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Putting People First

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

President of Icann about the net’s potential for change

Developing world
Dr Paul Twomey, president of the internet admin body Icann, talks about the net’s potential for change.

“The mobile global internet is growing quickly to connect billions of people, devices and things. It offers much greater productivity and lower barriers to entry for users and businesses.

In my travels I see “suits” in Manhattan, shop owners in Hyderabad, tour guides in Luxor, students in Santiago del Chile, Aboriginal artists in Alice Springs, fisherman in Hoi An; all glued to their handsets and the net.

This empowerment of individuals, especially in the developing world, is transforming social, economic, and political relationships.

At a time of financial crisis, when all are calling for transparency and good governance, the internet economy’s feedback loops should be grasped, transforming the way we think of currency and accuracy of information and to change how we develop policy and make decisions.”

Read full story

26 May 2009

Hi-tech aims to improve lifestyle

Activity feedback
BBC technology correspondent Mark Ward reports on a research project that uses Facebook, mobile phones, and energy meters to nudge people into living healthier lives.

“The three-year project will see how people react when data is fed back to them about their energy use and activity levels.

While it has been established that such feedback can alter behaviour, the researchers want to unpick the mechanisms of such change.

The research, called the Charm Project, builds on the work of academics Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein which implies that the way people are told about poor lifestyle choices influences how they react.

Instead of simply telling people to stop, it has been shown that it is more effective to reveal how one person’s behaviour ranks against their peers.”

Read full story

26 May 2009

You’re only a first-time user once

Training wheels
Steve Calde, a principal design consultant at Cooper, writes in Cooper Journal on the implications of designing for first time use.

“A person is a first-time user exactly once (and in the case of the infusion pump, because of training and observation, nurses were actually never really first-time users), and in many cases a beginner for only a very short while. The first-time user scenario is always important to get right (as is that highly emotional first impression); for some products such as an airport check-in kiosk or a public emergency defibrillator, for example, it’s the most critical one and deserves the most elegant solution. But for countless other products that target people who will use the product to accomplish complex workflows over long periods of time, the first-time use case is likely only one of many secondary scenarios that deserve attention.”

Read full story

26 May 2009

Reflecting on everyware, the era of ubiquitous computing

everyware
Joe Lamantia, experience architect and strategist at MediaCatalyst, has recently been writing a column for UXmatters. Entitled “Everyware – designing for the ubiquitous experience,” the series aims to explore user experience and design in the era of ubiquitous computing.

First fictions and the parable of the palace
November 2008
An overview of everyware’s roots in early depictions of ubiquitous computing by Mark Weiser and others, a consideration of the critical role of user experience in the coming world of everyware, and a description of some of the challenges we face in designing everyware / lifeware user experiences.

A near-term vision for everyware: synthetic serendipity
March 2009
A look forward from the present day, using stories by well-known science fiction authors as the source for vision or concept scenarios that describe some possible experiences of living and working with everyware.

Designing post-humanity: everyware in the far future
May 2009
Looking further afield is also important. Our reactions to more speculative and exploratory fictions affect our decisions about the appropriate reach and scope of design in the future. The conversations designers have about such fictions help us solidify both what and how we will design for the coming world of everyware. As designers, the decisions we make today will help decide what humanity is to be tomorrow.

26 May 2009

The lamp posts on Brick Lane

lamp posts
Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow and Under Pressure and a self-proclaimed proponent of the Slow Movement, is the writer of the latest contribution to Vodafone’s Receiver magazine. In his piece, Honoré argues that in a world of limitless information and constant access to other people, we often don’t know when to stop our urge to connect and communicate:

“You cannot be truly ‘in the moment’ when you’re juggling several moments at once. You cannot make the most of now when you turn ‘now’ into a frenzy of multitasking.

Being ‘always on’ transforms communication technology into a weapon of mass distraction. [...]

Constant connection makes us chronically impatient. We come to expect everything to happen at the touch of a button – and get angry when it doesn’t. As the actress Carrie Fisher once quipped, these days “even instant gratification takes too long.”

Being ‘always on’ also makes it hard to stop and stare; to smell the proverbial roses. We miss the details, the fine grain of the world around us when our eyes are glued to a screen. We lose the joy of discovering things on our own, or by chance, when we stick to routes prescribed by a GPS download. When travel involves firing off a stream of texts, tweets and audio-video footage to friends and family back home, we never completely immerse ourselves in a new place.”

Read full story

25 May 2009

Focusing design solutions on social problems

Frederik Wiedermann
Alice Rawsthorn of The New York Times has published an article on social design and service innovation:

“When Ritt Bjerregaard became lord mayor of the city of Copenhagen in 2006, she was astonished to discover how many working days were lost when civic employees fell ill, and how much it cost — roughly €100 million, or $140 million, a year.

City officials made various attempts to tackle the problem. Training programs were introduced for the worst-affected staff, as were research tools to help managers monitor the incidence of sick leave and its impact.

The mayor and her colleagues then decided to analyze the problem in greater depth, and invited consultants to pitch for the project. The one they chose was ReD Associates, one of a new breed of hybrid consulting groups that combine design with other disciplines, such as ethnography, psychology and anthropology, to tackle social problems as well as commercial ones.

Rapidly though this area of design is expanding, it is still so new that it does not have a name, at least not one that has stuck. “Social design,” “service design” and “service innovation” are among the favorites”.

Read full story

25 May 2009

John Maeda designs technology’s human side

John Maeda
On Fora.TV you can find a video of RISD president John Maeda’s talk at O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 expo, where he discusses people participation processes at RISD.

Watch video

25 May 2009

John Thackara on clean growth

Clean Growth
Design Innovation Scotland has published a white paper by John Thackara, entitled Clean Growth: From Mindless Development to Design Mindfulness.

It’s the first in a series whose aim is “to stimulate thought and debate about…radical solutions to real-world challenges”. The intended readers are regional economic development professionals and policy makers.

25 May 2009

Talking mobile banking in Kenya

mBanking 2009
Erik Hersman reports on his blog White African from the e Fletcher mBanking conference in Nairobi.

Talking Mobile Banking in Kenya
Notes from the panel “Perspectives on Mobile and Branchless Financial Service”

Volume vs Value in Mobile Payment Systems
Talk by Stephen Mwaura Nduati, who is in charge of “Payment Systems” at the Central Bank of Kenya

25 May 2009

Wired economics

IdeasProject
Nokia’s Ideas Project published a feature story on why technology may be making money superfluous.

“We’re entering a time in which products are expected to give themselves over as platforms for innovation and reinvention. Even money, something we tend to think of as absolute, seems to have lost some standing as a singular fixed medium with which to conduct transactions. This deterioration may have begun with the excesses of the past thirty years, when money came into its own as a commodity. Derivatives, options, credit default swaps, margin calls, shorts were inventive new ways to repackage money, some of which resulted in the near-collapse of our financial system. The recent challenges to our banking system notwithstanding, a different kind of transformation, on with implications to the very essence of our money system, is being affected by technology.

From its role in institutions to its use for transactions, in places as far flung as Uganda and Bangladesh, money is giving way to other forms of currency or, in some cases, nothing at all.”

Read full story

20 May 2009

Science alone will not save us

Windmills
Changing behaviour will be as vital as new technologies in tackling climate change. So where is the funding for linguists, anthropologists and sociologists? Tariq Tahir reports in The Guardian.

“Multidisciplinary work helps engineers and scientists, as well as the professional carers, tackle extreme weather events in the future and keep services running,” Curtis says. “They also need to understand from the people receiving those services what’s important to them and that’s where the social science perspective comes in – really being able to interpret events and problems from different social perspectives.

“The social science perspective isn’t just about individual behaviour, but helps us to think about the way that people work and interact together. I would argue that what’s important to people and how they tackle problems is not just down to individual characteristics but also to the social circumstances they’re in.”

Read full story

(via Nick Marsh)

20 May 2009

Portfolios of the Poor: Financial diaries of the bottom billion

Portfolios of the Poor
Portfolios of the Poor: How the World’s Poor Live on $2 a Day
by Daryl Collins, Jonathan Morduch, Stuart Rutherford, Orlanda Ruthven
Princeton University Press
Hardcover, May 2009

Abstract

About forty percent of the world’s people live on incomes of two dollars a day or less. If you’ve never had to survive on an income so small, it is hard to imagine. How would you put food on the table, afford a home, and educate your children? How would you handle emergencies and old age? Every day, more than a billion people around the world must answer these questions. Portfolios of the Poor is the first book to explain systematically how the poor find solutions.

The authors report on the yearlong “financial diaries” of villagers and slum dwellers in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa–records that track penny by penny how specific households manage their money. The stories of these families are often surprising and inspiring. Most poor households do not live hand to mouth, spending what they earn in a desperate bid to keep afloat. Instead, they employ financial tools, many linked to informal networks and family ties. They push money into savings for reserves, squeeze money out of creditors whenever possible, run sophisticated savings clubs, and use microfinancing wherever available. Their experiences reveal new methods to fight poverty and ways to envision the next generation of banks for the “bottom billion.”

Book review The Economist:

“The unbanked do not have access to such luxuries as standing orders, which richer people use to overcome the temptation to spend whatever they earn. And they are forced to pay for things that are free for most—which enables women like Jyothi to earn a crust by offering a safe store for small savings. But with some ingenuity, they use unorthodox financial instruments to create a more stable life than their erratic incomes would otherwise allow.”

Book review Next Billion blog

“Often times in the development community the bottom billion is thought of in terms of aggregate statistics without much attention given to the individuals and their day to day lives. The goal of the authors was to find a happy medium between aggregate data/statistics and individual anthropological research. What they developed as a result were Financial Diaries, which give a basic overview of every financial transaction made and service used over the studied timeframe.

Through the use of Financial Diaries, the researchers meticulously tracked every detail of their subjects’ financial lives by interviewing them bi-weekly for one year using metrics of the portfolio management world, including cash flow and income statement analysis. While gathering evidence, they discovered that it took approximately six interviews with each respondent to develop the trust required to obtain accurate data and account for margins of error. This is in interesting implication for research that is often times based on one interview. Their analysis approached households as start-up organizations and adjusted their research using these metrics.”

20 May 2009

Humin – because innovation is a human business

Humin
Experientia is proud to announce the official launch of Humin, a programme developed for Flemish SMEs and start‐ups that creates competitive advantage through people-centred innovation.

In May-June last year Experientia (in collaboration with Richard Eisermann of Prospect and Tjeu Arits of Arits Consulting) worked intensively with the City of Genk, Belgium, to set out the project vision and prepare all the application documents in order to gain Flemish Government/ERDF funding.

Meanwhile, the project was evaluated positively and yesterday it was officially launched.

From the launch press release:

Today, the Belgian Ministry of Economy formally inaugurated Humin, a programme developed for Flemish SMEs and start‐ups that creates competitive advantage through people-centred innovation. Sponsored by Limburg/Genk, Design Region Kortrijk, and FlandersInShape, Humin puts design at the heart of every business, enabling Flemish managers to become more effective and more successful. The focus of the programme is on understanding the people who use an organisation’s products and services, using design methods to translate these insights into tangible, bottom line benefits for business.

Over the next two years, Humin will have 1.4 million Euro available to connect businesses and designers, providing innovation tools and methods to SMEs and innovation training to designers. Through intensive workshops and one‐on‐one interventions, designers will coach organisations in the skills necessary to identify opportunities for innovation within their businesses. They will then help their clients to develop these insights into new products and services through design. The goals of Humin will be to:

  • Raise the entrepreneurship of 30 Flemish SMEs and start‐ups through the use of people-centred design and innovation methodologies;
  • Train 20 persons to become Design Coaches, the experts in people-centred design methods who will support the participating SMEs;
  • Create a set of practical tools for both of the above groups that enable innovation and the application of design thinking to business problems;
  • Improve the perception of entrepreneurship in Flanders, inspiring individuals and companies to try new methods of innovation;
  • Strengthen the international reputation of Flanders as a region focused on innovation;
  • Create a community of people-centred innovation practitioners that will prolong the impact of the project beyond its two year running life;
  • Develop a body of knowledge (and a means of accessing it) that will provide a legacy for use by the region in the future.

With the generous support of Flanders and Europe, Humin offers an extraordinary opportunity and financial incentive to learn, practice and implement top‐level innovation methods that will provide long lasting benefits to Flemish businesses. Any business or organisation that is trying to meet the challenges of today in more creative ways can sign up as a candidate for the programme. Any designer who feels he/she has the right mix of experience, business understanding and design skill to make a credible impression on managing directors of SMEs should put themselves forth for Humin. But capacity is limited to 30 ‘business seats’ and 20 ‘designer seats’, so please visit www.humin.be for more information and to register your interest today.

The project manager is Dany Snokx, who worked for 11 years at Philips Design in Eindhoven, and for past four years was engaged as creative director for Philips Lighting.

The bilingual (Dutch/English) humin.be website provides plenty of background information.

20 May 2009

Museums and libraries in a digital age

 
The Futures of Learning blog, which is associated with a MacArthur Foundation project, just announced a new blog series that reports on the literature review conducted as part of the project, Inspiring the Technological Imagination: Museums and Libraries in a Digital Age.

Funded by the MacArthur Foundation as part of the Digital Media and Learning initiative, this project addresses one of the four key questions that defines the initiative: How might institutions change to take advantage of the learning opportunities provided by new digital media?

The work discussed in this literature review seeks to contribute to the development of a field in new media and learning by focusing on the role of museums and libraries as part of distributed learning networks.

The series comes at the closure of a just completed literature review on New Media Practices in International Contexts, covering the unique characteristics of digital media user behaviours in very different socio-cultural contexts of China, Korea, India, Brazil, Japan and Ghana, with a particular interest in the intersection of youth, new media and learning.

The research was directed by Anne Balsamo, PI. The blog postings will be authored by her and other members of the research team: Cara Wallis, Maura Klosterman, and Susana Bautista (University of Southern California).

Over the next six to eight weeks, Anne Balsamo and her research team will address the following topics:

19 May 2009

How the mobile phone became an ‘instrument for life’

 
The Sydney Morning Herald reports on a study of more than 1000 workers which shows that the mobile phone does not make people any more rushed or pressured for time.

An analysis of more than 20,000 calls and texts logged by participants confirms the device originally marketed as a business tool has become an instrument for life.

Read full story

(via textually.org)

19 May 2009

Mobile Literacy

Besera Bhen
Our friends at Adaptive Path have posted some information on a design and research project that aimed to understand how mobile technology can work more effectively in emerging markets.

The company went to rural India to investigate the impact of mobile technology and developed concepts for new mobile devices for this market. Based on the research they conducted there, they developed a series design principles and concepts for mobile devices to meet the needs of people in emerging markets.

You can find more information in a new dedicated section of their website.

More background is also on their blog:

19 May 2009

New media practices in China, Korea, India, Brazil, Japan and Ghana

 
The blog series on New Media Practices in International Contexts, which I announced in January, is now complete. It covers the unique characteristics of digital media user behaviours in very different socio-cultural contexts of China, Korea, India, Brazil, Japan and Ghana, with a particular interest in the intersection of youth, new media and learning.

The authors, a group of people around Mimi Ito, believe that examining new media practices from an international (and, in some cases, transnational) perspective will enhance their current efforts to theorise youth, new media and learning, a wider MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

China (by Cara Wallis): introductionmobile phonesgaminginternetnew media productionconclusion
Korea (by HyeRyoung Ok): introductioninternetgamingmobile phonesnew media productionconclusion
India (by Anke Schwittay): introductionmobile phonesgaminginternetnew media productionconclusion
Brazil (by Heather Horst): introductioninternetnew media productiongamesmobile phonesconclusion
Japan (by Mimi Ito and Daisuke Okabe): introductioninternetmobile phonesnew media productiongamingconclusion
Ghana (by Araba Sey): introductionmobile phonesinternetnew media productiongamingconclusion

Each case study focuses upon the telecommunications landscape, internet and mobile phone practices, gaming, and new media production, and provides a unique perspective on the ways in which infrastructure, institutions and culture (among other factors) shape contemporary new media practices.

13 May 2009

Us Now

Us Now
Watch this excellent 1 hour documentary film about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet.

“In his student flat in Colchester, Jack Howe is staring intently into his computer screen. He is picking the team for Ebbsfleet United’s FA Trophy Semi-Final match against Aldershot . Around the world 35,000 other fans are doing the same thing, because together, they own and manage the football club. If distributed networks of people can run complex organisations such as football clubs, what else can they do?

Us Now takes a look at how this type of participation could transform the way that countries are governed. It tells the stories of the online networks whose radical self-organising structures threaten to change the fabric of government forever.

Us Now follows the fate of Ebbsfleet United, a football club owned and run by its fans; Zopa, a bank in which everyone is the manager; and Couch Surfing, a vast online network whose members share their homes with strangers.

The founding principles of these projects — transparency, self-selection, open participation — are coming closer and closer to the mainstream of our social and political lives. Us Now describes this transition and confronts politicians George Osborne and Ed Milliband with the possibilities for participative government as described by Don Tapscott and Clay Shirky amongst others.”

CONTRIBUTORS: Don Tapscott, Ed Miliband, William Heath, Martin Sticksl, Lee Bryant, Tom Steinberg, Charles Leadbeater, George Osborne, Saul Albert, Mikey Weinkove, Sunny Hundal, Sophia Parker, JP Rangaswami, Paul Miller, Becky Hogge, Matthew Taylor, MT Rainy, Giles Andrews, Clay Shirky, Paul Miller, Sane Kelly, Liam Daish

- Us Now project website
- Us Now blog
- Us Now video (Vimeo)

13 May 2009

Everybody’s a manufacturer: era of user-generated devices

DBoard (openmoko)
Further on my earlier theme of “we are all hackers now“, here is a long feature on user-generated devices by Fumitada Takahashi and Phil Keys in the Nikkei Electronics Asia magazine (Japan).

“User-Generated Devices (UGD), allowing people to enjoy themselves making their own equipment with friends, are making a showing in the electronics industry, fueled by the outsourcing of development and manufacturing, open constituent technologies, and other trends. Only companies capable of discarding the paradigm of volume production will be able to evolve apace with this new dimension in user participation.”

The article cites Sir Howard Stringer, chief executive officer (CEO) of Sony. In an interview with Stringer, he endorses customer understanding and open technology:

“Consumers today are a lot different from how they were 20 years ago. They aren’t passive any more. The spread of the Internet has given them the power to dictate how products are used, and an increasing number of people are discovering new ways to have fun, such as by creating their own content.

A diverse range of electronics will be connecting to the Internet in the near future, tapping Web-based services, and we have to think about what we need to do to make our customers – the king – like our products. I think the key to this lies in watching our customers. If a Sony employee were to ask me what a reasonable market price might be for distributing video to the home, I would tell him, “Don’t listen to me; watch our customers.”

Understanding customers will also help us uncover hidden customers. The Wii from Nintendo Co Ltd of Japan is an excellent example. They didn’t develop any unique technology; they just realized that there was potential demand out there for something different from conventional games, and thought about how to satisfy different demands from different age groups.”

Read article: part 1 | part 2 | part 3

(via Pachube)

12 May 2009

Human-centred design for sustainable development on an urban scale

Low2No
The built environment is now the largest negative factor in the stability of ecosystems and the climate. As populations become increasingly urbanized, the evolution of cities will largely shape the outcome of our long dependence on natural resources.

Recognising the need and opportunity to improve sustainable building practices, the City of Helsinki and Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund are organising a sustainable design competition (rather than just an architecture competition) for a major urban development project.

Called Low2No (implying “low to no carbon emissions”), the competition’s goal is to attract and identify the best teams to design a large mixed-use building complex on a reclaimed harbour at the western edge of Helsinki’s central business district, that would through its exemplary nature set out a sustainable development framework applicable to other contexts.

Despite the short application time frame, a total of 73 applications were submitted. Last week, five teams were selected from a very competitive pool of proposals to proceed to the design phase of the competition.

One of the shortlisted teams is led by the global design and engineering firm Arup, in partnership with the international architecture and urban planning agency Sauerbruch Hutton, and Experientia, the experience design company that this blog is part of.

Arup is highly regarded for its many top-level projects, but also for its philosophy and culture of engineering – and in our field for the many important contributions by Dan Hill at conferences and on his famous cityofsound blog, whereas Sauerbruch Hutton is well-known for the design of the German Federal Environment Agency.

Needless to say that we are very proud to be in such excellent company, and to be the only experience design consultancy in the shortlist.

The five teams are now working on the development of “a design strategy and approach suitable to the challenge, a framework for developing an indicator of sustainability suitable to the challenge, and a vision for the project that will inspire stakeholders to overcome the challenges of systemic change”.

The jury “will be instructed to evaluate the proposals based on evidence of systemic thinking. More than a design, we are look-
ing for a credible strategic framework for change, and the principals upon which the framework was built.”

Experientia will be taking a human-centred angle in its partnership with Arup and Sauerbruch Hutton, emphasising the fundamental impact that people’s behaviours can have on sustainability. Although we cannot disclose too much (the competition is still going on), we will surely be exploring a full plethora of research and design approaches, from ethnographic research to interaction design, and from service design to strategic communications. It will definitely be a great challenge for us to test and prove the fundamental role of a human-centred perspective in this pivotal project.