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Putting People First

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February 2008
29 February 2008

Making next popular cellphone can be study in psychology

Remade
The International Herald Tribune has published an article on why it has become more important than ever for mobile phone manufacturers to understand the psyche of consumers and why they pick one phone over another.

But the solutions seem disparate and not necessarily on the mark. The article describes how LG Electronics begins by asking focus groups to keep a journal, jotting down feelings about features they like most, and how LG executives regularly attend home and design shows looking for broader trends in popular culture; how a panellist at a recent industry conference suggested that cellphone makers tap into consumers’ neural networks, while another said they should understand their subliminal needs; and how Nokia designers and researchers got together a few weeks ago in a three-day retreat to discuss consumer behaviour, in order to tell Nokia’s top executives not only what consumers will want next year, but 3 to 15 years from now.

According to one commentator, this article shows how clueless and far off the cellphone makers really are.  

Read full story

29 February 2008

Ethnographic research in medical device development

Observation
Stephen Wilcox describes in Medical Device Link how ethnographic research, when used correctly, can provide hard data for guiding a device company’s business decisions.

The use of ethnographic research has since become much more common in medical device development. However, its relative ubiquity raises an important issue: How can ethnographic research achieve validity? By validity, I mean the degree to which the research findings accurately describe the real-world facts that they purport to describe.

The issue of validity does not always apply to ethnographic research, at least not to all research to which the term ethnographic is applied. Much so-called ethnographic research—perhaps most of it—is designed simply to generate ideas, that is, to stimulate creativity. Inevitably, when members of device-design teams go into the field and see directly how their devices and other devices are used, it generates insight and stimulates new ideas. This is certainly a reasonable and productive purpose for field research.

However, there is another, perhaps more ambitious, purpose to which ethnographic research can be applied—to guide business decisions regarding new product development, e.g., to determine what new devices are needed, what characteristics new devices should have, and so on. What “guiding business decisions” amounts to, of course, is providing information to determine how millions, or tens of millions, or even hundreds of millions of R&D dollars can be most productively spent.

Read full story

28 February 2008

Lessons from Europe

Lessons from Europe
The Design Council published a report from a fact-finding tour to the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland that explored how cross-disciplinary teaching and learning is changing the nature of design.

The tour members, which were academics and policy makers and also included design consultant and emerging markets specialist Niti Bhan, visited academic institutions (Technical University Delft, Design Academy Eindhoven, Technical University Eindhoven, KaosPilots, Aarhus School of Architecture, Workcamp07, University of Art and Design Helsinki, Helsinki School of Creative Entrepreneurship, and Helsinki University of Technology) and companies (Philips Design, Designit, Zentropa Workz, Nokia, Kone, and Desigence).

Download “Lessons from Europe” (pdf)

27 February 2008

Donald Norman in Torino, Italy on 15 March

Donald Norman
Donald Norman is probably one of the most prominent guests at the upcoming Piemonte Share Festival, curated by Bruce Sterling.

Norman will be part of a panel on Saturday afternoon 15 March entitled “Manufacturing Future Designs”.

The many conferences of the festival are delving into all kinds of variations of the overall “manufacturing” theme: Manufacturing Cultural Projects; Manufacturing the Streets; Dramatic Manufacturing; Manufacturing Intelligence; Manufacturing Robots; A Manifesto for Networked Objects; Manufacturing Digital Art; Manufacturing Future Designs; Manufacturing Consent; and Is Life Manufacturable?

Speakers and guests are many, including Montse Arbelo, Andrea Balzola, Massimo Banzi, Luis Bec, Gino Bistagnino, Julian Bleecker, Chiara Boeri, Stefano Boeri, PierLuigi Capucci, Stefano Carabelli, Antonio Caronia, Paolo Cirio, Gianni Corino, Lutz Dammbeck, Luca De Biase, Kees de Groot, Hugo Derijke, Giovanni Ferrero, Fabio Franchino, Joseba Franco, Piero Gilardi, Owen Holland, Janez Jansa, Nicole C. Karafyllis, Maurizo Lorenzati, Mauro Lupone, Giampiero Masera, Motor, Ivana Mulatero, Daniele Nale, Anne Nigten, Donald Norman, Marcos Novak, Gordana Novakovic, Giorgio Olivero, Claudio Paletto, Luigi Pagliarini, Katina Sostmann, Stelarc, Bruce Sterling, Pietro Terna, Franco Torriani, and Viola van Alphen.

27 February 2008

Book: We Think – mass innovation not mass production

We Think
“We Think”, the new book by Charles Leadbeater, a UK-based innovation thinker and spokesman for collective creativity, has just been published.

Society is based not on mass consumption now but on mass, innovative participation – as is clear in phenomena from Wikipedia, Youtube and Craigslist to new forms of scientific research and political campaigning. This new mode of ‘We-think’ is reshaping the way we work, play and communicate.

“We-think” is about what the rise of these phenomena (not all to do with the internet) means for the way we organise ourselves – not just in digital businesses but in schools and hospitals, cities and mainstream corporations. For the point of the industrial era economy was mass production for mass consumption, the formula created by Henry Ford; but these new forms of mass, creative collaboration announce the arrival of a new kind of society, in which people want to be players, not spectators.

This is a huge cultural shift, for in this new economy people want not services and goods, delivered to them, but tools so they can take part. In “We-think” Charles Leadbeater analyses not only these changes, but how they will affect us and how we can make the most of them.

Just as, in the 1980s, his “In Search of Work” predicted the rise of more flexible employment, here he outlines a crucial shift that is already affecting all of us.

The book was partly written online and incorporates readers’ comments on a draft released on the web in late 2006.

- Publisher’s page
Amazon page
Short animation video

27 February 2008

Yrjö Sotamaa on Helsinki’s new Innovation University

Yrjö Sotamaa
I recently interviewed Prof. Yrjö Sotamaa, President of the University of Art and Design Helsinki.

Sotamaa is the man behind the initiative to start a new Innovation University in Finland, by bringing together three Finnish top universities: the University of Art and Design Helsinki (TAIK), the Helsinki University of Technology (TKK), and the Helsinki School of Economics (HSE).

The goal for the new university, due to start in August 2009, is to be one of the leading institutions in the world in terms of research and education in the field of technology, business studies and art and design.

The initiative is a much bigger and ambitious version of a general multidisciplinary approach that is currently also being implemented in some other major centres of education. Design-London at RCA-Imperial will create an ‘innovation triangle’ between design (represented by the Royal College of Art), engineering and technology (represented by Imperial College Faculty of Engineering), and the business of innovation (represented by Imperial’s Tanaka Business School). Carnegie Mellon University puts design, engineering, and business students into teams to work on projects. And the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management pairs MBAs with design students in product development classes.

Classes for the 22,000 students will be in English, in order to attract students from all over the world (many of whom might end up working again for that famous Finnish multinational, Nokia, who is one of the sponsors of the initiative).

What is interesting too, is their radical choice for a human-centred, multidisciplinary, and prototyping approach.

Read interview

27 February 2008

Design meets research

Target research
Gain, the AIGA journal of business and design, seems to be awake again (after a long slumbering period). The latest contribution, entitled Design Meets Research, is by Debbie Millman and Mike Bainbridge, both of Sterling Brands, one of the leading brand identity firms in the US. Millman is also the editor of Gain.

Qualitative and quantitative market research often get a bad rap in the graphic design industry—and in the marketing world in general. Those that are vehemently against the practice argue that because consumers are generally uncomfortable with change, any type of research probing something truly innovative or revolutionary will likely scare people. Those that are skeptical will question the nature of behavioral dynamics involved in artificial group settings. Even those that are merely dubious will admit that research can stifle creativity. […]

[However,] there is a group of brand consultants and cultural anthropologists alike that believe now that it is not the actual research itself that is the problem. It is rather about how research is often misused, what type of design concepts and stimulus are tested, and how data is analyzed that is most often at fault. When used correctly, research shouldn’t stifle creativity but rather offer designers stronger inspiration and focus.

The authors then continue with a description of some of the mainstays of modern market research: ethnographic research, focus groups, quantitative eye tracking, and online testing. With each is included the advantages, the challenges and the bottom line.

In the autumn AIGA will also organise its biannual Gain: AIGA Business and Design Conference in New York City.

27 February 2008

Nokia morphs itself from within

Nokia Morph
Very interesting article on the BBC news site on how Nokia is transforming itself from a device manufacturer into a software and services company that monetises its software know-how through selling devices, and the strategic role that research plays in this endeavour. Some UX related quotes:

Dr John Shen, head of the Palo Alto Research lab, said his team was helping Nokia’s development as a services company.

“We see the intersecting of the internet and mobility. Nokia has been a device company and that will remain a lucrative business for years to come, but instead of waiting until we have to change, Nokia is looking ahead and making changes now.”

He said the focus for the firm was a “total solution”, encompassing hardware and software, but focusing on a “compelling user experience”.

“The company that understands the end user experience is going to have an edge,” he added. […]

Dr Shen added: “When technology is below the user requirement, technology drives the industry.

“But once you cross over to the mainstream then you have to look at services and the user experience.

“The real focus now is compelling user experiences. It has to be user experience driven rather than technology driven.”

Read full story

26 February 2008

More thought provocation from UX matters

UXmatters
UXmatters continues to surprise with its thought provoking articles. Bravo for the good work!

Applied empathy: a design framework for human needs and desires
by Dirk Knemeyer (of Involution Studios and president of UXnet)
Part One of this series, Applied Empathy, introduced a design framework for meeting human needs and desires and defined five States of Being that represent the different degrees to which products and experiences affect and motivate people in their lives. Part Two explained the three Dimensions of Human Behavior and outlined a variety of specific needs and desires for which we can intentionally design products. This third and final part of the series shows how this design framework maps to a variety of well-known products and experiences and illustrates how this framework can be put to practical use.

Show and tell: imagining the user experience beyond point, click and type
by Jonathan Follett (president of Hot Knife Design)
More reliable and permanent than human memory, the technology of written language dominates as the primary method human beings use for conveying abstractions of complex ideas across space and time. Now the ability of software to recognize increasingly complex patterns like the nuances of speech and visual representations of people—provides us with possibilities for human/computer interaction that could vastly reduce the need for textual communication.

26 February 2008

Chris Anderson on “freeconomics”

Free!
Former Economist writer, “Long Tail” author and current Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, is pushing another of his disruptive business ideas and preparing the launch of his next book.

“Thanks to Gillette, the idea that you can make money by giving something away is no longer radical. But until recently, practically everything “free” was really just the result of what economists would call a cross-subsidy: You’d get one thing free if you bought another, or you’d get a product free only if you paid for a service.

Over the past decade, however, a different sort of free has emerged. The new model is based not on cross-subsidies — the shifting of costs from one product to another — but on the fact that the cost of products themselves is falling fast. It’s as if the price of steel had dropped so close to zero that King Gillette could give away both razor and blade, and make his money on something else entirely. (Shaving cream?)”

It remains a dubious assumption though: Google doesn’t provide its advertising space for free, the product and services being advertised are not for free, the marginal costs are not free (like environmental impacts), and “economy” itself implies some kind of value exchange. AdLab calls it Chris Anderson’s communist manifesto.

Read full story

25 February 2008

The future of reputation

The future of reputation
A new book was published (and is available free online) on what might be happening to our out privacy and ultimately reputation in an age of ubiquitous personal information.

The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet
by Daniel J. Solove
Yale University Press, 2007

Teeming with chatrooms, online discussion groups, and blogs, the Internet offers previously unimagined opportunities for personal expression and communication. But there’s a dark side to the story. A trail of information fragments about us is forever preserved on the Internet, instantly available in a Google search. A permanent chronicle of our private lives—often of dubious reliability and sometimes totally false—will follow us wherever we go, accessible to friends, strangers, dates, employers, neighbors, relatives, and anyone else who cares to look. This engrossing book, brimming with amazing examples of gossip, slander, and rumor on the Internet, explores the profound implications of the online collision between free speech and privacy.

Daniel Solove, an authority on information privacy law, offers a fascinating account of how the Internet is transforming gossip, the way we shame others, and our ability to protect our own reputations. Focusing on blogs, Internet communities, cybermobs, and other current trends, he shows that, ironically, the unconstrained flow of information on the Internet may impede opportunities for self-development and freedom. Long-standing notions of privacy need review, the author contends: unless we establish a balance between privacy and free speech, we may discover that the freedom of the Internet makes us less free.

(via Demos)

24 February 2008

Our cells, ourselves

Disruptive Thinking
The Washington Post reflects on what it means that there is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth.

“From essentially zero, we’ve passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history — faster even than the polio vaccine.” […]

“The mobile phone is the way social cohesion is taking place. It tightens the bonds between us,” says Ling, an American who researches the social consequences of mobile telephony for Telenor, the Oslo-based global phone company. […]

“The cellphone allows us to create that local sphere” that was the hallmark of pre-industrial villages, says Ling. Cellphone circles tend to be small and full of people who “know what you’re up to, who you are, what’s in your refrigerator. That’s a way of being attached to society. It has a socializing effect.”

Read full story

24 February 2008

The Art Center Global Dialogues: Disruptive Thinking

Disruptive Thinking
Mobile services strategist and fellow Belgian Rudy Dewaele asked me to pitch an upcoming innovation conference in Barcelona. Although not directly related to human-centred design, as a major foresight and innovation conference it merits attention:

The Art Center Global Dialogues: Disruptive Thinking is a series of on-stage conversations with internationally renowned thinkers in many fields whose “disruptive” ideas and actions challenge convention, break current paradigms, and inspire positive changes in the larger world. Unlike traditional conferences, the Art Center Global Dialogues pair these speakers with influential media figures—including highly regarded editors, publishers, and reporters—in vital exchanges that encourage the development of new ideas.

The next date in the Disruptive Thinking series is on 7 March 2008 in Palau de la Música in Barcelona, an event co-organised by The Art Center College of Design and the ESADE Business School.

An international lineup of radical thinkers and provocateurs will explore six influential areas in our daily lives: climate change, geopolitics, business, science, belief and design.

24 February 2008

Use8, a new user experience society

Use 8
Use8 is a new UK-based society (and non-profit organisation) that aims to bring together students, professionals, academics and industry who are interested in the user experience design discipline.

The society establishes a forum and promotes engagement through organising events that bridge the gaps between diverse communities and disciplines.

Use8 was founded through a collaboration between Di8it Ltd and the Beepurple Entrepreneurship Network. Beepurple is a project run by the University of Brighton’s Business Services Office and Di8it provides user experience design and consultancy services to clients and partners in the UK and internationally. The project coordinator is Alfonso Comitini.

The website seems incomplete, so it seems like the project is just starting up.

21 February 2008

Louis Rosenfeld on web analytics and user experience

Louis Rosenfeld
Too often, web users get lost in the cracks between Search, Browse, and Ask. Web analytics will enable designers to create truly integrated finding experiences predicts information architect Lou Rosenfeld in a long article on Adobe Design Center’s Think Tank.

“Browsing, searching, and asking may appear to be used as if they were discrete functions, but that’s not really how our brains work when we seek information. […]

Browsing, searching, and asking might all take place within a single attempt to find information. […]

Unfortunately, most of the systems we design don’t really support finding. We might do a bang-up job with searching, browsing, or asking. But we’ve failed at integrating them well; therefore our designs fail at helping users to shift effortlessly between these different aspects of finding, and instead impose harsh interruptions on the process.”

Read full story

20 February 2008

Bringing medical devices home

Glucose meter
As medical devices transition from hospital to home, device manufacturers must create a positive experience for users, argues Matthew Jordan, director of research and interaction design at Insight Product Development, in a long article in Medical Device Link.

Certain macrotrends in the healthcare and medical device industries have created an environment in which it is critical that products do a better job of supporting patients’ needs. In general, the population is aging. People are living longer and therefore require more care. But hospitals and physicians struggle to balance profitability with care excellence. The average length of stay for a patient decreased consistently throughout the 1990s. The shift in care has moved from the hospital to the home and from clinicians to family caregivers and the patients themselves.

Advances in technology have been able to support this trend. With the miniaturization and ruggedization of key hardware components such as pumps, processors, and displays, devices have become far more portable, and small enough to be hand carried, worn on the body, or transported on a wheelchair.

Patients themselves have also changed in recent years. Because patients (and their family caregivers) are able to access information via the Internet, they are becoming more knowledgeable about the care options—including devices, therapies, and interventions—they may receive to address their condition. Patients are also participating in virtual and real-world communities, and so are more empowered, invested, and active in the decisions related to their care.

Because of these macrotrends in healthcare, medical devices (both critical and noncritical) are used more often in the home and are used in different ways from in the hospital. It is useful to explore these thematic differences before discussing how medical products need to be designed specifically for home use.

Read full story

19 February 2008

Tech’s feminine side

Woman with mobile phone
The Boston Globe ponders what happens now that women are wielding increasing influence in a high-tech world that has been largely built and engineered by men, and how that changes the technology itself.

No one would make the argument that megapixels are masculine or that gigabytes have a gender. But as gadgets and websites become an integral part of everyday life, a high-tech world that has been largely built and engineered by men is getting the feminine touch.

Digital cameras, cellphones, and online social networks appear unisex – but social scientists argue that every product is hardwired in subtle ways that reflect the cultural assumptions of its makers.

In a technology world that has been dominated by men, a growing number of companies are realizing that “feminizing” their products – essentially, by putting style and functionality on an equal footing with power and speed – is good for business.

“Women say, ‘Listen, I always have demands on my time – kids or husbands or in-laws or my parents . . . I don’t want technology that requires me to fiddle around with it,”‘ said Genevieve Bell, an anthropologist at Intel Corp. who has over the past decade helped push the company to consider consumers in its engineering choices. “It makes women really interesting bellwethers or benchmarks for usability.”

The article refers to a Nokia entertainment study, entitled ‘A Glimpse of the Next Episode’ (press release | downloads), but has some interesting insights on future user interfaces as well.

Read full story

19 February 2008

Gesture based interface for cutting and pasting

Gesture
A recent Apple patent application shows mockups of a Mac OS X gesturing control panel with options to configure standard trackpad, basic multitouch, and advanced multitouch settings.

The patent application depicts how one could customise advanced gestures for editing operations such as Copy, Cut, Paste, Undo, Select All, Tab, and Cancel using your thumb and two fingers.

Apple has been making small and steady steps at introducing the multitouch interface — first in the iPhone, and now in the MacBook Air. Apple is already expected to expand the basic multitouch functionality to the remainder of their notebook product line.

Read full story

18 February 2008

Interfaces are where the fun lies

Donald Norman
Apparently Donald Norman, who is coming to Torino, Italy in less than a month, has made a deal with Interactions Magazine to allow him to publish his contributions online, even before the magazine comes out.

His newest delightfully written piece is about the unavoidability of waiting. A short quote:

“To the analyst, such as me, interfaces are where the fun lies. Interfaces between people, people and machines, machines and machines, people and organizations. Anytime one system or set of activities abuts another, there must be an interface. Interfaces are where problems arise, where miscommunications and conflicting assumptions collide. Mismatched anything: schedules, communication protocols, cultures, conventions, impedances, coding schemes, nomenclature, procedures. it is a designer’s heaven and the practitioners hell. And it is where I prefer to be.”

Read full story

18 February 2008

Beyond the creative industries

Innovation
Three publications by NESTA (the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) examine the role of the creative industries.

Beyond the creative industries maps the state of the creative economy in the United Kingdom, and measures their contribution to economic activity.

Creating innovation presents the results of major new research into the role of the creative industries in stimulating and supporting innovation in the UK. The research investigates and quantifies how artistic and creative activities link into the wider economy.

Making policy for the creative economy finally explains what it means for the UK to start thinking of itself as a ‘creative economy’ rather than a set of ‘creative industries’.