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Putting People First

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December 2007
14 December 2007

Microsoft unveils hands-on vision of the future

Barbara Vanheule
Software giant Microsoft unveiled some of its future technology at its fourth annual Innovation Day in Brussels on December 4, reports CNN.

“From virtual family organizers to tabletop touch-screens, their vision of the future sees technology move from the traditional desktop computer to become seamlessly integrated in all aspects of our lives.

One key area that’s set to change, says Microsoft, is user interface. MD of Microsoft Research, Cambridge, Andrew Herbert told CNN, “Sitting at a keyboard with a screen in front of us is an old-fashioned view of computing. Technology is going to be around us, it’s going to be much easier to use.”

Developments in touch-screen technology have resulted in large screens that can be used by multiple people, creating table-top tools for collaboration at work. And along with touch-screens, voice recognition will make our interaction with computers much more natural.

Herbert told CNN, “Interactive surfaces are making it easier for people to use computers with gesture and touch. It will make it easy for people to collaborate together. Speech will be an important part of that, too.”

Read full story

14 December 2007

Co-design and public services

Demos Project
Demos, the UK think tank for everyday democracy, is starting a project on co-design and public services.

“Co-design has become an important tool in the effort to develop better relationships between people and the public services they need and want. It means putting the needs of service users foremost by using collaborative principles in the design of a service. [...]

There is a real acknowledgement that by getting users, designers and providers of services together, there can be significant improvements in how that service works and is experienced. But the practice of co-design is in danger of undermining the promising theory and rhetoric; there remain significant gaps between the aspirations and reality of user engagement in service development and design. Co-design is like spinach. Government knows its good for them – but they don’t always like it.

This project, in partnership with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, will focus on the state of play in co-design work internationally and in the UK, and it will seek to identify what it is that enables and prevents co-design from happening. By exploring the realities of co-design practice, the analysis will look to further explore how services really can, through co-design principles, be designed with user experiences and needs at their heart.”

Read full story

12 December 2007

Device art as a resource for interaction design and media art

iMal
Nicolas Nova, user experience and foresight researcher working at the Media and Design Lab (EPFL) and at the near future laboratory, is currently in Brussels where he gave a talk yesterday at iMal, a brand new center for digital cultures and technology.

The presentation entitled “Device art as a resource for interaction design and media art” was about the fading boundaries between interaction design, new media art and academic research. The hybridisation of digital and physical environments (through locative media, urban displays, augmented reality or mobile games) is explored by a large variety of people and institutions, not only engineers and academic researchers but also artists and designers. The talk looked at why the projects from the new media art/interaction design/device art are relevant and what they tell about the design of future technological artifacts.

iMal is the first Center for Digital Cultures and Technology in Brussels, a new place of about 600 square metres for the meeting of artistic, scientific and industrial innovations. The 2007/2008 programme of iMAL, an initiative of the French speaking community of Belgium, will propose basic and advanced workshops (i.e. on locative media, RFID, Ubicomp and the Internet of Things, urban electronic acts thanks to the support of VAF), regular concerts & performances, a series of conferences on Arts/Sciences, a series of meetings between innovating companies and creative peoople, and the first Dorkbot Brussels meetings.

Download presentation (pdf, 20 mb, 38 slides)

12 December 2007

How Facebook has become a very British way to stay in touch

Facebook
The UK Times reports on why British adults are more frequent users of social networking sites than any of their European counterparts.

British adults are more frequent users of social networking sites than any of their European counterparts, figures from Ofcom, the communications regulator, indicated yesterday.

Four in ten Britons use their internet connection to keep in touch with their friends on networking websites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace. The figure compares with 17 per cent in France, 12 per cent in Germany and 22 per cent in Italy. [...]

Ofcom said that the relatively high usage among British adults was largely because of the greater number of women using the internet in Britain. Today, among people aged between 25 and 34, women account for 55 per cent of the time spent online.

It was also, the regulator said, partly because of the shared language between Britain and the US, where many of the best-known sites originated. Britons were more “culturally disposed” to tap into US trends, Ofcom said.

Read full story

12 December 2007

“Designing in hostile territory”

Interactions Magazine
Interactions Magazine seems to be heading into an exciting direction under its new editors-in-chief Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko. The new byline (“experience – people – technology”) is already a mission statement in itself, especially since the magazine is published by ACM, which stands for “Association for Computing Machinery”.

In the very first issue that they are responsible for, they will be publishing an article with some of their thoughts about the relationship between the CONNECTING 07 World Design Congress in San Francisco – and Roger Martin‘s contribution there in particular – and the contents of the first issue

On his blog Richard extends that reflection, with a focus on Roger Martin and his articles [Roger has been frequently featured in this blog], on the contribution by Secil Watson, Senior VP Internet Channel Strategy at Wells Fargo and one of the other authors featured in the January+February 2008 issue of interactions, and on some related work, particularly that of Claudia Kotchka, VP of Design Innovation & Strategy at P&G.

The blog story is all about moving user-centred design and an experience focus out of the hands of the specialists and into the embracing arms of “product managers, engineers, and servicing staff”, thereby creating a “design thinking” organisation.

“During a presentation at Stanford University this past spring, [Kotchka] described the P&G journey to achieve such change as progressing through three phases.

  • Phase 1, “Discipline of Design,” was a phase during which design was focused largely on aesthetics as other disciplines tried to figure out what to do with designers that were added to the organization.
  • Phase 2, “Practice of Design,” was a phase during which designers realized they couldn’t achieve success effectively alone and needed to collaborate with people in other disciplines; among steps taken to help achieve this collaboration: a “mentoring up program” to enable managers to “see what designers see,” and an effort to teach designers the language of business.
  • Phase 3, “Design Strategy,” moved on to infusing design innovation into business strategy via, in part, teaching design thinking to business leaders.”

Read full story

12 December 2007

‘Exodus’ to virtual worlds predicted, claims BBC

exodus
The appeal of online virtual worlds such as Second Life is such that it may trigger an exodus of people seeking to “disappear from reality,” said Edward Castronova, Associate Professor in the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University, an expert on large-scale online games.

Dr Castronova, who has written a book on the subject entitled Exodus To The Virtual World, drew parallels to the 1600s when thousands of people left Britain for a new life in North America.

“That certainly changed North America – and that’s usually what we focus on – but it certainly changed the UK as well,” he said.

“So what I tried to do in this book is say, ‘listen – even if the typical reader doesn’t spend any time in virtual worlds, what is going to be the impact on him of people going and doing this?’”

And he predicted that everyone will be involved in a virtual environment within ten years – although the level of that involvement will vary.

Read full story

11 December 2007

What happens when the $100 laptop actually gets used?

The face of the $100 laptop
All kinds of things apparently, as described by this revealing story on the BBC, commented on by Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week:

“Clearly, children love the machine. Most of them had never seen a computer before and the great design of the laptop was compelling. They are learning about technology even as they play. But why do they like it? By far, the most used function of the one laptop designed specifically for the world’s poorest children is taking pictures. The webcam–taking pictures and sharing them with friends–is the most discussed computer function. That’s cool and great, but is it the highest priority for ‘education?’”

Then there is the cost. I personally hadn’t added up all the money that goes into the $100″ laptop. What, in fact, is the true bottom line cost of the OLPC? Will governments that accept the OLPC subsidize the operating cost–electricity, repairs, etc.?

Finally, there is the actual teaching. The laptops in Nigeria came with pre-loaded learning programs. The BBC story doesn’t say who wrote these lessons and where they came from. The teachers appear to like them and perhaps that is enough. But is it? Were the lessons written by teachers in Nigeria? Would you accept lesson plans from another country for your kids?”

The project clearly suffers from a top-down approach, where “designing for” is the paradigm rather than “designing with” or “designing from”. There was as far as I know no structured needs analysis here, no contextual studies, no ethnography, no qualitative insights. Such an approach cannot lead to anything but unintended consequences and may be potentially undermining the project itself. There are many lessons to be learned here, by the OLPC (“one laptop per child”) team, but also by any company or organisation trying to deliver designed solutions for “end-users” who then turn out to have different needs and contexts that had somehow been anticipated.

But of course, we can always blame those “end-users” instead of learning some important lessons, and I am afraid this is definitely going to be part of the debate that will undoubtedly ensue.

- Read BBC story
- Read Nussbaum commentary

11 December 2007

Interview with Hilary Cottam

Hilary Cottam
It took Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken quite some effort to schedule an interview with Hilary Cottam, UK Designer of the Year 2005 and former director of RED [archive site], the meanwhile closed innovation unit of the UK Design Council, and now one of the founding partners of Participle. But it was worth it.

Participle (which now finally has a webpage) is a new social enterprise designing the next generation of public services, with a focus on the big and seemingly intractable social issues of the 21st century. The two other Participle co-founders are Charles Leadbeater, the internationally renowned thinker and innovator, and author of the book We-Think, and Colin Burns, designer and formerly the CEO of IDEO London. The initiative is supported by NESTA, where Participle has its offices.

In the 30 minute interview which covered as much ground as a normal person can do in 60 minutes – Hilary is a fast talker – we discussed many of the areas that are dear to this blog, including co-creation with end-users, the power of design to transform public services and provide new approach to address seemingly difficult problems such as diabetes, and how to constructively deal with an ageing population. She also talks about her new Participle venture of course.

The interview was published on the website of Torino World Design Capital, where the author of this blog provides monthly contributions.

Read full story

11 December 2007

Web service lets users try out mobile phones

TryPhone
Information Week reports about a new web service that lets users take mobile devices out for a virtual test drive before they buy.

Mobile Complete on Monday launched an interactive web service that lets mobile users test-drive popular phone models before buying them.

The company’s free service, dubbed TryPhone contains virtual mobile phones that simulate the exact same features of physical phones. The devices appear on the screen larger than normal, allowing people to press buttons, run programs, and compare different devices.

Users also get an overview of the phone they’re interested in, as well as reviews, technical specifications, and demos. TryPhone even offers users the option to buy a phone when they’re done testing it by linking to the provider’s Web site.

Read full story

(via textually.org)

11 December 2007

Interview with Interactions 08 conference organiser

IxDA
Dan Saffer is the director IxDA, the Interaction Design Association, and conference chair of Interaction 08, the first IxDA conference. He is also experience design director at Adaptive Path and the author of Designing for Interaction.

In this interview with Chris Baum of Boxes and Arrows, Dan discusses the context of the organisation, how the conference emerged and formed, what the conference will be like, and how one might get a flavor even if attendance is not an option.

Read interview

11 December 2007

The Power of Collaborative Innovation principal theme of Davos meeting

Davos
The “Power of Collaborative Innovation” will be the theme of the World Economic Forum’s Annual meeting in Davos, January 23-27, 2008.

Looking to the future, it becomes readily apparent that complexity, competing interests and scarce resources remain the greatest obstacles to progress on the global agenda in the absence of greater leadership and global stewardship. It is in this challenging context that the World Economic Forum will highlight The Power of Collaborative Innovation as the principal theme for the Annual Meeting 2008 in Davos.

A “shifting power equation” was the framework in which the global agenda was discussed in Davos at the beginning of 2007. As we look towards 2008, this shift will continue to influence the strategies of business, government and other stakeholders in the world economy. But closer examination of the international environment also reveals that leadership vacuums are beginning to emerge on a wide range of critical issues looming on the horizon. Moreover, a paradox has emerged in our networked world where knowledge is ubiquitous and change is rapid, but the absence of a common vision and agenda ensures that the status quo will be maintained with respect to major global challenges.

The focus on collaboration and innovation underscores the opportunity to leverage the Forum’s multistakeholder model so that platforms can be built for like-minded communities to initiate necessary changes together.

11 December 2007

Mobile services in the developed world are a bit behind

Low-income banking
Paul Lamb reflects on the dire state of mobile services in America:

In Japan it is not uncommon for people to make everyday purchases using only a cell phones. A variety of secure mobile technologies alowing for easy transfer of money from one’s bank account or credit card to retailer have existed for some time. The trend is catching on in the developing world as well, where those who do not have bank accounts or credit cards can move or store money and credits via cell phones. A good review of some current M-banking and M-remittance services in the developing world can be found here.

In reading recenly about a bank sponsored program to help the “unbanked” poor in San Francisco open up banking accounts, I was struck by how far behind the curve we seem to be in America in leveraging the same mobile opportunities that are coming online around the globe.

- Read full story
- Read also this reaction by Niti Bhan

11 December 2007

Libraries need to deliver the wow factor

Temple
Steven Bell writes about the implications of the user experience approach in library design.

One characteristic of delivering good user experiences is that it typically results in return business. Whatever that experience is, it is something the user wants to experience again. The idea of the Wow Factor is another way of describing a good user experience. According to Brandon Schauer, an experience design director for Adaptive Path, the Wow Factor (or Long Wow as he refers to it) “is a means to achieving long-term customer loyalty through systematically impressing your customers again and again. Going a step beyond just measuring loyalty, the Long Wow is an experience-centric approach to fostering and creating it.” Looking at it from that perspective I do think librarians are capable of providing that impressive experience again and again.

As a profession we appear ready to accept that much more information is needed about our user community. More librarians are getting interested in ethnographic methods that can provide more detail about our users and how they make use of or ignore what the library offers.

- Read full story
- More library user experience stories

11 December 2007

Designing for flow

Flow
From A List Apart:

In web design, when we think about flow we usually think about “task flows” or “flow charts” but there’s another type of flow that we should keep in mind. It’s that feeling of complete absorption when you’re engaged in something you love to do without being disrupted by anxiety or boredom caused by tasks that are confusing, repetitive or overly taxing.

Flow, as a mental state, was first proposed by psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and is characterized by a distorted sense of time, a lack of self-consciousness, and complete engagement in the task at hand. Software engineers might feel it when they’re writing code, gamers might feel it when playing Guitar Hero III, Christopher Cross felt it when he went sailing. For designers, it’s exactly the feeling we hope to promote in the people who use our sites.

How do we create sites that inspire that feeling?

Read full story

9 December 2007

Cats, kids and experience design

The Marker
Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels was profiled last week in “The Marker“, Israel’s number one business and technology newspaper and part of the Haaretz media group. Below is the English translation by Saar Shai.
 

CATS, KIDS AND EXPERIENCE DESIGN

by Ora Coren

Either a mobile-phone, a computer or just a table – Jan-Christoph Zoels sees displays all around. With Italian company Experientia, he’s designing the future of the palm of your hand: smart and friendly.

He’s dynamic, vibrant, bursting energy and ideas, and no wonder he’s one of global industry’s hottest designers, especially in the technological front. Jan-Christoph Zoels’ resume is filled with leading, multi-national corporations as Hitachi, Sony, Samsung, Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent, Orange, Fiat, Vodafone, Telecom Italia and Ferrero.

Conversing with him leads to the inevitable conclusion that the future is in displays. It could be a computer-screen, a large table monitor or any electronic terminal (kiosk), but it seems that what really gets him excited are handheld displays. Everything becomes interactive, intuitive, anticipating users’ needs and doesn’t warrant an entire weekend of reading and memorising instructions and large manuals. For Zoels, the interface is the essence of design.

A smart and friendly interface, one that not just addresses needs, but also provides for a pleasant experience, would probably be the main motif in future industrial design, in every possible field. Evidently, ideas and products of his are presently assimilated among brand names such as Blackberry, Nokia and even the chocolate manufacturer Ferrero, and they are all high-tech. In the time he has left, he takes the time to invest in traditional crafts, such as pepper shaker designs – that age old instrument for grinding pepper, in a polished and colorful version – for the Italian Tre Spade, which is also a versatile company, with one department making household appliances while another making shift-gears for the international auto industry. There too, Experientia, where Zoels is a senior partner, remains devoted to the principle of experience, by designing also packages, communication pathways with consumers, and the brand’s web entity.

Zoels’ very noticeable German accent rely his origin. He finished his masters degree in Rhode Island School of Design. He has another masters degree in industrial design from the Berlin Art and Design Academy.

After spending some years in the US, head of the design department of Sony’s local branch, among other positions, he decided to go back to Europe with his family, and settle in one of the world’s design superpowers – Italy.

This week he arrived in Israel, along with Experientia’s head of R&D – Professor Yaniv Steiner, also residing in Italy. Steiner is considered the technological mastermind behind many of the company flag products and projects. The two conducted a series of lectures at Bezalel School of Art and Design, in a course named “Food and thoughts” led by Yaron Ronen and Steiner himself. The object of the course was to design interactive artifacts that will support social interactions.
 

Experientia – An attraction for Israelis

The Experientia staff includes 4 Israelis out of a total of 15 employees, destined to increase to 20 by the end of the fiscal year. One might therefore think that Israel is a considerable force of global design, although it is clearly not. Industrial design is not an integral part of Israeli industries, so it’s no wonder that prominent Israeli designers are forced to find their way into international companies.

Zoels offers Israelis, known as highly creative in programming, the possibility to take a substantial leap forward to a future that is just around the corner, and to be able to combine technological developments with focusing on the user’s perspective. That is, to evaluate the needs of the users, and find new approaches for making their lives easier and more efficient.

“Especially in Israel, which is known for its software, but not for its final design of applications,” says Zoels, “it is important to move the focus from the technological aspects of an application, to the people using it. Israelis need to progress to the stages of interface. This is a higher form of design. Academia should teach that in a combined and integrated way.

There are those who work in art and those who work in code. They should work together, side by side with sociologists and designers. An interdisciplinary step is required. Focusing on the service, not the just the product. “To think broadly,” he explains.

“This was the process that molded Experientia. Two years ago we decided to establish a company specialising in many fields, instead of just another design firm,” he adds. “We combine several proficiencies within one integrated proposal to our clients”.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about future trends, about the enjoyment of the user, about his current AND future needs, about the obstacles to usability and how design can eliminate those. Usually, designers focus on their process of creation. We get out inspiration from the issues the end-user faces.”

We produce a prototype relatively quickly, to allow us to test and assess ideas, and to check on potential profitability. We’re very fast and interactive. This is unique in this market.”

Usually, the process of design starts with a thousand ideas drained and ends with the one product on the market. R&D departments or academia narrow down the one thousand ideas into a hundred business opportunities. Traditionally, they also eventually reduce them to five that then get developed and tested before one is put on the market. We believe that if you can prototype these ideas quickly and cheaply and test them with potential consumers, it will be much easier to make a decision on how to best move forward. Our added value is that we offer 60%-80% certainty that the final product will indeed sell, because it is already based on experience with the consumers.”

“Most products we design are related to mobile technology, for companies such as Nokia, Swisscom, and others. The products under development are confidential and a time-span of two years is required for taking them to market.”

“One of the leading direction mobile devices are taking is joining advanced technologies and user-friendly interfaces. The combination of art and design is, in fact, the combination of need and enjoyment.”

“Art is the biggest skill in production, and this coincides with design. What is eventually produced is not only a product, but a pattern of behaviour. A way to allow new interactions between people, and between them and the product, that will fill previously unfulfilled needs.”
 

Seeing presence

“The next generation of mobile-phones will incorporate elements that are already widely available on the personal computer. In the near future we will see the presence of our conversation partners,” Zoels promises.

Exactly like MSN or Skype enable you to notice if someone is online of not, mobile communication would be just the same. Presence will require new interaction procedures. Usability will go from written text to sending mail messages and IMs. We will see who, from our contacts list, is online, and can be contacted. We will be able to see his condition, such as if he’s busy driving, and if he can answer, whether in writing or by voice.”

The design concentrates on the cognitive aspect: how to rely information and other interactions that technology supplies, in the simplest way possibility, and how to do that with the least effort from the user.

On Zoels’ mobile appears a collage of five pictures. “Through our research we found that people usually talk outside of work with no more than five contacts regularly,” he claims. Pressing one of the individual pictures enlarges it. If an X appears besides it, the contact is not available. If a V appears, communication is possible immediately. An additional batch of icons makes it possible to choose the type of communication, such as voice, message, text chat or music sharing.

We will also be able to accept requests on our mobile. For instance, when the picture of Catherine is blinking, it is a sign of an incoming message. An accompanying icon of a phone is a sign of an incoming call. The new mobile will inform us about the general location of the person we called, by cross-referencing three antennas in the vicinity.

The transition from film to digital data led Kodak to change its business model. Experientia is there to help them define their next generation services. Kodak founded kiosks to print pictures directly from the mobile-phone. “They have more than 90 thousand kiosks all over the world, in malls, photo stores and franchises in the US. In Europe they are based in electronics shops, providing the means to print swiftly and in high quality,” says Zoels.

“We conducted a research and discovered that people invest a lot of meaning into photographs. They want to make collages and albums, and add captions and comments. How is that seamlessly possible? This is the art — taking pictures and creatively composing something new,” Zoels continues.

“For example, whoever wants to make a collage from pictures of his cat and children, on his mobile-phone, would be able to access a new Kodak kiosk and personally create it, by moving the pictures from side to side, modifying their size, cropping… and virtually anything he can think of. It will be possible to add text, choose a background, and much more, in a process called Multitouch.” The new product is destined to reach the market in twelve months.

Even the Kinder eggs surprise toy, from Ferrero, will be upgraded and will no longer be just a lifeless plastic. Abiding to confidentiality, Zoels replies in suggestive questions. “Will the toy be just plastic, or embody interactivity? Maybe it will respond to hear or touch?” The product will most likely be connected to a computer or a mobile-phone, where it will be possible to control it.
 

Ecology in fashion

Another trend in design is ecology. The aforementioned pepper shakers, for example, are manufactured in an ecologically friendly manner. “In the United States, it is mandatory to enter the market with a story, a narrative on that. The number of ecologically aware costumers is rising. Those are 30-40 years-olds with money, not looking for plastic from China, but for a nice present for a friend. How do you infuse value with attractiveness? With an ecological fingerprint,” says Zoels.

A new development by Steiner was presented at a European art fair and attracted a lot of attention. Deutsche Telekom already turned to Experientia to further test the application.

The development is based on a large, inner-lit table, which is entirely an interface. The user places and moves his hands above it, and pictures from exhibition catalogues appear on the screen. Kids and adults activated the table without any need for written instructions.

When speaking of future trends, it is impossible to ignore social networks such as Facebook. Zoels is convinced that those too will find their way to mobiles that will gradually become more like laptops and less like phones.

In other words, the small screen and advanced technologies are about to become very dominant in our lives. To those afraid of new technologies, there’s also good news in this prediction. The industrial designers will make sure that even users not accustomed to high-tech will receive a friendly interface, without complicated and unnecessary applications, and might even enjoy it.

9 December 2007

Enriching the online shopping experience

Hot 100
When it comes to categories of products sold, apparel & accessories is the biggest kid on the Internet retailing block. E-retailers in this category account for 80 of the top 500 retail web sites, according to the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

The category, however, also has one of the biggest hurdles on the web: merchandise that shoppers really like to feel, hold and try on, actions impossible to achieve via an Internet connection.

But that’s not stopping the apparel & accessories e-retailers named to the Hot 100 from using web tools and technologies to come as close as possible to helping shoppers “feel” merchandise and have an online experience similar to one they would have in a store.

The article continues with features and examples on what each of the top 25 apparel & accessories firms are doing to enrich the online shopping experience.

Read full story

8 December 2007

Cashless in India

Img_affordable
Newsweek reports on how mobile banking in India saves the government and banks money and reduces fraud that plagues the public-distribution system.

Mobile phones are making life better for people in remote, underserved areas of India. They no longer have to walk kilometers to public call offices to use a telephone—an essential tool for buying and selling goods based on the latest market data, getting credit from lenders and other commonplace activities. So far, most of the benefits have come from one of the phone’s simplest features: voice calls.

With more than 250 million mobile users and 6 million new ones added each month, India now has the “teledensity” to support more-sophisticated mobile technologies, which could have a big impact on Indian society and the economy in the next few years. (An extra 10 mobile phones per 100 people in a typical developing country leads to an additional 0.59 percentage points of growth in GDP per person, according to a London Business School study.) These include “voice broadcast” services that would let a truck owner inform residents of a village about a scheduled trip to the city, or doctors announce the availability of polio vaccinations. A more complex system would allow a small business, say, to keep track of shipments. What’s holding up these services is the lack of mobile banking.

The article profiles activities of Reliance Communications, ekgaon technologies, and A.Little.World.

Read full story

8 December 2007

Ubiquity

William Gibson
Richard Titus, acting head of user experience at BBC Future Media and Technology, quotes on his blog an excerpt from an interview Rolling Stone did with William Gibson (author of Neuromancer and Spook Country, and coiner of the term Cyberspace).

“Totally ubiquitous computing. One of the things our grandchildren will find quaintest about us is that we distinguish the digital from the real, the virtual from the real. In the future, that will become literally impossible. The distinction between cyberspace and that which isn’t cyberspace is going to be unimaginable. When I wrote Neuromancer in 1984, cyberspace already existed for some people, but they didn’t spend all their time there. So cyberspace was there, and we were here. Now cyberspace is here for a lot of us, and there has become any state of relative nonconnectivity. There is where they don’t have Wi-Fi.

In a world of superubiquitous computing, you’re not gonna know when you’re on or when you’re off. You’re always going to be on, in some sort of blended-reality state. You only think about it when something goes wrong and it goes off. And then it’s a drag.”

Titus then continues with his own reflections:

“This essentially frames an argument/discussion I’ve been having for quite a while at the BBC. The web is no longer a place to be visited, a languid information (“super”) highway akin to route 66 where you stop in for a donut or a soda every few miles at yahoo or ask for directions at Google. I actually bought a copy of a wall sized “Map” of the internet in 1996 which I still have to be framed one day.

The net today is a thing we can only take brief momentary snapshots of, like photos out of a moving vehicle – in fact that’s really what widgets are are special cameras which allow us to capture some of the data running around the net into a single, momentary user experience.

The world is moving to a dynamic, context driven, xml & atom feed universe where content is living breathing organic matter.. we cannot contain it we can simply offer a prism or a lens through which to momentarily view it. Something often described as a widget…”

8 December 2007

Privacy protection obsolete in a world of ambient technology

Privacy
Robert Ellis Smith, publishes of the Privacy Journal, writes in Forbes Magazine:

Government and corporate officials responsible for compliance with privacy laws in Canada and Europe are using a whole new language in 2007. Much of the jargon has passed by the American public. So listen up. This is important.

At their annual meeting this fall in Montreal, there was little of the traditional talk among the international privacy people about the nuts and bolts of data protection. Instead, there were urgent and distressed discussions about “uberveillance,” “ambient technology,” “ubiquitous computing,” “ingest ible bugs” and nanotechnology.

The terms may be overlapping and may in fact be somewhat synonymous. They all refer to an environment in which electronic media are everywhere, gathering and processing information in a seamless way, beyond the control of each human being. The discussions began a few years ago with recognition of a coming “Internet of things,” much as public awareness of the Internet began in the 1980s with talk of an “information super highway.”

In short, this new environment may render obsolete the three decades’ old regime for protecting privacy, which merely gives certain rights of access to citizens. What good is checking the accuracy of your own information in a system if the essence of the system is to keep track of where you are? What good is notification about a new system if it’s quite simply everywhere?

“We are entering a new era in privacy. Current concepts of consent will not be adequate for this,” says Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology at the University of Ottawa, who seems to be the scholar in North America most aware of this trend.

- Read full story
- Slideshow: how they’re watching you

8 December 2007

User-centred design at France Telecom: Lipstick on a Pig?

Lipstick on a Pig
The R&D labs of France Telecom and its commercial Orange brand cover a wide range of technological research but at first glance they also seem to be extensively involved in user research and experience design:

The UK research centre has a strong focus on user interface design and usability: “The UK R&D centre has undertaken design and development of many new user interfaces for Orange phones and web applications including being a major contributor to the development of a fully Orange specified user interface. Many other designs are in the process of introduction, including a new Mobile Search feature developed to better navigate through user content, services and applications”.

Whereas the East Coast R&D centre in Boston has a strong technology-driven approach, the San Francisco-based West Coast R&D centre focusses on “user-centered experience design“.

The mission of the research centre in China is “to create and develop innovation commercial offerings for customers of Orange”. Aside from technological exploration, it also covers “sociological aspects and new usage” patterns, more in particular “the study of usage linked to leading-edge domains specific to the region: future mobile phone generations, network co-operation, the Internet of the future (IPV6, etc.) and multimedia services”.

Also the brand new Cairo Orange Lab in Egypt has “research into local uses” listed as one of its core activities.

But it is nearly impossible to find out what these projects really entail. A rare exception is Clive Grinyer (blog), who is Orange France Telecom’s director of design and regularly covers the work he is doing at international conferences, like recently at Intersections (transcript and slides).

Clive puts quite a different angle on how things work at France Telecom:

“I work in an organisation that doesn’t understand anything I do, if it does understand it, it thinks it’s about putting the logo on at the end, and that it’s something you do right at the end of the process, when all the really important decisions have all been made, and people come in and say: ‘Hey, we’ve got two weeks left, would you please do the user interface thing? Make it Orange, make it the right font, you know, and then we’ll go.’ I said, you know, you mean a year and two weeks or do you really mean two weeks? And of course, if it’s late, it’s my fault, and the whole thing goes wrong. I give a big talk called Lipstick on a Pig, which is how I feel about that approach to design.”

Clive says more of course, and it’s not all that critical, but it leaves you hungry to find out more about what all these user researchers and experience designers are doing at Orange and why they don’t communicate a bit more.