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Putting People First

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August 2009
24 August 2009

The Brooklyn Dollar

The Brooklyn Dollar
Fast Company explores what neighbourhood currency would look like:

“Hyper-localized currencies have been popping ever since the economy went sour–not surprising, since local currencies also gained popularity during the Great Depression. Five local Massachusetts banks have developed Berkshares–there are 185,000 paper notes are already in circulation–each of which is designed by a local artist. California’s Humboldt County has distributed $130,000 in currency since 2005, and Canada’s Toronto Dollar moved $90,000 worth of currency in the past year.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

Steve McCallion on customer experience

Steve McCallion
Steve McCallion, the executive creative director at Ziba Design, is a bright man whom I had the pleasure of meeting during a service design event in Brussels in December 2007 — we got along immediately.

As part of his introduction as guest blogger on Fast Company (his blog is called Beyond The Widget), he has been wonderfully accoladed with the statement: “McCallion has been able to bridge the elusive gaps in the design world between spaces and actions, objects and emotions. And somehow, he makes it all look so effortless.”

What I didn’t know is that Steve once worked as an architect for Richard Meier, and we probably bumped into each other in the elevator, as I was working for Charles Gwathmey downstairs.

The four articles he posted are definitely worth checking out:

Does your company support consumer experience innovation?
Companies want to create value by delivering better consumer experiences, but many are not quite sure how to get there. The results have ranged from a proliferation of Apple-like Genius Bars to projects that simply never make it to market. This week, Steve McCallion explores some of the challenges companies face when trying to deliver consumer experience innovation.

Building consumer experience value using the power of metaphors
Metaphors not only transfer associations from a previous experience to a new one, they function as shorthand to help people understand the consumer experience offering and what it means in their lives.

How customers saying “no” can become a consumer experience “yes”
The customer is not always right. And it’s often those moments when the customer resists change that an opportunity to innovate exists.

What promises can your consumer experience make?
Meaningful consumer experiences are based on a relationship between brands and people. By clearly promising something to people that is authentic and relevant, brands can increase the value of their products and services and connect on an emotional level.

24 August 2009

Physical interaction

Physical interaction
Rob Tannen, chair of the Human Factors Professional Interest Section of the Industrial Designers Society of America, has published two thoughtful posts – i.e. recommended reading – on physical interaction:

Physical interaction & the future of user interface design
We are on the cusp of a significant trend in product design and design methodology, where the longstanding divide between physical and cognitive modes of interaction will disappear.

“But there are alternative perspectives on human behavior, in particular the ecological psychology of J.J. Gibson. Gibson coined the term “affordances” which is (mis)used and abused by interaction designers today. But affordances, the relationships between people (or other organisms) and artifacts, are just a part of a larger “perception-action” framework. In this view, perceiving or sensing information is a physical behavior itself, not just a means to drive a subsequent physical action. Likewise, physical behavior drives perception – the two are connected, not divided, resulting in a perception-action loop.”

Taxonomy of physical interactions
A continuum of physical interaction would range at one end from non-movement to that which requires significant, complex body movement.

“Another important consideration is the relationship between physical inputs and the associated outputs in a user interface system. Current discussion of gestural interfaces is primarily focused on using physical interaction to control virtual objects – a way to make the digital world more tangible. But physical interaction interfaces can also be used to control physical systems, and not just in the literal sense.”

24 August 2009

Your next cell phone

Palm Pre
This MIT Technology Review special report on the future of telephony contains more articles than you can possibly read:

A smart phone built on web tools
Palm’s new smart phone targets Web developers as well as a loyal fan base.

What to expect from the open iPhone
Freed to design software for the iPhone, programmers outside Apple plan to revolutionize the handheld.

The future of mobile social networking
Whrrl combines activity recommendations with real-time location data.

Firefox goes mobile
Mozilla’s chairman explains why mobile devices need an open-source browser.

Rethinking the cell phone
An Israeli startup has made a modular mobile phone that can work on its own or slip into other electronic devices. Will it catch on?

Smart phone suggests things to do
New software uses artificial intelligence to infer your behavior and serve up appropriate lists of restaurants, stores, and events.

Nokia’s GPS-enabled pocket computer
Loaded with Web 2.0 applications, the N810 could help usher in location-aware computing.

Flash goes mobile
Opera’s latest browser tries to improve the mobile Internet experience with Flash.

Finding yourself without GPS
Google’s new technology could enable location-finding services on cell phones that lack GPS.

Better reading on the small screen
A research project could help people transfer paper documents to their phones and read them more easily.

Apple updates iPhone, slashes price
Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, confirms rumors that a cheaper iPhone with GPS will be available in July.

Skype debuts on the iPhone
Using a Wi-Fi connection, people can now make cheap international calls with Apple’s gadget.

Google explores “eyes-free” phones
An adaptive interface with tactile and audio feedback could make it easier to ignore a small screen.

New iPhone OS adds missing features
The update aims to address most user complaints.

Android has arrived
Google’s phone has plenty of potential, but some say its mechanism for delivering applications could lead to problems.

Gmail sidesteps the app store
The technology behind the new Gmail could challenge Apple’s control over third-party applications.

Hijacking mobile phone data
Researchers claim to be able to hijack cell-phone data connections.

Nokia bets on mobile payment
Despite a global recession, mobile-payment services are surging in the developing world.

Why Helio didn’t connect
The flashy cell-phone company is in a very tough business.

Inside Intel’s new chip
With 45 million transistors and energy-saving features, the Atom processor could usher in a whole new era of mobile computing.

Remote microscopy
A modular microscope attachment for cell phones could improve the quality of telemedicine.

Android calling
Does Google want to free your phone–or does it want to own it?

Apple’s iPhone
An inside look at a sensation.

The next generation of iPhone hacks
Apple’s plan to release a software kit that lets people create legitimate add-ons for the iPhone could make the device appeal to an even wider audience.

Clear calls
Audience, a California-based startup, has made a noise-canceling chip for cell phones that could also improve voice-recognition systems.

(People like) you are here

24 August 2009

Book: Designing services with innovative methods

Designing services
Designing Services with Innovative Methods
Miettinen, Koivisto (eds.)
272 pages, colour illustration, soft cover, 2009

This book presents the emerging and increasingly important field of service design. Birgit Mager, Köln International School of Design and Service Design Network, Ezio Manzini, Politecnico di Milano, and Stefan Holmlid, University of Linköping, discuss how:

– Design thinking and innovative methods work as tools for co-creating services and desirable value propositions.
- Service design is a tool for designing a more sustainable society.
- Interaction design offers us insight into creating more user-oriented services.

Design practitioners Fran Samalionis from IDEO, Arne van Oosterom from DesignThinkers and Paul Thurston from thinkpublic share their service design thinking and the benefits of the service design process for both companies and for the public sector. Various service design case studies from different business areas and different cultural contexts are presented and described in detail, and this book opens the discussion on designers’ methods and approaches to developing services.

The book is published in co-ordination with Kuopio Academy of Design.

Read also this thoughtful review by Jeff Howard.

24 August 2009

Wallet of the future? Your mobile phone

Phones in Japan
According to CNN, mobile phones in the United States will be able – within five (5!) years – to make electronic payments, open doors, access subways, clip coupons and possibly act as another form of identification.

But there is work to be done: according to technology research company Gartner, only 3 percent of people in North America are expected to conduct mobile payments in 2012.

Read full story

24 August 2009

LG launches Islamic Phone

Islamic phones
LG Electronics (LG) launched two new handsets exclusively equipped with Islamic features.

“Launching across the region this August, pan-Arab consumers will benefit from a number of special features, including a Qiblah indicator that uses an inbuilt longitude and latitude orientation or city references that, when used in comparison to the magnetic north, indicates the direction of the Qiblah. The two phones also come complete with Adhan and Salah prayer time alarm functions as well as Quran software, the Hijiri calendar and a Zakat calculator. With Ramadan approaching, the features will be a welcomed benefit during the holy month.”

User research was apparently crucial:

“Key to LG’s success in innovation has been its dedication to consumer insights during the planning and design phase. LG made it top priority to better understand customers’ needs when it came to the GD335 and KP500N phones and this has resulted in integrated features that are almost ‘tailor-made’ to meet the needs of every Muslim worldwide.

‘We’ve worked very hard to understand our customers and develop products based on their individual needs and have once again pushed the very limits of innovation with our Islamic feature phones. In an effort to offer a more personalized and upscale experience for our Muslim consumers, we developed and embedded these features in the GD335 and KP500N phone to provide a totally new concept in mobile telecommunications,’ said Mr H.S Paik, President LG Electronics Gulf FZE.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

How smartphones are transforming our lives

Handy apps
Richard Fisher reflects in the New Scientist on how mobile applications are changing the way we live.

“While gaming still accounts for the lion’s share of app activity, it is beyond doubt that apps, and the new wave of phones in which they reside, are already influencing the way their users communicate with each other, navigate their environment and do business. Arguably, these tailored bits of software – connected to the internet, location-aware and sensor-supported as they are – may supersede the web. Some say the devices on which they reside are becoming a vital part of our selves, turning us into de facto cyborgs. Could these humble bits of code really have the potential to completely transform the way we interact with the world?”

Read full story

24 August 2009

Augmented reality in Africa

The future of giving
Jonathan Gosier, a software developer, writer and social entrepreneur in Kampala, Uganda, shares his ideas on what augmented reality could mean for Africa.

“Already people are recording audio, video, and blogging to keep donors abreast of their work in the field. Imagine making appointments for them to check in for realtime conversations to make sure everything is progressing as planned. Your phone would be a video/chatting device that would allow them to even participate in discussions on the ground in real time. In the image below you can see the AR view more clearly. The top left window has the coordinates of where you are along with the history of that location, and when your organization last visited the spot — all data that could be recorded without the field team ever even knowing it. In the top right you also have photo and video that was recorded by your team at that location at some point in the past, along with notes and files uploaded from that spot.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

Automakers bring the future into focus

Out of focus
Don Hammonds of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports on the use of market research and ethnographic observations by car manufacturers:

“The tool that most people associate with automotive market research is the focus group but another tool has become more popular recently: ethnography.

With this, market researchers go into people’s homes to see how they live, what they do with leisure time, how they use their vehicles and how they define themselves by what products they use.

Two new cars from Detroit for 2010 were developed partly based on ethnography: the Ford Taurus and Buick LaCrosse.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

BBC Online shares its usability and accessibility methodologies

No mobile
The User Experience Design blog reports that Jonathan Hassell of BBC online shared a presentation on the challenges and methodologies of the company’s Usability & Accessibility team.

The short presentation describes the challenges, such as a wide range of platforms and audience types, as well as the wide-range of research tools that are used to understand and address them, from card sorting to ethnographic research.

The video of the presentation is also available (requires registration, go to “Web 2.0, Social Networking, Usability, Design & Build Theatre,” then “Wednesday at 13:00″).

24 August 2009

Opinion piece on the value of mobile phones in schools

No mobile
Juliette LaMontagne argues on the Design Observer that mobile devices aren’t distractions in schools; they’re machines for learning.

“When it comes to technology integration, you need to meet students (and teachers) where they are. When you begin with a tool they already know and love, you’re less likely to be met with the kind of resistance you might otherwise get to institutional hardware or software. For teachers, eliminate the fear factor and you’ve empowered a previously disenfranchised group of self-professed Luddites. For students, who treat the cell phone like an appendage, you’re capitalizing on an existing passion for the technology.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

Observations on poor people using mobile financial services

CGAP brief
CGAP has published a brief entitled “Poor People Using Mobile Financial Services: Observations on Customer Usage and Impact from M-PESA”.

“Despite growing agreement on the potential of technology to expand access to finance, or branchless banking, there is surprisingly little data publicly available about low-income users. This Brief draws on some of the first ethnographic research on M-PESA, one of the earliest success stories in mobile phone-based delivery of financial services. The research offers insights into how poor people use M-PESA, its impact on their lives, and some unexpected consequences.

This Brief presents 10 observations on how poor people use M-PESA and how it has impacted their lives.”

Download brief

(See also this news story on The Guardian)

24 August 2009

Mobile phones drive health IT innovation in developing countries

 
Paula Fortner, iHealthBeat senior staff writer, reports on how innovative mobile technologies are helping to fundamentally transform health care in many developing countries.

“Last month, the Rockefeller Foundation announced a $100 million initiative to strengthen health systems in Africa and Asia by building capacity, supporting policy interventions and promoting health IT applications.

As part of its health IT strategy, the foundation intends to leverage mobile phone-based technologies to improve health care access, quality and efficiency.

Karl Brown, Rockefeller’s associate director of applied technology, explained that the foundation sees mobile health technologies “as sort of the front lines of e-health.” He said that although servers, databases and Web sites will be necessary to support the mobile phone applications, health workers can use the devices to extend their reach to regions that lack adequate health care infrastructure.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

Africa’s mobile banking revolution

M-Pesa
Millions of Africans are using mobile phones to pay bills, move cash and buy basic everyday items. So why, asks the BBC, has a form of banking that has proved a dead duck in the West been such a hit across the continent?

“However, the mobile phone revolution continues to leave large parts of the continent behind.

While countries like Kenya, South Africa and much of North Africa are approaching 100% mobile penetration, in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, and Rwanda it is less than 30%.

Low incomes, illiteracy and large signal black spots are all obstacles to the sale and use of mobile phones. Taxes, which can be as high as 30% in countries like Tanzania and Uganda, are also a disincentive.

Telecoms experts say that many African markets remain too risky for mobile phone companies, which have targeted more stable and wealthy countries first. “

Read full story

24 August 2009

Surveying the use of mobile phones in education worldwide

Sea of phones
Michael Trucano explains on the World Bank’s EduTech blog why the World Bank will be kicking off a study next month looking at “The Use of Mobile Phones in Education in Developing Countries“.

“This study is intended to help to raise awareness among key decisionmakers in the public, private and civil society sectors about the potential importance of the use of low cost mobile devices — especially mobile phones — to help benefit a variety of educational objectives. By documenting the existing landscape of initiatives in this area and emerging ‘good practice’, it is also hoped that this work will serve as a common base for further analytical work in this area, and inform the impending explosion of development of new hardware, software and business services occurring on mobile devices, to the benefit of these educational objectives.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

BBC Digital Revolution blog

Digital Revolution
The new BBC Digital Revolution blog explores the way the web is changing our lives. Some recent posts:

Tim Berners-Lee on the web and the developing world
It’s the connection, the sharing, the two-way communication that seem to fuel Sir Tim’s views there. Sir Tim sees Africa not just as influenced by the web but also as influencer. But is he right?

Two ways to destroy the web: hack it or cut it
There have been very few instances of nation-on-nation cyber attacks, but those that have occurred have hinted at the new possibilities for real disruption. There appear to be two pathways: the soft and hard attacks.

Internet freedom and Digital Revolution? Grow up.
In the West, the state is slowly but surely being replaced by the Internet, an abstractly distributed version of our old certainties about power and authority.

What’s become of the blogosphere?
The blogsophere is dying, apparently. The long tail of user-generated content, brimming with idiosyncrasy and experimentation – the great hope of the libertarian levelling ground promoted by the Web’s founding fathers – is petering out.

The rise of the eNation
Tread lightly, fellow revolutionaries. For our rulers may be benevolent now, but may eventually succumb to the corruption that often dogs the powerful, and we desperately don’t want them to pull the plug.

Governments block the web because they know it can make the world a better place
Bill Thompson presented his views on the web in the context of the nation state at the Web at 20 event. So, does this ring true? Is the web a revolutionary tool that allows us to watch the watchmen? Or are governments able to thwart Bill’s vision of the open and critical eyes on their actions?

24 August 2009

Predicting what mobile phones will do for us next

Breathe
Cambridge Design Partnership and Instrata, a Cambridge-based user experience specialist, recently teamed up to approach mobile communications innovation from the experience of the consumer.

More in particular, the team developed some ideas into new device and service concepts focussing on three key areas: the tactile experience, personalisation and practical enhancements.

Breathe
Breathe is a phone that comes alive – it is responsive, tactile and highly personal. Mobiles go everywhere with us; they have become accessories; and they have the potential to offer enormous pleasure through their physical expression. Breathe is a concept that responds to the need to produce a more emotional experience. Breathe recognises and responds to friends calling, the music playing, new pictures, and people’s own touch. It is perfectly weighted and shaped to fit in the palm of our hand, with colour changes, ripple effects and vibrations bringing it to life. It responds to who we are and comes alive with everything we do.

Choice
Choice gives people options every time they take a phone out with them. They can take a larger handset, which has all the features packed in and is ready to go for a day at work. Or they can select a smaller handset, which they can pop into their top pocket for a trip to the shops or into a clutch bag on a night out. The Choice Sync Station keeps their handsets synchronized with contacts and data while providing simple services such as automated backup and recharge. All handsets stay charged with up to date phonebooks ready to go when you are.

SeeUs
A video call from a mobile is so difficult to make that many people never bother. Holding a phone out with the camera trained on your face while the caller at the other end does the same, is both tricky and uncomfortable. The SeeUs clamshell phone makes it easier by simply adding more stop positions to its hinge to allow the phone to act as a tripod for its cameras. It gives people the option to set the phone on a surface for shake-free imaging and an effortless call and offers an integrated handsfree kit.

Read full story

24 August 2009

A manifesto for slow communication

John Freeman
The Wall Street Journal has published an excellent manifesto by John Freeman, the acting editor of Granta magazine, on the need for slow communication.

“We will die, that much is certain; and everyone we have ever loved and cared about will die, too, sometimes—heartbreakingly—before us. Being someone else, traveling the world, making new friends gives us a temporary reprieve from this knowledge, which is spared most of the animal kingdom. Busyness—or the simulated busyness of email addiction—numbs the pain of this awareness, but it can never totally submerge it. Given that our days are limited, our hours precious, we have to decide what we want to do, what we want to say, what and who we care about, and how we want to allocate our time to these things within the limits that do not and cannot change. In short, we need to slow down.”

Read full story

24 August 2009

Participle test driving a new youth services model

Shoes
Participle, the UK social design consultancy, is doing on-the-ground testing of a new model for universal youth services. According to Sarah Schulman, it’s “less of a service, and more of a wholesale approach for community & youth development,” which they call Loops.

“Loops is designed to expand young people’s sense of purpose and possibility. It’s based on one key premise: young people need compelling reasons to invest in themselves, their communities and their futures. Existing youth services are based on a different premise: young people need places to go and things to do to stay out of trouble. The main difference? Loops is developmental, not diversionary.

Loops works by connecting young people to surprising experiences in the community. Young people work with a reflector—a person who enables young people to identify & build on their strengths & interests—to locate experiences in the community that expose them to new ways of living and doing. Experiences might last anywhere from an hour to several weeks; they might be a behind the scenes tour of a local restaurant and conversation with a chef to a week taking on a role or completing a project for a business or community group. People called catalysts are up-skilled to work with big and small businesses, community and faith groups to extract great experiences. Young people can take on both the role of reflector and catalyst.”

Read full story

See also these two backgrounders:
- SNAP Process
- The Security Needs Assessment Protocol – Improving Operational Effectiveness through Community Security