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Putting People First

Daily insights on user experience, experience design and people-centred innovation
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31 December 2013

The epistemology of Big Data

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In addressing the insecurities of postmodern thought, Big Data falls prey to some of the same issues of interpretation, writes Michael Pepi in The New Enquirer.

More in particular, Pepi points out that “the conditions that generated postmodernism were an intellectual half-step toward the logic that permits the hegemony of networked computing — the era of grappling with Big Data.”. He goes on:

“The ideology of Big Data — that capitalists can and should mine a massive, schema-less trove information that we produce for patterns — is implemented through the discourse of e-commerce, social media, comments, video, and log files. By these means, capitalism rushes to the oracle of difficult-yet-omnipresent data to unlock and replenish the faith in a universal certainty and meaning. Judgment and certainty can then return to art only as networked aesthetic discourse — as the output of Big Data–style analysis. Hermeneutics become statistics. A critic’s opinion can be modelled, predicted, and exposed for its cultural contingencies and biases: Just map their browsing history, show a histogram of authors they cite by age, race, and sex. Analytics permits few myths since narrative scarcely survives reams of data.”

31 December 2013

How do e-books change the reading experience?

 

Mohsin Hamid and Anna Holmes discuss in the New York Times Book Review how technology affects our reading habits.

Mohsin Hamid argues that in a world of intrusive technology, we must engage in a kind of struggle if we wish to sustain moments of solitude.

“As we enter the cyborg era, as we begin the physical shift to human-machine hybrid, there will be those who embrace this epochal change, happily swapping cranial space for built-in processors. There will be others who reject the new ways entirely, perhaps even waging holy war against them, with little chance — in the face of drones that operate autonomously while unconcerned shareholding populations post selfies and status updates — of success. And there will be people like me, with our powered exoskeletons left often in the closet, able to leap over buildings when the mood strikes us, but also prone to wandering naked and feeling the sand of a beach between our puny toes.”

Anna Holmes writes that who or what we choose to read can be as telling as the clothes we wear, and an e-book feels like a detail withheld, a secret kept.

“No matter how fancy the refinements made to, say, Apple’s much heralded Retina display or Amazon’s electronic ink, an e-book offers little promise of discovery or wonder. Browsers may be ubiquitous in our e-portal age, but an e-book doesn’t encourage actual browsing.”

23 December 2013

Ethnographic research: Facebook is basically dead and buried with UK teenagers

 

As part of a European Union-funded study on social media (make sure to check also the UCL site and blog on the same project), the Department of Anthropology at University College London is running nine simultaneous 15-month ethnographic studies in seven countries (small towns in Brazil, China (2), India, Italy, Trinidad, Turkey and the UK). Interesting insights from the UK:

“What we’ve learned from working with 16-18 year olds in the UK is that Facebook is not just on the slide, it is basically dead and buried. Mostly they feel embarrassed even to be associated with it. Where once parents worried about their children joining Facebook, the children now say it is their family that insists they stay there to post about their lives. Parents have worked out how to use the site and see it as a way for the family to remain connected. In response, the young are moving on to cooler things.

Instead, four new contenders for the crown have emerged: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. This teaches us a number of important lessons about winning the app war.”

20 December 2013

People powered data

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Geoff Mulgan, CEO of Nesta (the UK innovation charity), writes that in 2014 the growing movement to take back control of personal data will reach a tipping point.

“The next few years will bring a further explosion of data, and data awareness in daily life. We’re some way off the new Magna Carta that will, at some point, need to establish the ground rules of privacy, power and identity in a digital world. But these issues are fast moving from the margins to the mainstream of daily life – and quite a lot of very powerful organisations risk being on the wrong side of history.”

20 December 2013

Screen Life: The View from the Sofa

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A new study carried out for Thinkbox by COG Research and designed to help the advertising community understand the context of multi-screening (watching TV and simultaneously using an internet-connected device such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet).

Using a combination of research techniques which examined over 700 hours of TV viewing gathered from filming the living rooms of 23 multi-screening households in the UK, psycho-physiological analysis, digital ethnography and online research among 2,000 people with TV and online access.

Here you can read about the research context, the methodology and key findings from the report which reveals how TV and TV advertising benefits from second screens.

Thinkbox has also posted a 2.5 hour webcast on the topic, whereas Research Magazine provides a broader overview, bringing the results of various studies together in one comprehensive and long article.

17 December 2013

Videos online of the Service Design Global Conference

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Nearly all videos of the recent Service Design Global Conference in Cardiff, Wales (19-20 November 2013) are now online:

DAY 1

Making Data Useful

Complex Service Systems

Co-Design & Co-Creation

Micro Services

DAY 2

Morning presentations

Afternoon presentations

17 December 2013

Dan Hill: Can public enterprises adopt the popular dynamics of private enterprises?

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In his latest Dezeen column, Dan Hill examines what services like the Uber taxi app mean for cities and asks whether the designers of public services can learn something from them.

“So this [i.e. Uber], as with Amazon (and Starbucks, J Crew and the rest) is another cultural blitzkrieg, obliterating difference and leaving high-quality homogeneity in its wake. With clothes and coffee it’s a shame, but not that big a deal. However, when it ploughs into a core urban service like mobility I have, well, a few issues.

Although taxis are a form of privatised transport, they remain part of the city’s civic infrastructure, part of their character. As architect and teacher Robin Boyd wrote, “taxi-men teach the visitor a lot about their towns, intentionally and unintentionally.” Boyd was able to to demarcate Sydney culture from Adelaide culture based on whether the cabbie opens the door for you. I recall scribbling a drawing of a Stephen Holl building I wanted to visit in Beijing, as my only way of communicating my desired destination to the taxi driver. Uber makes transactions easier, but what we gain from a seamless UI, and the convenience of the global currency of apps, we lose from the possibility of understanding a place through a slightly bumpier “seamful” experience.”

In short, Hill is concerned:

“The broader issue is replacement of public services with private services. [...] “Who’s to say that similarly shiny networked services won’t also begin to offer privatised coordination of your waste collection, energy and water provision and so on, to match the trends towards private education, private healthcare and private mail delivery to gated communities?”

So what could public services and public authorities do?

“It may mean that public enterprise has to adopt the popular dynamics, patterns and systems of our age, yet bent into shape for public good. This seems possible, as the GOV.UK project from the UK’s Government Digital Service illustrates. Perhaps by marrying such supremely good interactive work with the ethos and long-term viability of the public sector, services like Uber will be left to play happily in the aspirant niches while high-quality networked public services will be available for all. It is just as viable for public transport systems to apply network logic as it is for Uber to do so, if not easier, as the public sector gets to shape the policy and regulatory environments, as well as the delivery.”

So. he ends, “the design question posed by Uber is: can public enterprises adopt the popular dynamics of private enterprises without also absorbing their underlying ideologies?”

17 December 2013

American-centric UI is leveling tech culture — and design diversity

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An article with a title like this cannot but intrigue me (being a non-American leading a non-USA company) – and even more so after I found out that it was written by an American working in an American company.

In a very frank and thoughtful article, Sean Madden, Executive Managing Director at Ziba, argues that the interactions designed into our devices overwhelmingly reflect a perspective native to modern, affluent, urban America.

“That our smartphones can be customized through the installation of apps assumes we want a device that is unique and personal. That our wearable devices track and analyze physical movement — as opposed to, say, proximity to friends or family — assumes that individual activity is the kind most worth monitoring. That our gaming consoles are designed primarily with a single, networked player in mind assumes we prefer remote interaction to the in-person kind; compare that to what Korean and Chinese gamers do, which is cluster in cafes.

This focus on individuality and personal mobility is deeply American, and it’s being taught to the rest of the world through the medium of American technology. And the age of invisible design, with its focus on experiences (as opposed to just products and interfaces) has made cultural influence the elephant in the room: obvious, ignored, and hugely powerful. Especially because technology platforms favor the culture that spawned them.”

Madden doesn’t stop at analysis, but sets out a vision for what the next challenge will be:

“Just as user-centered design transformed technology in the 1990s and early 2000s, cultural fluency needs to transform it today: user experience (UX) design that’s familiar enough with a user’s cultural background to meet him or her halfway.

Cultural fluency demands abandoning the idea that functionality is a universal language, and that “good UX” is culturally agnostic. [...]

It requires tremendous discipline to overcome the cultural biases of American design and engineering, to avoid teams building their own cultural norms into how the systems facilitate human interactions. Cultural fluency will require another expansion in design, one that incorporates anthropological, psychological, and historical insights in addition to everything that’s come before. And it will require understanding the broader impact on culture and society when devices begin making decisions and transacting on their own, as promised by the Internet of Things.”

14 December 2013

Reinventing the wheel

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Experientia has been featured in RISD.edu, the website of the Rhode Island School of Design, where Experientia partner Jan-Christoph Zoels received his master’s degree in industrial design.

The article offers a brief overview of some of Experientia’s recent work, before going into more depth about our exciting conceptual work on a giant observation wheel design for Japan.

Experientia reimagined the user experience of observation wheels, integrating innovative elements throughout the entire customer journey. The innovations take people on a unique and exciting journey, from the moment of purchasing and anticipating the ride, right up to augmented reality during the ride that immerses them in the landscape, and provides new perspectives on familiar views.

The observtion wheel is destined to be constructed in an as-yet-unannounced city of Japan, and the design has been featured in several magazines recently, including Fast Design, Dezeen and Wired.

14 December 2013

UX review of Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch

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Smartwatches are the future, but the Samsung Galaxy Gear is only partway there, writes Raluca Budiu, a senior researcher with Nielsen Norman Group, in her detailed and extensive UX review of the Samsung Galaxy Smartwatch.

“One big reason to believe in watches is that this form factor has already been victorious. Historically, before wristwatches were invented, many people carried pocket watches. But the time needed to fish a device out of your pocket was much more than the time needed to whip around your wrist to face your face. Wristwatches are a much faster way to check the time (and maybe date) than using a pocket watch. As a result, you hardly ever see a pocket watch these days.

In the case of computers, the wrist computer (smartwatch) will not eradicate the pocket computer (mobile phone) the way wristwatches eradicated pocket watches, because a phone-sized screen can do so much more than a watch-sized screen. Most likely people will carry both.

The key is simplicity (you can do it more easily on a watch) and spontaneity (you can do it right away). Phones already encourage spontaneous use; watches will be for those moments when phones are too big and too slow to access. We’ll need to learn ways to make the apps more direct and distill their essence, so that a quick glimpse on a tiny screen will be enough to get what we need.”

See also this article on the iWatch by her colleague Bruce ‘Tog’ Tognazzini

14 December 2013

The lack of closure experience in digital products and services

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There’s an ever-growing tide of inactive, dormant, or extinct customer accounts and other online personal data swallowing up the digital landscape, writes Joe Macleo in UX Magazine.

As designers, one of our objectives when creating digital services and products should be to incorporate a “closure experience” that allows customers to end their relationship with the service as easily as they started it. A good closure experience brings a satisfactory conclusion to a product or service relationship, with each party feeling satisfied with the completed transaction. It should be a fair and just conclusion without consequence.

Users will feel increasingly vulnerable as more and more services fail to deliver closure, leaving user data hopelessly exposed in endlessly open digital relationships. Increased consideration for closure experiences in our designs can help with this.

8 December 2013

Robert Fabricant on scaling your UX strategy

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Leading businesses like Google are exploring scalable strategies that make UX relevant to engineers and MBAs across their organizations.

Robert Fabricant has posted a quick look at some of the different strategies that they are deploying:
1. Lean UX
2. UX in R&D
3. Baby-Step UX
4. Six Sigma UX
5. Customer-Driven UX

8 December 2013

Britain’s Ministry of Nudges

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The title of this New York Times article sounds like a Monty Python sketch (intentionally, I guess). But the article is luckily quite a lot more serious, exploring how the British government – inspired by American behavioral economics – is finding new ways to gently prod people to pay taxes, find jobs and insulate their homes:

“A small band of psychologists and economists is quietly working to transform the nation’s policy making. Inspired by behavioral science, the group fans out across the country to job centers, schools and local government offices and tweaks bureaucratic processes to better suit human nature. The goal is to see if small interventions that don’t cost much can change behavior in large ways that serve both individuals and society.

It is an American idea, refined in American universities and popularized in 2008 with the best seller “Nudge,” by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. Professor Thaler, a contributor to the Economic View column in Sunday Business, is an economist at the University of Chicago, and Mr. Sunstein was a senior regulatory official in the Obama administration, where he applied behavioral findings to a range of regulatory policies, but didn’t have the mandate or resources to run experiments.

But it is in Britain that such experiments have taken root. Prime Minister David Cameron has embraced the idea of testing the power of behavioral change to devise effective policies, seeing it not just as a way to help people make better decisions, but also to help government do more for less.”

6 December 2013

The psychology behind information dashboards

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With its interactive and intuitive interface and its ability to visualize data in a single screen, the information dashboard is becoming a critical tool in the hands of the business user. Moreover, it is also making its way into apps used by laypeople for managing day-to-day activities like budget tracking and fitness management.

So what makes information dashboards so appealing to the human mind? What is it that the human mind seeks that is so nicely provided by information dashboards? Shilpi Choudhury explores.

In synthesis: Any product that has an information dashboard as one of its key offerings should keep the psychological needs of its end users in mind. Users like being in control, they have a limited short-term memory, and they love things that are simple. These three factors should form the foundation of all dashboard designs. Understand your user’s requirements and add in your design best practices and you have the ingredients for creating the perfect information dashboard.

6 December 2013

The UX explorers at Ford: an interview with Parrish Hanna and Chris Thibodeau

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In response to the recent explosion in UX, Ford Motor Company has hired folks like Parrish Hanna and Chris Thibodeau — Global Director of Human-Machine Interface and Executive Manager of Global Product Planning for User Interface, Connectivity, and Infotainment respectively — to react and reshape Ford’s user experience.

Hanna’s past was non-automotive having spent years in the connected world with Motorola. “I came from consumer electronics and telecommunications, where you are always looking for a captive space in which to work, like a kitchen or living room. Automotive has that captive space, which makes a big difference. The challenge is to help the user with other elements such as dealing with comfort, efficiency, interactions like navigation, making a call, listening to music, etc. layered in a single space and controlled in multiple dimensions, not to mention adjusting things like momentum and braking. A great blend of physical and digital design challenges.”

Thibodeau, on the other hand, comes from a long history of automotive product development (Visteon, GM) with teams including user experience designers and researchers. “It takes a two-prong approach to plan and design effectively. Silo engineering is not the way to get great user experiences. Parrish and I help and strive to bring a cross-functional mindset.”

Steve Tengler recently had an opportunity to sit down with both of them and inquire about Ford’s new direction for user experience and the next generation of human-machine interfaces.

6 December 2013

New UK Lab to transform healthcare using design

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A new centre will bring the principles of design into the heart of a leading hospital to create a global research hub for “frugal innovation and high-impact, low-cost design”, writes The Times Higher Education.

Royal College of Art (press release) and the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London (press release), have together launched the Helix Centre for Design and Innovation in Healthcare, Europe’s first dedicated centre for healthcare design and innovation..

“Innovation in healthcare can come at a high price. In the developed world it is often characterised by costly and high tech initiatives, where ideas can take a decade to deliver from concept into a clinician’s hands. HELIX will use design to solve everyday problems in healthcare, focusing on low cost solutions which can be adopted more quickly by health systems. Everything the centre does will be firmly rooted in patient care – based out of St Mary’s Hospital its sole focus will be on design that directly improves the care that patients receive

medical equipmentThe Centre will bring together clinicians, academics, technologists and venture capitalist expertise with NHS staff to develop innovations with global application. Recognising that some of the promising technologies in healthcare are developing outside the UK, HELIX will work collaboratively with international academic and commercial partners such as Stanford University, Singapore University of Technology and Design the IDEO and TATA in India to develop ideas and create commercial opportunities for our best designs.

The Centre will use its research strengths and diverse networks to explore how design in health care can enhance patient care including meeting the needs of an ageing population, improve clinical outcomes and prevent or mitigate against disease.”

6 December 2013

UK Cabinet Office policy lab aims to create designer public services

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Public service design is about to hit the mainstream. In December the Cabinet Office will launch a new policy lab tasked with using design to “re-invigorate policymaking in the UK civil service”, reports The Guardian.

The new lab to be launched in December will work with departments on their toughest problems, drawing on design methods such as ethnography to shed new light on what services people really need, and what a better solution might look like.

“Most design in the public sector is focused on transactions with government, such as applying for a passport. Much less has been done on design for improving human services such as drug rehabilitation. Even where design is deployed, it is usually only used to reshape a particular service not redesign the system surrounding it. So although some have designed to cut reoffending, designers have not yet had the chance to explore why offending is happening in the first place.

Moreover, design needs to learn from other public service fields, such as behavioural economics and social finance. The public service design revolution is just beginning.”

29 November 2013

Design your way to better public services

 

Innovative design-based approaches to public service management can rapidly enhance user experience whilst driving effective and efficient policymaking, explains Lucy Kimbell on the site of the Policy Network (the UK’s leading thinktank and international political network based in London).

“[The UK Cabinet Office, the Young Foundation, the International Telecommunications Union amd Nesta] are all examples of organisations reaching out to something confusingly called “Design”, in their attempts to create and deliver better responses to social challenges. Here, “better” public services can be understood through the lens of Roman architect Vitruvius. Well-designed public services should be pleasing and easy to access and use from the end user’s perspective (venustas). They should use resources effectively and efficiently, for example, reducing public sector investment (firmitas). And they should achieve policy goals resulting in the impacts that were the point of creating the solution in the first place (utilitas).

Helpful is how Kimbell describes what is distinctive about an approach where a team of people from policy, social science, technology and design backgrounds together take a design-led approach to addressing social challenges.

28 November 2013

Design Week reflects on the business potential of service design

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Design Week investigates a new wave of service design proponants who are helping to embed design in big brands.

Taking the two-day Service Design Global Conference as a context, the author highlights the radical changes businesses are making by using design to deliver profitable customer-focused experiences.

In particular, the article profiles four cases:

The work of business management firm Capita in helping their clients reshape entire services – the recruitment process for The British Army, and the UK TV licensing process for example – through long term consulting contracts.

Barclays, and in particular the Barclays Pingit project, a payment mobile app that allows users to make and receive payments using their phone’s contact book.

Xerox’s transformation from a tech manufacturer into a services business.

Ideo.org‘s work with Unilever, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition to design a scalable business in Kenya selling water alongside hygiene and nutrition products.

27 November 2013

[Report] Leading Business by Design

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Design is now firmly on the business agenda. No longer the cherry on the cake for high-end goods and luxury brands, over the past decade it has gained relevance for the way organisations are structured, how they operate and how they think. An increasing number are starting
to use design strategically – to differentiate themselves from the competition, to launch new brands and strengthen existing ones, and to inform strategic choices. There is already considerable evidence for design acting as a mechanism for business growth and innovation.

This research, conducted by Warwick Business School on behalf of UK Design Council, aims to build on such evidence by asking business leaders of various organisations how they use design, and how they benefit from it.

Interviews with business leaders from world–class companies like Barclays, Diageo, Virgin Atlantic and Herman Miller led to three main findings:

  1. Design is customer-centred – Benefit is greatest when design is intimately related to solving problems, especially customers’ problems.
  2. Design is most powerful when culturally embedded – It works best when it has strong support in the organisation, especially from senior management.
  3. Design can add value to any organisation – Design can benefit manufacturing and service-based organisations, small, medium or large.

The report’s eight recommendations for how companies can maximise the impact of design:

  1. Don’t limit the context in which design can operate
  2. Use design to differentiate
  3. Integrate design and branding
  4. Introduce a design process
  5. Trust and support your design talent
  6. Embed design in your organisational culture
  7. Design your work environment
  8. Don’t let the designer’s role be a straitjacket