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March 2011
30 March 2011

Service Design Toolkit for the design of public services

Service Design Toolkit
Yesterday Brussels saw the launch of the English version of the Service Design Toolkit, which Design Flanders developed together with Belgian consultancies Yellow Window and Namahn.

The launch took place at the international SEE conference on integrating design into regional and national policies, that took place at the Flemish Parliament and was chaired by myself.

The toolkit is designed to help local governments perform service design with a minimal need of outside assistance, and offers an introduction to service design, an explanation of the most important techniques, a practical road map, and a great many tools and templates.

The SEE project, which includes partners from 11 countries, has involved a series of workshops with policymakers on themes such as design in innovation policy, design for sustainability, evaluating the return on design investment and bringing innovative ideas to market through design. The conference – that I will report on more in a few days – was the project’s final event, and provided delegates with an overview of design’s role in innovation, recent design policy developments in Europe and examples of successful design policies and promotion programmes – through speakers such as Anders Byriel (Chairman of Danish Design Council), Judith Thompson (Director, Better by Design, New Zealand), Patrick Janssens (Mayor, City of Antwerp, Belgium), and Brian Boyer (Sitra, Finland). Peter Dröll, the European Commission’s head of innovation, explained how the EU is working on making design a structural part of its innovation policy.

25 March 2011

Sitra article on how to best change lifestyles to mitigate climate change

Vesa-Matti Lahti
Vesa-Matti Lahti, senior lead of the Energy Programme at Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, describes why much more is needed than just correct information if we want people to pull together to mitigate climate change.

“Behavioural scientists who have studied energy consumption have nevertheless estimated that, compared with technical solutions, low-cost psychological and social instruments can be used to effect behavioural changes that can lead to savings of 10–35 per cent in our energy consumption. And this can be achieved without any technological innovations or new machines, and without lowering the standard of living. [...]

But how can the behaviour and lifestyles of people be changed? What have scientists to say about this?

One common thread in their answers is that there is no single correct way of effecting even slight changes in behaviour. Achieving behavioural changes calls for an understanding of a myriad of obstacles and incentives. Obstacles to change must be removed from everyday life, and such societal conditions created that facilitate the transition to an ecologically sustainable and psychologically satisfactory way of life.”

Read article

Disclosure: Experientia is working with Sitra on the Low2No project.

25 March 2011

Design!publiC: design for governance in India

Design!publiC
LiveMint.com, the Indian online partner publication of the Wall Street Journal, reports on India’s first Design!publiC conclave “on design thinking and the challenge of government innovation,” which took place in New Delhi on 18 March.

The event — which was organised by the Center for Knowledge Societies, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and with support from, amongst others, the Centre for Internet and Society — brought together influential thinkers in Indian government, including Arun Maira of the National Planning Commission, R. Gopalakrishnan of the National Innovation Council and Ram Sewak Sharma of the UIDAI, as well as members of leading corporate and development sector agencies.

In the lengthy article Aparna Piramal Raje, director of BP Ergo, describes the approach advocated at the conclave:

“Design thinking denotes an approach to problem-solving, with three distinct aspects. First, users are studiously followed and analysed employing ethnographic tools. Human needs, attitudes, preferences, challenges, their context and the immediate environment are documented using multimedia technology.

These in-depth observations generate insights into the heart of a given problem. Based on these, design thinkers collaborate and brainstorm to conceive a set of possible solutions. Prototypes of these solutions are created, tested and validated to arrive at a final solution. [...]

Design thinking’s biggest strength—the last mile, or the citizen-government interface—is the biggest pain point for government service providers. User-centricity forms the foundation for all design thinking; they are typically the weakest link in any government programme. Greater sensitivity to everyday interactions between citizens and government services can result in enhanced standards of living through better housing, transportation, health, education, among other necessities of daily life, the panellists said.”

Make sure to watch the video that is embedded in the article.

Excerpt from the Design!publiC vision text

“The problem of governance is perhaps as old as society, as old as the rule of law. But it is only more recently — perhaps the last five hundred years of modernity — that human societies have been able to conceive of different models of government, different modalities of public administration, all having different effects on the configuration of society. The problem of governments, of governmentality, and of governance is always also the problem of how to change the very processes and procedures of government, so as to enhance the ends of the state and to promote the collective good.

Since the establishment of India’s republic, many kinds of changes have been made to the policies and practices of its state. We may think of, for instance, successive stages of land reforms, the privatization of large-scale and extractive industries, the subsequent abolition of the License Raj and so and so forth. We may also consider the computerization of state documents beginning in the 1980s, and more recently, the Right To Information Act (RTI). More recently there have been activist campaigns to reduce the discretionary powers of government and to thereby reduce the scope of corruption in public life.

While all these cases represent the continuous process of modification, reform, and change to government policy and even to its modes of functioning, this is not what we have in mind when we speak of ‘governance innovation.’ Rather, intend a specific process of ethnographic inquiry into the real needs of citizens, followed by an inclusive approach to reorganizing and representing that information in such a way that it may promote collaborative problem-solving and solutioneering through the application of design thinking.

The concept of design thinking has emerged only recently, and it has been used to describe approaches to problem solving that include: (i) redefining the fundamental challenges at hand, (ii) evaluating multiple possible options and solutions in parallel, and (iii) prioritizing and selecting those which are likely to achieve the greatest benefits for further consideration. This approach may also be iterative, allowing decisions to be made in general and specific ways as an organization gets closer and closer to the solution. Design thinking turns out to be not an individual but collective and social process, requiring small and large groups to be able to work together in relation to the available information about the task or challenge at hand. Design thinking can lead to innovative ideas, to new insights, and to new actionable directions for organizations.

This general approach to innovation — and the central role of design thinking — has emerged from the private sector over the last quarter century, and has enjoyed particular success in regards to the development of new technology products, services and experience. The question we would like to address in this conference is whether and how this approach can be employed for the transformation public and governmental systems. [...]

[More in particular,] in this conclave, our interest is to explore how design thinking and user-centered innovation might help [governmental and quasi-governmental] organizations better accomplish their mission and better serve their beneficiaries. We also seek to explore and establish particular modalities through which governance innovation can be achieved, as well as to identify key stakeholders and personalities gripped of the challenge of governance innovation. Our larger goal is to craft a path forward for integrating design thinking and innovation methodologies in the further re-envisioning, refashioning and improvement of public services in India and elsewhere in the world.”

The conclave seems to have been extremely well prepared, given the wealth of supporting materials that are available online:

Design!publiC blog

Press release
CKS organizes “Design Public” conclave – lays foundation for creating a national framework for governance innovation. High-level officials from Government of India work together with design and Innovation Experts at “Design Public” conclave

Conclave Note
Concise document that covers vision, case studies, programme and attendees

Case studies of governance innovation
Mainly European examples (unfortunately) from Denmark, UK and Norway

Glossary on design, innovation and governance
Glossary of terms that are often used by designers and innovation specialists. Also includes key terms related to governance and state-craft.

Bibliography on governance innovation
[Pleasantly surprised to find my own name there, as well as the one of Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels]

Design!publiC Book
A combination of all the above, including a detailed introduction to the design innovation ideas that were explored at the Design Public Conclave, the complete Design Public bibliography, the glossary of design terms, case studies of design innovation being applied to government, and bios for the guests that attended the conference.

24 March 2011

Google UK’s Think Quarterly on data obesity

Think Quarterly
Think Quarterly is a 64 page magazine published by Google UK “that brings together some of the world’s leading minds to discuss the big issues facing businesses today.”

Here are some of the articles I picked out:

Executive Insight
Guy Laurence, CEO of Vodafone UK, knows a thing or two about information overload. Feeling stressed out by statistics? He has the cure for data impotence.

Lunch with Hal
Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google, sinks his teeth into data obesity and how to treat it.

The Mobile Revolution
As Barclays Cycle Hire approaches its first birthday, we consider its strengths and weaknesses as a source of data.

The Knowledge
Simon Rogers picks the 10 best places to see ‘sexy’ data online.

24 March 2011

Motion and the clay of interaction design

Pinch
David Malouf, Professor of Interaction Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, is in constant pursuit of the “clay” of interaction design (IxD) – the “something” that interaction designers are manipulating. He thinks that one possible property of said “clay” may be motion or movement and explores the idea in a highly recommended article.

“What I’m interested in is motion as an aesthetic regardless of perceived or real audience. The question I ask is if certain movements just feel better than others at an aesthetic level and further that perception is manipulated by other interacting factors.”

Make sure to read how his understanding of capoeira has influenced him in his thinking.

Read article

24 March 2011

Open cities empower citizens

Philadelphia
A recent Knight Foundation/Pew Research study shows how important, demonstrating that if citizens believe their city governments behave in a transparent manner and make information easily accessible, they tend to think more highly about their town and its civic institutions.

The study, “How the Public Perceives Community Information Systems” found that citizens who believe their local institutions share information well are more likely to think positively about the effectiveness of those institutions, and feel confident that the city can and will provide them with relevant information. In doing so, an open government empowers residents, making them feel that they can effect change.

Read article

23 March 2011

Experientia partner on EDF Sustainable Design Challenge jury

EDF Sustainable Design Challenge
Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken has been invited to be a member of the technical committee for the EDF Sustainable Design Challenge: Changing energy together for better living.

The technical committee will analyse the submitted projects from a technical point of view and give recommendations to the Jury select the winning projects, which will be showcased at the EDF Pavilion during the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London, 2012.

The EDF Sustainable Design Challenge invites international educational and research platforms from any kind of specialisation to create energy efficient solutions for a better quality of life. In particular, it encourages entrants from the fields of design, architecture, urbanism, technology, engineering and marketing. The Challenge aims to promote change, reflection and solutions around the themes of sustainability and energy efficiency.

The design team of EDF, the world’s largest utility company, is working together with the French Design Promotion Association (APCI) to gather a core of project leaders from different countries and expertises to participate in the challenge. The leaders are then invited to set up multidisciplinary teams, and select a key sustainability issue of their choice to work on.

This year, leaders in the challenge include Aalto University, Finland; Ecole de Design de Nantes, France; Strate College, France; Politecnico di Milano, Italy; Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, UK; and Art Center College of Design, USA, among others.

The leaders, together with their team partners, must develop a solution that contributes to a low-carbon society by:
– developing more social and environmentally sustainable behaviour in our daily lives;
– multiplying the renewable energy source solutions;
– limiting or reducing fuel poverty situations; or
– shaping the invisible through interfaces, products and services.

Design for sustainable living is a theme that Experientia is highly committed to, and which we believe is indispensable in creating better lifestyles in a sustainable future. Experientia’s current work on the Low2No project includes research on behavioural change for sustainable living, as well as design concepts for services and advanced smart meters that enable desirable, energy efficient lifestyles.

22 March 2011

Meet Microsoft’s guru of ‘design matters’

Bill Buxton
Seattle Times technology reporter Sharon Pian Chan profiles Bill Buxton, principal researcher at Microsoft Research.

“Bill Buxton is multiplatform the way Leonardo da Vinci was multiplatform.

The Microsoft researcher is a technologist, a designer, a musician, an author, outdoorsman and a nationally ranked equestrian.

He has spent decades working on the future of tech, but he paddled the rivers of Saskatchewan last summer in 1,000-year-old technology: a birch-bark canoe sealed with tree sap and bear fat.

At Microsoft, Buxton is a researcher who also has been charged with spreading the “design matters” message to engineers who would rather hack code than clay.”

Read article

21 March 2011

Experientia intern wins Gore-tex and La Sportiva boot design challenge

Gina Taha design for La Sportiva
Experientia intern Gina Taha has just been announced a winner in the GORE-TEX® Experience Tour project “Design your very own trekking boots” with the GORE-TEX® brand and La Sportiva.

Gina’s design (graphic) was chosen from a short-list of ten, and will now be produced at the La Sportiva factory.

Innovations in Gina’s design include extra heel cushioning and flexibility for natural foot movement, a larger shoelace area, to provide more support for women’s fluctuating foot size across the month, and a back hook for easy carrying.

Gina was interested in the challenge, as she is an experienced hiker and camping chef, and liked the idea of designing something she would use in her travels.

Originally from Colombia, Gina grew up in New York. She has degrees in Advertising and Communication Design, Packaging Design and a Master’s in Industrial Design for Sport in Italy. At Experientia, she is working on people-centred design ideas for sustainability and new styles of urban living.

20 March 2011

Book: Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research

Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research
Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research: An Introduction
Paperback, 376 pages
AltaMira Press; Second edition
2010
[Amazon link]

The Ethnographer’s Toolkit series begins with this primer, which introduces novice and expert practitioners alike to the process of ethnographic research, including answers to questions like: who should and can do ethnography, when it is used most fruitfully, and how research projects are carried out from conceptualization to the uses of research results. Written in practical, straightforward language, this new edition defines the qualitative research enterprise, links research strategies to theoretical paradigms, and outlines the ways in which an ethnographic study can be designed. Use Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research as a guide to the entire Toolkit or as a stand-alone introduction to ethnographic research.

Margaret D. LeCompte is professor of education and sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Jean J. Schensul, founding director of the Institute for Community Research, continues as full time Senior Scientist. She holds adjunct appointments in the departments of Anthropology and Community Medicine at the University of Connecticut and directs qualitative methods and ethnography in the interdisciplinary research methods core of the Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS.

18 March 2011

“We have no right to be forgotten online”

Tessa Mayes
The European Union is planning to enshrine in law the right to be forgotten on the internet, but we can’t live outside society, argues investigative journalist and filmmaker Tessa Mayes in The Guardian.

“Being forgotten might sound appealing for some, but making a right out of it degrades the concept of rights. Instead of being something that embodies the relationship between the individual and society, it pretends that relationship doesn’t exist. The right to be forgotten is a figment of our imaginations.”

Most people commenting don’t agree with her view though.

Read article

18 March 2011

User-led does not equal user-centered

ustwo
“Companies should lead their users, not the other way around.”

So say Jens Skibsted and Rasmus Hansen in their recent post, User-Led Innovation Can’t Create Breakthroughs, on Fast Company’s Co.Design blog.

“They’re exactly right, but for all the wrong reasons,” reacts Lawrence Kitson of ustwo in UX Magazine and this he says “highlights a wider problem of the misunderstanding of interaction design and the field of UX.”

“Being user-centered requires the involvement of experts who focus on the user as a person. Interaction designers listen and observe, and apply their knowledge about the behavior of people and their psychology, especially when they interact with digital products and services. Being user-centered means understanding a problem and the users, analyzing user behavior and listening to their wants, then translating this into needs that drive a creative solution to the problem. Being user-led or user-driven, on the other hand, means responding to user feedback without applying the filters of analysis and translation.”

Read article

17 March 2011

Social media, internet, technology and museums

Museuma
The New York Times has published no less than eight articles at once on the topic of social media, internet, technology and museums. Note the article about the Arduino!

Speaking digitally about exhibits
Museums around the world now use social media for marketing and development efforts, and to strengthen relationships with visitors.

The spirit of sharing
Social media technology has created new opportunities for museums to create interactivity inside and outside of their walls. [...] While museums have long strived to be welcoming places as well as havens of learning, social media is turning them into virtual community centers.

Four to follow
Several of the people who help lead some of the most innovative museum Web sites found their path serendipitously.

Stopping to gaze and to zoom
The Google Art Project lets users virtually visit museums, and 17 works are on display in super-high resolution for zooming and marveling.

Smithsonian uses social media to expand Its mission
The museums increasingly use the public to help research and add personal touches to history.

An interactive exhibit for about $30
A tiny programmable computer, the Arduino, has brought the price of interactivity down sharply in the last few years for museums and galleries.

Multimedia tour guides on your smartphone
Museums are increasingly using smartphone apps to enhance the experiences of visitors.

Social media as inspiration and canvas
Mining Vimeo, YouTube and Flickr, artists and museums use social sites to provide a direct link to their audiences.

16 March 2011

Faculty openings in design & human engineering at UNIST in Korea

UNIST
In December Experientia signed a five-year research and education collaboration agreement with the Design and Human Engineering School (DHE) of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) – Korea’s new top university – in a quest to change the way that design is seen and practiced in Korea.

As part of its commitment to have at least 20% of its faculty from outside Korea, the university is now recruiting full time tenure-track faculty in the areas of industrial design (including UX, interaction design and design strategy), human factors, and engineering systems.

Spread the word.

16 March 2011

Why user experience cannot be designed

Roller coaster
Helge Fredheim wrote a smart article in Smashing Magazine to clarify why UX cannot be designed.

“Several models of UX have been suggested, some of which are based on Hassenzahl’s model. This model assumes that each user assigns some attributes to a product or service when using it. As we will see, these attributes are different for each individual user. UX is the consequences of these attributes plus the situation in which the product is used.

The attributes can all be grouped into four main categories: manipulation, identification, stimulation and evocation. These categories can, on a higher level, be grouped into pragmatic and hedonic attributes. Whereas the pragmatic attributes relate to the practical usage and functions of the product, the hedonic attributes relate to the user’s psychological well-being. Understanding the divide can help us to understand how to design products with respect to UX, and the split also clarifies why UX itself cannot be designed.”

Read article

16 March 2011

How honest should smart devices be?

SXSW
David Sherwin reflects on the frog design blog about the SXSW conference, starting from the questions raised in the contribution by Genevieve Bell (director of Intel’s Interactions and Experience Research Lab) there entitled “Our devices: how smart is too smart?“.

“Our current devices are terrible at determining context, especially with regard to how we relate to other people via our existing social networks. Today’s devices “blurt out the absolute truth as they know it. A smart device [in the future] might know when NOT to blurt out the truth.” They would know when to withhold information.”

Read article

15 March 2011

Tough Sell: Selling User Experience

 
Misha W. Vaughan, architect of applications user experience at Oracle USA, reflects in this interesting, small article for the February 2011 issue of the Journal of Usability Studies on the challenges explaining the value of user experience to the Oracle sales organisation.

Read article

15 March 2011

Experientia intern wins UNICEF 2010 INDEX design challenge

Teddy Bag
Experientia intern, Ane Eguiguren, together with her team partner François Verez, has been announced the winner of the INDEX: Design Challenge 2010.

The UNICEF challenge encouraged young designers to envision solutions to education in developing countries.

UNICEF in collaboration with the Danish not-for-profit organization INDEX launched the challenge in June 2010, and more than 1000 students from 29 countries across the globe joined the competition which resulted in 115 submitted design solutions.

From a short-list of seven, Ane and François’ “Teddy Bag” project was selected as the design with the most potential to be realised with the highest impact.

The Teddy Bag is a fully-recyclable backpack created for children to use in emergency situations, or in areas lacking education facilities. It is a lightweight backpack, which the child can use to carry equipment to school, but then transforms into a desk and chair for the child to sit on and study at, at school or even at home.

The INDEX Jury selected the Teddy Bag according to criteria of form, impact and context, commending it for having “the child in the centre and for a design where impact could be measured easily”. The jury also commended the thorough iteration process the winners went through, their testing and the broad product range that can be extended from the design.

The selection process included a workshop in Copenhagen, where short-listed teams worked with the Jury, advisers and experts to develop their initial concepts into go-to-market ideas.

The two young designers are now working with UNICEF, in an effort to conduct further field testing and hopefully implement the project.

Read press release
Watch video
Download submission (pdf)

11 March 2011

Ethnography: Caught between myths

Isabella Simpson
Qualitative researchers in the commercial sphere often feel they can only do ‘ethnography light’. Isabella Simpson, senior research executive at Kantar Media, urges them to have more confidence, and challenges some of the myths surrounding the ethnographic approach.

“Commercial ethnography, if conducted rigorously, doesn’t need to be ‘light’, and experienced quallies are well placed to do it. This is why it is essential to look at ethnography as a way of thinking about the world and about people rather than an exotic, elusive and expensive technique defined by specific parameters or timeframes.”

Isabella Simpson has a BSc and a PhD in social anthropology from the London School of Economics.

Read article

10 March 2011

Repost: Reflections on the LIFT conference 2011

Lift
Two weeks ago, Core77 published my review of the LIFT conference in Geneva, Switzerland.
In the interest of completeness, I also publish it here:

lift_01.jpgAll images by Ivo Näpflin, courtesy of LIFT Conference – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

A few weeks ago I was, together with about 1000 other people, in Geneva, Switzerland, to attend the 2011 LIFT conference.

LIFT is really a series of events, launched in 2006 and now taking place in France, Korea and Switzerland, built around a community of pioneers who get together to explore the social implications of new technologies. The LIFT conferences are driven by a dynamic and informal team of people whose public faces, Laurent Haug and Nicolas Nova, are quite well known in the user experience community.

lift_02.jpg

lift_03.jpg

The main event is the acclaimed three-day yearly conference in Geneva (now in its 6th edition) and this year the theme was: What can the future do for you?

Writing about a design and technology conference has changed a lot recently — especially when that conference streams all sessions immediately and Twitter comments have become pervasive.

So I chose to wait a bit, look back at some of the videos (they are all online here), let it all sink in and look back in reflection.

My angle is personal of course, but it struck me that there were a number of core themes that drove a substantial part of the discourse at this year’s LIFT. They are also, I think, the main challenges we as experience and interaction designers will need to address: networks, identity, people and openness, and algorithms.

NETWORKS

lift_04.jpgDon Tapscott

Today we are vividly witnessing the fact that revolutions don’t get made by leaders anymore. And this is illustrative of a larger social paradigm shift in our society, argued Don Tapscott, author of the 2006 bestseller Wikinomics, How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, in his keynote presentation. Social media has lowered transaction and collaboration costs and enhanced people’s capability to collaborate. Hierarchical leadership models are becoming more and more outdated, stalled and failing. The Industrial Age and its institutions have run out of gas. In short, Tapscott says, we are facing nothing less than a turning point in human history, and this creates friction, of course. The huge challenge for us now is to shape this emerging open network paradigm which, to many in charge, seems to lack structure and organization. There is no easy answer in how our societies and businesses can deal with the challenge of rebuilding themselves along this new model of networked intelligence. We do know the principles though — collaboration, openness, sharing, interdependence and integrity, and you may want to see the presentation or read Tapscott’s new book Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World to understand how these principles are currently starting to be applied in business and government.

lift_05.jpgBen Hammersley

Confronting the same theme was Ben Hammersley, Editor at Large for Wired UK. Thirty years younger than Tapscott, his different take on networks is quite refreshing. In essence both speakers addressed their own generations: Tapscott the digital immigrants who come from a hierarchical world and Hammersley the in-between “buffer” generation who constantly have to deal with the older, somewhat “bewildered” generations, the political, industrial and intellectual elites, that currently hold the levers of power.

Hammersley focused on the psychology behind it all — the dominant intellectual framework of the 20th century now gets inverted into a new model, the network model, which has to deal and co-live with the older hierarchical model. People from these other generations might have, what he calls, the “wrong cognitive toolkits” to function well in a drastically changing world. Hammersley explained what it means for the older generations to be “weirded out by modern times” and why there has been so much focus recently in the world of major corporations and institutions on “innovation” and “thinking outside the box”. It is, he says, a sort of therapy in a world where many hierarchies no longer make any sense. Our primary problem (and he is referring to his own generation) is not to encourage innovation, but to translate it. Our job is to clear the path to allow the young people to come through with their new ideas.


lift_azeem.jpgAzeem Azhar

IDENTITY
The topic of identity and reputation got introduced through Azeem Azhar (personal site), a UK entrepreneur with a background in journalism. Azhar started off with a clear problem we all face: connection inflation. It is so cheap and effortless to make connections that we now have too many of them and the trust element starts to diminish. Yet trust and reputation are crucial tools in our economies and lives. The financial markets are fundamentally based on reputation systems but many other of the worlds ratings and rankings play a very strong role e.g. sports, academia, professions, corporate branding and web search. What we need now, he says, is a people rank that makes sense of the connections between people. Quora, CubeDuel, Mixtent and PeerIndex are examples of companies that help us address the professional reputation rank. Foursquare has the hoop-jumping model of reputation ranking (you have to jump through some hoops, i.e. enter places, to increase your rank) and eBay has a reputation system that is very context dependent and not portable at all. The search for the magic reputation breakthrough is on. After all, we all now live in public. Everything we do is now generally available and indexed. Or as Dan Tapscott said in his keynote, we are all naked now: as companies, as governments and as individuals. Eventually we will go to a single currency, a lingua franca for reputation, that is portable and applies to different contexts. But, asks Azhar, are we aware of all the implications? Who owns your reputation? Who owns your data? And how will your data be used?

lift_brian.jpgBrian Solis

These questions were exactly the kind of stimulation that got the highly active mind of Brian Solis (personal site) going. Soiis, a US futurist, simply loves to put his teeth into anything related to reputation, trust, social capital and influence. We each lead three lives in the real world, he says: a public life, a private life and a secret life. Online however, we are all guilty of blurring the line between the three. We are all over-sharing. We are all indexed, ranked and scored by a great variety of online services. Yet, none of the services currently out there, is actually measuring your reputation, your influence. What they are doing is measuring the semblance of your social capital: what you are worth within these social networks, essentially becoming a credit score for the social web. We are measured by what we say and the company we keep. This social graph is already being used by (US) credit card companies to determine their potential risk. Knowing that, how do we become more mindful in how we use social networks?

Solis cited political scientist Robert Putnam who defined social capital as “the collective value of all ‘social networks’ and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other.” Social capital, Putnam said, can be measured by the amount of trust and “reciprocity” in a community or between individuals. Nothing of that, however, is measured by today’s tools. The problem is that these imperfect “social capital” scores are currently used against us.

Now, asks Solis, let’s look at the issue from a people’s perspective: What do we, as people, expect to get in return for our investment in social networks? It breaks down to trust, relationships, reciprocity, authority, popularity and recognition.

At the moment, the currency of social capital is the social object: the thing that you create, do or say online. When you publish it, it has an effect and that effect is measured. The problem is that we are being measured differently in every network. Moreover, context is missing most of the time, and the difference between social currency/capital and influence is not addressed. Influence is the capacity to trigger an effect. It is an ability. We do know that the elements of digital influence centre around a great many terms such as trust, authority, reputation, reach and social capital, but we don’t know how they connect. Today there is just a great deal of confusion (and Solis promised a paper to clarify it all). Knowing how things currently work, Solis has definitely become more mindful in sharing online and in fact he shares less now.

But Solis ends on a positive note: giving back is the new black. Businesses that give something to their customers (advice, ideas, suggestions, tools) earn reputation and influence.

lift_hasan.jpgHasan Elahi

On the very last day of the conference, the most powerful statement about identity came from an artist.

In 2002, Hasan Elahi, a US citizen, somehow ended up, wrongly of course, on a US terrorist watch list and was extensively questioned at Detroit Airport. He was released but had to endure many months of “interviews” with FBI officials and he had to defend himself through no less than nine successive lie detector test. Unfortunately he couldn’t be formally cleared because he was never formally charged. Not surprisingly, Elahi was concerned (and somewhat scared) that similar things, or worse, would continue to happen to him after any successive trip abroad. So initially he called the FBI to share his travel plans with them. This soon changed to emails and then eventually became a very extensive and highly automized website he created in 2002 that basically tracked his life. At first the site was private but in 2003 he decided to make it public — assuming that safety is also in the numbers.

Elahi was initially considered somewhat of a creep by his friends to go to the extremity of making his life public. The real irony and the very heart of his speech is that now, seven years later, there are half a billion people doing essentially the same thing every time they update their Facebook status.

Interestingly, Elahi said that by giving out so much information about himself, he actually leads a rather private and anonymous life. He generates so much data but to understand them you would still have to do the analysis, and when you do that, you get very little in return. All of us are generating data now.

So his FBI encounter resulted in a very extensive real-life project about identity management. Having a little bit of information about you is very dangerous, Elahi says, but by having a large amount of information you get a better picture. By generating a lot of information, you become in control of your own identity, rather than someone else defining your identity.



lift_galbraith.jpgDavid Galbraith

PEOPLE AND OPENESS
Introducing the people theme was David Galbraith (personal site) of Samba, who spoke — in addition to other things — about how people are shaping the future of the Internet. Galbraith thinks the Long Tail is over. People need celebrities — look at the asymmetries that are clearly showing up in Twitter. The Internet is a giant game of follow the leader and the Long Tail is starting to reverse as marketing takes over.

lift_portigal.jpgSteve Portigal

Steve Portigal of Portigal Consulting focused on the importance of understanding people in order to create innovation.

In a condensed and highly practical session, Portigal explained the power of the participatory or user-centered design process. What is the meaning behind what people do, asks Portigal. By focusing on gathering meaning, we can synthesize and find connections that no one connected before. These connections can then be used to create stories that can be applied in the design process to make change happen.

What makes Portigal’s talk relevant is that he explains how concentrating on understanding people’s behavior is so much broader than asking people what needs they have and what they would like as some still seem to think. This approach can lead to misjudging the power of user-centered design in innovation. People, says Portigal, are not good at talking about solutions, but we can understand a great deal about needs by observing people. By leaping away from the specific, we can get at the principles that drive the specific. So the question that drives the research is not the solution but the problem we are trying to solve. Contemporary user-centred design, says Portigal, implies a willingness to shift what we think the problem is, a willingness to shift what we think the solution is, and a willingness to be comfortable with ambiguity.

lift_coates.jpgNick Coates

Nick Coates elaborated this people strategy into the methodology of co-creation, first describing the methodology and then giving a great case study on how he used co-creation to design the cabin space for Etihad Airways.

lift_sutton.jpgThomas Sutton

People was also the topic of Thomas Sutton of frog design Milan, approached from his vision on open innovation.

Sutton’s focus is on contextual networks and the way changing meaning within those contexts create changing behaviors. Sutton gave an interesting perspective on how content and service providers would start on platforms (like Microsoft, Apple and Sun), whereas more recently they actually start from digital and physical touchpoints (like Amazon, Twitter). Through a strategy of openness providers then moved from these outer touchpoints to the layer of platform. Twitter has nearly become a platform.

This has big implications for design. End-users are starting to move very opportunistically from touchpoint to touchpoint, and this undermines some of the basic tenants of classical interaction design: the idea of understanding and designing an ideal path for your user. People are now creating their own opportunistic ideal paths based on the forms of access that they have available to them at any one time. So designing an ideal path has become pointless. The most rewarding strategy is to allow an open flow between channels and platforms by designing an experiential thread to them all. This means that designers have to design for connectivity (giving people the space to innovate for themselves), and Sutton presented some of the participatory tools frog design uses to achieve exactly that.


lift_Slavin.jpgKevin Slavin

ALGORITHMS
The importance of algorithms was alluded to by many speakers (including Galbraith), but only one, Kevin Slavin, dedicated his entire presentation to algorithms. And he did it in a sublime way, not in the least because of his beautiful deep, dark and relaxed storytelling voice (check the video!)

In today’s financial markets, everything is electronic and it is important to hide transactions wherever possible (since you don’t want to show your intentions or strategies). If you need to move one million shares, it is better to move 10,000 individual lots of 100 shares, much like how Stealth bombers make the enemy believe that what flys in the sky isn’t a plane but simply a lot of little things, like birds. That’s why banks use algorithms and have become very equipped at making these appear as random as possible. 70% of all trades in Wall Street are either driven by an algorithm trying to appear invisible or another algorithm trying to find that invisible algorithm.

Today, algorithms do not just impact our pension funds but also affect a much broader part of society. Algorithmic effects are applied to determine what we hear and how those songs are made, what they sound like, what we watch, what we are going to see in the movies, what we read (the titles of what we read are algorithmically evaluated and determined), who we are matched with if we go online to get matched with somebody, what we call news, who gets arrested, what we drive, how we get there, what we eat and even what we drink.

There are, says Slavin, three problems with this: opacity, inscrutability and “something darker and harder to describe” — the idea that taste could algorithmically be determined. Millions of dollars could be moved by that. What if an algorithm would focus not on what movies you might like (as is already the case), but what movies should be made that you might like (as is also starting to become the case)? In a way, it is regression in the sense that it regresses towards the mean. In doing so, we are producing a kind of monoculture and we lose the tools to understand how it actually works (even though we wrote the algorithms).

Now and then algorithms cause crashes. Serious crashes. And since algorithms are now everywhere, we need to ask ourselves, what does a flash cash look like in the wine industry? In the criminal justice system?

CONCLUSION
There is none, besides that LIFT has again proven its relevance to me and to the many others present — although definitely in a myriad of different ways. My perspective on the topics of interest have been personal, and this has resulted — I now notice — in a review of nothing but male speakers. And this despite there being so many excellent female speakers on a host of other themes. I encourage you to peruse video content from other presentations on the newly launched LIFT Video site. I look forward to being challenged by another reviewer, and I can’t wait to go back next year.


About Mark Vanderbeeken
Mark Vanderbeeken is a senior partner of Experientia, the international experience design consultancy based in Turin, Italy, and author/editor of the acclaimed UX blog Putting People First.