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Putting People First

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August 2007
8 August 2007

Second thoughts on Second Life

Second Life
Lately a lot of people seem to have had second thoughts on Second Life.

A wave of articles was published recently on how marketers are not getting the returns they were expecting, how deserted it is, how it is all about sex and pranks, how it has become a virtual nanny state, and even how terrorists are using it to plan attacks.

Leaving aside for now the discussion to what extent this is just negative hype, it does make sense to see Second Life as an experimental environment where we can prototype new interaction and communication paradigms. Experimenting in these virtual worlds can also help us understand and imagine a future where a mix of real and virtual worlds will become increasingly prevalent.

I can see four good reasons for businesses, institutions and experience designers to be present in Second Life.

1. Prototyping of new participatory communication paradigms often involving very targeted and selected communities
A lot of lectures take place in Second Life. In fact, more than 300 universities, including Harvard and Duke, use Second Life as an educational tool. Some educators conduct entire distance-learning courses there; others supplement classes. Also big companies such as IBM and Intel use these graphics-rich sites to conduct meetings among far-flung employees and to show customers graphical representations of ideas and products. IBM went even as far to take the unusual step of establishing official guidelines for its more than 5,000 employees who inhabit “Second Life” and other online universes. Philips Design uses Second Life “to gain feedback on innovation concepts, engage residents in co-creation and obtain a deeper understanding of potential opportunities in this virtual environment”. And the Italian bank BNL and others are using virtual worlds to create communities to recruit some of their future employees, especially for more creative or technical job openings. Even something simple as chat is an entirely different experience on Second Life, with the other person’s presence is no longer communicated through an MSN-style presence icon with a small photograph or drawing but instead through a full three-dimensional moving avatar.

2. Prototyping of new interaction paradigms
Researchers at MIT are building realistic training simulators in Second Life, often controlled through a Wiimote. Some are even creating simulations for companies, such as a medical-devices firm, a global-energy company focused on power-plant training, and a pest-control firm — all looking to reduce training costs. In the words of one researcher, “the ability to easily integrate a wide range of psychomotor activities with simulations running on standard computer platforms will change the ways people interact with computers.”

3. Experimentation in an unconventional digital environment
These virtual worlds may be primitive still, but if we think of it, we are already living in an enriched world where our interactions with companies and banks, institutions and universities, cities and public services, are no longer just based on a physical communication paradigm. Instead they have become highly mediated by technologies. This will continue to grow. Our interactions will not only become more mobile but also more involving, more three-dimensional, and more experiential. Virtual worlds will be important, no matter what. There will be new types of interfaces – as already alluded to here and here and here – and new types of feedback, and it makes sense for forward looking companies to explore these new ways of reaching out to and involving their customers.

4. Virtual laboratories to understand human behaviour
Also researchers are exploring Second Life and other virtual worlds. A recent article in the journal Science addresses how researchers are getting insights into real life by studying what people do in virtual worlds, suggesting that virtual worlds could help scientists studying ideas of government and even concepts of self, while other researchers are looking at how behaviour peculiar to online worlds differs from that in real life. Also our colleagues from Adaptive Path are involved in this type of research.

8 August 2007

Jesse James Garrett interview on usability and user experience

Jesse James Garrett
E-Consultancy, the British online publisher, has posted an interview on usability and user experience with Jesse James Garrett, the man who coined the term ‘Ajax’ and is the president of Adaptive Path.

Garrett’s book, The Elements of User Experience, is one of the most widely read books on user-centred design, and he was recently named as one of the top ten user experience experts in an E-consultancy survey.

The interview covers the psychological background to web design, the pros and cons of behavioural targeting and Ajax, and why he thinks Amazon and eBay’s usability has gone “astray”.

Read full interview

8 August 2007

Technology turns library science from spinster to suddenly sexy

Librarian
After the New York Times, now also the Connecticut Business News Journal has noticed that “library science has become one of the most desirable career paths in the job market” and that “the next generation of librarians will serve a technology-dependent world with a user-centered focus”.

It offers several reasons why library science has become a hot career, including the fact that “librarians have become information professionals who combine traditional ‘librarian’ duties with the rapidly evolving technology users have has become accustomed to” and that “librarians – or information specialists, as they are increasingly identified – are now applying their information management and research skills to train database users, as well as in other areas such as Web content management and design, information systems, Internet coordination and other industries including marketing/advertising/public relations, law and government, medicine and entertainment.”

(The accompanying photo still seems the be one from the now bygone era)

Read full story

7 August 2007

Fing: the next generation internet foundation from France

Fing
For some time now I have been following the French innovation blog Internet Actu, not realising that it was part of a bigger initiative called “Fing“. Fing stands for “Fondation Internet Nouvelle Génération”, or the the next generation internet foundation, aimed at stimulating and promoting R&D and innovation in ICT uses and services. Here is how they describe themselves in English:

Founded by 3 leading Internet associations, including the Internet Society, FING is a collective and open research and development project which focuses on tomorrow’s Internet’s uses, applications and services.

FING views the future Internet as not only more reliable, mobile, fast, user-friendly – but as a different Internet: the disappearing Internet, in which broadband, mobile, pervasive, intelligent technologies make it possible to focus on the user’s needs, lifestyles and desires. We believe this technological change will unleash a new innovation cycle in applications and services. We also believe that the Internet’s decentralised design should and can scale to the next generation and is innovation’s and competition’s best chance for the future.

FING intends to help corporations, public agencies, education and research organizations be at the forefront of this new cycle. Through collective and networked intelligence, creativity and experimentation, Fing seeks to improve the efficiency of the innovation process, as well as reduce risks for all involved parties.

FING:

  • publishes Internet Actu, a weblog and media which is read by 70,000 professionals;
  • supports several workgroups and communities;
  • organises visits to research labs and innovative companies throughout the world;
  • publishes papers, books and reports;
  • moderates or takes part in foresight exercises such as Ci’Num, the Digital Civilizations Forum;
  • organises international conferences and industry events such as Mobile Monday France, or the “Crossroads of Possibilities” which showcases very early-stage innovative projects.

FING is networked with other, similar initiatives throughout Europe and the world. FING’s CEO, Daniel Kaplan, is a member of the European Commission’s eEurope Advisory Group.

FING currently has more than 165 members, including: BNP Paribas, EDF, Ericsson, Eutelsat, France Telecom/Orange, Galeries Lafayette, HP, INRIA, Microsoft, the Ministries of Education and Research, Toshiba, etc.

Some browsing around led me to interesting initiatives such as:

  • Villes 2.0 (Cities 2.0), which is aimed at helping traditional urban stakeholders (companies, institutions, social entities) and “digital actors” foresee urban and mobile transformations and work together on them. There are four focus areas: the augmented city (related to ubiquitous computing); my own city (which is about personalisation and user-centredness); service innovation (and co-creation); and social sustainability.
     
  • Active Identities, which is focused on identifying and stimulating the necessary actions to make the active management of digital identities into a resource, a tool that allows users to control their lives and realise their projects, a factor of confidence, and a source of innovation and value creation.
     
  • Innovative Interfaces, a new project which ponders the question how the fact that our direct and indirect interactions with machines and digital services, which keeps on getting better, simpler and easier, can help remove certain barriers for people with “difficulties” (e.g. non-users).
     
  • Active and autonomous living until 90

Also of interest are a series of videos including this presentation by Fing CEO Daniel Kaplan at LIFT07, as well as a huge amount of rather unorganised project videos from the Crossroads of Possibilities project.

7 August 2007

How feature creep ruined the moleskine city notebook

Moleskine SF
Rashmi Sinha writes on her blog how feature creep ruined the moleskine city notebook.

When I heard of Moleskin City Notebooks, I thought it was a brilliant idea. Your regular moleskine with maps! After leaving behind my moleskine on a plane, I bought the Moleskine San Francisco notebook (as we were going to the move to the city soon). The first disappointment was that the city notebook was not available in graph paper, and I had to buy the plain paper. But everything since has been a disappointment as well.

Read full story

7 August 2007

Breaking down the walls of phones’ web gardens

Opera browser on a Nokia
The Wall Street Journal published a nice article a few days ago of how the mobile version of the 90′s AOL model that restricts people’s access to only a limited number of mobile sites, is now starting to break down.

“Chuck Halverson, a banker in Minneapolis, pays AT&T Inc. $20 a month on top of his calling fee so that he can surf the Internet from his cellphone. But he doesn’t use the browser that came loaded on the AT&T phone because it limits the sites he can visit.

Instead, he downloaded another program, Opera Mini, that lets him easily go to almost any Web site he wants.

“The experience should be the same no matter if you’re on a mobile phone, a laptop or a desktop,” he says. “You want it to be universal.”

Ever since wireless companies began offering Internet services on cellphones, users have shared a similar complaint, largely because the companies want to control which sites their customers visit. Phones come with browsers designed to go mainly to the Web sites the carriers chose — usually the ones they have revenue-sharing deals with. It is possible to go to sites outside this “walled garden,” but the experience is so slow and cumbersome that most users don’t try. And some of those outside Web sites won’t work with the carrier-approved browsers.

But now those walls are beginning to break down, in a development that harkens back to America Online’s failed attempt to limit its Internet subscribers’ surfing in the 1990s. “Having a Web browser and the ability to browse the open Internet on your mobile phone will be a given in the future,” says Tony Cripps, an analyst at research firm Ovum in London. “It’s a capability that eventually people would expect to be there, just like text messaging and camera.”

Many new browsers to ease surfing on the Web are being developed, and some wireless carriers have begun opening up Internet use for customers.”

The article ends with an interesting aside on developing countries where “many people’s only option to go online is through their cellphones” and “advancement in mobile Internet will [therefore] have a particularly big impact.

Read full story (Alternate site)

7 August 2007

PDF prototypes: mistakenly disregarded and underutilised

PDF prototype
Kyle Pero Soucy, founding principal of Usable Interface argues in a long article on Boxes and Arrows that creating a clickable PDF to prototype a new design is is a valuable tool that is often overlooked and underutilised.

“While working over the years with other designers, information architects and usability professionals, I’ve noticed that many of my colleagues believe the same fallacies about the limitations of PDFs. Contrary to popular belief, you can do more than just create links and interactive forms with PDFs; you can also add dynamic elements such as rollovers and drop-down menus, embed audio and video files, validate form data, perform calculations and respond to user actions. PDF prototypes have the ability to replicate most interactive design elements without investing a lot of time and effort.”

In her article, Pero Soucy debunks five common misconceptions about PDF’s, using examples to the contrary …

  • Misconception #1: Dynamic elements cannot be created in a PDF.
  • Misconception #2: PDFs are only good for prototyping page-based applications.
  • Misconception #3: PDFs cannot include multimedia.

… and then describes in detail how to create PDF prototypes.

Read full story

7 August 2007

BT futurologist predicts the real and virtual merging

mixing the real and the virtual
BT futurologist Lesley Gavin looks ahead, in a BBC News article, to a time when real and virtual worlds mix as easily as making a mobile phone call.

“In the future these environments [social networking sites, 3D virtual environments and real world mega-clubs that offer numerous different themed environments under one roof] are likely to merge. Interfaces will improve, and more specifically, personalised applications will be built on top of them.

Virtual worlds will also become integrated with real environments. Buildings or public spaces may offer virtual world counterparts.”

- Read full story
- Read a critique of this approach by Andy Polaine

Previous BBC News foresight articles on the future of technology include contributions by:

  • Charles Stross, science fiction writer, on a future in which all human experience is recorded on devices the size of a grain of sand;
  • Greg Papadopoulos, CTO of Sun Microsystems, who calls for technology and design to be married to people’s needs (see also here);
  • Bradley Horowitz, head of technology development at Yahoo! on the “internet of things”;
  • Dave Winer, software developer (blog, wikipedia) offering his personal view on technologies he would like to see in existence one day;
  • Niklas Zennstrom, co-founder of Skype and Joost, on how the collaborative aspect of the internet will shape the technologies of the future (see also here).

Meanwhile science-fiction novelist William Gibson (he coined the word “cyberspace”) has given up on trying to imagine the future, because he says “we have no idea at all now where we are going”. [via Lunch over IP]

6 August 2007

‘Game School’ aims to engage and educate

The Game School
Soon New York City will be home to a new 6-12th grade public school that will use game design and game-inspired methods to teach critical 21st century skills and literacies.

Opening in fall 2009, the school is being created by the Gamelab Institute of Play (blog), a New York City-based not-for-profit organization that leverages games and play as transformative contexts for learning and creativity, in collaboration with New Visions for Public Schools, a not-for-profit organization that works in partnership with the New York City Department of Education to improve academic achievement in the City’s public schools.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently awarded a grant of $1.1 million to help with planning and development.

According to a Wired news story, the planners “are looking at how games naturally engage players and teach them new skills, and hope to apply those principles to create kids who not only ace their SATs, but are also well suited for the 21st century.”

“Games offer a context for problem-solving with immediate feedback, and often involve social interaction that can reinforce lessons learned. Combine that process with the skills that modern games encourage — like computer literacy and navigating through complex information networks — and you have the basis for a brand new pedagogy. [...]

The meaning of ‘knowing’ today has shifted from being able to remember and repeat information to being able to find and use it.”

5 August 2007

Social networks affecting health

Social networks
We’re all connected, even when it comes to obesity, smoking and depression, writes The New York Times.

A recent study found that obesity can spread from friend to friend much like a virus. When one person gains weight, close friends tend to gain weight, too.

The study, published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine, involved a detailed analysis of a large social network of 12,067 people who had been closely followed for 32 years, from 1971 to 2003.

Now, scientists believe that social networks not only can spread diseases, like the common cold, but also may influence many types of behavior — negative and positive — which then affect an individual’s health, as well as a community’s.

The researchers have also been investigating the spread of smoking, depression and suicide.

Read full story

5 August 2007

What’s good for a business can be hard on friends

Network
Mobile providers claim to support social networks, but then actually hinder them in practice, as shown in this example from the US market (reported in The New York Times). In the US, T-Mobile is the exception with MyFaves allowing to call for a fixed fee of 40 USD/month any five numbers on any network even on landlines/fixed lines.

The cellphone carriers set up plans that encourage subscribers to talk mainly to people in the same network. The companies say they are simply trying to recruit and retain customers.

But what was set up as a purely business strategy is having an unintentional social effect. It is dividing the people who share informal bonds and bringing together those who have formal networks of cellphone “friends.” [...]

Unlike traditional landline telephones, which once made callers distinguish between local and long distance, cellphone carriers divide the world into in-network and outside. And because basic plans from the three major cellphone carriers, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, are all about the same price — under $60 a month — the deciding factor for young people, in particular, is what network friends are on.

Carriers are giving customers more options to stay connected with people outside their network. This year, T-Mobile introduced a plan that allows customers to choose five telephone numbers outside its network that they can call free at any time. Sprint offers night minutes that start at 7 p.m., two hours earlier than competitors.

Read full story

5 August 2007

As the vision fades, the indignities grow

Eyesight
As baby boomers grope their way through middle age, they are encountering the daily indignities that accompany a downward slide in visual acuity: trying to read a road map in a car at night; cellphones designed for 20-year-old eyes; the minuscule letters on a bottle of aspirin; nutrition information squeezed onto a bag of peanuts.

And unlike their parents and grandparents, they are not shy about expressing their displeasure, in some cases, taking matters into their own hands or prompting some companies to pay attention.

Read full story

4 August 2007

Peter Morville on “Ambient Findability and The Future of Search”

Ambient_findability
Peter Morville, widely recognised as a founding father of information architecture, spoke in June 2007 at Google TechTalks on “Ambient Findability and The Future of Search” (video online).

At the crossroads of ubiquitous computing and the Internet, the user experience is out of control, and findability is the real story. Access changes the game. We can select our sources and choose our news. We can find who and what we need, when and where we want. Search is the new interface of culture and commerce. As society shifts from push to pull, findability shapes who we trust, how we learn, where we go, and what we buy. In this cyberspace safari, Peter Morville explores the future present in mobile devices, search algorithms, ontologies, folksonomies, findable objects, digital librarianship, and the long tail of the sociosemantic web. Peter challenges us to think differently about the power of search – and findability – to redefine our sources of authority and inspiration in an increasingly digitized and networked information environment.

Peter Morville co-authored the best-selling book, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, and has consulted with such organizations as Harvard, IBM, the International Monetary Fund, Microsoft, the National Cancer Institute, and Yahoo! Peter is president of Semantic Studios, co-founder of the Information Architecture Institute, and an adjunct lecturer at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. His work has been featured in many publications including Business Week, The Economist, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal. Peter’s latest book, Ambient Findability, was published in 2005. He blogs at findability.org.

4 August 2007

Jared Spool on “The Dawning of the Age of Experience”

Web Design World 2007
The Dawning of the Age of Experience” is the title of the one hour keynote speech by Jared Spool, founding partner of User Interface Engineering, at the Web Design World 2007 conference in March 2007 in San Francisco and now available on Google video.

Experience design is no longer a nice-to-have luxury of a few organizations with tons of money and exceptional visionary management. It’s become commonplace for organizations that build products and Web sites. Experience Design is a centerpiece of boardroom discussions and quickly becoming a key performance indicator for many businesses.

However, you can’t just hire a couple of “experience designers” and tell them, “Go do that voodoo that you do so well.” Today’s business environment forces us to build multi-disciplinary teams, compiling a diverse group of skills and experiences to handle the many facets of the technical, business, and user requirements.

In his usual entertaining and insightful manner, Jared talked about what it takes to build a design team that meets today’s needs. See how successful experience design integrates the needs of the users with the requirements of the business; is learned, but not available through introspection; must be invisible to succeed; is cultural; is multi-disciplinary; and thrives best in an “educate and administrate” environment.

You see examples of designs from Apple’s iPod, Netflix, the Mayo Clinic, and Southwest Airlines, to name a few.

The Brave New World: Usability Challenges of Web 2.0” is the title of another recent talk (July 2007 – 1:36:59) by Jared Spool at the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA).

Once again, everything is exciting. The advent of social networks, APIs, mashups, RSS, aggregators, and folksonomies promise a world where the information and services we’ve always wanted are delivered right to our browser.

However, delivering on the promise is easier said than done. Moving from a great concept to an exceptional user experience proves to be more of a challenge than many people thought. What works on a small scale is a very different story, when put into production.

As Spiderman’s Uncle Ben pointed out, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Just because we can do all these things doesn’t mean we should do them. In the early 1980′s, the cheap availability of laser printers and digital fonts produced a plethora of documents that more resembled ransom notes than professional publications. We could easily imagine designers going wild with the capabilities of this new technology and not using the restraint necessary to ensure they produce an optimal experience.

In this entertaining and informative presentation, Jared shows examples of the usability challenges we face as the web continues to change and evolve. He discusses the implications of “The Long Tail”, the introduction of a mashup mentality in business environments, and how basic techniques, such as usability testing and field studies, change when social network is at the center of the design.

4 August 2007

Ambient Devices releases two smart and practical everyday products

Ambient Umbrella
Ambient Devices, a company that brings internet information to everyday products without a PC or traditional Internet connection, has just releases two interesting new products:

  • The Ambient Umbrella is the world’s first umbrella that alerts users when rain is expected by illuminating its handle. Light patterns intuitively indicate rain, drizzle, snow, or thunderstorms.
     
  • The Energy Joule is an ambient device that alerts people when energy prices are rising or falling. The display conveys the weather forecast, the real-time cost of energy (left bar graph), the current energy usage (right bar graph), & “rewards” for using less energy. In addition, the background color shifts from green over yellow to red depending on how expensive the energy is.

Last year they also released:

  • The Market Maven displays current market information throughout the day, to bring you accurate information from the Dow, the Nasdaq and the S&P500.
     

  • The Weather Wizard continuously displays 5-day weather forecasts. The Weather Wizard is the size of a postcard and can easily stand on a dresser or hang on a refrigerator door. The customer simply enters a zip code and the product then shows the latest local weather forecast at all times.

All Ambient-enabled products receive data over the Ambient Devices Infocast Network(TM), a narrowband broadcast solution similar to radio. The Network reaches over 90% of U.S. households, with excellent in-building penetration in areas inaccessible to other wireless technologies. The Ambient Infocast Network provides very long battery life, which makes it the leading embedded solution for real-time information products with always-on behavior.

Ambient Devices provides a variety of data feeds or “channels,” which include local weather forecasts and traffic reports, stock market activity, sports scores, accurate network time, and more.

3 August 2007

What patients want

SPARC
I have written before about the SPARC Program at Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic, which uses a design methodology that is rooted in the techniques of ethnography, prototyping, design thinking, and business integration, but just found several backgrounders that are worth sharing.

First there is a Minnesota Medicine article that reports in detail on how physicians and designers from Mayo Clinic are using a creative process borrowed from industry to improve the patient experience.

Step off the elevator onto the 17th floor of the Mayo Building in Rochester and you might think you’re in a design firm in the heart of the Minneapolis warehouse district. Light fixtures that look like flying saucers hang from a ceiling supported by steel beams, hovering over open workspaces. Colorful, overstuffed chairs form a circle in the center of the room next to a wall of note-filled whiteboards. Glass walls offer passersby a glimpse into the work that goes on inside—here at the SPARC Innovation Laboratory in the heart of Mayo Clinic’s internal medicine department. Across the hall is a row of exam rooms that serve as Petri dishes for ideas that are dreamed up behind the lab’s glass walls.

Alan Duncan, M.D., medical director of the lab, enthusiastically points out some of the concepts physicians and designers are testing. Duncan walks quickly, stopping to show off a biometric reader on the door frame of an exam room and explain that physicians can place their index finger on the reader to log on to the EMR system.

He says they came up with the idea after watching how physicians would enter an exam room, greet the patient, then log on … and wait. “We knew that if you started the log-in process earlier, you could improve patient satisfaction,” he explains. “So why not reverse the order so you log on using biometrics, and by the time you’re done greeting the patient, the computer is ready to go? It’s one way design works—by reframing an issue.”

And that’s the whole point of the SPARC Innovation Program, Duncan explains: To find ways to use design to improve the patient experience. “Everything we do is from the patient’s perspective,” he says.

The laboratory was created through internal funds, philanthropic support, and a grant from the VHA Health Foundation, which also posted an article on SPARC on its own website, focussing more on the service design aspect.

Meanwhile Alan K. Duncan, M.D., medical director of the lab, has created a 41 slide “monograph” (3.1 mb) this year on his experiences setting up the SPARC Innovation Program:

“This monograph [...] describes a practical approach to incorporating design thinking into creating and transforming health services. We believe that the progressive health organization – the ambidextrous organization – will find new capabilities here to balance with traditional business tools and techniques.”

Finally, there is also this interview with Alan K. Duncan, published as part of the 2005 IIT Design Strategy Conference, where he talks about how The Mayo Clinic’s SPARC Innovation Program improves healthcare by blending the practices of design and medicine.

(via Design for India)

3 August 2007

eBay’s Meg Whitman on improving the finding and auction experience

eBay
Meg Whitman, President and CEO of eBay, said during her Q2 analyst conference call that “making improvements to the user experience is one of our main strategic priorities.”

“As you have correctly pointed out, making improvements to the user experience is one of our main strategic priorities. Let me tell you about a few of them.

First is to improve the finding experience, what we call finding 2.0. You can see that we have actually done some work in something we call DefMatch, which is in fact a relevant and algorithmic search engine that actually, based on your prior searches on eBay and what we know about other people who search for those same items, we think we can get you to the items that you’re looking for faster and better.

You might recall in the old age of eBay, you’d do a search for Madonna and you’d get 20,000 items, everything from T-shirts to books. Now we’re able to get you there much faster. So the first bucket would be finding.

The second would be making the auction experience even more fun. The first is something we call Bid Assistance, which is really great. We heard from a lot of buyers that they were scared to bid on more than one item because God forbid you won five iPods instead of the one that you really wanted. So we have created something called Bid Assistance that allows you to bid on multiple items. We manage that bidding for you, and you will not win more than one item. That actually has come across with great results.

We have something called eBay Countdown, which actually visualizes the fun of the end of the auction with avatars and showing the race towards the end. We’ve got Feedback 2.0, which is launched and expanded now in virtually every country. We’ve got a new homepage layout coming. We have also increased customer support for both buyers and sellers. Also, by the end of the year, we will have a 360-degree view of the customer, so that if you are a PayPal customer and you have issues around your eBay account, we can help you on that same phone call or same chat as opposed to having to transfer you between centers.

Those are probably the highlights. I would direct you to something called www.playground.ebay.com, where we have a really fun site for users to test a number of the new products that we’re launching and provide feedback.”

(via Alex Kurtland’s Usable Markets and Victor Lombardi’s Noise Between Stations)

3 August 2007

Central role for co-creation and ethnography at new Nokia design studio in Bangalore

Anubhav Yantra
Nokia’s new design studio in Bangalore, India, will use co-creation and ethnographic approaches to explore new design ideas for mobile phones targeted at the Indian market.

InfoWorld reports:

The studio in India is one of four satellite studios that Nokia plans to set up over the next 12 months. The satellite studios will collaborate with local designers and universities to get a better understanding of the cultural nuances relevant to mobile phone design. The next center is slated to open in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The focus of the studio is on “co-creation,” or collaborative design, between Nokia’s designers, local designers and users of mobile phones. It is housed at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, where students from the institute, Nokia’s designers and external designers will work together.

Designers at the studio will not only work in areas of industrial design and user interfaces, but also do ethnographic research to better understand people and their experiences, said Hannu Nieminen, head of insight and innovation at Nokia Design.

According to M&C, a team of top Nokia designers will engage students of Srishti in studying the use of the Internet on mobile phones and its implications for design and features of the next generation handsets.

The announcement follows a 2006 collaboration between Srishti and Nokia on Only Planet, Nokia Design’s international student programme, which began at the Doors 8 conference in New Delhi last year:

The journey to the Nokia Only Planet Conference 2006 began at the Doors 8 conference in end-March in New Delhi. Friends from Nokia Design Research offered to include the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, in the Only Planet program which was being implemented in design schools across the globe.

Soon after, Nokia sent in the Only Planet design brief. The first task for the 16 students who signed up for the project lay in engaging with the methodology of “dirty ethnography”. The students went out armed with sketch pads and cameras to record and study their environment, especially the street and food cultures of Commercial Street.

Their objective, as per the preliminary brief, was to identify key influences and sources of inspiration in three main dimensions – street (commercial values), society (family values) and culture (aesthetic values). These values were then represented in a set of “image boards”. The process allowed for the categorization of the visual details of the environment enabling students to arrive at verbal definitions and conclusions.

Eero Miettinen, Group Design Director of Nokia Design, Finland, provided extensive feedback on the image boards, their construction and their significance. He then revealed the next phase of the design brief in which the students had to generate concepts for their products.

The students now entered into serious discussions on what values would make a premium global Indian product. While brainstorming, they made case studies of extant products that they considered to be Indian in essence yet global. From their image boards and the case studies, they extracted a “basket of essences” that could add premium value to Indian products in the global market.

Each student sought to inform the conceptualization of their products with these essential values in terms of colour, form, aesthetics and function. Each one came up with several initial product ideas and then fixed on a final single product. An international five-member panel from Nokia headed by Eero Miettinen gave extensive feedback on the fleshed-out final concepts and made suggestions on the potential of some for prototyping.

Of the 16 product concepts presented before the Nokia panel, it was decided that nine would be prototyped – Opium Ray, Shara Shaiya, Plaything, Mudra, Acoustic Recliner, Kitchen Warrior, Sholay, Anubhav Yantra and Bollywood Mahal. Phase Three of the project concentrated on the prototyping, to an extent, of these concepts.

And, finally, at the end of this journey, five students and two faculty from Srishti were invited by Nokia Design Research to present its work at the Only Planet Seminar in Rovaniemi, Finland, November 28-30, 2006.

Download Srishti’s Only Planet submission (pdf, 16.2 mb, 61 pages)

2 August 2007

New Virgin planes take user experience up a notch

Virgin's purple plane
Artur Bergman recently had the opportunity to tour a Virgin America plane and was impressed with the attention to the user experience:

“The planes are brand new Airbuses equipped with leather seats, a generous seat pitch, and really big first class seats.

The entertainment system aboard is the highlight. Every seat is equipped with an in-flight entertainment device (IFE). Developed internally at Virgin America, the system is named Red and provides live satellite tv, movies, mp3s, games and plane-wide chatting. Yes, chatting. There is a general chatroom, a private invite channel for your friends, and direct user-to-user messaging. When watching television, you have the option to chat with everyone who is watching the same event. Talk about a brand new way to find someone to enter the mile high club with.

Most impressive is how integrated everything feels, from the website to the in-flight experience. If you build a playlist from the 3,000 mp3s on board, the reservation system will remember it and pre-load it the next time you board. Small touches like that are easy to implement if you have the right architecture and are bound to bring a smile to at least some customers.”

Read full story

(via Core77)

2 August 2007

Promoting user-centred design innovation in Ireland

Centre for Design Innovation
The Centre for Design Innovation, which is funded by Enterprise Ireland, an agency of Ireland’s Department for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, aims to research and promote design thinking as a means of driving successful innovation; its goal is to make businesses more competitive and public services more effective.

The Centre, which is run by Toby Scott, previously a director of the UK Design Council and before that an advisor to the UK Government on creativity, design and innovation, takes a strong user-centred approach to innovation: “Design innovation only occurs by understanding and anticipating the needs of your users and creating successful products or services that fulfil their desires. This in turn creates competitive advantage for your organisation.”

In May 2007, Justin Knecht, programme manager at the Centre launched the Innovation by Design programme, a 15-month programme where selected companies use design research tools to better understand their end-user needs and develop these insights into new products and services.

“In June 2007, all the companies in the programme participated in a user-centred design workshop at the Centre for Design Innovation. Three to six representatives from each organisation, including most Managing Directors, learned the tools and techniques firsthand that they would apply to their own businesses. The day was facilitated by Colin Burns, a user centred design expert and former Director of IDEO London. Over a three month period, the organisations will apply these design research tools to their users before convening in September 2007 to discuss what they have learned and the opportunities they have identified to implement through September 2008. The Centre will be taking a qualitative and quantitative measurement of the programmes effect on each organisation.

To most companies this approach is completely new, so each company is partnered with a Design Associate, who provides hand-on mentoring and facilitation with the tools. As opposed to traditional consultancy, the goal of this programme is to leave a legacy of skills within the organisations beyond the end of their involvement with the programme. The mentors will spend at least 40 hours with each company over the course of the programme, which equates to a series of full-day and half-day visits.”

The team is now also working on two long-term projects that will raise the profile of design and its role in innovation.

  • Innovation Northwest” will be a yearlong festival celebrating the role of design within business, the public sector and communities across the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. In recent memory, few other areas have suffered so much due to social migration and the decline of traditional industries caused in part by the “troubles”. This will be an opportunity to re-brand the region as a natural home for innovation and enterprise and to demonstrate the powerful impact of design across all sectors.
     
  • The Centre for Creativity will provide a permanent “home” or focal point for design, innovation and creativity in Ireland. It starts from the premise that we are all innately creative but that our external environment, be that education, work or community, conspires to suppress that creativity. The Centre will provide a physical (and metaphorical) space to support businesses, communities and organisations to seek creative solutions to their problems.