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Putting People First

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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

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“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

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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.”

19 July 2014

Jibo the “family robot” might be oddly charming, or just plain odd

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The “world’s first family robot” is based on efforts to elicit emotional response in humans—a powerful idea, but one fraught with challenges, writes Will Knight in the MIT Technology Review.

“Resembling a static but animated lampshade (with a slightly Hal-like, glowing-orb face), Jibo is meant to perform relatively simple tasks like capturing video, relaying messages, and turning light switches on and off. The plan is also let outside developers create apps that interface with Jibo. There’s nothing particularly special about the functionality promised, but if the interface works as advertised (see the promotional video) it will be extraordinary. There are no conventional buttons, swipes, or commands to learn with Jibo; you’d simply talk to it as if it were a tiny robotic person.

Jibo promises to let us experience technology in an altogether more natural way, and there’s good reason to believe such an interface would be enjoyable and compelling to use (see “An AI Pal that’s Better than ‘Her’”). A more natural way of controlling consumer devices could certainly prove handy as smart appliances begin multiplying in our homes—potentially simplifying a mess of different competing interfaces.

But Jibo’s impact will depend entirely on how well it grapples with the complexities of human communication and the subtleties of social interaction.”

More on Jibo here.

19 July 2014

Book: Enchanted Objects

enchantedobjects

Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things
by David Rose
Scribner (July 15, 2014)
July 15, 2014
320 pages
[Amazon]

In the tradition of Who Owns the Future? and The Second Machine Age, David Rose, an MIT Media Lab scientist imagines how everyday objects can intuit our needs and improve our lives.

We are now standing at the precipice of the next transformative development: the Internet of Things. Soon, connected technology will be embedded in hundreds of everyday objects we already use: our cars, wallets, watches, umbrellas, even our trash cans. These objects will respond to our needs, come to know us, and learn to think on our behalf. David Rose calls these devices—which are just beginning to creep into the marketplace—Enchanted Objects.

Some believe the future will look like more of the same—more smartphones, tablets, screens embedded in every conceivable surface. Rose has a different vision: technology that atomizes, combining itself with the objects that make up the very fabric of daily living. Such technology will be woven into the background of our environment, enhancing human relationships and channeling desires for omniscience, long life, and creative expression. The enchanted objects of fairy tales and science fiction will enter real life.

Groundbreaking, timely, and provocative, Enchanted Objects is a blueprint for a better future, where efficient solutions come hand in hand with technology that delights our senses. It is essential reading for designers, technologists, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and anyone who wishes to understand the future and stay relevant in the Internet of Things.

David Rose is an award-winning entrepreneur and instructor at the MIT Media Lab, specializing in how digital information interfaces with the physical environment. A former CEO at Vitality, a company that reinvented medication packaging, he founded Ambient Devices, which pioneered technology to embed Internet information in everyday objects like lamps, mirrors, and umbrellas. Currently Rose is the CEO of Ditto Labs, and his work has been featured at New York Museum of Modern Art and in The New York Times, and parodied on The Colbert Report. A frequent speaker at conferences and for corporations, he lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.

New York Times feature on David Rose

Penelope Green has just featured David, his thinking and his work in the New York Times:

“Mr. Rose, a boyish-looking 47-year-old serial entrepreneur who has invented more than a few magical things, including the talking umbrella, that doorbell and the Facebook table, is the author of “Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire and the Internet of Things,” out this week from Scribner. In it, he proposes that the most delightful, successful smart things mimic the qualities found in the magical tools of fantasy and folklore — Excalibur or Sting, the swords of Arthur and Frodo, say, or the talking mirror in “Snow White” — by doing one or two things really well or, as he puts it, by fulfilling “human drives with emotional engagement and élan.” […]

The smartphone or tablet with its bland, dark screen and multitude of “tiny, inscrutable icons” leaves him cold. Convergence, the great technological design mantra of the oughts, is to Mr. Rose a dystopian horror. He wants to keep his keys, his musical instruments, his wallet and his pens, along with his hand tools, maps, cameras and books. He’d simply like to embed some of those things with special powers.”

18 July 2014

Financial consumer protection: 5 lessons from behavioral research

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In its new Focus Note, Applying Behavioral Insights in Consumer Protection Policy, CGAP (a unit affiliated with the Worldbank) presents a summary of the growing evidence from consumer and behavioral research for consumer protection policy on four topics—disclosure and transparency; complaints handling and recourse; debt stress; and fair treatment.

These new research methods provide deeper understanding of the context of the financial lives of base-of-the-pyramid financial consumers, and how that should influence consumer protection policy. Perhaps just as importantly this new research agenda is leading to more empathy for the experiences and challenges poor customers face every day. Empathy, combined with better evidence and insights, can lead to highly motivated, increasingly effective, consumer protection policies and approaches.

The CGAP experiences researching this publication — and running field experiments ourselves — have led them to five key takeaways on the role of behavioral research in consumer protection policy:
1. The behavioral evidence base in consumer protection is growing quickly.
2. To be effective, regulations need to account for incentives and how they drive behavior.
3. Innovation in base-of-the-pyramid financial markets is changing consumer protection priorities.
4. Context can greatly influence financial behavior.
5. Start small, start cheap, but just get started!

18 July 2014

Improve the travel experience at airports

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Over the past years the Amsterdam agency edenspeakermann_ collaborated in a European cooperation that aims to create a seamless air travel experience for passengers to Europe. As a result of research on four European airports they created the concept of the ‘Info Connectivity System’: a one-stop-shop for all travel information.

Extensive research has been conducted on the travel experience of passengers. We looked into the whole journey; from the moment that the passenger leaves home, until he arrives at the final destination. All the insights we gained were visualized in personas and customer journeys. We created concepts for the interface design and were involved in the development of a mock-up. Currently, the project is in its final stage where we are interested in gaining feedback from potential stakeholders.

The research resulted in the Info Connectivity System (ICS): A one-stop-shop that provides passengers with all relevant travel information at the right time, and in the right context and language. The ICS integrates existing travel information from multiple sources — like mobility service providers and airport operators — and enriches the available data where possible. The system allows editors to generate new data and create connections to their own data sources. Apart from their smartphone, passengers will find their personal travel data seamlessly available on all devices: such as airport information systems, ticketing machines and even on-board devices.

17 July 2014

When science, customer service, and human subjects research collide. Now what?

 

Mary L. Gray wrote a long essay for ethnographymatters that argues that technology builders and interface designers, data scientists and ethnographers (working in industry and at universities alike) “are now, officially, doing human subjects research”.

She argues that all these professionals now really need “to sit down together and talk” on topics such as “data sharing and users’ rights to the drop in public funding for basic research itself.”

We also need, she says, “a thoughtful, compassionate conversation among those who are or will be training the next generation of researchers studying social media”.

She also provides “some background to orient us and the people who pay our research bills (and salaries) to this new reality.”