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Putting People First

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December 2012
24 December 2012

How are students actually using IT? An ethnographic study

educause

This ECAR research bulletin describes an anthropological ethnographic analysis of student practices relating to the use of information technology on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) campus.

Using EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) studies as benchmarks, this imaginative research examines learning management system usage and satisfaction, student ownership and use of technology devices (especially mobile devices), and where on campus students choose to compute. Field data for the project were collected from four sources: notes on participant observation of student practices, unstructured interviews with a selection of technology users, an online survey for enrolled students, and the shadowing of consenting students while they were on campus.

21 December 2012

What’s the future of doctors when the sensors in your electronics diagnose disease?

biometrics

In a future where biometrics are measured constantly and interpretation is aided by algorithm, what do we want our health professionals to actually do, asks Bradley Kreit on Fast Company.

“As technologies enable us to bypass the doctor and measure our own health continuously, we will almost certainly need to turn to artificial intelligence and other automated tools of big data to help sort the signals of significant health concerns from the noise of random, day-to-day changes in health. Together, this combination will not only reshape how and where we interact with traditional health providers, but ultimately redefine the basic skills and work of medical professionals.” […]

“And so it’s here that we can see the future of how we should expect to interact with our doctors: not as independent actors who serve as the major source of authority, but as professionals who can help us sort through and make sense of all of the different information coming from our phones, cars, and coffemakers and treat the emotional, as well as physical components of health and well-being.”

21 December 2012

Should there be a standard user interface for cars?

 

Writer Jason Torchinsky makes a case for a standard user interface for cars:

“I know there’s already a number of official and unofficial standards in place — pedal location, use of a wheel for steering, turn indicator stalk location — but cars are getting more and more complex, and in some ways it’s pretty surprising this hasn’t already happened.

And that’s just standards for the things we actually interact with; industry-wide standards for the fundamental systems that make up a car’s brains could prove very useful as well.”

Yet, the commenters disagree and call it a bad idea or worse.

(via BoingBoing)

20 December 2012

Seven questions with library anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster

Nancy-Fried-Foster

In her work anthropologist Nancy Fried Foster applies anthropological principles to the study of the university’s libraries and their users. By focusing on the work that people are doing inside these spaces, they can identify needs and imagine new solutions to address those needs.

“My background provides me with a lot of field experience and a grounding in anthropological theory, all of which I apply when I look at what happens in libraries or, more generally, in academic work. At the same time, I have read and received on-the-job training in work-practice study and user-centered design, which are more recent applied social science traditions.

In participatory design projects we learn about the work practices of faculty members, grad students, undergrads, and our own colleagues in the library. As we learn, we discover opportunities to provide better technology, services, and spaces. To dig a little deeper, the way we learn is by including a lot of different kinds of experts in the design process—both the traditional experts such as software engineers and the people who are experts on the work that is to be done and how best to do it.

My broader studies—the projects that are not specifically related to building a piece of software, but are more generally about investigating how people do their work—resemble ethnographic studies. The focus is always on the work that people are doing: how they are working, where they are encountering obstacles, what they are trying to achieve. We are looking at people’s work practices in their broader life context and our goal is to understand and support their work.”

Read the interview

20 December 2012

Dan Saffer on how we *should* interact with the automobiles of the (near) future

google-self-driving-car

Smart Design’s Dan Saffer discusses on Fast Company on how we should interact with the automobiles of the (near) future:

“What will this feel like, riding in our new robot cars? If the experience of being a “driver” in our new cars isn’t designed well, it could feel like we’re trapped in a public taxi, surrounded by screens blaring at us. Robot car is a robot, after all, not human. But there is also another way it could be: like having our own private driver who knows our preferences, our daily routes, the right temperature settings, and how much control of the car we want. These cars will have a personality–although not too much personality–and they’ll know us and conform to us. Their sensors won’t just be trained on the roads and their mechanics; they’ll also be trained on us. They’ll observe us, get to know us, and adapt to us. Our robot cars will respond to being spoken to, and even to unspoken cues by not interrupting us when we’re busy or tired. They will be our moving exoskeletons, acknowledging and respecting our very humanity yet compensating for our limitations by having superpowers like 360-degree vision and the ability to parse traffic data. This is how carmakers will build brand loyalty. We will love our robot cars, and never dream of jet packs again.”

20 December 2012

How technology has restored the soul of politics

Joe Trippi

Longtime political operative Joe Trippi advocates a bottom-up, people-centered politics, and cheers the innovations of Obama 2012, saying they restored the primacy of the individual voter.

“New technologies can manipulate, empower, or do both. There will be plenty of actors in both politics and business who will use the innovations of the Obama 2012 campaign as tools to manipulate people. But for me, right now, it feels as if technology has empowered people and given politics back its soul.”

20 December 2012

Design in the service of austerity

Garden tools

The UK government’s deficit reduction plan may fall short of its targets, prompting speculation that austerity measures will have to continue into the next parliament.

Local government officers who have already seen substantial cuts are now looking at a further 20%, and casting about for help in redesigning their organisations and services, aware that scaling back simply won’t go far enough.

Enter design.

A Design Commission inquiry (with the help of the Royal College of Art and Ideo) is now investigating whether design skills and design thinking might be able to respond to this demand.

14 December 2012

Are the older generation getting tech-savvy?

oldpersonipad

BBC News has published a 5 minute video feature on Cambridge University’s Design Centre where they test how elderly people use technology.

Must-have modern gadgets are designed by young people with young people in mind – that is the view of Ian Hosking, who works at Cambridge University’s Design Centre.

This can mean that elderly people, who have much to gain from modern technology, feel excluded.

Mr Hosking’s mission is to improve the accessibility of modern, mass-produced devices like smartphones and tablets. To this end, he conducts experiments with volunteers.

The Design Lab conducts tests on individual products, but the general findings that Mr Hosking discusses here apply to digital communication devices across the market.

BBC News also posted a longer article on the same topic.

14 December 2012

McKinsey’s iConsumer Global Research Initiative

mckinsey

Recent reports from McKinsey’s iConsumer Global Research Initiative:

Moving from “mobile first” to “touch first”
December 2012 (published on the EconomistGroup site)
Already, more than a third of the time people spend web browsing, using social networking sites, and using e-mail/messaging software is on mobile devices. In a couple of years, we expect it to be more than half. This is creating a ‘touch first’ computing paradigm, which means overhauling how information is delivered to and accessed by the consumer.

The rise of the African consumer
October 2012
The single-largest business opportunity in Africa will be its rising consumer market. A McKinsey report, one of the first of its kind, offers a detailed profile of African consumers, including their demographics, behavior, and needs.

The complex path to purchase taken by Europe’s iConsumers
June 2012
What are Europe’s iConsumers thinking? To find out, McKinsey & Company studied the digitally-based purchasing behavior of 40,000 Europeans in eight countries for the second year in a row. This study sheds light on future threats and opportunities by comparing European consumers and examining the resulting business implications.

The next stage: Six ways the digital consumer is changing
April 2012
The Internet, not yet 20 years on from its emergence into the consumer mainstream, is evolving as fast as ever.

13 December 2012

Understanding electric utility customers

epri-logo

A few weeks back, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) issued “Understanding Electric Utility Customers—Summary Report: What We Know and What We Need to Know.

One simple statement and the rest of this column is digression: there’s a lot we don’t know about how customers use electricity, what affects their behavior and how to scale up programs that will attract widespread participation. And utilities haven’t exactly knocked themselves out trying to find out what we don’t know.

How customers use and value electricity has been a subject of study and debate for many decades. A better understanding of how customers use electricity could help the industry find ways to improve energy efficiency. In addition, our ability to encourage more efficient consumption through feedback, control technology, and dynamic pricing is better and less costly than it has ever been due to technology advancements.

Despite decades of research into how customers use and value electricity, fundamental questions remain unanswered. This report summarizes the results of an 18-month effort to systematically review the research that has been done to characterize how customers use and value electricity, concentrating on large field trials that have been completed in the past decade or so. The results are summarized by market sector (residential, commercial, and industrial) and by type of behavioral intervention (pricing, feedback and control technology).

Because most of these programs are only offered on a voluntary basis, we further assess what is known about participation (who decides to participate), performance (how customers respond once they are on the program), and persistence (how participation and performance change over time). The state of knowledge is assessed using readiness scoring criteria, which indicate the extent to which knowledge barriers exist that make it difficult to determine the impacts such programs might have, if a given utility were to implement them on a large-scale. Research priorities are also identified to suggest where collaborative research could help resolve major uncertainties.

The detailed results are contained in two reports which synthesize what we know – and what we need to know – about how customers respond to dynamic pricing, feedback and control technology.

Phil Carson of the Intelligent Utility Daily has posted a helpful review of the study.

13 December 2012

The man looking to turn Samsung into a Silicon Valley trendsetter

samsung.qax299

Samsung is doubling down on technology investments in Apple’s backyard, including two new R&D buildings in Silicon Valley that will house 2,000 staff and a recently announced startup accelerator.

Leading this effort is Young Sohn, who started at Samsung in August as president and chief strategy officer. He has spent a long career leading several successful Silicon Valley semiconductor and storage companies after founding Intel’s PC chipset business and running its joint venture with Samsung in the 1980s.

MIT Technology Review business editor Jessica Leber sat down with Sohn in his office in Menlo Park, California, to talk about his new mandate, why he still uses Apple devices at home, and what his company needs to do to stay ahead.

“I think we have probably the largest platform in the world between the devices and displays and televisions we sell. We actually provide more devices that are interacting with consumers than anyone in the world. But if you think about our experiences, it’s device-centric. It’s experienced by itself. It’s not experienced in a connected way. So we think we can provide a lot more things than what we are doing today with an open ecosystem with our partners.”

13 December 2012

Charles Leadbeater on scaling and system innovation in public services

 

On 26 November MindLab, the Danish citizen-centric governmental innovation unit, invited Charles Leadbeater for its morning lecture series.

Leadbeater, a leading authority on innovation and creativity, talked about scaling and system innovation in public services.

MindLab is a cross-ministerial innovation unit which involves citizens and businesses in creating new solutions for society. They work with the civil servants in their three parent ministries: the Ministry of Business and Growth, the Ministry of Taxation and the Ministry of Employment. These three ministries cover broad policy areas that affect the daily lives of virtually all Danes. Entrepreneurship, climate change, digital self-service, citizen’s rights, emplyment services and workplace safety are some of the areas they address.

13 December 2012

Mark Rettig’s vent on the Connecting movie

markrettig

Yesterday I plugged Connecting, a short film that explores trends in UI, Interaction & Experience Design.

When Mark Rettig watched the video, he said he would “hesitate to refer friends and family to watch it as an explanation of some of this field, because they’ll come away believing that the essence of interaction design has to do with technical devices and networks.”

Here is a copy of his very wise reflections (that he shared on the IxDA email list and in part also on the Vimeo comments section):

“I just watched Basset & Partners’ nicely-produced short film about interaction design, called “Connecting.” You can watch it here on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/52861634. It’s well done, it’s full of people I like and admire, and I’m glad it exists. *Thank you* to the people who made it and the people who paid for it.

But it pushes a button, so, this post….

Every time I’m around a bunch of interaction designers (and I still consider myself one, at least some of the time) it jumps out at me: the field is SO so device- and content- fixated. Watch that video with paper and pen, and make tally marks every time someone says, “device, product, service, network, content, data, information, interface,…” You’ll fill the page. Do it again, and see if you hear “care, relationship, learn, belong, accomplish, confidence, ability, self-image, manage, relate, heal, wellness, reach, empower,…” any human-value words. I’m not sure you’ll get to 10.

Where are the people-words? I’m sorry, but to pick on one example, ubiquitous data and distributed interfaces showing up in the hospital system does not equal more care. (The “service designers” are a little better on this point, but still….)

There are lots of designers in this video, but all the rest of the people are fake-people. Architectural-model-people. Stock photo people. Let’s make another movie that has at least the same number of people who have to live with the designs as there are designers. And hey, sometimes, if you catch the right day, there could be both kinds of people in the same shot!

Yes, at the end there is excitement about connected society and social impact (with devices assumed, to my ear). And I know enough of the people in the video to know they really do care about people and are driven by that care. I’m not knocking them.

For me this is a snapshot of the times. Design in general has been so thoroughly enfolded in a culture of business and technology that it has a hard time finding an identify of its own APART from business or technology. It has allowed itself to be defined by its clients. That doesn’t have to be the case.

The design process, the methods designers employ, and the people and institutions who make up the practice have great powers and possibilities of their own, independent from clients, silicon, bits, atoms, or contracts. Let’s be identified by the possibility we bring into the room, not by a co-dependent relationship with our usual sponsors and materials.

I believe this can change, and I’m doing what I can to help.”

Rettig, Principal of Fit Associates, is very known to those who worked and studied at the former Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, for his much quoted advice that interaction design is both about “doing the right thing and doing the thing right.”

12 December 2012

Helsinki Design Lab: an interview with Brian Boyer

designexchange

Bryan Boyer is the Strategic Design Lead at SITRA, the Finnish Innovation Fund. SITRA is a prominent example of a public institution that has embraced a design approach to exploring social innovation challenges.

Helsinki Design Lab, a platform for advancing strategic design, is illustrative of a changing of the tides. With greater demand for transparency and efficiency, public authorities in Europe can no longer rely on top-down decision-making and are turning to more user-centred processes such as design.

In this interview (pages 10 to 13 of the pdf), we hear about the activities of the Helsinki Design Lab and the new Design Exchange Programme that puts designers in Finnish public authorities.

12 December 2012

They know what you’re shopping for

wsjinteractive

Companies today are increasingly tying people’s real-life identities to their online browsing habits. Research conducted by the Wall Street Journal on the practices of more than a thousand websites shows that the border between our public and private lives is blurring still more.

“The use of real identities across the Web is going mainstream at a rapid clip. A Wall Street Journal examination of nearly 1,000 top websites found that 75% now include code from social networks, such as Facebook’s FB +0.50% “Like” or Twitter’s “Tweet” buttons. Such code can match people’s identities with their Web-browsing activities on an unprecedented scale and can even track a user’s arrival on a page if the button is never clicked.

In separate research, the Journal examined what happens when people logged in to roughly 70 popular websites that request a login and found that more than a quarter of the time, the sites passed along a user’s real name, email address or other personal details, such as username, to third-party companies. One major dating site passed along a person’s self-reported sexual orientation and drug-use habits to advertising companies.

As recently as late 2010, when the Journal wrote about Rapleaf Inc., a trailblazing company that had devised a way to track people online by email address, the practice was almost unheard-of. Today, companies like Dataium are taking the techniques to a new level.

Tracking a car-shopper online gives dealers an edge because not only can they tell if the person is serious—is he really shopping for red convertibles or just fantasizing?—but they can also gain a detailed understanding of the specific vehicles and options the person likes.”

(Make sure to explore the video and the interactive graphics.)

12 December 2012

Can reputation come down to a number?

hbr

The idea of a unified reputation currency is starting to take hold online, writes Josh Klein in the blog of the Harvard Business Review.

“With broad agreement that reputation is a form of value, and various mechanisms already existing to score people and institutions on it, convergence on one metric seems achievable—even inevitable.

It’s an enormously appealing idea. Imagine you could type in my name or email address or social software account and get a single number by which to judge whether you should do business with me—or indeed whether you should bother reading my point of view. What if, as a business, you could get a single number to determine how much to discount your product for a particular customer (because they might promote the product if they like it) or better yet, increase the price for those unlikely to enhance its appeal to others? Regardless of your motivation, having a single number to replace what would be a messy evaluation would be a huge convenience that computers seem ideally suited to provide.

But the idea is fatally flawed. As someone who is subject to hysterical bouts of techno-utopianism myself, I can recognize the signs. We want a single number to evaluate other people by, and it really, really, really seems possible, so it must be so. Except that it isn’t.

It’s nearly impossible firstly because reputation is so deeply context-dependent.”

[My emphasis]

12 December 2012

On Digital Ethnography: mapping as a mode of data discovery

wendyhsu

While digital ethnography is an established field within ethnography, we don’t often hear of ethnographers building digital tools to conduct their fieldwork. Wendy Hsu wants to change that.

In the first of her four-part guest post series on Tricia Wang’s Ethnography Matters, she showed how ethnographers can use software, and even build their own software, to explore online communities.

Part 2 of of Wendy’s Digital Ethnography series focuses on the processing and interpreting part. In fascinating detail, Wendy discusses mapping as a mode of discovery. We learn how using a customized spatial “algorithm that balances point density and readability” can reveal patterns that inform the physical spread of musicians’ fans and friends globally. Geo-location data clarified her qualitative data.

In her next post she will talk about how we can discern patterns and discover new knowledge as take our data into other sensory dimensions such as the sonic. She will also formulate some thoughts regarding the issues around big data (or small data) from the perspective of ethnography.

12 December 2012

Welcome to 2020 and 2030

 

Business Technology 2020
Human-like technology. The potential downfall of the data center. Hyper-personalization of data. These are some of the responses IT leaders gave to us when we asked, “What will business technology look like in 2020?”
In 2020, tech experts say, computers could learn from experience, much like the human brain. The end of the data center as we know it might arrive. And technology will know the most important things about us to help us become more productive.
In the new ebook, Business Technology 2020, the experts — who represent organizations such as Intel, IBM, Frost and Sullivan, Aberdeen, ATLANTIC-ACM and Current Analysis and more — also cover topics that include the cloud, health care, cognitive computing and the role of the CIO, giving a holistic preview of how technology will impact your business in and leading up to 2020.

Global Trends 2030
Every four or five years, the futurists at the National Intelligence Council take a stab at forecasting what the globe will be like two decades hence; the idea is to give some long-term, strategic guidance to the folks shaping America’s security and economic policies. On Monday, the Council released its newest findings, Global Trends 2030. Many of the prognostications are rather unsurprising: rising tides, a bigger data cloud, an aging population, and, of course, more drones. But tucked into the predictable predictions are some rather eye-opening assertions. Especially in the medical realm.

12 December 2012

Are we becoming cyborgs?

ganov30cyborgs-articleLarge

Also the New York Times is turning up the cyborg theme, but luckily more intelligently than CNN.

All the technology and internet use has changed how we interact. But are we also changing what we are?

The New York Times put that question to three people who have written extensively on the subject, and brought them together to discuss it with Serge Schmemann, the editor of the NYT magazine.

The participants: Susan Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Oxford. She has written and spoken widely on the impact of new technology on users’ brains. Maria Popova, the curator behind Brain Pickings, a Web site of “eclectic interestingness.” She is also an M.I.T. Futures of Entertainment Fellow and writes for Wired and The Atlantic. Evgeny Morozov, the author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. He is a contributing editor to The New Republic.

12 December 2012

Designing a carsharing service that can play a truly relevant role in people’s lives

volkswagen001

Brand experience agency edenspiekermann_ and Volkswagen’s Service Innovation Team explored what it takes to define a service that would play a relevant role in people’s lives.

“We started with: Who are the people that use carsharing? How can we expand the service to exceed their expectations? How do people find, explore and adopt this new service? How can we design a service that is easy, enjoyable, useful and valuable? We mapped out and designed the customer journey along the different touchpoints of a carsharing service.

We explored every touchpoint: from the key that opens the door, to the iPhone App to find a car on the street, to the signs that indicate a reserved parking spot. We developed prototypical solutions and tested them with real users in real environments. Also, in-depth interviews brought insights into what works and what does not. We burned through thousands of post-its to record all aspects of what we learned in our tests. It was a reality check. At Edenspiekermann service design goes way beyond research. We win insights by creating refined prototypes that provide a sophisticated experience to users.”

The current commercial version of Volkswagen’s carsharing service is „Quicar“, available in Hannover.