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Putting People First

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February 2010
14 February 2010

Conversations in a weekend village — Interaction10 impressions

Interaction10
Written by Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels.

Interaction10 is over. Four days of presentations, workshops, games, installations stimulated vivid exchanges of ideas and reflections on the changing landscape of interaction design. Hosted in beautiful downtown Savannah by the international Interaction Design Association and Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), the conference set the stage for lively face to faces encounters, practice discussions and sensory southern food discoveries. Deep thoughts and constant twittering.

Co-chairs Bill DeRouchey (Ziba Design) and Jennifer Bove (Kicker Studio and a graduate of Interaction Design Institute Ivrea) moderated a salon style conference across several historic venues getting the participants out onto the squares and into the charming nooks of Savannah. SCAD has over the years preserved historic buildings and filled them with live through their educational programs such as those in Interaction Design and Service Design, led by professors such as Dave Malouf, Jon Kolko and Diane Miller. A great experience! The following notes give some impression on select highlights.

Learning from the past – Talk to me

Paolo Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at MOMA, laid out her exhibition plans charting the ‘subtle, subliminal ways, things talk to us’. Her talk showcased outstanding examples of how objects and interactions changed our way of seeing, mapping and explaining the world. She traced the impact of networks and systems on our capability to make and mix worlds to the shifting face of things. Examples range from Muriel Cooper‘s Visual Language workshop at MIT to Ben Fry‘s scientific information visualizations, and from the changing nature of prototyping via open source design tools Processing and Arduino, visionary scenarios such as Apple’s 1087 Navigator video to Applied Minds Touch landscapes. Take her title ‘Talk to me’ literally – Paola is looking for visionary artefacts from the history of interaction design.

Our scattered distribution of memories – The 40 year old tweet

Is there a life after the half hour half-life of tweets? How to approach your parents’ Flickr collection or find the heirloom experiences in your grand parents’ SMS exchanges? How does the web of metadata become part of our reminiscences years later? Richard Banks of Microsoft Research Cambridge explored in several prototypes the sentimental value, burden and sense of obligation digital exchanges will pose to future generations. Matt Cottam extends this search to heirloom electronics and our design capabilities to give modern products greater longevity and meaning.

Making it – Designing for the web in the world

Timo Arnall, Kevin Cheng, Ben Fullerton, Gretchen Anderson and Raphael Grignani offered diverse strategies to engage people’s experiences of physical products and digital services.

Timo Arnall explored in the Touch project controversial issues of technology usage such as leaking RFiD fields and the tangible experience of invisible data. Which kind of graceful interactions remain when a connected object goes offline or is without power? In his research and work with Berg, a London based interaction design studio, he proposes that interactive objects need to provide an immediate tangible experience even if not in use, that the purpose of being connected and data sharing should become obvious, and that long-term services and data visualizations provide feedback loops.

Twitter’s Kevin Cheng gave an excellent overview about the challenges and opportunities of Augmented Reality (see also his book in progress). He documented how context based smartphone applications expand our experience spaces such as in Yelp, Nearby, Layar, Arg DJ, Lego selections in retail stores, a USPS shipping box simulation, and ARhrrr games. Challenges are the lack of design patterns, glanceable interfaces and usability issues.

Gretchen Anderson, IxD director at Lunar, showcased our visceral reactions to facial features – ‘those key things your users see first’ – in products. What is the impression which we are giving? What can we understand at a first glance? Imbuing objects with a sophisticated character can enhanced the storytelling potential and interaction magic.

According to Bruce Sterling ‘Sense of wonders have short shelf life’. Our search capabilities have undergone dramatic change. Peter Morville of Semantic Studios spoke about the future of search. He introduced various behavioral and design patterns from his latest book Search Patterns. What we find, changes what we are looking for. How will we search in the future – feels like, tastes like, looks like, sounds like, smells like? Multi-sensory search is an untapped area of exploration – moving search beyond the web.

ITP professor Tom Igoe demanded to extend open source design to products and services to enable public knowledge and participation in the modification and/or reproduction of a product. Consequences might be flexible warranty agreements, impact on recycling and reverse engineering, or community patent reviews. Practical layers of openness need to include the whole value chain from physical construction, bill of materials, code, extendibility and reprogrammability, API’s and communication protocols, interoperability as well as design and interaction guidelines. This also requires to address frequent usability issues of open source projects.

From observing failures to provoking them was Nicholas Nova‘s contribution in addressing product non-usage, real-time accidents, traces and individual blame bias. ‘Failures are often overlooked in design research’. He proposed to actively provoke failures as a design tactic and to observe responding people’s behaviors.

Designing for the next billion

Nokia Design has over the years embraced ethnographic research and design discovery processes to shape mobile experiences and accelerate decision making processes. Raphael Grignani, head of Nokia’s San Francisco design studio, engaged workshop participants in exploring incremental and radical design innovation through community-based ethnographic design approaches. Nokia sends 3-4 times per year design teams to search for extreme behaviors in remote locations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and eastern Europe. Raphael guided us through the design process – discover, define, develop and deliver – with examples from the open studio project – My mobile phone, to Lifeblog to Remade and Homegrown.

See also:
- Patterns in UX Research
- Deconstructing Analysis Techniques
- Mobile Literacy
- Homegrown people planit profit

Processes and reflections – Design is the process of evoking meaning

Nathan Shedroff, chair of the MBA program in Design Strategy at California College of Arts in San Francisco, started of the row of thought leaders in situating meaning, behavioral change and sustainability as key challenges for interaction designers. How does a more meaningful world look like? Or a post consumer society?

Easy answers are difficult to come by. Next year’s conference needs a track of fast paced inspirational show & tells and the design thinking behind it. Dan Hill from Arup came closest in establishing a vision of a new soft city, merging multi-sensor interaction design ‘with architecture, planning and urbanism informed by a gentle ambient drizzle of everyday data’ – alive to the touch of its citizen. In his closing talk he exhibited a range of responsive well-tempered environments supporting civic relationships between individuals and communities around them. Examples of his call for civic sustainability feedback loops are projects in Barangaroo, the State Library of Queensland and the Sydney Metro in Australia, Arup’s contribution to the Masdar city centre, and the low2no carbon emissions project for Helsinki Harbor by Arup, Sauerbruch Hutton and Experientia.

A further exploration of the poetics of space were Kendra Shimmell‘s staging of interactive environments sensitive to movement and intent. Trained as a ballet dancer she presented motion capture studies in real time. Every movement unleashed auditory qualities in the space. A blink of an eye turned into sound, a raise of an arm provoked a tonal scale, fast movements elicit under her control musical compositions. Robert Wechsler provided the artistic motion tracking software.

‘You find things that you are nor looking for, when you are not looking’. Dave Gray continued the playful approach to innovation in his presentation of Knowledge Games: The visual thinking playbook. Fuzzy goals can lead to prospecting unexpected sensory, emotional and functional discoveries. Unfortunately he illustrated his engaging talk with a glorification of the AK47 as a ‘powerful tool of change’. His agnostic design philosophy hides an ethical ambivalence and repositions designers as hired hands of industry who do whatever is needed – even weapons of mass destruction. Can’t we find ethical examples which enable people, but don’t kill?

Chris Fahey applied the Uncanny Valley hypothesis of robotics to interface design. As interfaces behave eerily humanlike, people find them repulsive until they become more realistic representations of human behaviors. Human interface need to be ‘responsive to human needs and considerate of human frailties’. Qualities are sentience – the ability to feel subjectively, intimacy and personality. Character and personality may imbue interfaces with meaning and make them memorable. Now just watch your step, the uncanny valley is calling.

Ezio Manzini spoke about our growing desire for de-intermediated relationships between consumer and producers. Examples range from neighborhood markets and festivals, to community supported agriculture, urban farms, collaborative welfare servicesm etc. Digital platforms become catalysts of social resources and can support our vision of sustainable futures. Keywords to describe these futures are small-connected-local-open. Small-local interweaves issues of scale, relationships and identities, generally associated with control of a smaller set of variables and therefore supporting happiness. Open-connected outlines the rise of new organizational forms, whereas small-connected establishes nodes in a network society with the density of these links becoming important. Local-open: in a sustainable society the local is open, the connected local – resulting in an increase of cultural diversity and dialog between cosmopolitan participants. Manzini called on us to design enabling systems and engage in programs such as the US Social Innovation Fund, funded with 50 million USD by the US Government as announced by Michele Obama: “The idea is simple: Find the most effective programs out there and then provide the capital needed to replicate their success in communities around the country, … By focusing on high-impact, results-oriented nonprofits, we will ensure that government dollars are spent in a way that is effective, accountable and worthy of the public trust.”

If it’s not ethical, it is not beautiful. Jon Kolko expanded on Andrew Carnegie‘s “My heart is in the work” to ‘approach our work with philanthropic enthusiasm that would make Carnegie proud. Design for real cultural change starts by understanding how people really behave. He called on designers to emphasize with people, build trust and purposefully change behaviors. His heart is now in the new Austin Center for Design, a place for wicked problem solving.

Interaction11 is coming. See you on February 10-12, 2011 in Boulder, Colorado.

14 February 2010

Scenarios for branchless banking in 2020

cgap
The growing use of branchless banking channels over the coming years is inevitable in most countries. But it’s far less certain whether large numbers of the unbanked poor will use these alternative channels for financial services beyond payments, such as savings and credit.

The World Bank’s CGAP and DFID, the UK Department for International Development, undertook a six-month scenario-building project in which almost 200 experts from more than 30 countries helped answer the question “How can government and private sector most affect the uptake and usage of branchless banking among the unserved majority by 2020?”

CGAP/DFID identified identified four forces most likely to shape the answers:
• The changing demographics of users
• The actions of increasingly activist governments
• Rising crime
• The spread of Internet access via data-enabled phones even in poor countries and communities

They also isolated four key uncertainties with important effects but uncertain outcomes:
• Which types of entities will be allowed to provide branchless financial services?
• Will providers craft viable business models for services beyond payments?
• How will competition play out?
• How will consumer, business, and regulator confidence be affected by the inevitable failures that will happen?

The work culminated in the CGAP/DFID Branchless Banking Scenarios 2020 Focus Note, that presents four scenarios that interweave these forces and uncertainties in different settings to produce very different trajectories over the next 10 years.

A video discussion with the authors and some of the leaders in mobile and branchless banking was held in Washington, DC in December 2009; you can watch the archived video here.

14 February 2010

Americans increasingly elevating experiences over things

Montoya
Quietly but noticeably over the past year, Americans have rejiggered their lives to elevate experiences over things, reports The New York Times.

“Because of the Great Recession, a recent New York Times/CBS News poll has found, nearly half of Americans said they were spending less time buying nonessentials, and more than half are spending less money in stores and online.

But Americans are not just getting by with less. They are also doing more.

Some are working longer hours, but a larger proportion, the poll shows, are spending additional time with family and friends, gardening, cooking, reading, watching television and engaging in other hobbies.”

Read full story

14 February 2010

Nicolas Nova: from observing failures to provoking them

Nicolas Nova at Interaction10
The annotated slides from the talk “Design and Designed Failures: From Observing Failurs To Provoking Them” by Nicolas Nova (Lift Lab) at the Interaction10 conference are now available on Slideshare.

“Failures are often overlooked in design research. The talk addressed this issue by describing two approaches: observing design flops and identify symptoms of failures OR provoking failures to document user behavior.”

I thank Nicolas for the very kind words in his blog post on the inspiration he got from me.

10 February 2010

The future of reading

The future of reading
Josh Quittner of Fortune Magazine reflects on how tables will change magazines, books and newspapers.

“In fact, for the past year I’ve been pushing the theory that the Age of Tablets will give print media one last bite at the apple — and publishing companies that are able to make the transition could one day thrive again. I’m so convinced that it will happen that I’ve been working with other folks here at Time Inc. (Fortune’s publisher) to create prototypes of digital magazines that will soon be delivered to tablets and smartphones. So consider this my apologia.

This isn’t a case of excessive introspection on the part of a media insider: The future of publishing is fast becoming topic A in business circles. Financiers who make trades based on access to reliable information fret about the fate of outlets like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. Urban planners worry about what happens to communities if digital books make libraries obsolete. “

Read full story

Read also what these ten ‘sages’ think.

10 February 2010

Dan Ariely: hidden forces that shape our decisions

New thinking
In an interview on the website of Forbes India, the renowned behavioural economist Dan Ariely talks about some of the hidden forces that shape our decisions.

“For years, my colleagues and I have been conducting experiments about human irrationality. When we present our results, the ‘rational’ economists say, ‘These are very nice experiments that make for great dinner conversation; but when it comes to professionals making decisions that involve money, irrationality simply doesn’t occur’. I never bought this argument: why would the human brain develop two different approaches to decisions that depend upon the importance of the decision? While I allowed that the market could possibly mitigate some irrational behaviour, I also felt that it could increase it.”

Read full story

10 February 2010

Some ditch social networks to reclaim time, privacy

socialmediax
As the social networking train gathers momentum, some riders are getting off. USA Today reports.

“Their reasons run the gamut from being besieged by online “friends” who aren’t really friends to lingering concerns over where their messages and photos might materialize. If there’s a common theme to their exodus, it’s the nagging sense that a time-sucking habit was taking the “real” out of life.”

Read full story

10 February 2010

Reflecting on the Interaction10 conference

Interaction10
Both Jon Kolko (frog design) and Rob Tannen (Bresslergroup) reflect on their experience at the Interaction10 conference that took place last weekend in Savannah, Georgia.

Jon’s thoughtful analysis starts with a reflection on why he thinks the profession of Interaction Design reaching a critical divide.

“The divide seems to break down around two forces of gravity, loosely identified as:
A. Design, as a discipline. A locus of study, similar to science or art in breadth and depth, and focused on criticism, behavioral change, craft, empathy, humanism, and reflection.
B. UX, as a form of applied design in the context of marketing, and focused on consumption, speed, innovation, and often, apparently, compromise.”

Rob on the other hand emphasises the retrospective nature of this year’s conference.

10 February 2010

Live at Interaction’10: day 3

Interaction10
Niklas Wolkert & Brad Nunnally round up their reporting on Johnnyy Holland on the Interaction10 conference in Savannah, Georgia – this time focused on the third and final day.

This review covers presentations by Jeffery Blais, Cindy Chastain, Gretchen Andersson, Kel Smith and Dan Hill.

Read full story

9 February 2010

New Philips phone for the elderly

Lifeline
Philips reports that its new Lifeline Cordless Phone System has been designed “to enable the frail and elderly to maintain independence, despite their changing physical needs.”

“The Philips Lifeline Cordless Phone System is a cordless home phone with a medical alert communicator. It provides a Personal Emergency Response Service (PERS) for frail, elderly seniors allowing them to maintain their independence and continue living independantly. The Lifeline service solution consists of a wearable personal help button and a PERS telephone base station. It provides subscribers with a direct connection to a national call center, which offers immediate assistance and coordination of local support networks and emergency services should it be needed.”

Read full story

9 February 2010

Designing financial services for the poor

Money wallet
The Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI) at the University of California, Irvine, headed by Bill Maurer, Professor of Anthropology, aims to foster a community of inquiry and practice on new forms of money and financial technology among the world’s poorest people: those who live on less than $1 per day. IMTFI awards fellowships to researchers in the developing world to conduct 12-month projects, many with a strongly qualitative component.

“We seek to create a community of practice and inquiry into the everyday uses and meanings of money, as well as examining the technological infrastructures being developed as carriers of mainstream and alternative currencies worldwide.

Money costs money for people who are extremely poor and who have limited or no access to banks or credit. For many of the world’s poor, fees for financial services and transactions seriously limit their ability to use or share what little money they have. People have long taken whatever is ready-to-hand to serve the functions of money, from livestock to jewelry, and have used different relationships and objects to help them save, store, and transfer wealth. Today, new communications technologies are being added to this complex ecology of money. This ranges from sharing airtime minutes as an alternative currency, to using mobile phones and point-of-sale terminals for accessing banking institutions, or even as independent systems for saving, storing and transferring wealth.”

The 2010 Annual Report discusses IMTFI’s research in 2008-09 and presents 11 design principles on the creation and implementation of saving services for the poor.

8 February 2010

Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium 2010

Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium
For the past four years, Microsoft Research (MSR) has sponsored a symposium on social computing that “brings together academic and industry researchers, developers, writers, and influential commentators in order to open new lines of communication among previously disconnected groups.”

The theme of the 2010 symposium, held at ITP at NYU, was “The city as platform”, which revolved around various sub-topic such as urban informatics, the city as a social technology, pervasive games and government infrastructure/data.

Participants included Genevieve Bell, Julian Bleecker, Ben Cerveny, Tom Coates, Anil Dash, Russell Davies, Alexandra Deschamps-SonsinoAdam Greenfield, Liz Goodman, Usman Haque, Tom IgoeNatalie Jeremijenko, Steven Johnson, Matt Jones, Jennifer Magnolfi, Mike Migurski, Nicolas Nova, Ray Ozzie, Clay Shirky, Kevin Slavin, Molly Steenson, Linda Stone, Alice Taylor, Anthony Townsend, Duncan Wilson and many more.

You can read elaborate and well-written symposium reports by Nicolas Nova (LIFT Lab) and Dan Hill (City of Sound / ARUP).

By the way, do also check Dan Hill’s urbanistic take on the iPad.

7 February 2010

Live at Interaction’10: day 2

Interaction10
Niklas Wolkert & Brad Nunnally provide their second report on Johnnyy Holland on the Interaction10 conference in Savannah, Georgia – this time focused on the second day.

“After a night of some great parties, and even better conversation, the second day of Interaction 10 began with a preview of the new IxDA.org website redesign. The team doing the redesign covered all the great new features that are coming, and went into detail on how local groups will be able to leverage the new site for their own networks and events. The excitement from yesterday was easily carried over, and people were pumped to see what the presenters had in store for us today.”

This time they review presentations by Ezio Manzini, Shelly Evenson, Timo Arnall, Ben Fullerton, Kevin Cheng, Steve Baty, Chris Fahey, and Paola Antonelli.

Read full story

6 February 2010

Live at Interaction’10: day 1

Interaction10
Niklas Wolkert & Brad Nunnally report on Johnnyy Holland on the first day of the Interaction10 conference in Savannah, Georgia.

“If one thing had to describe the overall theme of the first day it would be the importance of providing meaning in the work that we do. Below are recaps of the opening and closing keynotes, as well as some of the sessions from the day.”

Check their review on presentations by Nathan Shedroff, Dave Gray, Nate Bolt, Matt Cottam, Kendra Shimmell, Nicolas Nova and Jon Kolko.

Read full story

2 February 2010

5 ways techno-gadgetry is bringing out the worst in humanity

Texting while driving
Scott Hill of Alternet looks at how technology facilitates “the human sentient understanding of how to take cruel advantage of human weakness”.

“Indeed, humans are exceptional when it comes to using technology to prey upon weaknesses, in themselves, their cultures and their markets. But even when technological solutions arise for navigating problems as mundane as they are obstructive, there tends to be some variation of consequence. Let’s just call it “techno-blowback.” As developmental biologist and cyborg theorist Donna Haraway once famously explained, “We are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism.” We can’t take technology out of our humanity any more than we can take humanity, and its dangerous games, out of our technology. So we walk the tightrope between both, trying not to fall as we steadily transform a cyborg future in which we may no longer be able to distinguish them anymore.”

Read full story

2 February 2010

Digital Nation, in-depth documentary, online in full

Digital Nation
In Digital Nation: Life on the Virtual Frontier, FRONTLINE presents an in-depth exploration of what it means to be human in a 21st-century digital world.

Continuing a line of investigation she began with the 2008 FRONTLINE report Growing Up Online, award-winning producer Rachel Dretzin embarks on a journey to understand the implications of living in a world consumed by technology and the impact that this constant connectivity may have on future generations.

Joining Dretzin on this journey is commentator Douglas Rushkoff, a leading thinker and writer on the digital revolution — and one-time evangelist for technology’s positive impact.

Watch documentary (90 mins.)

See also this article on Salon.com and this thoughtful reflection by Henry Jenkins.

1 February 2010

The Internet of things: Networked objects and smart devices

Networked objects
Constantine Valhouli, principal of the Massachusetts based Hammersmith Group, which consults to developers on the marketing and branding of luxury properties, and to city leaders on reviving historical downtowns, just published an overview of the potential for connected devices entitled “The Internet of things: Networked objects and smart devices.”

It quotes Rob Faludi, Julian Bleecker, Bruce Sterling, Adam Greenfield and covers devices from the WineM to Botanicalls to the Ambient Orb along with the original online coffee pot.

A variety of other research papers by the same author can be found on this site.

Download report

(via Mike Kuniavsky)

1 February 2010

Europeans’ Privacy will be big challenge in next decade, says EU Commissioner

Europa
On the 4th annual Data Protection day (28th January 2010) the European Commission announced the intention to reform the 1995 European Union (EU) Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC.

“Our privacy faces new challenges: behavioural advertising can use your internet history to better market products; social networking sites used by 41.7 million Europeans allow personal information like photos to be seen by others; and the 6 billion smart chips used today can trace your movements.

The European Commission today – Data Protection Day – warned that data protection rules must be updated to keep abreast of technological change to ensure the right to privacy, legal certainty for industry, and the take-up of new technologies. EU rules say that a person’s information can only be used on legitimate grounds, with their prior consent.

With the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights now in force, the Commission today said it wants to create a clear, modern set of rules for the whole EU guaranteeing a high level of personal data protection and privacy, starting with a reform of the 1995 EU Data Protection Directive.”

Read full story

(via eGov monitor)

1 February 2010

Stowe Boyd: outdated UX metaphors are holding us back

Stowe Boyd
Stowe Boyd arguest that the metaphors of computing user experience are holding us back from new ways of structuring our interaction through computers.

“the thing that is blocking us from moving forward, to a better user experience centered on social interaction and not physical data, are the existing metaphors of OS’s. Since we are living in a world of general purpose computers running Unix, Mac OS, and Windows — and we need to have them interoperate — we seem stuck in the 90′s.
To have a break with the past, and to make the past a platform, we have to push it under and not pretend that its constructs are desirable. We need to push files, folders and the notion of a desktop under the surface of a better user experience, and keep it under. Let a new generation of user experience shield us from that drudgery and detail.

The only way forward is to build a new user experience on top of the physical hardware and software that form a platform for it, and conceal it’s nasty details from us.

This is one aspect of the genius of the iPhone and iPad generation of devices: we don’t need to know about the files and folders. We don’t need a desktop with data bundles lying in piles.”

But, he says, “This break with the past is made faster and less difficult if the new system is closed.”

Read full story