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Putting People First

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Posts in category 'Ubiquitous computing'

17 August 2013

Lessons from monks about designing the technologies of the future

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Our technologies are designed to maximize shareholder profit, and if that means distracting, confusing or aggregating the end-user, then so be it.

But another path is possible, argues Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his new book The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul (Amazon link).

Pang calls the idea “contemplative computing,” and Techcrunch’s Klint Finley reflects on his book:

“Pang’s notion of mindful, or contemplative, computing is useful, but ultimately it’s just a way of coping with a world of applications designed without our best interests at heart. Just as meditation, prayer and weekend retreats can help us cope with the harsh realities of the modern world, so too can it help us cope with flame wars, feral inboxes and the non-stop rush of social media. But just as citizens can demand safer cities, more humane governments and even economic reform, we can demand a new class of technologies.”

5 August 2013

Smart cities workshop with the Design Center Busan

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A few days ago Experientia’s latest collaboration with Korea’s Design Center Busan wrapped up, as 21 South Korean students completed a summer study program in Turin.

Experientia ran a creative workshop for the students, titled “Barely legal, but very nice! Smart interventions in public spaces, offices and services“. The diverse curricula of the program included architecture, industrial design, visual design, fine arts and more, and was selected by the Design Center Busan (DCB), in collaboration with Gwangju Design Center (GDC) and the Daegu Gyeongbuk Design Center (DGDC). Experientia’s faculty were Design Director Jan-Christoph Zoels, and interaction designers Renzo Giusti and Seungjun Jeong.

Experientia’s workshop tackled contemporary issues in the design discourse about Smart Cities and smart citizenship, raising awareness of public interventions, grassroots initiatives, and the formal and informal best practices that cities around the world are rolling out to meet the challenges of civic development.

The workshop explored the use of participatory design techniques aimed at urban scale issues. The students were exposed to a diverse palette of solutions for issues of civic consent creation and management, creative problem solving, citizen engagement and public sphere re-appropriation.

Students were also challenged to come up with creative solutions to address real issues they identified, from their fresh perspective, during their stay in Turin. To face the challenge of designing in an unknown territory, they were invited to take a bold yet borderline stance. To conceive design intervention capable of bringing citizens together, students could design light and pop-up solutions that would achieve the goals expected, even eschewing full compliance with official regulations.

The workshop ended on Tuesday July 30th with a final exhibition of a set of posters showcasing the design interventions conceived by the 4 groups of young Korean designers. A final keynote speech by world-famous futurist and science fiction author Bruce Sterling officially concluded the proceedings.

The workshop benefitted from the contributions of many practitioners in Turin and Milan. Experientia wants to thank: Matteo Robiglio (Tra), Simone Carena and Marco Bruno (Motoelastico), Paolo Maldotti (Archilandstudio), Isabella Steffan (studiosteffan), Carlotta Bonvicini and Francesco Cerroni (MiC, mobility in chain), Stefano Recalcati (ARUP), Giovanna Castiglioni (Fondazione Achille Castiglioni), and Luca Troisi (Enhancers).

Finally, special thanks go to SeungJun Jeong (Experientia) for managing the workshop preparation and facilitating the relationship with Design Centre Busan, and to Federico De Giuli for hosting us at the wonderful Cluster Learning Communities space.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

4 July 2013

Intel on wearable tech: we need to focus on how we use it

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Intel and its team of futurologists and anthropologists have a vision of a world where the technology is not an adjunct (as the mobile phone or the tablet is now) but embedded in our lives, generating and mining data in a way that’s functional and useful to us.

“Viewed through Intel’s crystal ball, in the future we’ll have devices that second-guess us, or make intelligent connections on our behalf.

At the moment, the benefit from the data we create every day flows largely in favour of the companies who use it to serve us adverts based on the demographic profile we give them. But Steve Brown, Intel’s futurist, says it’s “the individual [who] should benefit – it’s your data”.

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 June 2013

The limits of Big Data in the Big City

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To be sure, big tech can zap some city weaknesses. But, argues Alec Appelbaum, many urban problems require a decidedly different approach.

“The answers that make cities run more smoothly only inadvertently end up being the ones that make cities run more equitably. Deep data can learn and display policy cues that used to flow from guesswork. What it can do less reliably is reflect democratic action.

For that, you need more people discussing issues with more equal information and franchise. And that can most easily come from decidedly low-tech, but widely accessible, technologies like Facebook pages and e-mail chains. After all, cities don’t have to buy “smart” software to get smarter.”

1 June 2013

The six myths of Big Data

 

During her keynote speech at the DataEdge conference, Kate Crawford, a researcher at Microsoft Research, identified what she calls “six myths of Big Data.”:
1. Big Data is new
2. Big Data is objective
3. Big Data doesn’t discriminate
4. Big Data makes cities smart
5. Big Data is anonymous
6. You can opt out

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 art of staying focused in a distracting world

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James Fallows of The Atlantic interviewed tech-industry veteran Linda Stone, coiner of the term “continuous partial attention,” on how to maintain sanity and focus in an insane, unfocused, always-on, hyperconnected world.

“We all have a capacity for relaxed presence, empathy, and luck. We stress about being distracted, needing to focus, and needing to disconnect. What if, instead, we cultivated our capacity for relaxed presence and actually, really connected, to each moment and to each other?”

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

The future of technology isn’t mobile, it’s contextual

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In the coming years, there will be a shift toward contextual computing, writes Pete Mortensen of Jump Associates, defined in large part by Georgia Tech researchers Anind Dey and Gregory Abowd about a decade ago.

“Always-present computers, able to sense the objective and subjective aspects of a given situation, will augment our ability to perceive and act in the moment based on where we are, who we’re with, and our past experiences. These are our sixth, seventh, and eighth senses. [...]

The adoption of contextual computing–combinations of hardware, software, networks, and services that use deep understanding of the user to create tailored, relevant actions that the user can take–is contingent on the spread of new platforms. Frankly, it depends on the smartphone. Mobile technology isn’t interesting because it’s a new form factor. It’s interesting because it’s always with the user and because it’s equipped with sensors. Future platforms designed from the ground up for contextual computing will make such devices seem like closer to toys than to a phone with cool tools.”

Read the article with a critical mind, and think about what kind of invasiveness people would be willing to tolerate. Mortensen definitely is an optimist:

“Within a decade, contextual computing will be the dominant paradigm in technology. Even office productivity will move to such a model. By combining a task with broad and relevant sets of data about us and the context in which we live, contextual computing will generate relevant options for us, just as our brains do when we hear footsteps on a lonely street today. Then and only then will we have something more intriguing than the narrow visions of wearable computing that continually surface: We’ll have wearable intelligence.”

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.”

29 April 2013

Your body does not want to be an interface

 

Have you heard that Google Glass will let you snap photos by winking? John Pavlus of the MIT Technology Review writes why that’s still going to feel weird.

“The assumption driving these kinds of design speculations is that if you embed the interface–the control surface for a technology–into our own bodily envelope, that interface will “disappear”: the technology will cease to be a separate “thing” and simply become part of that envelope. The trouble is that unlike technology, your body isn’t something you “interface” with in the first place. You’re not a little homunculus “in” your body, “driving” it around, looking out Terminator-style “through” your eyes. Your body isn’t a tool for delivering your experience: it is your experience. Merging the body with a technological control surface doesn’t magically transform the act of manipulating that surface into bodily experience.”