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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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August 2009
30 August 2009

The good enough revolution: when cheap and simple is just fine

good enough
For years, the experience design community has been using the term ‘good enough prototyping’. Wired UK argues quite convincingly that this approach is now moving into product design:

“Cheap, fast, simple tools are suddenly everywhere. We get our breaking news from blogs, we make spotty long-distance calls on Skype, we watch video on small computer screens rather than TVs, and more and more of us are carrying around dinky, low-power netbook computers that are just good enough to meet our surfing and emailing needs. The low end has never been riding higher.” [...]

“As more sectors connect to the digital world, from medicine to the military, they too are seeing the rise of Good Enough tools like the Flip. Suddenly what seemed perfect is anything but, and products that appear mediocre at first glance are often the perfect fit.”

Read full story

30 August 2009

Using Nokia Life Tools in India to learn English

Nokia Life Tools
Dina Mehta, founder and managing director of Mosoci India, reports on how Nokia Life Tools actually gets used in India, and more in particular, how the how the Learn English program, a part of Nokia Life Tools, really works on the ground.

“On the long drive to the villages, Natesh, Head of Nokia Life Tools, India spoke to us extensively about how they developed this concept. It started with debunking the myth that people in villages are so poor they cannot afford such tools, and figuring out through research, what would make a real difference. They found that the need “to better my life” is huge, and Nokia Life Tools might find a space in this, by making users “better prepared when the opportunities strike”. I believe this is a little step in that direction and has a lot of potential for distance education too.”

Read full story

Also check this follow-up article on the use of Nokia Life Tools by Indian farmers.

27 August 2009

Nokia’s new mobile money

Nokia Money
Yesterday, Nokia launched Nokia Money, a new mobile financial service enables financial management and payments from a mobile phone – aimed specifically at emerging markets.

From the Nokia press release:

“Nokia Money has been designed to be as simple and convenient as making a voice call or sending an SMS. It will enable consumers to send money to another person just by using the person’s mobile phone number, as well as to pay merchants for goods and services, pay their utility bills, or recharge their prepaid SIM cards (SIM top-up). The services can be accessed 24 hours a day from anywhere, meaning savings in travel costs and time. Nokia is building a wide network of Nokia Money agents, where consumers can deposit money in or withdraw cash from their accounts.” [...]

“Mobile payments will be the next step for delivering financial services to hundreds of millions of people, both urban and rural, who are underserved by existing payment means, especially in emerging economies.” [...]

“The Nokia Money service will be operated in cooperation with Obopay, a leader in developing global mobile payment solutions, which Nokia invested in earlier this year. The service is based on Obopay’s mobile payment platform, with unique and newly developed mobile elements. Nokia intends the service to be open and interoperable with other payment services as well.”

The announcement received a huge amount of press and blog play – a round up:

CGAP: “This alone isn’t enough to crack open internet banking for the poor: PayPal may claim to be in 190 markets, but its not terribly easy to access the service in all of those places.”

CNET News: “The new service may find a special niche in the U.S., which has lagged behind countries such as Japan in the ability to pay for items on the fly through a cell phone. “Rural consumers will particularly benefit from money transfers and, for urban consumers used to online services, we are enabling services such as payment of utility bills, purchase of train and movie tickets, top-ups, all through their mobile phones,” said Teppo Paavola, Nokia VP and head of corporate business development.”

Deals & More: “It sounds like it won’t just be for the owners of Nokia phones, though, since the company says it will work on ‘virtually any mobile phone.’”

Fast Company: “Nokia has already said it plans to become the world’s largest entertainment network through its vast share of the mobile handset market. Now it looks like the Finnish mobile device maker aims to become the world’s largest mobile bank as well.”

Financial Times: “The developing world will likely be Nokia’s first target as it seeks to roll the programme out. [...] Nokia sees a market opportunity here, and said there are 4bn mobile phone users today, compared with 1.6bn bank accounts.”

Kiwanja/Ken Banks: “Details remain a little sketchy, but Nokia Money appears to be operator-independent, meaning mobile owners on any network can send or receive payments to anyone else on any other network. This would be a direct challenge to many existing models which require users to switch networks, or to be on the same network as the mobile service they’re looking to use. In addition, it looks like Nokia Money users can sign-up without needing to swap out their SIM cards, making up-take of the service considerably more efficient logistically. If this thing were to grow, it could grow fast.”

Register Hardware: “Unimaginatively called Nokia Money, the service will enable you to send money to someone else using their mobile number.”

Reuters: “Mobile money is one of the hottest topics in the wireless world, but so far take-up of services has been limited mostly to a few emerging markets, as in developed countries, the popularity of online banking has been a brake on mobile money.”

Techcrunch: “Nokia will hardly be the only player in these emerging markets — other competitors include mChek and Paymate.”

The Register: “Nokia isn’t the first company to look at payments via SMS – your correspondent managed to pay for a meal by text back in 2002, just – but with Nokia’s brand behind it, and a focus on economies where traditional banks are hard to come by, it could be the one that makes it.”

Wall Street Journal: “‘This is absolutely what Nokia should do,’ as there will be big demand for mobile financial services and because the company has so far struggled to offer attractive, easy-to-use applications that rival those provided by the iPhone’s App Store, said Evli Bank analyst Michael Andersson, who has has an accumulate rating on the share.”

25 August 2009

The lost art of reading

David Ulin
David L. Ulin, book editor of the Los Angeles Times, argues that the relentless cacophony that is life in the 21st century can make settling in with a book difficult even for lifelong readers and those who are paid to do it.

“Reading is an act of contemplation, perhaps the only act in which we allow ourselves to merge with the consciousness of another human being. We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves. This is what Conroy was hinting at in his account of adolescence, the way books enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own. In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise.

Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to read.”

Read full story

25 August 2009

Ideas for thought from the Symposium for the Future

Symposium for the Future
The New Media Consortium is hosting a Symposium for the Future October 27-29 that will explore actual and potential applications of technology that could impact issues of global importance over the next five years and beyond.

To generate dialog and discussion around the topic, and to help prospective proposal writers to frame their ideas about the conference themes, the organisers invited danah boyd (Microsoft Research and the Berkman Center, Harvard), Gardner Campbell (Baylor University), and Holly Willis (The Institute for Multimedia Literacy, USC), all people who have thought quite a bit about ideas behind this symposium, to craft a series of essays from three distinct perspectives on the topic.

It is easy to fall in love with technology (alternate link)
by danah boyd, researcher at Microsoft Research New England and Fellow at the Harvard University Berkman Center for Internet and Society

“There are also no such things as “digital natives.” Just because many of today’s youth are growing up in a society dripping with technology does not mean that they inherently know how to use it. They don’t. Most of you have a better sense of how to get information from Google than the average youth. Most of you know how to navigate privacy settings of a social media tool better than the average teen. Understanding technology requires learning.”

The stars our destination (alternate link)
by Gardner Campbell, director of the Academy for Teaching and Learning at Baylor University

“Though I know these marvelous information and communication technologies we live with every day are fraught sixteen ways from Sunday, I believe they are also a kind of poem we have written together, a film we have made together, a medium that has enabled what Clay Shirky identifies as “the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race” (Here Comes Everybody). That increase happened because we wanted it to, because we have not yet found the boundaries of our ambitions for connection and expression.”

Tactics and haptics and a future that’s now
by Holly Willis, director of academic programs at the University of Southern California‘s Institute for Multimedia Literacy

“We need to take seriously the significance of a vision of the future, not so much with regard to fantastic scenarios – the stuff of science fiction, which as we know, does play an important role in envisioning the future – but instead in terms of tangible, real-world realities. Why? Because when we talk about “the future” these days, we’re no longer thinking about a long, gently winding road disappearing into a distant horizon, but instead a window (or screen?) pushed up close against our noses. The temporal horizon has shrunk, and the future, as Bruce Sterling said recently at Reboot, is really about a transition happening right now.”

25 August 2009

Reading bar codes with mobile phones

Barcode
Although it is more of a technical discussion, this article by The Economist is a worthwhile read as it describes quite well how a new way to deliver information to mobile phones is spreading around the world.

“In America and Europe, three types of bar code, called QR Code, Data Matrix and Ezcode, are likely to become common. The first two are free, open standards. Ezcode is owned by a New York-based firm called Scanbuy, but it, too, is available free, for general purposes. The firm behind it makes its money by charging advertisers and publishers when people use it.

In July three mobile-phone operators in Spain—Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone—agreed to load software that recognises Ezcode. Scanbuy has also signed a deal with two Danish operators and two in South America. In the United States, a Samsung mobile phone, the Exclaim, has become the first to be sold with Scanbuy’s program already loaded.”

Read full story

25 August 2009

Phones and farmers

 
Abdul Bayes, professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh, has written a nice article in the Daily Star newspaper where he condenses some recent research on mobile phones, farmers and the rural poor.

“Coming back to the Bangladesh context, out of 150 million people, about 47 million people have access to mobile phones. The market is still dominated by Grameen phone, with roughly half of the market share, and the rest is distributed among 6 other companies. The tariff rates are gradually going down to a competitive level. The price of mobile sets has come down to an affordable level. It appears that mobile phones are effective not only in terms of reducing marketing costs and price dispersions but also in terms of managing disasters, searching for jobs and improving the quality of life.

The “luxury” item of the early 1990s transformed into a “necessity” within the span of just one decade. Mobile phone is now an essential instrument for reducing “rural penalty,” not only in Bangladesh but also in other backward areas. But surely Bangladesh can boast about the dawn of an unimaginable era of communication for the farmers and the rural poor. “

Read full story (alternate link)

(via @movirtu)

25 August 2009

A short manifesto on the future of attention

Attention
Author and journalist Michael Erard has published a short manifesto on the future of attention:

“Now we have a wide-ranging discussion about what is and what can’t be free, which is basically about the future of profit. Maybe we should be considering a dilemma of a human nature: the future of attention.

Because there’s a connection between the two.

Making something “free” is obviously an allocation strategy. “Free” attracts attention. Making things brief is an allocation strategy as well. The problem is that free isn’t sustainable, and that brief is underpriced.

We need a Ronald Reagan of attention, someone to inspire us away from the fight over smaller and smaller pieces of the attention pie. Someone who will inspire us to make the attention pie bigger.”

It’s a provocative piece, especially in its final sentence: “So this is what it’s come to: when an attention gift economy seems more practical and sustainable than an exchange economy for information commodities, which is being rotted by the gift’s ugly negation: the free.”

Read full story

25 August 2009

Data visualization: stories for the Information Age

Seattle tree
Business Week explores how artists and designers are turning to data visualization to interpret the deluge of information around us.

“For artists and designers, data visualization is a new frontier of self-expression, powered by the proliferation of information and the evolution of available tools. For enterprise, it’s a platform for showcasing products and services in the context of the cultural interaction that surrounds them, reflecting consumers’ increasing demand for corporate transparency.” [...]

“Data visualization is a way to make sense of the ever-increasing stream of information with which we’re bombarded and provides a creative antidote to the “analysis paralysis” that can result from the burden of processing such a large volume of information.” [...]

“Ultimately, data visualization is more than complex software or the prettying up of spreadsheets. It’s not innovation for the sake of innovation. It’s about the most ancient of social rituals: storytelling. It’s about telling the story locked in the data differently, more engagingly, in a way that draws us in, makes our eyes open a little wider and our jaw drop ever so slightly. And as we process it, it can sometimes change our perspective altogether. “

(Make sure to check out the excellent slide show.)

- Read full story
- View slide show

25 August 2009

Are we ready for the Autonomous Age?

Thinker
The UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering recently published a discussion document (pdf) on the social, legal and ethical issues surrounding the development and use of autonomous systems.

The document is the report of a roundtable discussion from a wide range of experts, looking at the areas where autonomous systems are most likely to emerge first, and discussing the broad ethical issues surrounding their uptake.

In publishing the report the Academy calls on the media and government to improve public awareness of the complex social, ethical and legal questions that autonomous systems raise.

But, asks Sumit Paul-Choudhury in The New Scientist, do we need this debate, or will it only delay the appearance of technologies that have a lot to offer?

“Although these systems should be far more reliable than their human equivalents, people may not be willing to forgive their rare mistakes, said Will Stewart, visiting professor at University College London and the University of Southampton, UK, at the report’s launch. There may be a “yuk factor” when something goes wrong, he says, with the mistakes of an autonomous surgeon, for example, seen as inhuman and revolting in a way that human failings are not.

Autonomous systems could also bring legal headaches. “The law is built around causes, and struggles with systems,” says Chris Elliott of Pitchill Consulting.”

Read full story

25 August 2009

A plea for more critical thinking in design, please

Sigmund Freud
John Barratt, president and CEO of Teague, reflects in a guest post on Fast Company on the fact that critical thinking in design is largely absent.

“For reasons that are difficult for me to identify, it seems that the design industry lacks any real form of critical thinking. By that I mean a careful and deliberate analysis that’s intended to identify genuine existing conditions, rather than the conditions that those with vested interests may want us to believe are true. Could be that the design industry isn’t large enough to warrant professional critics, or that the market isn’t great enough to consume these critiques, or perhaps that designers are uncomfortable criticizing their colleagues’ work? Or maybe it’s just that as an industry we are content, or that the intended audience has yet to develop a criterion for evaluation?”

Read full story

25 August 2009

Where tech and philosophy collide

Marvin Minsky
BBC News reports on the inaugural meeting of the London Futurist and Transhumanist Group.

“While futurism involves trying to predict how technology will evolve over time, transhumanism is concerned with how that technology will change the fundamental nature human beings and the way we live.”

The article also delves into the thinking of Ray Kurzweil and discusses the recently founded Singularity University.

Read full story

25 August 2009

Alice Rawsthorn about “design democracy,” “co-design” and “customisation”

Lemon squeezer
Alice Rawsthorn, the design critic of the International Herald Tribune/New York Times, approached the topic of co-design last week:

“We can now “co-design” real objects thanks to digital technology, which enables us to communicate directly with manufacturers to personalize aspects of their products. Fancy customizing the style and fit of Nike trainers? Choosing the colors of Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses? Specifying the interior of a Fiat 500 car? Rapid manufacturing processes, like the one used by Digital Forming, will soon allow anyone to adjust the shape of objects — and not just to indulge stylistic whims but to make, say, a pen, easier to grip by someone with arthritic hands. There could be environmental benefits, too, as bespoke manufacturing erases the need for stock.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

Paint me a picture: empowering the consumer

Camera display
Montparnasse, a UX boutique firm, tries to imagine what empowering the user experience of the customer really means:

“When people consider buying anything, whether it be clothes, a gadget, or home, they often spend a lot of time comparison shopping and trying to gather information to inform their choice. In fact, a major effort is generally exerted to try to experience the item. [...]

What this all leads to is a frame of reference. People try to create and imprint a picture in their minds of the item, not just on its own, but within their lives. It is easy for businesses to lose sight of this fundamental aspect of the decision-making process and leave it to the customer to do all this leg-work with little assistance. But this is a mistake.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

Lonely Planet

 
Johannah Cornblatt argues on Newsweek that despite our inter-connectedness, we’re now more alone than ever.

“Between 1985 and 2004, the number of people who said there was no one with whom they discussed important matters tripled, to 25 percent, according to Duke University researchers. Unfortunately, as a new study linking women to increased risk of heart disease shows, all this loneliness can be detrimental to our health. “

Read full story

24 August 2009

European Commission sets new information society challenge: Becoming literate in new media

 
The European Commission warned last week that Europeans young and old could miss out on the benefits of today’s high-tech information society unless more is done to make them ‘media literate’ enough to access, analyse and evaluate images, sounds and texts and use traditional and new media to communicate and create media content.

The Commission said EU countries and the media industry need to increase awareness of the many media messages people encounter, be they advertisements, movies or online content.

Read full story

24 August 2009

The iPhone is not easy to use: a new direction for UX Design

Nothing to undo
Fred Beecher argues on Johnny Holland that “the iPhone is surprisingly difficult to use, but it sure is fun! And that is why it’s a game-changer.”

“As a user experience designer, I thought my job was to make things not suck. Until recently. As technology has evolved, human behavior has evolved along with it. Since behavior is the basis of user experience design, my job has evolved as well. Now, my job is to make things people love. At the 2009 IA Summit, Karl Fast articulated the value proposition of user experience design with sparkling clarity. “Engineers make things,” he said, “we make people love them.” And then he held up an iPhone as an example.

This is a crucial change, the importance of which cannot be overstated.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

The augmented reality avalanche

Bruce Sterling on AR
The last few weeks we have witnessed an avalanche of posts about augmented reality.

To begin with there is Bruce – Bruce Sterling that is.

He has been following the trend for months now, all culminating at his excellent keynote speech during the Layar event in Amsterdam.

In his keynote, entitled ““At the Dawn of the Augmented Reality Industry“, Bruce talks about its history, the cool side (“a techno-visionary dream come true”), the dark side (“you are going to get the four horsemen of the apocalypse”) and gives the industry some pointers to be successful (“you’re not going to look like you are looking now”).

Watch it. Seriously.

Other recent contributions on this topic that caught my attention are:

Inside out: interaction design for augmented reality [UX Matters]
by Joe Lamantia
The role of experience design in regard to the inside-out world of augmented reality is critical, because, as [Victor] Vinge also pointed out, “Reality can be whatever the software people choose to make it, and the people operating in the outside, real world choose it to be.” The UX community needs to find ways to participate in and shape this design probe into the experience of everyware. To UX designers of all stripes, this blizzard of AR products offers a collection of prototypes that can help us understand and refine the basic interaction models and experience concepts that will underlay future generations of everyware. UX professionals can offer an essential perspective—as well as substantial history and a critical set of methods and skills—for the creation of delightful, useful, and humane augmented experiences, expanding their relevance and value. This opportunity is upon us now and is ours to grasp—or miss!

Augmented reality? More like awkward hilarity [Wired UK]
by Michael Conroy
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” By overlaying the real (live video) with the virtual (data, images, 3D models), augmented reality (AR) may be the most convincing example of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of prediction. When it works, that is.

Handsets enhance the real world [BBC News]
by Dan Simmons
Imagine seeing interesting information pop up as you stroll around. It is almost like a sixth sense, and it used to be mainly the stuff of science fiction. But Augmented Reality (AR) – in which live video images like those from mobile phone camera are tagged with relevant data – is starting to be widely available.
Check the Layar video.

Augmented reality: five barriers to a web that’s everywhere[ReadWriteWeb]
by Marshall Kirkpatrick
“The internet smeared all over everything.” An “enchanted window” that turns contextual information hidden all around us inside out. A platform that will be bigger than the Web. Those are the kinds of phrases being used to describe the future of what’s called Augmented Reality (AR), by specialists developing the technology to enable it. Big questions remain unanswered, though, about the viability of what could be a radical next step in humanity’s use of computers.

24 August 2009

How phones emerged as main computing devices, and why user interface will improve

Phone computing
Andrew Hsu, technology strategist at Synaptics, reflects on the recent revolution in the user interface for the mobile phone to enable cloud computing.

“Newer touchscreen features such as proximity and force sensing, in addition to other sensing modalities like grip sensing, will continue to enable a handset to gain an even better sense of its surrounding environment and user intent. Certainly there will be a huge software exercise to ensure that all the new input controls work harmoniously and in an intuitive fashion. However, the relevance of the user interface hardware, which has already enabled the migration from multi-tap to multi-touch, has never been more prominent.”

Read full story

(via Jody Ranck)

24 August 2009

Microsoft brings Twitter and Facebook to the emerging world with OneApp

MS OneApp
Today, Microsoft is launching OneApp, an app for people running Windows Mobile phones with slow processors and not a lot of memory. Basically, it’s a lightweight app that lets you run more intensive apps by grabbing just the basics of that app that you need. And OneApp also offloads some of the processes required to use the larger apps to Microsoft servers, which handle it over the cloud.

Microsoft is launching OneApp as a part of the mibli consumer mobile service, in partnership with Blue Label Telecoms in South Africa. It will be a free download (though data rates may apply). Initially, there will be a dozen larger apps that OneApp can optimize, including the aforementioned Twitter and Facebook. Others include Windows Live Messenger, and RSS reader, and some games.

Read full story