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Putting People First

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January 2008
16 January 2008

Interaction designers, and how they got that way

Interaction designers
Carl Alviani published an inquisitive article on the profession of the interaction designer on Creative Seeds, the blog of Coroflot, which is Core77‘s career and community site.

“Anyone who’s been following the creative job market at any point in the last few years is probably aware of the feeding frenzy currently going on, as companies large and small seek interaction designers to do…well…whatever it is that they do. For those of us not in the field, and without much exposure to the IxD (for that’s how it gets abbreviated) process, it can seem a bit of an esoteric, shadowy art, attracting the attention of media and employers, but without knowing quite why. We know they work with information (usually), and computers (sometimes), and pay close attention to the users of technology (pretty much always, right?), but that’s a vague enough description that it could be applied to web design, graphic design, industrial design, and a number of other disciplines. Determining how one actually becomes an Interaction Designer is an even tougher challenge.”

Read full story

16 January 2008

Changing the Change blog

Changing the Change
About a month ago I announced the conference Changing the Change about the role and results of design research in the transition towards sustainability (see PPF and Core77).

The conference will be held in Torino, Italy, 10 to 12 July 2008, in the framework of Torino World Design Capital, 2008.

The conference blog is becoming a rich platform for discussion on the topic and I recommend you to explore it.

16 January 2008

How immersive technology can revitalize the shopping experience

IBM
IBM just released a white paper entitled “How immersive technology can revitalize the shopping experience”.

“Truly immersive experiences—which connect with shoppers on an emotional level through personalized dialogues and give them greater control over the shopping experience—are the new frontier in retailing. The immersive retail experience is more about involving the customer than it is about merchandise and merchandising. Think outdoor stores that provide simulated trails or streams for testing equipment, or appliance stores with test kitchens where customers can feel what it’s like to actually use products. In other words, for stores in many retail segments to stay ahead of competitors, they will need to generate the excitement of a theme park ride—and become a destination. […]

Immersive technology solutions—which stimulate people’s visual, auditory, olfactory and tactile senses to connect with shoppers on an emotional level to create unforgettable shopping experiences—can open up a whole new world of energizing shopping experiences. Combined with flexible, responsive business models, they have the potential to transform the way customers interact with your brand. This brief explores how immersive technologies and business strategies can create a brand voice that generates renewed excitement about your store. It also examines IBM’s vision for immersive technologies.”

Download paper

(via the Experience Economist)

14 January 2008

Persona non grata

Personas
Steve Portigal is going after the hypocritical use of personas (“the Big Lie”) in the article he wrote for Interactions Magazine:
“Personas are misused to maintain a “safe” distance from the people we design for, manifesting contempt over understanding, and creating the facade of user-centeredness while merely reinforcing who we want to be designing for and selling to.”

You can request a copy of the article by contacting Steve at steve at portigal dot com and telling him your name, title and organisation.

14 January 2008

The most customer-centric company in the world

Amazon
Joe Nocera of The New York Times applauds Amazon’s Jeff Bezos tireless attention to the customer experience.

Maybe, just maybe, taking care of customers is something worth doing when you are trying to create a lasting company. Maybe, in fact, it’s the best way to build a real business — even if it comes at the expense of short-term results.

It is almost impossible to read or see an interview with Mr. Bezos in which he doesn’t, at some point, begin to wax on about what he likes to call “the customer experience.” […]

“Jeff has been focused on the customer since Day 1,” said Suresh Kotha, a management professor at the University of Washington business school who has written several case studies about Amazon. [Bill] Miller [Legg Mason’s legendary fund manager] noted that Amazon has really had only one stated goal since it began: to be the most customer-centric company in the world.

In this, it has largely succeeded. Millions of people instinctively go to Amazon when they want to buy something online because they have come to trust the company in a way they trust few other online entities. Amazon’s technology, its interface, its one-click buying service — they are all incredibly easy to use. Its algorithms offer “suggestions” for further buying that actually appeal to its customers.

Read full story

14 January 2008

Cellphones bring a :-) to remotest Africa

Namibia
Stephanie Hanes, a correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, reports on how Namibia’s plucky fix-it industry can handle all manner of disaster with your phone.

“Cellphones are in the deepest rural areas in Africa,” says Saadhna Panday, of South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council. “More people have access to a cellphone than a land line.”

The way people use and care for their mobile phones is different than in the wealthy, BlackBerry-addicted West. Here, people send text messages to friends, but also use their cells to do banking and organize political rallies. In areas with no TV, farmers use phones to get agricultural news and weather reports. (The Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange, for instance, sends text messages with up-to-date market prices.) In townships, entrepreneurs will set up cellphone booths, where passers-by can use airtime for a slightly inflated price.

In all these ways, says Panday, cellphones have increased networking among Africans and have lessened the global “digital divide” between haves and have nots.”

Read full story

14 January 2008

Rotman’s thinking about thinking

Thinking about thinking
“Integrative Thinking” is the theme of the current Rotman School of Management magazine.

Three articles caught my attention:

The second road of thought: how design offers strategy a new tool kit (page 46)
In this essay Tony Golsby-Smith goes back to Aristotle, and argues that design — the road by which humans determine alternative futures – is in fact the modern version of Aristotle’s Rhetoric, an ‘art of thinking’ that has been suppressed for centuries by the Western world’s addiction to logic.

Informing our intuition: design research for radical innovation (page 52)
Jane Fulton Suri of IDEO continues Golsby-Smith’s thinking on design and argues that radical innovation requires both evidence and intuition: evidence to become informed, and intuition to inspire us in imagining and creating new possibilities.

Strategic ecology: what management can learn from ecology (page 58)
The managerial relevance of ecology becomes clear when ecological arguments are interpreted with a ‘strategy lens.’ This is the argument put forth by Joel Baum, Stanislav Dobrev and Arjen van Witteloostuijn in their book Advances in Strategic Management, which is excerpted here.

Download magazine (pdf, 6 mb, 128 pages)

13 January 2008

Our contribution to Core77

Core77
As most of you know, Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken also writes for Core77.

Here is the list of recently posted contributions, meanwhile 70 items long.

11 January 2008

“Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born”

Digital Youth
In a blog post, Danah Boyd (a Berkeley Ph.D student and a Harvard Fellow) relates the story of a mother who describes how her daughter’s approach to shopping was completely different than her own:

“Using Google and a variety of online shopping sites, Mary researched dresses online, getting a sense for what styles she liked and reading information about what was considered stylish that year. Next, Mary and her friends went to the local department store as a small group, toting along their digital cameras (even though they’re banned). They tried on the dresses, taking pictures of each other in the ones that fit. Upon returning home, Mary uploaded the photos to her Facebook and asked her broader group of friends to comment on which they liked the best. Based on this feedback, she decided which dress to purchase, but didn’t tell anyone because she wanted her choice to be a surprise. Rather than returning to the store, Mary purchased the same dress online at a cheaper price based on the information on the tag that she had written down when she initially saw the dress. She went for the cheaper option because her mother had given her a set budget for homecoming shopping; this allowed her to spend the rest on accessories.”

Boyd analyses this further:

In the 1980s, Alan Kay declared that, “technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.” In other words, what is perceived as technology to adults is often ubiquitous if not invisible to youth. In telling this story, Mary’s mother was perplexed by the technology choices made by her daughter. Yet, most likely, Mary saw her steps in a practical way: research, test out, get feedback, purchase. Her choices were to maximize her options, make a choice that would be socially accepted, and purchase the dress at the cheapest price. Her steps were not about maximizing technology, but about using it to optimize what she did care about.

Read full story

The blog entry is also a Fieldnote for the Digital Youth Project.

(via FutureLab)

10 January 2008

How a design thinking approach can help librarians

Design thinking and libraries
Steven Bell of the blog Designing Better Libraries has authored an article for the January-February 2008 issue of American Libraries on how a design thinking approach can help librarians.

“As a profession that mediates information from source to user—not unlike newspapers and travel agents—our future challenge is avoiding marginalization. We must determine how we fit into a world that defines an exceptional user experience as memorable, unique, and exquisitely simple. Identifying appropriate solutions will to some extent depend on our ability to adapt the IDEO method of design thinking into creating another emerging, for us at least, concept: the library user experience.” […]

“Where design thinking can really help librarians make a difference is in creating better library user experiences. The idea of a “user experience” may strike some librarians as somewhat superficial in that it may imply an effort to deliver style over substance. Yes, a library may need to work at developing an experience for its users, but the goal is to engage the people who use our libraries, and connect with them in a personal and memorable way. Consider the possibilities of creating library users who are passionate about the library. Organizations that achieve success in this way do so by giving users great experiences. They want to come back again and again. That’s why certain food and beverage outlets, theme entertainment companies, and even information providers create highly sustainable services. To emulate such practices, for a start, as a profession we need to move beyond thinking of our primary product as just a commodity to which we offer access.”

It’s all rather light fare for the UX professional but still nice to see that the user experience approach is making inroads into the library world.

- Download article (pdf, 1.13 mb, 6 pages)
Video on the core concepts of design thinking (5 min.)
Video on how design thinking can help libraries (9 min.)

(via Centre for Design Innovation)

9 January 2008

Book: New Tech, New Ties

New Tech, New Ties
New Tech, New Ties – How Mobile Communication Is Reshaping Social Cohesion
Rich Ling
The MIT Press – 256 pages – 2008

Abstract

The message of this book is simple: the mobile phone strengthens social bonds among family and friends. With a traditional land-line telephone, we place calls to a location and ask hopefully if someone is “there”; with a mobile phone, we have instant and perpetual access to friends and family regardless of where they are. But when we are engaged in these intimate conversations with absent friends, what happens to our relationship with the people who are actually in the same room with us?

In New Tech, New Ties, Rich Ling examines how the mobile telephone affects both kinds of interactions–those mediated by mobile communication and those that are face to face. Ling finds that through the use of various social rituals the mobile telephone strengthens social ties within the circle of friends and family–sometimes at the expense of interaction with those who are physically present–and creates what he calls “bounded solidarity.”

Ling argues that mobile communication helps to engender and develop social cohesion within the family and the peer group. Drawing on the work of Emile Durkheim, Erving Goffman, and Randall Collins, Ling shows that ritual interaction is a catalyst for the development of social bonding. From this perspective, he examines how mobile communication affects face-to-face ritual situations and how ritual is used in interaction mediated by mobile communication. He looks at the evidence, including interviews and observations from around the world, that documents the effect of mobile communication on social bonding and also examines some of the other possibly problematic issues raised by tighter social cohesion in small groups.

Rich Ling is Senior Researcher at the Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor and Adjunct Research Scientist at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Mobile Connection: The Cell Phone’s Impact on Society.

Book webpage | Amazon page

(via Smart Mobs)

9 January 2008

iPhone pushes manufacturers to think again about usability

Apple iPhone
“The iPhone has pushed manufacturers to think again about usability”, says Jessica Sandin, the head of the mobile practice at Fathom Partners, a British strategic mobile consultancy in an International Herald Tribune article.

“Many cellphone makers have lost their way as they crammed more and more functions into the phone, making them harder and harder to use. […]

“The trend is towards allowing people to do more and more things with the phone,” Sandin said. “Many of the new functions are more visually oriented and require bigger screens and bigger phones to do it well.”

Read full story

8 January 2008

Museum 2.0

Museum 2.0
The Museum 2.0 blog explores the ways that the philosophies of Web 2.0 can be applied in museums to make them more engaging, community-based, vital elements of society.

Just like Web 2.0 which is “a definition of web-based applications with an ‘architecture of participation,’ that is, one in which users generate, share, and curate the content”, says Nina Simon who is behind the Museum 2.0 blog, “museums have the potential to undergo a similar (r)evolution as that on the web, to transform from static content authorities to dynamic platforms for content generation and sharing.”

“I believe that visitors can become users, and museums central to social interactions. Web 2.0 opens up opportunity, but it also demonstrates where museums are lacking. The intention of this blog is to explore these opportunities and shortcomings with regard to museums and interactive design.”

(via IdeaFestival)

8 January 2008

Eataly, the slow and experiential supermarket

Eataly
Last week I visited Eataly again, a fantastic “experiential” supermarket, right here in Torino. Associated with the Slow Food movement, you can dwell in it for hours and feel constantly stimulated, intellectually, sensually and visually.

But I had never written about in those terms. Mea culpa. I was reminded of this gap only when I read the Guinness Storehouse case study on the Design Council website.

The Atlantic Monthly [full article here] calls it the “supermarket of the future”:

“Eataly is an irresistible realization of every food-lover’s gluttonous fantasy, paired with guilt-cleansing social conscience—a new combination of grand food hall, farm stand, continuing- education university, and throbbing urban market. Much like Boqueria, in Barcelona, and Vucciria, in Palermo, two of the few thriving center-city markets left in Europe, Eataly draws all classes and ages at all times of day. The emphasis on local and artisanal producers, education, affordable prices, a lightened environmental footprint, and sheer fun makes Eataly a persuasive model for the supermarket of the future—one that is sure to be widely copied around the world. The question is whether Eataly will bite the hands of the people feeding it, the people it says it wants to help: Slow Food, which is the arbiter and moral center of today’s food culture, and the artisans themselves. “

Monocle carries an excellent video report:

“Housed in a former vermouth factory, Eataly offers the finest artisanal produce from Italian suppliers, all selected with the assistance of Slow Food Italia and accompanied by lovingly compiled details of its provenance and production.”

And also The New York Times featured it, using the opportunity to announce that a smaller version (one tenth the size of the Torino market) will open this spring in a two-level, 10,000-square-foot space in the new Centria building at 18 West 48th Street in New York:

“In January, in what had been a defunct vermouth factory in Turin, [Oscar Farinetti] opened a 30,000-square-foot megastore called Eataly that combines elements of a bustling European open market, a Whole-Foods-style supermarket, a high-end food court and a New Age learning center. […]”

“Artisanal products from some 900 Italian producers fill the store’s shelves, and 12 suppliers (some of which Mr. Farinetti invested in or bought outright) were enlisted as partners. Many of the food items are accompanied by explanatory placards and nearly half of the three-level store is dedicated to educational activities: a computer center, a library, a vermouth museum and rooms for cooking classes and tasting seminars. […]”

“According to management, more than 1.5 million people visited the store in its first six months and sales have exceeded projections.”

In short, for the real experience of fresh products from the Piedmont countryside you need to come to Torino.

6 January 2008

Interactions Magazine relaunched

Interactions
A few weeks ago, I announced the new direction taken by Interactions Magazine under its new editors-in-chief Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko, and now the first issue is out.

The content looks very exciting indeed and the editors-in-chief have done a great job at getting some of the best people in the field to contribute.

Columns

Features

In addition, there are several “Forum” pieces and a few book reviews.

Unfortunately, the publishers (ACM) have taken a weird approach to the online version: while the site has all the trappings of an online publication (with a nice design, a good table of contents, commenting, and article blogposts), it contains hardly any content! They only have excerpts available online – you have to be an ACM member to read the full text – in the printed issue that is (at $50 for 6 issues). Also there is no information about the authors online. Not surprisingly, the site has very few comments and I doubt it has much traffic.

I hope the hard copy will arrive quickly here in Europe, but even more that Richard and Jon will be able to convince ACM that this is not a very good online policy.

6 January 2008

Life lessons from consulting to academia, and back again

Jon Kolko
Jon Kolko, an interaction design specialist, went from consulting (2000-2002) to academia (Savannah College of Art & Design, 2002-2007) and then back to consulting (frog design, 2007-). So what has he learned from these transitions? Well, not what you’d think. Here’s a taste:

“While teaching, I emphasized cohesive process and strong documentation because I saw the value of instilling a repeatable and user-centered design methodology as a base upon which individual design skills could then be built. Yet, this type of education occurs in an environment that is sheltered and artificial–by definition. Even the most industry-focused academic programs emphasize and teach a “clean” process, with deliverables that are defined in advance, requirements that generally don’t change, and participants who are competent, articulate and well-mannered. Students make “good” design decisions because they have a rigid and confined set of constraints in which to work, and as it should, the safety net of academia provides a positive environment in which to fail.

Design consulting operates in a dramatically different world. While a statement of work may attempt to define concrete deliverables, even the most well-intentioned presales and planning effort can’t cohesively estimate the proper amount of sketches, wireframes, documents, or deliverables that will “solve” a given design problem and communicate the solution. Changing requirements lead to slipped deadlines; changing budgets alter design scope in mid-step; even changing attitudes and the constant banging of the burn-rate drum begin to introduce arbitrary design constraints (such as emotions) into an already messy process.”

Read full story

4 January 2008

Scientist: ‘Hybrid’ computers will meld living brains with technology

Biomorphic
For sure Ray Kurzweil (author of The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology) and Bruce Sterling (who coined the term “Biot” – an entity which is both object and person – in his book Shaping Things) will enjoy this:

A scientist who successfully connected a moth’s brain to a robot predicts that in 10 to 15 years we’ll be using “hybrid” computers running a combination of technology and living organic tissue.

Charles Higgins, an associate professor at the University of Arizona, has built a robot that is guided by the brain and eyes of a moth. Higgins told Computerworld that he basically straps a hawk moth to the robot and then puts electrodes in neurons that deal with sight in the moth’s brain. Then the robot responds to what the moth is seeing — when something approaches the moth, the robot moves out of the way. […]

This organically guided, 12-in.-tall robot on wheels may be pushing the technology envelope right now, but it’s just the seed of what is coming in terms of combining living tissue with computer components, according to Higgins.

“In future decades, this will be not surprising,” he said. “Most computers will have some kind of living component to them. In time, our knowledge of biology will get to a point where if your heart is failing, we won’t wait for a donor. We’ll just grow you one. We’ll be able to do that with brains, too. If I could grow brains, I could really make computing efficient.”

Read full story

(via UsabilityNews)

4 January 2008

The city is here for you to use

Adam Greenfield
Adam Greenfield is self-publishing his next book “The City Is Here For You To Use: Urban form and experience in the age of ubiquitous computing”.

The City Is Here For You To Use takes everything explored in Everyware as a given, and a point of departure. It assumes that emergent technologies like RFID, mesh networking and shape-memory actuators – all of which are explained for the non-technically-inclined reader – will simply be part of how cities will be made from now on, and seeks to understand what impact they’re likely to have on metropolitan form and experience.

You can think of it as a substantially expanded investigation into many of the themes and concerns raised in our pamphlet Urban Computing and its Discontents, notably:

  • How will our understanding of the city change when touchless payment infrastructures, “intelligent” access-control systems and dynamic advertisements are the stuff of everyday urban life?
  • How might we use these new technologies to create liveable, humane, sustainable and vibrant places?
  • Will we be able to do so while managing the inevitable new orders of frustration and inconvenience they’ll occasion – to say nothing of their unsettling, inherent potential for panoptical surveillance and regulation?

Through interviews, case studies, analysis and illustration, The City Is Here makes the case that these technologies can help us rediscover public space, then suggests how we might use them to reclaim that space as a common good and a resource for all.

Threading between kneejerk Luddism and blithe techno-utopianism, and forgoing all but the necessary minimum of technical jargon, I intend The City Is Here For You To Use to be an eminently accessible overview of a subject with implications for literally anyone who lives in the cities of the developed world, or plans to. I can promise that architects, designers, urban planners, and anyone interested more generally in understanding how the emergence of ubiquitous and ambient informatics will shape urban communities, physically and experientially, will find plenty to sink their teeth into.”

The book will be offered both as a premium, professionally printed and bound book, and as a free downloadable version in PDF, available concurrently, probably at the very beginning of 2009.

Adam Greenfield is the author of Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing. He is principal of New York City-based, strategic design consultancy Studies and Observation.

Read full story

4 January 2008

User-generated content threatened by the zeal to protect copyrights

Center for Social Media
The increased zeal among copyright holders to clamp down on any hint of piracy by online video sites puts the notion of user-generated content at risk, according to a study from American University’s Center for Social Media, that the New York Times reports on.
“The center’s 18-page study, Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video, posits that the aggressive efforts by companies like Viacom and NBC Universal to battle infringement fails to make the distinction between what’s legal and what’s not. Apart from potentially banishing much user-gen video from major sites like MySpace and YouTube, the current climate promotes “a deformed and truncated notion” of the rights of amateur videographers.”

Although the article and report are both valid, and the American University is a respected private United Methodist-affiliated institution in Washington, DC, I find it disturbing that The New York Times is now publishing content where the boundaries between editorial and advertising are starting to blur.

The “article” is in fact not written by the New York Times, although it is listed in the technology section as editorial content, but by someone who works for “PaidContent.org”, which is a publication of the ContentNext Media network. In fact, a copy of the article can be found on the PaidContent.org website.

Read full story

2 January 2008

Experientia email problem resolved

Experientia_logo
Experientia just resolved its email breakdown with its provider and we are now back to normal.

Please resend any messages sent between 28 December 2007 and 3 January 2008.

We apologise for the inconvenience.