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Putting People First

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July 2011
29 July 2011

Review: Paul Dourish & Genevieve Bell – Divining a digital future (2011)

Divining a Digital Future
Michiel De Lange has published a very long and somewhat critical review of the book Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing by Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell.

“In Divining a Digital Future D&B reiterate many arguments made in earlier work, provide them with more flesh, and formulate some future directions for ubicomp. To be sure this is not a bad thing, neither for those who wish to read a book on the current state of affairs in ubicomp, nor for ubicomp researchers who wish to enlarge the scope of their own practice. The book attempts to foster an anthropological sensitivity among its (presumed) CHI readership. Fundamentally, their proposition to approach technology (and urbanism) through an ethnographic lens is highly relevant in my view. Imagine what the future of our cities look would like if it were the sole concern of coders and engineers? Indeed, we should never forget Jane Jacobs’ lesson that livable and lively cities are about people.

I also appreciate their relational view of ubicomp as intricately bound up with the messiness of everyday life, their concern with its multiplicity of forms and shapes, and their attention for fringes (edges, periphery, margins). Important too in my view is that D&B implicitly question the notion of ‘the everyday’. The everyday does not consist of stable pre-given categories (home, mobility, etc.) that can be supplemented with ubicomp. It arises from socio-cultural performances and is continuously negotiated. Still, they could have stated this even more explicitly, because ‘the everyday’ is so often unproblematically assumed as a self-explanatory term in both technology and urban studies.

That being said, D&B’s focus is too much directed inward in my view. D&B dish up insights from urban ethnography, sociology and human geography to a ubicomp audience. The ubicomp crowd may find this refreshing; those more familiar with these ‘soft’ disciplines will already consider such insights well-accepted. As said above, what I feel is lacking from their approach is a clear vision how ubicomp can reciprocate to an understanding of the intricacies of techno-urban practices. What can ethnography and urbanism learn from ubicomp?”

Read review

29 July 2011

Good mobile experiences unfold and progressively reveal their nature

Topping in
Successful PC and mobile experiences are built on fundamentally different conceptual models and leverage different psychological functions of the user, argues Rachel Hinman. Understanding these differences will help you create better experiences for both contexts.

She delves into the matter in a longer article that acts as a preview for her forthcoming Rosenfeld Media book “The Mobile Frontier: A Guide for Designing Mobile Experiences“:

“The natural user interfaces (aka NUIs) found on most modern mobile devices are built on the psychological function of intuition. Instead of recognizing an action from a list, users must be able to sense from the presentation of the interface what is possible. Instead of “what you see is what you get” NUIs are about “what you do is what you get.” Users see their way through GUI experiences, and sense their way through NUI ones. Unlike GUI interfaces with minimal differentiation between interface elements, NUI interfaces typically have fewer options and there is more visual differentiation and hierarchy between the interface elements.”

Read article

29 July 2011

Art that interacts if you interface

Talk to Me
The New York Times reviews Paola Antonelli’s “Talk to Me” show at the Museum of Modern Art.

“At its best “Talk to Me” makes you aware of how our relationship to design has become more emotional and intuitive. Ms. Antonelli points out that “we now expect objects to communicate, a cultural shift made evident when we see children searching for buttons or sensors on a new object, even when the object has no batteries or plug.”

And the show is certainly a brave undertaking for a design department that’s still strongly associated with 20th-century modernism. It’s a big step from a Corbusier chair to an iPhone, or as Ms. Antonelli puts it, “from the centrality of function to that of meaning.”

But from a viewer’s perspective MoMA’s messianic embrace of smartphones in galleries is enervating. Call me a reactionary, but I’m convinced that looking, not scanning or tweeting, is still the primary purpose of a museum visit.”

Read article

29 July 2011

Digital fluency: empowering all students

Leave nothing unheard
Liz Losh writes on DMLCentral on an inclusive and interdisciplinary approach to “digital literacy” that is more in keeping with the latest thinking about “digital fluency” in the field

“Although “digital literacy” is often a phrase associated with programs that have utopian pedagogical visions, it also can become a term attached to rigid curricular requirements, standardized testing, and models of education that stigmatize some students as remedial when it comes to their basic programming skills or their abilities to use software productively. Furthermore, the term “digital literacy” can generate conflicts among educators because many different disciplines may claim sole responsibility for providing any needed instruction, as I’ve argued elsewhere. Computer scientists, media scholars, librarians, composition teachers, and digital arts instructors have all made supposedly exclusive claims to design and assess digital literacy programs in both K-12 and higher education environments. In contrast, internationally known mixed reality artist Micha Cárdenas calls for an inclusive and interdisciplinary approach to “digital literacy” that is more in keeping with the latest thinking about “digital fluency” in the field.”

Read article

28 July 2011

Are we becoming too analytical?

Network data
Or, why did Google PowerMeter fail?

In his latest post, James Landay questions whether over-analysis of data gets in the way of designing a product that truly understands the needs of its users. He provides several examples of when the data needs trumped design and user needs, which then results in “Product Failure Due to Over Reliance on Self Data Analysis”.

“The biggest reason I believe these two products [Google PowerMeter and Google Health] have not taken off is their reliance on the belief that simply giving people their data and letting them analyze it is the way to improve behavior (both for health and for the environment). The user interfaces for both products have an analytical take on information design — for instance they focus on showing people graphs of their data [...]

As I spoke with members of the Google team, I was surprised at the lack of knowledge of behavior change theories from psychology as well as much of the user interface design work that had been done by researchers in this space over the past ten years.”

A post worth reading also for those interested in the topic of smart metering and behavioural change.

Read article

(via Tricia Wang)

27 July 2011

Design for Social Innovation: an interview with Ezio Manzini

Ezio Manzini
Ezio Manzini is an Italian design strategist, one of the world’s leading experts on sustainable design, author of numerous design books, professor of Industrial Design at Milan Polytechnic, and founder of the DESIS (Design for Social Innovation towards Sustainability) network of university-based design labs.

His work over the past 30 years in sustainability and social innovation has coalesced around four watchwords: small, local, open and connected.

Sarah Brooks of Shareable spoke with him via Skype and published a transcript.

“For me, dealing with the needed sustainable changes that are mainly cultural and behavior change, the pivotal moment has been when I moved from saying “What can I do to help people change behavior?” toward the discovery that a lot of people (even if they aren’t yet so visible) had already changed, and in a good way, their behaviors. And that therefore, the right question is: ”What can I do to trigger and support these new way of thinking and doing? How can I use my design knowledge and tools to empower these grass-roots social innovations?”

Read full interview

27 July 2011

The UX of learning

The UX of learning
Learning is a complex process with distinct stages, each with corresponding tasks and emotions. Understanding how users learn can help us design experiences that support the user throughout the entire process.

“Most websites invest the majority of their effort into streamlining the very last stage of this process: the action phase. It’s understandable: businesses make money through conversions. However, the company that best supports the user throughout the entire learning process has the upper hand in converting that loyal user into a paying customer. With that in mind, let’s look at digital solutions to seven learning-oriented tasks.”

Read article

27 July 2011

The future of learning

ben8
New research findings from a global study of education systems suggest that the promise of a hi-tech, high-skills, high-wage future for kids is a fantasy. Does digital media and learning offer a better future, asks Ben Williamson on DMLCentral.

“Since the 1980s there has been an increasing emphasis on educating individuals who are able to constantly update and upgrade their skills to do well in a competitive new economy which relies on new technologies, new ideas, and perpetual innovations. According to this basic model, smart learners will help rescue a nation at risk at the same time as delivering the middle class dream. Much of the work done on integrating new technology into education over the decades since then has been a variation on this basic simplification. The dream of the future embodied in these efforts has been of hi-tech, high-skills, high-wage knowledge work.

However, the promise of hi-tech learning leading to high-skills and high-wage knowledge work has now been found to be broken. [...]

Clearly, the hi-tech, high-skills, high-wage future that has been promised to youth since the 1980s now looks less and less sustainable, besides being ethically dubious in the first place. [...] The vision of hi-tech schooling ought to be queried and debated. [...] Does the digital media and learning field offer an adequate prospectus for what Giroux calls “a future that needs your skills, critical judgment, sense of responsibility, compassion, imagination, and humility”?”

Read article

27 July 2011

Jakob Nielsen report on intranet portals

 
Jakob Nielsen has published a new report with 19 new case studies of enterprise portals. It finds slow growth in new features. The focus is instead on robust integration and formalizing governance.

“The headline for our last intranet portal study was “Enterprise Portals Are Popping.” Now, 3 years later, we revisited this space with new research and our findings would best be summarized as “Enterprise Portals Are Stabilizing.” Although we saw some new features, the main push was to make existing features more robust and better managed.”

Read article

24 July 2011

Online security for regular people is a disaster

1password
Online security for regular people like you and me is a disaster. It’s a killer app waiting to be designed.

When you have a smartphone with some apps and a computer, you easily have to manage 30 to 50 sites and apps that require passwords. And the experience of this is highly non-human-centered. It all protects the site/app owner but doesn’t help us, and – worst of all – doesn’t take into account how our memory and psychology work.

6% of Italians suffer economic losses because of this, and some suffer a lot (from 1000 to 5000 euro). Italians, I think, are not in any way special in this. They are like most other people.

Security experts suggest to change passwords often, and to select complicated passwords (like “v37AEBRasdRqS”) that are not easy to guess (but also not easy to remember). Now imagine that you have to do this on multiple devices for over 50 sites and apps. It’s a nightmare and completely unsustainable.

Security experts should read a few books on cognitive psychology.

But they don’t. So in the end, we simply have to struggle with the many usernames and passwords, write them down, store them somewhere, and hope that all goes well. All doesn’t go well, of course. And risks multiply the more sites you frequent that require a password.

How can you protect yourself in a decent and easy-to-use way?

Well, the shocking thing in this multi-device world is that you can’t really. As a Mac only user, seeing the limitations of Mac Keychain, I tried the top of the line (1Password for Mac and 1Password for iPhone/iPad), only to discover that it only works with websites on computers and mobile devices. Forget apps – let alone password access to apps within apps (let’s say entering Instapaper passwords within Feeddler, so you can save an article for later reading).

And that’s just within the Apple ecosystem. Imagine if you have to deal with multiple brand devices.

Why is this such a disaster? Why is nobody confronting this? Please comment.

23 July 2011

Ten Ways to Redesign Design Competitions

EDF buffet
John Thackara has been a juror on a series of sustainability and design competitions recently. And he has become a bit frustrated.

Most of them, he says, miss their tremendous potential of stimulating fresh thinking, posing new questions, exploring new solutions, starting new conversations, bringing positive energy, fostering connections between people, and motivating diverse group to try and make those outcomes actually happen.

John outlines ten reasons for why that is the case. But, he says, “it’s because design challenges have such an important role in the transition to sustainability that it’s worth improving them, radically.” In that spirit, John also lists ten suggestions of ways to make them better.

Since I have been participating as a juror in a fair number as well (including the EDF Sustainability Challenge that John writes about), I gladly post about this here.

The picture on the left was from the buffet at the EDF award ceremony (click on the picture for a zoomed version). The fact that it had a mini nuclear power station right in the middle (EDF is France’s main energy company), raised many eyebrows and made the guests question what this sustainability event was really about.

Read article

23 July 2011

UI Design: an all-American product that’s changing the world

US UI
Rob Tannen argues that user interface design is the most original and influential design coming out of the United States today.

“It is the emphasis on user-centered design that has made American interface design so successful and difficult to replicate or export outside of the United States.”

Read article

20 July 2011

Detroit copies Torino’s public markets to support its regeneration

Porta Palazzo
(English translation of article published yesterday in La Stampa newspaper – author Andrea Rossi):

Michigan delegation between the cabbages and the red peppers

Who would have thought that the regeneration of a city can start from a market stand that sells fruits and vegetables, or clothes? But it’s true: one of the pillars that Detroit has chosen to structure its very difficult relaunch around, is the development of a network of local public markets, based on the “Torino model”.

Facing an uncertain industrial future, having lost nearly half of its inhabitants in fifty years, and with a fragile urban fabric that needs to be rethought, Detroit is looking in the mirror and discovers it has much in common with the situation facing Torino fifteen years ago. So now, building on the newborn Fiat-Chrysler connection between the cities, Detroit is retracing the steps of Torino’s regeneration. The city’s urban and (particularly its) social fabric needs to be knitted back together, and the Michigan heart has decided where to start from.

It may seem bizarre to us, but for the Americans it isn’t. Yesterday morning a delegation landed in Torino led by Kathryn Lynch Underwood, the City Planner of the City of Detroit. And with her came a group of about ten managers, experts and market operators. The first thing they did was taking a plunge in the heart of the Porta Palazzo market. Then they gathered in an office, to be briefed in detail on Torino’s 45 local markets by the city’s administrators in charge of local commerce and public spaces.

As of today they will visit them one by one, trying to understand how they can export their DNA and adapt them to the Detroit context. “They are interested in understanding the social, economic and cultural functioning of the markets and of the nearby businesses, which in Torino constitute one of the more distinctive aspects of urban life,” explain deputy mayors Ilda Curti and Giuliana Tedesco.

It took the American delegation only one day to understand that the replication – even in a reduced version – of the “Torino model” could be the engine of the urban regeneration process that the Michigan capital will have to undertake if it wants to rise up again. “Ours is a feeble system, made up of only six markets,” explains Pam Weintestein, who is in charge of one. “In Turin, however, everyone does their shopping at the market stands irrespective of their social background or their income level.” Dan Carmody is in charge of the Eastern Market, Detroit’s largest. He is surprised: “What makes the difference here is the sense of community that transpires from your markets. It is obvious that they add value to the urban context.”

Detroit is in desperate need of revitalizing its urban spaces. Kathryn Lynch Underwood, who works for Detroit’s City Planning Commission, knows it all too well: “Our challenge is to bring about density in a depopulated city center. Detroit is a dispersive city. Markets can help in creating new densities, to repopulate the heart of the city, and to rebuild the sense of community.”

It is a cultural challenge first of all, more so than an economic one, even though money is not of secondary importance. Detroit is a metropolis in crisis, held in the vice of poverty: thousands of inhabitants do not own a car, many not even a functioning refrigerator. “Developing a network of nearby markets,” explains Sarah Fleming, director of Detroit’s Economic Development Department, “would allow us to reach a double goal. Our citizens wouldn’t be forced anymore to drive to the big suburban supermarkets for their daily shopping, allowing even those who do not have a car could to obtain quality food. Also, the possibility of doing your small shopping on a daily basis at the market stands would solve many food conservation problems.”

It is not just about the rediscovery of “local” food culture that America has lost out on. What really drives this is the idea that the urban generation of a metropolis can start from its food.

Further links:
Kathryn Lynch Underwood
Detroit Food Policy Council
Detroit Food Justice

19 July 2011

Report published on Behaviour Change

Behaviour Change
The main conclusion of the Behaviour Change report, published today by the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee, is that ‘nudging’ on its own is unlikely to be successful in changing the population’s behaviour.

The report – the culmination of a year-long investigation into the way the Government tries to influence people’s behaviour using behaviour change interventions – finds that “nudges” used in isolation will often not be effective in changing the behaviour of the population. Instead, a whole range of measures – including some regulatory measures – will be needed to change behaviour in a way that will make a real difference to society’s biggest problems.

The committee also argues for the appointment of an independent chief social scientist.

Announcement (with video)
Report: HTML| PDF

The report launch comes only a few weeks after the publication of the Behaviour Change and Energy Use report by the Behavioural Insight Team of David Cameron’s Cabinet Office.

19 July 2011

‘Aggravating’ MyFord Touch sends Ford plummeting in quality survey

MyFord Touch
Interestingly, the badly designed user interface of the in-car telematics system was the primary gripe among Ford and Lincoln owners and lessees in the latest J.D. Power survey.

“After steady year-on-year improvement, Ford has plunged from fifth position in 2010 to 23rd in the 2011 Initial Quality Study released by J.D. Power & Associates on Thursday. Lincoln, the luxury subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company, was ranked eighth last year, but fell to 17th this year. [...]

Primarily, the steep decline was attributed to consumer complaints about MyFord and MyLincoln Touch, the company’s in-car telematics systems that use a touch screen, dashboard display and voice commands presumably to help drivers operate radio and climate controls, as well as the navigation system.”

Read article

Acclaimed designer Alan Cooper provides further reflection on the matter:

“Automobile manufacturing companies like Ford need to acknowledge that they are no longer making automobiles with attached computer systems. In reality, they are making computer control systems with attached motion mechanisms. The digital computer is increasingly dominating the driver’s attention, even more so than the steering and brakes. If auto makers don’t give equivalent attention to the design and implementation of these digital systems, they will fail, regardless of the quality of the drive train, interior furnishings, and other manufactured systems. [...]

Back in the 1960s and 70s, it was efficient for an automobile company, with core competencies in big manufacturing, to outsource dashboard electronics to specialized vendors. but now those little radios have become all-encompassing telematics, and Ford, whether it likes it or not, has to integrate the design of its electronic solutions with the design of its manufacturing business. It’s the riddle for the information age again: Ford isn’t a car company with digital capabilities, but it is a computer company with big manufacturing capabilities.

Designing and building a better automobile cockpit is the tip of the iceberg. The biggest task facing Ford and other car companies is changing the way they think and the way they work.”

19 July 2011

Beyond the cubicle

Arieff's desk
Allison Arieff talks in her New York Times Opinionator blog about the design of work.

Paraphrasing Nathan Shedroff, she states that furniture is not the problem. Instead, she says, “design itself is the problem because it is being used to solve the wrong ones — despite its best intentions.”

“The Journal had asked a handful of design firms “to envision a space that could inspire ideas and increase productivity.” I’m not going to argue that good architecture won’t make for more pleasant working environments that can lead to greater employee satisfaction — the workplace is still relevant no matter how many people work remotely (currently over 50 million, at least part of the time). But it’s also true that creativity can come from anywhere, and probably least of all from inside a cubicle, no matter how sunny and technologically mind-blowing it is.

So, apart from furniture and skylights, how might designers (and the companies who hire them) think about work differently?”

In her article, Arieff provides a few examples of “some truly inventive things happening in the world of work”.

Read article

UPDATE:
Read also part 2 of this article.

19 July 2011

Design and behaviourism: a brief review

Office window
Dan Lockton is publishing extracts from his Brunel University Ph.D thesis ‘Design with Intent: A design pattern toolkit for environmental & social behaviour change’ as blog posts over the next few weeks.

The first post deals with the importance of behaviourism in design for behavioural change, summarised in these eight bullets:

  • Behaviourism is no longer mainstream psychology, but many of the principles have potential application in design for behaviour change
     
  • There is a recognition that the environment shapes our behaviour both before and after we take actions—a useful insight for designing interventions
     
  • There is also a recognition that behaviour change does not necessarily happen in a single step, but as part of an ongoing cycle of shaping
     
  • Where cognition cannot be understood or examined, modelling users in terms of stimuli and responses may still offer valuable insights
     
  • Positive and negative reinforcement, and positive and negative punishment can all be implemented via designed features, and often underlie designed interventions without being explicitly named as such
     
  • Schedules of reinforcement can be varied (e.g. made unpredictable) to drive continued behaviour
     
  • Design could either exploit or help people avoid ‘social traps’ where both reinforcement and punishment exist, or reinforcement is currently misaligned with the behaviour, converting them into ‘trade-offs’ which more closely match the intended behavioural choices
     
  • Considering means and ends may provide a useful perspective on design for behaviour change. The end from the user’s perspective effectively becomes the means by which the designer’s end might be influenced

Read extract

18 July 2011

CHI Sparks conference – keynote videos

Chi Sparks
On June 23, CHI Netherlands organised Chi Sparks, its bi-annual conference, and the keynote videos are now available.

The theme of this year’s Chi Sparks conference was ‘HCI research, innovation and implementation’, and more in particular the very important contributions that good HCI research makes in realizing successful, innovative, new products or services that have a genuine impact on people’s lives.

User experience research and practice – two different planets? [video 32:56]
Virpi Roto, user experience researcher, Aalto University and University of Helsinki, Finland
Good user experience (UX) is increasingly important for profitable business: once utility and usability are taken for granted, successful companies design for experiences. But how to manage the fuzzy thing called user experience in product development? Can UX research help UX work in practice? This talk discusses the impact of business goals on UX research and the transfer of UX research results into practice.

User-centered design – a reality check [video 36:09]
Jasper van Kuijk, Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, TU Delft
In the past years scores of methods for user-centered design have been developed – and validated. But do they really work? In reality that is. In practice user-centered product development is hectic and messy, at best. This presentation discusses barriers and enablers for usability in the development practice of electronic consumer products, identified through three case studies across 10 product development groups.

Motors and Music – explorations of tangible interaction [video 48:26]
Bill Verplank, Stanford University
Human-computer interaction is spreading into every-day objects like phones, cars, toys, books and instruments. Many interactions are implicit (the door “does the right thing” when I approach); others are more “explicit” (I push it). How do you know what the door is doing (e.g. “not allowed”)? Can you control it more expressively (e.g. “fling”). If the door has a motor in it; can we “feel” the force/motion/inertia/reluctance?
Music and musical performance are a challenge to HCI. Some of the best performances require precise expressive motions. I will describe experiments which use active force feedback (haptics) in the design of musical controllers. There are lessons for a broad range of interaction designers.

(via InfoDesign)

17 July 2011

Talk to Me – or interaction design as script writing

Talk to Me
In her New York Times review of Talk to Me (online journal), the latest exhibition by Paola Antonelli at the MoMA, Alice Rawsthorn describes what could be considered the essence of interaction design:

“Digital technology is enabling objects to become so complex and powerful that we now expect to interact with them. If you hand an unfamiliar object to a small child, he or she will instinctively search for buttons or sensors to operate it.

Though the same same microchips that enable things as small as smart phones to fulfill hundreds of different functions also make them more opaque. In the industrial era when form generally followed function, you could guess how to use an electronic product from its appearance. You can’t do that with a tiny digital device, which is why designers face the new challenge that Ms. Antonelli calls “script writing,” in other words, ensuring that the object can tell us how to use it.”

Read article

Make sure to also check the very rich online journal.

17 July 2011

European museums and libraries in/of the age of migration

MeLa
MeLa – European Museums and Libraries in/of the Age of Migrations – is a brand new four-year research project, funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme, which aims to delineate new approaches for museums and libraries in a context characterized by the continuous migration of people and ideas.

Its main objectives are to advance knowledge in the field and to support museum and library communities, practitioners, experts and policymakers in developing new missions and forms of museums and libraries “in the age of migration”.

During the upcoming four years the team will reflect on the role of museums and libraries, dealing with several complex and crucial issues such as history, socio-cultural and national identity, the use of new technologies and, last but not least, exhibition design and museography.

MeLa intends to define new strategies for the multi/inter/transcultural organization, conservation, exhibition and transmission of knowledge in ways and forms which reflect the conditions posed by the migrations of people, cultures, ideas, information and knowledge in the global world. It aims to evaluate how much these changes can interfere with the physical structures and the architecture of the exhibition places.

The project is coordinated by the Politecnico di Milano, and also involves the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (Denmark), the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (Italy), the University of Glasgow (UK), the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Spain), the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle (France), the Royal College of Art (UK), Newcastle University (UK), and L’ “Orientale”, University of Naples (Italy).

Check also the MeLa project blog and their first newsletter.