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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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May 2009
31 May 2009

In the US, even the homeless stay connected

Homeless and online
The Wall Street Journal reports on the use of the internet by homeless people in San Francisco.

“A few years ago, some people were worrying that a “digital divide” would separate technology haves and have-nots. The poorest lack the means to buy computers and Web access. Still, in America today, even people without street addresses feel compelled to have Internet addresses.”

The photos are great, and so are some of the quotes:

“When he realized he would be homeless, Mr. Livingston bought a sturdy backpack to store his gear, a padlock for his footlocker at the shelter and a $25 annual premium Flickr account to display the digital photos he takes.”

But it also shows to what extent the internet in the developed world is still a computer-based phenomenon, in contrast to emerging markets where it is largely mobile.

Read full story

31 May 2009

Round. The World. Connected. A video series

Round. The World. Connected.
The Nokia Siemens Networks has created an extremely well produced website and video series, entitled “Round. The World. Connected.” that sets out to understand what connectivity means to different people and cultures across Europe, Asia and the Americas. The project focuses specifically on how the latest communications technologies are touching peoples lives and on the socio-economic impact of connectivity.

“Adrian Simpson discovers the future of TV entertainment in Belgium; how the mobile phone camera revolutionizes healthcare in Kenya; the way in which government processes are facilitated through internet access in Mexico; and the political influence of SMS and social networking sites during the Obama election campaign in the US. But that’s not all – in the second half of 2009 Adrian will continue to travel to the corners of the globe, to find out how connectivity is impacting people’s lives from Austria to Zimbabwe.”

Currently the site has five 10 minute video episodes up on Europe, Africa, Latin America, USA and India (with China and Jakarta/Tokyo following soon). Each episode comes with clearly marked additional footage, plus interviews of Nokia Siemens Networks customers in those areas.

Mira Slavova of the excellent mmd4d blog that deals with mobile services for emerging markets, reports extensively on the African episode and its additional footage.

30 May 2009

Your future job is social innovator: Predictions from Ezio Manzini

Ezio Manzini
“The main activity of designers will be as social innovators,” said Ezio Manzini during an intimate conversation with o2NYC on May 6.

Ezio’s talk outlined an exit strategy for conscious designers, a shift from making things to designing tools for a better society.

For those of us who have signed on to the green revolution, who commit to having the conversation with clients, sourcing better materials, reducing life cycle impacts, doing the hard work of greener design, we need an exit strategy. How do we stop making things less bad and start actually solving for climate change?

Read full story

30 May 2009

Inside MAYA Design’s innovation boot camps

Prototype glucose meter
How a little lab called MAYA is giving firms such as Emerson and General Dynamics an innovation boost. Fast Company reports.

“MAYA Design is juicing innovation by teaching techies design basics.

The 50-member team of computer scientists, psychologists, designers, engineers, and anthropologists dedicates 30% of its resources to researching how humans and technology will interact 10 years from now, thanks in part to $20 million in funding from the Department of Defense. The other 70% goes to applying those lessons for MAYA’s corporate clients, helping to craft everything from washing machines to wearable computers for companies including Bayer, GE, and Whirlpool.”

Read full story

30 May 2009

Interviews on service design research

SDR
Researchers Daniela Sangiorgi (Lancaster University), Stefano Maffei (Politecnico di Milano) and Nicola Morelli (Aalborg University) launched this month a new site on service design research:

“It aims to collectively build an understanding and foster a dialogue on where ideas and concepts of Service Design have come from, how these evolved over the last two decades as well as report and review current research and service design practices. The motivation is to consolidate existing knowledge and to support the growth of a research community that engages in meaningful research relevant to the challenges design is dealing with today and in the future.”

Currently the site contains a series of interviews with key people in the field of design research, including Ezio Manzini (Research Unit Design and Innovation for Sustainability, Politecnico di Milano), Cameron Tonkinwise (Parsons The New School for Design), Robert Young (School of Design, Northumbria University) and Clare Brass (SEED Foundation).

(via Design for Service)

30 May 2009

The demise of ‘Form Follows Function’

Epoc headset
Alice Rawsthorn, design critic of the International Herald Tribune, reflects on the fact that the appearance of most digital products bears no relation to what they do, and what that might mean for future design.

“The dislocation of form and function has set a new challenge for designers: how to help us to operate ever more complex digital products.” [...]

“The first wave of U.I. designs sought to reassure us by using visual references to familiar objects to help us to operate digital ones.” [...]

“The next phase of U.I. design will take this further. John Maeda, the software designer and president of the Rhode Island School of Design, believes that our current “awkward mechanical dance” with computers will be replaced by an intuitive approach.”

Read full story

30 May 2009

Considering the future of mobile phones

power
Ken Banks, creator of FrontlineSMS, writes in PC World on the future of mobile phones and believes that many future mobile innovations will be borne out of the realities of the developing world.

“In order to understand what users need and want from their next mobile device, we need to get in the field and ask, as some mobile manufacturers do. Anthropology, with its human-centered approach to research, has become quite a trendy discipline in the mobile world, particularly when it’s done in exotic emerging markets.

The irony of this approach is that, perhaps for the first time, the needs of the consumer in the developing world are beginning to drive innovation and thinking at home. With concerns about global warming, energy dependence and the environment rising up the political agenda, mobile manufacturers find themselves tackling the very same problems as they design for the developing world. These markets by their very nature demand greener, recyclable, longer-lasting, energy-efficient mobile phones. Today technology transfer works both ways, and it’s increasingly heading in our direction.”

Read full story

30 May 2009

Gartner: Users of mobile payments to double by 2012

 
The number of people using mobile devices to purchase goods and services is expected to more than double by the end of 2012 globally, research firm Gartner Inc. reported.

The impact is to be felt most in developing world where access to banking is limited.

“Mobile payments, when used in developed countries such as the U.S., are usually an extension of an existing payment infrastructure, but in developing countries, users can combine mobile payments with mobile banking to pay bills more conveniently and to gain access to loans and other financial services that might not have been possible before, said Sandy Shen, a Gartner analyst. “It can greatly improve standards of living,” she said.”

Read full story

30 May 2009

NPR: mobile phones do much more than make calls

Ethiopia
In Asia, Africa, Europe and elsewhere, cell phone technology has always been way ahead of what’s available in the states. Around the world, people use their phones in innovative, creative ways.

For example, mobile phones help rural farmers gather information about crop prices, and bargain shoppers download coupons on the fly.

For this NPR Talk of the World program, guests and listeners from around the world discuss innovative ways they use their cellular phone.

Guests are:
- Natasha Elkington, journalist for Reuters. She uses her mobile phone to pay her farm manager in Kenya.
- Amy Webb, principal for Webbmedia Group
- Alieu Conteh, founder of Vodacom, a cell phone company in Congo
- Hiram Enriquez, independent consultant focusing on mobile technologies and digital media strategy

Listen now

29 May 2009

Tinkering to the future

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, researcher director at the Institute for the Future, is working on a book on the end of cyberspace – which he thinks will come as the internet moves off desktops and screens and becomes embedded in things, spaces and minds. So what lies beyond cyberspace, he asks in an essay he wrote for Vodafone’s Receiver magazine. We might find out if we tinker hard enough …

“Tinkering is growing in importance as a social movement, as a way of relating to technology and as a source of innovation. Tinkering is about seizing the moment: it is about ad-hoc learning, getting things done, innovation and novelty, all in a highly social, networked environment.

What is interesting is that at its best, tinkering has an almost Zen-like sense of the present: its ‘now’ is timeless. It is neither heedless of the past or future, nor is it in headlong pursuit of immediate gratification. Tinkering offers a way of engaging with today’s needs while also keeping an eye on the future consequences of our choices. And the same technological and social trends that have made tinkering appealing seem poised to make it even more pervasive and powerful in the future. Today we tinker with things; tomorrow, we will tinker with the world.”

Read full story

(In short, we are all hackers now).

29 May 2009

Nokia’s Ovi Store criticised for lack of focus on people’s needs

Ovi
In a long article in The Register, Andrew Orlowski looks at the many problems Nokia faced the other day with the launch of its Ovi Store, and criticises the company for a lack of focus on people’s needs:

“Firstly, Nokia should focus on people’s needs – and applications that make the phone useful and fun – and not building up a “a portfolio of web services”. It’s already invested heavily in Maps and games – just make them easy to try and buy.

Secondly, the Ovi brand has made no impact on phone users at all. There’s no shame in abandoning confusing or invisible brands. Confine Ovi to mean boring, management services like backups, or data transfer, or services discovery. These shouldn’t be underestimated; they should give users security and peace of mind.

Thirdly, the vast majority of users want to do a few tasks simply – take note of the Magners TV ad which now singles out flash smartphones that are impossible to use. Nokia has inched towards better usability with the E71 and the 5800, but this needs to be a company-wide goal. Showing photos on the family TV, sharing photos with a small group – all much more useful than the 2.0 guff.”

Read full story

29 May 2009

Glued to the machine and going for broke

Going for broke
Natasha Schull, assistant professor in the MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society, says Vegas gambling machines designed to get people to ‘play to extinction’.

“After more than a decade of research that included lengthy observations and interviews focused on gambling machines, Schull is publishing her conclusions on how closely guarded, proprietary mathematical algorithms and immersive, interactive technology are used to keep people gambling until they — in the industry jargon — ‘play to extinction.’”

“I see Las Vegas as a kind of laboratory where experiments are going on between people and machines,” says Schull, a cultural anthropologist whose book on gambling, “Machine Zone: Technology Design and Gambling Addiction in Las Vegas,” is scheduled to be published by the Princeton University Press in 2010.

Read full story

29 May 2009

In defense of distraction

distraction
New York Magazine has published a long article by Sam Anderson on “Twitter, Adderall, lifehacking, mindful jogging, power browsing, Obama’s BlackBerry, and the benefits of overstimulation.”

“Free-associative wandering is essential to the creative process; one moment of judicious unmindfulness can inspire thousands of hours of mindfulness.”

“Focus is a paradox—it has distraction built into it. The two are symbiotic; they’re the systole and diastole of consciousness. Attention comes from the Latin “to stretch out” or “reach toward,” distraction from “to pull apart.” We need both. In their extreme forms, focus and attention may even circle back around and bleed into one other.”

Read full story

28 May 2009

CGAP podcast with Jonathan Donner of Microsoft Research India

Jonathan Donner
Leading up to the 2009 Mobile Money Summit CGAP, an independent policy and research centre dedicated to advancing financial access for the world’s poor, is running a podcast series with some of the key people involved in the CGAP/DFID Branchless Banking in 2020 scenarios work.

The process is based on one driving question: How can government and private sector most affect the uptake and usage of branchless banking among the unserved majority by 2020?

Jonathan Donner is a researcher in the Technology for Emerging Markets Group at Microsoft Research India. Previously, Jonathan was a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and worked for the consultancies Monitor Company and The OTF Group. He holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University in Communication Theory and Research.

Speaking on the side of a workshop that was held in Cape Town last month, Jonathan shared his views on how cash and electronic money aren’t so different when it comes to a question of trust, and how branchless banking is helping poor people spend less time and money to do simple financial transactions.

Listen to interview (mp3)

28 May 2009

Africa banks on cell phones

Ghana cellphones
Global Post reports on how millions in Ghana are entering the banking system through mobile phone system.

“Nobody stands to benefit quite like Africa’s increasingly powerful telecom companies, the conglomerates who built this continent’s cellular towers and enable its calls.

“These guys are going to be more powerful than Google, more powerful than Microsoft, within the locality in which they operate,” Amankwah said. “Already, telecoms move more money than the banks. And they have control over the channels — it’s their sim card. You’re using their network.”

Read full story

28 May 2009

Vodafone’s Betavine launches social change community

Social change community
Stephen Wolak, the brain behind Vodafone’s Betavine community, has launched a new social change community “where we look at how mobile technology and mobile services can bring about positive social change, particularly in developing countries.”

The concept, he says, “is to bring together problem owners, contributors who can help with a mobile solution and activators who can deploy the solution on the ground.”

The community site, which currently mainly pulls in content from MobileActive, compliments the soon to be launched Betavine Social Exchange, a project funded as part of the Vodafone Group Social Investment Fund, which seeks to enable access to communications in emerging markets, and a mobile for social change forum.

27 May 2009

Nokia’s sixth sense and new homescreen experience

Nokia homescreen
Nokia Conversations is reporting on a rare behind-closed-doors Nokia design event dubbed The Inside Story.

According to a first post, Alastair Curtis, Head of Design at Nokia, shared the design insight that your mobile is becoming more of a “sixth sense”, equipping you with “super-human” abilities.

“This notion of your mobile providing your with pseudo super-human abilities might sound a little exaggerated, but the evolution of context aware services is arguably a powerful sixth sense that, as Alastair’s design colleague Bill Sermon mentioned, equips you with a new sort of “peripheral vision” that enables you to see things you perhaps weren’t expecting. And as Alastair explains this “frees you from the complexity of technology to let you look up and enjoy the world around you”. This new breed of mobile behaviour is being investigated and developed with the design ambition being to create interfaces that are absolutely instinctive and don’t keep trapped looking at a screen – instead of say how you might find yourself immersed in a desktop computer screen, the Nokia design team is looking at ways to make your mobile phone screen a glance-at tool to inspire you to spend your time immersed in your physical world, aided with digitized help from your handset.”

A second post reports on a presentation by user interface designers Juliana Ferreira and Lee Cooper on the future of Nokia homescreens.

“The upcoming N97 is the first device to fully realize the research that has taken place over the past two years by Juliana, Lee and the other UI design specialists at Nokia, when it comes to creating a new breed of homescreen experience – an experience that reflects the now embedded trend of personalization and our desire to communicate, share media and control any extension of ourselves on our terms.”

Also check the Making of the N97 video.

27 May 2009

The changing TV experience

The changing TV experience
Consumer Electronics 3.0 is the name Intel has chosen for a new concept of seamless integration of internet and television.

The CE 3.0 website is rich in content, but more than that, it exemplifies the relevance of a user-centred approach in the design of new and innovative technology-based products and services.

A few weeks ago, I reported on a few articles that dealt with the problems and challenges related to digital storage in the home.

Today, I will provide some user-centred design links on the topic of the changing TV experience:

Usage models in the digital home: some simple advice
by Dr. Genevieve Bell, anthropologist and director of Intel’s User Experience Group

“Our findings show, at the broadest level, something many of us knew intuitively—people love their televisions. In many different cultures, in many families, TVs emerged as a beloved, if not sometimes annoying, companion, friend, and constant in the home. Wherever we live, TV content engages us at an emotional and visceral level—it is more than simply entertainment, it is about a kind of engagement and about nurturing us as people. TV has our stories, and the characters become extensions of our families. The irony is that while the industry tends to talk about new technology, consumers want to talk about their family, their constant companions, and the comfort and nurturing that TVs bring. To avoid unintended consequences, we as an industry must learn to listen to people, and to be clear about their perspectives.

We need to be clear about the single purpose of an object—why people use it, care about it, desire it, buy it and keep it. The lesson here is not to be seduced by the impulse to increase the number of things any piece of technology can do, or to confuse its purpose with the functions it could incorporate. We must be very careful to identify the purpose of CE devices from a consumer perspective. It would be bad if we broke what people liked most about the television experience. In making consumer electronics devices smarter for instance, potentially increasing their number of functions and features, we should also keep their purpose in mind.

Violating this principle is a recipe for disaster.”

Opening a window into the lives of TV viewers
Q&A with Brian David Johnson, consumer experience architect within Intel’s Digital Home Group

“Our group includes two teams. The first team consists of social science and design researchers who spend time in people’s homes all over the world. This team is really dedicated to getting a sense of what makes people tick, what they care about, what frustrates them, what they aspire to. This research is focused around getting a sense of the larger cultural patterns and practices that shape people’s relationships to and uses of new technologies. [...]

After we have observed people in their homes, our ethnographers get together with our second team, the human factors engineers and research designers. This group takes the data, and the opportunities we have identified, and begins to build them into platform requirements and product specifications.

Through a set of rigorous processes and methods, the team creates personas, usage models and experience assessments that help drive the development of genuinely user-inspired and user-centric technologies. This process provides Intel with a uniquely valuable reference for our long-term product roadmap as well as a means of validating that our product development will meet the consumers’ needs.”

The changing TV experience – Recent findings from the Intel User Experience Group
This article by Françoise Bourdonnec, director of Home Experience Research & Exploration at Intel’s Digital Home Group, looks at what recent Intel research tells us about how Internet technology may change the TV experience – and some of the important questions that remain to be answered.

Listening to the ‘Voice of the Customer’ helps Intel Design to redefine new digital home experiences
Q&A with Jason Busta, a Voice of the Customer (VOC) researcher for Intel’s Mobility Group, and Kimberly Swank, primary VOC researcher for the Digital Home Group

Catalyst for the digital home: 1. Evolution of the fourth-generation user interface
In this first article in a two-part series, Gary Palangian and Randy Dunton of Intel’s Digital Home Innovations Team discuss the evolution of Consumer Electronics user interface.

Catalyst for the digital home: 2. Intel’s fourth-generation UI research
In this second article in a two-part series, Gary Palangian and Randy Dunton of Intel’s Digital Home Innovations Team describe Intel’s ongoing UI R&D program, and share some of the results to date.

Making the leap: the internet comes to the living room
Excerpts from a keynote address by William O. Leszinske, Jr., general manager of Intel’s Consumer Electronics Group, at the Digital Living Room Conference, March, 2008

The next-generation TV experience (video)
Interview with William O. Leszinske, Jr., general manager of Intel’s Consumer Electronics Group

Widget Channel: Personalize, enjoy & share your favorite Internet experiences on TV
In collaboration with Yahoo! Inc., Intel has developed a full-featured software framework named Widget Channel, that allows TV viewers to enjoy rich Internet applications called TV Widgets while watching their favorite programs.

27 May 2009

Selling user experience

Selling what we do
Daniel Szuc is a principal consultant at a Apogee Usability Asia Ltd, based in Hong Kong, and previously worked on a usability team for Telstra Australia.

When he moved to Hong Kong in 1998, he went about looking for jobs in usability, but there weren’t any available. So instead he started his own usability business.

In this article, he describes how he sold the idea of user experience and got his business going.

Read full story

27 May 2009

Is design the preeminent protagonist in user experience?

Ubiquity
The latest issue of Ubiquity, a web-based publication of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), contains a fascinating account by Phillip Tobias on the emerging design principles that will generate a positive user experience, and satisfied and loyal users.

“Think of one of your favorite items and imagine it right in front of you. You can probably describe it in great detail to someone. However, try to describe it without mentioning or referring to colors, shapes, text, or any other visual elements. This is a challenging task, and attempting to describe any item to someone in this manner most likely will cause ambiguity and confusion. Subconsciously, we create an embedded image in our mind based on an item’s appearance or brand. Dick Berry in “The user experience” denotes this embedded image as a user’s mental model or conceptual model. A user interacts with physical items, builds up experiences, and as a result creates a mental model over time. This mental model can contribute to the success of product marketing and software. At the rapid rate of progression of technology, the acceptance of software with identical functionality can come down to user experience. A product can leverage itself above the rest by the superiority of its design. This article will discuss the emphasis on design as a primary vehicle for strategy, flow, and affordance as it pertains to user experience in a device or system.”

Ubiquity is dedicated to fostering critical analysis and in-depth commentary on issues relating to the nature, constitution, structure, science, engineering, cognition, technology, practices and paradigms of the computing profession.

Read full story

(via InfoDesign)