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Search results for 'interactions magazine'
14 January 2008

Persona non grata

Personas
Steve Portigal is going after the hypocritical use of personas (“the Big Lie”) in the article he wrote for Interactions Magazine:
“Personas are misused to maintain a “safe” distance from the people we design for, manifesting contempt over understanding, and creating the facade of user-centeredness while merely reinforcing who we want to be designing for and selling to.”

You can request a copy of the article by contacting Steve at steve at portigal dot com and telling him your name, title and organisation.

12 December 2007

“Designing in hostile territory”

Interactions Magazine
Interactions Magazine seems to be heading into an exciting direction under its new editors-in-chief Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko. The new byline (“experience – people – technology”) is already a mission statement in itself, especially since the magazine is published by ACM, which stands for “Association for Computing Machinery”.

In the very first issue that they are responsible for, they will be publishing an article with some of their thoughts about the relationship between the CONNECTING 07 World Design Congress in San Francisco – and Roger Martin‘s contribution there in particular – and the contents of the first issue

On his blog Richard extends that reflection, with a focus on Roger Martin and his articles [Roger has been frequently featured in this blog], on the contribution by Secil Watson, Senior VP Internet Channel Strategy at Wells Fargo and one of the other authors featured in the January+February 2008 issue of interactions, and on some related work, particularly that of Claudia Kotchka, VP of Design Innovation & Strategy at P&G.

The blog story is all about moving user-centred design and an experience focus out of the hands of the specialists and into the embracing arms of “product managers, engineers, and servicing staff”, thereby creating a “design thinking” organisation.

“During a presentation at Stanford University this past spring, [Kotchka] described the P&G journey to achieve such change as progressing through three phases.

  • Phase 1, “Discipline of Design,” was a phase during which design was focused largely on aesthetics as other disciplines tried to figure out what to do with designers that were added to the organization.
  • Phase 2, “Practice of Design,” was a phase during which designers realized they couldn’t achieve success effectively alone and needed to collaborate with people in other disciplines; among steps taken to help achieve this collaboration: a “mentoring up program” to enable managers to “see what designers see,” and an effort to teach designers the language of business.
  • Phase 3, “Design Strategy,” moved on to infusing design innovation into business strategy via, in part, teaching design thinking to business leaders.”

Read full story

22 September 2007

Donald Norman on the importance of unmet needs

Donald Norman
Donald Norman has written a few articles for ACM Interactions that he has posted on his site (but I cannot yet find in Interactions magazine itself):

Filling much needed holes
“We need more unmet needs, not less. How many times do the never-ending ethnographic studies coupled with ever-eager design groups lead to unwanted, unnecessary, overburdening, and environmentally insensitive products? How many times are these unmet needs best left unmet? Why must we rush to fill the essential voids in our lives?”

There is an automobile in HCI’s future – part 2
“The automobile industry is badly in need of guidance on human factors. Excellent people already work in the companies, but they suffer the problems faced within the consumer electronics and computer industries over the past few decades. This is an important arena, one where human-centered design skills are essential. But success will come only when our discipline can provide seasoned managers who know how to work across disciplines, with engineers, designers (stylists), manufacturing, marketing and, of course, upper management. There should be an automobile in HCI’s future: but to make this happen presents a challenging problem in management, politics, and diplomacy.”

12 December 2006

Don Norman outlines three challenges for HCI

Don_norman
The ever-increasing complexity of everyday things, the ever-increasing burden of security, authentication, and identification and the ever-increasing use of automation are according to Don Norman the three large, overriding issues in the field of human-computer interaction.

After all, he writes in an article in Interactions magazine, “the invisible, ubiquitous computer has arrived, ensnaring almost any conceivable activity within its grasp” and “if the computer is everywhere, then everything is within our domain of study.”

Norman’s main lesson for the field of human-computer interaction:

“Let us learn from the introduction of technology to other domains. Let us work to ensure that the trend toward higher complexity, onerous security demands, and over-automation is stopped. Mind you, the problems faced in these domains are real, so in reducing complexity, we must still figure out how to give people the choices they want and need. In reducing the complexity of security, we must still manage to increase the security, distinguishing when it is necessary to identify someone from when it is simply necessary to know if they are authorized to use a service. And in introducing automation into everyday things, let us provide the benefits but be ever wary of introducing the perils of over-automation.”

Read full story

19 July 2006

Don Norman’s case for activity-centred design

Don_norman
In a column written for Interactions Magazine, Donald Norman argues that human-centred designers should not just create clever taxonomies, but also task-onomies.

“Many of the design tools used by the Human-Centered Design community lead to well-structured, carefully organized designs, often using powerful card-sorting and hierarchical clustering algorithms to make similar things be located near one another. Call this the “Hardware store” organization. Hammers are in the hammer section where they are all logically arranged. Nails are in the nail section.”

“The hardware store organization is based upon a taxonomy: appropriate for libraries and for stores where the major problem is locating the desired item out of context. But note that some stores have learned to provide activity-centered organization in addition to their normal classification. Thus, smart food stores put potato chips and pretzels next to the beer. And some even put beer next to the diapers, so that when a shopper makes a late night, emergency trip to get more diapers, why there is the beer, temptingly convenient. Sensible, well-organized logical design would not support this real behavior.”

“The best solution is to provide both solutions: taxonomies and taskonomies. Some websites organize all their items logically and sensibly in a taxonomic structure, but once a particular item has been selected, taskonomic information appears. For example, if examining a pair of pants, the website might suggest shoes and shirts that match. Look at a printer and the website might suggest ink, paper, and other related accessories. Buy a book, and the website suggests other books on related topics, or sometimes, books purchased by other people who also bought the book under consideration. Such recommendations based upon past behavior are often superior to recommendations based upon logic.”

Read full story

23 July 2005

Don Norman on the pitfalls of human-centred design

Don_norman
Human-centred design has become such a dominant theme in design that it is now accepted by interface and application designers automatically, without thought, let alone criticism. That’s a dangerous state — when things are treated as accepted wisdom.

The purpose of this essay [published in the July|August 2005 edition of Interactions Magazine] is to provoke thought, discussion and reconsideration of some of the fundamental principles of human-centred design. These principles can be helpful, misleading or wrong. At times, they might even be harmful. Activity-centred design is superior.

Read full story

12 January 2014

The UX of commercial drones

the-ux-of-commercial-drones-banner-mp

In order for commercial drones like Amazon’s or Australian startup Flirtey’s to become a reality, the drone (or any future-world technology, really) can’t merely do its job—meaning, it can’t randomly drop off deliveries and simply fly away as the drone in the Amazon demo video does. There’s a lot more to it than that. To make this kind of service take off (literally), companies will have to consider the user experience, and especially the microinteractions, the drones will have with customers, writes Dan Saffer in UX Magazine.

There are quite a few issues to be resolved, clearly.

19 October 2012

Slow HCI

interfaces92

The latest issue of Interfaces, the quarterly magazine of the Interaction Specialist Group of the BCS, the British chartered institute for IT, is devoted to Slow HCI, or how to design to promote well-being for individuals, society and nature.

Here are the key articles:

Invisible stable interfaces
Kai A. Olsen, University of Bergen and Molde University College, and alessio Malizia, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, explore the importance of maintaining stable interfaces for efficient workflow and ask companies to consider how to minimise disruption to experienced users when bringing out new versions.

Design for happiness
Anna Pohlmeyer, Delft University of Technology, translates positive psychology into positive design and outlines 20 opportunities to design for happiness.

Birds of a feather
Email is recognised as a major productivity disabler. Karen renaud, Glasgow University, and Judith ramsay, University of the West of Scotland, present a flighty perspective on emailers’ behaviours.

Future HCI
Daniel Gooch and Ryan Kelly from Bath University reflect on a future for HCI where interactions are slow and reflective, more intimate, creatively and innovatively combining aspects of the physical and digital world to promote fulfilling experiences.

The ITT Group
Professor Lynne Baillie provides an overview of her team, the Interactive and Trustworthy Technologies research Group at Glasgow Caledonian University, and some of their current projects.

New centre, new challenge
Lorna McKnight, University of oxford, introduces a new research centre exploring assistive learning technologies and reflects on the difficulties and value of researching this area.

My PhD
Andrea Bellucci: Prototyping Natural Interaction

Massive Open Online HCI
Alan Dix, Talis and University of Birmingham, describes some of the inspirations and challenges he faces as he prepares to run a massive open online HCI course.

Other recent issues of Interfaces:

Interfaces 91 – Summer 2012 – Reviewing HCI (pdf)
HCI research in the UK: funding, reflection and the future

Interfaces 90 – Spring 2012 – Work, Rest and Play (pdf)
HCI crosses physical and digital boundaries

Interfaces 89 – Winter 2011 – What’s Hot in HCI? (pdf)
It’s difficult to get consensus from our multidimensional discipline

16 October 2012

Brave New City

cover_1012_t185

Metropolis Magazine asked seven visionary design teams, both established and up-and-coming, what they predict a fully accessible city might look like (and better yet, how it would function).

“We broke the city into its component parts and then, like casting directors, asked, “Who would we like to tackle this one?” The eager and inspired responses from our dream team thrilled us.”

“What follows are imaginative, practical, funny, high-tech/low-tech, humanistic design solutions that make room for everyone and, in the process, invent new ways of making cities.”

Getting Around: Transit Hub
by Grimshaw Architects
Grimshaw Architects, which designed the award-winning Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, Australia, believes that a seamless transportation network is the key to our future. Grimshaw designed a hub that adapts to the evolving city and provides all people, whatever their needs, with a way to get around town.

Picking Up the Groceries: Public Market
by West 8
Farmers’ markets in parking lots aren’t the only solution to sustainable commerce. In 1995, the urban design and landscape architecture firm West 8 reinvented Binnenrotte Square in Rotterdam, closing it off to traffic and letting the locals take over. The firm used that experience to create our inclusive marketplace.

Sharing Resources: Community Center
by Interboro Partners
Interboro Partners has been compiling The Arsenal of Exclusion
& Inclusion (www.arsenalofexclusion.blogspot.com), to look at how cities admit or exclude people. The firm’s ideas for the community center in our new city draw upon the book, which will be published by Actar later this year.

Taking a Walk: Streetscape
by Linearscape
Linearscape have made it their mission to understand the built environment’s relationship to landscape, so they take an integrative approach to streets, applying existing technologies and reconfiguring the sidewalk for people of all ages and abilities. Linearscape’s won the 2012 Emerging New York Architects competition for imagining a future urban landscape.

Finding Your Way: Urban Navigation
by OPEN
OPEN believes in continuously reinventing itself. Yet it doesn’t always look to the future; sometimes the old way of doing things is the best. Its way finding system for our new city isn’t technological. OPEN suggests that people who are lost in the city do something unusual—ask someone for directions.

Living Together: Multi-Generational Home
by John Ronan Architects
John Ronan Architects is concerned with how a design takes into account building performance over time. So for our new city, the firm “interviewed” a 120-year-old great-grandmother in the year 2120. John Ronan Architects won a 2012 AIA Institute National Honor Award for their design of the Poetry Foundation in Chicago.

Working Virtually: Workspace
by LUNAR
The key to good design is knowing what people need. This is what the product design firm LUNAR focused on when considering how people in our new city would work. Addressing the growing number of virtual offices, the firm created products to encourage natural interactions even when people aren’t physically together.

29 December 2010

Videos of UX Week 2010

UX Week
At the end of August Adaptive Path held its UX Week 2010 in San Francisco and uploaded videos of all the presentations a little after. I only noticed them now. Some personally selected highlights:

Data informed, not data driven
by Adam Mosseri, Facebook
At Facebook, analytics play a critical role in informing design decisions, but internally there’s a wariness of the idea of design by numbers.
In this talk we’ll hear about three primary ways Facebook uses quantitative data: optimizing small but important interactions; finding pain points in existing work flows; and setting high level success metrics for large projects.
We’ll hear Facebook’s take on how they think they should improve their ability to quantify some of the less tangible data points, like brand perception and long term network value. Those analytics can begin to perform as counter metrics so that they can begin to rely less heavily on instinct, which is important but sometimes fallible.

How the web works
by Jeffrey Veen, Small Batch Inc.
Turns out that the fundamental principles that led to the success of the web will lead you there, too. Drawing on 15 years of web design and development experience, Jeff will take you on a guided tour of what makes things work on this amazing platform we’re all building together. You’ll learn how to stop selling ice, why web browsers work the way they do, and where Rupert Murdoch can put his business model.

Computational information design
by Ben Fry
The ability to collect and store data continues to increase, but our ability to understand it remains unchanged. Data visualization makes use of our evolutionary proclivity for decoding visual images and employs this ability as a high-bandwidth means of getting data into our heads. In this talk, I’ll present work I’ve developed ranging from illustrations of data for magazines and journals to software tools used by geneticists to interactive applications for Fortune 10 companies.

Video games and the user interface
by Joe Kowalski, Double Fine
Working as a user interface designer in the games industry presents some unique opportunities to engage players. So why are memorable interfaces a rarity? Joe will attempt to answer that question, and he’ll offer his perspective on the industry, show some of his work from major titles, and talk about what inspires him.

Gamestorming: design practices for co-creation and engagement
by Dave Gray, XPLANE
We’re moving from an industrial to a knowledge economy, where creativity and innovation will be the keys to value. New rules apply. Yet two hundred years of industrial habits are embedded in our workplaces, our schools and our systems of government. How must we change our work practices to thrive in the 21st Century? Dave Gray will share insights from his upcoming book, Gamestorming: A playbook for innovators, rule-breakers and changemakers (O’Reilly Media).

The future of UX is play: the 4 keys to fun, emotion and user engagement
by Nicole Lazzaro, XEODesign, Inc.
The future of UX are designs that employ emotions to guide attention, improve memory, enhance performance, and reward users for a job well done. Master these four techniques to paint attention onto a UI like Velcro and color it with emotions that best match the product, brand, or task at hand. Come join us to see how game design can unlock human potential and improve quality of life through play!

Keynote: Mediated culture
by Michael Wesch, Kansas State University
It took tens of thousands of years for writing to emerge after humans spoke their first words. It took thousands more before the printing press and a few hundred again before the telegraph. Today a new medium of communication emerges every time somebody creates a new web application. A Flickr here, a Twitter there, and a new way of relating to others emerges. New types of conversation, argumentation, and collaboration are realized. Using examples from anthropological fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, YouTube, university classrooms, and “the future,” this presentation will demonstrate the profound yet often unnoticed ways in which media “mediate” our culture.

Don’t forget the humans!
by Chris McCarthy and Christi Zuber, Kaiser Permanente’s Innovation Consultancy
Don’t Forget the Humans! This is the mantra in world of healthcare, and over and over again we hear that “patient-centered care” is the perfect desired state. But what about all those other humans in the system? What about the nurses, pharmacists, doctors, transporters and business people? Designing and planning your business for just one type of human not only alienates others, but it actually could be the reason for design failure and solutions that don’t sustain the tests of time.
Our group at Kaiser designs for the humans in our system; we optimize the experience of our patients and clinicians so that the system serves them and their needs, and brings as much joy to their interaction that is, well…. as humanly possible.

Service montage
by Christian Palino, Adaptive Path
In The Godfather, during Michael Corleone’s nephew’s baptism, shots of the sacrament of baptism performed by the priest are mixed with shots of killings ordered by Michael taking place elsewhere. These murders are thus experienced by the audience as Michael’s “baptism” into a life of crime. This collision of shots is an example of Eisenstein’s theory of montage and provides an analogous model for exploring the relationship of service touchpoints to the space between those touchpoints, and how users experience them both.

Understanding and designing the everyday Internet: users, people, groups and networks
by Elizabeth Churchill, Yahoo! Research
Since 2006, time spent on the Internet has outstripped time spent watching TV. According to a Harris Interactive poll conducted in late 2009 people spend an average of 13 hours per week online–excluding email. With the increasing penetration of Internet-enabled phones, many people spend substantially more time than that.
Social scientists, designers, user experience professionals, technologists and business entrepreneurs are all intrigued by the changing landscape of media consumption and communication. As a result, many methods and models have been developed to get an understanding of what people are doing, when, how and why. However, analysis methods are often myopic, addressing either on a single applications (“Is it usable?”), what an single person does (“What is the user up to?”), creating aggregated results from many people, or describing what people-as-nodes are doing in a network. In this talk, Elizabeth will talk about a number of projects where she has mixed different design and evaluation methods to try to understand how people’s experiences vary, and to illustrate the tensions that exist between overly specific and overly general models of user experience.

The Mag+ concept: the silent mode of digital magazine reading
by Sara Öhrvall, Bonnier Group
On April 3rd, 2010, media publisher Bonnier launched Popular Science+ iPad edition as a first step toward a vision of what digital magazine reading can be. See demo.
PopularScience+ is built on the Mag+ platform, developed by Bonnier R&D together with British design studio Berg. The idea was to deconstruct the print layout and to reinvent it in a way that makes it come to life on the iPad’s screen. A new magazine-like UX in which each piece of content flows organically to the next, letting readers feel like they’re touching the actual magazine, without working through layers of buttons.
But if digital magazine reading is all about the silent mode – a leaned back experience away from the browser – how will digital magazines remain contemporary objects in a world where so much more is expected from digital content than just the passive reading? What will be the plus in the Mag+ user experience?
Sara Öhrvall, director of global R&D at Bonnier, will share her thoughts on bridging the gap between magazine content and the interactivity of the social Web. She’ll talk about how the Mag+ platform aims to “socialize” magazine content, bringing it out of the print magazine and into the online spaces where conversation happens.

WIRED’s digital rebirth
by Wyatt Mitchell, Wired magazine
Traditionally, magazine designers and editors have been well-equipped to create compelling experiences in print, but highly crafted digital formats have proven more elusive. With the arrival of the iPad, Condé Nast’s WIRED—in partnership with Adobe—is leading an industry-wide revolution in how people experience and consume magazines. Join Wyatt Mitchell, Design Director of WIRED as he walks through the behind-the-scenes process for the creation of a new digital version of WIRED.

IDEO case study: MyFord Touch – helping define the interior experience for Ford’s 2010 vehicle portfolio
by Iain Roberts and Tasos Karahalios, IDEO
For over two years, designers and engineers at IDEO and Ford Motor Company collaborated closely on a signature HMI experience for the company’s entire Ford and Lincoln 2010 vehicle portfolio that consumers would find simple, attentive, and intuitive. IDEO designers Iain Roberts and Tasos Karahalios will be speaking about the team’s ambitious and ingenious prototyping effort, which included rough-and-ready driving simulators and dashboard interfaces hacked together using a Ford Edge dashboard, touch-sensitive screens, various video game controllers, and the Playstation 2 game “Gran Turismo 3.”

Make It So: learning from SciFi interfaces
by Chris Noessel, Cooper, and Nathan Shedroff, California College of the Arts
Make It So explores how science fiction and interface design relate to each other. The authors have developed a model that traces lines of influence between the two, and use this as a scaffold to investigate how the depiction of technologies evolve over time, how fictional interfaces influence those in the real world, and what lessons interface designers can learn through this process. This investigation of science fiction television shows and movies has yielded practical lessons that apply to online, social, mobile, and other media interfaces.

The reality of fantasy
by Mark Coleran
For many years, Fantasy user interfaces (FUI) in film and television have drawn both acclaim and ridicule in equal measure. Credited with pushing boundaries about what is possible and dumbing down and misrepresenting a complex field of work and setting false expectations in the eyes of users. What is the truth?
In this presentation, Mark Coleran examines why FUI looks the way it does, how it has evolved and the unique challenges and requirements that shape this unusual area of UI work.

6 April 2010

Natural user interfaces are not natural

Donald Norman
In his bimonthly column in the ACM CHI magazine, Interactions, Donald Norman argues that most gestures are neither natural nor easy to learn or remember.

“Gestures lack critical clues deemed essential for successful human-computer interaction. Because gestures are ephemeral, they do not leave behind any record of their path, which means that if one makes a gesture and either gets no response or the wrong response, there is little information available to help understand why. The requisite feedback is lacking. Moreover, a pure gestural system makes it difficult to discover the set of possibilities and the precise dynamics of execution. These problems can be overcome, of course, but only by adding conventional interface elements, such as menus, help systems, traces, tutorials, undo operations, and other forms of feedback and guides.” [...]

“Gestural systems are no different from any other form of interaction. They need to follow the basic rules of interaction design, which means well-defined modes of expression, a clear conceptual model of the way they interact with the system, their consequences, and means of navigating unintended consequences. As a result, means of providing feedback, explicit hints as to possible actions, and guides for how they are to be conducted are required.”

Read article

22 September 2009

Enhancing user interaction with first person user interface

Sensors 1st person
Luke Wroblewski, an internationally recognized Web thought leader and Senior Director of Product Ideation & Design at Yahoo! Inc., provides a comprehensive overview of augmentation as a user interface, complete with real-world examples.

“Though many computer applications and operating systems make use of real-world metaphors like the desktop, most software interface design has little to do with how we actually experience the real world. In lots of cases, there are great reasons not to directly mimic reality. Not doing so allows us to create interfaces that enable people to be more productive, communicate in new ways, or manage an increasing amount of information. In other words, to do things we can’t otherwise do in real life.

But sometimes, it makes sense to think of the real world as an interface. To design user interactions that make use of how people actually see the world -to take advantage of first person user interfaces.

First person user interfaces can be a good fit for applications that allow people to navigate the real world, “augment” their immediate surroundings with relevant information, and interact with objects or people directly around them.”

Read full story

(via Bruce Sterling)

17 July 2009

Re-framing the problem: social interaction design

Adrian Chan
Social media expert and social interaction theorist Adrian Chan describes on Johnny Holland on what he means with ‘social interaction design’ and on the role of frames of meaning, frames of experience, and frames as a concept for a user-centric description of social interactions.

A recommended read.

“User centric design ought to be oriented to the framing of experience, and in social media particularly, common and shared frames of experience. Also common frames of reference, frames of communication, recognizable frames of action (games, rituals, pastimes etc), and temporal frames (routines and episodes).

Are we losing our frames? In terms of the user experience, is his or her experience running away from us? Can we no longer anticipate the user’s experience, due in part to the level of interconnectedness among social media? Can we no longer assess the user’s experience, due in part to the increased ambiguity surrounding his or her use of (our) applications and services? Can we no longer manage the user experience, insofar as there is now a high level of arbitrariness in the information selected, actions acted, communications created and sent, among users of social media?

If the user experience escapes us, if it is not possible to anticipate uses, to design and forward use cases, to define and order user interests, goals, and use benefits — what can we know of how social media will be used? Not knowing how they will be used, how can we anticipate consequences well enough to design for them?”

Read full story

3 March 2009

Design thinking for the future at LIFT09

LIFT 2009
The session devoted to Design Thinking was my personal favourite of the entire 2009 LIFT conference.

Beyond the engineers and business’ discourse about the future, what is it designers can propose? What sort of alternatives are they envisioning? What’s the role of design thinking in creating more meaningful futures?
With Fabio Sergio, James Auger and Anab Jain and open stage talks by Fabian Kalker and Felix Koch, and Bill Thompson.

Note: this post contains embedded video which might now not show up in your rss feed.

Fabio Sergio

(Note that the above video is actually in English, and not in French, and that it doesn’t always load).

Fabio Sergio (blog | site) is a design and user experience strategist, and creative director at frog design.

At LIFT he presented a designing for social impact project: Masiluleke (which means “lend a helping hand” in Zulu), a breakthrough approach to reversing HIV and TB in South Africa and beyond.

Frog was asked to conduct a project on this in New York and Sergio is simply relaying the project approach and results (he didn’t work on it himself).

Based on on-the-ground research, it became clear to t he designers that HIV is primarily a problem of information and social stigma in South Africa.

The methodology used was the normal Frog one of shaping the user experience, which goes from immersion, to synthesis, to concept development, and to service design.

In South Africa more than 80% of the population has access to a mobile device. So one of the key ideas of the Masiluleke project is to broadcast sms in the unused space of the “Please Call Me” (PCM) text messages (a special, free form of SMS text widely used in South Africa and across the African continent). These messages can connect mobile users to existing HIV and TB call centres, and remind patients to take theirs drugs.

But the project also wanted to facilitate local testing, so they created a low cost in-home self-test kit with mobile support, that was conceived for easy local production and assembly.

Design, says Sergio, is “how it works” not “how it looks”. When we talk about design as a future shaping discipline, you have to understand people and their behaviour. We don’t call this testing, but verification, as testing implies standing out of the activity.

The secret ingredient to it all is empathy. People-centred design goes beyond usage or consumption. It is also about culture and seeing people how people react to things within their culture.

Technology in this context is just a material to sketch with.

James Auger

James Auger is a partner in the critical design practice Auger-Loizeau whose projects explore the role of technology as a mediator and modifier of the human experience in both contemporary and future societies. He teaches on the Design Interactions course at the Royal College of Art in London and is currently undertaking a design practice based PhD looking into the role of robots in the home environment.

James talks about another way of approaching design. Some call it critical design, others discursive or speculative design. By removing the commercial content, we are free to dream and to see things in a slightly different way than they are done at the moment.

The mibEC was an audio tooth implant that looked at the ramifications of biotechnology. This implant, which was positioned as a real product, could be inserted during normal dental surgery and would give you superhuman capabilities. It gathered a huge amount of press attention and was voted as best invention of 2002 by Time Magazine (who never talked to James).

At Medialab Europe, Auger-Loizeau critiqued our immersive use of mobile technology, and created the IsoPhone, an immersive environment for deep social conversation. The 40 to 50 people that tried it at Ars Electronica all said it really changed the way they thought about telecommunications.

Now they are working on a new provocative, discussion-generating project: the carnivorous domestic entertainment robots, that explore the idea of evolution, value and aesthetics.

All these robots are based on microbial fuel cells, which turns organic matter into electrical potential.

What kind of services exist in real life environments that do that that could inspire our designs? Many people own a vivarium, where they feed real life animals to other animals.

James and Jimmy (Loizeau) developed a series of prototypes taking this idea to the extreme, such as the Flypaper Robotic Clock, the Lampshade Robot, the Fly Stealing Robot, the UV Flykiller Parasite Robot, and the Coffee Table Mousetrap Robot.

Anab Jain

Anab Jain (blog | website) is an independent designer and film maker. She likes to tell speculative stories of possible near futures at the intersection of the technological and sociological. She also likes to make these stories tangible by using design objects as props and narratives. Most of all, she likes to play with tomorrow by engaging with people in every possible way. Until recently she was design lead on a project at Microsoft Research Cambridge, which attempted to rethink notions of machine intelligence by developing product and service scenarios around biotechnology and RFID. Currently she works as a service and interaction designer at Nokia Design in London, while developing her emerging design practice ‘Superflux’.

Anab Jain’s talk, entitled “Learning to play with Tomorrow“, was according to me (together with Bill Thompson – see below), one of the best of this conference.

She talked about design futurescaping, which is using design methods like storytelling, experience prototyping, making scenarios tangible, and talking to people on a daily basis, to influence how our near future will turn out.

Anab started off with referring to some historic examples of designers for whom the process of sketching has been hugely influential in their thinking, and allowed them (and us) to think outside of the box.

Two projects Anab worked on in the recent past illustrate this new way of thinking.

The future of work“, a project for Colebrook, Bosson & Saunders, a product design and office furniture company, explored the nomadic nature of work in contemporary life. The client wanted an open-ended project, that created new ways of thinking about the future of work, and opened up new spaces for product innovation. They were particularly interested in the home worker, the nomadic worker and the office worker, and in the demographic of the elderly worker.

Anab decided that the best way to find out what this future would be was to put these people in the future, and she created personas which she projected fifteen years into the future. She invented new jobs for them and placed them in a fictional space, which she called Little Brinkland. By having a new job, they needed new work places, new products and new services, which Anab chronicled about. Many practical service ideas and scenarios came out of this project.

The other project she talked about was loosely titled “Rethinking machine intelligence” (a.k.a. Life and Death in Energy Autonomous Devices and Objects Incognito), a project done in collaboration with Alex Taylor at Microsoft Research in Cambridge.

The group at Microsoft Research that Anab Jain was part of was quite critical of smart homes of the future, simply because the way intelligent machines work may change drastically. Their concept was that the everyday ideas of intelligence are not fixed, but are active in the world. Anab designed a small number of interventions that can show how material things are imbued with intelligence. Perhaps we can even start thinking of new objects and new kinds of computing machines.

To explore better what intelligence means, she designed four objects, the Gubbins, that are mini single-track robots. They are storytelling devices that can be situated through scenarios in people’s everyday lives, and are meant to get people think about ‘smart objects’ in the home.

One of the ideas that came out of the research is that people associate intelligence with living things. This brought up the question how to embed this quality of life, of biological “livingness”, in everyday objects.

So they created the Eco Board, which is an autonomously powered robot, which powers itself. This was then further iterated in objects that are made of sugared and powered things in our homes, but had a fixed lifespan, and in a big radio that can live forever as long as you feed it.

Open stage talk: Fabian Kalker and Felix Koch

The two “lefthanded bloodbrothers from back in the days” Felix Koch, strategic planner and Fabian Kalker, musician/composer, talked about knives, “just knives”.

In five minutes Felix and Fabian went through their wittily called presentation “Who has no knife may not eat pineapples. An off-topic tour d’horizon on the literacy of cutting“, and shared their insights about cutting-culture ( and the most memorable/painful experiences acquiring it ).

This pure and simple user experience presentation was for many in the audience one of their favourites. A must to see on video.

Open stage talk: Bill Thompson

Bill Thompson is a UK technology critic and commentator and his talk, entitled The death of privacy and why we should welcome it., was just marvellous, bringing together philosophical concepts with the mundane tasks of dealing with privacy on Twitter, in a series of thought-provoking questions.

The enlightenment idea of privacy is breaking apart under the strain of new technologies, new social tools, new practices, new ways of seeing things.

Bill thinks that instead of worrying about it, we should embrace it as an opportunity to rethink what we understand by ‘personality’, and perhaps even to find new ways of being human.

how we engage and interact with others and where the boundaries can be put between the public and private, because those of us who live our lives in the open are the avant-garde: we can take on those who believe in the old truths, and we can a find way to live in the new world.

Every Twitterer, Tumblr, Dopplr or Brightkite user at Lift is sharing more data with more people than even the FBI under Hoover or the Stasi at the height of its powers could have dreamed of. And you are doing it voluntarily, willingly, because you are hoping to benefit in a variety of ways. You believe that this unwarranted disclosure will in the end produce some public good, or even some private benefit.

Those of us who are ahead of the curve when it comes to the adoption and use of technologies that undermine the old model of privacy, should start thinking about what it means.

We can offer advice and support to those who might be less happy to have their movements, eating habits, friendships and patterns of media consumption tracked and made available to all.

We can begin to explore what it might be like to be a post-private human, or perhaps a human in recovery from the stultifying burden of privacy.

Bill Thompson is telling the “great God Google” everything about himself, and has no expectation that that data is or will remain private.

The reason he objects to the encroachment of the database state is because he is aware of the power that the asymetrical relationship gives the state at the moment.

Yet to some extent the power only exists because we believe there is a border between public and private. But this only matters if we believe in the individuals, if we believe in people that have behaviours, characteristics and personalities instead of accepting that each one of us is simply a contingent set of responses to stimuli, that we are defined by the people and situations around us.

The idea of the monolithic personality is in fact a mistake. We do not exist in the sense that we think we exist, and therefore we do not require privacy in the sense that we currently think about it. It is a necessary illusion.

We have a legal framework that is based on assumptions of individuality, existence and personality, that encourages us to draw lines. Bill Thomson is not sure those lines should be drawn any more.

We need to think about it again. The technologies we have around us now are challenging the enlightenment way of thinking, and what it means to be a human being at all. We have the option now of taking the big risk of living life in the open, and to embrace it. Privacy is over already.

This will not work for everyone. Some will suffer. That may be the price we have to pay for finding a new enlightenment, a digital enlightenment, that is far more powerful and important even than the first enlightenment was. But in order to do we have to get over the idea of privacy.

5 January 2009

Nokia’s IdeasProject

IdeasProject
Nearly by accident I discovered Nokia’s recently launched IdeasProject, an effort “to surface Big Ideas about the future of communications — and to show the many ways that these ideas are connected”. It is definitely a site rich with content.

What big ideas will matter most? What technologies and applications will enable to most disruptive changes? How can our communications and interactions have the most positive impact? Where are the best opportunities for inventors and entrepreneurs? What does it mean? Where are we headed next?

IdeasProject, a project of Nokia, brings together the most visionary and influential ‘big thinkers’ to contemplate exactly these questions, in a new kind of conversation platform aimed at uncovering not only the big ideas that matter most to the future of communications, but also the connections these disruptive ideas. The conversation contemplates what technologies, applications and themes will most change out culture and communications — and shows us the ideas, the people, and how their ideas are connected – sometimes in the most surprising ways.

This site makes the best and most insightful contributions and connections from thinkers across the digital world available. Over time, we plan to add more content and contributors, as well as build in more capabilities to enable a deeper level of participation site visitors.

People featured are Chris Anderson (editor, Wired Magazine), Yochai Benkler (professor, Harvard University), Ron Conway (special partner, Baseline Ventures), Peter Diamandis (chairman & CEO, XPRIZE Foundation), Esther Dyson (chairman, EDventure Holdings), Dewayne Hendricks (CEO, Tetherless), Carl Hewitt (associate professor, MIT), David Hornik (partner, August Capital), Ari Jaaksi (VP of Maemo software, Nokia), Loic Le Meur (CEO, Seesmic), Jerry Michalski (consultant, Sociate), Leonard Shustek (chairman, Computer History Museum), and Vernor Vinge (science fiction author).

You can also browse the site (which contains many links to external content)

The site comes with its own YouTube channel and blog.

(via Nokia Conversations)

26 October 2008

Timo Arnall on design directions for physical interfaces

The web in the world
Timo Arnall, a designer working with interactive products and media, runs a design research project that looks at emerging technologies at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

In a new presentation he explores the current shift in technology from screen-based interaction to physical interaction with the world around us.

In the same way as the web is quickly extending onto the mobile platform, we are starting to see the web moving further into the physical world. Many emerging technologies are beginning to offer physical-world inputs and outputs; multi-touch iPhones, gestural Wii controllers, RFID-driven museum interfaces, QR-coded magazines and GPS-enabled mobile phones.

These technologies have been used to create very useful services that interact with the web such as Plazes, Nokia Sports Tracker, Wattson, Tikitag and Nike Plus. But the technologies themselves often overshadow the user-experience and so far designers haven’t had language or patterns to express new ideas for these interfaces.

This talk will focus on a number of design directions for new physical interfaces. We will discuss various ideas around presence, location, context awareness, peripheral interaction as well as haptics and tangible interfaces. How do these interactions work with the web? What are the potentials and problems, and what kinds of design approaches are needed?

30 November 2007

InterSections 07: a debate on design

Intersections
The UK Design Council sponsored conference InterSections 07 brought together 34 leading thinkers in design to consider how design is evolving and how this is affecting its relationships with other fields.

The conference, held in NewcastleGateshead in October 2007, asked how design is transforming as it adapts to a world in transition. Two days of stimulating and energetic debate considered how designers are adapting to the new landscape by acquiring new know-how.

Audio and transcripts are now online and feature a series of keynote presentations:

as well as panel discussions and breakout sessions:

  • What is the new know-how in service design? (audio | transcript)
    Services have been around for centuries, but Service design has recently become a hot topic. Designers Gillian Crampton-Smith (IUAV), Chris Downs (live|work) and Heather Martin (Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design) outline some examples of good, and bad, service design and discuss what the core skills of service designers are whether traditional designer notions such as craft, beauty and visualisation are still important. Jeremy Myerson (RCA) moderates.
    <  >
  • As designers, are we guilty of killing the planet? (audio | transcript)
    John Thackara (Dott07) will argue that 80 percent of the environmental impact of the products and buildings is determined at the design stage; and the ways we have designed the world force most people to waste stupendous quantities of matter and energy. But for John, playing the blame game is pointless, the best way to redeem ourselves is to become part of the solution.
    <  >
  • Clever by design (audio | transcript)
    Where does design fit into management thinking? What is the role of the designer in the modern economy? Sir George Cox, Design Council Chairman and Dr Andrea Siodmok, head of its Design Knowledge team discuss with chair Jeremy Myerson whether businesses are making more use of design capability and, if so, whether designers have the right skills to talk to business.
    <  >
  • New connections: question time (audio | transcript)
    At the final panel session of Intersections 07, delegates had the chance to put questions to the panel (Peter Saville, Richard Seymour and John Thackara), ranging from the lack of women in design, to the role of designers in creating unnecessary landfill, and how best to reconcile the desire for visionary design with co-creation. This session draws together some of the key themes from the conference.
    <  >
  • Fashion connections (audio | transcript)
    Vicky Richardson, Editor of Blueprint magazine, Ignacio Germade, Design Director of Consumer Experience Design at Motorola, Sarah Maynard, Designer and MD of Maynard Bespoke and Tom Savigar from Future Laboratory discuss the influence of fashion on wider design practice. They argue that fashion is not just about the type of things that designers create, but it can be an approach to design thinking about products, interactions, space and environments.
    <  >
  • Interaction blur (audio | transcript)
    How is interaction design changing and what the drivers behind this? Has it managed to develop the skill sets it needs to deal with the challenges ahead? And how does interaction design overlap with other design disciplines? Andy Altmann from Why Not Associates, Durrell Bishop of Luckybite and Daljit Singh, founder of Digit discuss with chair Nico Macdonald.
    <  >
  • Are design schools the new B-schools? (audio | transcript)
    Business Week has floated the idea that tomorrow’s Business school might be a design school. Jeremy Myerson, from the RCA, Janet Abrams, from the University of Minnesota Design Institute, John Bates, London Business School and Christoph Böninger, formerly of Siemens discuss whether designers can really go head-to-head with the MBAs and whether students would be better equipped for the business world if they were design trained?
    <  >
  • Feedback: Day 1 breakout sessions (audio | transcript)
    Vicky Richardson reported back to delegates on Fashion Connections, the Culture thread of day one’s breakout sessions, and Nico Macdonald told the audience what they had missed if they hadn’t been discussing Interaction blur in the Interactions thread. Chair Jeremy Myerson told delegates all about the Business thread and how the panel had discussed whether D-schools were the new B-schools?
    <  >
  • But is it art? (audio | transcript)
    Can design fill the aesthetic and cultural vacuum left by contemporary art? Where are the boundaries between the two disciplines and is it even useful to try and draw distinctions between them? Designers Allan Chochinov, Peter Saville and Richard Shed are joined by artist and writer Matthew Collings in a discussion about the nature of ‘design art,’ chaired by Vicky Richardson, editor of Blueprint magazine.
    <  >
  • Can good design be co-created? (audio | transcript)
    Can good design be co-created? What can designers learn from the open source software movement and ‘wikinomics’? While everyone is a designer, isn’t it the job of professional designers to champion good design? Writer and journalist Nico Macdonald chairs a discussion with Joe Heapy (Engine), Lynne Maher (NHS) and Austin Williams (Future Cities Project) about the possibilities and pitfalls of co-design.
    <  >
  • What can design bring to strategy? (audio | transcript)
    Design strategy is a growing sub-discipline of design. This session, chaired by conference director Kevin McCullagh, asked what strengths designers bring to strategy building and what new skills they might need to acquire. The panel, Jonathan Sands from Elmwood, Richard Eisermann from Prospect and Ed Silk from Interbrand, covered the topic with reference to their own wide experience as designers and strategists.
    <  >
  • Feedback: Day 2 breakout sessions (audio | transcript)
    Vicky Richardson“>Vicky Richardson informed delegates who had not attended the Culture thread of the breakout sessions on Is it art? of what they had missed. Nico Macdonald feedback what delegates who had attended the Interactions thread thought about the question of whether good design can be co-created and Kevin McCullagh, who had chaired the Business thread debate on design and strategy, updated the audience on what had been discussed.
8 August 2007

Second thoughts on Second Life

Second Life
Lately a lot of people seem to have had second thoughts on Second Life.

A wave of articles was published recently on how marketers are not getting the returns they were expecting, how deserted it is, how it is all about sex and pranks, how it has become a virtual nanny state, and even how terrorists are using it to plan attacks.

Leaving aside for now the discussion to what extent this is just negative hype, it does make sense to see Second Life as an experimental environment where we can prototype new interaction and communication paradigms. Experimenting in these virtual worlds can also help us understand and imagine a future where a mix of real and virtual worlds will become increasingly prevalent.

I can see four good reasons for businesses, institutions and experience designers to be present in Second Life.

1. Prototyping of new participatory communication paradigms often involving very targeted and selected communities
A lot of lectures take place in Second Life. In fact, more than 300 universities, including Harvard and Duke, use Second Life as an educational tool. Some educators conduct entire distance-learning courses there; others supplement classes. Also big companies such as IBM and Intel use these graphics-rich sites to conduct meetings among far-flung employees and to show customers graphical representations of ideas and products. IBM went even as far to take the unusual step of establishing official guidelines for its more than 5,000 employees who inhabit “Second Life” and other online universes. Philips Design uses Second Life “to gain feedback on innovation concepts, engage residents in co-creation and obtain a deeper understanding of potential opportunities in this virtual environment”. And the Italian bank BNL and others are using virtual worlds to create communities to recruit some of their future employees, especially for more creative or technical job openings. Even something simple as chat is an entirely different experience on Second Life, with the other person’s presence is no longer communicated through an MSN-style presence icon with a small photograph or drawing but instead through a full three-dimensional moving avatar.

2. Prototyping of new interaction paradigms
Researchers at MIT are building realistic training simulators in Second Life, often controlled through a Wiimote. Some are even creating simulations for companies, such as a medical-devices firm, a global-energy company focused on power-plant training, and a pest-control firm — all looking to reduce training costs. In the words of one researcher, “the ability to easily integrate a wide range of psychomotor activities with simulations running on standard computer platforms will change the ways people interact with computers.”

3. Experimentation in an unconventional digital environment
These virtual worlds may be primitive still, but if we think of it, we are already living in an enriched world where our interactions with companies and banks, institutions and universities, cities and public services, are no longer just based on a physical communication paradigm. Instead they have become highly mediated by technologies. This will continue to grow. Our interactions will not only become more mobile but also more involving, more three-dimensional, and more experiential. Virtual worlds will be important, no matter what. There will be new types of interfaces – as already alluded to here and here and here – and new types of feedback, and it makes sense for forward looking companies to explore these new ways of reaching out to and involving their customers.

4. Virtual laboratories to understand human behaviour
Also researchers are exploring Second Life and other virtual worlds. A recent article in the journal Science addresses how researchers are getting insights into real life by studying what people do in virtual worlds, suggesting that virtual worlds could help scientists studying ideas of government and even concepts of self, while other researchers are looking at how behaviour peculiar to online worlds differs from that in real life. Also our colleagues from Adaptive Path are involved in this type of research.

22 March 2007

Ancient manuscript teaches machines how to talk to people

How to Talk to People
Ambidextrous magazine, Stanford University’s Journal of Design, has printed an excerpt from the last chapter of Donald Norman’s not-yet published book, The Design of Future Things.

The excerpt, entitled “How to Talk to People”, is part of an ancient manuscript Norman uncovered, written some time in the 21st century, trying to teach machines patience in their interactions with people.

In short, a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek, deadpan must-read.

Download “How to Talk to People” (pdf, 583 kb, 4 pages)

22 September 2006

Mark Vanderbeeken interviewed on engageID

Experientia
Today engageID, the student newsletter of the highly acclaimed Chicago-based Institute of Design (part of the Illinois Institute of Technology), published a rather lengthy interview with Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken on experience design and some of the differences between the European and American praxis.

Mark is quite proud that his interview also launched a new interview section in the newsletter, that sets out to know more about how design is understood and practiced in different cultures and markets.

The interviewer was Enric Gili Fort, who was particularly sharp in the framing of his questions, in part also due to the fact that he is originally from Barcelona and worked in the Netherlands, so he knows the European context rather well. Thank you Enric!

***

On 22 September engageID, the student newsletter of the highly acclaimed Chicago-based Institute of Design (part of the Illinois Institute of Technology), published a rather lengthy interview with Mark Vanderbeeken, senior partner of Experientia, on experience design and some of the differences between the European and American praxis.

The interview launched a new interview section in the newsletter, that sets out to know more about how design is understood and practiced in different cultures and markets. The interviewer was Enric Gili Fort.

The interview was originally published on the engageID website of the Institute of Design, and has been reproduced here under a Creative Commons arrangement.

* * * * *

Enric Gili Fort: Thanks for agreeing to participate in this interview. As the author of the popular Putting People First blog and as a partner of a firm that is based in Italy, we thought you would be a great person to talk about experience design and innovation outside of the US.

Just to get us started, could you talk a bit about your background, what has been your career path and how being Belgian have you ended up being partner of a design consulting firm in Italy?

Mark Vanderbeeken: First of all, thank you for the invitation to this interview.

To answer your question, I have always been interested in human behavior and in communications. In fact, I am trained as a cognitive psychologist (with degrees both from Belgium and from Columbia University, New York). I then started working in the broad field of communications and marketing, in Belgium, in New York and in Copenhagen, gradually taking on more strategic roles and challenges. In 2001 I was asked to work on the communications for the meanwhile no longer existing Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (in Italy), where I came to realize that my interests in human psychology, communications, innovation, and strategic visioning could be integrated within the nascent discipline of people-centered experience design.

So after Ivrea, I decided that I liked Italy enough to stay here longer. I knew Jan-Christoph Zoels from Ivrea and met some good Italian people (Michele Visciola, who actually also has a psychology background, and Pierpaolo Perotto), and together we started a company. We are all in our forties, have all lived in the United States, and have quite a bit of experience behind us, It is a good fit, since our skills are complementary. It allowed us to create the company with exactly the right mix that we wanted: user research, design prototyping and business strategy consulting, all combined into one.

 
EGF: You (and your company) have extensive experience working with both European and American companies that are looking to grow through innovation. From your perspective, what are the similarities and the differences between those companies at the time they are looking for innovation consulting services?

MV: First, I would say that the broader economic context is somewhat different in Europe, with a much more important public sector here. This also means that many European companies do work for these public institutions. This translates into a slightly different role for experience design. I would say that in Europe (and to some extent also Canada) you hear a lot more about design for social innovation, about service design, and about the role of experience design in healthcare, education, tourism, local or regional economic development, and public services. This even affects Europe-based multinational companies who work in consumer products like Nokia and Philips, as I tried to illustrate in my blog.

Experience design is based on the idea of giving people a role in the design of the products and services that matter to them. Both in the US and in Europe, it is believed that this approach will lead to better products and services and therefore to better economic returns. However, in Europe there is perhaps a more explicit social or ethical drive: by giving people this co-creative role we can establish to a more socially inclusive society. A lot of innovation in Europe comes from public institutions, from the European Commission on down.

Another difference between Europe and the US is the role of the mobile phone in society. Michael Mace of Rubicon Consulting recently wrote that the mobile phone is a tool in the US, a lifestyle in Europe (and Asia). The US has a more PC-centric innovation culture, i.e. a culture of innovation focused on the workplace, whereas in Europe and in Asia people expect more innovation on mobile devices and in their social environments. Perhaps it is because people in Europe spend more time outside the workplace or use more public transportation.

 

EGF: Why do you think big European companies like Nokia or Philips get involved in projects with public institutions? Is it simply because a) public institutions have bigger budgets and better business, b) they have organizational goals of corporate social responsibility or c) just because of the management’s ethics and the opportunity to give back to society by having a positive impact?

MV: This is a difficult question for me to answer, since I have never worked for such companies and can only second-guess their strategies. Private companies work within a broader social, political and economic context both in Europe and the US. Aside from the fact that public institutions are often important clients for them, they also want to be perceived as good corporate citizens, as this will help them in the long run. There are definitely also ethical and CSR reasons, but I am not close enough to the companies to assess their importance of these reasons.

 
EGF: Since you intensively collect examples of innovation in the public sector in your blog, could you highlight an example of one successful initiative and a failing one?

MV: I think the exemplary work at the UK Design Council, which is a public body funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, is a great example of how a public institution can generate innovative modes of thinking, prototype them on the ground, promote them widely, and then influence a much wider area of society, both within the UK and outside.

Many regional design-driven development projects, and I highlight a few of them on my blog including the Belgian C-Mine, the German Zollverein and the British DOTT07, could not exist without strategic government leaders and policy makers driving them. These projects come about as public-private partnerships, with win-win results for both of them.

What drives these projects is that they look at innovation beyond technology and allow substantial space for user research, citizen participation and a people-centered design methodology. A pure technological approach to innovation does have its merits for sure, but is not the only way to go about it.

 
EGF: Design and the way it is perceived are changing. More and more companies are looking at design/innovation consultancies expecting to gain advantage and grow.
What are the current challenges that design consultancies have when dealing with new clients (both public and private) that never before considered design?

MV: Challenges are always opportunities. The question is how to make them work for you, how to define yourself within the context of these challenges. Let me describe a few we have come across.

First of all, people still often think of design as an aesthetic activity that makes a good product look great. Italians for instance have a very important tradition in that and are known for it globally. The experience design approach is of course much more about a way of thinking a problem, doing research and then solving it, rather than about making something look good. The "design as a methodology" approach is still fairly new here, but also quite logical, once you explain it to it. But the leap is not so big either. Many product designers have architectural training, especially in Italy. Architects are trained in a methodological approach. Many younger firms are now actively engaged in participatory design.

A second challenge we are facing with some companies, but definitely not all, is a short-term financial logic, where usability can be perceived as an added cost, rather than an investment into a strong product. This is changing though.

A third challenge is the structure of European companies, who are not always used to combine their R&D work with their marketing activities. Experience design addresses both, or better transforms both. Unlike the typical R&D department, experience design is not technology driven, but people driven, and unlike the typical marketing department, it is based on what people actually do, rather than what they say they do. Sometimes we work with the top management.

Fourth, technology is often seen as the territory of engineers, and this is not just the case in Europe. There are many excellent engineers but they do not always have a people-centered or design minded professional methodology. Companies and public institutions can sometimes spend much energy on technologically splendid projects that people for some reason do not want to use. The step to a more people-centered approach might seem obvious, but is not always straightforward. If we want to change that, we need to know how to best talk with engineers, we have to understand the ‘engineer’ way of thinking, but also not be afraid of setting out a human-centered vision.

In fact, all these challenges are cultural challenges. Part of our role as experience designers is therefore helping to bring about a new culture of innovation, not just through our work but also through our public engagement in the social role of design. At Experientia we communicate a lot, run seminars, and organize lectures. We organized last year the first World Usability Day event in Italy (www.worldusabilityday.org), which was very well attended, and we are doing it again this year. And we are editing an entire issue of UX Magazine (the members publication of the Usability Professionals’ Association) on usability and governance.

Our main challenge as experience designers is how to define our new role within the society we are part of. I think we should not shy away from the larger discourse on regional innovation. We are working within a social and economic context and we have to take on our responsibility of helping to change some of that context through a more human-centered approach.

But every statement about challenges is also relative. We have recently worked with major Italian companies and several regional authorities here, and they were mostly delightful in their flexibility and their openness.

 

EGF: If we put together the fact that design can be an economical growth enabler for a region and the fact that designing for public institutions can have a greater impact on society, it makes the designer enter in political waters that designers haven’t usually navigated before. How easily can a designer do his job in the public sector while remaining neutral and politically agnostic, and how influenced by politics is this area?

MV: As I said before, experience design is based upon the premise of giving people a say in the design of products and services that matter to them. It naturally requires participation and co-creation. Giving people a say is a political, democratic act in the true sense of the word democracy: let the people rule. I think it is exciting to think about experience design in this broader socio-political way. This is not party politics of course but it is social and moral choice that we strongly believe in.

Neutrality and agnosticism are difficult words in this arena. We want to give people more of a say, which is a choice and therefore not ‘neutral’, but we want to create tools that give everybody that say, which again is ‘neutral’.

Within any political context you have to position yourself well. We position ourselves as solid professionals, and have never been hired for political reasons. We want to keep it that way.

 
EGF: A few months ago you launched the e-democracy blog exclusively dedicated to "citizen participation and web 2.0 in public authority websites." What triggered this fervent interest in this topic? Who are you targeting this blog to?

MV: I actually changed the subtitle because web 2.0 is just a tool and therefore not so relevant in what I wanted the blog to be about. The blog, which you can find at www.experientia.com/edemocracy, is now subtitled "creative ways to increase citizen participation in online public services". We are currently working with two regional government structures in Italy and it is inspiring to see how young people there are bringing in a very strong people-centered innovation approach.

They ask questions like: how can we create online services that work for our citizens? How can we make them usable and friendly? How can we have people participate more actively? How can we best manage this involvement of people without being overwhelmed by thousands of messages? How can we be a responsive government service and how can the web help us with that?

Our Experientia blogs usually start out as a way to structure our thoughts and our research. In fact, Putting People First originated that way as well: as a permanent home for the many emails with article links I was sending out before. The E-Democracy blog is for those interested in innovation in participatory public services on the web, and this includes our public sector clients of course. Bob Jacobson, one of the most thoughtful voices on experiences calls it a "necessary new venture aimed at exploring the interface between more representative forms of governance, technology, and social innovation."

What you call my "fervent interest" probably stems from a deeper empathy for the social role of design.

 
EGF: What are the reasons behind this people-centered sensitivity among young people? Does it have anything to do with lack of paths for youth, especially in Southern Europe, to become economically independent from their parents and a strong will to do something to address the problem?

MV: I can only speak for the people I dealt with and these are very well educated, well traveled and well read individuals who are working with passion for a public institution. They do not have high salaries, so they get their personal satisfaction out of the drive to deliver a high level service and to do something meaningful for society and the country they live in. They are interested in people-centered design because it resonates with their ethical drive as a committed employee within a public institution. So yes, there is a strong will to try to help address the problems they see around themselves.

 
EGF: You have blogged extensively on governmental initiatives promoted by small regions to revitalize their socio-economic area. Some have set up long-term and heavily funded programs as it is in the case of North East England’s DOTT07, others even have started design Schools with a business twist from scratch like the Zollverein School in Germany, etc..

MV: I am interested in how a visionary approach that is focused on creativity, design and participatory co-creation can become a tool to change an entire region.

Though related to the creative industries thinking of Richard Florida, these approaches go further and are based on creating synergies: between business and education, between public and private, between culture and tourism, between vision and reality, and between people and structures. They are about creating critical mass and about excitement. They usually take place in deprived areas, which for years have been lingering, and had big brain drain problems. They also often have spectacular sites full of old industrial buildings. And they have young and energetic public authorities that are trying to change the dynamic through visioning and systematic and sustainable planning.

I am currently working with some people in the East of Belgium, not far from where I grew up. I always knew it as a former coalmining area in decline and they are totally turning that around now. It is amazing how fast they are: two years ago they were still doing the master plan, yet most of the site will be ready in 2008. And we are talking about a huge endeavor.

Design and participatory co-creation for social renewal is a complex challenge, but one that fits very well with the European way of doing things.

 
EGF: What do you think has changed in the last years in Europe to make these regions so hopeful and willing to invest in these, for some, ambitious enterprises? Do you know about similar initiatives outside Europe? Do you think this would be possible in countries where public sector and progressive policies are not so common?

MV: Europe is changing fast. First of all, people travel more. The EU has this wonderful university student exchange program, called Erasmus, and many people in their early twenties spend 6 months to a year in another European country. Through traveling, the internet and good education systems, people in more remote areas of Europe are just as educated and knowledgeable as anybody else. Yet, there are in a sense more opportunities for them there, not necessarily more jobs, but definitely more interesting challenges.

Second, globalization is making us change. I just posted an article about the small Italian city of Prato. It is a textile town of 180,000 inhabitants. 25,000 of them are Chinese and there are 2,000 Chinese entrepreneurs who own one quarter of the town’s textile businesses. Doing nothing is not an option. We have to change.

The reason why regional authorities invest in such projects, often with the active help of their national governments and EU programs, is because they realize that these initiatives can become engines for renewal. Often such regions suffer from brain drain to the bigger cities and lack of investment. A major project with a clear and sustainable vision can help change that, create enthusiasm and put the place back on the map as an interesting destination, a valuable place to invest time, money and resources in. Regions are aware that they can change themselves and are working at the right level of action: beyond the city, but not as big as a country.

This is of course not just happening in Europe. Take a look at what the Michigan Governor is doing on design and how she emphasizes quite similar policies in quite a different economic context. Look at how American cities are investing in libraries and museums. The approach is slightly different perhaps, but not fundamentally.

I am not really sure about the situation outside of Europe and the USA but would love to learn more. I hear about more top-down approaches to regional innovation in Korea and Singapore but I am not a specialist. I invite people to comment on my blog with their own experiences.

 
EGF: I have recently read your post about Prato, and it is indeed a totally fascinating issue. From your multiple interactions with regional authorities across Europe, how do you perceive the adaptation gap between political leaders that are committed to help their regions make a transition to new social models, and big parts of the population that are still very conservative and very resistant to change? Are these leaders doing their job at educating and helping people understand that these changes are inevitable and that the solution is to be more flexible and adapt? If so, what strategies are following?

MV:Leaders are not always that visionary and people not always that conservative. For some issues it is actually quite the opposite. I can only suggest that more participation and co-creation in democracy is one of the ways to reduce the gap between the citizens and their representatives. And that’s what we are trying to work on.

 
EGF: With the introduction Central and Eastern European countries to the EU there is still a clear imbalance between western European countries and the newly added members. What are these regions’ governments doing to catch up in terms of development?

MV: I love working in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) because of the dynamic, eager, and innovative young people there. They are now part of the EU and their hands-on, curious mindset is influencing the rest of Europe.

I am not a specialist in CEE government policy, but I notice two developments.

Although the last fifteen years has mainly been a time of catching up, and trying to address the most urgent and immediate needs, CEE countries and people were quick to learn and were less stuck in existing structures and modes of thinking than some in Western Europe were (and still are). They were often free enough to choose better.

Second, they invested a lot in educating their people and people invested a lot in educating themselves. I met many hard workers and hard learners with entrepreneurial mindsets. I am really optimistic about these countries.

But it will take a little while still before we see experience design companies there. Or perhaps not even that long …

 
EGF: As a final question I would like to ask you about the current role of the designer in society. It seems that its practice has been getting more and more abstract in the last years and it has reached a higher meta-level. As someone that has personally committed to attempt to tackle more complex and systemic problems in design, how have you seen this evolution and why do you think this change has happened?

MV: I don’t think the practice has become more abstract. We do a lot of very concrete work through contextual observation, user testing and prototyping. I think that over time we have become aware that a designer needs to take the role of the needs and the context of people more into account, because only then can we design something meaningful and relevant. This approach can be applied to car design and mobile phones, but also to hospitals, schools and public services. Yes, it is systemic, holistic and complex, but not necessarily abstract, and definitely not removed from the concrete needs of people. I would rather argue the opposite: only by being holistic, we can really have an impact.

 
EGF: Mark, I want to thank for your patience and time answering our questions around design, education, politics and society. I do really appreciate your thoughtful comments and I want to highlight how enlightening and enriching it has been to have your perspective in the state of design in Europe.

MV: You are welcome and thank you as well for this opportunity to set out and share my ideas.

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