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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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December 2007
27 December 2007

Book: User-Centered Design Stories

User-Centered Design Stories
User-Centered Design Stories: Real-World UCD Case Studies
by Carol Righi and Janice James (Perficient, Inc.)
Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Morgan Kaufmann (Elsevier)
Date: April 19, 2007

Intended for both the student and the practitioner, this is the first user-centered design casebook. It follows the Harvard Case study method, where the reader is placed in the role of the decision-maker in a real-life professional situation. In this book, the reader is asked to perform analysis of dozens of UCD work situations and propose solutions for the problem set. The problems posed in the cases cover a wide variety of key tasks and issues facing practitioners today, including those that are related to organizational/managerial topics, UCD methods and processes, and technical/ project issues. The benefit of the casebook and its organization is that it offers the new practitioner (as well as experienced practitioners working in new settings) the valuable practice in decision-making that one cannot get by reading a book or attending a seminar.

- Book presentation (Elsevier)
- Amazon page

27 December 2007

Torino heading towards 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011

I Love To
Torino, Italy officially opens the World Design Year next week with an extraordinary New Year’s Eve, organised specially to celebrate Torino 2008 World Design Capital.

The centre of events for 31 December 2007 is Piazza Castello [the "Castle Square"], the Baroque heart of the city, seen on TV screens worldwide as the “Medals Plaza” of the XX Olympic Winter Games of 2006.

The New Year Eve’s activities contain a lot of interaction design with Luminous LEDs, Shining microvideos, and Interactive balls, plus of course the live music and the DJ’s.

Aside from the many events planned during the first World Design Capital in 2008 — with quite a few requiring your participation — keep also an eye open for what’s coming up in the following years:

2008 – UIA World Congress of Architecture (29 June – 3 July)
For the first time an Italian city hosts a World Congress of the International Union of Architects. Torino will be the location of this prestigious event which every three years reunites thousands of professionals and students to cover a theme analysing the future prospects of the profession and its relationship with the social and cultural problems of the moment. The theme chosen for the event in 2008 is Transmitting Architecture.

2009 is dedicated to sports with the European Athletics Indoor Championships (6-8 March) and the World Air Games (7-13 June).

2010 – Euroscience City (2-7 July)
The EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) is Europe’s most important interdisciplinary forum for presentation and debate of leading scientific trends and key science policy issues. It brings Europe’s science community together to discuss the social and economic impact of science, technology, the social sciences and humanities. The event is promoted by Euroscience, an organisation that includes scientists from 40 European countries.

2011 – Italy 150 (17 March – 31 October)
In 2011 Italy will celebrate its 150th birthday as a united nation: an opportunity to look back of course but also to debate what future should Italy be aiming at (a hot topic also in the international press – see The New York Times and The Times). Many of the planned events will take place in Torino, Italy’s first capital. The slogan: “Experience Italy” !

27 December 2007

Designing appropriate computing technologies for the rural developing world

Tapan Parikh
On this University of Washington video broadcast Tapan Parikh describes his experiences developing CAM – a toolkit for mobile phone data collection – in the rural developing world.

Designing technologies for an unfamiliar context requires understanding the needs and capabilities of potential users.

Drawing from the results of an extended participatory design study conducted with microfinance group members in rural India (many of whom are semi-literate or illiterate), he outlines a set of user interface design guidelines for accessibility to such users.

The results of this study are used to motivate the design of the CAM toolkit, which includes support for paper-based interaction; multimedia input and output; and disconnected operation.

Parikh discusses possible topics for future work and his long-term research vision.

Watch video

(via Niti Bhan)

24 December 2007

When the user makes the difference

User-driven innovation
The report “User-driven innovation: when the user makes the difference” aims to clarify the awareness and use of user-driven innovation in the Nordic countries.

The authors — a group of students from the Norwegian University of Science And Technology (NTNU) — have contacted numerous companies and experts in their effort to show the variety and diversity of the awareness and use of user-driven innovation among Nordic countries.

Although the report has a professional graphic design, the same cannot be said for the style of writing — which betrays its student project origins — and for the quality of the English.

In the report’s first part the student authors introduce the term user-driven, its relation to other types of innovation and the diversity of the definitions. The history of user-driven innovation is also presented.

The report then continues with an overview of which companies in the Nordic countries have utilised knowledge of their users in developing new products and services, including a shortlist of success stories.

Featured companies are Electrolux (Sweden – white goods), Lego (Denmark – toys), Coloplast (Denmark – medical products), Nokia (Finland – mobile phones), Laerdal Medical (Norway – basic and advanced life support training products and emergency medical equipment), Tomra (reverse vending machines), Trolltech (Norway – computer software), Plastoform AS (Norway – Nordic Seahunter), Funcom (Norway computer and console games), Deuter (Germany – backpacks, suitcases and bags), Sweet Protection (Norway – protective sports clothing), Cycleurope (DBS) (Norway – bicycles), and HardRocx (Norway – bicycles).

24 December 2007

Experience design in city tourism

Experience design in city tourism
Experience Design in City Tourism‘ is a study by the Nordic Innovation Centre to gain more insight into what and how visitors want to see and experience during their stay and what the tourist industry can do in the long run to satisfy their needs.

The study starts from understanding how tourists of Nordic & Baltic cities design their own experiences, and how they experience these cities. In total some 5,000 visiting tourists are being interviewed. The results are used to improve the design of tourist experiences in cities — taking into account the existing characteristics for each city — and to help cities meet the expectations and behaviours of their tourists.

“The introduction of experience design to the tourism, service and experience economy is new. Thus, ‘experience design’ will be analysed in order to arrive at a conceptual and practical understanding of how experiences are designed, communicated and constructed by producers as well as consumers.

‘Experience Design in City Tourism’ will provide fourteen cities in the five Nordic and three Baltic countries with valuable input for how to improve the tourism experiences. The analysis will also give Nordic and Baltic countries knowledge, inspiration and tools for how to analyse, understand, improve, customise and develop the user experience through the use of design in relation to experiences.”

The project is headed by Wonderful Copenhagen, the official Copenhagen tourist organisation. The other participants are Malmö, Arhus, Uppsala, Stockholm, Bergen, Oslo, Turku, Tampere, Helsinki, Reykjavik, Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. The project is financed by the Nordic Innovation Centre under the auspices of the Nordic Council of Ministers. The results of the survey will be published during the spring of 2008.

Other related projects and studies on the Nordic Innovation Centre website:

21 December 2007

The user experience of the bus

Bus
From Worldchanging:

Sightline Institute’s blog The Daily Score recently noted that people always prefer streetcars and other light rail to buses. They aren’t just being subjective, either–history backs them up. In 2001 the Denver Business Journal wrote of new light rail systems being mobbed in Denver, Dallas, Salt Lake City and St. Louis because they were so much more popular than forecasted, saying “In Dallas, ridership on a new rail line was three times greater than ridership on an express bus that used the same route” and quoting government officials who were realizing “How people respond to rail is different than how they respond to bus”.

So, why the mysterious preference for light rail? Two words: Better design.

Read full story

20 December 2007

New blog: Neuroanthropology

Anthropology at Macquarie
Neuroanthropology is a collaborative weblog created to encourage exchanges among anthropology, philosophy, social theory, and the brain sciences.

Here is the blog statement:

“Neuroanthropology is a collaborative weblog headquartered in the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University. We hope that it will bring together scholars from around the world interested in the implications of new findings in the brain sciences for social, cultural, and psychological theory in anthropology.

In general, cultural anthropology has not kept abreast of new research in the neurosciences so that our theory of culture does not sufficiently take into account what we now know about the brain. A more open exchange is likely to produce a cultural anthropology that is not only more scientifically plausible, but also much more scientifically engaged with those interested in cultural variation (although they might not call it that) in a host of fields. We may find new evidence to work with on cultural theory, but we may also find new collaborators and new audiences, as long as we learn to speak their languages.

Neuroanthropology‘ is a broad term, intended to embrace all dimensions of human neural activity, including emotion, perception, cognitive, motor control, skill acquisition, and a range of other issues. Unlike previous ways of doing psychological or cognitive anthropology, it remains open and heterogeneous, recognizing that not all brain systems function in the same way, so culture will not take ahold of them in identical fashion. Although we believe that human neural structure is biological and the product of evolution, we also recognize that the development processes shaping each individual include a host of other forces as well, so that we cannot privilege any single cause over all others.”

17 December 2007

A designer at the intersection of physical architecture and information systems

Jeffrey Huang
Bruno Giussani posted his running notes of Jeffrey Huang’s inaugural lesson at EPFL, the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

“Architecture and design, says my friend Jeffrey Huang (photo), are becoming the interface between physical and virtual lives. And that’s his field of study: how can constructs (buildings, cities and landscapes) incorporate digital communication systems? What are the effects of digitization on the typologies of cities today?

Last week, professor Huang — who among other things was instrumental in creating the Swiss House in Boston, now called Swissnex — gave his inaugural lesson at EPFL, the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne, where he runs the Media and Design Lab (he was previously at the Harvard School of Design). Here my running notes.”

Read full story

17 December 2007

Interview with Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby

Dunne and Raby
Dr. Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby are faculty members in the Design Interactions department at London’s Royal College of Art and have gained somewhat of a cult following for their provocative and future-scenario-based design work.

As authors of Hertzian Tales and Design Noir they are most responsible for popularizing the idea of Critical Design, where objects are used as tools for awareness and reflection upon issues largely surrounding the implications of existing and future technologies. Their work is in the permanent collections of the MOMA (NY) and the Victoria and Albert in London.

Bruce M. Tharp of Core77 was able to catch up with them at the IDSA/ICSID conference in San Francisco where they presented a recent project that proposes robots with “fragile personalities.” Listen as they discuss the ideas behind their work, their dream project, their feelings about “Critical Design” after more than a decade, the relationship between their professional practice and the work of their students at RCA, and more.

Listen to interview

17 December 2007

The complete experience, or just more confusion?

One-stop destination
From an International Herald Tribune article:

Nokia used to be just a cellphone maker. Google used to be just an Internet company. Now Nokia wants to be an Internet company and Google, according to rampant speculation among bloggers and technology analysts, may be about to enter the mobile phone fray.

“Devices alone are not enough anymore,” Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, chief executive of Nokia, said last week in London as the company announced plans for a digital music store, a game service, social networking links and other mobile Internet initiatives, grouped under a new brand, Ovi. “People want more; they want the complete experience.”

But this might not be a good thing:

As everyone talks about simplicity, user experiences and end-to-end offerings, it seems that the options are about to proliferate.

“I pity the poor consumer,” said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa Telecoms & Media. “From a consumer perspective, it’s very confusing to figure out where to go.”

Read full story

17 December 2007

Identity replaces experience

About
“Identity” replaces “experience” as the next big concept in design and media thinking, claims Business Week as part of its 2008 innovation predictions.

“People create their own identities interacting with products and services. The notion of a consumer experience is a more passive way of thinking. It’s so 20th century. Identity gets the buzz in ’08.”

However, the customer remains king (and replaces competition) and “longevity” replaces “sustainability” (which I personally doubt).

17 December 2007

Peter Merholz interviews Don Norman

Donald Norman
Peter Merholz did an hour-long interview with Donald Norman, who just published a new book: The Design of Future Things.

According to the Adaptive Path blog, the interview deals with: “adaptive cruise control, ubiquitous computing, human plus machine, “user experience,” “affordances,” asking the right questions, coupling design with operations, busting down silos, TiVo has never made any money, Palm, many reasons for the Newton’s failure, boss as an absolute dictator, Henry Dreyfuss and John Deere, design evolving from craft to profession, systems thinking, “T-shaped people,” observing the world, and water bottle caps.”

I personally liked their conversation about the importance of clear conceptual definitions, the new and exciting course about management, design and operations that Don is teaching at Northwestern University, and the deep historic roots of user experience research within cognitive science and the design world.

Listen to interview (50 mb, 54 min.)

17 December 2007

Designing the playful experience

UXmatters
Jonathan Follett argues on UXmatters that playfulness is an often overlooked, under-appreciated, and rarely measured component of user experience, while the digital space is so conducive to play—exploration, imagination, and learning.

“Playfulness, like usability, refers to a quality of user experience that can span many disciplines—information architecture, information design, interaction design, and graphic design. In our minds, however, many of us have relegated play to the realms of gaming or kids’ stuff and don’t consider play daily when designing. Though, in the digital space, satisfying the desire to play can be integral in determining the success or failure of a digital product or service. So it’s time for user experience designers to take play seriously. (And stop being so darn boring.)”

Read full story

16 December 2007

Eight business technology trends to watch

Eight business technology trends
The McKinsey Quarterly has published an article on eight technology-enabled trends that will help shape businesses and the economy in coming years.

The authors James M. Manyika, Roger P. Roberts, and Kara L. Sprague have grouped the eight trends – which each come with their own further reading suggestions – within three broad areas of business activity: managing relationships, managing capital and assets, and leveraging information in new ways. Obviously, the first area is most relevant for this blog. It covers four trends:

1. Distributing co-creation
Today, in the high-technology, consumer product, and automotive sectors, among others, companies routinely involve customers, suppliers, small specialist businesses, and independent contractors in the creation of new products. Outsiders offer insights that help shape product development, but companies typically control the innovation process. Technology now allows companies to delegate substantial control to outsiders—co-creation—in essence by outsourcing innovation to business partners that work together in networks.

2. Using consumers as innovators
As the Internet has evolved—an evolution prompted in part by new Web 2.0 technologies—it has become a more widespread platform for interaction, communication, and activism. Consumers increasingly want to engage online with one another and with organizations of all kinds. Companies can tap this new mood of customer engagement for their economic benefit. [...]
Companies that involve customers in design, testing, marketing (such as viral marketing), and the after-sales process get better insights into customer needs and behavior and may be able to cut the cost of acquiring customers, engender greater loyalty, and speed up development cycles.

3. Tapping into a world of talent
As more and more sophisticated work takes place interactively online and new collaboration and communications tools emerge, companies can outsource increasingly specialized aspects of their work and still maintain organizational coherence. Much as technology permits them to decentralize innovation through networks or customers, it also allows them to parcel out more work to specialists, free agents, and talent networks.

4. Extracting more value from interactions
Technology tools that promote tacit interactions, such as wikis, virtual team environments, and videoconferencing, may become no less ubiquitous than computers are now. As companies learn to use these tools, they will develop managerial innovations—smarter and faster ways for individuals and teams to create value through interactions—that will be difficult for their rivals to replicate.

Read full story

15 December 2007

Handmade 2.0

Handmade 2.0
Rob Walker of the New York Times Magazine asks what so many crochet-hook-wielding, papermaking, silversmithing handicrafters are doing online and tries to prove that the future of shopping — and of work — is all about the past.

The article is mostly a profile of Etsy, a company that hosts an online shopping bazaar for all things handmade.

“Only about two years old, the company is not currently profitable but is somewhat unusual among Internet-based start-ups of the so-called Web 2.0 era in having a model that does not depend on advertising revenue. It depends on people buying things, in a manner that the founders position as a throwback to the way consumption ought to be: individuals buying from other individuals. “Our ties to the local and human sources of our goods have been lost,” the Handmade Pledge site asserts. “Buying handmade helps us reconnect.” The idea is a digital-age version of artisanal culture — that the future of shopping is all about the past.”

The author is particularly interested in the new technologically enabled “new craft movement” as a social commentary on consumer culture, but has not explored what the possibilities might be if these objects themselves would become carriers of information.

If you want to know more about this, I suggest you to explore the work of Ulla-Maaria Mutanen, whose Thinglink (blog) organisation is all about the Internet of Things, applied to the world of crafts, and whose approach is closely connected to the Spime concept envisioned by Bruce Sterling.

Read full story

15 December 2007

Zen and interaction design, according to Samsung

Donghoon Chang
Prof. Luca Chittaro, who writes for the Italian innovation supplement Nova, recently participated at the Mobile HCI conference in Singapore and was taken by the user experience design talk of Donghoon Chang, vice president of the Mobile User Experience Design Group at Samsung.

He reports on it on his Italian blog and here is my translation:

“The lecture was announced as being about user experience design and the hall was full with people curious to hear more about Samsung’s vision in that respect.

The speaker walks on stage and the first slide he shows is a beautiful photo of a buddhist temple in Korea. He explains where the temple is. Fair enough, this has been a source of inspiration to him, so let’s now start with the real talk, right. No, not exactly. We will study the experience of visiting the temple.

Next up is a picture of a forest. Chang explains that we are walking in the direction of the temple, describes the sensations that the photo is not able to convey, such as the wind, the sounds, the smells…

New slide: a gate. Also here the speaker stops to reflect on what can be perceived and sensed standing in front of such an object. At this point, the audience which was expecting a gallery overview of innovative Samsung project, starts resigning itself to the fact that the temple walk still has a long way to go. And that’s exactly what happens: more photos and stories show a succession of stages that in the end lead to the temple itself and to its interiors. Once the temple photo series is finished, Chang runs through the ‘experience’ again and analyses it in a series of actions taken, movements gone through, and symbols met, and underlines how those in charge of designing the temple were already designing the user experience centuries ago, even its emotional aspects.

We learn therefore that also Samsung embraced emotional design. But what does this mean concretely when you are dealing with the design of electronic products? The four crucial points that Chang’s design group has adopted, state that products must:

  • be intriguing and innovative, with an aura of mystery that invites to discovery, without confusing the user;
  • be multi-sensorial, i.e. stimulating the various senses of the users, also in ways never seen before. To illustrate the point, he shows a Samsung MP3 reader that can be put in the water when we take a bath and makes the water vibrate, by creating small waves that follow the music and come together again in the end;
  • provide layers of experience to the user that reveal themselves progressively over time, thereby deepening the use of the product. Here he shows a mobile phone that can be opened and transformed in a micro “boom box” to share music with others;
  • have an intuitive interface, i.e. guarantee the compliance with the more traditional usability perspective. And here it is of particular relevance to strive for the most intuitive use possible of the full-touch LCD, which is now becoming more popular thanks to devices such as the iPhone or the Samsung F700, which is now also available on the European market.

In the last part of his talk, Chang discusses some problems that are specific to user experience design and require particular attention. But that I will discuss in another post.”

15 December 2007

Nova, Italy’s engaging innovation supplement

Nova
The weekly Nova supplement of Italy’s business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore is by far the most valuable innovation, science and technology forum in this country: serious and thorough, fresh and engaging, up-to-date and challenging. Some of its writers like Luca Chittaro are also particularly well versed in topics like usability, experience design, and interaction design.

Led by Luca De Biase (personal feedblog), it just celebrated its 100th edition, and a few contents are available in English:

An interview with Boris de Ruyter of Philips Research
Since 1994, Boris works on user-system interaction research at Philips Research headquarters in Eindhoven, where he is principal scientist and co-chairs the research domain Interactive Healthcare. He plays a key role in user planning and managing testing activities taking place inside facilities like Philips’ Home Lab. In this interview, Nova discusses with him about the exciting developments that are taking place in his lab.

Bruce Sterling: Generation X 2.0 (video part 1video part 2)
It’s hard to summarise Sterling lectures but he did talk about scenario forecasting, the speed of future change, the importance of fundamental science, and social areas that generate new language.The quality of the video is particularly poor. Italian summaries of and commentaries on his lecture can be found here, and here, and here. An interview with Bruce Sterling (with short Italian introduction) is available on video.

Fabio Turel runs a blog on the Nova site that is nearly entirely in English.

14 December 2007

A lick of paint for the BBC homepage

BBC homepage beta
Richard Titus, acting head of user experience at the BBC announced yesterday the launch of the new BBC homepage beta:

“It was a no-brainer to move to a layout that would be cleaner, more open and more easily readable. There was also a desire to get away from the tired and monotonous blue base colour of the original page.

From a conceptual point of view, the widgetization adopted by Facebook, iGoogle and netvibes weighed strongly on our initial thinking. We wanted to build the foundation and DNA of the new site in line with the ongoing trend and evolution of the Internet towards dynamically generated and syndicable content through technologies like RSS, atom and xml. This trend essentially abstracts the content from its presentation and distribution, atomizing content into a feed-based universe. Browsers, devices, etc therefore become lenses through which this content can be collected, tailored and consumed by the audience.

This concept formed one of the most important underlying design and strategic elements of the new homepage. The approach has the added benefit of making content more accessible, usable, and more efficient to modify for consumption across a wider array of networks and devices.

- Read full story
- Read commentary

14 December 2007

Serious games as customer touchpoints

Virtual retail
By 2010, says Gartner, 20% of global Tier 1 retailers will have some kind of marketing presence in online games and virtual worlds. 
Gartner predicts that by 2010 20% of Tier I retailers will have a marketing presence in virtual worlds. It also predicts that through 2012 the number of consumers using mobile phones to shop will increase at an average of 25% per year. Put together the two could make for an interesting combination, but Gartner doesn’t make any recommendations for mobile worlds. It does recommend that retailers begin to include virtual worlds as customer touchpoints, begin to test and measure virtual world initiatives before moving in, keep an eye on the space with a focus on the young demographic, and pick the right environment for the right demographic.

Read full story

(via Eliane Alhadeff, FutureLab, and Business & Games)

14 December 2007

NESTA on place and innovation

Barbara Vanheule
NESTA, the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, well-known for its emphasis on user-led innovation, has published three research reports [blog post] on the attributes of innovative cities and the importance of building effective regional coalitions for innovation.

Innovation and the city
How innovation has developed in five city-regions

Cities provide an ideal environment for innovation: in the words of this report, they offer proximity, density and variety. However, some cities are more innovative than others, and policymakers have long been concerned with finding out why.

Unpacking this problem requires considerable effort. Cities are complex systems and they exist in the context of regions, nations and international relationships. Moreover, cities themselves rarely innovate – they are hosts for innovation by people, firms and organisations. This means that cities often support innovation indirectly – and that some of the most important things they do are not thought of as innovation policy at all.

Download the Innovation and the city report

Leading Innovation
Building effective regional coalitions for innovation

For regions without the extraordinary assets of Silicon Valley (what we term here ‘ordinary’ regions), making the leap from an old-economy paradigm to one based on innovation in services and high-tech industries can seem impossible. But it isn’t. As we show here, it is made up of a series of smaller, more achievable steps. Two things stand out, however: this isn’t a fast process; and it requires deep regional knowledge and strong regional leadership.

The case studies presented in this report showcase seven European regions that have successfully made the transition from ordinary to innovative region; and four UK regions that are somewhere along that journey. It concludes by presenting a guide to the ‘regional innovation journey’ and an analysis of the types of leadership that may be required along the way.

Download the Leading Innovation report

Rural Innovation

In the past, innovation policy has tended to concentrate on urban areas. This is understandable: simply due to density, much traditional innovation that is countable by R&D expenditure or patent production happens in cities.

But 86 per cent of the UK is rural, and those areas are home to almost 20 per cent of the population. Isn’t it time to look a little more closely at how innovation happens there and how we might stimulate it?

Download the Rural Innovation essay series