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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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16 August 2014

Leveraging ethnography to improve food safety

supermarket

Carolyn Rose explains how ethnography can be used to improve food safety:

If done correctly, ethnography leads to a holistic and unbiased understanding of current practices and the motivations that drive them. Looking specifically to learn the existing challenges, workarounds, deviations and drivers within an interaction, task or activity, we are able to identify opportunities for process-based improvements. Such opportunities can ultimately take many forms, including new work flows, tools and/or techniques. For example, identifying specific areas of noncompliance might lead to new safety training protocols, while identifying comparatively labor-intensive or time-consuming tasks might lead to the implementation of alternative technologies/automation aimed to mitigate bottlenecks.

As such, ethnography can be a critical first step in evolving food safety practices. With a sound understanding of current practices and the real needs and challenges therein, we can make informed and targeted process improvements aimed to optimize efficiency, quality, ease of use, consistency and safety.

12 August 2014

The Internet of Words

internetofwords

In his review of the recent books by Alice E. Marwick and danah boyd, Ted Striphas focuses on how they guide us in understanding how the internet is affecting our language as it expresses our social experience.

“There has been a lot of speculation about social media and what it does to us individually and collectively. But now we’re beginning to see a new generation of writers who are conducting extensive ethnographic research about how people use these and other digital tools. Alice E. Marwick, author of Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age, (Yale University Press, 2013) and danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (Yale, 2014) are among the finest interpreters of the technological changes we have been experiencing. They point to the first decade of the 21st century as the time when, in the wake of the dot-com bust, the tech industry rebooted around social media. And they chronicle how people are coming to navigate a world dizzy with opportunities for self-presentation and interaction online. Along the way, they manage to defuse some of the panic surrounding recent changes, taking aim at concerned parents, plucky teens, hurried journalists, aspiring celebrities, hopeful entrepreneurs, and others who simply assume social media is either a ticket to the big time or an express elevator to hell.”

Ted Striphas is an associate professor of communication and culture at Indiana University at Bloomington. He is the author of The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture From Consumerism to Control (Columbia University Press, 2009).

12 August 2014

White House launches UX-focused Digital Service team

WhiteHouse_Logo

Yesterday, the White House formally launched the U.S. Digital Service.

“The Digital Service will be a small team made up of our country’s brightest digital talent that will work with agencies to remove barriers to exceptional service delivery and help remake the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government.”

The Administration also released the initial version of “a Digital Services Playbook that lays out best practices for building effective digital services like web and mobile applications and will serve as a guide for agencies across government. To increase the success of government digital service projects, this playbook outlines 13 key “plays” drawn from private and public-sector best practices that, if followed together, will help federal agencies deliver services that work well for users and require less time and money to develop and operate.”

It is nice to see that the first item in the Digital Services Playbook — Understand what people need — is identical to the first item in the Design Principles heralded by their British counterpart, gov.uk – start with needs.

So after Gov.uk, we now have the U.S. Digital Service, both with a major emphasis on user experience and user research. Which country will follow next?

12 August 2014

UX without user research is not UX

 

UX teams are responsible for creating desirable experiences for users. Yet many organizations fail to include users in the development process. Without customer input, organizations risk creating interfaces that fail, writes Hoa Loranger of the Nielsen Norman Group.

“User experience cannot exist without users. Creating user interfaces involves intricate and complex decisions. User research is a tool that can help you achieve your goals.

Even the most well thought out designs are assumptions until they are tested by real users. Different types of research can answer different types of questions. Know the tools and apply them accordingly. Leaving the user out is not an option.”

8 August 2014

Dropbox’s Head of Design on the dawn of personalized products

Cuervo

Soleio Cuervo, design lead at Dropbox, spends his time thinking of new ways for products to understand our needs and wants in real time.

After years of firsthand work and observation, Cuervo has seen four ingredients emerge that power personalized products. At First Round’s recent Design+Startup event in San Francisco, he explained each one and how newer and smaller companies can put them together to not only build great products but accelerate progress for everyone:

IDENTITY – The takeaway for startups is that you should actively manage people’s identities in ways that encourage the behavior you want — whether it’s getting people to buy something or converse more with each other or share media. The features on your roadmap should bring out these aspects of your users’ identities whenever possible. And if engagement is your goal, your product should take cues from how people are organically identifying themselves on your platform.

GRAPHS – Just like people have a variety of identities spanning the digital world, they are also members of a growing number of groups, communities and networks that may have nothing to do with the people they know in real life. They belong to interest groups, follow celebrities, connect with professional contacts, tap into media sources for their news, and more. All of these systems of structured relationships act as graphs that can be used to deliver tailored experiences to individuals. As an entrepreneur, you want to select the graphs that make the most sense for your product.

CONTEXT – The new wave of innovation will be all about presenting the right information at the right time given the context of relationships, location, and device. Startups and apps that can filter people’s huge influx of information in a way that seems natural are set up to succeed in today’s climate. Startups looking to launch personalized products should fix their sights on how tasks and needs vary across different devices over the course of a given day.

BEHAVIOR – Don’t be afraid to be opinionated about how your users should behave. You’ve created a product to get them to do something. Get them to do it. “Be purposeful when it comes to driving a particular type of behavior — have a very strong viewpoint about how people should be using the service you’re providing.”

Cuervo’s final development tenet: “Remember that you’re not competing against other services. You’re competing against people’s habits. The companies that are truly out there disrupting things are the ones that drive a wedge into people’s habits. They say things like, ‘You used to walk out to the street to flag a taxi down. Now with Uber you can hail a car from your desk, so break that habit of leaving the building.’ As you’re creating your product, always be thinking about what people currently do and how you can very purposely create a new set of habits around your service. That’s what retention is — helping people build a routine around the utility you provide. Successful tech companies are built on new habits they helped form.”

8 August 2014

Can technology really change your habits?

change-your-habits

Downloading an app won’t get you to change your habits. Vivian Giang writes on the science of what will.

“There are three kinds of behavioral changes, according to Arun Sundararajan, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business whose research program focuses on how information technologies transform business and society:

  • The first includes changing behaviors that you learned through experience, such as the way you manage your time.
  • The second involves retraining your biomechanical system to behave differently, such as not pressing the breaks constantly while you’re driving.
  • The third has to do with physiological behaviors such as smoking and exercising.

The behaviors that have the highest chance of changing even after app usage are the second and third. Why? “Because they’re not changing you. They’re training you to do something differently, so once you’ve trained yourself, you can stop using [the app],” says Sundararajan. When it comes to learned behavior (the first one), there’s a greater chance you’ll revert back to your old behavior after using the app.

If the app only changes your reaction to feedback, such as reprimanding you for checking your social media, then there’s a good chance you’re only changing your behavior because you’re using the app. When it comes to changing, Sundararajan says your best bet is to not put too much stock in the digital and technology.

“Over the last decade, we’ve started to overestimate the power of technology and we reduce the importance of things like community,” he says. “A big part of behavior change has to do with changing the environment that you’re in and changing the interactions that you have with people.””

8 August 2014

No time to think

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Nowadays, people can keep negative thoughts at bay with a frenzy of activity. Kate Murphy writes on the consequences in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times.

“You can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head. [...]

Suppressing negative feelings only gives them more power, leading to intrusive thoughts, which makes people get even busier to keep them at bay.

Studies further suggest that not giving yourself time to reflect impairs your ability to empathize with others. “The more in touch with my own feelings and experiences, the richer and more accurate are my guesses of what passes through another person’s mind,” said Giancarlo Dimaggio, a psychiatrist with the Center for Metacognitive Interpersonal Therapy in Rome, who studies the interplay of self-reflection and empathy. “Feeling what you feel is an ability that atrophies if you don’t use it.”

Researchers have also found that an idle mind is a crucible of creativity. A number of studies have shown that people tend to come up with more novel uses for objects if they are first given an easy task that allows their minds to wander, rather than a more demanding one.”

3 August 2014

The psychological and cultural fallout from the end of privacy

Privacy illustration

Alex Preston explores the personal, psychological and cultural impact of the end of privacy in today’s Observer:

Here lies our greatest risk, one insufficiently appreciated by those who so blithely accept the tentacles of corporation, press and state insinuating their way into the private sphere. As Don DeLillo says in Point Omega: “You need to know things the others don’t know. It’s what no one knows about you that allows you to know yourself.” By denying ourselves access to our own inner worlds, we are stopping up the well of our imagination, that which raises us above the drudge and grind of mere survival, that which makes us human.

I asked Josh Cohen why we needed private lives. His answer was a rallying cry and a warning. “Privacy,” he said, “precisely because it ensures we’re never fully known to others or to ourselves, provides a shelter for imaginative freedom, curiosity and self-reflection. So to defend the private self is to defend the very possibility of creative and meaningful life.”

31 July 2014

The importance of user-focused research in medical device design

kneejoint

“The human factors activities that deliver safety and effectiveness [in medical devices] do not necessarily deliver a good user experience or, ultimately, a good product,” argues Martin Bontoft in MDDI.

In fact, he writes, “some industry experts have observed unintended consequences of regulating human factors and design: Regulated activities can crowd out unregulated efforts to improve device design, and consequent increases in safety and effectiveness may be at the expense of user experience. In other words: The device is safe, but would anyone actually want to use it?

“The best approach is to conduct user-focused research in conjunction with device-focused user research. Design research includes a range of techniques that provide insights about people—not just users—and that do not require, or even presume, a device. This approach yields evidence that is likely to be relevant to device developers, but it is also relevant to a wider range of stakeholders. It will tell you, for example, not only whether people are likely to want your product, but why or why not, input that is essential to good product development.

Techniques inspired and informed by ethnography, such as contextual inquiry and design ethnography, are key to successful user-focused research. Both of these ethnographic field research methodologies seek to understand and explain—and thereby predict—user behavior, even though that behavior may seem inexplicable and even irrational. However, contextual inquiry best describes the research activities focused on people in a specific context of use, such as an operating theater or with a legacy device, such as an injector. Design ethnography, on the other hand, is slightly more open-ended, less focused on an existing context, and more likely to look obliquely at peoples’ existence, perhaps because the device or context of use is so new.”

28 July 2014

On the importance of forgetting

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The ongoing debate about Europe’s so-called ‘right to be forgotten‘ ruling on search engines has shone a light onto a key pressure point between technology and society. Simply put the ability of digital technology to remember clashes with the human societal need to forgive and forget, writes Natasha Lomas in a thoughtful piece on Techcrunch.

“There’s a problem with total recall. It doesn’t allow us as a society to forget. And that means, paradoxically, we lose something. Perfect memory engenders individual paralysis — because any legacy of personal failure is not allowed to fade into the background. And individuals are not, therefore, encouraged to evolve and move on.

Total recall shuts us down. It encourages conformity and a lack of risk taking. If trying to do something results in a failure that follows you around forever then the risk of trying is magnified — so maybe you don’t bother trying in the first place. It’s anti-creative, anti-experimental, even anti-entrepreneur.” [My emphasis]

“What’s needed, she writes, “are more creative approaches to the storage of information about private individuals.” She adds: “This is not about deleting knowledge or censoring/sanitizing behaviour; it’s about being appropriately sympathetic to the ephemeral character of (human) memory — which, being flexible rather than rigid, allows individuals and societies to move on.”

27 July 2014

Applying insights from behavioral economics to policy design

 

Applying insights from behavioral economics to policy design
Brigitte C. Madrian
NBER Working paper
July 2014

The premise of this article is that an understanding of psychology and other social science disciplines can inform the effectiveness of the economic tools traditionally deployed in carrying out the functions of government, which include remedying market failures, redistributing income, and collecting tax revenue. An understanding of psychology can also lead to the development of different policy tools that better motivate desired behavior change or that are more cost-effective than traditional policy tools. The article outlines a framework for thinking about the psychology of behavior change in the context of market failures. It then describes the research on the effects of a variety of interventions rooted in an understanding of psychology that have policy-relevant applications. The article concludes by discussing how an understanding of psychology can also inform the use and design of traditional policy tools for behavior change, such as financial incentives.

Brigitte Madrian is the Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management at the Harvard Kennedy School.

[HT Emile Hooge]

27 July 2014

Qualitative self-tracking and the Qualified Self

markcarrigan

Mark Carrigan, sociologist, academic technologist and research assistant at the Centre for Social Ontology, is intellectually drawn to the Quantified Self because “it’s a fascinating example of the intensification of reflexivity in contemporary society”.

Most interesting in his reflective blog post is his attempt at a definition of qualitative self-tracking:

Using mobile technology to recurrently record qualities of experience or environment, as well as reflections upon them, with the intention of archiving aspects of personal life that would otherwise be lost, in a way susceptible to future review and revision of concerns, commitments and practices in light of such a review.

The Centre for Social Ontology (CSO) was established in 2011 at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). It is now based in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick,

27 July 2014

Social wearables, as seen by the NYT R&D Group

blush

Noah Feehan of the New York Times Research & Development group explores the concept of social wearables: objects that explicitly leverage their visibility or invisibility to create social affordances.

“Wearables that engage with the world around me, and particularly with the people around me, are few and far between right now, but I think that as we move from low-level sensor fusion (gait analysis, GPS breadcrumbs) to more nuanced, semantically-rich signals (Curriculum, anticipatory systems), we’ll be able to author more synchronous and in-context experiences; we will have moved from recording to listening.

I’m particularly interested in social wearables because they will make rapid progress in the near term, as our listening capabilities (semantic analysis, real-time speech-to-text) improve. They also have the potential to introduce totally new types of information into a face-to-face interaction: we have an opportunity here to add bandwidth to ourselves, to make our own superpowers.”

Feehan then goes on with an initial categorization of the main functions he thinks we might see wearables focus on.

> See also “Blush, a social wearable” (post of January 2014)

26 July 2014

The touch-screen generation

touchscreengeneration

Young children — even toddlers — are spending more and more time with digital technology. Hanna Rosin wonders what will it mean for their development?

“As technology becomes ubiquitous in our lives, American parents are becoming more, not less, wary of what it might be doing to their children. Technological competence and sophistication have not, for parents, translated into comfort and ease. They have merely created yet another sphere that parents feel they have to navigate in exactly the right way. On the one hand, parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives; on the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them. Parents end up treating tablets like precision surgical instruments, gadgets that might perform miracles for their child’s IQ and help him win some nifty robotics competition—but only if they are used just so. Otherwise, their child could end up one of those sad, pale creatures who can’t make eye contact and has an avatar for a girlfriend.”

24 July 2014

HeadCon ’13: What’s new in social science?

headcon13

In July, 2013, Edge invited a group of social scientists to participate in an Edge Seminar at Eastover Farm focusing on the state of the art of what the social sciences have to tell us about human nature, entitled “HeadCon ’13: WHAT’S NEW IN SOCIAL SCIENCE?”.

The ten speakers were Sendhil Mullainathan, June Gruber, Fiery Cushman, Rob Kurzban, Nicholas Christakis, Joshua Greene, Laurie Santos, Joshua Knobe, David Pizarro, and Daniel C. Dennett. Also participating were Daniel KahnemanAnne Treisman, and Jennifer Jacquet.

“We asked the participants to consider the following questions: “What’s new in your field of social science in the last year or two, and why should we care?” “Why do we want or need to know about it?” “How does it change our view of human nature?”

And in so doing we also asked them to focus broadly and address the major developments in their field (including but not limited to their own research agenda). The goal: to get new, fresh, and original up-to-date field reports on different areas of social science.”

Here are the videos:

The event was also an experiment in online video designed to capture the dynamic of an Edge seminar, focusing on the interaction of ideas, and of people. The documentary film-maker Jason Wishnow, the pioneer of “TED Talks” during his tenure as director of film and video at TED (2006-2012), filmed the ten sessions in split-screen with five cameras, presenting each speaker and the surrounding participants from multiple simultaneous camera perspectives.

Edge now presents the program in its entirety: nearly six hours of Edge Video and a downloadable pdf of the 58,000-word transcript.

24 July 2014

Persona Power

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Article by Shlomo Goltz on “integrating the hero’s journey as part of the user-centered design process”:

“There are many prominent and outspoken members of the design community, such as Steve Portigal and Jason Fried, who feel that personas are unnecessary. They make compelling arguments, but they also rule out the use of personas entirely, which I feel is too strong a stance.

Like any other tool in your utility belt, personas have times when they are extremely powerful, and other times when they are simply not warranted—the trick is knowing when to use them, and then to use them effectively.”

22 July 2014

Call to bring refugee-led innovation into humanitarian work

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The humanitarian sector must lift barriers to user-led innovation by refugee communities if it is to meet the challenges of an ever-changing world, says a new report, Humanitarian Innovation: The State of the Art, published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and presented at the Humanitarian Innovation Conference at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, on Saturday (19 July).

The trajectory of humanitarian assistance is unsustainable — with the cost trebling and the number of people requiring help doubling over the past ten years — and humanitarian tools and services are often ill-suited to modern emergencies, says the report.

“The risk-averse sector needs to embrace innovation, private sector involvement and bottom-up solutions to keep up with modern challenges”.

The current debate focuses on improving the tools and practices of international humanitarian actors and has overlooked the “talents, skills and aspirations of crisis-affected people themselves”, who remain a “largely untapped source of sustainable and creative solutions”.

An alternative to these short-term, project-based solutions by external actors is user-centred design that embraces indigenous innovation and participatory methods, it says.

This, it adds, involves recognising and understanding innovation within communities and putting them at the heart of the humanitarian innovation process.

The report calls for early consultation on the design of solutions to make sure they fit with cultural practices, and for more investment in “innovation spaces and opportunities that mentor, accelerate, and incubate the initiative of affected populations and local organisations”.

It also says that international organisations should ensure users drive the process of defining priority areas for innovation, testing out products and processes to meet those needs, and providing feedback during implementation and scaling.

The report will be published on the OCHA website.

20 July 2014

Baking behavioral nudges into the products we own

1Addicted-toaster

Maria Bezaitis, PhD and Principal Engineer of Intel’s User Experience Ethnographic Research Lab, discusses the Real World Web and how internet-enabled sensors will create new kinds of intimacies and engagements.

“Commitment and engagement are really powerful sentiments,” said Bezaitis. “The get to the heart of what’s important about our social relations – that we can experience commitment and engagement and the associated positive notions of dependency and obligation and loyalty. In our closest most important social ties, these are the values that are important to us.

“Today’s technologies – instrumented things, sensor networks, data – have the opportunity to deepen social relationships, to brings us new important kinds of social relationships that we don’t already have and to participate directly in those relations. When we start to think about our technologies as not simply providing incremental value – good recommendations or metrics for this or that problem – we give them room to grow.

“This is the future of smart. It’s no longer simply about speed, accuracy and connectedness, but about new kinds of intimacies, commitments and engagements with technologies and other people.”

19 July 2014

[Book]: Nursing Research Using Ethnography

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Nursing Research Using Ethnography: Qualitative Designs and Methods in Nursing
Mary De Chesnay, PhD, RN, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN (Editor)
Pub. Date: 08/28/2014
372 pp., Softcover
Springer
[Amazon]

Ethnography is a qualitative research design that focuses on the study of people to explore cultural phenomena. This concise, “how to” guide to conducting qualitative ethnography research spearheads a new series, Qualitative Designs and Methods, for novice researchers and specialists alike focusing on state-of-the-art methodologies from a nursing perspective. Scholars of qualitative ethnography research review the philosophical basis for choosing ethnography as a research tool and describe in depth its key features and development level. They provide directives on how to solve practical problems related to ethnography research, nursing examples, and discussion of the current state of the art. This includes a comprehensive plan for conducting studies and a discussion of appropriate measures, ethical considerations, and potential problems.

Examples of published ethnography nursing research worldwide, along with author commentary, support the new researcher in making decisions and facing challenges. Each chapter includes objectives, competencies, review questions, critical thinking exercises, and web links for more in-depth research. A practical point of view pervades the book, which is geared to help novice researchers and specialists expand their competencies, engage graduate teachers and students and in-service educators and students, and aid nursing research in larger health institutions.

Key Features:

  • Includes examples of state-of-the-art ethnography nursing research with content analysis
  • Presents a comprehensive plan for conducting studies and appropriate measures, ethical considerations, and potential challenges
  • Describes theoretical underpinnings, key features, and development level
  • Written by ethnography scholars from around the world
19 July 2014

Learning from extreme consumers

 

Learning from Extreme Consumers
by Jill Avery, Michael I. Norton
Teaching Note, 9 pages, January 2014

Traditional market research methods focus on understanding the average experiences of average consumers. This focus leads to gaps in our knowledge of consumer behavior and often fails to uncover insights that can drive revolutionary, rather than evolutionary innovation. This note outlines a process for studying extreme consumers-consumers who fall in both tails of a normal distribution of customers-with needs, behaviors, attitudes, and emotions atypical of the average customer. Different tactics for leveraging the power of the fringe, product category virgins, customers with constraints, and lovers, haters, and opt-outers are presented.

Michael Blanding reports in Forbes:

“What do Porsche fanatics, a video game hater, and a person who cooked two weeks’ worth of meals in a rice cooker have in common? They are all “extreme consumers”—those whose tastes are so out there that mainstream market researchers tend to dismiss them as “noise” when trying to figure out how typical consumers think.

That’s fine if you only want to keep making incremental improvements to your products, says Jill Avery, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and a former brand manager at Gillette, Samuel Adams, and AT&T. “Traditional market research is all about studying the average consumer, which gets rid of the noise in an effort to study the majority of customers, but also gets rid of people who are potentially leading the category,” she says.

By understanding those consumers who lie “in the tails” of the bell curve, says Avery, product designers can discover truly innovative breakthroughs. “Only by looking at consumers who fall within those tails of the normal distribution can you understand the extremes,” she says. “And they often influence the middle, spilling over into what the average consumer believes.”