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25 November 2007

Special report on Samsung in French newspaper Le Monde

Talk to me
The French newspaper Le Monde has published a special report on Samsung, including a highly visual special on Samsung’s design strategy, which by the way features glimpses of a few rather interesting looking presentation slides (the design goal is to create a culturally-based emotional experience, which goes beyond identity and originality, whereas the design philosophy describes an iterative “emotional journey” circle between intuition, delight and desire).

In the interest of sharing this story with non-French speakers, here is my translation:

 

Design at the heart of the Samsung strategy

“We have three levels of design analysis: global design intelligence, future design intelligence and corporate design implementation,” says Harry Choi of Samsung’s Corporate Design Center. The text below is based on an interview with him:

  • “Global design intelligence”: Six international offices (San Francisco, London, Shanghai, Tokyo, Milan and Bangalore) gather the various sociological trends that characterise the forms, materials and colours of the local design. The experts — architects, interior designers or stylists — do not work full time for Samsung, but are commissioned to regularly brief Samsung on the strategic developments taking place in their geographical area. 
  • “Corporate design implementation”: Here the experts’ information and analyses are reinterpreted from an industrial perspective. It was through the analysis of the products of our various competitors — LG, Bosch, Siemens — that we became fully aware of the coherence of their product line, and the relative incoherence of our own. So we created our Corporate Design Center to create a more integrate design between the products coming from our various activity sectors. We always choose for one single design for a product. It is the same all over the world. It is impossible for us, because of industrial and economic reasons, to develop regional designs. But that doesn’t mean that we do not respond to local needs. For instance, we consider China as a market on its own and we have products there that do not exist anywhere else. We also create “limited edition” series, particularly for the European market, where people are fond of high-end products. We do not make much profit with these products, but they enhance our brand image. 
  • “Future design intelligence”: Here we develop a product roadmap that foresees and prepares our various product lines within a five year time frame. This becomes an important strategic direction for the company, and it is constantly updated. The example of the television is very illustrative. The technology has evolved a lot in five years. We have gone from the Hertz diffusion to TNT, to cable and now to IPTV. The external optical media and their associated connections change practically every year. And the aesthetics are evolving as well.

  

Two products, two design strategies

“When we think of a printer nowadays, we think of a noisy, ugly and cumbersome object,” says Jun Won Bae, designer of the SCX 4500 printer. “That was at least the result of our preliminary studies. Based on these findings and on a clear public demand, we decided to devote more attention to the design. We ended up with a trendsetting product.”

“We focussed on four reference values to change the traditional mindset people have of a printer:

  • Use value – We reduced the surface and volume of the object to the minimum, by turning it into the smallest laser printer in the world.
  • Visual value – We have chosen for a shiny and glossy black. We were inspired by the lacquer of the grand piano and the simple forms this object has. We also avoided the traditional shapes of buttons by creating tactile zones and blue backlit areas to indicate the functions of the printer.
  • Tactile value – The materials were chosen for their tactile quality, and are very different from what is usually offered.
  • Sound value – We have reduced the printing noise to 45 decibels, from a standard minimum of 50 decibels for other printers.

This small printer is aimed at the SoHo market (small office and housing) but it has a premium price. We want to bring design intot the office, as Apple has successfully done these last few years. In fact, Apple is the exclusive distributor of this product on the American market.

The manufacturing of this printer requires a multitude of skills: mechanical, micro-electronics, chemical (for the inks), and software. This is why there are so few players in this market segment and the Chinese for instance are not attacking us here. We are for now just focusing on a particular sector — laser printers — where we already master the technology. Since we can no longer conquer the market by making conventional printers, we put our energy on design. And for the moment, this strategy is working.”

There is also an interview in this section with the designer of the G800 touch phone.

 

A university dedicated to R&D

In 1995, Samsung created a design school in Seoul. The Samsung Art and Design Institute (SADI) has meanwhile become a real study laboratory for the group.

Originally the school was dedicated to graphic design and fashion styling. But in the last two years it has opened itself up to industrial design and technology design. Here are some of the student prototypes [which do not seem to be based on much user research].

  • Bong-Bong Boxer – Instead of forbidding children to fight with each other, it might make more sense to give them the tools to do so without getting hurt: gloves, “shoes” and a helmet. 
  • Okids phone – This multifunction phone is for the little ones. In phone mode, the child can call preprogrammed numbers and push an emergency button. In “heart” mode, thanks to its ingenious pivotal rotation system, the screen becomes a gaming screen with a separate keyboard. 
  • Talk to me – Each flower is an MP3 recorder and belongs to a member of the family. They can all leave a message on it when leaving the house. When a message is left behind, the lower part of the flower emits a soft pulsing light to indicate that it has something to say. 
  • Spicy cartridge – This box contains little spice containers. A rear projector provides information on each of the containers. It could be part of an intelligent cuisine where recipes are proposed based on the available ingredients. 
  • Mamang – This object reinvents the rocking horse. The child is perched on its back and gets solicited by its parents through the built-in screen and camera. 
  • Take1 – This miniature camera with an omnidirectional screen and built-in tripod, provides bare essential functionality but is highly discrete. 
  • Draw your finger – A mobile phone specially developed for the visually impaired. 

The report also contains a slideshow of products about to be launched on the market.

20 November 2011

Tablets, sensors, foot boards and other gadgets for (French) seniors

Grandpa skype
As the first baby boomers turn 65 this year, high-tech is gradually making its way into the lives – and homes – of older folks.

French newspaper Le Monde looks at the tablets, sensors, foot boards and other gadgets seniors can use to get caught up and connected (article translated in English for Worldcrunch).

“Surprising but true: the touch tablet is well-adapted to older people, even the least tech-oriented. No cables, no complicated data structures, just single-function touch points. The result is that tablets can be used as an all-purpose communication tool: to keep up with the news, check the weather, play games, or conduct video conference calls with one’s children, grand-children, and home-bound friends.”

Read article

7 May 2009

Daniel Kaplan’s excellent critique of the Internet of Things

Daniel Kaplan
Daniel Kaplan, CEO of the French Next-Generation Internet Foundation (FING) and one of the driving forces behind the upcoming LIFT conference in Marseilles, France, has published three long essays with an excellent critique of the Internet of Things.

If you understand French, they are highly recommended reading. Otherwise, check the links as they often lead to English-language background resources.

In the first article, L’internet des objets n’est pas celui que vous croyez ! ["The Internet of Things is not what you think"], Kaplan describes the various visions of the Internet of Things, and the role of us, human beings, within these visions. Kaplan is worried as these technologies are taking controls and power away from the individual, which is exactly the opposite of what the internet set out to do, and therefore the Internet of Things carries no transformational vision.

But Kaplan goes further. His second piece, Révolution ou déception ? ["Revolution or deception?"], positions that the “Internet of Things” is not all what its name implies. It’s not even an internet, not technically, not socially, not economically. The way “things” are currently networked is entirely within silos — in terms of applications, services and organisations — and this has nothing to do with the view on pervasive interconnectedness that the inter-net concept contains. He also elaborates on what he means with the lack of transformational vision. Where the Internet always came with visions of social and cultural transformation, the Internet of Things is just nice-nice: we don’t hear anything but service, comfort, optimisation, health, reliability, sustainability, quality and security, usually performed by others on our behalf. If there is a vision, it is one of a control society.

In the closing piece Industrialiser l’internet ou internetiser l’industrie ? ["Industrialise the Internet or internetise the industry?"], Kaplan outlines a vision for an entirely different Internet of Things, which is open, modifiable, recyclable, social and evolutionary, and claims that a real “Internet of Things” will be driven by the thinking of such people as Julian Bleecker, Usman Haque and Bruce Sterling, and by cultures such as those of open source hardware (Arduino) or the fabrication movement (“Bricolabs”).

The first article in the series got republished in the technology section of the French newspaper Le Monde, and it looks like the others will soon follow.

Hubert Guillaud of InternetActu told me that these papers will soon be translated into English for the LiftBlog and when that happens, we will let you know here too.

18 September 2007

The French and their mobiles

The French and their mobiles
A few days ago, I translated an article from the French newspaper Le Monde about new French research on “collective mobile phone use”.

The French Association of Mobile Operators now published the full study (pdf, 630 kb, 156 pages), as well as a three-page press release/synthesis.

For a number of reasons I decided to spend (quite) some time translating the report synthesis:
- The study is strong and the results insightful, refreshing and highly innovative;
- Little is known internationally about anthropological research on mobile technologies in France;
- There is a barrage of coverage coming from the Anglo-Saxon world, and only a trickle from elsewhere.

Translating the study itself is unfortunately beyond my capacity and I can only hope that the French Association of Mobile Operators itself will one day make the study available in an English translation – feel free to put some pressure on them by contacting them at info@afomobiles.org.
 

MAIN CONCLUSIONS OF THE NEW SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY ON THE MOBILE PHONE IN FRANCE IN 2007

The French Association of Mobile Operators (AFOM) asked the Discours and Pratiques studio to conduct a study on the mobile phone in the French society in 2007.

Five researchers in information and communication sciences [sociology, information sciences, communication sciences, philosophy and literature], all members of GRIPIC (the research group of the CELSA school), worked on the study for six months, conducting about one hundred in-depth interviews, as well as anthropological observations in various locations (Paris and its suburbs, Marseilles, Strasbourg, Creuse and various ski resorts) and various situations.

The researchers tried to understand the ways of “doing and being” that go with the use of the mobile phone on the street, cafe terraces, restaurants, public gardens, train stations, apartments, vacation homes, companies, libraries, and transportation means, and this without falling back on traditional social categorisations. And to really cover the symbolic dimension of the mobile phone, the research also covered areas that up till now were not covered by research: the movies, television shows and literature.

The study was lead by Anne Jarrigeon and Joëlle Menrath, two researchers who were already involved with a previous GRIPIC study on the mobile phone in French society, conducted in 2004 and 2005.

The main points of the 2007 study are:
 

1. The mobile phone is no longer just a personal device. In 2007, the phone is integrated within collective practices both in the family and between friends.

Mobile phone are increasingly objects that circulate within a group. The owner of the mobile phone is no longer the only one to touch it, check it and use it.

Mobile phones can allow for exchanges based on the amount of credit left before the end of the month and on the range of hourly allowances when calls are free. This can also lead to a collective choice of operators, of discount plans and of prepaid cards, with the sole aim of optimising cost within the group.

Within the family, mobile phone reinforce the asymmetric role and character of the parent-child relationship: whereas parents do not think about money when calling their children, the children themselves try to save money by “beeping” their parents, in order to be called back.

The mobile of the child is a jointly managed tool and a transaction device. It is experienced by the parents – and mainly by the mothers – as an opportunity for exchange with their child and as a way for children to learn to manage a financial budget.

Within a group of friends, mobile phones serve to define roles and affinities. One can find the expert, and the user with difficulties, the “banker” who always has some credit, and the “borrower” who always asks for text messages and minutes (without ever giving them).

Beyond these roles, the mobile phone created relations of exclusivity with those whom one calls most often based on the tariff offers and their compatibility.
 

2. The French have ambivalent and changing relations with their mobile phone. In 2007, the mobile phone goes from being personal to transitory, from intimate to visible.

If the mobile phone is a “signature object” that one gets emotionally attached to and reflects the identity of its owner, it is also a “transitory object” that one can easily detached from, because it’s after all a device that young users see as something that will in the end be either replaced by a new model, or end up broken, lost or stolen.

If the mobile phone is an intimate “black box” where one stores the archives of one’s life (contacts, SMS, photos…), it is also:

  • for adults, the album that unites all the photos previously kept in the wallet and the object where one keeps its secrets from intrusion (partner listening to messages or checking on call history…),
  • for teens, the place where one keeps personal collections (images, ringtones, …), that one shares and shows like a museum.
     

3. New social conventions are being established around the mobile phone.

A mobile phone call can easily be interrupted (“I have to go now”, “I can’t hear you anymore”, “I am out of battery”, “I just arrived”). With a mobile phone, ending a call is allowed without this being considered impolite.

Calling someone on a mobile means living it up to him/her to answer or not. The mobile phone is increasingly seen as a non-intrusive tool of reachability.

New rules are also developing about money, with regards to “limit expenses”, or “pick up the tab” such as in a restaurant, or on the impoliteness of extending a conversation because the call is free anyhow.
 

4. The use of the mobile phone is governed more by example than by rules and prohibitions.

Nowadays there are many rules that prohibit the use of the mobile phone, be it at work, in public spaces or at school. Very often these rules are not followed.

In many contexts that were observed (office, train, waiting room…), use is self-regulated in terms of what people consider to be tolerable and appropriate.

At school, the mobile phone is added to the series of tools of those that are not interested in a class or have fun at creating some disturbance, something that more “traditional” tools were used for before. It becomes another challenge for the teacher to manage during his class.

Confiscation seems to be most effective sanction in school even if the user of the confiscated phone is no the owner (because phones often circulate in groups) and even if parents are opposed to this sanction because it prevents them from reaching their children (including – for some – during classes).

Because rules are usually not followed, example behaviour is often more effective than prohibition. When someone decides not to use his/her phone when on holidays, at dinner, during meetings or while with the family, this is often the best way to dissuade others from using it.

However such example behaviour requires constant vigilance because any use of the mobile phone quickly becomes a breach that others quickly take advantage of.
 

5. Several dominant sociological and philosophical lines of thought are consistent with the behaviours that were observed and the results that were obtained during the study.

While the mobile phone is often presented as the token of an individualistic and atomised society, in reality one observes collective and collaborative behaviours around the mobile in the family and between friends.

While the mobile phone is often thought of as creating a bubble around the people engaged in the call, excluding them from their immediate environments, in reality one increasingly observes conversations where those around the “caller”, allow themselves to intervene, to interrupt the caller or to speak to him/her about something else.

While the mobile phone is often portrayed as filling a void or a lack, one increasingly observes situations where the phone provides resources to act and react, allows to capture what one experiences et to bring an “extra value” to what one experiences that can be described with wellbeing or pleasure.

And while the mobile phone is often, also outside of expert research, mentioned in current discussions on improper behaviour the people that were interviewed do not speak about this and one observes increasingly less signs of exasperation or of cases of embarrassment in public life.
 

6. The mobile phone is seen as a “average medium” that renews amateur photo and film practice.

Mobile phone images are viewed as precarious images, often of uncertain quality, not to be printed and not be shared between devices. These images always call up a description of something one should see. They serve to create memories and to prove that one really was present at the event one is talking about (e.g. a concert, a celebrity passing by …).

Mobile phone images are integrated within several reference frameworks that preceded the phone: the journalism of the everyday and one’s own life, spontaneous family images as opposed to fake happiness, the sensationalism that comes with having to set up brief, clear, efficient and striking acts.

More spectacular scenes can raise the challenge by bringing in the grotesque, the playful, the macabre, even violence. This is what lead to the videos gags, the MTV Jackass and the so-called ‘snuff movies’. The aggressions filmed on a mobile phone are one of the most recent expressions of this (although the expression ‘happy slapping’ was not used by any of the people interviewed within this study).
 

Our friends from InternetActu, who also report on this study, highlight that the authors of the study conclude that “the mobile phone of 2007 is no longer exactly the same phone as it was in 2007:

“Its current massive and seemingly irreversible presence in all spheres of life would make one think that its uses would become trivialised or neutralised. None of that can be observed. […] Whereas the conventional uses of the mobile phone are more stable now than they were in 2005, they are now shared with new uses that are either linked to innovative technologies that are appropriated by users, or created by themselves in daily practice.

[…] What struck is, is that the mobile phone hasn’t ‘bursted’ under the effect of the successive additions of new functions, but continues to make sense to people as a “phone”, even though they use it in manifold ways. It goes even further than that. The mobile phone is no longer fully conceived or ‘experienced’ as a Swiss Army knife of aggregated functions but instead reinvented with each use as a ‘fully conceived object’: a machine to write text messages, a photo camera, a voice mail system… It is an object that is endowed with the capacity of metamorphosis. When seen in the context of the other devices it relates to, the mobile phone seems today to be part of an augmented collection [or 'ecosystem'] of communicating devices, including the devices of others […]. Research on the effects of the phone on others therefore seems more relevant today than an investigation on how to optimise the performance and complementarity of the different tools.”

16 September 2007

Your cheatin’ heart leaves tell-tale e- trail

Unhappy
The Americans and the French are not so very much apart in the end, at least when it comes to the role of technology in relationship break ups.

After French newspaper Le Monde reported yesterday on couples’ mobile phone spying behaviour, now the International Herald Tribune has its own take on the matter, although – frankly – it doesn’t provide much real insight:

“The age-old business of breaking up has taken a decidedly Orwellian turn, with digital evidence like e-mail messages, traces of Web site visits and mobile telephone records now permeating many contentious divorce cases.

Spurned lovers steal each other’s BlackBerrys. Suspicious spouses hack into each other’s e-mail accounts. They load surveillance software onto the family PC, sometimes discovering shocking infidelities.

Divorce lawyers routinely set out to find every bit of private data about their clients’ adversaries, often hiring investigators with sophisticated digital forensic tools to snoop into household computers.”

Read full story

15 September 2007

New French research on collective mobile phone use

Mobile phone installation at electronics fair in Berlin
The French newspaper Le Monde reports on new research, published today, that shows how mobile phones are increasingly becoming objects of collective use.

The research, which involved six months of field observations and interviews, was commissioned by the French Association of Mobile Operators and managed by researchers of Gripic, a research group of the information sciences school Celsa at the University of Paris-IV-Sorbonne.

Here are some of the insights, as reported in Le Monde (and translated by the author of this blog):

“The mobile phone is more and more used in a collective way,” says Joëlle Menrath, one of the researchers. “Real collective strategies are developing, with teens often passing their phone on to their friends to take maximum advantage of the prepaid calling plans and the discounts these offer.” Those who have not fully used their own discount options, let others profit from it. In fact, these users often juggle with the tariff options of their close friends. They might take advantage of the free calling hours of one of their friends, or will choose a plan based on the plans that other friends have chosen. Sometimes, a group of friends might subscribe to different mobile operators so that they can extend their geographic coverage.

These strategies can also be found within families. Children “beep” their parents to save on communication costs: it works as a code, with one or two rings before hanging up, and lets people know that you want them to call you back. “This way parents are reassured, they maintain their hierarchical position, but they also have to pay for the communication,” notes Mrs. Menrath. Children have in a way largely subverted the initial attempt at constraint to their own advantage…

The shared use of the mobile also leads to the disappearance of its function as a private object containing intimate secrets. “It servers more and more as a tool to express oneself,” says Anne Jarrigeon, another of the researchers involved. When a teen is momentarily absent, friends often take the phone to read out recently sent text messages or to view recent photos.

Such a transparency can of course backfire. “Within couples, spying on the mobile of one’s partner is very common,” says Mrs. Menrath. The call history and text and photos in the phone’s memory can have devastating effects. “The mobile phone plays a key role in many break-ups,” admits Mrs. Menrath.

Whatever may be the case, the device has become indispensable and people use its many new functions is ways that were not anticipated. “The music or the photo functions do not transform the device into a digital Swiss Army knife,” says Mrs. Jarrigeon. “It remains a telephone that allows for some other secondary uses”. The research shows that the mobile phone is no substitute for an MP3 player or a digital camera. But it lets people create a photographic notebook of daily life that one can show to close relations to illustrate a story being told, or to let people listen to one’s exploits.

These new ways of using the mobile orginate more often from the imagination of the subscribers, than they do derive from the manufacturers. “In Japan, the users of the metro system always keep their travel card and mobile phone together,” reminds Mrs Menrath. “It is by observing them that NTT Docomo decided to integrate this function into their phones.”

The new research, which is not yet available online, builds on a previous research project on the social use of the mobile phone, published in 2005.

28 July 2006

What is the 1% rule? [The Guardian]

Guardian - Technology
Very interesting article on the limits of user participation and co-creation by Charles Arthur in the technology section of today’s The Guardian, here copied in its entirety.

“It’s an emerging rule of thumb that suggests that if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will “interact” with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it.

It’s a meme that emerges strongly in statistics from YouTube, which in just 18 months has gone from zero to 60% of all online video viewing.

The numbers are revealing: each day there are 100 million downloads and 65,000 uploads – which as Antony Mayfield (at Open) points out, is 1,538 downloads per upload – and 20m unique users per month.

That puts the “creator to consumer” ratio at just 0.5%, but it’s early days yet; not everyone has discovered YouTube (and it does make downloading much easier than uploading, because any web page can host a YouTube link).

Consider, too, some statistics from that other community content generation project, Wikipedia: 50% of all Wikipedia article edits are done by 0.7% of users, and more than 70% of all articles have been written by just 1.8% of all users, according to the Church of the Customer blog.

Earlier metrics garnered from community sites suggested that about 80% of content was produced by 20% of the users, but the growing number of data points is creating a clearer picture of how Web 2.0 groups need to think. For instance, a site that demands too much interaction and content generation from users will see nine out of 10 people just pass by.

Bradley Horowitz of Yahoo points out that much the same applies at Yahoo: in Yahoo Groups, the discussion lists, “1% of the user population might start a group; 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content, whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress; 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups,” he noted on his blog elatable in February.

So what’s the conclusion? Only that you shouldn’t expect too much online. Certainly, to echo Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. The trouble, as in real life, is finding the builders.”

UPDATE

Reacting to this post, Business Week’s Bruce Nussbaum asks some very pertinent questions in his blog NussbaumOnDesign:

“If 1% of crowds are creators, then what is the difference between “experts” and “crowds?” What is the difference between professional historians who write encyclopedias and the “masses” of people who do? Where does the real value of crowds lie? Are there higher “quality” crowds where more than 1% of the people create. Is the IBM innovation jam model where tens of thousands of highly trained people “crowd” better at innovation than a more general group of people? Who really participates in social networking and what do they do? Who is active, who is passive and why? Huge questions here on social networking that we really need to answer in this pell mell rush to social networking.”

5 March 2014

De l’importance de l’ethnographie appliquée aux technologies

Etvousvotrechaudiereestelleaccessible-221x300

For once a post in French!

Hubert Guillaud of InternetActu describes some examples – mostly from the recent EPIC conference – of the great contribution of ethnography in focusing our gaze on real life practices, in pointing out that what technologists do not see, and in explaining how the strictly technological gaze often fails. ["Le grand apport de l’ethnographie est de renverser notre regard sur les pratiques en pointant du doigt ce que les technologues ne voient pas, d’expliquer en quoi le regard strictement technologique bien souvent, échoue."]

“L’ethnographie est une méthode des sciences sociales consistant en l’étude descriptive et analytique, sur le terrain, des moeurs, coutumes et pratiques de populations déterminées. Longtemps cantonnés aux populations primitives, les sociologues, anthropologues et ethnologues ont depuis les années 70 élargies l’usage de ces méthodes à bien d’autres terrains, et notamment à l’étude de nos pratiques quotidiennes, afin de mieux comprendre “les expériences humaines en contexte”. Parmi les repères de la conception ethnographique appliquée à la technologie, citons au moins le travail pionnier de Lucy Suchman au Xerox Parc dès les années 90, ou celui de Genevieve Bell qui poursuit ce travail chez Intel et qui a signé, avec Tony Salvador et Ken Anderson, en 1999, l’un des articles fondateur de l’ethnographie appliquée aux questions technologiques.

Depuis 2011, le site Questions d’Ethnographie (ethnomatters) interroge ces nouvelles pratiques de l’ethnographie et permet à de jeunes chercheurs de discuter la tension entre l’ethnographie universitaire et l’ethnographie appliquée, tel que de plus en plus d’ethnologues la pratiquent. Pour eux, si l’ethnographie est importante, c’est parce qu’elle aide à maintenir “le développement technologique réel”, concret.

Récemment, le site a publié une série d’exemples tirés de présentations qui se sont déroulées lors de la conférence Epic 2013 qui avait lieu en septembre dernier à Londres, une conférence sur la pratique ethnographique dans le monde des affaires (voir le brouillon non finalisé des actes (.pdf)), qui éclaire d’une manière concrète l’intérêt de l’ethnographie appliquée. Le grand apport de l’ethnographie est de renverser notre regard sur les pratiques en pointant du doigt ce que les technologues ne voient pas, d’expliquer en quoi le regard strictement technologique bien souvent, échoue. Prenons quelques exemples pour mieux comprendre les enjeux.”

1 September 2010

French ethnographic research on smartphone use

Smartphones
Le Monde newspaper published (Google translation) today a summary of an ethnographic research project on smartphone use by young adult, presented yesterday at a Virgin Mobile press conference in Paris.

The research was conducted by Olivier Aïm of the Celsa Graduate School, Laurence Allard of the Lille 3 University and Joëlle Menrath of Discours & Pratiques.

Three key conclusions were mentioned in Le Monde:

  • Most use only five apps, and few explore the Web via a browser, as surfing is not something they like to do on their devices.
  • The smartphone has not only become a new status symbol, but the type of smartphone defines your core identity values – with the fight primarily between the “iPhone” people and the “BlackBé” people. No mention is made of Android.
  • Apps are often used in the many moments “in between”, while for some the smartphone replaces the computer entirely
28 January 2008

Prof. Ollivier Dyens about the “inhuman” revolution

La condition inhumaine
With the publication of the book “La condition inhumaine: essai sur l’effroi technologique” [The inhuman condition: essay on the fear of technology] by Ollivier Dyens, the French newspaper Le Monde published an interview with the author.

Here is a quick translation:

To adapt ourselves to the power of digital technologies, we will have to profoundly change the vision that we have of ourselves, says Ollivier Dyens, professor at Montreal.

As a professor of French Studies at the Concordia University in Montreal, you have been studying the impact of new technologies on society for the last fifteen years. Will the striking growth in power of the digital domain be able to transform us in depth?

A few years back, I thought that technology would indeed change the human being. Now I think that technology will change the perception we have of the human being. I believe less and less in the myth of the cyborg, the man-machine. But the vision we have of ourselves will have to change to adapt itself to the technological reality of tomorrow.

Your latest book is entitled “The Inhuman Condition”. Why this title?

The term “inhuman” is not referring to cruelty, but to what lies beyond the human. The answers provided by science and technology to the essential questions that man has been asking since the dawn of time – Who am I? Where do we come from? – are more and more in conflict with what our senses and our mind tell us. So there is a growing tension between our biological reality and our technological one, and this leads to what I call the “inhuman condition”. We have always considered tools and languages as structures that existed to respond to our needs. It is vital to rethink this relationship.

Why is the growing overlap between biological and technological realities troubling us so much?

A Japanese robot specialist once drew a mental picture to be able to explain our concern. He called it the “Uncanny Valley”. As long as robots are quite different from us, they do not disturb us. But when they become too close, we fall in the Uncanny Valley. The artificial hand becomes disconcerting the day it looks too much like a real hand – a hand that you can touch and shake just like a natural one. That’s where we are now with the digital, which is becoming increasingly “intelligent”, increasingly “alive”…. That’s what worries us, because it looks too much like us.

You say that machines took charge of civilisation at the start of the new millennium.

Do you remember we had on 31 December 1999 for the Millennium Bug? The fear was real and existed within the biggest IT companies. On that day all of mankind held its breath, waiting for the verdict of the machines on whether they would or not be able to “understand” the three zeros of the new date. And what happened? The computers, all over the world, were able to adapt. No catastrophe happened — not in the countries where little was done in preparation, not in the countries where much was done.

What I am saying is that digital systems have become too intertwined, too powerful for us to be able to determine what makes them efficient or inefficient. They have become a little bit like the weather conditions, which we know are too complex in order for us to extend our forecast beyond just a few days.

It’s quite distressing to be bypassed by the autonomy of the machines we ourselves created.

Yes for some, it is. But others consider it a normal evolutionary process. Important are the dynamics of life, whether that is in the DNA or in the silicon. Whatever the conclusion, technology is now forcing us to redefine our place in the planetary hierarchy. We can no longer put ourselves at the top of the pyramid, but have to see ourselves in a dynamic position that takes the machines into account as an integrating part of the human species.

And if we don’t succeed in doing that?

Then we risk ending up in the near future in a world which is polarised, Manichean and violent, where the larger part of humanity is completely cut off from the world of representations, ideas, theories and culture. A world of frustration and despair borne out of a new alienation: the knowledge alienation.

This risk is already present: we find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between information and its synthesis – in other words, knowledge. Why? Because the machine generated culture is bypassing us. To use a maritime metaphor: the quantity of information on the web is an ocean, but we don’t know the art of navigating it. In order to survive, we are increasingly left with no other choice but to stay on the surface of the ocean, “surfing” the web. But we humans still navigate the old way, and link knowledge with the idea of deepening our insight. Surface and depth: we will need to reconcile these two notions again.

Will the “inhuman condition” have positive consequences?

Less war, perhaps. The more that countries are economically and culturally intertwined, the less reason there is to see the other as a stranger, that has to be fought. Digital technologies and the internet stimulate this connection between human beings. Email, chat, blogs recall what connects us, beyond geography, our body or our skin colour. Never before have we spent so much time at communicating, enriching ourselves and debating issues through our networks.

Will the internet create new forms of collective intelligence?

Yes, I am convinced of that. The communication means offered to us by these instantaneous digital networks seem to share one main objective: to nourish or create global coherence. A blog acquires its legitimacy if it is linked to from other blogs, and the first site to appear in Google results is the one that is “hyperlinked” by the largest number of sites… This legitimacy coming from the collectivity carries some danger: it defends itself against the individual and doesn’t care much about things that are outside of the norm and marginal. But it also carries great potential, able to profoundly change our relationship with the world. The human aspect of the inhuman condition is after all much closer to us than the ant — which lives, exists and comprehends its world through the collective – and therefore is no autonomous, conscious and unique individual.

5 December 2010

Cisco’s vision on user-centred design

Cordell Ratzlaff
The UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph profiles Cordell Ratzlaff, director of user-centred design at Cisco Systems, and former head of Apple’s Human Interface Group.

“Like a lot of prominent technology companies, Cisco has recognised that its products aren’t as intuitive to use as they could be, so has brought in Ratzlaff to take a fresh approach.

Ratzlaff is no stranger to shaking up the user experience, having previously been tasked with making the Mac interface so enticing that users would almost want to lick the screen, rumour has it. From Apple, he went on to become creative director at Frog Design, where he designed for Disney, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and Yahoo!.

At Cisco, he has researchers whose role is to get among users and identify needs they don’t yet realise they have. Significantly, Ratzlaff doesn’t see a distinction between professional users and consumers. “There’s no such thing as an enterprise user — people’s values and skills don’t change as they put on their work clothes,” he notes.”

Read article

23 June 2009

Towards social business design

Social business design
Social business design is a new concept that could potentially become quite important for businesses and corporations:

In “From Social Media To Social Business Design, David Armano explores what businesses would be like if they were truly social.

“Imagine if a company like GM, was at the core “social”. Not just participating in “social media”—but through every part of their business ecosystem, were connected—plugged into a collective consciousness made up of ALL their constituents, from employees to consumers to dealers, to assembly line works etc. What if big organizations worked the way individuals now do. We’re actively using cloud services, mobile, networks and applications that offer real time dynamic signals vs. inefficient and static e-mail exchanges. In short, imagine if what makes “Web.2.0″ revolutionary was applied to every facet of an organization transforming how we work, collaborate and communicate? We think this is possible. And we’re calling it “social business design“.”

Armano’s company Dachis Corp. is currently working on rolling out a set of offerings to help businesses understand and apply these constructs to achieve leveraged and emergent outcomes that are measurable.

Bruce Nussbaum loves it.

” This is one of the most important attempts to answer the key question of What Comes Next? What comes next after the great recession ends? What will be the New Normal for consumers, for businesses, for all global organizations.

In essence, David argues that it is not sufficient for companies to merely plug into and participate in the social media of its customers. Companies must BECOME social media and be organized as social media.”

Meanwhile Jevon MacDonald of the same corporation is giving the idea a bit more grounding on his own blog and the Fast Forward blog. Read his contributions:

Understanding the role of Enterprise 2.0 and moving towards a Social Business
In the last few years the concept of social software in the enterprise has matured significantly, but we are still grasping for a real understanding of its role, and what to call it. I believe that understanding the separation of social software and social strategies can bring us closer to seeing the complete picture.

Taking the leap: Social Business Design
Social Business Design is the first (as far as I can tell) effort to completely unite both the strategic and implementation components of a new kind of business. Social Businesses are those which are designed from top to bottom as a reflection of the world we all live in online today. A business were everyone is connected and able to contribute but also where the right tools are available to them to do all of this with a business intent from the beginning.

Social Business Design and the Real Time Enterprise
For the first time we are seeing a complete set of ideas emerge which are applicable on both a strategic and implementation level. The four major archetypes of Social Business Design can be integrated to move past simple data interchange and in to a world of work in which end-users are in control and through which they can collaborate in real time. Without this framework it was easy to miss the need to develop strong ecosystems and intelligent metafilters in addition to a dynamic signal.

3 January 2009

“Transformation” a better concept than “innovation” to guide us forward

Bruce Nussbaum
At the beginning of last year, we at Experientia worked with a Belgian regional authority on developing the concept for a new design centre, called the Transformation Factory (read more about it in this paper).

Now also Business Week’s Bruce Nussbaum is publicly advocating the concept of transformation, rather than innovation, as the approach we currently need.

A first post on the matter was written on New Year’s Eve, and is recommended reading not just because of Nussbaum’s thinking itself, but also because of the many and sometimes very polemic comments that various readers have been contributing (many of whom are concerned about the introduction of a new buzz word).

“Transformation” captures the key changes already underway and can help guide us into the future. It implies that our lives will increasingly be organized around digital platforms and networks that will replace edifices and big organizations (students already know this, university presidents still have edifice-complexes, which is why so many of them are getting the boot). [...]

The concept of “Transformation” [...] implies radical transformation of our systems—education, health-care, economic growth, transportation, defense, political representation. It puts the focus on people, designing networks and systems off their wants and needs. It relies on humanizing technology, not imposing technology on humans. It approaches uncertainties with a methodology that creates options for new situations and sorts through them for the best quickly.

Most importantly, “Transformation” accepts the notion that we are in a post-consumer society, defined by two groups of economic players: manufacturers and consumers. “Transformation” deals with a new Creativity Society, in which we are all both producers and consumers of value.

In today’s post “The Transformation Conversation” (no comments as of yet), Nussbaum attempts to integrate and structure the debate by a more systematic outline of why he thinks “the concept of “transformation” is of great[er] utility and power than “innovation” at this point in time”.

Unfortunately all of Nussbaum’s examples come from the USA and he presents the concept as an entirely new neologism, with strict relevance to the corporate world, which of course it isn’t.

Even in design, I need only refer to the paper that Colin Burns, Hilary Cottam et al. published in early 2006 – currently available here.

UPDATE: Reaction by Idris Mootee

22 September 2008

The New School appoints Bruce Nussbaum Professor of Innovation and Design

Bruce Nussbaum
The New School has announced that Bruce Nussbaum, one of the leading thinkers and writers about the intersections of innovation and design, has been appointed Visiting Professor of Innovation and Design. He will work broadly across The New School, with a faculty “home base” in the School of Design Strategies at Parsons The New School for Design, which houses degree programs in design and management, integrated design and environmental studies.

Nussbaum (often profiled on this blog) will surely find a highly stimulating environment in an excellent university so defined by its rich history of dissent and democracy, European exile culture and social research. In short, we couldn’t be more pleased.

Congratulations, Bruce.

17 September 2008

IDEO blogs

IDEO
For years I wondered why IDEO was so little present in the online debate. That has now changed with no less than two new blogs by IDEO:

IDEO Labs

“IDEO Labs is a place where we can share bits of what we’re working on, talk about cool techniques and share our excitement over the tools that help us create.

Ringing new ideas to life is an essential part of what we do. The first versions are usually rough. They’re early proofs of the concepts, ways of helping us explore, learn, and think. Usually they’re not very pretty. They’re not finished products, after all, but prototypes of what could be.

Most of the time those prototypes don’t get shown to anyone but the client who hired us. But sometimes we do stuff that we can share, and we’ve created this blog to do just that.

It’s also a place where we hope conversations will take place. If you see something you like, leave a comment and let us know. Point us to an even cooler version of whatever it is we’re so jazzed about. Toss in an idea. Ask a ‘what if’…”

Design thinking

In this personal blog, the company’s CEO Tim Brown elaborates on his recent Harvard Business Review article – a place therefore to share ideas and have a discussion in preparation of a book he is writing on the subject.

Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week really likes the blog because “it delves deeply into the evolving field of design thinking”, because Tim “is embracing design and design thinking to raise the economic standing of people at the bottom of the pyramid”, and because it’s well designed.

11 December 2007

What happens when the $100 laptop actually gets used?

The face of the $100 laptop
All kinds of things apparently, as described by this revealing story on the BBC, commented on by Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week:

“Clearly, children love the machine. Most of them had never seen a computer before and the great design of the laptop was compelling. They are learning about technology even as they play. But why do they like it? By far, the most used function of the one laptop designed specifically for the world’s poorest children is taking pictures. The webcam–taking pictures and sharing them with friends–is the most discussed computer function. That’s cool and great, but is it the highest priority for ‘education?’”

Then there is the cost. I personally hadn’t added up all the money that goes into the $100″ laptop. What, in fact, is the true bottom line cost of the OLPC? Will governments that accept the OLPC subsidize the operating cost–electricity, repairs, etc.?

Finally, there is the actual teaching. The laptops in Nigeria came with pre-loaded learning programs. The BBC story doesn’t say who wrote these lessons and where they came from. The teachers appear to like them and perhaps that is enough. But is it? Were the lessons written by teachers in Nigeria? Would you accept lesson plans from another country for your kids?”

The project clearly suffers from a top-down approach, where “designing for” is the paradigm rather than “designing with” or “designing from”. There was as far as I know no structured needs analysis here, no contextual studies, no ethnography, no qualitative insights. Such an approach cannot lead to anything but unintended consequences and may be potentially undermining the project itself. There are many lessons to be learned here, by the OLPC (“one laptop per child”) team, but also by any company or organisation trying to deliver designed solutions for “end-users” who then turn out to have different needs and contexts that had somehow been anticipated.

But of course, we can always blame those “end-users” instead of learning some important lessons, and I am afraid this is definitely going to be part of the debate that will undoubtedly ensue.

- Read BBC story
- Read Nussbaum commentary

27 October 2007

The crisis of success in design/innovation

Bruce Nussbaum
Bruce Nussbaum was the opening speaker at the IDSA Award Ceremony during the Connecting ’07 World Design Congress, co-organised by ICSID and IDSA.

In his speech, Nussbaum says that design seems to provide a lot of value in a society of massive change and asks what the consequences of this success might be.

“Should designers become managers? Is design innovation? Will managers take over design? Does beauty trump strategy? Are blondes better than smarty-pants design thinkers? Should industrial design become international design? Is design education failing? Are B-Schools taking over the field of design? What the heck is design thinking anyway? Is the media hyping design or reflecting its growing influence in business and society? Is design and innovation just a fad? Is a backlash underway?”

Read full story

29 July 2007

Web special on factors that make a city great

Urban Manifesto
A large chunk of the latest issue of Monocle magazine on the 20 most liveable cities in the world is freely available via the International Herald Tribune.

All the content is linked from the introductory article “Urban Manifesto: Factors that make a city great” by Tyler Brûlé, Monocle’s editor-in-chief.

“Our mission for this issue is a simple one – we want to improve the urban experience. It’s a tricky enough task for forward-thinking local governments to tackle, let alone a media brand, but we’ve been thinking about this theme since our launch and decided the best time to engage politicians, developers, architects, financiers and anyone else who has influence or an opinion about city-life was while they were stretched out, relaxed, taking the sun and fully focused on their own quality of life.

Our focus is firmly fixed on identifying the components and forces that make a city not simply attractive or wealthy but truly liveable. Researched over a three-month period, our quality of life survey is 50 per cent scientific (we’ll come to our metrics shortly) and 50 per cent subjective (sometimes a place just rubs you the wrong way and you’re not quite sure why).”

Web specials include:

And if that’s enough, there is also a comments section.

22 April 2007

Participation on Web 2.0 sites remains weak

Laptop
Web 2.0, a catchphrase for the latest generation of Web sites where users contribute their own text, pictures and video content, is far less participatory than commonly assumed, a study showed on Tuesday.

A tiny 0.16 percent of visits to Google’s top video-sharing site, YouTube, are by users seeking to upload video for others to watch, according to a study of online surfing data by Bill Tancer, an analyst with Web audience measurement firm Hitwise.

Similarly, only two-tenths of one percent of visits to Flickr, a popular photo-editing site owned by Yahoo Inc., are to upload new photos, the Hitwise study found.

The vast majority of visitors are the Internet equivalent of the television generation’s couch potatoes — voyeurs who like to watch rather than create, Tancer’s statistics show.

- Read full story (Reuters)
- Read related story (vnunet.com)

(via Bruce Nussbaum)

4 April 2007

McKinsey on how businesses are embracing Web 2.0. But why are they afraid of blogs?

Business and web 2.0
McKinsey is out with a Global Survey that shows business execs love user-driven collaboration, especially peer-to-peer networking, web services, social networking, podcasts, wikis and RSS feeds. But execs do not like blogs very much.

“The rising popularity of user-driven online services, including MySpace, Wikipedia, and YouTube, has drawn attention to a group of technological developments known as Web 2.0. These technologies, which rely on user collaboration, include Web services, peer-to-peer networking, blogs, podcasts, and online social networks.

Respondents to a recent McKinsey survey show widespread but careful interest in this trend.1 Expressing satisfaction with their Internet investments so far, they say that Web 2.0 technologies are strategic and that they plan to increase these investments. But companies aren’t necessarily relying on the best-known Web 2.0 trends, such as blogs; instead, they place the greatest importance on technologies that enable automation and networking.”

According to Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week, companies are afraid of blogs

“Only 16% of the companies surveyed said they were investing in blogs, compared to 63% for web services, 28% for peer-to-peer networks, and 19% for social networks.

78% identified web services as the Web 2.0 technology/tool most important their their business.

McKinsey doesn’t try to analyze why execs aren’t investing in blogs as a Web 2.0 tool but I will venture to suggest that most managers are afraid of blogs. Very few blog themselves and when they do, it runs through the marketing or PR departments. Managers in general still worry about loss of control with blogs. Letting their employees and consumers into the conversation and allowing them their say frightens them.”

Read full story (Registration required)