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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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July 2008
17 July 2008

Podcast: Hello everybody… Clay Shirky at Demos

Clay Shirky
Demos, the UK “think tank for everyday democracy”, hosted a conversation with Clay Shirky a few days ago.

He was in conversation with Demos Associate and School of Everything CEO Paul Miller, talking around the ideas thrown up by Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, his book about the social effects of technology (see also this PPF post).

According to the organisers, “it was a fascinating talk, covering the promises of new types of group communication, community policing, international relations, through to the ‘cognitive surplus‘ opened up by a generation who may be turning away from television.”

Podcast download page

17 July 2008

How users are changing the rules of innovation

chatcommunity
NESTA, the UK innovation organisation, has published a research report and policy briefing on how users are changing the rules of innovation.

User-led innovation – where users play an active part in the development of new or improved products and services – is exploding: proliferating digital technologies mean that we’re all potential innovators now. New firms based on user-led innovation are being sold for hundreds of millions of dollars only a few years after being founded.

Policymakers have remained somewhat sceptical about the importance of user-led innovation. But if the UK is to harness this new wave of invention and creativity, it needs to develop world-leading policy in support of user-led innovation. This means being more aware of the impact of new legislation on user-led innovation, and establishing a forum to ensure that policymakers hear directly from these new inventors.

- Download research report (pdf, 48 pages)
- Download policy briefing (pdf, 4 pages)

17 July 2008

The invisible city: design in the age of intelligent maps

Intelligent map
New mapping technologies are fundamentally changing the way we experience the city. Urban planners Varnelis and Meisterlin explore the busy intersections of design and cartography in a long and excellent essay on Adobe’s Design Center Think Tank.

“Today’s intelligent maps don’t just represent spatial relationships, they reveal conditions in the city that were previously hidden in spreadsheets and databases. And it’s not just a new representation of the city that emerges out of this data; its a new hybrid city, part physical texture and part data-driven map.” [...]

“For designers, the implications are clear. As maps become richer, more complicated, and less predictable, cartography becomes less a matter of convention and more a matter of invention. Our age of intelligent maps demands intelligent map design. The role of the designer in contemporary mapping cannot be overstated. Aesthetics and readability have real-world implications both in use and in meaning. The choice of what to show and how to show not only impacts appearance, it can reframe arguments. Graphic considerations such as cropping, line weights, and even color or typeface translate into statements on territory and boundary, economy and politics.”

Read full story

17 July 2008

Could location drive the future of the humble SIM card?

SIM card
Andrew Grill, a UK telecoms senior executive, discusses the future of the Subscriber Identity Module, better known as the SIM card.

“As a tool that securely manages a subscriber’s identity, the SIM is the only remaining element of the mobile an operator actually owns. The way in which an operator chooses to use the SIM could offer huge potential to drive revenues from the next generation of mobile applications. For a service like social networking, by adding the element of a person’s location, the SIM is offering a new opportunity to provide actual relevance to a user’s browsing.” [...]

“To enhance the way a person uses social networking on their mobile, location technology delivered on the SIM could play a pivotal role. By introducing the long held desire of real-time subscriber location, operators could energise social networking sites and provide users with an enhanced contextualised service that most PCs could not offer. On a handset, this could include status updates about a person’s location or presence, give an alert if friends were in close proximity to each other or alternatively provide location specific information when signing in to the account.”

Read full story

16 July 2008

Consumers use products as they see fit

Products
Consumers have always used — or misused — products however they see fit. Adweek reports on why some companies now follow the lead of consumers who have their own ideas about product usage.

“Consumers have always used — or misused — products however they see fit. And they’ve always shared their discoveries (that Hellmann’s mayonnaise, say, works as a hair conditioner), albeit in limited ways. But when it comes to products these days, the ubiquity of blogs and online inquiries means people are increasingly going public with alternative uses.” [...]

“The question for marketers, then, is whether or not to promote these uses — and if you do promote them, how not to undermine the products’ established strengths.”

Read full story

(via Fallon Planning)

16 July 2008

From favelas to townships: mobile use in low-income populations

Favelas
MobileActive reports on two studies that explore how low-income people use mobile technology in Brazil and South Africa.

This rise of mobile phone use by low-income and so-called ‘base-of-the-pyramid’ users raises a number of questions. Are low-income people using mobile technology in different ways than their higher-income counterparts? How can mobile phones be designed and used in ways that are useful to these populations? Two new studies–one of favelas in Brazil and the other of a low-income township in South Africa–seek to answer these questions.

Read full story

16 July 2008

Scientists: humans and machines will merge in future

Transhuman
A group of experts from around the world will hold a first of its kind conference Thursday on global catastrophic risks.

They will discuss what should be done to prevent these risks from becoming realities that could lead to the end of human life on Earth as we know it.

Interestingly, on the final day of the Global Catastrophic Risk Conference [at Oxford University], experts will focus on what could be the unintended consequences of new technologies, such as superintelligent machines that, if ill-conceived, might cause the demise of Homo Sapiens.

Read full story

13 July 2008

Changing the Change – a call to action

Changing the Change
I just wrote a long article on Core77 on the international three-day Changing the Change conference “on the role and potential of design research in the transition towards sustainability”, which just ended here in Turin, Italy.
13 July 2008

Is user-friendliness a sure marketing bet?

Yann Gourvennec
Yann Gourvennec, head of internet and digital media at Orange Business Services, wonders whether making users’ live easier is a sustainable marketing argument for the development of a business.

The article’s premise intrigued me but it was a disappointing read. Gourvennec just presents the typical and tired argument that user-friendliness is subjective and personal [really?], so you can’t really measure it [no?], and therefore you can’t study its impact on sales and revenues.

Anyway, he says, there are many examples of difficult to use products which have become big commercial successes.

For a site that deals with “visionary marketing”, some more vision would be helpful.

Read full story

(via FutureLab)

12 July 2008

Fighting IT failure with ethnographic research (podcast)

Hanson
Michael Krigsman (CEO of Asuret, Inc.) spoke with Dr. Natalie Hanson, a corporate anthropologist and ethnographer employed by SAP. Natalie manages a team of 30 people in the company’s global Business Operations group.

Many IT failures are ultimately rooted in negative organizational culture and related political dynamics. For example, failures can arise when critical information is not shared across internal corporate boundaries (or even among members of a single team).

Solving these problems can be difficult because cultural issues are hard to measure and transform. Ethnographic research methods offer a way to gain deeper insight into organizational dynamics that contribute to failed IT projects.

Read excerpts and listen to interview

12 July 2008

Getting people to talk: an ethnography and interviewing primer (video)

Nokia co-creation
A couple of IIT graduate students (Gabriel Biller & Kristy Scovel) have put together an entertaining video primer on field interview techniques. The video runs about 30 minutes.

 
11 July 2008

Co-creation at Nokia

Nokia co-creation
Charlie Schick, editor-in-chief for Nokia Conversations, has posted a story about co-creation at Nokia:

“One trend that is growing rapidly here in Nokia is ‘co-creation’, working with users to create and improve products. While on one side it seems cheap to release unfinished goods and ask for help. But at the same time, it’s amazing to involve eager customers who not only make the product even better than if we did it alone, but are all lined up to take the product they helped make.” [...]

Nokia Beta Labs is my favorite channel to watch co-creation at Nokia in action. Lots of apps have come through and either graduated or been politely shelved for one reason or another. And it has been fun to see increasingly more active outreach to co-create great applications, such as Nokia Maps looking to redefine the mobile use of maps. “

Schick also refers to “The Leadership Edge“, the new co-creation site of Nokia’s Office of the CTO (Bob Iannucci) which covers the research engineers and scientists of the Nokia Research Center and the engineers and architects of the Nokia product development teams.

Read full story

9 July 2008

Polite, pertinent and… pretty

Polite, pertinent and... pretty
Polite, pertinent and… pretty: designing for the new wave of personal informatics” was the title of a talk given by Matt Jones (Dopplr) and Tom Coates (Yahoo! Brickhouse) at the recent Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

Summarising their talk is not an easy thing to do, but I will give it a try. In any case the 81 slides with speaker notes are available on SlideShare.

Jones and Coates start from the premise that information is now becoming so pervasive, omni-present, localised and personalised that we can not only increase our awareness but also constantly use it to our advantage. These data come from big databases, but also from our own behaviours. Our own devices sense, record and sample data, and share these with other devices and with us and other people. They call this “personal informatics”. But this poses a huge user experience challenge, which requires a sophisticated design solution:

“The discipline of informatics is based on the recognition that the design of this technology is not solely a technical matter, but must focus on the relationship between the technology and the use in real-world settings.”

“That is, informatics designs solutions in context, and takes into account the social, cultural and organisational settings in which computing and information technology will be used.”

But what does that mean concretely? How should we design? Jones and Coates propose “three pegs to hang some thoughts off” and they all start with a P.

In defining the concept of politeness (to be thought of as the “softer ying to the hard yang of ‘privacy’), they lean on such thinkers as Adam Greenfield (and in particular his recent book “Everyware“), Mimi Ito, Leisa Reichelt, Matthew Chalmers, Anne Galloway and of course their own practice.

Pertinence is about “disclosing information that is timely and as ‘in context’ as possible”. To define this better, they refer to the ‘movement’ metaphor that Matt Webb of Schulze & Webb recently described in a talk. Webb posits that we are moving from a web of ‘places’ to “something more like a web of organisms or engines connecting and fuelling each other”.

So the issue here is to show small pieces of information in the right context at the right time, “delivered in increasingly pertinent ways, depending on our habits and contexts”.

And finally there is prettiness:

“The vast quantities of information that personal informatics generate need not only to be clear and understandable to create legibility and literacy in this new world, but I’d argue in this first wave also seductive, in order to encourage play, trial and adoption”.

So what is the future of personal informatics? Aren’t we creating our own “participatory panopticon” (Jamais Cascio)? Or are we moving to a world filled with “spimes” (Bruce Sterling)? At the moment it’s often artists who are exploring the boundaries of this unknown future.

In a long post, Alex Steffen of Worldchanging presents his own – excellent – summary of the Jones/Coates talk, but takes their analysis a step further by connecting it with sustainability and adding a fourth P (“Protection”):

“Ubiquity and sustainability could turbocharge each other. Ubiquity enables revealed backstories, observed flows and shared services, making it easier to live well at a minimum of expense and ecological impact. Sustainability, particularly in the form of compact urbanism with bright green innovation, concentrates human interactions with each other and networked systems, making it easier to suffuse daily life with the sort of intelligence that allows data to be gathered, shared and connected. The Net and the public square, as Castells wrote, are symbiants.” [...]

“PSS [product-service systems] offer enormous potential sustainability benefts. Indeed, I’d argue that it will be impossible to deliver sustainable prosperity without the widespread adoption of shared/sharing systems. But they can also have a real downside, for PSS rely on a more intimate connection with their users, and where that intimacy is not backed by protected relationships, real disaster can result.” [...]

“So, I would add a fourth P, “Protection.”

If we are going to interact with companies in intimate ways — in ways that impact our deepest life choices — those interactions ought not only to be held to a higher standard of transparency and public accountability; they ought to be safe-guarded in formal ways as well by having corporate decision-making structures that protect the user rights of the people involved.”

Steffen keeps on surprising me by the depth of his thinking.

7 July 2008

Mobile communication in the developing world – a design challenge

Vodafone_receiver_red_bg
Neil Clavin has written the latest contribution in the ongoing series of emerging markets articles that are on a weekly basis being published Vodafone Receiver’s magazine.

In his paper for receiver Clavin argues that for better design, we must first of all understand different user needs around the world. The prime design challenges he sees are: richer communication, social tools and reconfigurable interfaces.

“Current mobile interfaces and services are not designed for the developing regions of the world – many users have problems reading and writing, some services are not relevant and native languages not always supported. Many users complete only the basic functions of dialling a number or answering an incoming call.” [...]

“The current mobile experience is designed for a literate section of the world who can expect interfaces in their native language. Another section of users have problems navigating text-based interfaces and need to reinforce links with the families they have left behind.

For successful mobile experience design we must provide alternative interfaces, social tools and better native language support. The mobile experience for developing regions will be rich with audio-visual communication, genuinely useful social networks and reconfigurable interfaces.

Designing for these user needs creates better experiences also for advanced countries. Simpler audio-visual interfaces will benefit children, elderly people and users with learning difficulties. Social networks will mature from hipster hangouts into tools for achieving meaningful and progressive goals. Touchscreen devices will become cheap enough for anyone to afford and the languages of cosmopolitan populations fully supported.”

Neil Clavin is a design manager for Vodafone Group User Experience. He worked as a user experience designer for BBC New Media & Technology and as a research assistant for Interaction Design at the Royal College of Art, London, before joining the Vodafone User Experience Concept Development Team based in Düsseldorf, Germany. There, he leads concept design for mobile communication, information and entertainment experiences.

Read full story

4 July 2008

From ubiquitous technology to human context (videos)

UIA World Congress of Architecture
On Wednesday 2 July Nicolas Nova (LIFT lab) moderated a session at the World Congress of Architecture in Turin, Italy, entitled “From ubiquitous technology to human context – Technology applied to architecture and design: does it solve problems or create needs?”.

Speakers were Adam Greenfield (Head of Design Direction, Nokia), Jeffrey Huang (Director, Media and Design Laboratory, EPFL, Switzerland) and Younghee Jung (senior design manager, Nokia).

Videos: About ten minutes into the session, I realised that no provisions had been made by the organisers to videotape the presentations, so I started recording everything myself, from a small handheld Nokia N95. Obviously image quality is not so great but the sound is quite good. I uploaded everything on Google Video: Adam Greenfield, Jeffrey Huang and Younghee Jung.

Two apologies: first to Nicolas for not having taped his session too – as I said, I realised too late that the organisers were not doing it themselves – but luckily Nicolas has posted a summary and his slides on his own blog. The second apology goes to Younghee, whose presentation is only half recorded, because the N95 battery died.

The session unfortunately ended a bit in chaos. As it had started late, it also ran a bit over time and people from the next session started filling up the seminar room and at one point hackled the last speaker – Younghee Jung – to finish things up. A fragile Younghee – during her talk she shared a personal event with the audience that was very close to her emotionally – suddenly had to summarise 30 slides in 2 minutes and this is luckily not on video. Perhaps she can send us her presentation still.

1 July 2008

Frontiers of Interaction

Frontiers
Today I attended the Frontiers of Interaction IV conference in Turin, Italy, which — with some kind input from Bruce Sterling — has now reached quite an international level.

Speakers today were Jeffrey Schnapp (Stanford Humanities Lab – via video), Ashley Benigno (Global 3G Handset and Application Group at Hutchison Whampoa Limited), Nicolas Nova (LIFT conference), Bruno Giussani (TED – via video), David Orban (OpenSpime), Bruce Sterling (soon also to be known as “Bruno Argento”), Fabrizio Capobianco (Funambol), Adam Greenfield (Nokia), Bruno Mascaro (Sketchin), Elizabeth Churchill (Yahoo!), Stefano Sanna and Roberto Fraboni (beeweeb), Howard Rheingold (UC Berkeley and Stanford University – via video), Roberto Borri and Nico Sica (ITSME).

A full auditorium with among the attendees also Younghee Jung of Nokia, who will speak tomorrow at the World Congress of Architecture, in a session on “ubiquitous computing and the human context”, together with Nicolas Nova, Adam Greenfield and Jeffrey Huang.

Videos of all the presentations are now available online. Enjoy.

The conference was organised by a Leandro Agrò (Idearium.org) and Matteo Penzo.