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Posts in category 'Social change'

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.”

6 July 2013

Seoul, the Sharing City

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On 20 September 2012, the Seoul Metropolitan Government disclosed its plan for promoting the “Sharing City, Seoul” project, which includes 20 sharing programs and policies for generating or diffusing “sharing city” infrastructure after declaring the “Seoul as a Sharing City” vision.

The Metropolitan Government regards “sharing city” as a new alternative for social reform that can resolve many economic, social, and environmental issues of the city simultaneously by creating new business opportunities, recovering trust-based relationships, and minimizing wastage of resources.

In particular, the city plans to deploy secondary sharing infrastructure from now on to enhance the usefulness of idle resources such as space, objects, and talents since its urban policies have concentrated on constructing primary sharing infrastructure to date, such as roads, parking lots, schools, and libraries. Parallel to the above, the Metropolitan Government plans to implement policies of opening public resources to the citizens by having the public sector take the initiative while focusing on the implementation of policies that respect and promote private sector capabilities.

6 July 2013

Book: Legible Practices by Helsinki Design Lab

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The social innovation book Legible Practices aims at codifying the practises of stewardship, as exhibited by innovators who are consciously rethinking institutions to better meet the challenges of today. It is the last book by Helsinki Design Lab, the recently closed strategic design lab of Sitra, the Finnish innovation fund.

“Stewardship is the art of aligning decisions with impact when many minds are involved in making a plan, and many hands in enacting it.

This notion comes to life through the stories of six projects on three continent, each an example of carefully rewiring institutions to better meet today’s challenges.

By zooming in on the details, a handful of practises emerge that will help you convert ideas into action. Each story is shared as a brief narrative which is then broken down into a network of interlinking practises.

In writing Legible Practises, the authors Bryan Boyer, Justin W. Cook and Marco Steinberg – hope to spark a conversation about the deep craft of social innovation as a reminder that, even when dreaming big, the details still matter.”

The case studies featured in the book:

  • Constitución (Chile): Redesign the city in 90 days through a co-creation process aimed at deliverying more resilient infrastructure and an urban form that provides greater social equity.
  • Brownsville Partnership (USA): Create a safer, stronger and more self-reliant community in Brownsville by working collaboratively with community, non-profit organisations, and public agencies to build a portfolio of complimentary services.
  • Creative Councils (UK): Support innovators in local government across England and Wales to develop and implement radical innovations addressing a long-term challenge that matters in their area.
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (USA): Designing a brand identity, engagement strategy and discrete consumer-facing educational experiences for the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Branchekode (DK): Transform a Danish government service responsible for generating classification categories needed to register a new business.
  • Gov.uk (UK): Transform the quality of the UK’s government digital services, making them “simpler, clearer, faster”, starting with a single website for the whole of government.

You can order a printed copy or download a free pdf.

2 July 2013

Notes on “Ambient Commons”, by Malcolm McCullough

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Malcolm McCullough is one the key thinkers and writers about the intersection of the network, digital media, and the urban and architectural. Dan Hill (who will speak here in Torino on Thursday) was asked to provide a testimonial for the back of McCullough’s latest book, “Ambient Commons; Attention in the age of embodied interaction,” which he reproduced on his blog, together with some choice excerpts.

“Ambient Commons is both a timely, if highly civilised, wake-up call and a hugely valuable guidebook to the new post-“digital” landscape of contemporary urban culture.

In suggesting we “take back our attention”, genuinely consider our surroundings, take notice of the world, McCullough argues for a radical rebalancing of our patterns of living, working, playing – not as a refusenik, but as engaged and critical designer and thinker, and backed up by building on a bravura free-wheeling whistle-stop tour through an “environmental history of urban information”.

As physical and digital entwine such that they can rarely be separated, the relationship between disciplines and perspectives becomes increasingly complex and interwoven too. “Ambient Commons” demonstrates how a book can strategically expand the perspective, toolkit and practical vocabulary of the designers, coders and architects who are helping produce the new soft city, but through its open, diverse and richly patterned reference points and positions, it will be engaging and insightful for anyone who wants to understand what’s going on on the street of today and tomorrow.

McCullough also demonstrates how important it is that we understand technology as culture, and that it is worthy of philosophical inquiry. He manages to convey these complex ideas such that they feel accessible, yet are rigorously researched, are instantly appealing, yet prompt considered reflection, stoking the engines on many trains of thought.

It is also, unlike most texts that pivot around technology, beautifully written. It is a critical book to have written at this point.”

2 July 2013

Urban sustainability: what will a smart city look like in the future?

Schuylkill River, Philadelphia

By 2050 there will be five billion urbanites but, with pressure on resources and climate disruption, how will cities cope? New technology and conceptual design will be vital, says Emma Stewart, head of sustainability solutions at Autodesk.

“If we play our cards right, the 2050 city will:

  • recognise its context, situated within a natural and agricultural ecosystem that provides its denizens’ abundant raw materials, free crop pollination, and genetic diversity;
  • be resilient, responding to long-term shifts through adaptive re-use and short-term shocks through high-tech smart devices and low-tech biomimetic designs;
  • be water neutral, drawing from its aquifers only as much as it can recharge, and the rest from the sky or recyclers now part of basic plumbing;
  • be inhabited by citizens who emit no more than one ton of greenhouse gases per person per year, due to their heavy reliance on efficient building design, decentralised generation, district energy systems, and multi-modal transit.”
2 July 2013

Four ways cities should be adapting to change

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The report “State of the City: 5 Trends Impacting US Cities,” issued by Living Cities, not only provides guidance about what issues are trending but also how cities need to act so they can successfully adapt to these trends.

Ben Hecht (CEO of Living Cities) highlights the four key ways that cities need to adapt to these powerful trends:
1. Identifying solutions to these complex problems will require the letting go of old ways of working.
2. Understanding the interdependent nature of these trends is critical to addressing them successfully.
3. Recognizing that no institution or sector alone can reverse the direction of these trends is an imperative.
4. Taking full advantage of innovations in financing and technology will accelerate change.

Hecht concludes: “Our State of the City Report confirms once again what Charles Darwin found 130 years ago: strength and intelligence matter but its adaptation that probably matters most”.

12 June 2013

Online, we’re all celebrities now. So what next?

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“In reality, we’re all kind of on ‘Big Brother’ — on a reality show,” says Syracuse University’s Anthony Rotolo, a professor who runs the Starship NEXIS lab, focusing on social networking and new technologies. “Whenever I give a talk, whenever you give a talk, there’s going to be someone live-tweeting it. There’s going to be somebody posting a picture on Facebook. We are redefining celebrity in this age, and anybody at any time could be speaking publicly without realizing it.”

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle once it’s started sharing memes on Facebook. If you must be a Web celebrity, at least do so with self-awareness, experts say.

6 June 2013

Technology puts power in the hands of the Millennial Generation

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This week the Financial Times has run two reports on the Millennial Generation.

Part Two (pdf) came out today, whereas Part One is from June 3.

Part Two’s leading article is definitely worth exploring, particularly in how it connects technology and mobile devices with empowerment of a new generation:

“Technology has played a huge role in how they’re different from the ­generation that came before them,” says Jean Case, chief executive of the Case Foundation, which she and her husband Steve Case, AOL’s co-founder, created in 1997.

This generation sees technology as levelling the playing field. In the FT-Telefónica Global Millennials Survey of 18 to 30-year olds almost 70 per cent of respondents said “technology creates more opportunities for all” as opposed to “a select few”.

This belief has brought tremendous confidence to the world’s first generation of digital natives, despite facing the worst economic outlook since the great depression.”

More background also in this article.

6 June 2013

The future of human-centered design

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“Throughout my career, and especially as a designer at IDEO,” writes Nathan Waterhouse, “I’ve been a passionate believer of the value of placing people first, of designing from an end–user perspective. [...] Perhaps it was the abundance of rhetoric about human needs [at the recent Skoll World Forum] that made me ask the question ‘But what about the rights of nature, other creatures, or of the planet itself?’”

“We are taught to think about the world in three lenses as designers: desirability – what people want, feasibility – the capabilities of a firm, and viability – its financial health. We are taught that we should start from the perspective of people’s needs first: desirability. This way of thinking, however, is selfish. It focuses on the needs of humans, but in doing so, ignores the needs of the rest of the 8.7M species that share planet Earth. What would be desirable, feasible, or viable if we took the perspective of planet Earth and ran it through the same venn diagram?” [...]

“Although we don’t believe earth is the centre of the universe, we still behave as if humans are the most important species alive today.”

In the end, he says, “we need a new approach to design that takes into consideration what is important for the natural systems we depend upon and take for granted. Perhaps we should call it Holistic Design: designing with a frame that includes the natural and human systems in combination to ensure we consider the bigger picture.”

(Disclosure: Nathan Waterhouse studied at the renowned Interaction Design Institute Ivrea where he was a thesis student of Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels).

4 June 2013

Without opt in, Google Glass will generate hostility

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Google and friends should not be trying to make these things acceptable in polite society,” writes Roger Kay in Forbes. “If they persist, they can expect a wave of hostility the likes of which they have perhaps only begun to imagine.”

“People can’t opt in to public surveillance, and we live in a more dangerous world now, where surveillance mostly works in our favor. But even in public places, Google Glass wearers with the ability to do tactical research on others, using facial recognition technology, Google Search, social media, and other tools, will create a creepoid ethos and generate a tremendous amount of hostility.

Silicon Valley may not see things this way, but the Valley is a bubble all to itself. In the wider world, people want the right to opt in to something as invasive as surveillance by Glass.”

4 June 2013

Book: Rewire – Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection

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Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection
by Ethan Zuckerman
W. W. Norton & Company, June 2013
288 pages
[Amazon link]

Abstract

We live in an age of connection, one that is accelerated by the Internet. This increasingly ubiquitous, immensely powerful technology often leads us to assume that as the number of people online grows, it inevitably leads to a smaller, more cosmopolitan world. We’ll understand more, we think. We’ll know more. We’ll engage more and share more with people from other cultures. In reality, it is easier to ship bottles of water from Fiji to Atlanta than it is to get news from Tokyo to New York.
In Rewire, media scholar and activist Ethan Zuckerman explains why the technological ability to communicate with someone does not inevitably lead to increased human connection. At the most basic level, our human tendency to “flock together” means that most of our interactions, online or off, are with a small set of people with whom we have much in common. In examining this fundamental tendency, Zuckerman draws on his own work as well as the latest research in psychology and sociology to consider technology’s role in disconnecting ourselves from the rest of the world.

For those who seek a wider picture — a picture now critical for survival in an age of global economic crises and pandemics — Zuckerman highlights the challenges, and the headway already made, in truly connecting people across cultures. From voracious xenophiles eager to explore other countries to bridge figures who are able to connect one culture to another, people are at the center of his vision for a true kind of cosmopolitanism. And it is people who will shape a new approach to existing technologies, and perhaps invent some new ones, that embrace translation, cross-cultural inspiration, and the search for new, serendipitous experiences.

Rich with Zuckerman’s personal experience and wisdom, Rewire offers a map of the social, technical, and policy innovations needed to more tightly connect the world.

Review by Astra Taylor

“Zuckerman comes across as a kind and generous person who wants to make space for everyone, including, it seems, the global financial elite. While I respect his openness, I’m less forgiving. If cosmopolitanism is to be a force for desirable change in this world, it has to have a purpose more profound than the vision Zuckerman describes in his final chapter. The ease of digital connection may not bring about world peace, but that doesn’t mean we have to disavow all idealism and big dreams. If we’re going to rewire, let’s try to go further.”

31 May 2013

Smart cities and smart citizens

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For future smart cities to thrive, it must be centred around people, not just infrastructure. This was the overwhelming message from a group of influential thinkers speaking at this year’s FutureEverything Summit. sustain’ went along to find out what smart-city planners can learn from bottom-up approaches.

“It seems global corporations and the large-scale technology platforms they offer and promote seem to be at odds with many of the localised, small-scale technology projects showcased at the Summit and, indeed, the interests of citizens themselves. And if there was one stark warning that emerged from the Summit for city leaders thinking about investing in smart-city technology, it was ignore your citizens at your peril. [...]”

The city is what it is because of the people. [...]

In many ways, social media has created a new interface for the city and how its citizens interact with it. Citizens have the opportunity to try something out, such as a pop-up café – and multiply it through social media and feedback via bespoke apps: physical activity and digital activity in harmony. Yet this appears to be contrary to the thinking behind many current smart systems which merely deliver information in order to change attitudes and behaviour. [...]

Citizens are quite obviously embracing new technologies – but it isn’t always for reasons of efficiency: it’s about sociability; it’s about transparency; it’s about culture; and it’s also about fun – gaming and entertainment. Furthermore, a one-size-fits-all approach to smart cities will not easily work in an age where, even at the most basic level, apps designed for specific spaces or cities are prevalent on most mobile phones. Bespoke solutions will be required.”

31 May 2013

The city as interface: an interview with Manuel Portela

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Hillete Warner of The Enabling City, an initiative started and guided by the very inspiring Chiara Camponeschi, interviewed interaction designer and an event coordinator Manuel Portela about about collective brainstorming, community-building and the power of 10.000 ideas.

One of your projects, 10.000 ideas, is a crowdsourcing platform to re-think urban livability in Latin America. What was the inspiration behind it?
My early design projects led led to an interest in the development of participatory maps and digital interfaces. One day, I came across New York’s ChangeByUs campaign and thought it was very impressive, though I found the conversation to be flowing mostly in one direction: there were ideas for one city directed to and curated by one administration. This inspired me to develop a similar platform, this time open to all of Latin America. In essence, 10.000 ideas is a repository of suggestions and solutions that anyone – whether in the public, private or civil sector – can share and implemenet with others. I hope to see more and more places for this kind of problem-solving ‘offline’ but, in the meantime, we can make the most of what the web has to offer.

I am curious to hear more about the Brazilian SmartCity Index to encourage citizen participation.

> Check other recent posts from Enabling City people.

31 May 2013

Are you ready for the era of Big Data?

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Business agrees with governments — the more personal information they gather about us, the more “helpful” they can be. Should we give in to this “harmless” new science of benign surveillance, asks Steven Poole in The New Statesman.

“Through Big Data analysis, the “cloud” comes to know an awful lot about us. Simply analysing a person’s Facebook “likes” can identify a person’s sexual orientation or history of drug use. Even just searching for things and filling out online surveys can lead to personal information about you being bought and sold by big marketing analytics companies. When the Big Data is data about you, privacy becomes a faint memory. And this is true not just on the web. The Data Privacy Lab at Harvard University recently managed to identify 40 per cent of individuals who had taken part (again, supposedly anonymously) in a large-scale DNA study, the Personal Genome Project.”

26 May 2013

For consumers, an ‘Open Data’ society is a misnomer

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Despite all the hoopla about an “open data” society, many consumers are being kept in the dark, writes Natasha Singer in The New York Times.

“A few companies are challenging the norm of corporate data hoarding by actually sharing some information with the customers who generate it — and offering tools to put it to use. It’s a small but provocative trend in the United States, where only a handful of industries, like health care and credit, are required by federal law to provide people with access to their records.”

Particularly the initiative of San Diego Gas and Electronic caught my attention:

Last year, San Diego Gas and Electric, a utility, introduced an online energy management program in which customers can view their electricity use in monthly, daily or hourly increments. There is even a practical benefit: customers can earn credits by reducing energy consumption during peak hours.

About one-quarter of the company’s 1.2 million residential customers have tried the program, says Caroline Winn, the company’s vice president for customer services. Newer features, she says, allow customers to download their own use files. Or they can choose to give permission for the utility to share their records directly with a handful of apps that can analyze the data and suggest ways to reduce energy consumption.

Note also the discussion of initiatives taken by Intel, and the comments by Ken Anderson, an intel anthropologist.

24 May 2013

Free information, as great as it sounds, will enslave us all

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“While people are created equal, computers are not. When people share information freely, those who own the best computers benefit in extreme ways that are denied to everyone else. Those with the best computers can simply calculate wealth and power away from ordinary people.”

Jaron Lanier is provoking as ever in this article for Quartz.

“Ordinary people, or more precisely people with only ordinary computers, are the sole providers of the information that makes the big computers so powerful and valuable. And ordinary people do get a certain flavor of benefit for providing that value. They get the benefits of an informal economy usually associated with the developing world. The formal benefits concentrate around the biggest computers.”

22 May 2013

Smart citizens make smart cities, a talk by Dan Hill

 

“We have the technology to do anything. To make things happen you need to turn to design and redesign the context, the decision making and the question.” – Dan Hill, CEO of Fabrica, figured out that smart citizens are necessary to make smart cities. The institutions are collapsing, we have to decide on our own!

He spoke about all this at the end of April at Next Berlin.

Dan Hill is CEO of Fabrica, a communications research centre and transdisciplinary studio based in Treviso, Italy. A designer and urbanist, he has previously held leadership positions at Sitra (the Finnish Innovation Fund), Arup, Monocle, and the BBC. He is strategic design advisor for Domus magazine, as well as blogging at cityofsound.com.

Dan Hill will be the second speaker at Experientia’s Talking Design lecture series now co-organized with three other companies and organizations: Deltatre, GranStudio and ITC-ILO. The talk will be at the beginning of July and we will announce it here very soon.

22 May 2013

Death, life and place in great digital cities

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At the heart of the Smarter Cities movement is the belief that the use of engineering and IT technologies, including social media and information marketplaces, can create more efficient and resilient city systems.

In an excellent blog post, Rick Robinson, an Executive Architect at IBM specialising in emerging technologies and Smarter Cities, explains why he believes that “we are opening Pandora’s box.”

“These tremendously powerful technologies could indeed create more efficient, resilient city systems. But unless they are applied with real care, they could exacerbate our challenges. If they act simply to speed up transactions and the consumption of resources in city systems, then they will add to the damage that has already been done to urban environments, and that is one of the causes of the social inequality and differences in life expectancy that cities are seeking to address.”

So, he asks, “as a new generation of technology, digital technology, starts to shape our cities, how can we direct the deployment of that technology to be sympathetic to the needs of people and communities, rather than hostile to them, as too much of our urban transport infrastructure has been?”

“The first step is for us to collectively recognise what is at stake: the safety and resilience of our communities; and the nature of our relationship with the environment. Digital technology is not just supporting our world, it is beginning to transform it. [...]

The second step is for the designers of cities and city services – architects, town planners, transport officers, community groups and social innovators – to take control of the technology agenda in their cities and communities, rather than allow technologists to define it by default. [...]

As well as technologists, three crucial groups of advisers to that process are social scientists, design thinkers and placemakers. They have the creativity and insight to understand how digital technologies can meet the needs of people and communities in a way that contributes to the creation of great places, and great cities – places like the Eastside city park that are full of life.”

20 May 2013

The secret life of data in the year 2020

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Brian David Johnson, Intel futurist, shows how geotags, sensor outputs, and big data are changing the future. He argues that we need a better understanding of our relationship with the data we produce in order to build the future we want.

“When you look to 2020 and beyond, you can’t escape big data. Big data—extremely large sets of data related to consumer behavior, social network posts, geotagging, sensor outputs, and more—is a big problem. Intel is at the forefront of the big data revolution and all the challenges therein. Our processors are how data gets from one place to another. If anyone should have insight into how to make data do things we want it to do, make it work for the future, it should be Intel.

[...] We will have algorithms talking to algorithms, machines talking to machines, machines talking to algorithms, sensors and cameras gathering data, and computational power crunching through that data, then handing it off to more algorithms and machines. It will be a rich and secret life separate from us and for me incredibly fascinating.

But as we begin to build the Secret Life of Data, we must always remember that data is meaningless all by itself. The 1s and 0s are useless and meaningless on their own. Data is only useful and indeed powerful when it comes into contact with people.

This brings up some interesting questions and fascinating problems to be solved from an engineering standpoint. When we are architecting these algorithms, when we are designing these systems, how do we make sure they have an understanding of what it means to be human? The people writing these algorithms must have an understanding of what people will do with that data. How will it fit into their lives? How will it affect their daily routine? How will it make their lives better?”

20 May 2013

The too-smart city

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We’re already building the metropolis of the future—green, wired, even helpful. Now critics are starting to ask whether we’ll really want to live there. Courtney Humphries reports for the Boston Globe.

“As political leaders, engineers, and environmentalists join the smart-city bandwagon, a growing chorus of thinkers from social sciences, architecture, urban planning, and design are starting to sound a note of caution. [...]

Behind the alluring vision, they argue, lurk a number of troubling questions. A city tracking its citizens, even for helpful reasons, encroaches on the personal liberty we count on in public spaces. The crucial software systems and networks that underlie city services will likely lie in private hands. And the more successful smart-city programs become, the more they risk diverting resources into the problems that can be solved with technology, rather than grappling with difficult issues that can’t be easily fixed with an app. [...]

The orderly, manageable city is a vision with enduring appeal, from Plato’s Republic to Songdo, an entirely new smart city constructed near Seoul. But there’s an equally compelling vision of the city as a chaotic and dynamic whirl of activity, an emergent system, an urban jungle at once hostile and full of possibility—a place to lose oneself. [Dan] Hill points out that efficiency isn’t the reason we like to live in cities, and it’s not the reason we visit them. Tourists come to Boston for the bustling charm of the North End, not the sterile landscape of Government Center. In a city where everything can be sensed, measured, analyzed, and controlled, we risk losing the overlooked benefits of inconvenience. It’s as if cities are one of the last wild places, and one that we’re still trying to tame.”