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Putting People First

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October 2010
28 October 2010

Digital-savvy shoppers drive change in retail

d-Commerce
Jonathan Birchall reports in the Financial Times on the challenges of creating a single customer experience both online and in stores:

“Shoppers equipped with smartphones can now use tools from the online world in-store. They can check prices at rival stores and look for independent product reviews. They can use their phones to receive digital offers, and increasingly to access payment systems and complete transactions.

But dealing with the digitally equipped “multichannel” shopper is presenting challenges for the industry that go well beyond what the customer sees in the store. [...]

“It’s not just about integrating channels, it is about changing your business model, and no one wants to hear that.””

Read article (pdf version – page 3)

28 October 2010

Meet the 20-cent ‘cloud phone’

Nigel Waller
CNN has an interview up with Nigel Waller, the CEO of Movirtu Limited and the man behind their Cloud Phone, writes Core77.

Waller dropped the surprising statistic that worldwide there are one billion people who use cell phones–but don’t own one; instead they share, borrow or rent them.

The Cloud Phone was intended to serve this market. At first Waller tried to create a cell phone that could be manufactured for just $5 so that everyone could afford one, but he couldn’t pull it off.

Instead Waller went with a $25 phone, but designed it so that a village of users could share it while still maintaining individual phone numbers accounts on a single phone. Activation cost? Just 10 to 20 cents per person.

Read the full interview, which is filled with interesting insights on how the other half uses their phones.

26 October 2010

Seeing the world from the East

Green Seoul
Last week I was in Seoul, South Korea. My third visit. And it struck me again how fast Asia, and South Korea in particular, is moving economically, and hence also in the design field.

Being in Seoul, you don’t notice any crisis. Construction is everywhere. Growth is tangible. And change is fast. While last year, the city was grey and full of concrete, now the City Government, headed by a self-proclaimed “design obsessed” Mayor, has moved to fill every available space with trees and green. On a massive scale – Seoul’s metropolitan area has 25 million inhabitants – it makes quite an impact and boosts the city’s quality of life. Even bicycles and bike paths are starting to show up in this car-crazy city.

This rapid change will continue and as UX-designers we need to be aware of it. As Keoun “Ken” Nah (interview here), Director-General of Seoul World Design Capital and design management professor at Hongik University, told me over a glass of wine: “We have been giving design thinking courses to CEO’s here and it has been very successful. We have a very smart class of CEO’s . You tell them to read a book, and when you meet them again, they have read five.” Ken by the way moved back to South Korea after a thirteen year stay in Boston, because he “missed Korea’s more dynamic environment.”

Koreans are learning fast and will add their own distinct approach to the design field. The problem they have is language. Not much of what goes on there in the design field is reported on in English language media, which tend to focus on the Western world, and the few other places where we understand the language: India, English and French speaking Africa.

Donald Norman is one of the user experience thought leaders who senses the power of this 50 million person nation and now spends quite some time teaching at KAIST, South Korea’s top science and technology institute, where he is a visiting professor. Also the intenational acclaimed LIFT conference has been hosting a South Korean edition for a few years now.

Much can be expected still from this nation of Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia and Daewoo. More thoughts soon about Korea’s design developments when I come back from the Busan Design Week in mid-November.

25 October 2010

Intel research projects explore context-aware computing

Personal vacation assistant
If you could look into Intel’s crystal ball, you’d see that their vision of the future includes context-aware computing. Intel has done extensive research into what people love, and how much of that involves technology and people’s attachment to their technology. As a result, they believe that integrating context-aware computing is the future.

What exactly does context-aware computing mean? According to Genevieve Bell, director of Intel’s Interaction and Experience Research Group, context-aware computing refers to “technologies that are able to determine how you feel, who you’re friends with and what your preferences are to better deliver personalized information.”

At a recent event in New York City, Intel showed off four research projects that represent possible future everyday uses of context-aware computing.

Read article

25 October 2010

Rotman Magazine: It’s Complicated

Rotman
Five articles in the current issue of Rotman Magazine, the high-level and thoughtful publication of the Roger Martin-led Rotman School of Management in Toronto, Canada, are definitely worth exploring:

Donald Sull on stubborn mental maps (pdf)
The London Business School professor and author talks about stubborn mental maps and the ‘upside’ of turbulence.

Dan Ariely on the hidden forces that shape our decisions (pdf)
The renowned Behavioural Economist talks about some of the hidden forces that shape our decisions.

Jonah Lehrer on intuition vs analysis (pdf)
The author and Rhodes Scholar talks about when we should go with our intuition, and when we should stop and really think about something.

Sarah Kaplan on the origins of our cognitive frames (pdf)
The Wharton professor discusses the origin of our cognitive frames, and what to do when they conflict with others.’

Nicholas Christakis on the ‘three degrees of influence’ (pdf)
An expert on the social factors that affect our health and longevity discusses how relationships influence everything from smoking to obesity and happiness.

24 October 2010

The most popular phone in the world

Nokia 1100
To fully understand what’s wrong [with Nokia], we’ve got to understand what’s been right, or to put in another way, what’s distracted Nokia. Meet the most popular phone in the world.

“The phone’s small size makes its extremely portable, and easy to carry or stow. That narrow, squishy keypad is dustproof and water resistant, so a splash of rain or a drop in the sand won’t ruin it. The phone’s plasticky shell and light weight make perfect sense the first time you see it bounce off your tile floor, skittering to a stop unscathed. [...]

This phone was meant to survive and to do; its only jobs are to call and to text and to create convenience for as long as possible, as cheaply as possible.”

Read article

24 October 2010

Nokia Research touts 5 innovative mobile interfaces

Nokia gesture
Wired’s Gadget Lab posts five big ideas that are currently under development at Nokia Research Center that reveal some intriguing possibilities on how we will interact with our devices in the future.

Touchscreens everywhere
Nokia researchers are experimenting with turning any display — the flatscreen TV in your living room, or the big monitor in your study — into a touchscreen. All you need is a mobile phone with a camera, plus a special app.

Electronics that stretch like rubber
Electronically stretchable skins could change the shape of devices and make them fit like gloves on your hand

Devices than can smell
By placing a nanowire, ultrathin wires made of metallic or semiconducting material, on top of a chip, researchers can train the chip to recognize or “smell” substances that are placed close to the sensing surface.

Sign ‘S’ for Silence
Gestures could mean the end of pecking and hunting on mobile displays.

An electro-tactile experience
Electrovibration uses electrical charges to simulate vibration and friction — which can help bring the idea of textures to a touchscreen.

Read article

24 October 2010

When augmented reality hits the Internet of Things

Cyborg
Wired.co.uk contributor Anna Leach examines how augmented reality and The Internet of Things could impact each other in the coming years.

“Both the Internet of Things and augmented reality (AR) are hotly tipped computing trends and both are in their infancy. Where they intersect could be an engrossing area — with the visual and location-based aspect of augmented reality providing a real-time, real-place interface for the data being pumped out by objects. We’d be able to see not just whether a bus is behind a building but how many people are on it, whether it’s on time, where people are sitting on the bus, what the name of driver is and well, any other information you decided to put out there.”

Read article

24 October 2010

Usability inspection of digital libraries

Ariadne 63
Lorraine Paterson and Boon Low highlight findings from the usability inspection report conducted for the JISC-funded research project, Usability and Contemporary User Experience in Digital Libraries (UX2.0).

Demands for improved usability and developments in user experience (UX) have become pertinent due to the increasing complexities of digital libraries (DLs) and user expectations associated with the advances in Web technologies. In particular, usability research and testing are becoming necessary means to assess the current and future breeds of information environments such that they can be better understood, well-formed and validated.

Usability studies and digital library development are not often intertwined due to the existing cultural model in system development. Usability issues are likely to be addressed post-hoc or as a priori assumptions. Recent initiatives have advanced usability studies in terms of information environment development. However, significant work is still required to address the usability of new services arising from the trends in social networking and Web 2.0.

The JISC-funded project, Usability and Contemporary User Experience in Digital Libraries (UX2.0), contributes to this general body of work by enhancing a digital library through a development and evaluation framework centred on usability and contemporary user experience. Part of the project involves usability inspection and research on contemporary user experience techniques. This article highlights the findings of the usability inspection work recently conducted and reported by UX2.0. The report provided a general impression of digital library usability; notwithstanding, it revealed a range of issues, each of which merits a systematic and vigorous study. The discussion points outlined here provide a resource generally useful for the JISC Community and beyond.

Read article

22 October 2010

Smartphones are our new drug of choice

Smartphone addiction
Smartphones’ sleek forms, tactile buttons, and blinking lights add up to a sort of game — and a perfect catalyst for compulsive behaviors, writes Shelley DuBois in Fortune Magazine.

“Smartphones actually could tap into one of the same pathways in the brain that make slot machines so addictive, according to Judson Brewer, the medical director at the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic. One of the reasons gambling is so addictive is that it taps into a powerful associative learning pathway.

Associative learning means that your brain is trained to make you feel either good or bad after a certain event. Winning a jackpot feels great, so gamblers get a very strong hit of good-feeling chemicals when they win, which makes them want to do it again. “That forms an associative memory,” says Brewer. “Wanting is the stickiness that creates the glue between what you just did and that feeling.”

It turns out that reinforcing that reward intermittently creates a more powerful need than offering a reward consistently. If people hit the jackpot every time they pulled a lever, gambling would be boring. But because they don’t know when the reward is going to come, they want it that much more. Smartphones, in a way, also channel intermittent rewards.”

Read article

22 October 2010

The (limited) power of good intentions

Intentions
Socially responsible design, writes Julie Lasky in Metropolis Magazine, is a whole lot harder than it looks.

“While nearly all of this work is well-intentioned, almost none of it amounts to anything concrete,” points out a magazine editor I know, who may be dazed by the number of do-gooder projects pouring into his inbox. “Why is there such a disconnect between the countless schemes of these designers and … well, to put it bluntly, real results? What has to happen to get the ratio of good intentions to completed projects to a more game-changing one?”

The roots to these answers are deep and hairy. They depend on the Jesuitical parsing of words like success, which can be defined quite differently depending on whose perspective you’re considering: designer, funder, recipient. Even design takes on semantic complexity in the social-change arena. “Half of success is determined before anybody picks up a pencil to sketch,” says Mariana Amatullo, director of Designmatters, a department of Art Center College of Design that undertakes social-change initiatives. She’s referring to the network of relationships that must be built for projects launched from outside a community to have a hope in hell.

Read article

16 October 2010

Bill Moggridge audio interview

Bill Moggridge
In this audio interview with Design Observer, Bill Moggridge, industrial and interaction designer, co-founder of design firm IDEO, and director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, discusses the evolution, design and life to come of the laptop, the 20 year arch of technology, the meaning of human-centered design, and his plans for future work at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Audio interview (28:25)

16 October 2010

Interactions and sustainability at the RCA, London

Design Interactions Research
Some great news from the RCA this week:

Design Interactions Research
The Design Interactions program at the Royal College of Art, led by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, has launched a brand new research site, showcasing projects done by tutors, research fellows and research associates over the last few years. As well as working on applied research exploring themes and topics developed with external partners funded through a mixture of research council, European Union, cultural, academic and industrial organisations, Interactions at RCA is working towards establishing a theoretical framework for conceptual, critical and speculative design practices in relation to science and technology.

“What happens when you decouple design from the marketplace, when rather than making technology sexy, easy to use and more consumable, designers use the language of design to pose questions, inspire, and provoke — to transport our imaginations into parallel but possible worlds?

Our research explores new ways design can make technology more meaningful and relevant to our lives, both now, and in the future, by thinking not only about new applications but implications as well.

It focusses on exploring interactions between people, science and technology on many different levels. We’re concerned not only with the expressive, functional and communicative possibilities of new technologies but also with the social, cultural and ethical consequences of living within an increasingly technologically mediated society.

We do this through design-led research projects which are disseminated internationally through exhibitions, publications and conferences. Our research is funded through a mixture of research council, EU, cultural, academic and industrial organisations.

As well as working on applied research exploring themes and topics developed with external partners, we are working towards establishing a theoretical framework for conceptual, critical and speculative design practices in relation to science and technology.”

The challenges of teaching sustainability
The RCA’s Approach, by Clare Brass and Octavia Reeve (on Core77)

“It is normally taken for granted that economic growth is vital for maintaining economic health, but research has shown that wellbeing depends less on material goods than on our lifestyles. The New Economics Foundation in the UK publishes a global Happy Planet Index, which measures the combination of environmental impact and wellbeing, to quantify the environmental efficiency with which—country by country—people live long and happy lives.

So what can we as educators do to enhance those valuable skills that designers have and get them using those skills to redesign not only the products that we buy but also the lifestyles that we live and the systems that organise our lives, making them better for people? Design education needs to position itself in such a way that designers are trained to design good customer experiences with the lowest possible environmental impact. “

15 October 2010

Design for mobile and for public health

UX Magazine
Two new articles in UX Magazine:

Design for mobile
by Juan Sanchez
The Design For Mobile conference, which took place September 20-24 in Chicago, brought together a wide range of professionals, educators, and thought leaders, all interested in the current state of mobile—how to design, sell, research, and push this rapidly evolving technology. I took many notes on the sessions, but I think some of the more important discussions took place beyond the slide decks about mobile devices and adoption graphs.

Beyond the medical chart: information visualization for improving personal and public health
by Hunter Whitney
Emerging digital data collection and visualization tools serve a wide range of purposes in medicine, from disease tracking to physician decision-making. From microscopes to MRIs to epidemiological monitoring, some of the most important tools in medicine extend the ability of clinicians and researchers to see patients and populations at various levels of resolution. This article will touch on medical data visualization projects from various perspectives, from individual patient records to global populations, and how they can give form to and highlight vital but otherwise invisible patterns.

15 October 2010

Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa

Mobile Africa report
The French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have jointly published the report entitled “Innovative ways of appropriating mobile telephony in Africa“.

The democratization of mobile telephony in Africa, its availability, ease of use and, above all, the extent to which it has been appropriated by the public, have made it a major success story. Very low-income populations are not only actively demanding access to mobile telephone services but also innovating, by creating the functions and applications they can use. Development is thus happening “from the bottom up” and an entire economy, both formal and informal in nature, has come into being to meet people’s needs. Many different actors – private, public, NGOs – are now mobilized.

Operators and manufacturers have successfully changed their economic model and adapted their products and applications to allow access to services at affordable prices. NGOs have in addition created a range of messaging- based services in different sectors. However, the future evolution of mobile telephony is not clear. A range of different approaches will co-exist, from SMS up to full Internet capacity, including experimental initiatives using smart phones and “netbooks”. Falling costs will lead to an increase in the number of phone devices with data receiving capacity. Individuals and companies involved in creating services or applications for development will need to take account of their users’ demographics and incomes, as well as the pricing systems of telecommunication companies in countries where they wish to operate. In this, States and regulating authorities have grasped the crucial role which they must play in promoting an investment-friendly environment with the goal of achieving universal access and stimulating innovation – key factors in achieving a “critical mass” of users.

The advent on the African continent of high-capacity links via submarine cables will change the ground rules and force operators to seek new sources of revenue. The inventiveness that has already been evident in mobile voice telephony will be needed once again if the “mobile divide” (in terms of costs, power supply, and so on) is not to widen.

This report takes stock of developments in this sector, which is crucial to Africa’s economic development, and suggests a number of possible directions it might take.

Download report

(via MobileActive)

15 October 2010

UX design in open source development

Moodle
Olli Savolainen has published a thesis entitled “User experience design in open source development: Approaches to usability work in the Moodle community” at the University of Tampere, Finland.

“Usability work is problematic in open source software development on many levels. There is often no documentation or explicit research of user goals to drive design, no user experience vision to direct development, no usability testing, and typically no resources allocated for usability work. No usability practitioners are usually employed, and doing usability work is hard due to the community value system being focused on concrete results. An attitude of “code is cheap” leads to a tendency to skip user research, design and validation before implementation. However, developers in open source communities do get feedback from actual users. Also, software development work is iterative, as recommended in user-centered design, so there is some foundation to base usability efforts on.

This thesis builds on a review of the observations made about usability in open source literature. It is followed by presentation of the Quiz user interface project in the Moodle virtual learning environment project. I introduced needs of a user group of the already existing Quiz module, which had not been considered previously, into the design of the user interface. I carried out interviews of users and stakeholders, and iteratively designed the user interface using prototypes, usability testing, and community feedback, in each phase of the project. The results of this project are integrated in Moodle 2.0.”

More info and download

15 October 2010

Device Design Day videos

Device Design Day
Kicker Studio organised on 20 August a Device Design Day in San Francisco, exploring the design of the next generation of products. Most videos are now online:

Stuart Karten: User-driven innovation [31:40]
Stuart Karten Design
The fast pace of technology development makes almost anything possible. The challenge that product developers face is implementing technologies in ways that meet customer needs and facilitate trust. In the hearing aid industry, technology allows hearing instruments to become smaller and smaller and opens up new possibilities for user interface. In taking Starkey’s hearing aids to the next level, Stuart Karten and his team at design and innovation consultancy SKD served as user advocates, making sure that Starkey’s advanced technology was developed into a family of products that meet the unique needs of 65- to 85-year-old end users. Karten will share the tools and strategies that SKD employed to maintain its focus on the end user throughout the product and interface development process.

Kim Goodwin: Convergent products, convergent process [37:57]
Author, Designing for the Digital Age
Interaction designers and industrial designers are kindred spirits in many ways, yet we tend to lean on somewhat different skills, biases, and design approaches. Many teams struggle with these differences, and the results of that struggle are visible in the telephones, remote controls, and even toaster ovens that drive us all a little bit crazy. So how do we get past atoms vs. pixels, while still benefiting from the different strengths of each discipline? No doubt there’s more than one answer, but the one that has worked for us is a convergent design process that incorporates both co-design and parallel design, but never sequential design in which one discipline drives the other. We’ll share that process—and the project management considerations that go with it—from both IxD and ID perspectives.

Dan Harden: Breaking through the noise [45:50]
Whipsaw
There are so many electronic devices, gadgets, and techy do-dads in this world, and quite frankly, most are junk. Every once in awhile one comes along and it’s different. It breaks through the noise. You dig it because it works flawlessly, it delivers real value, and it even has soul. Technology may enable it to BE, but design is what makes it sing. What are the factors that go into creating these kind of transcendent product experiences that resonate with soul? We will discuss this and share a few examples of how we interpret this illusive goal.

Mike Kuniavsky: Information as a material [34:03]
Author, Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design
We have passed the era of Peak MHz. The race in CPU development is now for smaller, cheaper, and less power-hungry processors. As the price of powerful CPUs approaches that of basic components, how information processing is used—and how to design with/for it—fundamentally changes. When information processing is this cheap, it becomes a material with which to design the world, like plastic, iron, and wood. This vision argues that most information processing in the near future will not be in some distant data center, but immediately present in our environment, distributed throughout the world, and embedded in things we don’t think of as computers (or even as “phones”).
In his talk Kuniavsky discusses what it means to treat information as a material, the properties of information as a design material, the possibilities created by information as a design material, and approaches for designing with information. Information as a material enables The Internet of Things, object-oriented hardware, smart materials, ubiquitous computing, and intelligent environments.

Julian Bleecker: Design fiction goes from props to prototypes [33:23]
Nokia / Near Future Laboratory
Prototypes are ways to test ideas—but where do those ideas come from? It may be that the path to better device design is best followed by creating props that help tell stories before prototypes designed to test technical feasibility. What I want to suggest in this talk is the way that design can use fiction—and fiction can use design—to help imagine how things can be designed just a little bit better.

Gretchen Anderson: Motivating healthy behaviors [21:49]
Punchcut
We’ve moved into an era where the gadgets we use affect our very being. Purpose-built medical devices are moving into the hands of consumers, and apps deliver healthcare over-the-air. This session looks at key concerns and best practices when designing medical devices and motivating healthy behaviors.

Jared Benson: One size does not fit all [20:57]
Punchcut
Are you inadvertently porting old UI paradigms to new contexts of use? Tomorrow’s devices need new affordances. I’ll share insights and considerations for designing distributed experiences across a range of converged devices.

Wendy Ju: Designing implicit interactions [24:31]
California College of Arts
Implicit interactions can interactive devices to help communicate cues and to provide feedback to make interactive devices easier, more effective and less infuriating. We’ll look at examples and design guidelines to help design good implicit interactions and avoid making inadvertent bad ones.

Ian Myles: More thought than you’d think
meep
How to go a little deeper on strategic design decisions with surprising results.

15 October 2010

What the developing world can teach us about technology

mobile + africa
“Creativity, Cost-Cutting & Keeping it Simple: what the Developing World can teach us about Technology” is the long title of a short feature story by Anna Leach on Shiny Shiny, a gadget blog, where she reports on a fascinating talk at CityCamp London.

“We’re selling ourselves short if we think the flow of innovation only goes way. There is a lot we can learn back from the developing world about the inventive uses they find for the technology we take for granted.”

Read article

15 October 2010

mobile + africa

mobile + africa
A contingent of Stanford University d.school students recently returned from Kenya, where they spent two weeks working with Nokia Research Africa, and the University of Nairobi, developing health-related mobile applications. The trip was the culmination of months of work in connection with a new class at the d.school, “Designing Liberation Technologies,” which will be offered again in the coming academic year.

“Designing Liberation Technologies” is (at least in its current iteration) an experiment in remote, user-centered design. Starting in April, Stanford d.school students from a diverse array of disciplines – including computer science, medicine, business, law, education – worked with computer science students at the University of Nairobi to identify the design needs of health care providers and low-income mobile phone users in Kenya. The students then developed prototypes of mobile applications to support delivery of health services in urban areas. In August, a group of students travelled to Nairobi to meet with NGO partners, test prototypes, and advance plans for the future.

Read article

15 October 2010

US UX versus EU UX: What’s the difference?

EC UX
In response to questions from Amy Knox regarding US user experience and European user experience, Søren Muus (creative director at FatDUX and co-initiator of the European Centre for User Experience) recently posted on the mail list of the Information Architecture Institute some interesting ideas in this matter. The people of the European Centre for User Experience (ECUX) republished his piece.

“I’m not sure if there’s a specific “European” UX – it’s mostly a matter of content and tone of voice, perhaps to the extend where this is reflected in IA as a consequence hereof, or from being multilingual in an area where language barriers don’t follow national borders. There are of course both national conventions and best practices that relates to specific countries or language areas that you have to beware of. I’ll give you a few examples in my attempt to answer your questions below.

Most of the problems you may encounter, would derive from either lingual, cultural, political or historical issues. And these challenges relates very much to who YOU are, or pretend to be.”

Read article

(via InfoDesign)