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Putting People First

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June 2008
12 June 2008

Intel anthropologists find keys to tech adoption

Adoption map
Dawn Nafus, an Intel anthropologist and her team have created Intel’s “Technology Metabolism Index,” which shows how citizens of countries’ tech adoption exceeds or lags what one would expect given their levels of wealth.

The map (hi-res pdf) shows fast tech adopters in bright colors and slow adopters in grays.

Nafus hopes that the work will help break the current business paradigms about what countries are ready for which technologies.

Read full story

10 June 2008

Philips and NH Hoteles collaborating to optimise the hotel experience

NH room
NH Hoteles and Philips have announced that they will conduct an intensive two-year study into the optimization of well-being amongst hotel guests.

To support the research, NH Hoteles and Philips have teamed up as a first step to create a unique room at NH Hoteles’ flagship Barbizon Palace hotel in Amsterdam featuring the latest in ambient solutions.

Researchers will collect consumer insights into how different room settings and technologies affect the guests’ hotel going experience and well-being as well as their interaction and relationship with entertainment systems and lighting.

The partnership builds upon other experience research between the two companies on how to optimise the hotel experience.

The results from the current study will help Philips to continue to become more customer-centric and provide innovative and timely solutions that improve people’s lives based on indepth consumer insights. NH Hoteles, on the other hand, will in the future apply Philips’ solutions in its hotels to set the standards in the hotel industry and continue to improve the hotel experience of their guests.

Read full story

10 June 2008

Information Architecture Television

IA TV
Information Architecture Television is a weblog that contains quite an extensive collection of online videos concerning usability, information architecture, interaction design and user experience design.

(via InfoDesign)

10 June 2008

French ethnographic study on teens and mobiles

Afom
The fact that young people are more adapt at using the latest technologies has less to do with expertise, experience or access, but more with their “non-dramatic” relation with these technologies, as evidenced by the way they deal with small failures and technological problems.

This is one of the results of a recent ethnographic study conducted by the French Interdisciplinary Group on Information and Communication Process (Gripic) on behalf of the French Association of Mobile Operators, and reported at length on InternetActu (site in French).

Summarising it differently, Gripic says:

“You cannot be connected if you are afraid of failures and of DIY-ing. Once upon a time, one had to learn. Now one has to experiment. Usage is no longer something that comes at the end of a training – it is the training.”

The researchers also looked at the practice of mobile sharing:

“There is a growing trend of sharing with teenagers. Phones are more and more objects that circulate within a group, in particular when they have lost their own phone, when it is broken or stolen. The Gripic researchers were surprised to find that a fair number of teenagers didn’t even have their own mobile phone, but just a “replacement mobile”: an object that was ephemeral, non-sacred, cheap and aimed at circulation. The only thing that matters is that it works.” [...]

“In fact, for adults the mobile is a hyper-personal device, an intimate black box with data that absolutely need to be protected. For teenagers on the other hand, the mobile is often as little confidential and intimate as their blogs. They are instead identity and exhibition spaces of oneself, with “museum galleries” of photos, ringtones, videos, and music to share with a community of peers: archiving makes only sense if it can be shared.”

Gripic sees teenager usage of the mobile no longer as “emblematic of an individualistic society”, but rather as “a reflection of collective and collaborative behaviours”.

Also in the study, a lot of insights on how mobile phones are used at schools and in the relationship between parents and children.

If you read French, you should read the full InternetActu post, but also check the various downloads available from the website of the French Association of Mobile Operators (ASOM).

6 June 2008

Hurdle for future cities: human habits

Masdar
The Christian Science Monitor published an interesting article that voices scepticism on whether the planned carbon-neutral city of Masdar in Abu Dhabi could indeed become a sustainable urban innovation model globally:

“The project has done little to impress green city planners not connected with the venture. A utopia spawned by petro-dollars is not a practical solution to real-world emissions problems, they say. Current cities must address political and social concerns that are irrelevant to the UAE experiment.”

More relevant to the theme of this blog, the article also underlines local cultural problems:

“While Masdar has ignited curiosity beyond the nation’s borders, it has elicited limited enthusiasm from a key audience: locals. For many Abu Dhabians, the concerns range from weak air conditioning to limited access to automobiles – car culture is deeply entrenched in the UAE.” [...]

“The first fundamental thing in urban design is about people. Why would people want to be here?“ says William Mitchell, a professor of architecture and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Smart Cities project in Cambridge, Mass. “It’s not so much the technology and the organization of infrastructure and systems, although those ultimately become very important things.”

Read full story

6 June 2008

In Japan, mobile phones have become too complex to use

Sleeping
Wired Magazine reports on how Japanese handsets have become prime examples of feature creep gone mad. In many cases, they say, phones in Japan are far too complex for users to master. Yet, they wonder whether the iPhone stands any chance in this feature-obsessed culture.

Read full story

6 June 2008

User experience design: the evolution of a multi-disciplinary approach

JUS
The May 2008 issue of the Journal of Usability Studies, a UPA-published peer-reviewed quarterly journal, contains an invited essay Dr. Deborah Mayhew that adds a new and different perspective on the evolution of the usability practice.

In his introduction editor Avi Parush writes:

“In her essay, titled: “User experience design: the evolution of a multi-disciplinary approach“, she outlines some of the interesting milestones in the multi-disciplinary nature of the usability practice. The evolution introduced new collaborative and multi-disciplinary challenges, from working with programmers, through graphic designers and information architects, to persuasion specialists. Dr. Mayhew concludes that the constructive future of the usability discipline may depend on effective alliances with various disciplines and specialties along with the concurrent developments in technology and user needs.”

Read full story

5 June 2008

A better ATM experience from Wells Fargo

Enter your PIN
Holger Struppek (a design director at Hot Studio and former senior interaction designer at Pentagram Design) shares on his Physical Interface (!) blog some design insights that went into Wells Fargo’s touchscreen ATM interface–a product freed from a major hardware-imposed restriction of the past.

“Wells Fargo hired Pentagram in the fall of 2005 to begin work on a new user interface for their ATMs. Wells Fargo was in the process of upgrading their ATMs with touchscreen monitors. This was a relatively slow process, since there are about 7,000 ATMs in the field, and any upgrades are expensive. But with the vast majority to be converted during 2007, this was the perfect time to create a fresh UI that would fully utilize the touchscreen capability.”

Read full story

(via Thinking & Making)

5 June 2008

One month to go to the World Congress of Architecture

UIA World Congress of Architecture
In a month’s time Turin, Italy will host the XXIII edition of the World Congress of Architecture, promoted by the UIA (International Union of Architects).

More than 4000 participants have registered already. There are over 70 sessions with more than 360 speakers.

The topic chosen for the 2008 congress is “Transmitting Architecture“, or as the organisers say “the strength and ability architecture has of expressing and communicating values, feelings and diverse cultures through time.”

For Leopoldo Freyrie, General Speaker of the Torino 2008 UIA congress, this also indicates the desire and will to bring architecture out of a sort of isolation in which buildings and even gorgeous solutions are designed without any real connection to surrounding reality.

In fact during the press conference today Freyrie was quite adamant about the social and ethical role of the congress, which according to him had a duty to confront the major environmental, social, demographic, economic and migration challenges our planet is facing and that are often so concentrated in its urban environments.

We concur.

The three days dedicated to the congress themes are planned to include the following contents:

  • June 30th 2008, CULTURE, the project’s culture, talent and training, history and the Past, the transmission and protection of the architectural heritage, restoration.
  • July 1st 2008, DEMOCRACY, the construction of an urban democracy in the Present, participation, the decision-making process, the territory’s transformation, communication and mediation.
  • July 2nd 2008, HOPE, environmental sustainability and safeguard as ethical duty of architects, the search for a Future with a still inhabitable world, technological innovation.

One session will be of particular interest to readers of this blog: on 2 July Nicolas Nova (LIFT lab) will be moderator of a session entitled “From ubiquitous technology to human context – Technology applied to architecture and design: does it solve problems or create needs?”. Invited speakers are Adam Greenfield (Nokia), Jeffrey Huang (Media and Design Laboratory, EPFL, Switzerland) and Younghee Jung (Nokia).

A very nice gesture is the low-cost registration: 100 euros for professionals and 50 for students.

- Read today’s press release (Word document)
- Consult the programme

5 June 2008

New report looks at economic benefits of mobile phones for those at the bottom of the pyramid

Uganda sign
A new report, Perceived economic benefits of telecom access at the Bottom of the Pyramid in emerging Asia, takes a new look at the effect of mobile phones on the lives of people at the so-called ‘bottom of the pyramid.’

The report, published by LIRNEasia, states that although anecdotal evidence shows that mobile phones are economically beneficial to base-of-the-pyramid users, there is little empirical evidence to reinforce this claim.

The authors conducted a study on mobile phone usage in five Asian countries and used the results to analyze the benefits — economic and otherwise — of mobiles on users at the bottom of the pyramid.

- Read synthesis on MobileActive
- Read report

If this topic interests you, be aware that LIRNEasia has many other projects and papers, including research on Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid and Mobile2.0@BOP.

5 June 2008

Africa’s grassroots mobile revolution – a traveller’s perspective

Uganda sign
Vodafone receiver magazine’s new issue is about “Emerging Markets“.

But it’s a shortened issue: Vodafone thought that launching a whole new issue, with all articles of all authors at once, might be too much to swallow. Therefore they decided to “feed us” one article each week.

The first article – which is actually a picture story – is by Ken Banks. Further contributions will come from Jared Braiterman, Jan Chipchase, David Lehr and Daniel Greenstadt, Adriana de Souza e Silva, David Frohlich and Matt Jones, John Traxler, Neil Clavin, and Toby Shapshak.

Ken Banks devotes himself to the application of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the developing world, and has spent the last 15 years working on projects in Africa. Recently, his research resulted in the development of FrontlineSMS, a field communication system designed to empower grassroots non-profit organisations. Banks graduated from Sussex University in Social Anthropology and currently divides his time between Cambridge (UK) and Stanford University in California on a MacArthur Foundation-funded Fellowship.

He is a close observer of a process he calls the “grassroots mobile revolution” and in this picture story, based on his African travels, shares some of his insights into how going mobile is transforming not only African societies, but also how it impacts mobile use in places a little closer to home.

He shows that the gap between developed and developing countries is not much of a gap at all. While mobile innovation in the West is largely technology-led, users in the developing word, with all their economical, geographical and cultural constraints, often find a more sensible way to go.

5 June 2008

Nokia research on the “Internet of Things” officially begins

Internet of Things
Nokia press release:

LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Today marks the launch of the new long-term research partnership between Nokia Research Center and the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, with the Pervasive Communications Laboratory doors officially opening in Lausanne.

The focus of this major research collaboration is to get beneath the skin of new technologies and explore the real-life application of what’s been dubbed the “Internet of Things” – a vision of context aware mobile interaction, using your mobile device to soak up and share information about your environment and the real objects in your close vicinity. Sure, merging existing technologies such as GPS and high-speed networks will inevitably form part of the research agenda, however the development of fresh technologies and smart sensors that could replicate human senses, such as touch and even smell, to help gather information will also go under the microscope.

“The initial joint research agenda will focus on pervasive communications: Exploring new interaction experiences and technologies utilizing all the human senses; Services and applications based on the user’s context, such as location, and personal preferences, e.g., information provided by sensors within a mobile device or in the surrounding world; Internet services and technologies – enriching the Internet experience on mobile devices.”

Dr. Bob Iannucci, Nokia Chief Technology Officer and head of Nokia Research Center, supports this vision saying:

“Nokia has already carried out a great deal of research in the field of pervasive communications, and sees the fusing of the digital and physical worlds as a key objective in mobility. We have chosen to work with the Swiss Institutes of Technology because of their expertise in this area”

The Pervasive Communications Laboratory has just announced a call for proposals to gather new innovative ideas for high quality, high impact research projects.

They are looking for proposals in the following areas:

  • Context aware services and applications
  • Social networks linked to location and context
  • Usability and human aspects, pervasive communication interfaces
  • Networking and context awareness
5 June 2008

MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning

Digital Media and Learning
The MacArthur Foundation launched its five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative in 2006 to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to developing educational and other social institutions that can meet the needs of this and future generations.

They recently published a series of volumes with MIT Press that explore core issues facing young people in the digital world and are available online for free download or for purchase as hard copy.

There are six series topics, and they include:

Civic engagement
This book looks at politics and civic life from the standpoint new generations of young people who have grown up living substantial portions of their lives online: seeking entertainment, social relationships, and expression. Even as it is clear that participation in online communities is important for most young people, it is less clear how, or how often, this translates into public voice or political participation.
MIT Press downloads: Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth

Credibility
This volume addresses the of credibility—the objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message—in the contemporary media environment, with a particular emphasis on youth audiences and experiences. While research on credibility and new media is burgeoning, extremely little of it focuses on any user groups younger than college students. Therefore, the goal of the volume is to fill this void by drawing out the research, policy, and educational implications of credibility for youth and learning as a way to set the agenda for future work in this area.
MIT Press downloads: Digital Media, Youth, and Credibility

Ecology of games
Although there has been a considerable amount written on games and young people’s use of them, there has been little work done to establish an overall “ecology” of gaming, game design, and play—in the sense of how all of the various elements, from code to social practices to aesthetics, cohabit and populate the game world. In this volume, we seek to explore the design and behavior of games as systems in which young people participate, as gamers, producers, and learners.
MIT Press downloads: The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning

Innovative uses & unexpected outcomes
This volume identifies core issues for further study concerning how young people’s use of digital media may lead to various innovations and unexpected outcomes, including a range of unintended learning experiences and unanticipated social encounters. While such outcomes might typically be seen as ‘positive’ or ‘negative,’ this volume aims to push beyond simple accounts of digital media and learning as either utopian or dystopian in order to explore a complex variety of emergent practices and developments.
MIT Press downloads: Digital Young, Innovation, and the Unexpected

Race & ethnicity
This volume addresses themes that include but are not limited to: How race and ethnicity intersected with post 9-ll political economies, and today’s online hate-speech pratices (direct and indirect)? What is the significance of race and ethnicity in digital youth and music cultures? Where do we stand on matters of universal access (class matters) and the racial and ethnic digital divide in the 21st century, especially in terms of digital media learning (DML) and youth?
MIT Press downloads: Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media

Identity
This volume addresses the consequences of digital media for young people’s sense of self and others, and for their involvement in familial, recreational, educational and civic activities. It explores how young people use these media to interact with each other and with unknown (and potentially global) audiences; and the implications of these interactions for the development of individual and social identities. It considers how young people are using digital media to share their ideas and creative productions, and to participate in networks that are small and large, local and global, intimate and anonymous. It looks at the emergence of new genres and forms of communication and self-expression, from SMS and instant messaging to home-pages, blogs and social networking sites.
MIT Press downloads: Youth, Identity, and Digital Media

5 June 2008

Top ten disruptive technologies for 2008 to 2012, according to Gartner

Gartner
Gartner’s top 10 disruptive technologies 2008-2012:
(for what it is worth – the emphasis is mine)

  • Multicore and hybrid processors
  • Virtualisation and fabric computing
  • Social networks and social software – because business IT applications will start to mirror the features found in popular consumer social software, such as Facebook and MySpace, as organisations look to improve employee collaboration and harness the community feedback of customers
  • Cloud computing and cloud/web platforms
  • Web mashups
  • User Interface – According to Gartner, within the next five years, information will be presented via new user interfaces such as organic light-emitting displays, digital paper and billboards, holographic and 3D imaging and smart fabric.
  • Ubiquitous computing
  • Contextual computing
  • Augmented reality
  • Semantics

Gartner defines a disruptive technology as one that causes major change in ‘the accepted way of doing things’, including business models, processes, revenue streams, industry dynamics and consumer behaviour.

4 June 2008

Redesigning T-Mobile phone bills to reduce customer service calls

T-Moible bill
A Design Council case study illustrates how a people-centred redesign of the T-Mobile phone bill has resulted in customers being substantially less likely to phone customer services for help understanding their bill.

Although the user research was limited, it was effective:

“‘We used T-Mobile employees and family members to gauge opinion on what we’d done halfway through the project,’ explains Boag [of Boag Associates, an information design consultancy]“.

This user feedback was taken on board before the finished bills went live with a series of radical new enhancements.

The article is not very clear about the results: according to the image caption, customers are 11% less likely to phone customer services for help understanding their bill, but deeper down in the article the percentage is from 31% to 22%.

Read full story

4 June 2008

Off Congress, an impressive series of events on design and architecture in Turin, Italy

Off Congress
If you are considering coming to Turin, Italy this year, you may want to come at the end of June and/or the beginning of July.

Not only is that the time when two important conferences — the World Congress of Architecture and the Changing the Change conference — will take place, but there is also an impressive series of events planned, organised by the local Order of Architects under the banner “Off Congress“.

Nearly 40 exhibitions are bound to open in the weeks to come. Many of those are organised by Turin based institutions, including a series of blockbuster shows on Guarini, Juvarra, Antonelli, the architects who were responsible for the Baroque Turin; a preview of the Carlo Mollino mountain refuge project; an exhibition with more than 200 objects from the private collection of Alexander von Vegesack, founder and director of the Vitra Design Museum; several pavillions that are thematically linked to the World Congress; an exhibition in a spectacular 19th Century location about the physical, social and economic changes Turin has undergone from the 1980s to date; and a VR installation permitting renewed enjoyment of the Poème électronique, a unique experience conceived by Le Corbusier for the Philips pavilion at the International Exhibition in Brussels in 1958.

Also foreign institutions have grasped the opportunity offered by the World Congress of Architecture to organise exhibitions in Turin, such as the Tsinghua University Architecture School in China, the BDA Galerie Berlin, the Japan Institute of Architects, the Moscow Contemporary Architecture Center, the Bundesarchitektenkammer (BAK) of Germany, the Slovak Architects Association, the World Architecture Community (with a focus on Turkey), the Union of Mediterranean Architects, the Association pour la Recherche sur la Ville et l’Habitat, and the Empresa Municipal Vivienda y suelo of Madrid, Spain.

Turin’s contemporary art galleries (and there are many) have planned special shows, featuring artists such as Michael Beutler, Peter Halley, Donna Conlon, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Karim Rashid.

And there are a great number of events, from theatre to parties, from book presentations, to mini-conferences, and of course there is also The Starchitecture Night.

3 June 2008

Stupid users are returning properly working products

Returns
95% of consumer electronics products returned to retailers are working “properly”, according to Accenture.

? ? ? ? ?

“Only 5 percent of consumer electronics products returned to retailers are malfunctioning — yet many people who return working products think they are broken, a new study indicates.

The report by technology consulting and outsourcing firm Accenture pegs the costs of consumer electronics returns in 2007 at $13.8 billion in the United States alone, with return rates ranging from 11 percent to 20 percent, depending on the type of product.”

Perhaps the definition of the word “properly” might just be a bit too narrow.

Read full story

3 June 2008

Interview with Joy Mountford

Joy Mountford
The Spring issue of Ambidextrous, the design journal of the Stanford d.school, contains a fairly long interview with Joy Mountford>.

Joy has been designing and managing interface design efforts for over 20 years. Most recently she was vice president in charge of Yahoo’s user experience and design group (where she was recently “hounded out in a particularly nasty way“). Joy also worked at Interval Research Corporation and was the founder of Apple’s highly acclaimed Human Interface Group.

In the interview she talks about the future of interface design, the privacy challenge and a lot about prototyping.

Read interview

(via InfoDesign)

2 June 2008

AP using ethnography to rethink news in the digital age

Rethinking news
Last year, Associated Press commissioned Baltimore-based Context-Based Research Group to conduct an ethnographic research study focusing on the news consumption habits of young digital consumers in six cities around the world.

The drive for this research came from the recognition that a significant shift in news consumption behaviour is taking place among younger generations.

The study’s main finding was that the subjects were overloaded with facts and updates and were having trouble moving more deeply into the background and resolution of news stories.

The report, which is presented today at the World Editors Forum in Goteborg, Sweden, structures the field study findings in a series of headings with short, one page descriptions:

  • News is connected to e-mail
  • Constant checking is linked to boredom
  • Contemporary lifestyles impact news consumption
  • Consumers want depth but aren’t getting it
  • News is multitasked
  • Consumers are experiencing news fatigue
  • Television impacts consumers expectations
  • Story resolution is key and sports and entertainment deliver
  • News takes work today but creates social currency

These research insights helped AP design a new model for news delivery to meet the needs of young adults, who are driving the shift from traditional media to digital news.

In essence, AP realised that how news is being consumed in the digital space by young people matches how they are improving their own newsgathering and project development, and that they can build on this workflow to develop new delivery models that match people needs.

“Chief among those initiatives is a fundamental new process for newsgathering in the field called “1-2-3 Filing.” The name describes a new editorial workflow that starts with a news alert headline for breaking news, followed by a short present-tense story that is usable on the Web and by broadcasters. The third step is to add details and format stories in ways most appropriate for various news platforms.”

This led to a new ‘Top Stories Desk‘ at AP headquarters in New York, where “the editors on that desk are urged to consider the big-picture significance of a select number of stories each day and to provide the perspective and forward-looking thinking that can enhance their development across all media platforms.

AP also launched major new content development projects in entertainment, sports and financial news to create more entry points for consumers with appetites for broader, deeper content in those categories, as well as a comprehensive mobile news service “to deliver news content, across category, to a platform most likely to be in the hands of the young target audience.”

Finally, AP has been actively pursuing the creation of content with more “social currency” for consumers through new services such as Ask AP, by adding interactive explainers and audience views, by conceiving alternative story forms, or by providing further context such as was done in the “Measure of a Nation”.

“These initiatives at AP, large and small, have sprung from a concerted effort to think about the news from an end-user’s perspective, re-emphasizing a dimension to news gathering and editing that can get lost in the relentless rush of the daily news cycle. The consumer study provided important validation for that approach, as well as a continuing framework for thinking about future innovation.”

Editors at the Telegraph in London are following a similar approach and have seen a big jump in traffic at the newspaper’s Web site. The study ends with a case study describing how the Telegraph has adopted the mind-set of a broadcast-news operation to quickly build from headlines to short stories to complete multimedia packages online to boost readership.

- Read news article
- Download report (pdf, 3.6 mb, 71 pages)

2 June 2008

Bruce Nussbaum: it’s not technology, it’s sociology

Bruce Nussbaum
David Armano of Critical Mass catches Business Week’s Bruce Nussbaum for a half hour interview on design and innovation.

In the interview Bruce talks about the One Laptop Per Child, the difference between design and design thinking, the changing concept of privacy, and much more.

David Armano is vice president of experience design with Critical Mass, a professional services firm.

Watch interview