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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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July 2013
31 July 2013

Usman Haque: ‘Messiness will inevitably arise in spite of smart cities’

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No matter what attempts are made to impose order and predictability on cities of the near future, a messiness will inevitably arise, argues Usman Haque.

“Grub City citizens recognise it’s through the activity of measurement, not passive interpreting of data, that we understand our environment; that we build up intuitions about how we affect it; and through which we develop our own standards of evidence. It’s the ensuing heterogeneity of understandings, explanations and attempts to control (as well as the heterogeneity of goals implied) that is essential for any sustainable model of city-making. New technologies help us do this not “better” but “differently”. We will see contradictions, for even collaboration does not need consensus. But no matter what attempts are made to impose order and predictability on cities of the near future, a messiness will inevitably arise.”

31 July 2013

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

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Rob Egerton and Jeanette Kaye of HRW write on why research needs to go beyond the individual’s perspective to get closer to the reality of behaviour.

“Two important theories – which many of you may have heard of – shed new light on how we can better access the reality of how people behave and challenge some of our orthodox approaches. These theories give us direction on how we can get better estimates of future intentions but also suggest that we should move away from just exploring why the individual respondent did what they did, but rather explore more widely how the dynamics of others around them influence what they do.

The 2004 publication by James Surowiecki raises the interesting notion that group decision-making or estimation is much more accurate than individual decision-making. [...] Whenever exploring future behaviour, we shouldn’t just focus on how the individual respondent intends to behave in the future but rather how they think others will behave. Collating these responses from a wide crowd is likely to therefore be more accurate. [...]”

The second theory, which challenges our traditional focus on exploring how the individual makes decisions, is that of group behaviour. In his book ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’, author Mark Earls makes the claim that in determining how decisions are made, the influence of other people is often far more significant than the individual’s process of weighing up what they should do.

25 July 2013

Evgeny Morozov, solutionism and the politics of usability

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Luke Fernandez, Manager of Program and Technology Development at Weber State University, has published a review of Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything Click Here that explores the intersection between UX and political theory.

“As a political theorist and software developer I particularly appreciate Morozov’s attempt to battle solutionism by injecting politics back into tool building. However, I’m also cognizant of its limitations. Pace Morozov and and others who hold up the civic republican tradition, I’m less inclined to think of politics and morality as concerns that confer the deepest meaning on human life. And since I work in the company of other developers I know that they display similar dispositions. Call me a philistine, but most of the time I’d rather be doing something else than being a political being. Morozov, in his erudition, summons media theorist Michael Schudson to describe this sensibility as the plight of the “political backpacker.” Backpackers like to go into the wilderness and spend some time cooking and camping for themselves. But soon enough most backpackers emerge from the wildernesss and are happy to relegate cooking and sheltering to other entities than themselves. Political backpackers feel analogous sentiments. Occasional forays into politics make us feel good because they help us to grow as political beings. But most of us would consider it a curse to spend all or even the majority of our lives in that realm. (Even Steve Jobs, who obviously got a jag from his very public Apple presentations reported that he was happiest when he wandered into Jonathan Ive’s private workshop and spent time handling Apple product prototypes.)

We want our technologies to do the same for us as well. For a better and richer life we want–and have a duty– to confront our relationship to our technology and consider how it constructs our relationship with others and the world around us. So our technologies shouldn’t be frictionless all the time. They shouldn’t permanently shield us from politics. But most of the time we just want our technologies to exhibit the same behaviors that Job’s and Ive’s have glowingly attributed to Apple’s products: “it just works!” This then is the design dilemma we face in a nation that wants to be faithful to both its Liberal and Civic Republican traditions: How do we develop technologies that enlarge our capacity to be political beings while at the same time catering to our more pedestrian and commercially oriented selves?”

25 July 2013

Don Norman on the paradox of wearable technologies

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Can wearable devices augment our activities without distracting us from the real world, asks Don Norman in an article just published in the MIT Technology Review.

“In the end, wearable technologies will either be able to augment our experiences, and focus our attention on the task and the people with whom we are interacting, or they’ll distract us—diverting our attention through tasty morsels of information irrelevant to the current activity.

When technologies are used to supplement our activities, when the additional information being provided is of direct relevance, our attention can become more highly focused and our understanding and retention enhanced. When the additional information is off-target, no matter how enticing it is, that’s the distracting and disruptive side.”

24 July 2013

Ph.D thesis: Design with Intent

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Brunel University London has posted the Ph.D dissertation of Daniel Lockton, entitled “Design with Intent – A design pattern toolkit for environmental & social behaviour change” (download link).

“This thesis describes a systematic research enquiry into influencing more sustainable behaviour through design, which has produced communicable new knowledge in the form of a design pattern toolkit, called Design with Intent, developed and evaluated through an action research process. The toolkit aims to help designers create products, services and environments which influence the way people use them, primarily for environmental and social benefit; it brings together techniques for understanding and changing human behaviour from a range of psychological and technical disciplines, illustrated with examples, with the aim of enabling designers to explore and apply relevant strategies to problems.

`Design for behaviour change’ has grown significantly as a field in the past few years, to a large extent due to recognition of the contributions that user behaviour makes to the environmental and social impact of technology and designed systems in general. People’s behaviour is inevitably influenced by the design of the systems which they use, and it is not a great leap to consider that design could be used intentionally to influence behaviour where some benefit would result.

This thesis starts by identifying the need for a guide for designers working on behaviour change. It extracts insights from reviews of perspectives on influencing behaviour from different disciplines, inside and outside of `design’, which could be usefully applied in a design context. Through an action research process of iterative development and workshops with design practitioners and students, these insights are incorporated into a toolkit for designers, which is applied mainly to environmental and social behaviour change briefs. Versions of the toolkit are made publicly available, and feedback from early users in different contexts is analysed and implications for continuing development discussed.”

24 July 2013

User-centred design on Gov.uk

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The Design Manual of Gov.uk, the UK Government services and information portal, has a section on user-centred design, whereas the service manual home page describes in more detail how designers can build a gov.uk service: from discovery, to alpha, beta, live and retirement.

“People come to GOV.UK with specific needs. Anything that gets between our users and meeting those needs should be stripped away. The design of GOV.UK reflects this, existing primarily as a way of delivering the right content and services to our users. Find out here how we approach this challenge.”

23 July 2013

SAP reaching out through user experience and design thinking

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Recent SAP application forays include everything from a My Runway fashion shopping application to wellness applications that involve wearable sensors to Big Data analytic applications for the National Basketball Association (NBA).

According to Sam Yen, global head of design and user experience at SAP, the end goal is to expose as many end users as possible to SAP software in the expectation that it will increase demand for more traditional SAP enterprise application software.

Yen says that SAP will leverage HTML5 and Design Thinking principles to transform every SAP application regardless of whether it runs on premise or in the cloud.

What’s driving all of these efforts is a concerted SAP effort to step out of the back office. As the line between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) applications continues to blur, the quality of the user experience has become paramount. In addition, the mobile and cloud computing era more business executives are playing a bigger role in deciding which application vendors to go with. Given SAP’s historic challenges with user interfaces, the embracing of Design Thinking principles represents an effort to make SAP software more appealing at all levels.

See also this video interview with Sam Yen and an earlier post on SAP’s new UX strategy.

19 July 2013

The implications of Agile for UX

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Anthropologist Natalie Hanson has written a series of blog posts regarding Agile methods and the implications for user experience work.

Recognizing Agile
List of the top ways to know you’re working in an Agile environment

A brief overview of Agile
Background on what Agile is and the conditions under which it emerged

Principles and practices of Agile
The basics of Agile.

Implications for Researchers
Specific examples about ways that researchers can engage at each of the major stages in the development lifecycle of a software product.

19 July 2013

Interaction design: what we know and what we need to know

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Recently Steve Whittaker, professor of human-computer interaction at the University of California at Santa Cruz, sat on a national committee to evaluate HCI research funding.

“As part of that process, we discussed past successes and current challenges for HCI. It’s a good time to be thinking about these issues, as HCI is no longer a minority interest. The field has major conferences, active journals, practitioners, and degrees. HCI skills are in demand at the world’s leading technology companies. The success of design-oriented companies like Apple means that everyone understands the importance of interfaces. But what are these external indicators of success based on? What have we achieved, what do we know, and why are others interested in what we do? Where should we go from here?”

In this article, Whittaker first outlines three successes: transformative technology, the importance of experience, and the user-centric design process. He then argues that now we need to build on these successes by taking a more principled approach to what we do.

19 July 2013

Human-centered design for new models of wellness and innovation

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A year ago, in July 2012, Business Innovation Factory (BIF) began a partnership with Children’s Medical Center in Dallas to find “new models of care”, and better serve five counties of children and their families in North Texas.

In this community, families struggle to make a living, and suffer from many chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and obesity. To create transformative, sustainable models of care, Children’s Medical Center needed to move away from “sick care” to a broader focus on “well care”.

By focusing on patient experience through the principles of human-centered design, BIF provided insights shared in their foundational research, “Laying the Foundation”.

You can read more about it here.

19 July 2013

Three categories of wearables will become prevalent, says Intel chief

 

Three different categories of device – for the ears, eyes and wrists, and each with its own set of uses – will soon become prevalent, predicts new Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich. What the killer apps of these will be, however, is still anyone’s guess.

“There are two very different visions for how wearable computing will break into the mainstream.

One holds that it will seep into everyday life, through gadgets that perform a single function but remain largely invisible. Wristbands made by Nike and Jawbone are the forerunners of these smart devices, measuring and reporting back to apps to track and analyse aspects of the wearers’ fitness and health.

The other vision involves a full-frontal assault on general-purpose personal computing. In this version of events, a watch or pair of glasses will subsume many of the killer apps of the smartphone, starting with things like making phone calls, checking text messages or taking pictures, before eventually making today’s favourite gadgets redundant. By opening these devices up as platforms for third party developers, their makers hope to increase the odds that they’ll come up with things to make the gadgets indispensable.

Of the two, the history of personal technology points to the former as the more likely.”

19 July 2013

“An Aura of Familiarity”

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In 2013, the Technology Horizons Program of the Institute for the Future commissioned six leading science fiction writers — Cory Doctorow, Rudy Rucker, Warren Ellis, Madeline Ashby, Ramez Naam, and Bruce Sterling — and artist Daniel Martin Diaz to create short stories tied to our research on the coming Age of Networked Matter. They asked these collaborators to envision a world where humans have unprecedented control of matter at all scales, and to share with us a glimpse of daily life in that world. It was a process meant to make the future tangible.

The results is the anthology An Aura of Familiarity: Visions from the Coming Age of Networked Matter.

Read the stories from the book released so far:
- By His Things Will You Know Him, by Cory Doctorow
- Apricot Lane, by Rudy Rucker
- Social Services, by Madeline Ashby
- Water, by Ramez Naam
- From Beyond the Coming Age of Networked Matter, by Bruce Sterling

19 July 2013

Can interaction design civilize the experience economy?

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The emerging experience economy offers a possibility—yet only a possibility—for rethinking and designing new frameworks for social interaction and new forms of behavior more conducive to mindfulness, conviviality, good sociability, and civility. But such designing, or judgment of design in our contemporary world, can only be grounded upon and proceed from an understanding of the genealogies of interaction design. Interaction codes in civilité manuals and Natural Law are inherent in contemporary approaches to designing experience and interactive products and services. Any viable judgment of these can be possible only from a recognition, and then an elaboration, of the ethical and political implications of each of these codes. This is the task proper to the philosophical genealogy of forms in interaction design.

14 July 2013

Why behavior change apps fail to change behavior

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“Too many well-intentioned products fail because they feel like ‘haftas,’ things people are obligated to do, as opposed to things they ‘wanna’ do,” writes Nir Eyal on Techcrunch.

“When faced with ‘haftas,’ our brains register them as punishments so we take shortcuts, cheat, skip-out, or in the case of many apps or websites, uninstall them or click away in order to escape the discomfort of feeling controlled. [...]

Unfortunately, too many companies build their products betting users will do what they should or have to do, instead of what they want to do. They fail to change behaviors because they neglect to make their services enjoyable for its own sake, often asking users to learn new, unfamiliar actions instead of making old routines easier.

Instead, products that successfully change behavior present users with an implicit choice between their old way of doing things and the new, more convenient solution to existing needs. By maintaining the user’s freedom to choose, products can facilitate the adoption of new habits and change behavior for good.”

11 July 2013

Microsoft’s CityNext initiative ‘puts people first’ (uh oh)

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So who else is putting people first? Microsoft‘s new smart cities initiative!

“Cities play a vital role in our lives – both now and in the future. Microsoft’s CityNext initiative puts people first and builds on this new era of collaborative technology to engage citizens, business and government leaders in new ways,” said Laura Ipsen, corporate vice president of Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector, as Microsoft today announced CityNext, a global initiative empowering cities, businesses and citizens to re-imagine their futures and cultivate vibrant communities.”

They talk a lot about open formats and the centrality of people, but I am not sure to what extent this drives the initiative, especially when IT talk such as servers, platforms, software and clouds still remains so central in the Microsoft discourse:

“With its software, device and services platform, Microsoft believes that cities “can deliver personalized services and apps with a people-centric approach, enable real-time dialogue via social media, and spur app development and economic growth with open data initiatives, resulting in better-served and engaged constituents.”

Microsoft CityNext partner Socrata Inc., for example, a cloud software company leading the shift to data-driven government, is working with Microsoft to bring open data technologies to cities worldwide on the Windows Azure cloud platform.”

11 July 2013

How is ‘experience’ valued in the sharing economy?

 

How do you buy or sell something so abstract as an “experience”? And what is it worth?

That’s not an idle question for companies in the sharing economy. The experience of staying in an Airbnb apartment–with all its quirks, blemishes and unique qualities–is the differentiator from the equivalent traditional hotel.

For most sharing economy companies, they aren’t selling a product. They’re providing a peer-to-peer marketplace for people to rent a product from another person or get a service from a person. Instead of buying something they get the access to that product or service. But how is this experience valued? And how does that compare to an equivalent service or product in a traditional company? How does an Airbnb home get valued and how does it compare to a hotel room?

8 July 2013

Saskia Sassen and Scott McCloud keynote speakers at Interaction14

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Interaction 14 just announced its first keynote speakers:

Saskia Sassen is someone to look forward to. A sociology professor at Columbia University, she is known for her critical and thought provoking thinking on a wide variety of themes that are very strongly related to the wider contexts in which we design: from Smart Cities, and urbanising technology, to the “global street” and capitalism, and from the connection between exclusion and globalisation, to the challenges of the megalopolis and the potential for reverse migration.

Scott McCloud is best known for his books about comics theory in which he set a new standard for comics as visual language. His ongoing experiments with comics designed specifically for the web resulted in techniques like the infinite canvas, which allows storytelling in ways not possible in the paged format of a physical book.

6 July 2013

Herman Miller’s Living Office

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“The most important thing in the room is not the furniture — it’s the people.”

Almost 50 years after the Action Office, Herman Miller embarks on the next big rethinking of the workplace: the Living Office. It is the ultimate twenty-first-century work-in-progress.

“Though in places the old model still prevails, today’s ideal office paradigm could not be more different: fluid rather than fixed, less hierarchical and more egalitarian, and encouraging (mostly) of individuality, creativity, and choice.

A new story requires a new stage, and into this brave new world comes Herman Miller’s Living Office, the initial components of which the Zeeland, Michigan, furniture company is introducing at this year’s edition of NeoCon. The first wave of an anticipated two-year rollout, the Living Office’s first three product portfolios—called PUBLIC Office Landscape, Metaform Portfolio, and Locale, and designed, respectively, by fuseproject, Studio 7.5, and Industrial Facility—represent the company’s carefully considered response, not only to the ways in which a changed business culture has transformed workplace design, but to where our personal aspirations may be headed, and how the office can support them.

It’s a resolutely forward-looking vision. Yet this emphasis on what the company calls “human-centered problem-solving” has been the hallmark of Herman Miller since 1930, when Gilbert Rohde, its first design director, famously declared, “The most important thing in the room is not the furniture—it’s the people.”

6 July 2013

Cities are being redrawn according to Google’s world view

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In the second of two columns exploring the impact of digital culture on design, Sam Jacob looks at how Google Maps is reshaping cities while Apple, Facebook and Amazon are reshaping the natural landscape by building their own headquarters as self-contained ecosystems.

“Over the last year or so, many of the key digital behemoths have unveiled plans for new headquarters: the grand edifices that they choose to erect for themselves. These are the physical ecosystems inhabited by our digital ecosystems, and in these habitats we can read technology companies’ own ambitions and their own self images, and perhaps glimpse something of the distortions that digital culture brings to the world around us. [...]

In designs for both the Apple and Facebook headquarters, the idea of nature is at once highly present and highly synthetic. It’s a level constructed above vast parking garages, quoted as experience and presented as mission statement. In both, there are echoes of the hippy pastoral techno-utopias of the 1960s, washed together with management theory and marketing. These are ideologies made glass and grass. [...]

Proximity and loss of hierarchy are, in this headquarters, core issues. These reflect both the nature of digital work culture and the nature of the digital too. The absence of distance and constant adjacency is at once both the liberation that digital culture brings and the springboard for loss of liberty that Prism suggests. In architectural terms, we might understand this problem in terms of openness: the open plan and the curtain wall are simultaneously things that give us spatial transparency and a condition of panoptic surveillance.”

(If this topic fascinates you, also check out this fascinating piece by George Packer in the New Yorker on how Silicon Valley is transferring its slogans — and its money — to the realm of politics.)

6 July 2013

Prism is the dark side of design thinking

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In this first of two columns about the impact of digital culture on design, Sam Jacob asks what America’s Prism surveillance program tells us about design thinking.

“Prism tells us something about design in the twenty-first century. [...] It tells us that design is increasingly about systems, increasingly about processes and the way these interface with the real world.

Prism is part, I would suggest, of the realm of design thinking. This is a problem-solving methodology born out of similarly strange bedfellows as The Californian Ideology. In this case it’s art school creativity hijacked by management theory. Design thinking suggests the synthetic way in which designers are (supposed to be) thinking can be applied to almost any subject. Its power is its ability to transform anything into a design problem: the way organisations work, profitability, market share, information, the gathering and processing of intelligence and, it seems, national security.”