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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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July 2012
9 July 2012

Design alone can’t save UK companies

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Making products attractive and user-friendly is a smart idea, but it is no substitute for R&D and investment, argues James Woudhuysen, a professor of forecasting and innovation at De Montfort University, on Spiked, a British Internet magazine focusing on politics, culture and society from a humanist and libertarian viewpoint.

“Exaggerating design’s scope for impact is now a global pastime. For example, the New York City design firm Reboot seriously proposes that human rights can be designed, because ‘at our local health clinic, at our unemployment office or at our child’s school… [there] are the moments when human rights are realised in practical ways’. This underlines how the boosting of design’s economic contribution is part of a wider doctrine of what Virginia Tech professor Paul Knox rightly terms ‘hubristic design determinism’. Whereas Karl Marx argued that social being determines consciousness, design boosters contend that design plays a determining role in both economic growth and everyday behaviour. Arguably, they take a leaf from architecture here; but whatever the case, even leading economic commentators are now so bereft of a genuine strategy for growth that they find themselves pronouncing that ‘Design adds value to the product – in fact design adds most of the value to the product’.

This conception of design is completely over the top. If they want to be ambitious, and they should, designers should recognise that real economic growth will come from the development of whole new industrial and service sectors, capable of creating hundreds of thousands of properly paid jobs. Design cannot create those industries – they will come out of the much more elemental processes of R&D, the kind of R&D that led to the nuclear, plastics and pharmaceuticals sectors. And whether this R&D happens is, again, not a technical issue, but to do with the priorities and vision of society. Right now, the West prefers to talk up the merits of relatively cheap design than to do the dearer, riskier business of R&D.”

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9 July 2012

In a Fisher-Price lab, apps become child’s play

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At a Fisher-Price lab, researchers watch children at play to come up with ideas for new products, including toys that incorporate apps on iPads and iPhones.

At Fisher-Price, “we bring babies in with their moms and watch them at play with different types of apps, different types of products,” said Deborah Weber, senior manager of infant research. Her job, she said, is to “understand the ages and stages of babies — what they can and can’t do, what their interests are, and the growing needs of families today.”

[Fisher-Price calls this process] spelunking, which in its literal sense means to explore caves. But in the realm of toy making, it refers to the simple act of watching children play.

Spelunking has been around since the Fisher-Price PlayLab was formed in 1961, the same year that bricks made by a Danish company called Lego made their American debut. In its earlier days, the lab was filled with toys like a googly-eyed rotary phone known as the Chatter Phone, and the Corn Popper, a kind of mini-lottery machine on wheels.

Today, the lab, located at the Fisher-Price headquarters in East Aurora, N.Y., looks more like an Apple store. But instead of adults and teenagers, there are infants staring into computer screens, and parents and toddlers are passing iPads back and forth.

Read article

9 July 2012

Perspectives in experience design

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Milan Guenther, founding partner of enterprise design associates, explores the word “user” in “user experience”, and compares it to customer experience, employee experience and brand experience.

“For me, the word Experience in the context of Design work refers to the way people experience the world, and making everything we produce fit into their lives. The word preceding Experience is about the perspective you use when talking about someone’s experience, the roles and the scope you want to focus on. For an enterprise, this translates to the ways it chooses to appear in people’s lives.”

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(via InfoDesign)

6 July 2012

Digital devices as embodied experiences in remote Indian village

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In arguing that digital technologies enable embodied experiences that reshape the very ways in which we conceptualize our everyday life, Nishant Shah, founder and Director of Research for the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, tells us a story from the village of Banni in the desert region of Kutch, located at the North-Western borders of India and Pakistan.

“In this small village that is about 80 kilometers from the biggest town with amenities like hospitals and schools, almost every household has a smart phone with access to the internet. In the absence of more popular forms like radio, which are disallowed because of the proximity to the turbulent India-Pakistan borders, the Chinese-made smart phones become the de facto interface of communication and cultural production. The phones become not only the life-line in times of crises, but also everyday objects through which the villages stay connected with the world of cultural production and entertainment. The internet services on the phones allow them to access Bollywood songs and movies, images and games, popular television programming and other popular cultural products in the country. In many ways, Banni is probably more digitally connected than many parts of the larger cities in the country.”

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5 July 2012

Designing for context: the multiscreen ecosystem

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In a long article, designer Avi Itzkovitch explains how, when connecting applications across smart devices, UX designers can create product ecosystems that dynamically respond to user contexts and thus provide enhanced experiences.

The author reviews various theories on the multiscreen ecosystem, including this one from Google:

“Michal Levin, a UX designer at Google, describes multiscreen ecosystems in terms of three main categories. The first is consistent experience, where the application and the experience are similar across all screens. [...] The second category is the complementary experience, where devices work together and communicate with each other in order to create a unique experience. [...] The third category of app ecosystems the continuous multiscreen experience, which is possibly the most important category for a contextual multiscreen design. For a continuous experience across several devices, UX professionals must evaluate when and where a product will be used in order to assess the optimal experience for the user at the time of use.”

Itzkovitch then continues by providing his own accumulated experience in understanding the basic context assumption for the various device types: smartphones, tablets, personal computers and smart TVs.

4 July 2012

Big e-reader is watching you

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Would George Orwell have been amused or disturbed by the development that Big Brother now knows exactly how long it takes readers to finish his novel, which parts they might have highlighted, and what they went on to pick up next?

Publishers are thrilled with the new data – but what does it mean for the rest of us?

4 July 2012

Washington Post creates Chief Experience Officer position

 

Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth announced in a memo that the paper has named Laura Evans, who has spent most of her nine years at the Post as chief researcher, to the newly created position of VP, Chief Experience Officer (CXO).

“As you know, one of the three foundational elements of our strategy is a relentless focus on the customer. While we all care about the customer and try to advocate for the customer, we do not currently have an executive owner of the customer experience. That was acceptable when we published one newspaper a day—when we had a well-honed product with over a century of research behind it. In a day when we have evolved to a 24/7 news operation publishing on multiple platforms, and when we operate in a hyper-competitive market, the customer must be the primary driver of our product-related decisions and changes. Today, we have scores of products that touch our customers in myriad ways—ranging from our flagship newspaper to our growing suite of mobile apps. We must understand the customer experience across and within all of these and other platforms. That understanding must be guided by accurate data and expert analysis of those data. In this regard, the CXO role is a natural extension of Laura’s previous role, where she worked with key leaders across the company to guide our consumer-related decisions with a deeper understanding, based on research and data, of our customers’ behavior, preferences, and interests. [...]

How do we make our products easy to use and navigate? How do we ensure our readers enjoy the experience of using Post products, so that they spend more time interacting with our journalism? By adding Laura’s customer-focused expertise and capabilities throughout the process, we will be better able to achieve those goals.”

Read memo

4 July 2012

Intel social research team experiments with mood-altering technology

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A team of engineers, anthropologists and psychologists at Intel’s Oregon lab is busy developing ways of integrating human emotion and technology in ways that will, it hopes, lead the two to positively influence each other one day.

“Intel is playing around with some pretty impressive ideas that could, potentially, generate powerful results. They are, however, very aware of this and are treading with caution. In addition to ask how powerful technology can affect peoples’ moods, Intel is keen to find out what the best use would be for a “happiness algorithm”, if it were possible to develop one.”

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1 July 2012

Common Cause: the case for working with values and frames

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In 2009, the chief executives and a few staff from a handful of UK non-governmental organisations (including WWF and RSPB) came together to discuss the inadequacy of current responses to challenges like climate change, global poverty and biodiversity loss.

This led to the Common Cause initiative: a series of reports, a handbook, and now an online toolbox for behaviour change professionals.

Common Cause uses recent research in cognitive science and social psychology in order to create an empowered, connected and durable movement of citizens aimed at building a more sustainable, equitable and democratic world.

“Fostering “intrinsic” values—among them self-acceptance, care for others, and concern for the natural world—has real and lasting benefits. By acknowledging the importance of these values, and the “frames” that embody and express them; by examining how our actions help to strengthen or weaken them; and by working together to cultivate them, we can create a more compassionate society, and a better world.”

According to Ellie Kivinen of Brook Lyndhurst, the Common Cause approach draws on the work of Shalom H. Schwartz, which identified 57 near-universal values found in human cultures. These values can be mapped on a ‘circumplex’, on which intrinsic and extrinsic values can be seen as polar opposites of each other. The approach argues that appealing to particular types of values serves to strengthen these same values. This means that environmental behaviour change campaigns that appeal to extrinsic values (for example, encouraging people to save energy because it saves them money) run the risk of undermining further change by strengthening the values which are at the root of the problem in the first place, thus running the risk of ‘collateral damage’.

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