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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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May 2010
16 May 2010

Can business analysts become UX designers?

 
Mike Gualtieri and Mary Gerush of Forrester Research have just published a paper entitled Business Analysts: Seize the opportunity to deliver compelling user experiences – Make a big difference to your organization by focusing on its customers.

Abstract:
Is anything more important than how users experience your Web sites and software applications? If your customers can’t effectively and efficiently meet their goals by using your sites and apps, they will go elsewhere, leading to lost revenue and increased expense. If employees find sites or apps too hard to use, they become frustrated and less productive. To maximize productivity, smart organizations place a strong focus on user experience (UX) as part of the software development process, but not every firm has people with the right skills and focus on this important discipline. This is a great opportunity for business analysts, but it requires a shift in the way they define requirements. UX skills are often absent from business analysts’ (BAs’) tool kits, because BAs have been trained to engage “the business” to learn about requirements but not to do true user research that will deepen their understanding. By gaining key skills, performing user research, and actually “becoming” their application’s end users while defining requirements, BAs can improve the user experience — and organizational outcomes — by helping create apps that are useful, usable, and desirable.

Adobe’s Steven Webster disagrees:

“You see, Design is a profession…and I think we have to be incredibly careful in removing Designers from the Design process. At surface level, there are techniques employed by designers that unravel and reveal the insights that will inform a subsequent design…user interviews, creating user personas, ethnographic research techniques that allow observation of end-users engaging in existing processes with existing tools, are all means by which an experience designer can try and find the “soul of the solution”, the key insight or insights upon which an improved design might emerge.

I struggle initially with the idea that by taking these techniques away from designers, giving them to business analysts so that the analysts write better requirements (through the lens of the user), that a better user-experience will emerge by giving these requirements (now informed by a user) to a designer to create a new user-experience.”

Read Steven’s reflections

16 May 2010

Researchers study behavior in social networks

 
Research scientists Cameron Marlow (Facebook Inc.) and D.J. Patil (LinkedIn Corp.) have access to the interactions of groups of people that outnumber populations of whole countries and therefore unprecedented windows into the social interactions of people around the world.

During recent interviews with the San Francisco Chronicle, Marlow and Patil described the trends they are seeing.

“Palo Alto, Calif.-based Facebook, for example, has developed a “Gross National Happiness Index” that measures the positive and negative sentiments expressed in status posts. […]

The team hopes to refine its data mining to answer questions such as how happiness may be contagious or what level of influence different groups of friends have on one another.”

Read article

16 May 2010

Nokia’s designs on Apple

Nokia N8
As Nokia’s senior vice president of design and user experience, Marko Ahtisaari is the man charged with leading the software and hardware designers who must craft the challenger to the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android devices that the Finns have so far lacked, reports the FT’s tech blog.

“I still think the whole industry is missing a trick,” said Mr Ahtisaari during a meet-the-press session in London yesterday. “All the touchscreen interfaces are very immersive. You have to put your head down. What Nokia is very good at is designing for mobile use: one-handed, in the pocket. Giving people the ability to have their head up again is critical to how we evolve user interfaces.”

Given humanity’s growing fixation with staring at glowing rectangles, any innovation that helps improve off-screen interaction really would be “social change”, as Mr Ahtisaari puts it.

Read article

16 May 2010

The reality of social media

The Merchant of Venice
Adrian Chan has written a thoughtful post about “teasing apart the objective and subjective dimensions of social media, to examine what’s behind the relational economy we now live in, and its particular mode of production.”

“All commerce and much personal and social utlity implied by use of social media owes to the subjective value added to what was, previously, a mode of production of information (publishing).

I will try to demonstrate here the manner in which social acts and communication result in mediated social realities. And suggest that the relational connections and value-added associations which are the byproduct of social media use create a marketplace of content whose highest value, individually motivated subjective choices, we are only beginning to capture and mine.”

He concludes:

“Communication is just communication as long as it remains observed only. But it calls for a yes or no, for acceptance or rejection. When that is supplied by another person, it becomes social action. Not information, but action, and what we need to capture it, measure it, relate it, and repurpose it, is the challenge facing us today.”

Read article

12 May 2010

The future of news

Daedalus
The Spring 2010 issue of Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, is dedicated to the Future of News.

Front Matter

Introduction
Loren Ghiglione, Professor of Media Ethics at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University

News & the news media in the digital age: implications for democracy
Herbert J. Gans, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Columbia University

Are there lessons for the future of news from the 2008 presidential campaign?
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, & Jeffrey A. Gottfried, senior researcher at the Annenberg Public Policy Center

New economic models for U.S. journalism
Robert H. Giles, Curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University

Sustaining quality journalism
Jill Abramson, Managing Editor, The New York Times

The future of investigative journalism
Brant Houston, Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The future of science news
Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University

International reporting in the age of participatory media
Ethan Zuckerman, senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University

The case for wisdom journalism – and for journalists surrendering the pursuit of news
Mitchell Stephens, Professor of Journalism in the Carter Institute at New York University

Journalism ethics amid structural change
Jane B. Singer, Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa

Political observatories, databases & news in the emerging ecology of public information
Michael Schudson, Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

What is happening to news?
Jack Fuller, former President of Tribune Publishing Company

The Internet & the future of news
Paul Sagan & Tom Leighton, Fellows of the American Academy

Improving how journalists are educated & how their audiences are informed
Susan King, Vice President for External Relations at Carnegie Corporation of New York

Does science fiction suggest futures for news?
Loren Ghiglione, Professor of Media Ethics at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University

poetry: In a Diner Above the Lamoille River
Greg Delanty, poet

Contributors

11 May 2010

Philips Design’s latest projects

Rice cooker
The latest issue of new value by design, the Philips Design newsletter, contains three short articles that sit closely to what we cover in this blog:

Self Health – Philips Design’s exploration into reconnecting people with their bodies
The latest Philips Design Probe, Self Health, takes a “provocative and unconventional look at areas that could have a profound effect on the way we understand and monitor our own health and make lifestyle choices 15-20 years from now.”
Unfortunately, the descriptions on the website are so short that one can only superficially understand the concept ideas that have been developed, and not at all assess their value.

Beyond glocalization – The value of design in emerging markets
Design helps business understand and innovate in new, promising markets, bringing long-term business success.
> Emerging markets design backgrounder (pdf)

Market driven innovation – Making rice cooking easier and healthier in China
An easier and healthier cooking solution for China, driven by a deep understanding of the local people and context of use.

9 May 2010

Tell-all generation learns to keep things offline

Privacy online
Members of the under 30 tell-all generation are rethinking what it means to live out loud.

“The conventional wisdom suggests that everyone under 30 is comfortable revealing every facet of their lives online, from their favorite pizza to most frequent sexual partners. But many members of the tell-all generation are rethinking what it means to live out loud.

While participation in social networks is still strong, a survey released last month by the University of California, Berkeley, found that more than half the young adults questioned had become more concerned about privacy than they were five years ago — mirroring the number of people their parent’s age or older with that worry.

They are more diligent than older adults, however, in trying to protect themselves. In a new study to be released this month, the Pew Internet Project has found that people in their 20s exert more control over their digital reputations than older adults, more vigorously deleting unwanted posts and limiting information about themselves. “

Interestingly “mistrust of the intentions of social sites appears to be pervasive.”

Read article

9 May 2010

Homesense project launched

Homesense
Tinker London (the team promoting the use of Arduino in design) started a collaboration with EDF R&D on Homesense, an open user-centered research project investigating the use of smart and networked technologies in the home.

Homesense will bring the open collaboration methods of online communities to physical infrastructures in the home. Over the course of several months, selected households across Europe (UK, France and Italy initially) will have access to the latest in open source hardware and software tools, decide what they want to do with them in the context of their home and share the results with the world. Local technology experts will be selected to support them in the development of their ideas and the whole process from start to finish. The process will be documented by users themselves in the form of blogs, videos and images taken throughout a 3 month long process in the Autumn of 2010.

The team believes that better scenarios and solutions could emerge when design and research in this area can be conducted in an open way. This breaks from tradition as users, rather than seeing products forced on them by a top-down design process, will create their own smart home and live with those technologies they have themselves developed without prior technical expertise.

6 May 2010

Ferrari F10 steering wheel is usability horror

Ferrari steering wheel
Every year, Ferrari fields a team in the Formula One championship, and dumps around $400 million into developing and racing the car.

So, says Cliff Kuang in Fast Company, you’d think that the steering wheel–perhaps the car’s most crucial point of contact, where a human turns all that R&D into championship trophies–would be a masterpiece of interface design. And you would be wrong.

Kuang calls it a “comedically disjointed, confusing mess” and “amazing that the drivers don’t crash these things twice every lap” (and even the people at AutoBlog agree).

Read article (with video)

5 May 2010

Service Design Thinks

Service Design from Scratch
Nick Marsh has been organising several service design ‘Thinks’ events in London: ‘Service Design at Scale’ (November 2009) and ‘Service Design from Scratch’ (March 2010).

Service Design at Scale featured presentations by Steven Baker, about the design of the M-Pesa mobile banking service for Vodafone/Safaricom, Julia Schaeper on implementing service design at the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, and James Gardner (previously head of Innovation at Lloyds Banking Group and now CTO at the Department for Work and Pensions) on his experience of creating an internal ‘innovation market.

Service Design from Scratch was apparently the best one yet. First up was James Munro from Patient Opinion who talked about his experience of getting the Patient Opinion service off the ground. James was followed by, Jaimes Nel, head of research at Live|Work, who told the story of Grace at St Pauls, a small, independent coffee shop in central London. Then came Sophia Parker of the Resolution Foundation and Katie Harris of Esro who spoke about their experiences of setting up and running the Social Innovation Lab for Kent in partnership with Engine Service Design and Kent County Council. Finally, Zaeem Maqsood, VP at First Capital, explored and explained what makes start up services investable. This was all followed by a Q&A (also on video).

The links contain videos from the various speakers, as well as some context and reflections on the events.

5 May 2010

Peter Merholz: The Want Interview

Want Magazine
The founder & president of Adaptive Path explains why they’re shifting away from “user experience” and towards “experience design.” He celebrates 360 design strategies through successful “customer journeys” by Apple and Southwest Airlines and advocates for marketing and advertisement becoming the first touchpoint of such. He also outlines the history of personal computing in three “waves”—and predicts the fourth.

Watch video

(via InfoDesign)

5 May 2010

Bill Moggridge blogs

Bill Moggridge
Bill Moggridge, the legendary industrial and interaction designer, IDEO co-founder and now director of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, started his own blog, Bill’s blog.

It reads like his working notes, though very well written, and gives you a fascinating insight into the thought process of a brilliant man.

Just enjoy.

5 May 2010

The many differences between mobile and desktop interaction

Mobile at airport
Interacting with a mobile device is very different from our interaction with desktop devices. But what does that mean precisely? In a long article for the Journal on Multimodal User Interfaces, Luca Chittaro of the HCI Lab at the University of Udine proposes five types of specific differences, that together make it more difficult to design efficient user interfaces for mobile users.

Abstract
People want to do more with their mobile phones, but their desire is frustrated by two classes of limitations. One is related to the device, its hardware and software. The other is related to the context, and comprises perceptual, motor, cognitive and social aspects. This paper will discuss some of the opportunities and challenges that this complex scenario presents to multimodality, which can be a key factor for a better design of mobile interfaces to help people do more on their mobile phones, requiring less time and attention.

Read article
Read Italian synthesis

5 May 2010

Reading in a digital age

American Scholar
Sven Birkerts wites in the American Scholar on why the novel and the Internet are opposites, and why the latter both undermines the former and makes it more necessary.

“My real worry has less to do with the overthrow of human intelligence by Google-powered artificial intelligence and more with the rapid erosion of certain ways of thinking—their demotion, as it were. I mean reflection, a contextual understanding of information, imaginative projection. I mean, in my shorthand, intransitive thinking. Contemplation. Thinking for its own sake, non-instrumental, as opposed to transitive thinking, the kind that would depend on a machine-drive harvesting of facts toward some specified end. Ideally, of course, we have both, left brain and right brain in balance. But the evidence keeps coming in that not only are we hypertrophied on the left-brain side, but we are subscribing wholesale to technologies reinforcing that kind of thinking in every aspect of our lives. The digital paradigm.”

Read article

4 May 2010

Findability and Exploration: the future of search

 
Stijn Debrouwere, a Belgian information architect, has published a long Peter Morville-inspired post on findability related issues.

“The majority of people visiting a news website don’t care about the front page. They might have reached your site from Google while searching for a very specific topic. They might just be wandering around. Or they’re visiting your site because they’re interested in one specific event that you cover. This is big. It changes the way we should think about news websites.

We need ambient findability. We need smart ways of guiding people towards the content they’d like to see — with categorization and search playing complementary goals. And we need smart ways to keep readers on our site, especially if they’re just following a link from Google or Facebook, by prickling their sense of exploration.

Pete Bell recently opined that search is the enemy of information architecture. That’s too bad, because we’re really going to need great search if we’re to beat Wikipedia at its own game: providing readers with timely information about topics they care about.”

Read article

Check also his earlier posts this month:
Navigation headaches
We’re in the information business
The basic unit of information

(via InfoDesign)

4 May 2010

Smart Things – Chapters 3 and 6

Smart Things
After posting the first chapter of his new book Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design (see also this earlier post), Mike Kuniavsky is now doing the same with chapter three and six.

The final book, he says, will be different and this is no substitute for it, but it’s a taste of what the book is about.

Read chapter 3: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4
Read chapter 6: part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | part 4 | part 5 | part 6

4 May 2010

What’s up with social objects?

Social objects
The concept of social objects is pretty widely used in social interaction design, but we’re missing a solid definition of what social objects are, says social media expert Adrian Chan on Johnny Holland. Or, whether they really even exist.

The most common use of the term “social object” refers to shared online resources around which interactions develop and coalesce. Examples could include gifts on Facebook, videos, or what have you. The object sort of serves as a shared object, a focus of attention, an actual digital object, and so on. And the object plays a role in governing or informing interactions; we know what objects mean and what to do with them (give them, comment on them, play them, etc.)

So argues Chan, we need a better description, and he gives it a go.

Read article

3 May 2010

Open positions at Experientia

Experientia
Experientia is an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first. Our dynamic and enthusiastic team, based in Torino, Italy, includes experts in strategy, design, usability, communications, cognitive and social psychology, ethnographic and user research, information architecture, interaction design and information visualization, prototyping and programming, and with skills in over 16 languages.

Experientia is currently looking for people to fill the following positions:
 

Project Manager

This position has been filled.
 

Web prototyper

This position has been filled.
 

Visual interaction designer

We are looking for a visual interaction designer with outstanding visual design skills, methodical thinking, fascination with typography or information visualization, and interest in design for mobile applications or social software.

Required

  • 3-5 years experience in visual interaction design
  • University and/or advanced degree(s) in Interaction Design, Visual Communication Design, or similar.
  • An available portfolio of visual interaction design solutions.
  • Advanced English language skills, with ability in Italian or German also an advantage, strong visual and verbal communication skills.
  • Proficiency in a variety of layout/UI and time based design tools including Flash, Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, etc.
  • Understanding of how and why an interface succeeds or fails and ability to spot likely problems in flow, layout, copy or presentation before they go into production.
  • Demonstrated ability to adhere to critical project timelines in a fast-paced environment.
  • Legally entitled to work in the EU

The Visual Interaction Designer will:

  • Excel in design thinking, participate in design research, ideate concepts and truly enjoy design.
  • Understand the parameters of a design problem, and be able to create appropriate visual interaction deliverables.
  • Follow a user-centred methodology and approach.
  • Translate user research and usability findings into tangible designs.
  • Brainstorm on innovative concept solutions around given project themes.
  • Identify tools, resources, methods, and techniques that evolve existing approaches for the larger Experientia community.
  • Work independently, or in teams and in close conjunction with the Design Director, to produce elegant, sophisticated concept designs.

How to apply
Interested applicants should send a motivational cover letter in English, an English or Italian CV, and possible other supporting materials to info at experientia dot com. Your application should be accompanied by a pdf or portfolio or link to an online portfolio. We would like to see a range of final deliverables and interim deliverables created during the course a project. Please indicate your role and contribution for each project submitted.
 

Usability Expert

This position has been filled.

3 May 2010

Book: Storytelling for User Experience

Storytelling
Storytelling for User Experience – Crafting Stories for Better Design
By Whitney Quesenbery & Kevin Brooks
Rosenfeld Media
April 2010
Availability: Paperback + PDF

We all tell stories. It’s one of the most natural ways to share information, as old as the human race. This book is not about a new technique, but how to use something we already know in a new way. Stories help us gather and communicate user research, put a human face on analytic data, communicate design ideas, encourage collaboration and innovation, and create a sense of shared history and purpose. This book looks across the full spectrum of user experience design to discover when and how to use stories to improve our products. Whether you are a researcher, designer, analyst or manager, you will find ideas and techniques you can put to use in your practice.

1 May 2010

RIM’s split personality strategy

RIM game developer
A Canadian article about Canada’s most important technology company, Research in Motion (the makers of the Blackberry), is always worth delving into.

“RIM captured boardrooms by reinventing business communication. Now it faces a balancing act between keeping those customers and wooing tech-savvy consumers. […]

This week in Orlando, RIM’s executives gave perhaps the clearest explanation yet of what the company intends to do: everything Apple’s not doing. It is no longer about playing catch up in the apps race. It is about playing a different game altogether.

While Apple’s focus is squarely on the consumer, RIM is building its consumer strategy around the same things that made the BlackBerry a corporate addiction: security, low power consumption and efficiency. While Apple controls the means of downloading applications for its phone, RIM allows downloads through myriad channels, such as third-party websites, giving developers more freedom. While Apple regularly boasts about the number of iPhone applications available – somewhere north of 185,000 – RIM, which boasts just 6,500 apps, is now pushing quality over quantity, focusing on professionally designed applications that make full use of the BlackBerry’s many functions, something Mr. Lazaridis defined this week as a “super-app.”

In essence, if Apple wants to be the Holiday Inn of the wireless application world, RIM’s new focus is trying to become the Four Seasons.”

Read article