starts with users’ needs and employs a set of reliable methods, theories and tools to create solutions to their problems”.

In May, the Institute organised the Design Strategy Conference, an international executive forum addressing how businesses can use design to explore emerging opportunities, solve complex problems, and achieve lasting strategic advantage.

The conference starts from the premise that design, with its ability to understand users, redefine problems and create systemic, human-centered solutions, can help companies better understand their customer’s daily lives, and lead directly to valuable (and valued) offerings that are effectively tailored to their market.

Videos of the presentations are now available. The speaker list featured:

10 June 2007

Spanish translation of engageID interview with Mark Vanderbeeken

Somebody seems to have a lot of time on his hands but we don’t complain.

Luis López Toledo, a Chilean industrial designer, just posted a Spanish translation of a rather lengthy interview with Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken, originally published in September last year by engageID, the student newsletter of the highly acclaimed Chicago-based Institute of Design (part of the Illinois Institute of Technology).

López Toledo also recently posted a Spanish translation of the interview Mark 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.

- Read interview in Spanish
Read interview in English (see also below) (alternate site)

9 June 2007

Telling stories in public spaces, museums, and over the internet – often simultaneously

Jake Barton runs a design firm in New York called Local Projects. They call themselves ‘media designers’, as they work at the intersections between broadcast media, interactive media, architecture and physical space, explore innovative interfaces in physical space, hybridising between physical interfaces and online interfaces, and have been particularly engaged in collaborative storytelling projects.

Barton was one of the many speakers at Postopolis!, a five-day event of near-continuous conversation about architecture, urbanism, landscape, and design, at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York. Postopolis! was organised by BLDDBLOG, City of Sound, Inhabitat, Subtopia and the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, and ran from May 29th-June 2nd 2007.

Dan Hill, former head of interactive technology and design at the BBC and currently director of web and broadcast at Monocle, has done a tremendous job reporting on all the Postopolis! presentations (all posts here) on his great blog City of Sound.

In his talk, Barton describes several of his recent people-driven projects that to me seem very relevant to be featured in this experience design blog:

  • Miners Story Project – to preserve and share stories about life in mines and mining communities in the Southwest US;
  • Storycorps – a national US project to instruct and inspire people to record one another’s stories in sound;
  • Timescapes – a giant 3-screen projection that enables people to approach the city itself [New York] from different angles simultaneously;
  • Public Information Exchange – an initiative of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects aimed at fostering proactive dialogue between all those involved in public architecture.

In a concluding remark, Hill describes the Local Projects’ approach as “rooted, considered, elegantly open, and specific to the problem at hand” which provides “an imaginative yet pragmatic illustration of the potential in the overlap between physical and digital spaces”.

Read full story

8 June 2007

Philips moves into the lifestyle game

Active Crystal
The Dutch company, famous for its electrical appliances, now sees its future in giving people an entire design ‘experience’, writes Paul Durman in The London Times.

“For girls who love bling, Philips reckons it has just the thing. The electrical-goods company known for its televisions and shavers is getting into the jewellery business. This year it will start selling a range of wearable memory sticks – including a USB storage device dressed up to look like a heartshaped pendant.

The Active Crystal range of products – there will also be bejewelled earphones for digital-music players – is the first fruit of a joint venture with Swarovski, the jeweller [read also this Philips press release]. The USB keys, which will have enough memory for 1,000 photos or 250 songs, are expected to cost about £120. As the price makes clear, the target customer is more fashion victim than gadget geek.

For Rudy Provoost, chief executive of Philips Consumer Electronics, the partnership with Swarovski is a good example of how the Dutch giant is changing, and how design has become central to its future success. “Design is not just about styling and the look,” Provoost said. “Design is the vehicle to create experience – design as a fashion statement, as a lifestyle statement.”

Three years ago, he said, design was only one of a number of factors that went into the equation of creating new products. “Today, design is driving the equation, it is setting the direction. A few years ago, we would very much have said: ‘Let’s do it all by ourselves.’ Now we are going out and partnering with companies.”

The article then continues with a more technical analysis of the Philips consumer products business strategy.

Read full story

8 June 2007

The Economist features work by Swisscom anthropologist Stefana Broadbent

The Economist on Stefana Broadbent
The Economist published an article today on anthropologists who are investigating the use of communications technology and particularly on the sometimes surprising conclusions coming from Swisscom anthropologist Stefana Broadbent.

“Stefana Broadbent, an anthropologist who leads the User Adoption Lab at Swisscom, Switzerland’s largest telecoms operator, has been looking at usage patterns associated with different communications technologies. She and her team based their research on observation, interviews, surveys of users’ homes and asking people to keep logbooks of their communications usage in several European countries. Some of their findings are quite unexpected.”

The article, which was written by Bruno Giussani, features six of Stefana’s interesting research results:

  • A typical user spends 80% of his or her time communicating with just four other people.
  • People are using different communications technologies (fixed-line calls, mobile calls, texting, IM, VOiP) in distinct and divergent ways.
  • There is a flattening in voice communication and an increase in written channels.
  • Instead of work invading private life, private communications are invading the workplace.
  • People generally do not work while on the move: hotel rooms and airports are not seen as an appropriate environment for substantive work and are mainly used for e-mail.
  • Migrants are the most advanced users of communications technology.

Read full story

6 June 2007

Experientia takes on leading role in UXnet, the global user experience network

Mark Vanderbeeken, senior partner of Experientia and the driving force behind the experience design blog Putting People First, has taken on the role of communications director of UXnet, the global user experience network.

In his new function, which is on a volunteer basis and additional to his other commitments, Mark will be a key participant in architecting UXnet’s digital communication channels, while setting strategic communications objectives and overseeing the execution of tactical communications across media, and to both internal and external stakeholders.

“We are really excited to have Mark joining UXnet in this critical role,” said Dirk Knemeyer, president of the UXnet Board of Directors, in a statement on the UXnet website. “His experience and success in the user experience community will be a key contributor to moving UXnet forward, particularly in helping to accelerate our international agenda.”

UXnet, the global user experience network, exists to make connections among people, resources, and organizations involved in User eXperience (UX) anywhere in the world. A network of 95 local ambassadors represent 72 locales in 28 countries on six continents. The organisation also facilitates and promotes collaboration with all key UX-related professional organisations.

Multiple online tools (e.g., an evolving conference calendar) are currently being designed and implemented.

The UXnet Board of Directors consists of Dirk Knemeyer (Involution Studios), Louis Rosenfeld (Rosenfeld Media), Whitney Quesenbery (Whitney Interactive Design) and Keith Instone (IBM). Mark Vanderbeeken will join biweekly board meetings and eventually become a full voting member of the board.

4 June 2007

Ubiquitous computing gone mad

Virtual walls
The future as described by this National Post article is one of ubiquitous computing gone mad, with technology everywhere, and good user experience and privacy nowhere at all.

“In the future rush to get to work, the day’s tasks will be checked using a personal robotic butler, the misplaced car keys will be located by entering the word “keys” into a cellphone and getting a call back saying “bedroom.” The children will be monitored by sensors that detect their every movement. At work, the office map uses the same kind of sensors to track down staff members for a meeting. The work day is interrupted by a break to play with the cat remotely over the Internet. After work, the ads on the shopping mall wall reconfigure to suit each person passing by, so when there is a sign for a concert, you buy a ticket by waving your cellphone over the billboard. At home that night, the phone programs the dishwasher and washing machine to run while the family sleeps.”

The article is unfortunately based on what happened at the 5th International Conference on Pervasive Computing held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on May 13-16, 2007.

Luckily there were Adam Greenfield and Apu Kapadia (a post-doctoral research fellow at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire) to bring some sense to the madness, but they seem to have been lone wolves crying. And even Greenfield was not optimistic, as he believes that the only bastion for privacy in this technological future may be in the home: “I think in public space, the battle is already over, and the forces of privacy have lost.”

In a long post, computer consultant Roland Piquepaille reflects on these problems, asks what can be done to protect our privacy, and provides some more depth on the issue.

Read full story

(via SmartMobs)

3 June 2007

“Experience first” at Microsoft

Ray Ozzie
Ray Ozzie is Microsoft’s chief software architect, the title Bill Gates formerly held.

In a long and wide-ranging interview with Knowledge@Wharton, the Wharton School’s online journal, Ozzie seems to see customer experience mainly as seamless experiences, i.e. cross-platform continuity:

“What we as an industry need to deliver are seamless experiences — however those things are accomplished — to do the appropriate thing in the browser and the appropriate thing on a laptop or on a device to solve that problem. […]

The guidance that we are giving the development community — and the guidance that we use in-house — is to look at applications through the following lens: When the business model behind that app means that you have to get it everywhere, we call that the ‘universal web application pattern.’ When the most important thing is the experience that the user has with that application and you might be willing to trade off the breadth of the web for the richness of that experience, we call that an “experience first pattern.”

There’s no hard line between the two, but there is some guidance there. It’s clear that the ad-based model is a ‘universal web pattern.’ The whole business model says, ‘Pick a technology for building that solution that gets to every eyeball on earth.’ At the opposite extreme are Windows games and, I believe, the Office Desktop components, which are ‘experience first.’ You want to make the experiences as rich as you can and you code to the [Windows] platform in order to do that.

But these are not absolutes. For example, Office is an ‘experience first’ thing, but we do a Mac version and a PC version. The ‘ubiquitous web’ is very important for many of our businesses and we use that also.”

Read interview (free registration required)

2 June 2007

Interview with Luke Wroblewski, senior principal designer, Yahoo! Inc.

Luke Wroblewski
As a follow up to its April Usability 2.0 Event, the WebGuild has published a long interview with Luke Wroblewski, senior principal of product ideation & design at Yahoo! Inc.

The interview was conducted by Reshma Kumar, vice president of the Silicon Valley-based WebGuild and chair of the guild’s user experience forum.

Read full story

(via Usernomics)

2 June 2007

Bruce Sterling moving to Torino, Italy

Bruce Sterling
Bruce Sterling will be moving to Turin (a.k.a. “Torino”), Italy, starting September – for a period of six to eight months.

Sterling [wikipediablog] is an American science fiction writer and highly acclaimed futurist thinker and design critic. His recent book “Shaping Things” introduced the term “spimes” for future manufactured objects with informational support so extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system.

As he wrote me, he will be “helping out” with the Torino SHARE festival, do his customary blogging and novel writing, cover the design scene for the US press, and also write some contributions (I hope) for the Torino 2008 World Design Capital website.

He will move to Torino with his wife Jasmina Tešanović [wikipediablog], a Serbian author and film maker, who is a fluent Italian speaker and “has a lot to occupy her here”.

The news is already making the rounds here in Torino and there is genuine enthusiasm about it – and this on various levels. Bruce is well known in Italy and many of his books have been translated in Italian.

Ah, Torino lost Régine but gained Bruce.

We will do our best to keep him busy and excited. Welcome Bruce!

2 June 2007

Web 2.0 is the web as it was originally envisioned – the internet of things is the real departure

The interactive city
The term Web 2.0 was dreamed up to describe community-driven phenomena such as blogs and wikis and the enormously priced businesses they inspired. But not everyone is buying into the label, writes David Reid of BBC News.

Participants at a recent Web 2.0 conference organised by Nomades Advanced Technologies Interactive Workshops (NATIW) [blog] in Geneva, Switzerland were scratching their heads as to what it all means.

Among them were some pretty wily web veterans, including a member of the team from Europe’s Nuclear Research Centre (Cern) that actually invented the web.

Web 2.0 may not be the different species some claim, but sort of what they had in mind from the start.

“The original slogan was always to have a web that was easy to write as it was to read,” said Robert Cailliau of the World Wide Web Consortium.

“We went through a sort of dark ages where the ideas survived, but the technology needed to catch up, so where we are now is indeed the point at which the people take control of the web, make their input, which is what we originally wanted.

“Our idea was for a web that was as easy to write as to read.”

The article then continues on how the concept of user-generated content is also having an impact outside the internet, and particularly on architecture, with some designers now “putting the people in charge of changing the look of buildings”, with the “internet of things” becoming “the real departure from the original vision of the web’s founders.”

Examples of this approach featured in the article are:

Read full story

2 June 2007

The user is the content

Meeting of Minds, Antwerp - Photo by Pieter Baert
The user is the content’ was a debate that took place on April 26 in Antwerp, Belgium, and focussed on the impact of user generated content on traditional media, publishers and cultural organisations. What about the copyright? And what about the future?

During the debate nine experts presented future scenarios on cyberspace and the implications this may have for the user. Their presentations are now online.

The event was co-organised by De Buren, a Dutch-Flemish forum for debate on cultural diversity, society and politics in Europe, and C.H.I.P.S., an organisation that promotes cultural initiatives that focus on new media, communication and participation.

1 June 2007

Google photos stir a debate over privacy [The New York Times]

Google privacy debate
OAKLAND, Calif., May 31 — For Mary Kalin-Casey, it was never about her cat.

Ms. Kalin-Casey, who manages an apartment building here with her husband, John Casey, was a bit shaken when she tried a new feature in Google’s map service called Street View. She typed in her address and the screen showed a street-level view of her building. As she zoomed in, she could see Monty, her cat, sitting on a perch in the living room window of her second-floor apartment.

“The issue that I have ultimately is about where you draw the line between taking public photos and zooming in on people’s lives,” Ms. Kalin-Casey said in an interview Thursday on the front steps of the building. “The next step might be seeing books on my shelf. If the government was doing this, people would be outraged.”

Read full story

1 June 2007

Peter Merholz: Experience IS the Product… and the only thing users care about

In an article just published on Core77, Peter Merholz (blog) of Adaptive Path tours us through some of the most successful companies and how they focus on the interaction with the user, arguing that good designers create experiences, not products.

The article has much in common with the recent Jesse James Garrett (Adaptive Path president) talk at MX San Francisco. Here’s a taste:

When you start with the idea of making a thing, you’re artificially limiting what you can deliver. The reason that many of these exemplar’s forward-thinking product design succeed is explicitly because they don’t design products. Products are realized only as necessary artifacts to address customer needs. What Flickr, Kodak, Apple, and Target all realize is that the experience is the product we deliver, and the only thing that our customers care about.

Read full article

1 June 2007

New UK centre of excellence in design, engineering, technology and business

Design-London at RCA-Imperial
The Royal College of Art (RCA) and Imperial College London announce today a major strategic partnership with the creation of a world-class £5.8 million multidisciplinary centre called Design-London at RCA-Imperial.

Its purpose will be to bring together the disciplines of design, engineering, technology and business to address the challenges of future innovation.

Design-London at RCA-Imperial will create an ‘innovation triangle’ between design (represented by the Royal College of Art), engineering and technology (represented by Imperial College Faculty of Engineering) and the business of innovation (represented by Imperial’s Tanaka Business School).

Within this ‘innovation triangle’, teaching will promote knowledge interchange between MA, MEng and MBA students from the RCA and Imperial; research will explore how design can be more effectively integrated with business and technology to create world-beating products and services; entrepreneurial graduates from RCA and Imperial will be given the opportunity to develop new ideas in the ‘Incubator‘, a dynamic multi-disciplinary environment for business development which will support unique or unexpected collaborations between different disciplines, organisations and places; and business partners of RCA and Imperial will be able to build innovation capacity via simulation exercises, digital tools and facilitation in the ‘Simulator‘.

Read full press release (alternate site)

(via Business Week Next)