Putting People First

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December 2007
1 December 2007

Intel’s Urban Atmospheres research project

Urban Atmospheres
The Urban Atmospheres project (video) is exploring how people who live in cities might want to use technology, how it could help them develop a sense of community or belonging, or play into their emotional experiences of urban living.

“By gaining a better understanding of what matters most to people in the daily experience of city life, we hope to inspire useful new technologies for urban dwellers, perhaps unlike any we have seen before. We believe this is an ideal time for our research, because of the growth in urban populations; rapid expansion of ad hoc sensor networks and mobile devices with Bluetooth wireless technology; and proliferation of wireless technologies.

Part of our research involves urban probes. These are provocative interventions designed to engage people in direct discussions about their current and emerging public urban landscape-and in the process, reveal new opportunities for technology in urban spaces. For example, as part of Jetsam, an urban probe into public city trashcans, we distributed more than 100 self-addressed stamped postcards, with individual stories on them, around San Francisco. We recorded where we dropped each postcard, then waited to see how they were returned to us, what kinds of messages people left on them, and how people interacted with them.

From the Jetsam study (video) we exposed an active curiosity towards trash and the people who once owned it. Ultimately, the study revealed that a seemingly banal, yet ubiquitous, part of the urban infrastructure is actually a focus of rich human activity, a microcosm of social ecology. It influenced our final interactive trashcan design by focusing it more heavily on the use of digital technologies to reinterpret the social archaeology, presence, and movement of people and artifacts throughout the city while provoking and facilitating a public discourse about such patterns and flows.”

Urban Atmospheres is a collection of newly emerging urban based research projects being conducted across Intel Research. This included not just the work at Intel Research Berkeley but also related projects at Intel’s People and Practices (PaPR) Research group in Oregon and others.

Eric Paulos [personal site] directs the Urban Atmospheres research as a Research Scientist at Intel Corporation. Many of the projects and research conducted within Urban Atmospheres are released openly to the public through this and other web sites as part of Intel’s network of university research laboratories.

1 December 2007

Intel’s Essential Computing vision

Essential Computing
From Intel’s Essential Computing website:

Intel Research’s over-arching vision for the future is evolving from one of proactive computing to one of Essential Computing. Over the years, we’ve been part of a steady evolution moving computing from the machine room out into people’s workplaces and into their daily lives. As this transformation continues, we will see computing evolve from being a number of separate devices we each use occasionally to dozens of devices that are an essential part of daily life.

Intel’s vision of Essential Computing encompasses five research areas, or as we call them, research themes. These five research themes – Personal Awareness, Physicality, Emergence Engineering, Concealing Complexity, Richly Communicative – focus on making technology more viable, more useful, more personal, more essential in our daily lives. Through these research directions, we seek to simplify and enrich all aspects of our daily lives through applications and systems technologies that collectively empower each of us as individuals, connect us to each other and into the fabric of networked society.

The five research themes for Essential Computing

Essential computing is a big goal. To spearhead this effort, we’ve broken it down into five research themes.

Concealing Complexity
As more devices become essential to our daily lives, it will become increasingly important to conceal their complexity.

New Possibilities for the Cell Phone Platform
Imagine carrying all of your applications, documents, photos, and MP3 and video files with you, in a device no larger than a deck of playing cards. That’s the concept behind the Personal Media Server.

Personal Awareness
In the future we may have a “wardrobe” of personal devices to help us pursue short- and long-term goals and personal enhancement.

What kinds of new interfaces, sensors and actuation systems will allow people to seamlessly interact with the computing and physical parts of their lives?

Richly Communicative
Computing devices are increasingly being used as communicating devices. What’s needed are ways to convey more meaning and intent.



The Essential Computing site also links to a page which presents some key Intel researchers and the projects they are working on, including many of the People and Practices Research Group (P&P):

  • Ken Anderson (anthropologist, P&P) – Transnationals and cosmopolitans-people who are living outside of their home countries
  • Richard Beckwith (research psychologist, P&P) – community adoption of technology
  • Maria Bezaitis (director, P&P) – a vision on ethnography
  • Sunny Consolvo – user-centered design for ubiquitous computing
  • Scott Mainwaring (reseacher, P&P) – People’s relationships with technology
  • Wendy March (interaction designer, P&P) – Teen girls and communications technology
  • Eric Paulos – Emerging digital and wireless urban landscapes
  • Allison Woodruff – how people interact with the growing number of portable electronic devices in their homes
1 December 2007

Card sorting: a tool to reorganise information-rich web sites

Card sorting
Michael Hawley, user experience director of Mad*Pow published an article about card sorting as a user-centred tool to reorganise information-rich web sites.

“Card sorting is an appealing research technique to assist in the organization or re-organization of an information-rich Web site. But conducting the sorts correctly requires thoughtful planning and can demand a fair amount of resources. By employing card sorting techniques along with other user-centered design methods such as usability testing, contextual inquires and surveys, you can reveal insights to help you develop an intuitive information hierarchy for your site.”

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1 December 2007

Influencing the customer experience through the internet

Mona Patel
“Despite the rapid development of the internet, the overall goal of designing an intuitive, easy to use website has not changed,” says Mona Patel, executive director of Human Factors International. “The challenge that exists is how to gauge customers’ emotional responses accurately so that businesses can understand and influence online decision making and increasing conversion rates.”

“In the past, building a successful interface was based on understanding users’ needs, designing for ease of use and validating through usability testing. Traditional usability testing, however, deals almost exclusively with the rational, behavioural aspects of the customer experience, such as whether people can buy a product online, access information easily or learn to navigate the site.

To attract and engage customers, online usability must now address the much broader concept of user experience, one that encompasses people making decisions and taking actions on variables that they are not consciously aware of. This includes how people are feeling; how they are reacting emotionally and how we grab their attention.”

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1 December 2007

Johannes Vandermeulen (Namahn) on analogies between user-centred design and movie making

Johannes Vandermeulen
Joannes Vandermeulen is a practitioner and teacher of Interaction Design. In 1987, he founded Namahn, a consultancy for user-centred design of software and online products, based in Brussels.

Johannes was one of the keynote speaker at the German IA conference a few weeks ago. His talk about interaction design explored the analogies between user-centred design and movie making.

More in particular he discussed how the designer fits in the software engineering process, set out a vision of movie making as an analogy for interaction designers, gave examples from the movie industry on iterative development, and analysed the similarities between movie actors and user centered design.

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