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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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April 2008
30 April 2008

Microsoft developing ‘senior PC’

senior PC
Microsoft UK is developing a “senior PC”, which will have a simple interface and be aimed at older users, writes Jane Wakefield on BBC News.

The machine will come software that allows users to manage prescriptions as well as simplified tools for everyday use, such as managing photos.

The machine, which it is developing in partnership with charities Age Concern and Help the Aged, is one of several projects the firm is working on.

The plans were unveiled at a Digital Inclusion conference in London.

Read full story

30 April 2008

Homegrown – Nokia’s new design thinking on sustainability

People First
Nokia press release (dated 29 April 2008):

Nokia’s advanced design team today shared “Homegrown”, a long term research project looking at how Nokia can help people make more sustainable choices. The team is exploring specific environmental and social issues including recycling, energy and how to make the benefits of mobile technology available to more people.

The project is being run by the same team who created Remade – a concept first shown at the Mobile World Congress earlier this year and that explores how recycled materials may be used in the future to make mobile devices. At today’s event in Nokia’s London design studio the team showed for the first time some of the other concept they are working on. These are:

  • Zero Waste Charger concept – this explores ways to reduce the energy that is wasted when chargers are unplugged from a mobile device but left plugged into a live mains socket.
     
  • People First concept – this concept takes three human universals of the way people think about communication – time, lists, and people – to inspire and examine new user interface ideas.
     
  • Wears in, not out concept – as more services become available on our mobile devices this concept explores how people could potentially upgrade their devices digitally rather than physically in the future, giving people an additional choice on how they use and update their mobile phones.

The design team developing these concepts works on a time frame of looking three to five years out into the future. By sharing some of these ideas and stimulating a discussion they hope to develop innovative new ideas that can be used both within Nokia’s own business but also more broadly to drive environmental improvements.

- Photos of the concepts
- A beautiful presentation by Rhys Newman (pdf)
- Further background by team members Julian Bleecker and Raphael Grignani and on Nokia Conversations

28 April 2008

Cell surfing 2008

Buongiorno
Buongiorno commissioned a qualitative research in November 2007 to understand mobile internet behaviour of 18-34 year olds in the UK — what role it plays in their lives, key themes shaping their behaviour, and what’s in stall for the future of mobile content.

A deep dive, ethnographic approach was taken including a series of in-home interviews, going out and about with people, diary keeping and a torture test whereby PC browsing was banned for five days in order to assess the true potential of the mobile.

Although, there is a whole website dedicated to the project, I still have no idea what the real research results are. Here is what the press release says:

The main results of a qualitative study commissioned by Buongiorno are:

  • Embracers versus Pragmatists: in the mobile internet scenario, two key attitudes towards mobile phones and browsing were revealed
  • Mobile browsing depends mainly on four reasons: socialising; searching for information or entertainment; continuing actions started on the PC/internet; content downloading (music, video, games)
  • Virtuous, or Vicious? Confidence with technology determines the relationship with the medium and the use of related services
  • The impact of convergence: there is still a long way to go!
28 April 2008

How Club Penguin turned 750,000 British kids into penguins

Digital youth
The (UK) Times reports on the successful networking site for tweens.

The features of Club Penguin, one of the most successful virtual worlds aimed specifically at children, may defy logic – and gravity – but they represent the new frontier of children’s entertainment, where the whimsy and colour of traditional kids TV blends with computer game-style tasks, and the networking power of the internet.

Some 750,000 British children aged between 6 and 14 are estimated to inhabit Club Penguin, the brainchild of two Canadian entrepreneurs who as parents became frustrated with the lack of the options for kids who wanted to play computer games but also meet friends online.

Read full story

27 April 2008

First findings presented of study on kids in digital environments

Digital youth
A group of researchers from the University of Southern California and University of California at Berkeley presented their first findings from one of the largest ethnographic studies on kids in digital environments.

Kids’ Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures is a three year collaborative project funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Carried out by researchers at University of Southern California and University of California, Berkeley, the digital youth project explores how kids use digital media in their everyday lives.

The study pictures a new generation that is “self-publishing, programming, and pushing the boundaries of what can be done online”, which provides them “with a sense of competence, autonomy, self-determination and connectedness”.

But – shows the research – they’re not learning how to do this in school.

The full research will be published later this year.

- Read more: news.com | UC Berkeley News
- Talking notes, danah boyd, UC Berkeley

26 April 2008

New Linden Lab CEO announces user-centred vision for Second Life

Mark Kingdon
Earlier this week, Linden Lab, creator of the well-known virtual world Second Life, announced a new CEO: Mark Kingdon, currently CEO of digital marketing firm Organic. He will be taking over in mid-May.

Technology Review assistant editor Erica Naone spoke with Kingdon earlier this week about his plans for Second Life.

A lot of new users seem to have trouble getting to that place. They get confused by the controls, and aren’t sure what to do inside the world. Do you have any thoughts about how to make it easier to get started?

I’ve got a lot of background in the kind of user-centered design work that’s going to be important for Second Life, especially as you look at the first-hour experience. I haven’t come to any specific conclusions yet, but I think it starts with understanding what the resident needs in order to make a powerful experience, and looking at the kinds of people that you want to attract and bring in-world. The answers will emerge very clearly from that.

How do you plan to get different types of users acclimated? For example, business users might just want to get in-world quickly to have a meeting, while other users might be looking for a more playful experience.

I think the first thing that I need to do … is really immerse myself in the different user bases and then think about if, by giving them additional tools, they can create that entry point for themselves, or if it’s something we need to encourage, or if it’s something that we need to create for them. I think the question is, how do you make that happen without becoming the primary content creator?

Read full interview

26 April 2008

Audio files of IA Summit sessions

IA Summit
The IA Summit was held in Miami, FL from April 10-14. Boxes and Arrows captured many of the main conference sessions.

Keynote: “Journey To The Center of Design”Jared Spool
Jared enlightens and entertains with his keynote address. It now seems the foundations of user-centered design are disintegrating. Notable community members are suggesting UCD practice is burdensome and returns little value.

Search patternsPeter Morville
Peter describes a pattern language for search that explains user psychology and information seek behavior, highlights emerging technologies and interaction models, illustrates repeatable solutions to common problems, and position us all to design better search interfaces and applications.

The information Architect and the Fighter PilotMatthew Milan
Matthew argues that fighter pilot and military strategist John Boyd can teach us a great deal about how to understand, interpret and design for human decision making.

E-service: What we can learn from the customer-service gurusEric Reiss
In this passionate and entertaining presentation, Eric Reiss talks about the design and execution of a system of activities – people, processes, and technology – that ultimately build brand, revenues, and customer satisfaction.

Audiences & artifactsNathan Curtis
Nathan Curtis explores both the articles we produce and the audience we produce them for, revealing what works and what doesn’t.

Data driven design research personasTodd Zaki Warfel
Todd Zaki Warfel engages his audience sharing new visualization techniques he has been using that have personas even more effective and valuable to the design process.

25 April 2008

Down with innovation

Down with innovation
Rick Poynor, a writer and critic based in London specializing in visual culture, wrote a provocative essay (published in I.D. Magazine), tackling contemporary indulgence with design thinking and innovation:

Design is now so important, it seems, that designers can no longer be trusted with it, and to make it absolutely clear that control has moved into someone else’s hands, design needs to be given a fancy new name. Call it design thinking. Call it innovation. “Everyone loves design but no one wants to call it design,” BusinessWeek’s Bruce Nussbaum informed the readers of Design Observer last year. “Top CEOs and managers want to call design something else—innovation. Innovation: that they are comfortable with. Design, well, it’s a little too wild and crazy for them.” Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, offers this prescription: “Businesspeople don’t just need to understand designers better—they need to become designers.”[...]

Which is more patronizing: to create something you believe in because you think other people might like it too, and just put it out there? (The old, design, way.) Or to study every facet of consumers’ behavior with the intention of filling them with feelings of “insane loyalty” for your client’s products? (The new, innovation, way.)

Read full story

25 April 2008

Book: The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It

The Future of the Internet
The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It
by Jonathan Zittrain
Yale University Press
April 2008, 352 pages

Abstract

This extraordinary book explains the engine that has catapulted the Internet from backwater to ubiquity—and reveals that it is sputtering precisely because of its runaway success. With the unwitting help of its users, the generative Internet is on a path to a lockdown, ending its cycle of innovation—and facilitating unsettling new kinds of control.

iPods, iPhones, Xboxes, and TiVos represent the first wave of Internet-centered products that can’t be easily modified by anyone except their vendors or selected partners. These “tethered appliances” have already been used in remarkable but little-known ways: car GPS systems have been reconfigured at the demand of law enforcement to eavesdrop on the occupants at all times, and digital video recorders have been ordered to self-destruct thanks to a lawsuit against the manufacturer thousands of miles away. New Web 2.0 platforms like Google mash-ups and Facebook are rightly touted—but their applications can be similarly monitored and eliminated from a central source. As tethered appliances and applications eclipse the PC, the very nature of the Internet—its “generativity,” or innovative character—is at risk.

The Internet’s current trajectory is one of lost opportunity. Its salvation, Zittrain argues, lies in the hands of its millions of users. Drawing on generative technologies like Wikipedia that have so far survived their own successes, this book shows how to develop new technologies and social structures that allow users to work creatively and collaboratively, participate in solutions, and become true “netizens.”

Jonathan L. Zittrain is the Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University and co-founder of Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. He lives in Oxford, UK, and Cambridge, MA.

- Book page on Yale University Press site
- Book page on Amazon
- Extended Q&A with the author
- Online version of the book
- Video of Zittrain talk
- Financial Times book review

24 April 2008

Writing, technology and teens

PEW_logo
The International Herald Tribune writes about the latest study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project on how technology is impacting the writing style of teenagers in the United States.

“It is nothing to LOL about: Despite best efforts to keep school writing assignments formal, two-thirds of U.S. teens admit in a survey that emoticons and other informal styles have crept in.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project, in a study released Thursday, also found that teens who keep blogs or use social-networking sites like Facebook or News Corp.’s MySpace have a greater tendency to slip nonstandard elements into assignments.

The results may give parents, teachers and others a big :( – a frown to the rest of us – though the study’s authors see hope.”

Read full story

24 April 2008

One in five Britons don’t know how to use e-mail

No email
The Times comments on a report on the significant digital divide in the UK, despite widepsread broadband and mobile coverage.

One in five adult Britons is unable to open a word processing document on a computer, and just under 20 per cent still cannot use e-mail, a survey suggests.

Searching the internet using engines like Google, meanwhile, is a problem for 16 per cent of people, and when it comes to using social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, 28 per cent say they are at a loss.

The figures, detailed in an ICM poll, reveal the extent of the digital divide in Britain, where despite broadband penetration of about 65 per cent, one in five people does not yet own a computer, and 7 per cent of adults say that their lack of IT skills “greatly restricts” what they can do.

Read full story

24 April 2008

U² Understanding Users – a workshop in Brussels

U²
Design Flanders and Flanders In Shape organise a one-day conference and intensive training on user-centred design in the Flemish Parliament in Brussels on 22 May.

Experientia’s Jan-Christoph Zoels and Mark Vanderbeeken (the author of this blog) are in charge of the afternoon workshop on ethnography.

The event web page explains the importance of empathy in the creation of a successful user experience and stresses the relevance of a user-centred design for small and medium size companies.

The day will start off with a series of presentations:

The afternoon will feature four parallel workshops:

  • Workshop 1: Justin Knecht of the Centre for Design Innovation (Ireland) will provide a practical “DIY” manual to understand users (mainly aimed at SME’s).
     
  • Workshop 2: Jan-Christoph Zoels and Mark Vanderbeeken of Experientia (Italy) will demonstrate the ‘ethnographic research’ as a new innovation method.
     
  • Workshop 3: Jurgen Oskamp and Tim Ruytjens of Achilles Associates (Belgium) will demonstrate the use of ‘personas’.
     
  • Workshop 4: Valerie L’heureux of the Human Interface Group (Belgium) will discuss ‘Design Patterns, a perfect technique for user-centred design’.
     

Patricia Ceysens, Flemish Minister of Economy, Enterprise, Science, Innovation and Foreign Trade, will provide the closing speech.

Programme and registration: www.ucd.be

24 April 2008

Brand interactions are the future

David Armano
David Armano writes in Advertising Age about “micro-interactions”, the many everyday exchanges that we have with a product, brand and service that define how we feel about a product, brand or service at a gut emotional level, how information architects and experience designers can help companies design these, and what that means for the advertising industry.

Back to interaction designers. Here’s a concept worth thinking about: many of them don’t want to work for your ad agency. How do I know this? Because I talk to them daily. The most common response I get is, “Why would I want to work on a constant stream of microsites and promotions?” Interaction designers thrive on long-term project engagements. They yearn to sink their teeth into complex problems, wrapping their heads around how they can help solve them.

An agency environment that churns out digital program after program is less appealing — especially when there are opportunities to go work with a start-up, a non-agency or even, perhaps, the future Googles of the world. In an industry built off of the copywriter-art director dynamic duo, it’s time to think about talent in terms of “Renaissance people.” Many interaction designers fit this bill.

Read full story

24 April 2008

Germany wants to become world leader in design for the elderly

Stanford iTunes U
The German government just announced a high level initiative for universal and transgenerational design to archive world leadership in the production of innovative products for the elderly including innovation strategies, product and service development, design school projects, and a universal design network.

As stated on the website of the German Ministry of Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, the aim is to enlarge the potential that senior citizens can provide to the economy, by developing new products and services for the elderly, which in turn can secure existing jobs and create new ones, and by making companies (in construction, interior design, technology, information design, tourism, etc.) aware of the enormous opportunities by this future trend and supporting them with new ideas.

A press release dated 23 April 2008, gives more detail about the initiatives planned:

Companies, experts and organisations for senior citizens and consumers will be able to constantly exchange experiences and ideas on a new national platform, with the aim of creating a stronger integration of the expertise of the elderly, and therefore better products, that will be useful and pleasant for all generations.

  • Small and medium size companies will be made aware of the opportunities of the senior citizen market through regional cross-sector workshops and forums;
     
  • To increase the number of new companies founded by senior citizens, they will offered customised information and training opportunities in collaboration with the Chambers of Commerce and the public institutions;
     
  • A collection of “best practice” examples of promising business ideas will provide senior citizens with good ideas and encourage to make the jump towards independence.

Germany will become the leader in “trans-generational” design.

  • A competence network on “universal design” gathers information and knowledge with regards to product development;
     
  • Design competitions in educational institutions will provide inspiration for the type of products and packaging that are attractive and usable by people of any age group;
     
  • A travelling exhibition aimed at the public at large will show particularly successful examples of products and ideas that transcend the generations.

Older consumers will more easily find products and services that are based on their needs and requirements.

  • The German Government is investigating whether a quality label for age inclusive products can provide support to the elderly during shopping, and can stimulate the development of theses types of products;
     
  • Information materials, such as checklists, will make it easier for senior consumers to find the useful products and services within the market offering.

The initiative will initially run until 2010.

Here are some other German language links:
- Wirtschaftskraft Alter (project site)
- Project backgrounder (pdf, 12 pages)
- Design competition “Von Kopf bis Fuß” [From head to toe]

23 April 2008

IBM launches mobile web initiative aimed at emerging markets

IBM
IBM press release:

At the 10th anniversary commemoration of IBM’s India Research Lab, the company this week unveiled a new initiative to bring even more features and functions to mobile devices as they continue to rival the PC as the primary tool for Web-based business, education, communication, entertainment and more.

The new IBM Research program will entail a number of efforts to bring simple, easy-to-use services to the millions of people in the world who have bypassed using the personal computer as their primary method of accessing technology, and are instead using their mobile phone to access the web, conduct financial transactions, entertain themselves, shop and more.

Read full story

23 April 2008

Stanford University’s Human-Computer Interaction Seminar

Stanford iTunes U
iTunes U is an area of iTunes that lets universities in the US share – for free! – audio and video from their lectures, talks and events. The contents are globally accessible.

By clicking on Power Search, you can easily limit the regular iTunes search to iTunes U.

Of particular interest to the readers of this blog is Stanford University’s Human-Computer Interaction Seminar, consisting of no less than 36 lectures by people such as Bill Moggridge, Bill Buxton, Elizabeth Churchill, Paul Dourish and Donald Norman.

23 April 2008

Cultures of virtual worlds

Cultures
A two-day conference this week will bring together scholars, developers and participants in virtual worlds to discuss the emerging cultures being created from a range of online communities.

Event organizers theorize that virtual worlds can be studied by researchers in the fields of humanities and social sciences.

Cultural anthropologist Mimi Ito, Intel anthropologist Genevieve Bell, UCI informatics professors Paul Dourish and Bonnie Nardi, Intel researcher Maria Bezaitis and UCI anthropologist Tom Boellstorff will lead the discussions.

The event is sponsored by Intel Research and UCI’s Department of Anthropology and Center for Ethnography.

Tom Boellstorff, one of the conference organizers, is the author of Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. His is the first book to take a look at Second Life from a purely anthropological perspective.

- Press release
- Event website

23 April 2008

Computers for the people

Fluid
Stu Card, manager of the user interface group at the famed Palo Alto Research Center and Ted Selker of MIT’s Media Lab discussed human interfaces for mobile computers at the recent Sofcon 2008, and just how differently engineers have to treat these devices than their older PC brothers.

PCs weren’t necessarily designed for end users in the early days. They were designed for developers to create applications, or corporations to make their workers more productive. But mobile computers, whether they are smartphones, mobile Internet devices, or whatever, are fundamentally different; they’re with us at all times and are used on the go, not as stationary, sedentary terminals. And they are used as social devices, whether that’s planning a get-together with friends, taking pictures at the party, or as the ultimate arbiter of extremely important barroom arguments such as who had the most home runs for the 1993 New York Mets (Bobby Bonilla).

Card focused on the look and feel of the software that accompanies smartphones. He used Apple’s iPhone as his example, and examined how the iPhone was designed according to four different human factors: social, rational, cognitive, and biological. [...]

“Mobile computing is much more intimately tied to a user’s life. You need to design simultaneously on at least four levels, and functional design is not the only requirement,” Card said.

Read full story

20 April 2008

The Fluid Project

Fluid
Network World reports that “a handful of universities, including the University of Toronto and the University of California, Berkeley, is working to build a software architecture and reusable components that can make Web applications easier to develop and use. The Fluid Project‘s work focuses on user-centered design practices. Vendors such as Mozilla Foundation, IBM and Sun are also taking part.”

Here some more information on the project:

The Fluid Project is an international community of academic institutions, community source software projects and corporations working together to address the precarious values of usability, accessibility, internationalization, quality assurance and security within academic software projects.

Fluid combines both design and technology to create a living library of sharable user interface components that can be reused across community source projects. These components are built specifically to support flexibility and customization while maintaining a high standard of design quality. The Fluid framework will enable designers and developers to build user interfaces that can more readily accommodate the diverse personal and institutional needs found within community source projects.

A critical component of the Fluid project is the task of effecting systemic changes within the community source software projects and establishing a viable process for embedding user experience design, knowledge and consciousness into the community development cycle.

The Fluid project is led by the University of Toronto, represented by the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre, with core participation from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Cambridge, the University of British Columbia and York University. Many other universities are contributing resources and expertise. Corporations participating in the project include IBM, Sun Microsystems, Mozilla Foundation, and Unicon.

18 April 2008

Consumerisation: the blurring of business and consumer focused applications

Consumerisation
Knowledge@Wharton has published an article on the blurring boundary between consumer and corporate technologies.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs says the iPhone’s latest software tweaks due in June will make the device more palatable to corporate America. Oracle on March 11 launched an on-demand customer relationship management application that mimics popular consumer sites like Facebook and integrates with a worker’s personalized Google or Yahoo page. IBM on April 8 touted a portfolio of “mashups” that can combine corporate software with consumer web favorites like Google Maps. The common thread: The boundaries between corporate and consumer technologies are beginning to disappear.

This blurring of business and consumer focused applications is called “consumerization” by technology research firms such as Gartner and executives at companies such as Microsoft. Consumerization posits that consumer technologies — including social networking tools, user generated content and wikis (web-based software that allows people to create content collaboratively) — are being increasingly adopted by corporate America. These consumer applications are being used to develop software faster, share knowledge within a company, track projects and make corporate information systems more accessible to employees. According to Gartner analyst Steve Prentice, innovation is now coming from consumers and their favorite technologies. “Consumers are increasingly in charge. They are driving the specifications of technology. They are driving disruption and changing the balance of power,” he notes.

Read full story