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Putting People First

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Posts in category 'User experience'

22 October 2013

How teachers in Africa are failed by mobile learning

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Only projects that work with existing education systems will improve learning and cut poverty, says Niall Winters of the London Knowledge Lab at the University of London, and he argues for a user-centred approach (rather than a technology-centric one) that is focused on understanding teachers’ practice, co-designing interventions with them and providing them with training

“There is a vibrant Human-Computer Interaction for Development community that promotes user-centred approaches to technology design, use and evaluation. In my own work over the years, including in a current project for training community health workers in Kenya, we extensively use participatory approaches to help design and develop mobile learning interventions.

The idea that techno-centrism or even solely content-based solutions can address important educational challenges by themselves must be dropped. Research shows they can’t.

The path to success is clear: the risks of increasing the marginalisation of teachers — and by extension students — can only be ameliorated by understanding teachers’ practice, co-designing interventions with them and providing them with training.

Projects which work with existing educational systems, not against them, should have priority funding. Only then can mobile learning be seen to work for teachers, for their students and for the alleviation of poverty among those at the margins of society.”

21 October 2013

The Newspeak of ‘human-centred’ [Book]

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Freedom vs Necessity in International Relations
Human-Centred Approaches to Security and Development

by David Chandler
Zed Books Ltd
224 pages, 2013
[Amazon link]

Human-centred understandings of the world have become increasingly dominant over the last two decades. Indeed, it is rare to read any analysis addressing the problems of insecurity, conflict or development which does not start from the need to empower or capacity-build local agency. In this path-breaking book, Chandler undertakes a radical challenge to such human-centred understandings and suggests that, in articulating problems as a result of human behaviour or decision-making, the problems of the world have become reinterpreted as problems of the human subject itself. Within this framework, the solutions are not seen to lie with structures of economic and social relations, but with the social and cognitive shaping of those who are often seen to be the most marginal and powerless. This shift – from the material problems of the external world to the subjective problems of human thought and action – has gone hand-in-hand with the shift from state-based to society-based understandings of the world. In a provocative analysis, Chandler highlights how human-centred approaches have shrunk rather than enlarged our world and have limited our understanding of transformative possibilities

Review by James Heartfield
In his new book, Freedom vs Necessity, David Chandler, professor of international relations at the University of Westminster, […] lays bare the claims of governments to put people and their decision-making at the centre of policy. What Chandler shows to great effect is that the latest claims of policymakers and theorists to a human-centred approach result in something like its opposite. In a wide range of cases – from the United Nations’ Human Development Report to the Cabinet Office’s prioritisation of the ‘choice environment’ – Chandler explains how ‘human-centred’ policy is, in fact, very far from human-centred. The real aim is for people to align their behaviour and choices to the outcomes chosen by those in power, rather than deciding such outcomes for themselves. ‘Human-centred’ policy turns out to have as much to do with people deciding for themselves as the Ministry of Peace had to do with Peace, or the Ministry of Plenty to do with Plenty in Orwell’s novel.

21 October 2013

Conference Review: UX STRAT 2013, Part 1

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UX STRAT, the first every user experience strategy conference, took place in September in Atlanta, Georgia, at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center. Pabini Gabriel-Petit was there and she published a first chapter – dealing mainly with logistics and conference experience – in a three-part review.

19 October 2013

Architects don’t listen to people

 

Christine Outram left the architecture profession because, she says, architects “don’t listen to people“.

“The truth is, most of you don’t try. You rely on rules of thumb and pattern books, but you rarely do in-depth ethnographic research. You might sit at the building site for an hour and watch people “use space” but do you speak to them? Do you find out their motivations? Do your attempts really make their way into your design process?

The world is changing. You have all these new tools at your fingertips. New tools that I don’t see you using and quite a few old techniques that you could get a lot better at.”

29 September 2013

The Qualified Self

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Looking at yet another tweet and another post about the Quantified Self, I started reflecting this morning on the Silicon Valley-driven fascination with the quantification of one’s own activities, body and habits.

The Quantified Self movement is portrayed as the nec-plus-ultra of objectivity that will help us live a better life. But something big is missing, and Jenny Davis PhD, a sociologist who teaches at James Madison University, seeks to address the fundamental issue of “why”. She argues (in a March 2013 blog post) that the reasons why people quantify themselves are entirely qualitative, with all that this implies:

“Self-quantification has a really important, prevalent, and somewhat ironic, qualitative component. This qualitative component is key in mediating between raw numbers and identity meanings. If self-quantifiers are seeking self-knowledge through numbers, then narratives and subjective interpretations are the mechanisms by which data morphs into selves. Self-quantifiers don’t just use data to learn about themselves, but rather, use data to construct the stories that they tell themselves about themselves. […]

Self-qualification is present from the beginning, as decisions about what to measure and how to do so are highly subjective, and rest upon subject narratives. […]

Self quantification is a process bookended by self qualification. Yes, the numbers are important. Self-quantification is, by definition, self-knowledge through numbers. Those numbers, however, take shape qualitatively. They become the code with which self-quantifiers prosume selves and identities into being. They are the bits with which self-quantifiers make sense of their atoms. ”

(My emphasis)

25 September 2013

Simon Roberts (EPIC chair) reflects on Big Data, business and ethnography

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Simon Roberts, the highly engaging, smart and easily approachable chair of the EPIC conference last week, was so absorbed with all the logistics that he didn’t find the concentration to speak his mind during the conference. Now that the conference is over (and well organised it was!), it took him less than a week to type out a long blog post to position his thoughts on Big Data. It’s a long read but very much worth it, and it starts off exactly with the right criticism:

“The discussion at EPIC 2013 disappointed me a little. It was either constrained by simplistic oppositions (big data good / nothing to fear vs. big data bad / end of our profession as we know it), impoverished by a general lack of ethnographic specificity and illustration, or absented to discuss the power relations that big data entails.

Most worrying for me of all of these was the lack of specificity in the discussion and the absence of discussion about power. “

Exactly my thinking as well. There is an asymmetry in power relations that requires serious reflection and analysis, and it was dearly missing, sometimes even actively sidelined – as if irrelevant for ethnographers. There is an ethical and even political side to Big Data, that we have to very aware of, as user researchers and as designers (i.e. the professionals that mediate the relations between corporations and people).

Very helpful are Simon’s four dimensions of Big Data which articulate this power imbalance in more detail:

  • Quantified self vs. Monitored Self — the difference between me assenting to monitor myself vs. being monitored
  • Asymmetries of exchange — the uneven nature of the exchange between provider and analysyer/reseller of data
  • Asymmetries of feedback — the importance of balanced feedback systems
  • Asymmetries of judgment — the difference between the big data creating ‘fact’ and being used to create value judgements

He uses the example of the driving style tracking device that an insurance company installed in his car to raise some very good questions.

His three challenges (on incentive structures, interaction design and business risks) are spot-on. Read, read, read!

12 September 2013

What are users up to when they have an experience?

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Understanding the experience of using an object depends on understanding the context of use, argues Jeff Doemland in UX Magazine.

However, “The prevailing understanding of user and experience–the understanding behind my clients’ preoccupation with the properties of the tools they provide their customers–grows out of Descartes’ thinking, according to which, each of us is a self-sufficient subject (“a thinking thing”) engaged at a purely intellectual level with objects and their properties. So it’s no surprise that we define users as primarily concerned with the appearance and function of the objects they use, and require that experience be explained in terms of these properties.

According to Descartes, as thinking (rational) beings, an object’s properties are all that are truly available to us. The instinctive, intuitive–non-rational, absolutely contextualized–ways we access and use objects for meeting the demands of a specific situation are effectively invisible to this understanding of user experience.”

6 September 2013

Selected videos from “The Conference” in Sweden

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Media Evolution The Conference is an international conference organized annually in Malmö, Sweden. The event focuses on factors that are affecting our society, with a media industry angle to it, exploring who sets the agenda, what changes the playing field and how we all can shape society from now on.

The main themes are “Human Behavior”, “New Technology” and “Make it Happen” with sessions that look into topics such as big data, learning, non visual communication, online harassment, responsive web design, boredom, change making and tactility in a digital world.

Here are some selected videos from the August 2013 edition. There are 56 in all online (just from 2013), so I invite you to explore them as well.

Suzannah Lipscomb – Opening keynote [41:19]
Suzannah Lipscomb is Senior Lecturer and Convenor for History at New College of the Humanities. She also holds a post as Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia. Suzannah opened The Conference by looking back and talked about what we can and can not learn from the past.

James Bridle – Naked Lunch [43:07]
The world is shaped by new technologies, but perhaps it is shaped more by how we understand those technologies, how they impact our daily lives, and the mental models we have of them. James Bridle, who coined the term “New Aesthetic”, talks about architectural visualisation, online literatures, contemporary warfare and contemporary labour, in an attempt to articulate new ways of thinking about the world.

An Xiao Mina – The Internetz and Civics [12:54]
An Xiao Mina is an American artist, designer, writer and technologist. She explores the disruptive power of networked, creative communities in civic life. Dubbing memes the “street art of the internet”, she looks at the growing role of meme culture and humor in addressing social and political issues in countries like China, Uganda and the United States.

Golden Krishna – The Best Interface Is No Interface [16:25]
Golden Krishna, Senior Designer at Samsung, speaks about how “The best interface is no interface”.
Many people believe that the future of design is on screens. But what if we can design communication that doesn’t involve screens.

Mike Dewar – Seeing From Above [18:25]
Mike Dewar, Data Scientist at The New York Times R&D Lab, will talk about how we can build tools to let us see behavioral phenomena from a heady new perspective with big data and data science. In an increasingly complex and networked world, tools for recording, filtering and visualising data is powering a new breed of storytelling.

Petra Sundström – Digitals [13:52]
Petra Sundström is a leading researcher within the fields of Human Computer Interaction and Interaction Systems Design. She is Lab Manager for the Crafted Technology and Experiences lab at SICS and Mobile Life.
We all know how paper feels and that we interpret things by touching them But how does digital features feel, and how can we better understand “digital materials” to design augmented digital experiences.

Tricia Wang – The Elastic Self [17:23]
Tricia Wang is a global tech ethnographer who researches how technology makes us human. She advises organizations, corporations, and students on utilizing Digital Age ethnographic research methods to improve strategy, policy, services, and products.

2 September 2013

Ericsson Report: Identifying the needs of tomorrow’s video consumers

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The Ericsson ConsumerLab TV & Media 2013 report (presentation) looks at how the explosion of connected mobile devices in the home has opened a whole new world of possibilities when it comes to viewing TV and video content.

Consumer viewing habits now involve so much more than just the living room TV and traditional broadcast services. Today people take their entertainment with them around the house – and beyond.

Key findings

Mobile devices make up an increasing share of TV and video viewing
> 72 percent use mobile devices at least weekly for video viewing. 42 percent do this outside the home.

TV is becoming a multiscreen and multitasking activity
> 75 percent multitask by using mobile devices while watching TV. 1 in 4 even watch multiple video sources at the same time.

Even late adopters are becoming advanced video users
> As many as 41 percent of 65–69 year olds studied stream on-demand/time shifted TV and video content, including YouTube, on a
more than weekly basis.

Video-On-Demand (VOD) is increasingly used for relaxation viewing while linear and scheduled TV is shifting to appointment viewing
> The value of linear TV is becoming more focused on live sports, events and other content with high ‘here and now’ appeal. Social viewing continues to be closely linked to this kind of content.

User-Generated Content (UGC) is becoming increasingly important
> It is not only being used for entertainment, but also for education, how-to guides and watching product reviews. In fact, 82 percent use YouTube or a similar service at least monthly.

We are witnessing the birth of aggregated, pick-and-mix TV solutions
> The quest has begun to become the first easy to use, à la carte TV solution provider that aggregates consumer TV and video needs. Consumers rank having an à la carte TV offering as the fifth most important aspect of their viewing experience.

2 September 2013

BBC R&D launched the UX Research Partnership

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Some weeks ago the BBC announced the BBC User Experience Research Partnership, a long-term collaboration project between BBC Research and Development (BBC R&D) and leading UK universities in the fields of User Experience and Human Computer Interaction research.

The academic partners are The University of Bath, The University of Dundee, UCL (University College London), Newcastle University, The University of Nottingham and Swansea University, which have all committed to support the initiative for at least four years.

Through large-scale pilots and prototypes, the partnership will explore the potential of new forms of content and interaction in a multi-platform world, alongside new ways of producing media that will help make content more accessible to all audiences. The research outcomes will be shared with the industry to encourage wider audience-focused innovation, help define open standards and support the creative industries in producing engaging content in the future.

> More background on the BBC R&D blog

1 September 2013

How we do user research in agile teams

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Getting user research into agile teams in a way that is timely, relevant and actionable is a challenge that teams the world over are tackling. Working effectively in agile has recently been the driver of some fairly significant changes to the way researchers work at the UK’s Government Digital Service.

We’ve been iterating how we do research in the same way we iterate our product design, and learned that the following techniques seem to integrate good research into agile teams more successfully:

– Dedicated researchers for each team
– Test designs at least every fortnight
– Everyone in the team should take part
– A varied toolkit
– See it through from analysis to action
– Sharing what we learn

1 September 2013

Abraham Maslow and the pyramid that beguiled business

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The psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation is 70 years old but continues to have a strong influence on the world of business. What is it, and is it right?

Maslow’s friend, management guru Warren Bennis, believes the quality underlying all Maslow’s thinking was his striking optimism about human nature and society.

“Abe Maslow, a Jewish kid who really grew up poor, represented the American dream,” he says. “All of his psychology really had to do with possibility, not restraints. His metaphysics were all about the possibilities of change, the possibilities of the human being to really fit into the democratic mode.”

29 August 2013

User-centred mobile app development in Kenya

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The success of a mobile app – its high adoption rate and actual use – largely depends on the degree of involvement of the end user during the development stage.

Mark Kamau, Kenyan web solution expert at the iHub UX Lab in Nairobi, believes a user-centric approach to mobile app development is critical to building a sustainable ICT-based solution.

“The failure rate of mobile apps is high and many development man-hours are wasted when user experiences are not taken into account right from the start of the development process. That is why people like Kamau and initiatives such as the UX Lab seek to convince developers to include the users in the earliest possible stage of the design process to better understand their needs and wants, and how, when and where they would use the new mobile app.”

28 August 2013

Exploring the use of tablets in educational settings

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MindShift, a service by KQED and NPR, has published a four-part series to explore the four dimensions of using tablets in educational settings, examining how teachers can take students on a journey from (1) consumption of media, to (2) curation, (3) creation, and (4) connection.

Each of the instalments explores the challenges ahead using the Someday/Monday template:

“The Someday/Monday dichotomy captures one of the core challenges in teacher professional development around education technology. On the one hand, deep integration of new learning technologies into classrooms requires substantially rethinking pedagogy, curriculum, assessment, and teacher practice (someday). For technology to make a real difference in student learning, it can’t just be an add-on. On the other hand, teachers need to start somewhere (Monday), and one of the easiest ways for teachers to get experience with emerging tools is to play and experiment in lightweight ways: to use technology as an add-on. Teachers need to imagine a new future—to build towards Someday—and teachers also need new activities and strategies to try out on Monday. Both pathways are important to teacher growth and meaningful, sustained changes in teaching and learning.”

22 August 2013

User modes as the raw ingredients of digital experience

 

The best way to design successful digital products is by understanding how users’ behaviour changes according to their mode, according to MEX.

Modes can be defined as the common ways people engage with digital products depending on their intent, environment, time and technology constraints. Where more simplistic measures such as designing for a particular device type or screen size may fail, understanding modes can deliver design insights closest to the users’ true needs.

It is these modes which explain why a user’s behaviour may vary substantially from app to app and from time of day to time of day. There are times when people are explorers and times when they are consumers or creators or communicators. In each of these modes, design should adapt to their needs.

As a starting point, MEX are currently researching six modes:

  1. Explore: Discovering novelty on an evolving path
  2. Augment: Enhancing activity with additional layers
  3. Communicate: Exchanging meaning with others
  4. Consume: Absorbing and interpreting information
  5. Control: Simplifying life through commands and automation
  6. Create: Originating something with expressive or functional qualities
20 August 2013

IBM on user experience design

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IBM believes that all users have the right to an enjoyable experience when using a computer. They have therefore decided to share the knowledge they have acquired from their own practical experience to help others create hardware and software that is easy for everyone to use.

Design concepts
In this section IBM discusses the users’ bill of rights that it subscribes to, the principles that drive successful user interface design, and models that promote designing for ease of use.
What is user experience design?
What is a user interface?
Design principles
User rights
The three models

Design patterns
Users employ software to achieve specific goals. Also, user interface designers have goals for the designs they create. Design Patterns provide established solutions based on sound design principles that enable these goals as they occur within specific task and environmental contexts.

Initial experience
The initial experience a user has in taking a new product out of the box and setting it up, in preparation for use, creates a lasting impression and constitutes an important aspect of the total user experience. We offer these guidelines and insights to help other software and hardware companies design initial experiences that are productive and satisfying for users. We also offer suggestions for effective evaluation and testing of the initial experience.

User-Centered Design
User-Centered Design is a well-established process that is used by IBM and many other organizations to deliver products that meet users’ expectations. This process has been supplemented by the Outside-In Design approach, which brings a focus on business value, and by the Agile approach to development, which is a set of best practices that can be used to support iterative development to improve time to market and stakeholder value.

An Agile approach to User Experience and Design
With more development moving to an Agile process, User Experience and Design (UXD) professionals are faced with the task of adapting their activities, deliverables, and even their own role to an Agile development process. Education on general Agile development principles and activities is readily available. While Agile development principles and best practices such as continuous user feedback and iterative development are familiar to UXD professionals, the focus on efficiency and time-boxed iterations can present a challenge. All these best practices are targeted at maintaining a focus on stakeholders and users while increasing productivity and efficiency.

20 August 2013

eBook: Rethinking UX

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Rethinking UX
Formats: PDF, EPUB, Kindle (DRM-free)
Pages: 62
Language: English
Released: August 2013
Publisher: Smashing Magazine GmbH

Abstract
In “Rethinking UX”, various UX professionals share their lessons learned and provide practical advice from their very own personal experience. The eBook is packed with interesting thoughts and concepts that let us reflect on our own practices. Every designer has their own user research techniques and strategies, but leaving the office and talking to people on the streets can foster innovation even more as any thought-out strategy ever could.

Is empathy possibly the best guarantor for great UX? Overcoming traditional patterns and designing with a new type of user in mind is among the many topics of this eBook.

Of course, you can also get your hands on some future scenarios. The Smashing authors dare to sneak a peak at some new challenges that we could face with the rise of innovative technologies such as Google Glass and Leap Motion, and explore how we can embrace entirely gesture-driven interfaces today. This eBook is a springboard for developing a new perspective and for creating future-proof user experiences.

20 August 2013

Exploring customer centricity in financial inclusion

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CGAP (a World Bank affiliated but independent policy and research center dedicated to advancing financial access for the world’s poor) has partnered with Janalakshmi Financial Services, one of India’s largest urban microfinance institutions to implement customer centricity in providing financial services to the urban poor. As a first step, the team commissioned Innovation Labs (consulting division of IMRB International, India) to build innovation capability within Janalakshmi and use new approaches to understand customers.

A Facebook journal follows the project over the next several months as it goes through the different phases of understanding customers, designing effective delivery and making the economics work. Here are the three initial posts:

Entry 1 – Creating a Customer-Centric Culture
The project with Janalakshmi Financial Services kicked off in Bangalore on July 1, 2013 with a workshop ‘Customer Centric Innovation’ conducted by Innovation Labs team for over 20 stakeholders at Janalakshmi from various functions including product marketing, strategy, IT and service centers.

Entry 2 – The Inside-Out View: How does a provider think about its clients?
A deep dive into Janalakshmi’s perspective on the customer and how this understanding affects their financial services offering.

Entry 3 – Ground Reality: Finance Management Skills of the Financially Underserved
The project team visited six households in Bangalore to gain a nuanced understanding of the lives of current and prospective customers. The purpose was to see how the customer-view of financial services matches up with that of Janalakshmi’s.

19 August 2013

Social scientists find story in data to attract more customers

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Social scientists say that tech companies are showing an increased interest in their skills, especially with the rising importance of social networking and big data, and that their roles within those companies are changing. A report by Janet I. Tu, the Seattle Times technology reporter.

In the past few years, with the rise of social computing and social media, tech companies have come to understand that, “It’s not enough to understand the individual user,” said Donald Farmer, a Seattle-based vice president of product management at QlikTech, a software company. “You have to understand them in a social context.” […]

Tracey Lovejoy, a senior user research lead for Office, has used her anthropology training at Microsoft as a user experience researcher and an ethnographer, researching how technology is embedded in people’s lives.

Recently, she and her team conducted a field study of about three dozen people, talking to people and observing them in their environments to understand the kinds of work they do on their tablets and how those tablets fit within their wider technology ecosystem.

One theme that emerged was that many tablet owners used their devices for more “casual productivity” and in more relaxed positions, such as reclining on the couch — information useful for future iterations of Office.

These days, Lovejoy observed, it’s the researchers themselves who are more embedded into product teams, “becoming more impactful, and influencing decisions at the strategic level.”

15 August 2013

Why a new Golden Age for UI design is around the corner

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Cliff Kuang writes in Wired how designers are working on their most ambitious challenge yet: weaving the digital world into our everyday lives so seamlessly that we don’t even notice.

“Over the past 30 years, as every facet of our lives, from our shopping to our schooling, has migrated onto computer screens, designers have focused on perfecting user interfaces—placing a button in just the right place for a camera trigger or collapsing the entire payment process into a series of swipes and taps. But in the coming era of ubiquitous sensors and miniaturized mobile computing, our digital interactions won’t take place simply on screens. As the new Disney World suggests, they will happen all around us, constantly, as we go about our day. Designers will be creating not products or interfaces but experiences, a million invisible transactions. […]

But as designers move off of screens and into the larger world, they’ll need to consider every nuance of our everyday activity and understand human behavior every bit as well as novelists or filmmakers. […]

Designers, who’ve always been adept at watching and responding to our needs, must bring to bear a better understanding of how people actually live. It’s up to them to make this new world feel like something we’ve always wanted and a natural extension of what we already have.”