Putting People First

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April 2009
18 April 2009

Let them eat tweets

Tweet box
Virginia Heffernan writes in the New York Times Magazine on why Twitter is a trap.

“These worries started to surface for me last month, when Bruce Sterling, the cyberpunk writer, proposed at the South by Southwest tech conference in Austin that the clearest symbol of poverty is dependence on “connections” like the Internet, Skype and texting. “Poor folk love their cellphones!” he said. […]

“Connectivity is poverty” was how a friend of mine summarized Sterling’s bold theme. Only the poor — defined broadly as those without better options — are obsessed with their connections. Anyone with a strong soul or a fat wallet turns his ringer off for good and cultivates private gardens that keep the hectic Web far away. The man of leisure, Sterling suggested, savors solitude, or intimacy with friends, presumably surrounded by books and film and paintings and wine and vinyl — original things that stay where they are and cannot be copied and corrupted and shot around the globe with a few clicks of a keyboard.”

Read full story

17 April 2009

Global usability organisation embraces design

UPA 2009
In December last year, the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) organised its first European conference in Turin, Italy, with a focus on the connection between usability and design.

The very successful conference, which was chaired by the UPA Europe president Silvia Zimmerman (who has meanwhile become president of UPA Global) and UPA-Italy chair Michele Visciola (who is also the president of Experientia), has clearly had some impact on UPA’s global thinking, as exemplified by its upcoming international conference in Portland, OR, USA.

Not only is the look and feel of the global conference’s website remarkably similar to the European one, but three of the invited speakers are actually designers — Dan Saffer (Kicker Studio), Nathan Shedroff (California College of the Arts) and Raphael Grignani (Nokia Design) — with a specific focus on interaction design and experience design.

Obviously we are excited about this embrace of design within the usability community and look forward to hearing more about this conference.

17 April 2009

Persuasive design for sustainability

Persuasive technology
Jeremy Faludi has compiled — in an article for Core77 00 a synthesis of the work of Stanford lecturer and researcher BJ Fogg on the field of persuasive design, and applies his insights to the field of sustainability:

“Persuasion is a science; newborn and inexact, but a science nonetheless. Advertisers and marketers know this; designers should, too. Persuasive design is not marketing or advertising, it is crafting a product’s user experience so that the user’s actual interaction with the product changes their behavior.

Fogg has isolated over a dozen principles of persuasion, and grouped them into three main avenues: tools, media, and social actors. Each of them apply more to some kinds of products than others would, and since he is primarily a computer scientist, they are weighted heavily towards software and electronics. We need more physical-product designers in this field. Here are most of the strategies, in a nutshell (at least as I interpret them).”

Read full story

17 April 2009

Three environmental discourses in human-computer interaction

CHI 2009
Elizabeth Goodman of the UC Berkeley School of Information made a presentation on the past and future of environmental issues and HCI at the recent CHI conference:

A review of the past decade of human-computer interaction relating to environmental issues identifies three discourses whose commitments and assumptions have consequences for the design of new interfaces and interactive systems: sustainable interaction design, re-visioning consumption and citizen sensing. It suggests two promising directions for future research: participatory design and infrastructure.

View presentation
Download article

15 April 2009

Organic interfaces workshop at CHI 2009

CHI 2009
Carla Diana reports on Core77 at length about the highly conceptual CHI presentation/panel “Eek! A Mouse! Organic User Interfaces: Tangible, Transitive Materials and Programmable Reality“, where heavy hitters presented their own visions of how computing devices will move away from the keyboard and mouse and manifest in unexpected forms.

“This panel was composed of researchers whose passion lies in the tangible manifestation of dynamic data. According to the panel, which included famed researchers Hiroshi Iishi and Pattie Maes from the MIT Media Lab, along with Seth Goldstein of Carnegie Mellon University, Sony’s Jun Rekimoto and media artist Sachiko Kodama, data-laden, sentient, computational devices will be embedded in the very fabric of everyday objects.” […]

“While we found the panel incredibly inspirational, we couldn’t help but wonder how close the projects showcased are to coming out of the lab and into users hands. Seth Goldstein boldly proclaimed 2015 as a “conservative estimate”, while Hiroshi Ishii reiterated his estimated one-to-two-hundred year timeline required to make the technology a reality. While it all seems very promising and prescient, none of the panelists could describe a clear vision for power management (with all these advances, will we still have to lug around batteries and power cords?), admitting this is a tough problem that the physicists in the labs next door are tackling. Regardless of the time frame, every panelist expressed confidence in the ability to produce the future as described, stating that the technology is essentially in the works in their respective labs. Though the researchers envision a fascinating future of possibilities its clear that designers will be needed more than ever before to act as mediators determining appropriate and meaningful ways to embrace these new ways of relating to our synthetic world.”

Read full story

15 April 2009

Gathering user ideas

Nokia’s IdeasProject website is intriguing.

A content focused platform focused on high level discourse, it contains interviews with thought leaders in communications technology and disruptive ideas, and get’s updated on a nearly weekly basis (recently with venture capitalist Jeff Clavierpress release).

Curiously they don’t even talk about Nokia or interview Nokia staff.

Yet, it nevertheless establishes Nokia as a leader in communications discourse, and raises its brand identity.

Then the company went further.

Once the audience was built and a level of discourse established, the site opened up for user ideas. They now have 250, and many are elaborate, thoughtful and possibly actionable.

Take a look. It’s worth 10 minutes of your time.

14 April 2009

Data as seductive material

Sensing sensuality
Matt Jones (of Dopplr) gave a talk recently on seduction at the Sensing and Sensuality conference at the Umeå Institute of Design, Sweden.

It’s all about seductive data visualisation.

But as per usual, impossible to summarise. And as per usual, highly recommendable.

Download talk

14 April 2009

UCL London is starting a new MA in Digital Anthropology

MA in Digital Anthropology
UCL (which is the abbreviation for “University College London” although you have to look at the site‘s footer to find out) is starting a new MA in Digital Anthropology. And it seems serious stuff.

Digital technologies have become ubiquitous. From Facebook, Youtube and Flickr to PowerPoint and Second Life. Museum displays migrate to the internet, family communication in the Diaspora is dominated by new media, artists work with digital films and images. Anthropology and ethnographic research is fundamental to understanding the local consequences of these innovations, and to create theories that help us acknowledge, understand and engage with them. Today’s students need to become proficient with digital technologies as research and communication tools. Through combining technical skills with appreciation of social effects, students will be trained for further research and involvement in this emergent world.

This MA brings together three key components in the study of digital culture:
1. Skills training in digital technologies, including our own Digital Lab, from internet and visual arts to e-curation and digital ethnography.
2. Anthropological theories of virtualism, materiality/immateriality and digitisation.
3. Understanding the consequences of digital culture through the ethnographic study of its social and regional impact.

And what’s more: The Ma will be run by Danny Miller, one of the most outstanding anthropologists today, renowned for his book on the use of cellphones in Jamaica, and specialist on material culture. And no other than Stefana Broadbent (former chief anthropologist at Swisscom and featured as such in The Economist) is a fellow in the programme.

The MA starts in September 2009.

Read more

13 April 2009

Thinking about the future of news

The current paradigm of creating of serious news stories — through newspapers and big media — is under threat. Here is a haul of background on the matter (from today’s stories):

‘Hyperlocal’ web sites deliver news without newspapers [The New York Times]
Just as some cities’ newspapers sputter, a handful of Web sites emerge to cull local content from government data, blogs and news media.

In Boston, paper’s peril hits a nerve [The New York Times]
The threat of a shutdown or a sale of The Boston Globe has brought together civic leaders and residents, speaking out about the paper’s role in the region.

Papers try to get out of a box [The New York Times]
Newspapers are increasingly talking about putting up pay walls and tracking the use of content online.

Pulp Friction: life in the post-publishing era [Nokia’s IdeasProject]
Since we’ve lost all of the pre-publishing ratchets and filters, it’s up to the online viewer to be more aware, more discriminating, and – this is crucial – more vocal, once information is published. It’s critical that we don’t just read new media: We need to reflect, interact, respond. We need to be the new sources of friction, adding our voices to the fabric of published information. That’s the only way to keep media healthy – as a team sport.

Citizen journalism will break into network news [Nokia’s IdeasProject]
Pioneering videoblogger Steve Garfield says that a combination of technologies will make it possible to stream live reports from the cell phones of citizen journalists to network news. The tremendous advantages this offers in the way of ubiquity, cost-effectiveness, and authenticity will almost certainly bring the kind of disruptive effect to television media that Internet audience dynamics has had on traditional print journalism.

>> More background on live news streaming: LA Times | Newsweek

11 April 2009

LIFT France and I Realize Italy

LIFT France
Last month I announced that the next LIFT conference would take place in Marseilles, France on 18-20 June this year.

Entrepreneurs, researchers, artists, designers, and activists who are inventing radically new ways to innovate, design, produce, trade, exchange and manage, will be coming to LIFT France to express their vision of a “hands-on future”, a future of do-it-yourself change:

Changing Things: Towards objects that are not just “smart” and connected, but also customizable, hackable, transformable, fully recyclable; Towards decentralized and multipurpose manufacturing, or even home fabrication.

Changing Innovation: Towards continuous and networked innovation, emerging from users as well as entrepreneurs, from researchers as well as activists.

Changing the Planet: Towards a “green design” that reconnects global environmental challenges with growth, but also with human desire, pleasure, beauty and fun.

The programme is now finished and so is a pdf with background information.

Speakers are Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (!), Bruce Sterling, Catherine Fieschi (Counterpoint), Daniel Kaplan (FING), Dennis Pamlin (WWF), Dominique Pestre (École des hautes études en sciences sociales), Douglas Repetto (Columbia University), Edith Ackermann (MIT), Elizabeth Goodman (UC Berkeley), Euan Semple, François Jégou (Solutioning), Frank Kresin (Waag Society), Gunter Pauli (ZERI), Jean-Michel Cornu (FING), John Thackara (Doors of Perception), Laurent Haug (LIFT conference), Marc Giget (Conservatoire National Des Arts et Métiers), Marcos García (Medialab-Prado), Martin Duval (Bluenove), Michael Shiloh (Teach Me To Make), Mike Kuniavsky (ThingM), Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (French Government), Philippe Lemoine (LaSe), Rémi Dury (Da Fact), Rob Van Kranenburg (Waag Society), Timo Arnall, and Usman Haque (haque :: design + research).

The week before the LIFT France conference, on 9 and 10 June to be precise, you can attend the first edition of I Realize – The art of disruption, a conference held in Turin, Italy, only 370 km from Marseilles.

The organisers describe the event as “Two days aimed at identifying unsolved problems, suggesting possible (technological?) solutions and stimulating the creation of new disruptive start-ups in different fields:

I Eat: eating is not only about taste and quality anymore, but concerns issues as genetically engineered organisms (GEO), slow and bio food, fare trade and sustainability… and what would happen if a global blackout switched the electricity off tomorrow?

I Move & Interact: our ability to communicate and interact both as users and producers of information is more and more «anywhere, anytime, anyway». New physical and virtual ways of moving (or not moving…) are being developed but… (how) will we move in the future?

I Grow: individual growth and development is subject to an increasing number of inputs both on the intellectual side (design/media) and the physical/psychological side (wellness) …but are we really growing?”

Also this programme is ready (although in draft) and the speakers are Andrea Branzi (architect and designer), Alberto Cottica (Kublai project), Antonio Pascale (writer), Bruce Sterling (writer), Carlo Antonelli (Rolling Stone (Italia), Davide Scabin (chef), Elio (artist), Geoff Manaugh (BLDBLOG), Gianluigi Ricuperati (Abitare magazine), Igor Sibaldi (writer), Jennifer Higgie (Frieze magazine), Leonardo Camiciotti (TOP-IX), Maurizio Cilli (architect and urban designer), Moshe Bar, Nicolas Nova (LIFT lab), Peter Saville (founder of Factory Record), and Vittorio Pasteris (

11 April 2009

Africa perspective on the role of mobile technologies in fostering social and economic development

South Africa shops
Last week, the W3C Mobile Web Initiative organised a workshop on the “Africa Perspective on the Role of Mobile Technologies in Fostering Social Development” in Maputo, Mozambique.

The workshop set out to understand the specific challenges of using mobile phones and Web technologies to deliver services to underprivileged populations of developing countries, and to capture the specificities of the African context.

“There are today more than half of the population living with less than 3$ a day, and lacking all kind of services (health, education, government…). The incredible growth of the mobile penetration rate last few years is providing a new hope. The potential of simple ICT services on mobiles to improve people’s income has indeed been largely demonstrated. The aim of this workshop is to explore how to leverage these success stories and create an enabling environment that would drive the appearance of numerous services all over the Developing World.”

There were sessions on m-health, technology, mobile activism, enabling environments, m-govenment, m-banking and agriculture.

Presentations and papers are now available online (though some presentations are very concise). Here is a short selection:


Enabling Environment


11 April 2009

IT viewed through a moral prism

Moral prism
An EU-wide study of emerging technologies led by Leicester’s De Montfort University aims to alert policy makers to any potential social and ethical problems

New technology is changing the way we live and work so quickly that it is easy to overlook the social and ethical implications of each new development. […]

So a two-year research project to identify emerging information and communication technologies (ICT) and assess any associated ethical pitfalls could be seen as a timely initiative. The Ethical Issues of Emerging ICT Applications (ETICA) project, led by Leicester’s De Montfort University, seeks to minimise the risks associated with technologies likely to enter common use over the next 10 to 15 years. […]

Some of the technologies being considered by the ETICA team are already fairly left-field, such as ambient intelligence and emotional computing.

Read full story

10 April 2009

Bill Buxton on design and return on experience

Bill Buxton
Canadian designer and computer scientist Bill Buxton is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research. Last month Bill gave a good 20-min keynote at Mix09 that kicked off a longer keynote by Scott Guthrie (corporate vice president of Microsoft’s .NET Developer Division).

Bill Buxton is the author of Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design, published jointly by Morgan Kaufmann and Focal Press. He is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and has a 30 year involvement in research, design and commentary around human aspects of technology, and digital tools for creative endeavour, including music, film and industrial design, in particular. Prior to joining Microsoft, he was a researcher at Xerox PARC, a professor at the University of Toronto, and Chief Scientist of Alias Research and SGI Inc. – where 2003 he was co-recipient of an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement. In 2007, he was named Doctor of Design, Honoris Causa, by the Ontario College of Art and Design, in 2008 became the 10th recipient of the ACM/SIGCHI Lifetime Achievement Award for fundamental contributions to the field of human-computer interaction, and in January 2009 was elected a Fellow of the ACM. More information on Buxton and his work can be found at:

Watch video

(via Presentation Zen)

10 April 2009

It’s people, process and technology – in that order

Healthcare organisations are throwing mobile technology at problems without fully considering the underlying business processes or the working conditions of the end-user. This is the key finding of a multi-country report across the healthcare sector from industry analysts Quocirca. It was commissioned by Anoto, the inventor of Digital Pen and Paper technology.

Nearly two-thirds of those questioned agreed that technology solutions should be kept simple, but 47% lamented the complexity of the technology they were using. More than 70% were unsure of the ongoing cost of device failures. Yet, the high cost of mobile devices, along with their proneness to theft, loss and damage, were identified as major barriers to their effective use by more than half the respondents.

The report, entitled “Light touch, firm impression“, reveals how the use of mobile technologies to automate traditionally paper-based processes can result in unnecessary complexity. Instead of boosting productivity, this frequently leads to increased – unforeseen – costs and can reduce the effectiveness of the organisation.

Highlights of the findings include:

  • Mobile devices are often not fit for purpose
  • Running costs for mobile devices are underestimated
  • Mobile devices are mainly given to management – not frontline staff
  • Organisations still rely largely on paper

Read full story

9 April 2009

Market and non-market co-creation

The Wealth of Networks
Chris Lawer underlines that is important to identify that co-creation is not just about firms improving their social marketing, open innovation, community-building and learning efforts to generate new proprietary and valuable knowledge with/from their customers.

Rather, there is also a form of co-creation that is largely independent of markets, where individuals willingly come together to create and share self-generated information, knowledge and content independent of any mechanisms of market exchange. In The Wealth of Networks, Yochai Benkler explores the dimensions and potential of such non-market co-creation / collaboration in some depth.

Read full story

9 April 2009

Design thinking’s big problem

A controversial post by Sam Ladner, followed by a rich debate between the author, Paula Thornton, Peter Merholz, Raymond Pirouz, and others.

Design is attractive to management because it is a de-politicized version of the well known socio-cultural critique of managerial practices. Design thinking is so popular because it raises only questions of “creativity” or “innovation” without ever questioning the legitimacy of managerial practice. Instead, design thinking aspires only to “better” management technique by investigating “contextual problems” or the truly innocuous “pain points.”

The inconvenient truth is that the science of management fails because it treats people as either mere inputs into the production process or as faceless “consumers” who have no real stake in outcomes. Design thinking allows for these truths to remain unaddressed, thereby avoiding any discussion of power itself. Workers are cast as something to be organized or “incented.” Consumers are to have their “needs met.” And neither group is granted a meaningful stake in the creative process.

Read full story

9 April 2009

Service Design Network newsletter is rich with content

European internet trends
The latest newsletter of the Service Design Network is out and the content is highly stimulating. A selection:

Thinkpublic: Video on Co-Design
Thinkpublic have recently released a four-minute overview on co-design on their website. It introduces the concept to all laymen and everyone interested. The beautifully made chalkboard animation is certainly worth a look, even if you are familiar with co-design.
It can be watched here

Engine: Southwark Rise Project
Engine’s current “Southwark Rise Project” with London Borough of Southwark aims to address the complex needs of families and children living on low incomes. The project intends to design new services that enable people to fully use their potentials, improve their life chances and support themselves better.
Find out more..

Continuum: Puzzle Piece – The Laptop for Autistic Kids
Designers at the Boston office of Continuum have developed a teaching aid for children with autism. The Interactive Autistic Teaching Aid „Puzzle Piece“, which is still in its concept phase, might help to ease the difficult and often frustrating teaching process. Teachers at the test school are already enthusiastic about its potential.
Read more

31 Volts: Less Choice But Better Service?
Marc Fonteijn from 31 Volts has recently published an article on how great choice does not necessarily improve the value of a service. In his article “Creating a better service experience by providing less choice”, he exemplifies that giving customers more choice than necessary might even decrease the service experience and cause confusion. Marc introduces the idea of “functionally overlapping touchpoints” (FOTP), which occur whenever a customer is confronted with more than one way to perform a specific task, such as paying for a train ticket online, at a kiosk, at the counter, or on the train.
Read full article!

There is lots more.

9 April 2009

European internet trends today and tomorrow

European internet trends
Microsoft just published a rather thorough report on the future developments of the internet across Europe. In the report, Microsoft analyses the differences in broadband penetration levels across Europe, examines the causes fuelling the growth of Internet adoption, assesses the impact of consumers’ evolving online behavior, and predicts the online trends of the future.

Since 2004, broadband connections across Europe have grown by almost 95%, from 44 million households in 2005 to over 85 million. In fact, broadband Internet connections in Europe today outstrip those in the US, representing 83% of all Internet connections, compared to 70% in America. The explosion in broadband uptake combined with the relentless pace of technological innovation is driving a major change in consumer behaviour and is transforming our traditional media landscape.

Alain Thys highlights some of the findings:

  • in June 2010 Internet will overtake (traditional) television in terms of media consumption time
  • internet use on PC’s will drop from 95% today, to 50% in five years
  • browsing will grow from 19% in 2008 to 30% in 2013
  • 28% of Europeans watch short or full length videos online

View report

8 April 2009

Sun Dial, a mobile application to alert muslims to prayer

Sun dial
Religious technology may seem like an oxymoron, but as more people obtain mobile phones, iPhones and other devices to help them manage their lives, it’s only natural that many of them will be using their gadgets to help them enrich their spiritual life as well.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a mobile application known as Sun Dial, which alerts Muslim users when it’s time to perform the five daily prayers known as salat. The device is currently being discussed this week at the human-computer interaction conference, CHI, in Boston.

“We have to understand religion because it’s such a central part of peoples lives,” explained Susan Wyche, doctoral candidate in the College of Computing and GVU Center at Georgia Tech.

Read full story
Download paper (“Sacred Imagery in Techno-Spiritual Design”)

The researchers have clearly been inspired by the excellent paper “No more SMS from Jesus: ubicomp, religion and techno-spiritual practices” by Intel researcher Genevieve Bell.

8 April 2009

Service design as the design of activity systems

Activitity system
Jeff Howard draws attention to a recent service design paper by Daniela Sangiorgi of Lancaster University:

“Dr. Daniela Sangiorgi’s 2008 presentation from ISDN3 just came across my radar. It’s on Service Design as the Design of Activity Systems (pdf 2.1MB). [Audio]

Here’s Sangiorgi on a key distinction:

I like to consider the origin of Service Design field with the introduction of the Interaction paradigm. Meaning moving the conception of services as complex organisations to the one of services as complex interfaces. In my opinion the perspective that looks at services from the interaction point of view, is different from the one that was trying to define services as ‘products’ and therefore as objects of a design process.

It sounds like she’s framing service design as a third order rather than a second order problem. By “interaction” she’s referring to services as complex interfaces between providers and users. A system of subjects, artifacts, roles and norms.

Here’s a recap of her talk by STBY.

I stumbled across an earlier paper (pdf) of hers on the topic of service design and activity theory a while back. Translating it from Italian proved incomprehensible so I put it aside.

This newer presentation clears up a lot.”