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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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July 2007
14 July 2007

Virtual Families and Friends.com

virtualfamilies
On Virtual Families and Friends.com, parents, children, siblings, cousins, close friends, grandparents and grandchildren share experiences of virtually visiting, how they use new technologies to remain closely connected despite distance, divorce, military assignment or longterm travel.

“The Internet, including low-cost audio and video conferencing, can now break down the barriers that separate you from loved ones. Welcome to our new blog, which focuses on the experience of virtual visiting — how to maintain close relationships despite distance, divorce, military assignments, work demands, grandparents living far from grandchildren, or other obstacles. We explore how new technologies are changing family life. We also examine the legal issues involved in virtual visitation.”

Some examples:

“Lily Yulianti writes: “My husband once managed to babysit our 8-year-old son from his apartment in Orebro, Sweden. By using skype and a Web-cam, he “babysat” our son in Tokyo, more than 5,000 km away from him. On that day, our babysitter was sick, and I was on the way home from the office. Fortunately we managed to set up the emergency virtual babysitting method for 45 minutes, while I was trying to get home. The virtual babysitting worked pretty well and on that day I felt that we had solved a serious parenting issue in an emergency situation thanks to the Internet!”

“Ana Sanchez Lobo and her husband, Ramon Lobo, communicate regularly through a Web cam link. They haven’t seen each other since January 2005, National Public Radio reports in a story on family members who wish to join the one million foreigners who immigrate to the U.S. each year. “This Filipino family has endured two generations of separation to come to America…”

“Every Sunday evening, Michael Gough used to spend an hour or two with his daughter, Saige, who lives with his ex-wife. They played hide-and-seek. Mr. Gough read her bedtime stories. Saige showed him the first tooth she lost and the haircut she gave herself. All this despite the fact that the two were living more than 1,000 miles apart.”

14 July 2007

Financial Times editorial on how users are transforming innovation

Financial Times
Eric von Hippel and Michael Schrage published a Financial Times editorial on how users are transforming innovation.

“Denmark has been the first nation to turn this into policy. In 2005, the Danish government established “strengthening user-centred innovation” as a national priority. Sweden’s tradition of “participatory design” has positioned several of its industries to take good advantage of this phenomenon. Britain’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts has begun funding policy research in user-driven innovation. These early efforts are important and more will follow.”

The article underlines many crucial points: how ingenious leading-edge users – not everyday consumers or profit-focused producers – are becoming the economic engines that drive innovation; that the policy point should not be to invite new subsidies for innovative users: the issue is “empowerment” not subsidy; that national governments and the European Union could use their procurement power and standards-setting influence to ensure that in healthcare, digital technologies, public education and energy networks, user-driven innovation infrastructures are granted parity with proprietary vendors; and that there is great wealth to be grown from proffering platforms for user-developed innovation.

The authors conclude:
“Europe has an extraordinarily well- educated population all-too-frequently frustrated by institutional strictures and intellectual property constraints that make innovation more difficult than it needs to be. Rather than over-rely upon the past century’s innovation mechanisms of venture capital, targeted subsidies and national champions, policymakers should treat this global trend as an innovative opportunity. The rise of user-driven innovation is about the democratisation of innovation – an act of economic empowerment. Boosting economic empowerment is a powerful way of boosting growth. Policies that facilitate greater diversity and democracy of growth are good politics and good economics.”

Eric von Hippel is T Wilson professor of management and Michael Schrage is a researcher at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Read full story

12 July 2007

Event highlights of Torino 2008 World Design Capital

Torino 2008 World Design Capital
Torino 2008 World Design Capital just published short summaries of its event highlights (unfortunately below the fold – so they are easy to miss).

They include the Geodesign and Flexibility exhibitions, respectively curated by Stefano Boeri (Italy) and Guta Moura Guedes (Portugal) in the Spring; an international Summer School and a conceptual Olivetti exhibition in the summer; and an week full of events organised by International Houses of Design as well as an exhibition on creativity in car design in the autumn.

The Icograda Design Week will also take place in Turin – after Havana, Seattle and Istanbul – with several exhibitions, conferences and workshops. The year will start off with a spectacular New Year’s Eve event.

12 July 2007

Danish telecom provider TDC involves users in future product development

TDC
In co-operation with Innovation Lab and the Danish design company Designit, the Danish telecom provider TDC intends to involve users in future product developments. The objective is to end up with meaningful products.

TDC is currently planning to introduce a Home Gateway which in the long term could come to represent the equivalent of an odd-job man about the home. Now, the Danish telecommunications company wishes to ensure that their product will be a sure hit with the consumers – thus eliminating unnecessary development costs.

Together with the design company Designit, Innovation Lab has set out to work out the best possible design of a Home Gateway aimed at incorporating the entire technology of the home into one solution. The users will be the driving force behind this undertaking – behind this new product from TDC.

During the spring of 2007, the project group has been using e.g. net communities and adaptations of user inputs from modern families with a need for slim-lining their electronic appliances. The outcome of this was that TDC, Innovation Lab and Designit have now taken steps to continued development of the Home Gateway on the basis of user statements – an entirely novel approach in Denmark.

Read full story

(via Nik Baerten)

12 July 2007

Motorola technology seeks to deepen mobile relationships

Motorola
Motorola researchers are working to extend this blending of technology and community. Using the always on, always-with-you mobile phone as a networked extension of “you,” applications are being developed that will help provide not only ways to connect with new people of similar interests, but have exciting, new communication experiences that will enrich and extend relationships with the people you already know and trust. These innovative applications will move the phone beyond supplying just the sound of voice as the core connection experience with your social network: they will add information about the user’s situation, or “context,” to the communication mix.

The vision for context-aware applications is that they will be able to automatically collect and share information about you with your established, trusted groups of friends. This is quite different from social networking websites, which are primarily geared toward finding new friends by actively searching through particular information fields about your interests or other characteristics. Mobile social networking, using context awareness, focuses on enhancing the relationships you already have, automatically alerting you and your friends about your current context – where you are, what you’re doing, what music you are listening to and more.

- Read full story
Read comment by Motorola Fellow John Strassner (bio)
Download paper “A Time to Glance: Studying the Use of Mobile Ambient Information” by Frank Bentley et al.

12 July 2007

Microsoft cultures creativity in unique lab

Alan Cane
Byron Acohido writes in USA Today about an unusual research lab on the Microsoft campus, dubbed the Mobile and Embedded Devices Experience design center, or MEDX [see also this earlier PPF story].

As an ethnographer for Microsoft, Donna Flynn uses her training as a Ph.D. in archeology to analyze how ordinary folks from London to Beijing make daily use of their cellphones.

She feeds results of her field studies to two dozen designers, engineers and strategists toiling in an unusual research lab on the Microsoft campus. Awkwardly dubbed the Mobile and Embedded Devices Experience design center, or MEDX, it is where Microsoft plots strategies to sell souped-up cellphones that act a lot like PCs. [...]

“This lab is critical,” says Pieter Knook, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Mobile Communications Business. “To achieve our goal of putting a smartphone in everybody’s pocket, we need to establish a better connection with that end user and really understand how they want to use this phone.”

Read full story

(via anthrodesign)

11 July 2007

The Financial Times senior technology correspondent on where we go from here

Alan Cane
Alan Cane is the Financial Times’ senior technology correspondent. I once had the pleasure to meet him when he came to visit the now defunct Interaction Design Institute Ivrea and published a nice and thoughtful story about it.

So when he now writes a foresight story (“Where do we go from here?”), I pay attention.

“Overall, this straw poll of some of the IT industry’s leading experts reflects a thoughtful, rather downbeat view of the future rather than the technocratic, gung-ho self-assurance of earlier years.”

The article, which has a strong business value focus, delves into the key issues such as privacy, mobility, and user experiences. He underlines the importance of information having to be “human-friendly” and quotes a KPMG chairman who says that “the next phase of workplace IT could be as influenced by social anthropology as by writers of computer code.”

Read full story

11 July 2007

Assignment Zero: can crowds create fiction, architecture and photography?

Assignment Zero
Assignment Zero produced about 80 stories, essays and interviews about crowdsourcing. Wired posted all of them and reprinted 12 of the best. Jay Rosen, executive editor of the project, admits it hasn’t been easy:

“When we started Assignment Zero in partnership with Wired News, I said we were trying to figure something out: can large groups of widely scattered people, working together voluntarily on the net, report on something happening in their world right now, and by dividing the work wisely tell the story more completely, while hitting high standards in truth, accuracy and free expression? [...]

I wouldn’t say it’s easy for widely scattered people working together voluntarily on the net to report on a big story unfolding in many places at once. But we know a lot more about it now than we did when we started, and one of the goals of Assignment Zero was to test whether pro-am methods had potential. I think they do, but we haven’t really unlocked it yet. We are, however, getting closer.”

- Assignment Zero stories
A reflection story on journalism

11 July 2007

Online marketers shift focus to user experience – new report

Usability and User Experience Report 2007
From an E-consultancy press release:

Website user experience is becoming a key area of focus for online marketers in an increasingly competitive digital environment, according to research published today.

A survey conducted by E-consultancy and behavioural research consultancy Bunnyfoot found that 72% of UK organisations are planning to increase their usability budget over the next 12 months, a greater percentage than for any other area of digital marketing.

The Usability and User Experience Report 2007 found that organisations, on average, are spending 13% of their website design budgets on usability and 9% of their on-going website maintenance budget.

More than 700 internet marketers took part in the research, rating Amazon, the BBC and Google as the best websites for user experience.

According to the report, the biggest benefits of usability investment are improved perceptions of brand, increased conversion rates and greater customer loyalty and retention.

- Read press release
Download report

(via Usability in the News)

11 July 2007

UXmatters July 2007 issue

Ux_matters
Five new articles in the July 2007 issue of UXmatters, the user experience web magazine:

Your design is infringing on my patent: the case against user interface and interaction model patents and intellectual property
By Paul J. Sherman
“Despite what the intellectual property lawyers and patent-squatter holding companies claim, many studies across many industries and domains have established that patents inhibit competition and stifle innovation. [...] Open standards and narrowly scoped patents that cover unique solutions to limited problems encourage healthy competition and help build vibrant, free markets. And they would also lead to greater opportunities for all of us who work in user experience.”

What puts the design in interaction design
By Kevin Silver
“Interaction designers need to embrace the magic—by realizing that design is rooted deep beneath the aesthetic surface and provides a process that reacts easily to misfits in context.”

From reluctance to enjoyment: my journey through CHI 2007
By Isabelle Peyrichoux
“On Sunday, April 29, 2007, when flying from Montréal to San Jose to attend my first CHI conference, I worried I might have made the wrong decision by choosing CHI as my conference for this year. [...] Surprisingly, just four days later, my mood was exactly the opposite: I just didn’t want to leave San Jose and my fellow CHI attendees, with whom I’d had so much fun. I was ecstatic about my CHI experience. What happened in those four days that made me go from one extreme feeling to its opposite? It’s all about international usability, peanut butter, candies, and field studies.”

Conference review: CHI 2007
By Pabini Gabriel-Petit
“I had a wonderful time at CHI despite the limited amount of content for designers and my being unable to get into the courses I’d wanted to attend. I particularly regret missing Kim Goodwin’s course, “Where Usability Meets Desirability: Visual Design with Personas and Goals.” I heard it was great. To enable CHI to reach its full potential in coming years, I hope its organizers take an iterative approach to designing the conference and solve the problems that exist.”

Comparing UXD business models
By Jim Nieters and Garett Dworman
“The CHI 2007 Management Special Interest Group (SIG), “Comparing UXD Business Models,” [enabled] participants [to] compare different models of UX organizational design. Our intent was to share experiences and systematically explore them in the hope that this information will aid companies in structuring their internal UX functions. To this end, we generated SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analyses of four UX business models. In this article, we are sharing what we learned by performing SWOT analyses on several UX business models during the SIG.”

10 July 2007

Unlocking Innovation – why citizens hold the key to public service reform

Unlocking Innovation
From climate change to social care, innovation will be critical to meeting the public service challenges of the future. But traditional approaches to generating new ideas will not be enough. Rather than focusing on processes and pipelines, policymakers and service deliverers needs to harness the potential of citizens to be innovators in their own right.

Unlocking Innovation: Why citizens hold the key to public service reform is a publication by the UK think tank Demos that collects essays and analysis from a wide range of public sector experts and practitioners. The pamphlet’s chapters offer lessons on how public services can better engage their users based on examples of best practice in the public and private sectors.

It argues that the public sector must embrace new forms of ‘user-driven innovation’ that use the needs and potential of service users as the spur to radical service redesign.

The publication also presents a series of case studies that showcase citizen-focused innovation in action, including:

  • ‘In Control’, a social enterprise that provides social care users with easy and flexible access to individual budgets, making it simple for them to choose their own package of services.
  • Hammersmith and Fulham council using detailed survey data to redesign their customer contact centre to better serve local people.
  • Public private partnerships for tenant management organisations using deep dialogue with local residents to improve levels of service in social housing.
  • ‘Innovative ecosystems’ that have allowed educationalists, academics and artists to come together to build ‘mediascapes’ that allow pupils to enter a virtual world of sights and sounds in order to learn in an interactive and cooperative way.

- Read press release
Download report (pdf, 525 kb, 186 pages)

10 July 2007

IBM says healthcare is “driving under the influence of terrible interfaces”

New Paradigms for Using Computers 2007
“Computerization of health care record keeping remains both a need and a challenge, said IT and health care dignitaries at an IBM-sponsored conference in San Jose, Calif. on Monday,” as reported by InfoWorld.

IBM’s New Paradigms for Using Computers 2007 workshop focused on health care interfaces. Previous years’ workshops have covered such topics as Web 2.0 and mobile computing.

“Health care is moving in the direction of computerization, but there’s so many difficult issues in the user interface in particular that have not been addressed,” said John Barton, manager of Interaction Science at IBM.

Right now, health care is plagued by bad interfaces, said Paul Tang, vice president and chief medical officer at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Palo Alto, Calif.

“It’s really driving under the influence of terrible interfaces,” he said. [...]

Rather than just throwing computers at what are now paper processes, ethnography would help in figuring out what information is needed, said Tang.

Read full story

10 July 2007

Cameron Sinclair’s Open Architecture Network [Business Week]

OAN
Like AdSense, which has given Madison Avenue executives the collective jitters, the Open Architecture Network (OAN) suggests that 2.0’s cocktail of collaborative technologies can have an equally radical influence on business and industry practices. In the case of the OAN, the industry in question is architecture.

The OAN is a free, Web-based network that’s part database of architectural projects, part design tool, and part community, and its ambitious goal is to improve the living standards of 5 billion people—a number that includes not just the 1 billion people living in abject poverty today, but the one in three people who, by 2020, will be living in slums. It’s a goal that Cameron Sinclair, the architect-cum-activist who spearheaded the site, knew could only be achieved by tapping the collective intelligence of the Web.

- Read full story
View slideshow

9 July 2007

Donald Norman on the next UI breakthroughs

Donald Norman
Donald Norman thinks that the next UI breakthroughs are a return to fundamentals (with improvements):

Command line languages
We navigate the Internet by typing phrases into our browsers and invoking our favorite search engine. But more and more, we type in commands, not search items. All the major search engines now allow typed commands, bypassing any intermediate Web pages to directly yield answers. [...]
These modern command languages have some major virtues over the ones in the past. They are tolerant of variations, robust, and exhibit slight touches of natural language flexibility.

Perhaps a clue for policy makers in regional areas with lots of mechanical engineering companies: why not position yourself as the leader in the new field of “mechatronics”?

Physicality
The return to physical devices, where we control things by physical movement; turning, moving, and manipulating appropriate mechanical devices.
Physical devices have immediate design virtues, but they require new rules of engagement that differ from what we are used to with the typical mouse movements and clicks of the traditional keyboard and mouse interface. Designers have to learn how to translate the mechanical actions and directness into control of the task.

(via Pasta and Vinegar)

8 July 2007

A user experience conversation on NextD

Things You See
Bob Goodman, user experience consultant, Peter Jones, managing principal of Redesign Research, and Eric Reiss, managing director of FatDUX (and IA Institute president), recently participated in an e-mail conversation/dialogue moderated by GK VanPatter. It just got published in NextD journal.

Goodman writes: “NextD decided to launch the conversation in the wake of GK’s hotly-contestedUnidentical Twins” essay. However, as it unfolded, the conversation evolved to look at different trends and modes of thought at the intersection of design and business.”

Both Bob Goodman and Peter Jones are local UXnet ambassadors. UXNet is an organisation that I am the volunteer communications director for.

Read full story

8 July 2007

Jackson Fish Market – handcrafted software experiences

Jackson Fish Market
Techcrunch reports that a team of ex-Microsofties left to create Jackson Fish Market, with the tagline “Handcrafted Software Experiences,” in November 2006.

“In their introductory blog post, co-founder Hillel Cooperman talks about his grandfather’s fish store, Jackson Fish, a “small businesses was run by family, with everyone pitching in as best they could” and which sold “handcrafted products” that “that both address a core customer need, but also make them feel emotionally satisfied, content, and… happy.” They credit 37 Signals with much of the inspiration behind the company.

They’re working on a number of projects, and “They’re Beautiful” is the first to launch. It’s a free virtual flowers site. Users can send a virtual bouquet to any email address (even without registering). The recipient sees the bouquet and can choose to put it in their Greenhouse on the site by registering. They then must return every few days to “water” the flowers and keep them from wilting.

The coolest feature is the ability to embed the virtual gifts in another website, as I’ve done above. The “products” are visually stunning, and if they can get significant enough distribution through the widgets it would be a simple step to add premium, limited edition items in the future for a fee.

The timing of the launch is perfect, as Facebook and others are testing virtual goods (HotOrNot has sold virtual flowers for years) and the market seems set to explode.”

8 July 2007

The New York Times “introducing” the usability professional

Technology’s Untanglers
The New York Times published an article today by Barbara Whitacker describing what the work of the usability and experience design professional entails.

The article is part of the newspaper’s Fresh Starts series, “a monthly column about emerging jobs and job trends”. Unfortunately, it conveys a very conventional and traditional HCI-like interpretation of usability and doesn’t reflect much of the current state of affairs in the field, as was correctly pointed out by Dan Saffer of Adaptive Path.

Technology’s Untanglers: They Make It Really Work
The work of usability professionals, who bridge the gap between the makers and users of a product, has recently developed into a solid career track.

SOMETIMES there is a huge disconnect between the people who make a product and the people who use it. The creator of a Web site may assume too much knowledge on the part of users, leading to confusion. Software designers may not anticipate user behavior that can unintentionally destroy an entire database. Manufacturers can make equipment that inadvertently increases the likelihood of repetitive stress injuries.

Enter the usability professional, whose work has recently developed into a solid career track, driven mostly by advancements in technology.

Jobs in the usability industry are varied, as are the backgrounds of the people who hold them. The work can involve testing products in a laboratory, watching people use products in the field or developing testing methods.

The article features four professionals, none of whom are particularly dominant voices in the current usability and experience design discourse: Janice Redish, “a usability consultant specializing in Web sites and software interfaces”, Eric Danas, who “leads a user experience team [at Microsoft] that examines how to make software more accessible”, Mary LaLomia, “a product manager who specializes in usability at Philips Medical Systems”, and Harvinder Singh, president of Bestica, who says that he is “having a lot of trouble finding user-experienced [sic] people”.

Read full story
(republished in International Herald Tribune)

7 July 2007

Finland moves towards ubiquitous information society

Finland
Transforming Finland into an information society is the goal of a new action plan recently unveiled by the Finnish Government.

The plan, which covers 2007 to 2011, addresses the practical steps needed to develop a ubiquitous information society. ‘Ubiquitous’ means seamlessly embedding technologies and networks into everyday life in order to deliver services when, where and how they are needed.

Several advisory groups will be set up to coordinate projects in the following five areas:

  • developing public electronic services and an information and communication technologies (ICT) environment;
  • using the benefits of ICT in education, research and culture;
  • developing the information society infrastructure and promoting the communications and media services and business;
  • promoting innovation and electronic services in social and healthcare;
  • information society affairs related to innovation, competitiveness and productivity.

Groups will also be established to discuss intellectual property rights and copyright, and matters relating to information security and electronic identification.

- Read press release
Background information

(via Smart Mobs)

6 July 2007

Philips Design on experiencing experience design

Philips Second Life
Last year I wrote about how Philips Design is entering Second Life (SL) with the specific objective to co-create with end-users.

I hadn’t heard much from it since, until I found a post today by “Centralasian Wise“, one of the members of the Philips Design’s team in Second Life, where he talks about his second SL presentation – I cannot find the first one – that dealt specifically with the experience design process.

During the presentation “Centralasian Wise” also distributed a recent Philips paper about “Experience Evaluation” (pdf, 830 kb, 14 slides) and demonstrated the AMEC research project (AMbient ECologies) that Philips participates in – see summary below.

An earlier “Centralasian Wise” post reports on how Philips Design continues to recruit people for its research projects and creative workshops in Second Life. More information on these, and other research and design activities of the company at the first site of Philips Design in SL, Co-creative Experiences. Using interactive posters on the site, people (or better “SL avatars”) can also join the group of Philips Design Friends, and have a chance to join one of these creative sessions in the future. Both experienced dwellers and total newbies are welcomed.

Ambient Ecologies project

Within the next decade, as digital technologies become increasingly pervasive, we might find ourselves living with almost invisible, intelligent interactive systems – an ‘Ambient Intelligence’ – that will form a part of our everyday existence and ecology. The implications of this development are far reaching for individuals, businesses and communities. Ambient Intelligence could lead to great opportunities. But as with all new technologies, we know that the technology itself is neither good nor bad. It is how we might use it that makes the difference. The main challenge at this moment is to guarantee that the new Ambient Intelligence technologies are appropriate, sustainable and meet people’s individual and social needs.

The AMEC (Ambient Ecologies) project addresses this challenge by defining the architectural framework and developing the methodologies, tools and design methods for people involvement, which will facilitate a user-centred evolution to this new Ambient Intelligent environment.

People, human desire and needs, are the starting point and focus of the AMEC project. The project aims to change the way we conduct our everyday activities by gradually introducing artefacts that are able to perform local computation and to collaborate with each other and interact in a natural and intuitive way with the user. AMEC will achieve this transformation through a series of carefully planned technology innovations, and in close cooperation with people. Their interaction with the new Ambient Intelligence technologies is closely studied and analysed, in order to yield requirements for AMEC developments. These developments are gradually introduced into people’s lives, in carefully controlled research experiments, because acceptance is the major factor for the market success of these new technologies. The work will incorporate and build upon the results of the ITEA projects Beyond and Ambience.

6 July 2007

European designers to meet in World Design Capital to promote usability and design

Upa_logo
(Bloomingdale, IL: July 6, 2007) – The first European regional conference of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) will take place in Torino, Italy, named the 2008 World Design Capital. Hundreds of designers and usability specialists are expected to attend.

“The UPA Europe 2008 conference provides a great opportunity to reinforce the importance of usability and user-centered design. These are essential design concepts that European UPA chapters promote in industry, education and government.” said Michele Visciola, UPA European regional conference co-chair and President of the UPA Italy Chapter.

Visciola will co-chair the conference along with Silvia Zimmermann, the International UPA Director of Organizational Outreach and UPA Switzerland board member.

The conference will be held in Torino, Italy, in 2008, when the city will host a large variety of activities as the first-ever World Design Capital – a title it was awarded by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID).

The UPA Europe 2008 conference will focus on usability and design and is expected to take place in October or December 2008. Designers, researchers and usability specialists from around the world will be invited to share and learn about innovative ways to design better products and experiences.

“This conference will demonstrate the design expertise and leadership within the various UPA chapters and usability practitioners throughout Europe,” said Zimmermann.

UPA chapter leaders will soon be invited to nominate UPA Europe 2008 conference committee members to help organize the conference.

(original press release)