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Putting People First

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July 2007
20 July 2007

Rich ethnographic reports about the uses of ICT in low-income communities

Internet cafe in Ghana
The UK Department for Development has published a long study, written by a number of researchers from British and Australian Universities, about the social and economic benefits of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in low-income communities in Jamaica, India, South Africa and Ghana.

The Australian anthropology site Culture Matters reports that “the working papers strongly re-enforce the benefits of an ethnographic approach for the wider world,” but this approach “is also increasingly seen as contributing to sound development policies.”

“One of the most convincing is the study on Jamaica by Daniel Miller and Heather Horst, which “juxtaposes conventional ICT policy making in Jamaica with ethnographic findings and uncovers that the assumptions concerning internet use held by the government as well as international NGOs diverge hugely from the realities. [...] The whole report is full of examples for ethnography’s ability to check (and often disprove) common-sense beliefs concerning the benefits of new technologies.”

The reports from Ghana by Don Slater and Janet Kwami also “unveiled a huge gap between policy assumptions and actual usage. [...] On the one hand there is the widespread belief amongst governments and NGOs that the Internet is a tool of development through information distribution. Yet all Internet users in the Accra slum studied used the internet only for chat with foreigners (as well as some diasporic family members and friends). There was exceptionally low awareness of even the existence of websites.”

Read full story

20 July 2007

Nicolas Nova talk now on Google Video

Nicolas Nova video
The video of last week’s talk by Nicolas Nova in Turin is now available on Google Video. The slides are available here (pdf, 1.36mb, 90 slides).

Nicolas Nova is a researcher at the Media and Design Lab at the Swiss Institute of Technology, Lausanne and one of the organisers of the LIFT conference.

His talk “Designing a new ecology of mixed digital and physical environments” was a critical overview of ubiquitous computing based on current research in the field (showing what people like Paul Dourish or Genevieve Bell are discussing but also geographers such as Stephen Graham), art/start-up/research projects and alternative visions such as what Nicolas is doing with Julian Bleecker.

The talk was organised by Experientia and the Order of Architects of the Province of Turin.

(Thanks to Experientia collaborator Haraldur Már Unnarsson for making this possible).

20 July 2007

Research on smartphones and the work-life balance

Blackberry on the train
According to research conducted by Research In Motion, BlackBerry devices and other smart phones may have had a huge impact on executive and employee productivity, but they also have a negative impact on work-life balance by making it more difficult to switch off from the office, according to a recent survey.

The USA Today article reporting the research highlights how these devices increase efficiency, reduce stress, and “swing the work-life balance to the company side of the scales”.

These results stand in contrast with Swisscom research recently reported by Bruno Giussani in The Economist, which makes one wonder to what extent the validity of the Research in Motion study is limited to senior managers only.

“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. [...] Although the rise of the BlackBerry has prompted concern about work invading private life, the opposite actually seems to be true: private communications are invading the workplace. Workers expect to be plugged into their social networks while at work, whether by e-mail, IM or mobile phone. Last year at a food-processing factory near Geneva, the workers revolted when the director tried to ban mobile phones from the factory floor, and he was forced to relent. Their argument was that they wanted to be reachable during the day, just as people who sit at desks are.”

19 July 2007

User-driven innovation in Denmark and Finland

Denmark and Finland
Denmark:

A special programme for so-called user driven innovation is to be launched with funds of EUR 50 million for projects in Denmark.

The Danish government has set off EUR 50 million over the next four years to strengthen innovation in Danish companies and public institutions. This will take place through a special programme for user driven innovation – for which support can only be applied four times annually.

- Read full story
- Read backgrounder

Finland:

Regional innovation and user-driven innovation are the main themes of an upcoming innovation conference in Finland.

“In the Nordic region, as in most other regions, innovation policy has generally focused on the scientific and technological drivers of innovation. However, the largest numbers of companies do not innovate based purely on these drivers. Today, the policy focus in both the EU and the Nordic countries is turning towards two ‘new’ areas; regional innovation and user-driven innovation.”

The “New trends in Nordic innovation” conference, which will take place in Oulu, November 29th-30th 2007, is organised by The Finnish presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers together with the Nordic Innovation Centre.

- Read more

18 July 2007

Describing the spiritual experience

Spirituality
Bob Jacobson is on a mission to describe those categories of experience — spiritual, philosophical, scientific and design — that bear on the practice of systemically designing for experience.

His first topic is spiritual experiences, experiences derived from the phenomenon of human existence we call spirituality.

He describes his writings as “notes preludes to a more thorough discussion; neither complete nor conclusive, but suggestive of the broad array of experiences that derive from our spiritual natures.”

Jacobson identifies four types of relevant spiritual experience, each with its own defining characteristics.
* Ecstatic experiences — Personal epiphanies and “callings”
* Ritualistic experiences — Tribal and cult experiences often derived from oral tradition
* Formalized experiences — Highly structured experiences often adhering to a doctrine
* Spiritual living — Spirituality as a constant, day to day experience

In Part 2 of this discourse, Jacobson will describe “how spiritual experiences of various types interact with ‘designed’ experiences; and how designers can (positively) exploit spiritual experiences and what they must look out for when invoking (or ignoring) them.”

Read full story

18 July 2007

User experience for OpenOffice.org

UXOOO
The German interaction designer Matthias Müller-Prove is the co-lead on the user experience project of OpenOffice.org and has just published an article about his activities.

Open source software (OSS) is a paradigm for developing software in a non-proprietary fashion by leveraging virtual communities of independent software engineers. Within these communities, software engineers share source code, contribute new features, and provide bug fixes and patches to a common code base. Eric S. Raymond provided the framework for OSS development in The Cathedral and the Bazaar by discussing the motivations and the social context of individual developers (Raymond 1999). The first rule of open source development is also the reason for an inherent usability problem: “Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.”

The result is a self-referential system – developers develop for themselves rather than for the average user or the target audience. Usability engineering is considered as superfluous extra (cf. Nichols/Twidale 2003). However, to provide a good user experience, it is the user’s itch that needs to be scratched.

This article presents user experience activities in the context of OpenOffice.org. The author – co-lead of the User Experience Project – will discuss the status of building an open source community of usability professionals to improve the usefulness and usability of the application.

Read full article

18 July 2007

Firms snub ‘mobile for elderly’

Life Phone
The BBC reports that UK stores are refusing to stock a mobile handset aimed at the elderly because it “fails to fit their customer target”, says the phone’s distributor.

Stewart Smith, head of Communic8, also says that he had found no network operator prepared to partner with the makers of the Emporia Life handset.

The £170 ($320, €230) handset features easy-to-use buttons, a simple display and a large red panic switch on its back.

Charities for the elderly have accused the mobile industry of ageism.

Austrian-based manufacturer Emporia are aiming the phone at the over-50s but, despite a large potential market, has found it a hard sell in the UK.

“We are in discussion with a number of retailers, but particularly when it comes to the mobile networks, they find it hard to see where this kind of device fits within their brand,” said Mr Smith, managing director of the UK distributor Communic8.

- Read full story
- Watch video news report
- Watch video of pensioners testing the phone

18 July 2007

Designing for deterioration

Designing for deterioration
Over at his blog, NYTimes.com designer Khoi Vinh has a post about “designed deterioration“, and how design-heavy tech companies don’t think about the non-perfect scenario, writes Bobbie Johnson in The Guardian’s technology blog.

“I have a US$20 cast iron skillet that I bought several years ago from a restaurant supply shop in downtown Manhattan. I’ve cooked hundreds of meals with it, and over time it has developed a coating from oil and food — the manufacturers call it ‘seasoning.’ It’s a little unbecoming when you think about it… but it’s also a beautiful piece of design.

After cooking in it and cleaning it up, I’ve spent a lot of time just looking it over, marveling at how its very deterioration has been incorporated into the design of the object, at how it’s gotten more attractive — less ignorant — the more I use it.”

Johnson takes this idea a bit forward:

“One thing technology manufacturers don’t do is design for deterioration. Of course, that’s not the same as obsolescence; it’s simply the concept that you can improve an item through wear and tear. With clothes and many other objects, we appreciate the value of aging. Leather, for example, is one material that gains character as it gets older. Denim too: hence the prevalence of pre-faded jeans on the high street these days.

Partly this must be because technology is increasingly seen as disposable – but then so are clothes, or kitchen utensils. But given the high cost of many electronics, there must be an intrinsic value to a design which improves with age (even if it runs contrary to the “Newer! Bigger! Faster!” mantra of the industry) – especially when we’re becoming hyper-aware of excess consumption.

I’d love to see computers and gadgets being built out of materials that can age properly: woods, fabrics and such like. Once you’re doing that, perhaps you could start messing with the form too. Why does my computer tower need to be a box? In fact, why does it need to be a tower at all? Couldn’t it look like a piece of art, sculpture or perform another function? What are the possibilities?”

18 July 2007

Barcelona_London: comparing, contrasting and challenging two urban success stories

BCN_LDN 2020
Today the UK think tank Demos launches a new collection of essays produced with Catalan think tank Fundació Ramon Trias Fargas comparing and contrasting the two urban success stories of London and Barcelona.

The report, called BCN_LDN 2020, explores how London and Barcelona can reflect on their past decades of urban policy-making and the challenges ahead.

Abstract

Over the last fifteen years London and Barcelona have epitomised the story of the ‘resurgent city’. They now face a set of challenges without easy answers – such as on public behaviour and public space, on migration and identity, on governance and collective imagination. The collection BCN_LDN 2020 brings together a range of provocative essays exploring current policy discourses and alternative stories.

The collaboration between Demos and Fundació Ramon Trias started with a Work Party in the Summer of 2006, which explored how London and Barcelona can reflect on their past decades of urban policy-making and the challenges ahead.

The publication, which acknowledges the achievements of recent policy-making, but provides a critical reflection on the success stories that we hear from both cities, includes essays by Antoni Vives (Fundació Ramon Trias Fargas), Dr Fran Tonkiss (London School of Economics), Indy Johar (Zero Zero Architects), Anwar Akhtar (Cultural Industries Development Agency), Chris Murray (Core Cities Group), and Lise Autogena (independent artist / NESTA fellow).

Download publication (pdf, 1.7 mb, 102 pages)

18 July 2007

John Maeda interviewed on NPR’s Talk of the Nation

John Maeda
John Maeda is a world-renowned graphic designer, artist, and computer scientist at the MIT Media Laboratory. He has pioneered the use of the computer for people of all ages and skills to create art, and is [since recently] a strong voice for “simplicity” in the digital age – as e.g. demonstrated by his blog, his book “The Laws of Simplicity“, and his engagement in the Philips Simplicity Advisory Board.

Maeda, who holds the E. Rudge and Nancy Allen Professorship of Media Arts and Sciences and is Associate Director of Research at the MIT Media Laboratory, just got interviewed on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Opening question: “What makes a tool or a gadget a pleasure to use?”

Listen to interview

(via metacool)

18 July 2007

Citizen media: a progress report

Center for Citizen Media
Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media has posted a long essay, offering a year-on-year progress report on the state of citizen journalism.

His ten points:

1. Recognition of citizen media
There’s a growing recognition and appreciation of why citizen journalism matters.

2. Traditional media get it now
Traditional media organisations, big and small, [are] mov[ing] into this arena. The vast majority of newspapers now have staff blogs [and] the more forward-looking organisations are inviting their audiences to participate in the actual journalism.

3. Backlash
There’s always a backlash against new things [and] it’s always important to pay attention.
What worries may of the more honest critics? Among other things, the sense that mass amateurisation in media lead to a meltdown of quality.
Critics have also legitimately raised ethical concerns.

4. Tools and ideas
There’s never been such an amazing time to be trying out new things. We’re almost buried in an avalanche of tools and ideas that have enormous potential to make journalism more diverse — and better.

5. Business issues
The disruption in traditional media economics continues to grow. Layoffs abound at major media companies, and the litany of fear and loathing in the news business is disheartening.
Citizen media efforts are likewise struggling to find business models.

6. Experimentation is cheap
The cost of trying new ideas is heading toward zero. That means lots and lots of people will — already are — testing the possibilities of new media. [...]
So the R&D that the news industry should have done years ago is now being done in a highly distributed way.

7. Some experiments to pursue
[Gillmor provides the examples of mobility and object story telling]

8. Ethics, reliability, civility
It’s not enough for those of us in the field to point out that the traditional media also have issues in this regard. We have to acknowledge the problems and work on the solutions.

9. Assisting trust
We have ample opportunity, meanwhile, to find ways to enhance citizen media credibility — and that of all journalists, in whatever format they use — with updated techniques and tools.

10. Media literacy
What becomes increasingly clear is the need to update media literacy for a media-saturated age. When people are creators of media, not just consumers, the task is more complex — but more important than ever.

Gillmor concludes that “we have a long, long way to go. We need much more experimentation in journalism and community information projects. The business models are, at best, uncertain — and some notable failures are discouraging. Dealing with the issues of trust, credibility and ethics is essential; as are more tools and training, including a dramatically updated notion of media literacy.”

The Center for Citizen Media is a new initiative aimed at helping to enable and encourage grassroots media, especially citizen journalism, at every level. The Center is jointly affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University Law School.

Read full story

17 July 2007

Publicly funded culture and the creative industries

Publicly funded culture and the creative industries
Today the UK think tank Demos posted a short publication (32 pages + footnotes), entitled “Publicly funded culture and the creative industries“.

Abstract
The relationships between publicly funded culture and the creative industries are often assumed to be clear and straightforward. In some cases this is true, but there are more complex factors at work. The creative industries are poorly understood in policy, partly because they often do not conform to traditional expectations about how businesses work, and partly because their scale makes them hard to measure and hard to engage with. This paper calls for new understandings of how culture can benefit the creative industries.

Download publication (pdf, 617 kb, 48 pages)

17 July 2007

Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design launches with pilot Masters programme

CIID
The demise of Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, now two years ago, has lead to the birth of several innovative companies, such as Experientia, CuteCircuit, Fluidtime, Interaction Design Lab, Project Bureau, ToDo, and Zora, as well as an innovative educational start-up in Denmark: the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

The school was founded by Heather Martin and Simona Maschi, both former Interaction-Ivrea professors. Alie Rose (who supported Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels during the Interaction-Ivrea Applied Dreams workshops) is the school’s project manager. Martin and Maschi are also teaching at the Anne Kirah’s 180º Academy in Denmark.

Here is the launch press release:

Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) is a new initiative happening in Denmark. The aim is to establish a high profile design institute that will encourage a multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary environment – providing an international setting for new thinking in design and technology. The structure of the institute will incorporate an integrated plan of teaching, research and consulting – all in the same building, at the same time – allowing the different areas to influence each other in their vision and philosophy.

Building on the positive response to our feasibility study and initial activities, Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) is announcing a pilot of its Masters programme. We are looking for 15-20 students from Scandinavia, Europe and around the world to join us in Copenhagen for this pilot programme, starting in January 2008. At CIID, students will learn to apply design and technology to people’s lives and needs through an intense one-year interaction design education lead by experts in the field. This is an opportunity to meet an international network of like-minded people, acquire skills, create a body of design work, and help establish a new educational programme.

We will receive confirmation regarding the funding for this programme in September and the launch of the pilot programme will depend on this. Assuming this is secured, these students will receive sponsorship for this full-time, intensive, experimental version of our proposed two-year Masters course.

Working in a studio environment, students will learn how to design, develop and prototype new ideas for services, products and software – there will be a focus on hands-on learning, giving students the skills to build working prototypes of their ideas. Visiting faculty will lead investigations into a range of topics related to their specific expertise in design, technology and innovation, after which students will engage in a self-directed research project with a CIID or external advisor. A user-centred design process will provide inspiration and grounding and our multi-disciplinary approach will prepare students for careers where innovation crosses product areas within innovative companies and institutions.

The objective of the pilot programme is to prototype CIID’s Masters education with the students and faculty who will be part of it. By running this first year in a resource-light but content-intensive way, we hope to learn how to refine our programme before investing heavily in a long-term structure. We hope that this opportunity will attract an eclectic mix of students and faculty who are excited about creating a new institute. Tentatively, we plan for the pilot year to conclude at the end of 2008. However, if there is enough interest and support it will be extended. In fact, we hope that people involved with the pilot programme will remain part of CIID after the initial year in an educational or research capacity.

More details of the pilot programme can be found at: http://www.ciid.dk/education/.

17 July 2007

Revolutionising prosthetics through user-centred design

Oscar Pistorius
This weekend I saw the amazing feat by the South African Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee, who ran with able bodied athletes for the first time in a high level competition (the Roma Golden League), and came in second. You can see it here on YouTube.

Now Business Week reports on how Ossur, the supplier for Pistorius, is using user-centred design to offer prosthetic feet with greater stability.

“Applying a user-centered design approach, the research-and-development team at Ossur—supplier for South African runner Oscar Pistorius, the controversial, first-ever amputee Olympic Games hopeful—regularly collects patient anecdotes relayed by clinicians in various nations, including Germany, Belgium, and the U.S. And Janusson, Ossur’s vice-president of R&D, spotted patterns in the feedback. Many amputees, Janusson and his team noticed, reported falling when wearing the very prosthetic feet that are meant to help them walk and move about.

But while other medical-device designers may have known about this problem, none came up with Ossur’s sophisticated solution: to create a truly lifelike foot that can react in real time to an amputee’s motion, similar to a biological appendage. And Janusson’s solution was to involve a technology never before used in the field of consumer prosthetics: artificial intelligence.”

- Read full story
- View slideshow

16 July 2007

Nokia’s view of the future – trends research, ethnography and design

Timo Veikkola
Timo Veikkola, senior future specialist at Nokia, has just written an article for usability magazine uiGarden to expand on his vision of our future – already alluded to during his presentation at the PSFK conference just a few weeks ago.

“Many shifts in society and their influences on the behaviors, values and attitudes of people are often slight and may be overlooked. Through consumer trend analysis, ethnography, and contextual inquiry we are able to forecast the emergence of new behaviors and conceptual visions. The natural progression of society and people will always offer new frontiers. One thing that we can be certain of is that things always are in a state of change. Understanding that the pendulum can only swing to a certain degree before it must, by laws of physics, swing in its opposite direction, we can anticipate the future. Development has always played a natural role in the evolution of people and thus we have an invaluable position to influence that direction in its most human and natural way.”

Timo Veikkola is a senior futures specialist within Nokia. Based in the design team, and an anthropologist by training, his job involves observing human behavior and lifestyles in order to identify signals and new trends. His observations inform and influence Nokia’s design team. His work takes him all over the world from Europe to the US, Latin America and Asia. He is Canadian by nationality, and currently lives in London, UK.

Read full story

16 July 2007

TVs and computers breeding generation of ‘screen kids’

TV kids
The Guardian reports on a new report that shows how children are losing out on family life thanks to technology.

TVs and computers are the “electronic babysitters” for a generation of children who are losing out on family life and becoming more materialistic, a report says today. The study paints a picture of a breed of “screen kids” who are spending more and more time watching TV and surfing the net in their bedrooms, unsupervised by adults.

The Watching, Wanting and Wellbeing report from the National Consumer Council found nearly half the children from better-off families surveyed had televisions in their bedrooms, compared with 97% of the nine- to 13-year-olds from less well-off areas.

Children from poorer areas were also six times more likely to watch TV during the evening meal. And around a quarter of youngsters in this group admitted that they regularly watched the television at lunchtime on Sundays, compared with one in 30 children in better-off neighbourhoods. The NCC’s report links increased TV viewing hours with greater exposure to marketing and higher levels of materialism.

The authors, Agnes Nairn, Jo Ormrod and Paul Bottomley, also found that materialistic children were more likely than others to argue with their family, have a lower opinion of their parents and suffer from low self-esteem.

- Read article
- Read press release
- Download report (pdf, 250 kb, 65 pages)

16 July 2007

Segnaloitalia: a social network for tourism in Italy

segnaloitalia
Blognation Italy reports on Segnaloitaly, a user generated recommendation service for the Italian tourist market.

“Creating a community of unconventional Italian travellers, SegnaloItalia is building an online community of tourists who choose independent B&Bs over five star hotels and search for farmhouses instead of holiday complexes.

Developed by the multimedia content production company Bitness.it, headed up by Tiziana Ferrando and Massimo Dalmazzi, SegnaloItalia’s goal is to provide a user generated recommendation service to the internal Italian tourist market.

One of the recent trends in the Italian tourism sector has been the growth of independent holiday bookings with flexibility. An increase in online bookings has also been evident, coinciding with growth of broadband penetration and prepaid cards used for online purchasing. Italians are also searching more widely for travel information, looking at more than one source before booking their holidays. (Source: EuroMonitor)

SegnaloItalia was developed using open source software Pligg, including Google and blog mash ups. The site itself has a Digg-like feel to it, where users vote for the holiday destinations they have enjoyed. The more votes an entry receives, the higher up the ranks it climbs. To date, the site is concentrating on building its Italian community and increasing user numbers.”

Blognation Italy caught up with Tiziana Ferrando and asked about monetising the site and future plans for development.

Read full story

16 July 2007

Involving physicians in the design of medical devices

Motion C5
GovernmentHealth IT has published an article featuring a sampling of the latest handheld devices and mobile applications built with physicians in mind.

“Personal digital assistants are old hat to many physicians. But a new generation of mobile technology that integrates handheld devices with software and services honed for the medical mind-set now targets physicians more directly.

One reason for the change is because doctors are more actively involved in product development. Manufacturers consult with them on design elements, and in some cases, the physicians become entrepreneurs and develop products for their peers. Offerings range from hosted messaging systems to portable PCs.

The result is products and services built to accommodate physicians’ need for speed and mobility.

For most new technologies, response time and convenience are central concerns. A physician could spend time driving to a hospital to view a patient’s cerebral angiogram, for example, or view the image on a mobile device from wherever he or she happens to be. In stroke cases, a decision to administer clot-busting tissue plasminogen activator drugs must be made within three hours of the onset of symptoms — a decision physicians could make more quickly if they have the diagnostic test results at their fingertips.”

Read full story

15 July 2007

Bruno Giussani on how free talk services lead to surprising user creativity

Skype
Bruno Giussani reports in his Business Week column on how some users of Skype and other free Internet services are exploiting the technology in creative and unconventional ways.

Give people unlimited cheap or free phone or voice-over-Internet service and what happens? Not much, according to research by sociologists and anthropologists. People don’t tend to increase the number or length of their calls significantly. There is only so much time you can spend talking, after all, and a phone call requires more commitment in terms of attention than, say, an instant messaging session—just try handling multiple phone conversations in parallel.

Yet there are exceptions. The rise of Skype, MSN, GoogleTalk, iChat and the other free Internet telephony and videotelephony services out there has led people to use voice and video communication in surprising, unconventional, and creative ways.

He goes on to list a whole range of “unpredictable” examples that are “all uses of Skype, MSN, and similar services that the engineers who developed them never intended, and the marketers never foresaw”.

Giussani concludes that “successful communication technologies are designed with this openness at their core, so that their real applications can be figured out not by the developers or the sellers, but by the actual users”.

Read full story (mirror)

14 July 2007

Slides available of talk by Nicolas Nova in Turin

Nicolas Nova
A few days ago Nicolas Nova, a researcher at the Media and Design Lab at the Swiss Institute of Technology, Lausanne and one of the organisers of the LIFT conference, came to visit us in Turin, so Experientia organised a talk for him at the local Order of Architects.

Nicolas Nova reports:

“Currently in Torino, where I gave a talk yesterday organized by Experientia and the Order of Architects of the Province of Turin. My talk “Designing a new ecology of mixed digital and physical environments” was a critical overview of ubiquitous computing based on current research in the field (showing what people like Paul Dourish or Genevieve Bell are discussing but also geographers such as Stephen Graham), art/start-up/research projects and alternative visions such as what I am doing with Julian Bleecker. As I said in the talk, lots of the aspects presented here as design challenges are messy to reflect the complexity of ubicomp design.”

Download pdf (pdf, 1.36 mb, 50 slides)

(We will soon also post a video registration).