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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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March 2010
22 March 2010

Can design save management?

pblwindows
Although design and design thinking are having a positive impact on management practice and education, Youngjin Yoo, an associate professor at Temple University , doesn’t think that the current wave of design thinking will address the fundamental crisis that contemporary management is facing in this post-industrial economy.

“Design thinking, as it is currently popularized with the emphasis on human-centered product and service design, deals only with the problems from the separation of production and consumption, leaving other and possibly far more serious challenges that today’s management is facing. Many of these challenges arose as a result of separations of management and finance from production. For example, design thinking has little to say about the recent financial crisis that raised many fundamental questions about the continuing viability of the current form of capitalism and the role of management schools. [...]

My concern is that the current obsession with the design thinking can have unintended harmful consequences on the future of management in the long run. As it is currently being applied, design is seen as a quick fix of profitability problems, new product developments, and consumer satisfactions, rather than dealing with more systemic and serious issues. Indeed, it might lead us to the emergence of new form of capitalism, design capitalism, where creativity is separated from production and consumption.”

Read article

22 March 2010

Participatory systems, moving beyond 20th Century institutions

HIR
If the 20th century was the era of the global institution–the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the multinational corporation—then the 21st century will be the era of the participatory system, argues Participle‘s Hillary Cottam in the Winter 2010 (Vol.XXXI. No 4) edition of the Harvard International Review.

“The big global challenges of our time demand mass participation. Finding solutions to climate change, managing demographic shifts, preventing and managing chronic disease, providing safe water supplies, and maintaining food security will require the pooling of diverse types of knowledge and resources and harnessing the motivation of billions of individuals and their communities.

The issue of climate change illustrates this need. Governments can commission unclear power stations, but they cannot force change in behavior–they cannot convince citizens to turn down their thermostats or fly less frequently. Solutions cannot be pushed down at people from above; they need to be pulled up from below. Our existing institutional architecture is fundamentally not up to the task. We need new, distributed, and highly participatory systems if change is to happen at scale.

Bottom-up problem solving has been around for a long time, but it has operated at the margins. No longer. As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, two factors collide that will make participatory systems central to problem solving in the decades to come. Firstly, as I have already alluded to above, the scale of the problems creates the need to harness the widest possible set of resources to problem solve. Secondly, the technology has matured and has become pervasive enough to enable such problem solving in an unprecedented way. In a Web 2.0 world it is possible to design simple, low cost, and highly adaptive participatory systems.”

Read article

21 March 2010

Augmented reality: it’s like real life, but better

Augmented reality
Charles Arthur investigates in The Observer [Sunday edition of The Guardian] how the ways in which we watch sport, read magazines and do business with each other could change for ever.

“Augmented reality – AR, as it has quickly become known – has only recently become a phrase that trips easily off technologists’ lips; yet we’ve been seeing versions of it for quite some time. The idea is straightforward enough: take a real-life scene, or (better) a video of a scene, and add some sort of explanatory data to it so that you can better understand what’s going on, or who the people in the scene are, or how to get to where you want to go.”

Read article

21 March 2010

A conversation with Microsoft’s UX gurus Bill Buxton and Albert Shum

Bill Buxton and Albert Shum
Microsoft’s Channel 9 conducted a half hour video interview with Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher for Microsoft Research and Albert Shum, Director of Mobile Experience Design for Windows Phone 7 Series on creating compelling user experiences, how developers and designers can work together in harmony and random Canadian trivia.

View interview

Check also this interview with Lili Cheng on designing experiences for social computing:

“Meet Lili Cheng, general manager of Microsoft’s Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs, which focuses on software and services that are centered on social connectivity, real-time experiences, and rich media. Lili’s a big fan of and active participant in social communication and the interactive design of social computing on the web.”

20 March 2010

Can we design cities for happiness?

Bogotá"
Happiness itself is a commons to which everyone should have equal access. Jay Walljasper, co-editor of OnTheCommons.org, reflects on this statement by Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, in Shareables. A worthwile read whenever you need some arguments against those opposing pedestrianising city centres (and also a mind turner on one’s view on Colombia).

“Happiness itself is a commons to which everyone should have equal access.

That’s the view of Enrique Peñalosa, who is not a starry-eyed idealist given to abstract theorizing. He’s actually a politician, who served as mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, for three years, and now travels the world spreading a message about how to improve quality-of-life for everyone living in today’s cities.

Peñalosa’s ideas stand as a beacon of hope for cities of the developing world, which even with their poverty and immense problems will absorb much of the world’s population growth over the next half-century. Based on his experiences in Bogotá, Peñalosa believes it’s a mistake to give up on these cities as good places to live. [...]

Peñalosa uses phrases like “quality of life” or “social justice” rather than “commons-based society” to describe his agenda of offering poor people first-rate government services and pleasant public places, yet it is hard to think of anyone who has done more to reinvigorate the commons in his or her own community.”

Read article (make sure to see the video at the end!)

20 March 2010

Texts without context

Mash"
Michiko Kakatuni reflects in the New York Times Book Review on how the Internet and mash-up culture change everything we know about reading.

“These new books share a concern with how digital media are reshaping our political and social landscape, molding art and entertainment, even affecting the methodology of scholarship and research. They examine the consequences of the fragmentation of data that the Web produces, as news articles, novels and record albums are broken down into bits and bytes; the growing emphasis on immediacy and real-time responses; the rising tide of data and information that permeates our lives; and the emphasis that blogging and partisan political Web sites place on subjectivity.

At the same time it’s clear that technology and the mechanisms of the Web have been accelerating certain trends already percolating through our culture — including the blurring of news and entertainment, a growing polarization in national politics, a deconstructionist view of literature (which emphasizes a critic’s or reader’s interpretation of a text, rather than the text’s actual content), the prominence of postmodernism in the form of mash-ups and bricolage, and a growing cultural relativism that has been advanced on the left by multiculturalists and radical feminists, who argue that history is an adjunct of identity politics, and on the right by creationists and climate-change denialists, who suggest that science is an instrument of leftist ideologues. [...]

More people are impatient to cut to the chase, and they’re increasingly willing to take the imperfect but immediately available product over a more thoughtfully analyzed, carefully created one. Instead of reading an entire news article, watching an entire television show or listening to an entire speech, growing numbers of people are happy to jump to the summary, the video clip, the sound bite — never mind if context and nuance are lost in the process; never mind if it’s our emotions, more than our sense of reason, that are engaged; never mind if statements haven’t been properly vetted and sourced. [...]

Given the constant bombardment of trivia and data that we’re subjected to in today’s mediascape, it’s little wonder that noisy, Manichean arguments tend to get more attention than subtle, policy-heavy ones; that funny, snarky or willfully provocative assertions often gain more traction than earnest, measured ones; and that loud, entertaining or controversial personalities tend to get the most ink and airtime.”

Read article

But are things really that bad? Thomas Crampton takes a bit of an ironical view on the matter.

18 March 2010

Creating new concepts, products and services with user driven innovation

Creating new concepts, products and services with user driven innovation
From the Nordic Innovation website:

User driven innovation is emerging as one of the successful ways of creating breakthrough innovations for companies and organisations.

In this project called “Create concept innovation with users“, a Nordic and Baltic consortium lead by FORA has been able to identify four generic methods of working with user driven innovation:
– user test,
– user exploration,
– user innovation, and
– user participation.

Even though these methods might vary slightly from one company to the other, they have some basic features which are common. When working with users, companies might choose to include the users either directly or indirectly in the innovation process, depending on what type of knowledge the company wants to obtain from the user. Users’ ability to communicate and express their problems and needs varies greatly and will also influence the user driven innovation method chosen by a company. Sometimes users are fully aware of what problems they face and which needs they experience, while in other cases they will not be able to communicate or articulate what they are experiencing.

Based on this framework, the project members interviewed companies in the Nordic and Baltic countries about how they work with user driven innovation, what innovation outcomes they achieved and how satisfied they were with the processes during the project. Furthermore the project members wanted to get an understanding of whether there were any differences among the Nordic and Baltic countries regarding the methods they used by mapping the user driven innovation activity among companies and organisations.

Download report

18 March 2010

The camera never lies

SenseCam
Brands are starting to catch on to lifelogging – a technique that uses a tiny digital camera to capture every moment of a consumer’s day and take insight gathering to a higher level.

Lifelogging involves consumers wearing a small digital camera around their neck. This automatically records all their movements throughout the day without the person themselves needing to operate a camera, which might interrupt the flow of their experiences.

While academics have long used lifelogging for social projects and it is often used to help people with memory problems such as Alzheimer’s disease, it is now being tested by brands. Companies in multiple sectors, from media to soft drinks, are using lifelogging techniques to get closer to consumers.

Read full story

17 March 2010

Can smiley faces save the global climate?

Overconsumption
When rational appeals fall short, environmentalists enlist social and economic incentives–and even neuroscience–to get the public in on national efforts to combat climate change. Scientific American reports.

Energy efficiency seems to make rational economic sense—the less energy used, the more money saved. Yet, in the real world it’s actually competition with neighbors rather than cost savings that can drive people to turn down their thermostats, install insulation or simply switch off the lights when they leave a room. Such is the lesson of a host of efforts, ranging from a group called OPOWER’s comparative use utility billing to switching from miles per gallon to rate vehicle efficiency to gallons per mile.

Now a new collaborative study from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Garrison Institute’s Climate, Mind and Behavior Project reveals that such simple actions—from taking one fewer flight per year to wasting less food—can add up.

Read full story

16 March 2010

MicroPublicPlaces

MicroPublicPlaces
Situated Technologies Pamphlet 6:
MicroPublicPlaces
Spring 2010
Marc Böhlen and Hans Frei

“In response to two strong global vectors: the rise of pervasive information technologies and the privatization of the public sphere, Marc Böhlen and Hans Frei propose hybrid architectural programs called Micro Public Places (MMPs). MPPs combine insights from ambient intelligence, human computing, architecture, social engineering and urbanism to initiate ways to re- animate public life in contemporary societies. They offer access to things that are or should be available to all: air, water, medicine, books, etc. and combine machine learning procedures with subjective human intuition to make the public realm a contested space again.”

The Situated Technologies Pamphlets series, published by the Architectural League, explores the implications of ubiquitous computing for architecture and urbanism. How are our experience of the city and the choices we make in it affected by mobile communications, pervasive media, ambient informatics and other “situated” technologies? How will the ability to design increasingly responsive environments alter the way architects conceive of space? What do architects need to know about urban computing and what do technologists need to know about cities?

14 March 2010

Four visions of the world tomorrow

The big rethink
Sir George Cox was the closing speaker at The Big Rethink, a ‘Redesigning Business Summit’ organised by The Economist, in association with the Design Council, that aims to develop some fresh ideas on how design thinking can be used to seize business opportunities in our increasingly volatile world.

As reported on by Jocelyn Bailey in Core77, Sir Cox reflected on the four biggest questions that business should be asking about the future: the shift to emerging markets, the ageing rich world, carbon pricing, and a lack of capital.

Sir George Cox is a Board Member of NYSE-Euronext, Director of Shorts, former Director General of the Institute of Directors and the past Chairman of the Design Council. He is also the author of the renowned Cox Review of Creativity in Business (2005).

Read full story

14 March 2010

Urban resilience

Resilience
Merging complex systems science and ecology, resilience scientists have broken new ground on understanding—and preserving—natural ecosystems. Now, as more and more people move into urban hubs, they are bringing this novel science to the city.

“Resilience theory, first introduced by Canadian ecologist C.S. “Buzz” Holling in 1973, begins with two radical premises. The first is that humans and nature are strongly coupled and co-evolving, and should therefore be conceived of as one “social-ecological” system. The second is that the long-held assumption that systems respond to change in a linear, predictable fashion is simply wrong. According to resilience thinking, systems are in constant flux; they are highly unpredictable and self-organizing, with feedbacks across time and space. In the jargon of theorists, they are complex adaptive systems, exhibiting the hallmarks of complexity.”

A key feature of complex adaptive systems is that they can settle into a number of different equilibria. [...] Historically, we’ve tended to view the transition between such states as gradual. But there is increasing evidence that systems often don’t respond to change that way. [...]

Resilience science focuses on these sorts of tipping points. [...] How much shock can a system absorb before it transforms into something fundamentally different? That, in a nutshell, is the essence of resilience.”

I really enjoyed the discussion on the importance of redundancy and social equity in resilient systems:

“Society strives for efficiency by trying to eliminate apparent redundancies, but things that seemed redundant in a stable climate turn out to be valuable when conditions change. [...]

When it comes to human populations, ecologists are hesitant to stretch metaphors too far—a biodiverse ecosystem is not the same as a diverse population. [But] it’s important that you have institutions and functions in society that also overlap. If one member of the group is lost, there will be another that can maintain the function, so the function of the system as a whole is maintained. [...]

Social equity and access to resources will also emerge as hugely important components of resilience. Though human behavior is new territory for resilience experts, numerous social scientists have documented the erosion of civic engagement, and even violence, in areas marked by high levels of social stratification.”

Read full story

More information:
Stockholm Resilience Centre
The Urban Network
URBIS
Resilience 2011

14 March 2010

The digital disconnect

Nintendo
In relentless pursuit of ‘connecting,’ we miss out on each other

The Seattle Times argues that while communication and gaming gadgets have convenienced and connected us in ways never before possible, they may also be profoundly hurting our ability to be social, empathic and involved with each other. The signs are everywhere — from the near collisions on city streets where drivers are too busy texting to pay attention to the virtual relationships on Facebook and the addiction to video games.

Read full story

14 March 2010

Danah Boyd: privacy depends on context

SXSW
“We’ve been looking at privacy and publicity as a black-or-white attribute for content, when really it’s defined by context and the implications of what we’ve chosen to share.”

This is the essence of Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd‘s keynote speech at SXSW Interactive. And here is Danah’s write-out of the talk.

Here are a few of the reviews, from which I have distilled some telling quotes:

Techcrunch:

“Boyd says that privacy is not dead, but that a big part of our notion of privacy relates to maintaining control over our content, and that when we don’t have control, we feel that our privacy has been violated. This has happened a few times recently. [...]

To help underscore her points, she recalled and discussed a number of major privacy blunders from Facebook and Google. [...]

Boyd then transitioned to talk a bit about the fuzzy lines between what is public and private. She says that just because people put material in public places doesn’t mean it was meant to be aggregated. And just because something is publicly accessible doesn’t mean people want it to be publicized.”

CNET News:

“For Boyd, her years of research have been eye-opening into the divergence between what users want–and their emergent behavior–and the ways tech companies interpret those desires. “Often,” she said, “companies trying to build efficiencies into their systems profoundly misunderstand what they’re trying to be efficient about.” [...]

“There’s a big difference between publicly available data and publicized data,” she said, “and I worry about this publication process, and who will be caught in the crossfire.”

“We are going to see a continued emergence of new tools that complicate the boundaries between the public and the private, and technology will continue to make a mess of it.”

“Ultimately, then, for the people who build these systems,” Boyd said, “it is imperative that they ask questions about what people really want and what people want to achieve.”

“For marketers, it’s essential to remember that the accessibility of people’s information online doesn’t necessarily indicate that they want to be seen by you. Just because you can interpret people,” Boyd said, “doesn’t mean you’re going to get it right. Just because you see something doesn’t mean you know what’s going on.”

And to the systems designers on hand for her keynote, Boyd had one final message: “As designers, you need to think through the implications and ethics of what you’re doing,” she said. “You are shaping the future. How you handle those challenges will shape the future.”

More reviews in The New York Times and the Daily Telegraph (including the delightful quote: “Making something that is public more public is a violation of privacy.”)

13 March 2010

Torino tags its monuments for tourists

Torino tags
The Italian city of Torino just launched “The Colors of Torino“, helping tourists through Microsoft’s Color Tags at monuments and tourist attractions.

If you want to know more about a certain attraction (currently only 10 key destinations are tagged), you just download a free mobile app, scan the associated Microsoft Color Tag with your mobile phone, and you’re automatically connected to relevant online resources (as described on a Microsoft blog).

Unfortunately, very little thinking and design has gone into the design of the resources and information one finally gets access to: not mobile specific, not very relevant, and not very much in depth.

The project seems gimmicky and remains at the level of a technical or marketing experiment. The user experience is poor and disappointing. Clearly no experience designer or service designer was involved here.

How is it possible that Microsoft still launches projects that are portrayed as providing value for real people, but in fact do not provide any meaningful value for them at all? Unless Microsoft Italia urgently does some drastic work on the user experience, the value here is only one of public relations for the entities involved.

Download press release
View video

13 March 2010

Guardian supplement on service design

Service design
The Guardian, one of the leading UK newspapers, has publish an eight-page supplement on service design (pdf) – subtitled “Design innovation in the public and private sector – in association with the Service Design Network (that Experientia is a member of).

“Service design is a relatively new discipline that asks some fundamental questions: what should the customer experience be like? What should the employee experience be like? How does a company remain true to its brand, to its core business assets and stay relevant to customers?

Design is a highly pragmatic discipline. That is why it is of such interest to business: it gets results. But if at its heart lies the idea of experience, then, as this supplement shows, the methods and ideas behind service design can equally be applied to the public sector. We reveal how service methods can help design experiences that are more efficient and more effective.

We also take a look at developments in sustainability for transport and water systems, as well as at changes in the voluntary sector, where the question: “Can design help change the world?” is increasingly gaining relevance.”

Articles cover service innovation management in major industries, service reform in the public sector, sustainability in the financial sector, car design as service ecosystem design, environmental design and social innovation. Much attention is devoted to methodology. Also included are interviews with Dan Pink (author), Joe Ferry (Virgin Atlantic) and others.

12 March 2010

Experientia’s Vimeo and YouTube channels

Vimeo and YouTube
Experientia has uploaded all its publicly available videos on specially created Vimeo and YouTube channels.

In addition to high-def project videos, you can also find videos of a few lectures and presentations.

vimeo.com/channels/experientia
youtube.com/experientiasrl

12 March 2010

Citizens to be at heart of European policy making

Smart regulation
A new report published jointly today by the British, Danish and Dutch governments challenges the way European institutions make decisions and argues that smart EU regulation must mean that businesses and citizens are put at the heart of all European policy-making.

“The report, “Smart Regulation: A cleaner, fairer and more competitive EU” addresses this and shows how smart EU regulation — that improves consultation with “end-users”, such as businesses and consumers, throughout the legislative process — will support growth and recovery in the current economic climate, maximise the European Union’s social and environmental benefits, while reducing burdens and costs.”

Note the use of the term “end-user“:

“We use the term ‘end-user’ to capture everyone who is affected by regulation – both those who incur costs as a result of compliance and those who receive its benefits. In many cases, these groups can often be the same. People who ‘use’ regulation should be able to understand why it is needed, what its benefits are and that the costs it may impose are necessary and proportionate.

We believe that making end-users central to the policy-making process – by being aware of their needs, seeking their views, using these views and demonstrating the value of their contributions – is the best way to achieve this aim. End-users are best placed to provide relevant, up-to-date information, which can improve the quality of the evidence on which decisions are based.”

The Commission, state the authors, should reinforce and apply user-centric approaches when developing new legislation. This will help ensure that the legislation is well targeted and effective and increase the likelihood of compliance.

USER-CENTRIC APPROACH TO IDENTIFYING REGULATORY BURDENS

There are many examples across the EU where Member States and the Commission can draw inspiration on how to seek views and communicate with end-users:

Kafka (Belgium) – Belgium’s Kafka initiative introduced an online contact point, www.kafka.be where citizens can submit comments on existing regulations and make proposals for their improvement and simplification. The proposals received on the website have formed the basis of a reform programme – the Kafka Plan – for the entire Federal Government. Over 200 specific simplification projects have been implemented under the plan, ranging from the abolition of paper accounts to the improvement of home-working regulations.

Burden Hunters Project (Denmark) – The Burden Hunter project applies user-centric innovation techniques to allow users themselves to identify the red tape that causes them most irritation. Civil servants have conducted visits to businesses to see first- hand the regulatory challenges they face. The user-centric approach allows businesses themselves to set the agenda for regulatory action and help develop solutions to cut administrative burdens. Work is ongoing to deliver results on a range of problems within nine areas perceived as particularly irritating, including government inflexibility, lack of mutual obligation and complexity. The Burden Hunter project has led to identifying a number of new initiatives to cut red tape.

Simplifying Together (France) – France has developed a framework that focuses on ‘life-events’ in order to better understand the burdens faced by businesses. These include key points in the life of a business, such as starting up, moving premises or hiring an employee. Using this framework, and through a broad process of consultation with the users of regulation, they have developed a programme to reduce the number of processes, the cost and the time to navigate these events.

Read press release
Download executive summary
Download report

11 March 2010

Elegant technologies for complex lives

Microsoft Research
The Socio-Digital Systems (SDS) group of Microsoft Research aims to use an understanding of human values to help to change the technological landscape in the 21st century.

“Beyond making us all more productive and efficient, we ask how we can build technology to help us be more expressive, creative, and reflective in our daily lives.

Our group considers a broad range of human values, aims to understand their complexity, and puts them front and centre in technology development. An important aspect of this endeavour is the construction of new technologies that, in turn, we ourselves can shape. In so doing, we may create new ways that help us to actively realise our aspirations and desires, to engage with or disconnect from the world around us, to remember our past or to forget it, to connect with others or disengage from them. Important here are technologies which ultimately make our lives richer, and which offer us choice and flexibility in the things that we do.

SDS does this through the bringing together of social science, design and computer science. We believe that by understanding human values, we open up a space of new technological possibilities that stretches the boundaries of current conceptions of human-computer interaction.”

Some of their projects can be viewed online, but I was quite intrigued by the wealth of recent publications (2009 & 2010) which I grouped under a number of thematic headings:

Family archives
Passing on and putting to rest: Understanding bereavement in the context of interactive technologies
Opening up the family archive

Household messaging
Designing a technological playground: A field study of the emergence of play in household messaging
Bridging the gap between grandparents and teenagers: Lightweight vs. heavyweight contact
Resilience in the face of innovation: Household trials with BubbleBoard

Social practices
Collocated social practices surrounding photos
Desiring to be in touch in a changing communications landscape: Attitudes of older adults
Machine intelligence

Studies of technology use in the home
Who’s hogging the bandwidth?: The consequences of revealing the invisible in the home
Understanding family communication across time zones
Home video communication: Mediating “closeness”
Home curation versus Teen Photography: Photo displays in the family home
Photo displays and intergenerational relationships in the family home

Supporting autobiographical memory
Now let me see where I was: Understanding how Lifelogs mediate memory
Narrative, memory and practice: Tensions and choices in the use of a digital artefact
Fixed in time and “time in motion”: Mobility of vision through a SenseCam lens
Reflecting on oneself and on others: Multiple perspectives via SenseCam

Specific projects
Glancephone
Hybrid interactive surfaces
TellTable (also here)
VPlay

11 March 2010

BBC on the future of the internet

Discovery
Twenty years after the emergence of the world wide web, Rory Cellan-Jones of the BBC World Service’s Discovery series looks at the science driving its third decade.

Web 3.0 promises a world where people and objects are seamlessly connected through an all pervasive network, no longer controlled through devices such as mouse and keyboards but through speech, gestures and even our very thoughts. It is a web that will become truly mobile and global.

But the will this vision work in reality? How will such an all pervasive network, if it does emerge, be made safe and secure against attacks and corruption?

Who will ultimately control the web – big business or the community? And will the developing world finally take centre stage in this new silicon Babylon?

Listen to programme