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Putting People First

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December 2007
8 December 2007

User !nnovation Research Initiative Vienna

User Innovation Research Initiative
The User Innovation Research Initiative is a research program which aims to deepen our understanding of the phenomenon of user innovation and is hosted by the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Vienna University of Economics & Business Administration.

“Nearly three decades of research into the sources of innovation, pioneered and still driven by Eric von Hippel (MIT), has revealed that users can be surprisingly creative and innovative. In many cases, the users themselves – and not manufacturers – are the originators of new products and services.

Companies and academics alike are increasingly searching for ways to reclaim the territory of user innovation for innovation management and product development.

The User Innovation Research Initiative aims to deepen our understanding of the phenomenon of user innovation. We search for patterns and mechanisms and, building on our insights, develop and improve practical methods in order to harness user innovativeness for companies. Our research is organized in four areas:

  • Lead user research – Innovative potential is concentrated among lead users. How can they be identified?
  • Toolkits for user innovation and design – Companies can equip their customers with virtual tools which allow them to design their own product. How does this work?
  • Innovative user communities – Users often form networks and informal groups – with highly innovative output. What can be learned from this?
  • Users & entrepreneurs – User innovators might themselves exploit entrepreneurial opportunities. How do they add to industry development
7 December 2007

Ethnography as design provocation

EPIC
Nicolas Nova has been going through the EPIC 2007 proceedings (the ethnographic praxis in industry conference), and ran across this interesting paper entitled “Ethnography as Design Provocation” by Jacob Buur and Larisa Sitorus.

The paper starts off by explaining how the use of ethnography in technology development has been limited to data collection, which led to isolate the researchers from design (which is R.J. Anderson’s point) and a limit to the way practice and technology can evolve together (Paul Dourish’s point). The authors advocate for another approach in which ethnography can “provoke new perspectives in a design organisation”.

They describe this stance through case studies of “design encounters” (i.e. workshops) showing how ethnography could be “shared material”, “embodied in design” and a way to frame “user engagement”. The conclusion they draw are also interesting:

“Firstly, to engage the potential of ethnography to provoke organisations to rethink their understandings of problems and solutions, the textual form may not be adequate. Neither are insight bullet points, as they submit to the logics of rational argumentation that hardly provokes questioning and engagement. Instead, we find it paramount to develop ways of engaging the organisation in sense-making through the use of visual and physical ethnographic material.

Secondly, the ethnographic theory building, though crucial to design, cannot progress independently of the prevailing conceptions of (work) practices ‘out there’ in the organisations – and these may not become clear to us until we confront the organisation with our material. Better sooner than later.

Thirdly, to move collaboration beyond requirements talk among the design team, organisation and participants, needs well-crafted ethnographic material to frame the encounters to focus on fundamental issues and perceptions.”

7 December 2007

Getting serious

Getting serious
The Economist reports on how virtual worlds are being put to serious real-world uses—and are starting to encounter some real-world problems.

“With the popularity of virtual worlds such as Second Life and games such as “World of Warcraft” and “Sims Online”, companies, academics, health-care providers and the military are evaluating virtual environments for use in training, management and collaboration. Superficially, such uses look a lot like playing a video game. “The thing that distinguishes them from games is the outcome,” says David Wortley, the director of Coventry University’s Serious Games Institute. Rather than catering to virtual thrill-seekers, the aim is to find new ways for people to learn or work together. [...]

As with any novel technology, virtual worlds bring new opportunities and new problems. The embrace of virtual worlds by companies for mundane uses on the one hand, and by scam artists to get up to no good on the other, points not to the shortcomings of such environments—but to their increasing maturity and potential.”

Read full story

6 December 2007

The EPIC blog is not what you think

Tony Salvador
The EPIC 2007 conference on ethnographic praxis in industry has a blog, and it’s not what you think.

The format is that of a newspaper or magazine advice column where readers can ask questions to a specialist. Each week the “doctor” will be selecting one of those nagging questions to ponder.

The doctor this time is Tony Salvador, director of research for the Emerging Markets Platforms Group (EMPG) within Intel Corporation. Previously, he was a Research Scientist and co-founder of Intel’s People & Practices Group.

6 December 2007

Are cars too safe? Are user manuals necessary?

Donald Norman
In a Business Week interview design guru Don Norman argues for making autos less automated and for infusing gadgets with natural, easy-to-interpret feedback signals.

In his new book, The Design of Future Things (Basic Books), Don Norman isn’t afraid to call himself out on statements he made in his earlier, wildly popular publications such as The Design of Everyday Things. The co-founder of corporate design consultancy Nielsen Norman Group and the former vice-president of Apple now says that he has changed his mind on several design strategies he has advocated over the years.

The focus of his new book, however, is not on how he wishes to update his philosophies of design and innovation. Instead, it centers on so-called “smart,” or automated, gadgets and products. Increasingly being produced and marketed, these range from talking refrigerators that scold you for not keeping to a diet to cars that are comfortable and easy to drive to the point of distracting drivers from the dangers of the road.

The Northwestern University design professor spoke with BusinessWeek Innovation Dept. Editor Reena Jana about the perils of automation and subtle but effective strategies for improving product design, such as offering sounds or visual signals that are more pleasant and instructive than electronic blips and bleeps. Below are edited excerpts from their conversation.

- Read interview
Listen to audio interview

6 December 2007

Anne Kirah and the 180°academy turning business education on its head

Anne Kirah
Business Week profiles Anne Kirah, former design anthropologist at Microsoft, and now Dean of the new Danish school called 180°academy, where she is “shaking managers out of their traditional ways of doing things and forcing them, perhaps for the first time, to understand their customers’ cultures and to discern their needs.”

In September about 20 executives, mostly from Scandinavia, hopped on a plane for a trip designed to shatter their notions of how to do business. The group, comprised of the first batch of students at a new Danish school called 180°academy, jetted off to South Africa. There they worked with a group called the Business Place to help would-be entrepreneurs realize such dreams as opening a hair salon or starting a toy business, though they had no relevant experience or skills.

The program isn’t anything like business school, where students focus largely on areas of their expertise. And that’s the point. Conventional business education leads executives to build on their strengths—improving profit margins, boosting efficiency, and benchmarking the best practices of rivals. This school aims to teach midcareer executives something many think is unteachable: how to be innovative. “We’ve got to break them from what they know best,” says Anne Kirah, the academy’s kinetic, gum-chewing, American dean. “When you’re only focused on your competition and what you know best, you don’t innovate.”

Read full story

(Kirah has been featured before on this blog and also been interviewed by me last year.)

5 December 2007

Urban computing and its discontents

Urban Computing
A conversation between the authors Adam Greenfield and Mark Shepard provides an overview of the key issues, historical precedents, and contemporary approaches to designing situated technologies and inhabiting cities populated by them.

“The Situated Technologies Pamphlet series explores the implications of ubiquitous computing for architecture and urbanism: How is our experience of the city and the choices we make in it affected by mobile communications, pervasive media, ambient informatics, and other “situated” technologies? How will the ability to design increasingly responsive environments alter the way architects conceive of space? What do architects need to know about urban computing and what do technologists need to know about cities? Situated Technologies Pamphlets will be published in nine issues and will be edited by a rotating list of leading researchers and practitioners from architecture, art, philosophy of technology, comparative media study, performance studies, and engineering.”

Read pamphlet

(via Régine Debatty)

4 December 2007

Philips Design investigating the unknown

Tattoo
The current issue of the magazine of Philips Design contains a long article about the company’s design research approach:

“Scientists send probes into deep space in an attempt to get a better understanding of the unknown. Philips Design does something similar with its own probes projects. These ‘far-future’ research initiatives often track trends and developments that are no more than tiny blips on the cultural radar, but which may ultimately evolve into mainstream issues that have a significant impact on Philips’ business.”

Read full story

3 December 2007

Jan Chipchase at TED conference

Jan Chipchase
The TED conference has published its video of the talk by Nokia’s “user anthropologist” Jan Chipchase in March this year:

Nokia principal researcher Jan Chipchase’s investigation into the ways we interact with technology has led him from the villages of Uganda to the insides of our pockets. Along the way, he’s made some unexpected discoveries: about the novel ways illiterate people interface with their cellphones, or the role the cellphone can sometimes play in commerce, or the deep emotional bonds we all seem to share with our phones.

Jan Chipchase can guess what’s inside your bag and knows all about the secret contents of your refrigerator. It isn’t a second sight or a carnival trick; he knows about the ways we think and act because he’s spent years studying our behavioral patterns. He’s traveled from country to country to learn everything he can about what makes us tick, from our relationship to our phones (hint: it’s deep, and it’s real) to where we stow our keys each night.

Jan’s discoveries and insights help inspire the development of the next generations of phones and services at Nokia. As he puts it, if he does his job right, you should be seeing the results of his research hitting the streets and airwaves within the next 3 to 15 years.

Watch video

3 December 2007

Nokia predicts that you will control 25% of entertainment by 2012

Nokia
Nokia’s latest study, ‘A Glimpse of the Next Episode’, predicts that within five years a quarter of all entertainment will be created, edited and shared within peer groups rather than coming out of traditional media groups.

Trend-setting consumers from 17 countries were asked about their digital behaviors and lifestyles. Nokia also used information gathered from its 900 million customers and views of leading industry figures to reach the conclusion that you will control 25% of the world’s entertainment by 2012.

:From our research we predict that up to a quarter of the entertainment being consumed in five years will be what we call ‘Circular’. The trends we are seeing show us that people will have a genuine desire not only to create and share their own content, but also to remix it, mash it up and pass it on within their peer groups – a form of collaborative social media,” said Mark Selby, Vice President, Multimedia, Nokia.

Nokia also looked at four emerging trends that will make entertainment more collaborative and creative as we move towards Circular Entertainment. These trends are listed as, Immersive Living; Geek Culture; G Tech and Localism.

- Read full story (MobileCrunch)
Read press release (Nokia)

3 December 2007

The mobile web is NOT helping the developing world… and what we can do about it

Africa phone
According to Niti Bhan, Nathan Eagle‘s post on the limitations of the current perception of the mobile internet experience for the developing world are “spot on and the most insightful I have come across to date”.

Here is a quote from his article on the Nokia Developer’s blog:

“I attend an increasing number of keynotes where CEOs and EVPs of both major mobile handset manufacturers and mobile operators trumpet their role in bringing the internet to the bottom of the pyramid in the developing world. It’s a total fallacy.

The phones that are designed and marketed for the ‘developing world’ today aren’t data enabled, they have no browser or any ability to function as a traditional data device. We’re dumping hundreds of millions of devices into these regions that are essentially crippled – and their legacy (the average life span of a phone in Africa is many times that of it’s Western counterpart) will affect mobile internet usage in these regions throughout the next decade. [...]

This is not to say that these billions of mobile phones do not have the potential to access content from the web – rather, the traditional browser-based paradigm of internet usage does not cater to them. The idea that the mobile web consists exclusively of mobile devices running web-browsers identical to the web experience we are used to with IE/Firefox is simply wrong. Throwing more and more resources towards creating devices for the developing world that can emulate the PC browsing experience is misguided. The 2 billion phones being used in the developing world are really great at making and receiving voice calls and text messages: Why not shape the internet experience to meet the specs of every phone’s inherent functionality (voice!) rather than requiring devices to have specs that quite frankly aren’t going to be realistic for many years to come?”

Read full story

By the way, make sure to check out the website of EPROM:

EPROM (Entrepreneurial Programming and Research On Mobiles), part of the Program for Developmental Entrepreneurship within the MIT Design Laboratory, aims to foster mobile phone-related research and entrepreneurship. Today’s mobile phones are designed to meet Western needs. Subscribers in developing countries, however, now represent the majority of mobile phone users worldwide. We believe the adoption of new technologies and services within this vast, emerging market will drive innovation and help shape the future of the mobile phone.

3 December 2007

Mobile usability for teens who are going mobile

Teenagers
In an article for UXmatters, Hilary Cooldige of Molecular reviews current research on teen mobile phone us, argues for contextual user research and mobile usability studies in the field, and presents some of the results of her own field studies.

Read full story

2 December 2007

Must see video: “We Think” vs. “The Cult of the Amateur”

Marketing 3
M3, the Dutch marketing conference, was this year devoted to co-creation.

Keynote speakers were Charles Leadbeater (author of We-Think) and Andrew Keen (author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture), arguing their “enemy” positions.

Future Lab‘s Alain Thys lets us know that the guys from Marketing3 have just uploaded the videos of both their keynotes and the very sparkling debate that followed their respective speeches.

The second video also contains their lively and entertaining verbal game of chess (starts at 00:22:00).

2 December 2007

Kitchen Budapest summer projects

Kitchen
2007 Summer at Kitchen Budapest (Paperback)
by Bircsák Eszter, Somlai-Fischer Szabolcs (ed.)

Kitchen Budapest (KiBu), opening in June 2007, (see also here) is a brand new media lab for young researchers who are not only interested in the convergence of mobile communication, online communities and urban space, but who are also ready to get their hands dirty creating experimental projects in cross-disciplinary teams. This book shows the results of the summer projects that were more than twenty in number.

From we-make-money-not-art:

“The chapter on Mobile Expressions demonstrates the kind of playful content that can be created using mobile phones; Intelligent and Charming Things is about the way that objects around us can interact with us and even create a culture of their own; Dynamic Media Interfaces shows compelling new ways to explore (or perform) digital content; i guess i’ve lost everyone here and you’re already busy reading the book but i’ll keep on describing the catalog just in case. So, we’re now at the chapter called Community Technologies which comes up with ideas for a better support for communal interaction and communication. The remaining pages are dedicated to a brief presentations of some of the workshops which took place at Kitchen Budapest (aka. KiBu).

Some of the projects developed are simples, other are quite sophisticated, some will appeal to the hacker, others have a clear interaction design feel, they are sometimes poetical, often thought-provoking and always interesting.”

Download book (pdf, 20 mb, 168 pages)

2 December 2007

Dott 07 Manual: 1 (Perfect Paperback)

Dott Manual
Dott 07 was a year of community design projects in North East England that explored what life in a sustainable region could be like – and how design can help us get there. It is called a manual (rather than a book, or catalogue) because it’s about practical ways for people either to join Dott projects themselves, or do something similar where they live. At 100 pages, and fully-illustrated in colour with real people, the Dott Manual is wildly under-priced on Amazon.

You can also read the manual online on Worldchanging.com, which is publishing its contents in a series of instalments. The first and second one are already available.

2 December 2007

UXnet launches new site

UXnet
UXnet, the user experience network, launched its new website this week, with some major improvements.

UXnet is a platform organisation that provides tools and resources for the user experience community. It works with a worldwide network of local ambassadors.

The new site, which has been more than a year in the making and now runs on WordPress, makes it far easier for the local ambassadors to profile the UX activities and landscape in their local areas.

Major attention has been put into the events calendar, which is now key the feature of the site: it has become a fledgling application that brings in events from all user experience disciplines and locales around the world.

Selected posts from the Putting People First blog are also — automatically — included in the UXnet news. News items from other sources will be included later on as well.

Even though as a board member of UXnet, I have been somewhat involved in this redesign, the site is really based on the hard work of Keith Instone, who squeezed much of the relaunch into his tight schedule. As Lou Rosenfeld wrote (and I totally agree with): “Keith is an incredible team player and hard worker who, in his positive and low-key way, successfully collaborates with a diverse collection of backgrounds and egos. Keith really is the model of what a user experience professional should be. So it’s not surprising that UXnet has named its volunteer award after him. Thank you, Keith!”

UXnet is currently in the process of expanding its vision and charter, and the website is designed to scale and enhance the organisation’s future activities.

So — and I am once again quoting Lou Rosenfeld here — if you’ve had a “wait-and-see” attitude about UXnet, this is a good time to take another look. And if you’re interested in participating as an “ambassador” for your area, we want you.

2 December 2007

The rise of corporate anthropology

Harvard Business
Tom Davenport (Babson College) has written a Harvard Business column entitled “The Rise of Corporate Anthropology” where he lauds the contribution of anthropology because of its emphasis on observation:

“What’s so good about systematic observation? It’s the key to knowing what’s working and what isn’t, how people are using technology and other tools in the course of the workday, how workers extract meaning (or don’t) from their work, and so forth. We all make sweeping generalizations about these and many other topics, but we don’t really know. Corporate anthropology provides the possibility of actually knowing what’s happening and why in organizations.”

Read full story

2 December 2007

Changing the change

Mole
Changing the change. Design Visions, Proposals and Tools is an international conference, chaired by Ezio Manzini (blog) of the Politecnico di Milano, on the role and results of design research in the transition towards sustainability. The conference will be held in Torino, Italy, 10 to 12 July 2008, in the framework of Torino World Design Capital, 2008.

Changing the Change seeks to make a significant contribution to a necessary transformation toward a sustainable future. It specifically intends to outline state-of-the-art of design research in terms of visions, proposals and tools with which design can actively and positively take part in the wider social learning process that will have to take place.

“It’s a design research conference with a focus more on results than on methodology” Manzini tells John Thackara, “with an emphasis on what design research can do for sustainability”

At the heart of the conference design researchers will present concrete and documentable research results. This will be complemented by invited keynote speaker’s presentations that will help paint a clearer picture of the common ground from which the conference will take off.

Changing the Change is organised by the Co-ordination of Italian Design Research Doctorates and has a broad International Advisory Committee: Roberto Bartholo (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), Luigi Bistagnino (Politecnico di Torino), Luisa Collina (Politecnico di Milano), Rachel Cooper (University of Lancaster), Jorge Frascara (University of Alberta), Victor Margolin (University of Illinois at Chicago), Stefano Marzano (Philips Design), Fumi Masuda (Tokyo Zokei University), Bill Moggridge (IDEO), Mugendi M’Rithaa (Cape Peninsula University of Technology), Geetha Narayanan (Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology), Gunter Pauli (Zeri), Yrjö Sotamaa (University of Art and Design Helsinki), Lou Yongqi (Tongji University).

1 December 2007

The user experience is where many of Vista’s problems emanate

Vista
Mitchell Ashley, ceo and chief strategist of Converging Network, analyses why there is a growing number of dissatisfied users who’ve tried and given up on Microsoft’s Vista operating system. He concludes that it is “the user experience where many of Vista’s problems emanate” and gives four reasons for this:

1. Vista lacks user centered innovation that benefits users directly
Very little is done to help end users make their computer experience better or more productive. Users are forced to hunt for common everyday tasks like adding a printer or connecting to a wireless access point.

2. Vista and Office 2007 impose a big productivity loss
Relearning and unlearning familiar tasks in Vista and Office 2007 is frustrating and infuriating end users.

3. Vista performance is poor
While hardware and software in the industry continues to work faster, Vista steps backwards and is slower.

4. Vista has a high user annoyance factor
User Account Control is the equivalent of putting an automatic look on every door inside your house, so you must use a key to enter the kitchen, study, bedrooms or closets.

Read full story

1 December 2007

Friending, ancient or otherwise

Friending
The New York Times reports on how in the collective patter of profile-surfing, messaging and “friending,” academic researchers see the resurgence of older patterns of oral communication.

“The growing popularity of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Second Life has thrust many of us into a new world where we make “friends” with people we barely know, scrawl messages on each other’s walls and project our identities using totem-like visual symbols.

We’re making up the rules as we go. But is this world as new as it seems?

Academic researchers are starting to examine that question by taking an unusual tack: exploring the parallels between online social networks and tribal societies. In the collective patter of profile-surfing, messaging and “friending,” they see the resurgence of ancient patterns of oral communication.”

Read full story