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Putting People First

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September 2007
30 September 2007

Bill Buxton talks user experience on Microsoft video

Bill Buxton
Bill Buxton, the human-computer interaction and computer graphics pioneer, joined Microsoft Research two years ago as a principle researcher two years ago to help foster a design oriented culture at Microsoft.

In this interview with Charles Torre, Buxton talks about design thinking, experience design, and how design, technology and business interlink together focusing on end users.

(via UX Connection Canada)

30 September 2007

WARC, huge online marketing database with many relevant papers

WARC
I just took a 7 day trial subscription to the online database of the World Advertising Research Center (WARC) – which allows you the download of 5 papers – and discovered a treasure trove of information.

Two papers in particular caught my attention:

The emperor’s new clothes: technology is useless if consumers can’t use it
Simon Silvester, Market Leader, Spring 2007, Issue 36, pp.20-24
Digital technology is developing at a staggering rate, but there is a danger that it could collapse as the dotcom boom did if companies do not change their attitude to consumers. Consumer ability to understand technology does not rise; consumers (including the young) adopt new products slowly, and with difficulty. Most people use only one or two of the many functions programmed into their equipment, and companies need to understand how innovations spread through a population, and how understanding always falls as mainstream consumers follow the technology nerds who adopt first. They must put the consumer first and become more basic in their marketing. This includes finding the one killer application that is really wanted, instead of adding functions that no-one will use just because it is possible. Simplicity is a primary benefit. The article ends with 15 guidelines for making sure that technological products become user-friendly: they include watching what people actually do, including women and people in emerging markets.

Transforming leisure with ethnography
Caroline Gibbons-Barry, Scott Moshier and Karen Hofman, ESOMAR, Leisure Conference, Rome, November 2006
To offer satisfying experiences, the leisure industry must understand how consumers have adopted a complex, multifaceted and integrated approach to leisure. Profound cultural and values shifts have lead consumers to build uplifting and transformative leisure moments into their everyday lives, changing the standard against which the leisure industry must compete. Ethnography can take leisure purveyors beyond their own facilities to uncover both the contexts that inform consumer mindsets and perspectives, and what resonates with consumers’ inner beings and deepest desires.

Since it’s a subscription based service, I cannot link to the papers but the site has a good search engine. Unfortunately, full subscription is rather expensive.

29 September 2007

Design for emotion: ready for the next decade?

There is always a child inside each one of us
There is a tendency to simplify product experience to a basic experience of desire, pleasure, or fun. In reality, the experience of human product interaction is layered, rich, dynamic, and complex.

This is the central thesis of a uiGarden guest contribution by Paul Hekkert and Pieter Desmet of TU Delft’s ID-Studiolab and the Design and Emotion Society.

“After ten years of desperate, superficial, intuitive, clever, and over-the-top attempts, we feel the time is right to make a next step, a step to make design for experience a mature and powerful design strategy that can fundamentally change design practice and the designs that come out of it. So, how do we think such a mature strategy will look like? First of all, the desired experience should be defined before the product is designed. It should be congruent with and based upon the nature and function of the product, the company’s brand identity, and all kind of societal, cultural and social developments that seem worth to take into account. Defining an experience (profile) is not arbitrary and takes (a lot of) time; it is a design task in itself. The experience profile explains how the product will be seen and used, what meaning it conveys and what emotions and feelings it is supposed to elicit.”

Read full story

29 September 2007

The advantages of amnesia

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger
Now that technology is bringing rapid advances in memory, Jessica Winter of the Boston Globe thinks that society needs new ways to forget and profiles the thinking of Viktor Mayer-Schönberger [also featured earlier on this blog].

“As digital-storage capacities reach seemingly boundless proportions, however, some thinkers are becoming nervous about the unintended consequences of memory technology. Certainly Google’s enormous reserves of user information, stored in dozens of secretive data centers across the world, and the literally photographic memory of the Internet Archive, which preserves billions of defunct Web pages for posterity, are enough to leave anyone rattled. New forms of memory are permanent and accessible from anywhere. As their reach grows, scholars are asking if now – perhaps for the first time in human history – we need to find ways to forget.

“We used to have a system in which we forgot things easily and had to invest energy in remembering,” says Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “Now we’re switching to a system in which we remember everything and have to invest energy in order to forget. That’s an enormous transformation.”

[...]

In a working paper posted online last spring, “Useful Void: The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing,” Mayer-Schönberger hypothesized a number of future big-picture costs of an unforgetting era. The assumption that every online comment and transaction is preserved somewhere, never to be forgotten, could suppress public speech and civic participation in ways that we could never calculate. There is also the contradiction whereby “personal” information – from private e-mails to sensitive identifying data – is indefinitely available on a remote server.”

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger was the keynote speaker at the recent Ars Electronic Festival, where this video interview with him was taken.

Read full story

28 September 2007

The spime arrives

Bruce Sterling
Bruce Sterling is now living in Torino, Italy and will stay here, together with his wife, Serbian author and film-maker Jasmina Tesanovic, until the end of March 2008.

He is here at the invitation of the Regional Government of Piedmont to be the guest curator of the Piemonte Share Festival (11-16 March 2008).

Last night he presented the Italian translation of his book “Shaping Things” in a public lecture and discussion.

He also showed the audience a highly entertaining video of what he images the world of “spimes” to be like.

Discussants were Andrea Bairati (Regione Piemonte Councillor), Luca De Biase (Chief editor Nòva 24 /Il Sole 24Ore) and Claudio Germak (Politecnico di Torino – Word Design Capital Torino 2008) . The conference was moderated by Simona Lodi and Chiara Garibaldi (Share Festival).

Though many topics were addressed, I think the most relevant one is a challenge — for us, for this region and for Bruce too: if Bruce is right in his thinking about spimes and the entire change of thinking and doing it will entail, then what could be a typical Italian positioning in this new social, economic and cultural paradigm?

I hope that in the next six months, the people here in Torino, with the input and ideas of Bruce, can start outlining some initial answers to that question.

To be continued.

28 September 2007

Turning museums into places where people interact

Local Projects
Print Magazine is reporting on Local Projects, a company that is turning museums into places where people interact with information—and each other.

When Jake Barton, the 34-year-old principal of the interactive design firm Local Projects, thinks about what an exhibition can do, he often considers the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa. The museum documents the forced removal of more than 60,000 residents from a mixed-race neighborhood declared a whites-only zone in 1966, and tells the stories of those displaced. In the early ’90s, when reclaiming that land was still not an option, the museum kept the issue in the public eye through exhibitions and debate; subsequently, the museum’s sister organization helped residents apply to have their land returned. Transforming and healing a community through inclusive storytelling is, in Barton’s eyes, the mandate for museums of the 21st century. These days, he has ample reason to meditate on it: In April, he and his seven-person firm received the commission to codesign the permanent exhibition for the World Trade Center Memorial Museum.”

By choosing Local Projects, the memorial’s directors cast their lot with a new kind of museum that prizes interactivity over top-down presentation. Local Projects insists on a plurality of voices—the exhibitions it creates function as a kind of conversation rather than as repositories of authoritative fact. “Museums are starting to evolve into agents of social change,” Barton says. “That’s being reflected in the numbers of people who are going to museums and the ways museums are functioning as spaces for community dialogue. We [are] trying to make diverse people visible to each other through a storytelling space.”

Read full story

28 September 2007

Making bus trips more pleasurable and productive experiences

Smart bus stop
“From Boston to Brazil, city planners and transportation gurus are reimagining the possibilities of the humble motorbus, using high-tech ‘smart mobility’ to challenge the preeminence of the car — and revive the urban commons,” writes the Boston Globe.

Much of the most innovative thinking now focuses on improving the passenger experience, instead of the more difficult challenge of moving buses faster along crowded streets. But city planners, armed with affordable global-positioning and computer technology, hope that meeting these seemingly modest goals can make bus trips a far more pleasurable, even productive, experience.

With fuel costs high and public concern for the environment rising, some public transportation officials sense an opportunity to challenge the car’s preeminence.

[...]

“The more communication that happens between citizens, the stronger the urban garden,” said Federico Casalegno, an MIT sociologist who led the team that developed the futuristic bus stop prototype.

At the heart of much of the new thinking is a concept that some urban planners call “smart mobility” — integrating the flow of people with the flow of information. Whereas transit companies have traditionally seen their passengers as ciphers who want nothing more than to be physically moved from one place to another, the future of transit reform lies in seeing these passengers as active participants in a constantly evolving information cluster. The transportation system should share as much information with passengers as possible — how buses are flowing, when the next one is expected. It should give passengers access to information about the outside world — from international news, to e-mail, to data about the passing neighborhoods. And passengers, in turn, should be empowered to share information with the system and, if they want, with fellow riders.

“The general concept is to increase connections between people, places, and transportation systems,” said Casalegno, who is the director of the Mobile Experience Laboratory at MIT. “It shouldn’t just be about getting from Point A to Point B.”

- Read full story
Slide presentation (SlideShare)
MIT project web site | MIT class project website (with video)

28 September 2007

A mobile revolution is taking place in the developing world

Phone use in Africa
The mobile platform is currently undergoing somewhat of a revolution in the developing world — and so are people’s lives — with Africa now more advanced than the rest of the world in terms of mobile banking. The user experience challenges are only beginning to be addressed.

If you want to keep abreast on developments in this field, here is a crop of news stories from just this last week:

A recent special report in Business Week on how basic cell phones are sparking economic hope and growth in emerging — and even non-emerging — nations. The report takes a particular look at the micro- and macro-economic impacts of this development, and what it means for local entrepreneurs and major mobile operators. It also features an online extra on the use of mobile phones by artisans and tradespeople in rural India, a summary graphic and a slideshow;

A Reuters story on the beeping boom in Africa, what the social practices are, and how that is pushing mobile operators to innovate their services;

A post on the Vodafone R&D Betavine blog on the Mukuru Kash service that like Paypal will store funds that you pay to them online and then set up a voucher which can be redeemed at the petrol station for fuel;

Next: bridging the digital divide, a recent post by Niti Bhan, where she puts developments in the bigger picture of bridging the digital divide between the digital haves and have nots, and wonders what will happen if all these people in the developing world can also start accessing the internet from their mobile devices;

In a recent post on mobile banking, Barbara Ballard of Little Springs Design guides us to three blogs on the topic: Mobile Banking (news and analysis from Brandon McGee, a VP in charge of mobile banking), Mobile Money & Banking, and Mobile Banking, the blog of Hannes van Rensburg, CEO of a South African mobile banking provider Fundamo.

Note by the way that all the user research work by Jan Chipchase and others seems to have paid off: Nokia dominates the mobile handset landscape in India with an astonishing 74% market share.

27 September 2007

A PC for peasant farmers? China targets digital divide.

Lenovo computer
The Christian Science Monitor reports on how China’s computermakers tap vast rural market with simple tools and local officials’ support.

Lenovo, the world’s third-largest computermaker and China’s best-known global brand, chose China’s northeastern town of Langfang to “launch its assault on the growth frontier for PC sales – villagers in developing countries – and start bridging the digital divide between urban and rural citizens”.

“To tempt farmers into high-tech territory, Lenovo executives explain, they have tried to make their [$199] machine easy to use, cheap, and robust.”

The user interface is quite peculiar:

“Lenovo’s ambitions to tap this trend take the shape of a chocolate-box-sized computer that plugs into a TV screen, controlled by a touchpad keyboard and buttons laid out like a remote control.

Using the machine is more like watching television – a familiar experience for most Chinese peasants – than sitting in front of a computer.

Simple controls take the user around a range of functions from online education and entertainment services to agricultural information portals, and also allows him to choose specific sites or send e-mails and instant messages.”

Read full story

27 September 2007

Picnic07: Swisscom anthropologist on why everything is moving into the background

Stefana Broadbent
Swisscom anthropologist Stefana Broadbent [see also these previous posts] spoke today at the Picnic07 conference in Amsterdam and Bruno Giussani was there to report on it:

“Anthropologist Stefana Broadbent talks about trends in entertainment and communication. With her team of sociologists and psychologists she observes people closely and collects a whole set of data (diaries, bookmarks, playlists, they ask people to keep logbooks of communication and media usage, etc). She is a great speaker and a much-needed tech myth buster.”

According to Giussani, she showed a set of apparently disconnected data that all point in the same direction: there is no substitution – everything is added. “There is more and more media piling on, more devices, more channels. What’s happening is that everything is moving into the background, everything is becoming wallpaper. [... There is] a constant flow of “open channel interaction”.

“Now, there is a problem: the whole industry is trying to say bye-bye to routine. The whole ICT industry today has to do with putting people in total control and deliberate choice of everything that they will listen to, look at, etc: VOD, HDD recorders, IPTV archives, podcasts, videocasts, personalized radio stations, layout skins, etc.

But users can only multitask if we don’t ask for all their attention. Choosing kills routines and requires attention — the moment you choose you commit to something — it moves the activity to the foreground; being in control means being actively focused.”

- Read full story
Read review on Pasta & Vinegar (by Nicolas Nova)
All Picnic07 videos

27 September 2007

Claritas segments the U.S. population

Claritas
Claritas has concluded that 66 types of people live in the suburbs, cities and rural areas of the USA, reports Challis Hodge.

You can view a presentation on their research here. If you are living in the United States, you can look up your neighborhood based on zip code to find out what segments are living next door to you.

No time to visit the site? How about a few examples!

Winner’s Circle
The young, well-to-do parents in this segment live in new-money subdivisions surrounded by golf courses and upscale boutiques. Their plasma televisions are tuned to Nickelodeon, but kids don’t keep them from traveling.
Median household income $102,213
Hangout Broomfield County, Colorado (Broomfield)

God’s Country
These urban refugees have fled to the country seeking a more laid-back lifestyle. Though they travel frequently for business, leisure is a top priority. They read Skiing magazine, drive Toyota Land Cruisers, and tune into the Outdoor Life Network.
Median household income $83,827
Hangout Teton County, Wyoming (Jackson)

Second City Elite
These culture-savvy middle-aged folks without kids splurge on themselves with multiple computers, large-screen TVs, and an impressive collection of wines. They read Inc. magazine, watch Washington Week, and drive around town in Toyota Avalons.
Median household income $74,375
Hangout Dallas County, Texas (Dallas)

25 September 2007

Universities, design, user experience and innovation

UIAH
Finland plans to merge their three leading universities in business, design and technology into ONE innovation university by 2009.

An article on Finnfacts states that “the aim is a world-class university that would be able to compete with the best foreign universities and be an interesting co-partner for them.”

The initiative for combining the expertise at the University of Art and Design Helsinki, Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration and Helsinki University of Technology was taken by Yrjö Sotamaa, the principal of the art and design university, in the autumn of 2005.

“I firmly believe that Finland’s competitiveness in the future could be built on the ability to combine in a superior way the expertise in various fields in order to create innovations and successful corporate activity,” Sotamaa emphasises.

“Mere technical pre-eminence is not enough for creating successful innovations. Top-class design and business skills are also needed. The significance of experiencing and usability of technology will be given greater emphasis.” [My emphasis]

A keynote speech by Sotamaa at an innovation conference organised by the very forward looking “Better by Design” initiative in New Zealand can be downloaded here (pdf, 3.8 mb, 101 slides). In the speech Sotamaa discussed the fundamental change in thinking required for companies to really benefit from a design-led approach, and what is required to move design from being perceived as “beautiful, but not useful” or “rounding the corners”, to being deeply embedded in everyday business life and bringing substantial economic benefits when applied strategically.

Sotamaa’s design school organised last month the conference “User Experience Plus – Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces 2007“, with five thoughtful themes:

  • Skilled action, focussed on rich interactions and design for human dexterity;
  • New luxury, on innovative products and services that create an Emotion plus – effect;
  • The aesthetics of interaction, on how the interaction design itself can shape engaging experiences, through providing e.g. intriguing invitations, constructive disturbances, pleasant surprises, remarkable experiences etc.;
  • Illusion in interaction: If interaction is the ground in which the experience is constituted, then the question is how to design this ground for the experience so that the experience becomes pleasurable;
  • Social interaction about designs and their short or long term interpersonal effects.

Some conferences videos are also available.

Finally, January 2007 saw the start of the Helsinki School of Creative Entrepreneurship (HSCE), which is being looked on as the first step in the innovation university. According to the website, HSCE delivers tailor made programs to stimulate creative thinking as a basis for developing new and innovative product, service and experience offerings for customers.

In the UK meanwhile, NESTA is also exploring the issue of universities and innovation and just published a short paper on how to ensure that research funding encourages innovation.

(in part via Niti Bhan)

24 September 2007

Ethnographic research to design a better osteoporosis diagnosis device? Of course!

Osteoporosis Diagnosis Device
Today, Cooler Solutions, a product innovation company specializing in health and wellness solutions, announced they are developing components for a new bone testing device which will revolutionize bone fracture risk assessment.

In conjunction with top researchers at Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) Cooler Solutions will design components and implement construction of a new device for measuring bone strength in osteoporosis patients. The mechanical response tissue analyzer (MRTA) will offer a more accurate and cost-effective way to diagnose and prevent osteoporosis. The MRTA is a portable and noninvasive device designed to measure the mechanical properties of bone (bone stiffness and elasticity) and to quantify bone “toughness.”

Working together with key stakeholders at UHN, designers and engineers at Cooler Solutions will develop the existing MRTA technology into a user-friendly, cost-effective and commercially viable product. Cooler will work on improving product performance, accuracy and enhancing the user and operator experience. Through Cooler’s ethnographic user-focused research, patient and operator experiences with the device will drive solutions in the final design.

Read full story

24 September 2007

Howard Rheingold and Mark Earls on mass collaboration

Howard Rheingold
A few weeks ago the UK innovation endowment NESTA organised an event on mass collaboration.

Speakers were Howard Rheingold (UC Berkeley, Stanford University, Annenberg School for Communications and the Institute of Creative Technologies; and author of ‘Smart Mobs‘) and Mark Earls (author of ‘Herd: How to change mass behaviour by harnessing our true nature‘), writers who examine and challenge traditional perceptions of mass behaviour change and cooperation.

This event was intended as the start of a conversation on how to optimise the potential social impact of networked technology, and its impact on how we should think about mass collaboration for innovation in the UK and beyond.

Webcasts of the whole event are now available on the NESTA website.

22 September 2007

EU benchmark shows mixed results on user experience of online public services

I2010_eeurope_logo
Every year, the EU Benchmark Survey assesses the quality of online public services in Europe. For the first time, the survey also looked at the users experience when accessing on-line public services, in recognition of the growing importance of this topic, and found mixed results.

From the press release:

“The survey examined three elements which are important to the user experience: the provision of a legally recognised, secure electronic identity, whether the service could be accessed via alternative channels such as call centres, kiosks, mobile phones and TV, and compliance of the websites with the International Accessibility Guidelines. The overall result for this indicator is more mixed and reaches 19%, with Austria, Bulgaria and Norway scoring above 30%. The most striking finding was that only 5% of websites make a specific reference to their compliance with international accessibility guidelines (WAI).

National portals fared much better. The report looked at the number of basic public services which can be accessed from the portal, the existence of personalised options, ease of navigation and whether its presentation is targeted at different kinds of users (businesses vs. citizens, around life events or around the structure of the administration). The overall score of 75% demonstrates that national governments consider the national portal as one of the cornerstones of their eGovernment plans.”

However the report itself puts some further qualification (page 27) on the above optimistic assessment of the user experience of national portals:

“We conclude that the national portals are well developed as user-centric gateways to public service delivery points.

However on the level of the transactional services itself, the agencies, the e-services delivery is still primarily organised around the needs of governmental organization more than around the needs of the users, being citizens and business. [My emphasis]

The survey, carried out for the European Commission by consultants Capgemini, examined over 14,000 web sites offering 20 basic public services in the 27 EU Member States plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Turkey. In 2007 the online sophistication of public service delivery reached an overall score of 76%, while 58% of the measured public services are fully available online.

Austria stands out both on sophistication and full on-line availability, with scores of 99 and 100% respectively. Portugal has made major progress since 2006 and Malta and Slovenia stand out as countries that have embraced eGovernment and advanced online service delivery and therefore top the charts in 2007.

- Read press release
Download report (pdf, 15 mb, 123 pages)

22 September 2007

Donald Norman on the importance of unmet needs

Donald Norman
Donald Norman has written a few articles for ACM Interactions that he has posted on his site (but I cannot yet find in Interactions magazine itself):

Filling much needed holes
“We need more unmet needs, not less. How many times do the never-ending ethnographic studies coupled with ever-eager design groups lead to unwanted, unnecessary, overburdening, and environmentally insensitive products? How many times are these unmet needs best left unmet? Why must we rush to fill the essential voids in our lives?”

There is an automobile in HCI’s future – part 2
“The automobile industry is badly in need of guidance on human factors. Excellent people already work in the companies, but they suffer the problems faced within the consumer electronics and computer industries over the past few decades. This is an important arena, one where human-centered design skills are essential. But success will come only when our discipline can provide seasoned managers who know how to work across disciplines, with engineers, designers (stylists), manufacturing, marketing and, of course, upper management. There should be an automobile in HCI’s future: but to make this happen presents a challenging problem in management, politics, and diplomacy.”

21 September 2007

Robots turn off senior citizens in ageing Japan

ifbot
Applying some user-centred design principles could have prevented this debacle:

High-tech gadgets and futuristic robots which Japan had hoped might lend a hand when the population turns gray haven’t caught on with the elderly, who according to forecasts will make up around 40 percent of the population by the middle of the century.

“Most (elderly) people are not interested in robots. They see robots as overly-complicated and unpractical. They want to be able to get around their house, take a bath, get to the toilet and that’s about it,” said Ruth Campbell, a geriatric social worker at the University of Tokyo.

Japanese manufacturers have learned the hard way that the elderly want everyday products adapted to their needs — easy to read for those with poor eyesight, big buttons for people with trembling hands and clear audio for the hard of hearing.

Read full story [Reuters]

18 September 2007

The French and their mobiles

The French and their mobiles
A few days ago, I translated an article from the French newspaper Le Monde about new French research on “collective mobile phone use”.

The French Association of Mobile Operators now published the full study (pdf, 630 kb, 156 pages), as well as a three-page press release/synthesis.

For a number of reasons I decided to spend (quite) some time translating the report synthesis:
– The study is strong and the results insightful, refreshing and highly innovative;
– Little is known internationally about anthropological research on mobile technologies in France;
– There is a barrage of coverage coming from the Anglo-Saxon world, and only a trickle from elsewhere.

Translating the study itself is unfortunately beyond my capacity and I can only hope that the French Association of Mobile Operators itself will one day make the study available in an English translation – feel free to put some pressure on them by contacting them at info@afomobiles.org.
 

MAIN CONCLUSIONS OF THE NEW SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY ON THE MOBILE PHONE IN FRANCE IN 2007

The French Association of Mobile Operators (AFOM) asked the Discours and Pratiques studio to conduct a study on the mobile phone in the French society in 2007.

Five researchers in information and communication sciences [sociology, information sciences, communication sciences, philosophy and literature], all members of GRIPIC (the research group of the CELSA school), worked on the study for six months, conducting about one hundred in-depth interviews, as well as anthropological observations in various locations (Paris and its suburbs, Marseilles, Strasbourg, Creuse and various ski resorts) and various situations.

The researchers tried to understand the ways of “doing and being” that go with the use of the mobile phone on the street, cafe terraces, restaurants, public gardens, train stations, apartments, vacation homes, companies, libraries, and transportation means, and this without falling back on traditional social categorisations. And to really cover the symbolic dimension of the mobile phone, the research also covered areas that up till now were not covered by research: the movies, television shows and literature.

The study was lead by Anne Jarrigeon and Joëlle Menrath, two researchers who were already involved with a previous GRIPIC study on the mobile phone in French society, conducted in 2004 and 2005.

The main points of the 2007 study are:
 

1. The mobile phone is no longer just a personal device. In 2007, the phone is integrated within collective practices both in the family and between friends.

Mobile phone are increasingly objects that circulate within a group. The owner of the mobile phone is no longer the only one to touch it, check it and use it.

Mobile phones can allow for exchanges based on the amount of credit left before the end of the month and on the range of hourly allowances when calls are free. This can also lead to a collective choice of operators, of discount plans and of prepaid cards, with the sole aim of optimising cost within the group.

Within the family, mobile phone reinforce the asymmetric role and character of the parent-child relationship: whereas parents do not think about money when calling their children, the children themselves try to save money by “beeping” their parents, in order to be called back.

The mobile of the child is a jointly managed tool and a transaction device. It is experienced by the parents – and mainly by the mothers – as an opportunity for exchange with their child and as a way for children to learn to manage a financial budget.

Within a group of friends, mobile phones serve to define roles and affinities. One can find the expert, and the user with difficulties, the “banker” who always has some credit, and the “borrower” who always asks for text messages and minutes (without ever giving them).

Beyond these roles, the mobile phone created relations of exclusivity with those whom one calls most often based on the tariff offers and their compatibility.
 

2. The French have ambivalent and changing relations with their mobile phone. In 2007, the mobile phone goes from being personal to transitory, from intimate to visible.

If the mobile phone is a “signature object” that one gets emotionally attached to and reflects the identity of its owner, it is also a “transitory object” that one can easily detached from, because it’s after all a device that young users see as something that will in the end be either replaced by a new model, or end up broken, lost or stolen.

If the mobile phone is an intimate “black box” where one stores the archives of one’s life (contacts, SMS, photos…), it is also:

  • for adults, the album that unites all the photos previously kept in the wallet and the object where one keeps its secrets from intrusion (partner listening to messages or checking on call history…),
  • for teens, the place where one keeps personal collections (images, ringtones, …), that one shares and shows like a museum.
     

3. New social conventions are being established around the mobile phone.

A mobile phone call can easily be interrupted (“I have to go now”, “I can’t hear you anymore”, “I am out of battery”, “I just arrived”). With a mobile phone, ending a call is allowed without this being considered impolite.

Calling someone on a mobile means living it up to him/her to answer or not. The mobile phone is increasingly seen as a non-intrusive tool of reachability.

New rules are also developing about money, with regards to “limit expenses”, or “pick up the tab” such as in a restaurant, or on the impoliteness of extending a conversation because the call is free anyhow.
 

4. The use of the mobile phone is governed more by example than by rules and prohibitions.

Nowadays there are many rules that prohibit the use of the mobile phone, be it at work, in public spaces or at school. Very often these rules are not followed.

In many contexts that were observed (office, train, waiting room…), use is self-regulated in terms of what people consider to be tolerable and appropriate.

At school, the mobile phone is added to the series of tools of those that are not interested in a class or have fun at creating some disturbance, something that more “traditional” tools were used for before. It becomes another challenge for the teacher to manage during his class.

Confiscation seems to be most effective sanction in school even if the user of the confiscated phone is no the owner (because phones often circulate in groups) and even if parents are opposed to this sanction because it prevents them from reaching their children (including – for some – during classes).

Because rules are usually not followed, example behaviour is often more effective than prohibition. When someone decides not to use his/her phone when on holidays, at dinner, during meetings or while with the family, this is often the best way to dissuade others from using it.

However such example behaviour requires constant vigilance because any use of the mobile phone quickly becomes a breach that others quickly take advantage of.
 

5. Several dominant sociological and philosophical lines of thought are consistent with the behaviours that were observed and the results that were obtained during the study.

While the mobile phone is often presented as the token of an individualistic and atomised society, in reality one observes collective and collaborative behaviours around the mobile in the family and between friends.

While the mobile phone is often thought of as creating a bubble around the people engaged in the call, excluding them from their immediate environments, in reality one increasingly observes conversations where those around the “caller”, allow themselves to intervene, to interrupt the caller or to speak to him/her about something else.

While the mobile phone is often portrayed as filling a void or a lack, one increasingly observes situations where the phone provides resources to act and react, allows to capture what one experiences et to bring an “extra value” to what one experiences that can be described with wellbeing or pleasure.

And while the mobile phone is often, also outside of expert research, mentioned in current discussions on improper behaviour the people that were interviewed do not speak about this and one observes increasingly less signs of exasperation or of cases of embarrassment in public life.
 

6. The mobile phone is seen as a “average medium” that renews amateur photo and film practice.

Mobile phone images are viewed as precarious images, often of uncertain quality, not to be printed and not be shared between devices. These images always call up a description of something one should see. They serve to create memories and to prove that one really was present at the event one is talking about (e.g. a concert, a celebrity passing by …).

Mobile phone images are integrated within several reference frameworks that preceded the phone: the journalism of the everyday and one’s own life, spontaneous family images as opposed to fake happiness, the sensationalism that comes with having to set up brief, clear, efficient and striking acts.

More spectacular scenes can raise the challenge by bringing in the grotesque, the playful, the macabre, even violence. This is what lead to the videos gags, the MTV Jackass and the so-called ‘snuff movies’. The aggressions filmed on a mobile phone are one of the most recent expressions of this (although the expression ‘happy slapping’ was not used by any of the people interviewed within this study).
 

Our friends from InternetActu, who also report on this study, highlight that the authors of the study conclude that “the mobile phone of 2007 is no longer exactly the same phone as it was in 2007:

“Its current massive and seemingly irreversible presence in all spheres of life would make one think that its uses would become trivialised or neutralised. None of that can be observed. […] Whereas the conventional uses of the mobile phone are more stable now than they were in 2005, they are now shared with new uses that are either linked to innovative technologies that are appropriated by users, or created by themselves in daily practice.

[…] What struck is, is that the mobile phone hasn’t ‘bursted’ under the effect of the successive additions of new functions, but continues to make sense to people as a “phone”, even though they use it in manifold ways. It goes even further than that. The mobile phone is no longer fully conceived or ‘experienced’ as a Swiss Army knife of aggregated functions but instead reinvented with each use as a ‘fully conceived object': a machine to write text messages, a photo camera, a voice mail system… It is an object that is endowed with the capacity of metamorphosis. When seen in the context of the other devices it relates to, the mobile phone seems today to be part of an augmented collection [or 'ecosystem'] of communicating devices, including the devices of others […]. Research on the effects of the phone on others therefore seems more relevant today than an investigation on how to optimise the performance and complementarity of the different tools.”

18 September 2007

Ferrari on the importance of understanding users

Antonio Calvosa
The user as an unconscious sensor of the environment” was the title of Antonio Calvosa’s (Ferrari S.p.A.) keynote speech today at the Ubicomp conference in Innsbruck, Austria.

Abstract:
This talk adheres to the vision that in order to bring key benefits to human daily experiences with products and specific environments, new collaborative, ubiquitous and pervasive systems need to be developed, thus moving away from a stand-alone and computer-centred vision technology. The idea of the user as an unconscious sensor of the environment will be presented together with the possibilities offered by the application of adaptive systems to a particular user experience such as driving high performance vehicles. The example of the Ferrari’s Innovation Team will be brought as a case study of a multidisciplinary group which, by accounting for corporate needs and research trends, is active in shaping research directions and facilitating the market exploitation of both new paradigms and technological achievements. This will be presented by means of a series of initiatives in the area of ubiquitous and pervasive adaptation.

Mr. Antonio Calvosa, currently leading the Ferrari’s Innovation Team Project, is in charge of bringing knowledge into the Company with respect to future and emerging technologies that can play a relevant role in enriching the Ferrari’s driving experience. He developed a series of international collaborations with leading institutions, mostly within the Seventh Research Framework Programme of the European Commission. In particular, attention has been paid to the identification and exploitation of new concepts for future human-machine interfaces.

He is a co-author of a series patents at Ferrari on human-machine interface and of a patent on electron microscopy held at Philips Research. Antonio Calvosa graduated cum laude in Electrical Engineering from Politecnico di Milano (Italy) and also received his ‘Diplome d’Ingenieur’ from Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité (Paris, France) within the Top Industrial Manager for Europe Programme. He also holds a Master in Physics of nanostructures from Paris XI (Orsay, France).

According to Rachel Hinman of Adaptive Path, who attended the keynote,

Calvosa encouraged the audience to “…get your mind out of the lab – put your mind into figuring out how to communicate your technology to everyday people like your mom, or to your friend.”

He also talked about how in the end, you should always be thinking about the end user and putting people at the center of what you do. He gave an example of the Moen Revolution shower head created by Design Continuum Inc.

“Moen Revolution was an example of engineering the product based on the design. We worked in reverse to design the inner working that would improve the shower experience.”

He stressed that user need drove the design and development of this product – not technology and engineering.

18 September 2007

Facebook suicide: the end of a virtual life

Facebook
The Times, a UK newspaper, has a very long article on why some users of the very popular online networking site Facebook end up killing their online profile.

I may want to add that the article focuses very strongly on a highly personal use of Facebook, and doesn’t touch upon the professional social networking system is now increasingly facilitating. I also have a Facebook profile, which I use for professional reasons only, but I have to admit that I am still not entirely convinced of its value.

“Started in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, a student at Harvard, Facebook is now the 13th most used search engine in the world, with two million members in the UK and 150,000 new people signing up every day. Eclipsing Friends Reunited in popularity and media buzz, barely a day goes by without a story in the press about the site (see panel facing page), from privacy concerns over its plans to make profiles accessible through search engines such as Google, to reports that more than 70 per cent of British businesses have moved to restrict or ban Facebook, including British Gas and Lloyds TSB.

Considered more popular with slightly older and more middle-class users than other networking sites, such as MySpace and Bebo, it has recently made the transition from niche concept to something with mass appeal. So why are people deciding to put a virtual noose around their online necks?”

In the article The Times provides a number of answers:

It’s easy to be misinterpreted: There are a limited set of cues available on sites like this. You don’t get the subtleties of voice tone, facial expressions or body language you usually have when interacting with others and that can make interpreting the meaning of messages difficult. You can write something flippantly, which others take seriously, or come across as aggressive when that’s not your intention at all.

Online profiles are not very significant: Building a Facebook profile is one way that individuals can identify themselves, making them feel important and accepted. But this can lead to disappointment once people realise how insignificant their online existence really is. Not only are online friends not necessarily real friends, they can turn out to be people you don’t wish to know at all.

“I’d rather spend time with people in person”: Generally people have just a handful of really close friends. If you feel the need to get in touch with someone from the past, you have to ask yourself why you do. It could be indicative of a problem or unhappiness in your current self and, therefore, a desire to reconnect with a younger one. But once people realise this is not a solution, they’ll leave and try to solve them another way.

Getting a real life: Other users say they’ve ended their lives in the virtual world for far more prosaic reasons – so that they can resume life in the real one.

When things get personal, you’re vulnerable: The fact that you can’t see or hear other people makes it easier to reveal yourself in a way you might not be comfortable with.

The article ends with a beginner’s guide to using Facebook.

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