Saturday, December 27, 2008

Book Summary: Making Meaning – How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Experiences

Summary of book written By Steve Diller, Nathan Shedroff, Darrel Rhea

This book has valuable ideas regarding how to drive innovation in today’s experience economy. It was written by a group of experts from the field of experience design who have strong ties to Cheskin, a strategic design consulting and market research firm with a focus on helping companies to develop meaningful innovations. The concepts and framework presented here reflect the thinking and approach that were developed, and are currently used, at this leading design research firm.

Many of these ideas have been communicated via blogs and articles published over the past couple of years. The value of the book, in comparison to the content that you will find online and in magazines, is that it has enabled the authors to explore these ideas in greater depth. Here they are able to provide additional background and contextual information in defense of their perspectives, as well as a more in-depth description of the frameworks and methodologies they have developed to help their companies and clients succeed. At only 140 pages, this book is a fast and enjoyable read that is clear and easy to follow.

The guiding premise for this book is that “consumers increasingly make their purchasing decisions based on deeply valued meanings that companies evoke for them through their products and services… as opposed to simply responding based on features, price, brand identity, and emotional pitches.” In other words, we have entered an era of meaningful consumption. This new world is framed by the rise of globalization, the end of the mass market, and the empowerment of individuals. To succeed organizations can no longer innovate for the sake of novelty, they must focus their innovations on addressing the human need for meaning.

Once this initial premise is laid out, the authors shift their focus to mapping out the evolution of consumer demand in Western society. Next they define the concepts of experience and meaning, to provide a foundation for the second half of the book where they focus on the creation of meaningful experiences. During this section they explore how to find opportunities for meaning, and how to design and deliver meaningful experiences. Below I’ve included a more in-depth overview each of these sections.

Brief Evolution of Consumer Demand

From 1900 through the middle of the century most innovation was product-based, focused on price and feature improvements. With the rise of the assembly line and growth of distribution infrastructure, companies were able to produce products with new features (e.g. soap varieties, car colors, etc.) A “build it and they will come mentality” ruled the day.

In 1950 a brand-focused approach to innovation began to take hold. This shift in perspective became more prevalent as companies realized that serving a single market segment with specific needs and desires was a strategy for uccess. In this period the driving force of innovation evolved from product “features” to “benefits”, which can be physical, emotional, identity-focused or social.

More recently, as the branding has evolved to encompass all customer touch points, the focus of innovation has shifted to the creation of experiences. This brings us back to the premise of this book: to succeed in this market, organizations must base their innovations on delivering “meaning” rather than “benefits”.

Definition of Experience and Meaning

At the most basic level experience can be defined as a “sensation of change.” However, from a business and design perspective, “experience” refers to engagements that are created by consistent and coordinated systems of interactions, or “touch points’, that are designed to convey a specific brand characteristics or attributes.

The focus on creation of experiences “reflects a company’s effort to be consistent in its value proposition and its expression in every connection with a consumer.” That said, consistency is not sufficient to make an experience relevant, compelling, and valuable. Experiences must deliver meaning.

The definition of meaning used in this book refers to “connotation, worth, or import”. Here is a personal example: “going to music concerts is meaningful to me because it gives me a sense of beauty.” From this quote you can tell that I appreciate concerts because they inspire me by delivering pleasures to my senses.

Meaning is central to our experience of reality. It is created on a personal- and community-level and serves as the foundation for our understanding and actions. Going back to experiences, they enable companies to “evoke” meaning since they are not able to actually create meaning, which only arises in their customers’ minds.

Fifteen different “meanings” have been identified as being the most universally valued according to the fieldwork carried out by the authors. Here they are in alphabetical order: Accomplishment; Beauty; Creation; Community; Duty; Enlightenment; Freedom; Harmony; Justice; Oneness; Redemption; Security; Truth; Validation; Wonder.

The Starting Point

To deliver meaning, companies need to reverse their development process to start with an understanding of their customers, and what their customers’ find meaningful. The first steps on this path are for an organization to identify their innovation culture, and put together a team to drive change.

A company’s innovation culture ultimately drives its innovation process and rate of change. There are three different types of cultures explored in this book: Structured, Creative, and Dynamic.

Regardless of culture, companies need to leverage interdisciplinary teams to successfully create experiences that are meaningful “because [this] heightens the likelihood that all customer touch points of the experience will be cohesive and consistent.” Here is a list of the core participants that should be involved in innovation initiatives: Brand Management; Sales Management; Marketing Management and Research; Design; Development/Production; Information Technology; Human Resources; Operations; and CEOs. As with any team, a lead decision maker needs to be identified from one of these areas of expertise.

Design Principles and Process

To deliver meaningful experiences, companies need expand the role of design from viewing it as a function that is limited to visual representation and adornments to embracing it conceptually as a process across all disciplines.

The conceptual role design should play to drive the development of meaningful experiences should be driven by seven principles:
  1. Design creates corporate value
  2. Design is pervasive
  3. Design is collaborative
  4. Design includes execution
  5. Design is a transparent, knowable process
  6. Design is iterative
  7. Design includes both short-term and long-term goals.
These design principles reflect a philosophy that views design as a process that can be broken down into five distinct phases:
  1. Identifying the Opportunity for Meaning
  2. Framing the Experience
  3. Shaping the Concept
  4. Refining the Experience
  5. Expressing the Experience

The Process in More Detail

1) Identifying the Opportunity for Meaning: during this phase companies learn about the competitive landscape, market size, important trends and technologies, distribution channels, and customer lifestyles, preferences and needs. Key activities include defining the market and understanding the customer. Various types of primary and secondary research are needed to unearth these insights.

2) Framing the Experience: during this phase companies choose the audience segment on which to focus, identify the experiences they will create, and define the meaning the experience should deliver to customers (e.g. the scope of the experience) including articulating the value form functional, economic, emotional and identity perspectives. Key activities include choosing the experience and creating an experience framework to define the scope of the experience.

3) Shaping the Concept: during this phase companies think through all necessary elements that will enable them to deliver a consistent and meaningful experience and avoid the most common pitfalls, which include errors of omission and conflicts of interest. Key activities include defining the breadth of expression, duration of experience, and intensity of experience.
  • From a breadth perspective, companies need to identify which components to leverage (most common components include product, service, brand, channel, promotion, marketing communications, customer support, and alliances)
  • Companies then need to think through how these various components will be integrated during the various phases of the experience to deliver meaning: initiation, immersion, conclusion and continuation.
  • Next companies need to identify the intensity of the connection a consumer will have with the experience. There are three separate levels of intensity, from weakest to strongest, reflexive, habitual and engagement.
4) Refining the Experience: during this phase companies fine-tune the experience being created by customizing characteristics of interactivity such as user control, adaptability, feedback and communication; and by designing the triggers of the experience including language, symbols, and sensations. Key activities include exploration of interactivity and definition of aesthetic details.

5) Expressing the experience: during this final phase of the design process companies produce and deliver the experience. Unlike the linear processes associated to assembly-line businesses, experience-based companies are in a perpetual state of production and need to maintain the appropriate mindset to support this reality.

Relevant Links
Here are links to the websites and blogs from the authors from this book. I specifically want to highlight Nathan's website because it has a wealth of resources related to interaction and experience design including lists of books, articles, blogs and courses. I have used these resources extensively in developing my personal curriculum.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Design of Interaction with Music for Video Games

Since the launch of the original Guitar Hero game in 2005, music-based video games have quickly grown in popularity. Recently, music has overtaken sports as the second most popular category for video games. Equally astonishing, according to the Venture Beat blog, these games are now driving adoption of video game consoles more than any other genre.

The sudden growth in popularity of these games has been driven by the evolution of the design of game interactions beyond the traditional game controller. Guitar Hero provided the first interaction breakthrough when they released a controller that is designed to mimic the feel of real guitar. These controllers have been much improved since the first Guitar Hero release. My personal favorite is the Rock Band guitar because it provides the most natural feel and is considerably more accurate from a strumming perspective.

When Rock Band launched in 2007 it also helped push the envelope by supporting four person games and adding interactions via drums and a microphone. Now gamers can create an virtual "rock band", as opposed to being limited to guitars only. For people like me, who always wanted to learn the drums rather than guitar, this was an awesome new feature.

That is not to say that Rock Band is the clear leaders in the market, the battle rages on Guitar Hero. Earlier this year Guitar Hero came out with a new version that not only features a full band set-up but also enables players to compose their own songs that can be shared with others online. For the first time gamers are able to go beyond playing existing songs to create their own masterpieces.

Since the launch of the newest Guitar Hero game, Nintendo has released a music creation platform of its own. The Wii Music game enables players to interact with over 60 virtual instruments. This release, which was launched approximately two months ago, is often referred to as a toy rather than game. The reason being, it is focused on enabling users to play with virtual instruments for pure pleasure and does not feature structured and score-based goals as is common on both Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

The growing popularity of music-based games has also reached mobile platforms such as the Nintendo DS and the iPhone. For the DS platform, two games are currently available: Guitar Hero and Ultimate Band. Both attempt to leverage similar game-play experience to the console games listed above - of course, in a much simplified manner to work on this portable device. The music-based game offerings for the iPhone are quite similar. They include a series of Tap Tap games (which are some of the most popular apps in the app store) and Guitar Rock Tour.

One more interesting thing to point out is the impact that these games are having on the music industry as a whole. According to MSNBC and AP "Aerosmith [has] made more money off the June release of 'Guitar Hero: Aerosmith' than either of its last two albums, according to Kai Huang, co-founder of RedOctane, which first developed 'Guitar Hero... [and] Artists from Nirvana to the Red Hot Chili Peppers have seen sales of their music more than double after being released on the games... The Killers released two new songs on "Guitar Hero" the same time their latest album came out."

Here are some interesting articles about music games that served assource materials for this post:

Best of 2008: Yanko Design's Top 50 Pick

Since I started my design curriculum I have been following the Yanko design blog. This resource has proven to be a consistent source of fresh and innovative design concepts. Their focus is primarily on industrial design, rather than interaction design. That said, since most of the product ideas they feature are technology-based, the concepts often do address interaction design (though not at the level of depth that I would like them to be explored - but this is my problem not theirs).

Without further ado let me get to the point - today I came across their list of top 50 design concepts from 2008. This post includes all of the coolest products that they've mentioned on their blog throughout the year - ranging from simple bookmarks, curtains and clothing to advanced new portable phones and wearable computing devices. Here is a short list of some of my favorites in no particular order (with links to the original posts):
[via Yanko Design]

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Design of Interactions with Music - Portable Devices

Continuing on the topic of designing interactions with music, here are a some examples of lo-tech hacks and and innovative new designs that enable people to interact with music in cool ways. The consistent thread that runs through all of these examples is that these instruments are all portable but are not mobile devices, such as cell phones and mobile gaming units.

The "Ghetto" Talkbox
In my recent post regarding music interactions on mobile devices I shared an example of a Nintendo DS Lite that had been hacked into a talkbox. Here is a lo-tech way to create a talkbox, taught by Moot BooXLe. Before watching this video I had not clue how musicians play with a talkbox. It's pretty interesting: the talk box has a long tube that is placed in the musicians mouth, it is also hooked up to another instrument (usually a keyboard). Therefore, the musician modulates the music that is played from the instruments by talking or blowing air into the tube.

All you need to create your own "ghetto" talkbox is a plastic tube, a PVC end cap, a cheap powered speaker, a box, and some duct tape. Add to this one to two hours of labor and you've got yourself a talk box. It's pretty cool how you interact with the talk box.

Lo-Tech Drums
I know that this is an extremely lo-tech solution; it is by far the most lo-tech feature on this post. All that said, I think it is worth sharing because, though it uses no electronic components, it is a well designed little system. Notice how even though the drummer only interacts directly with the books while the sounds are created as a result of the interaction between the books and the other objects placed on top of the books as well.

Beat Blocks
This is the first electronic music interface from the bunch. Beat blocks is a physical computing interface that enables users to control four different 4/4 loops. Each loop contains a drum track that can be modified on-the-fly by placing or removing blocks of wood into one of 16 different slots that are arranged in a 4/4 formation on a square plank of wood. There are several different types of block. Each block features from 1 to 4 stripes; each stripe denotes the existence and timing of a beat. The pattern of each loop is determined by the presence of these blocks on the 4 consecutive slots that make up that loop.

What I like about this interface is the way it integrates virtual attributes into physical objects. However, this system has limited capabilities and my interest in it is more related to its experimental nature. Most interfaces that use today to interact with music software on computers is derived from physical equipment (guitar, mixers, etc). That is not to say that a different interaction paradigm that is enabled by technology cannot be created. Hence the importance of experimenting beyond our accepted modes of interactions.

Beat Bearing Demo
This interface offers a similar mode of interaction to the beat blocks via a prototype that has a considerably better finished and some improvements. This tool supports interaction based on a physical computing interface that enables users to control four different 8 beat loops. Each loop contains a drum track that can be modified on-the-fly by placing or removing metal bearings into one of 32 slots that are arranged in a 4/8 formation on a rectangular plastic casing. Each row of 8 slots represents one 8-beat loop, while each slot on this casing represents a single beat.

The one-to-one relationship between bearing/slot/beat makes this interface easier to understand and use than beat blocks. It also provides the user with greater freedom to manipulate sounds. The one area where the beat blocks outperforms beat bearing is in regards to the length of the loop itself - beat blocks supports four 16-beat loops, as opposed to four 8-beat loops. Similar to beat blocks, the beat bearing interface is a mere prototype that is not commercially available (unlike the Tenori ON, which I will discuss next).

The Tenori-on is a unique electronic music instrument designed by Toshio Iwai and Yu Nishibori. This device was originally created in 2005 but it was only released in 2007 after Toshio Iwai held live performances in clubs in several European cities. In his own words, here is the inspiration behind this creation:

"In days gone by, a musical instrument had to have a beauty, of shape as well as of sound, and had to fit the player almost organically. [...] Modern electronic instruments don't have this inevitable relationship between the shape, the sound, and the player. What I have done is to try to bring back these [...] elements and build them in to a true musical instrument for the digital age." [taken from wikipedia]

It is a pretty powerful tool, check out the video below of a Hot Chip cover performed with a Tenori-on. This device is consists of a screen that features a 16x16 grid of LED switches. Each switch is multi-purpose and can be activated in various ways to create music. The device also has a frame that contains a small LED monitor, two built-in speakers located and a dial and buttons that control other functionality such as the type of sound and beats per minute produced.

Drum Buddy Demo
The Drum Buddy is an analog-chic electronic instrument that, unlike the three previous examples, is obviously not a digital device. This instrument was invented by an eccentric artist from New Orleans named Quintron. The Drum Buddy has an innovative design that is described as a light-activated oscillating drum machine.

Here is my attempt at describing how it works: light, which is emitted by a light bulb mounted on the device, is captured by photo-sensors that activate oscillators, which generate sounds. These oscillators can be turned on and off, and controlled via switches. They can also be modulated by controlling the presence and amount of light. Check out the video below to see it in action, or check out the wikipedia entry.

This instrument is for true musicians (or very wealthy music lovers). There are extremely few of these in existence though they are still being produced in small batches. They occasionally go on sale on ebay with a $5000 starting bid. During my investigation about this instrument I came across an interesting quote from Quintron about why he created this analog electronic instrument:

"I believe that the digital revolution has cut short the development of new analog electronic instruments - this is a mistake. Analog instruments are presently regarded as charming primitive antiques. Though the DRUM BUDDY and its older analog siblings can create far fewer "types" of sounds than a contemporary digital sampling keyboard, if you analyzed the waveforms of both you would find the DRUM BUDDY sounds to be in a constant state of subtle fluctuation, whereas the digital sounds - since they are really composed of little uniform building blocks - will be rigid and unchanging unless some parameter on the instrument is changed. The analog sounds of the DRUM BUDDY, however, are constantly changing themselves - shimmering with a living complexity which even the 24 bit digital signal could never truly possess." [from Drum Budy site]

The Design of Interaction with Music for Mobile Devices

Lately a large number of music applications have become available for portable phones and mobile gaming system. A large number of music-related applications have been released for these devices - including software for music listening, playing, producing and sequencing. These offerings range from virtual pianos, guitars, drums, harmonicas, sequencers and many other instruments to innovative interfaces that allow inexperienced users (or professionals) to create music in new ways.

iPhone Music Applications

As would be expected, most of the music-related applications for the iPhone provide listening or informational functionality. There are some pretty interesting applications in these genres (Pandora and Shazam being two of my favorites), however, the focus of this post is on mobile applications that enable users to create music, both directly and indirectly. So here are a few of my favorites:

This is an example of applications that mimics existing music instruments. This one provides access to a drum machine and a sequencer. It has a pretty cool interfaces that works well for the most part. They've done a good job at integrating the sequencer and drum machine on to this small touchscreen interface. This application provides a decent set of features, some highlights include ability to loop sounds, to record and playback tracks, and to add new sounds for the drums. The drum is really easy to use featuring large virtual drum pads (the sequencer is a little less user friendly).

Priced at almost $20, this application is definitely not for everyone. It is easy to use considering the the functionality it offers. However, it is more complex than more abstract applications such as Ocarina or Bloom. You do not need experience with drum sets or sequencers to play with beatmaker - I had pretty close to none.

Pro Remote
This is the most high-end example of music interaction application on the iPhone. One distinction about this application is that it does not create music, it is a remote control for Pro-Tools running on a Mac. Nonetheless, it is quite impressive. The video below only shows one small feature of this application. Check out this other video, which highlights some other interfaces provided by this application.

Smule Ocarina
This is an example of a simpler but in some ways more innovative music interface designed specifically for the iPhone. Ocarina is an application that turns your iPhone into an wind instrument whose output can be broadcast to a worldwide network of users. The instrument itself is pretty interesting. You create sound by blowing on to the microphone, and you control it by using four different virtual buttons on the touchscreen display. The application is simple, designed to allow inexperienced to quickly and easily make sounds. That said I quickly grew bored of it.

The networking feature is pretty cool. You can broadcast your music continuously on to the network (even when you are logged off). You can also listen to the broadcast of others via a pretty cool interface that shows the location where the broadcast originates and includes a visual representation of the music - some element of this visual representation can even be customized by the person who makes the song.

This application provides another example of a simple and innovative interface designed specifically for the iPhone. Similar to Ocarina, this app was designed to be easy to learn and fun to use for people who are not musicians. Created by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers, this music instrument enables users to produce melodies simply by touching different parts of the touchscreen. The melodies progress in a loop-like fashion and they slowly melt away and disappear after 30 seconds or so. The instrument will also start playing when left idle for over 40 seconds or so. You can choose from a nine different moods to change the sound of the harmonies. Personally, I prefer this app to Ocarina - though it also grew old pretty quickly.

RJDJ Album
Unlike the other applications featured on this list, this one is primarily used for music consumption rather than creation, which is not to say that it does not create music. The concept behind this RJDJ application is that it generates music on-the-fly using live sounds that are captured in real time mashed up with pre-recorded elements. The live sounds surface in the music as samples, and influence the progression of other elements in the song (if you can call it that).

Based on RJDJ's website they are promoting a musical genre called "reactive", where the sounds that people hear are produced that very moment by digital devices. This is definitely a genre in its infance (I had the music world that will see further development as more artists experience in this

Nintendo DS

KORG DS-10 (w/ optional Straw TalkBox)
The iPhone (and other cell phones) are not the only mobile devices that have more advanced and innovative music applications. A few months ago Nintendo released an emulator for Korg's DS-10 synthesizer. This application turns a Nintendo DS into a mini Korg DS-10. Check out this video - it is definitely more advanced than anything I've seen for the iPhone.

Since I don't own a Nintendo DS-2 - I only have an iPhone - I wonder when an app like this will come out on the iPhone? Is it just a question of time? to what extent does the low-average prices of iPhone apps inhibit the release of software of this complexity?

Another cool thing about Korg DS-10 app on the Nintendo DS is that a hacker in Japan has created a simple way to turn this device into a talkbox, using a simple straw. Check out the video below, just beware because it is in Japanese.

For Nintendo DS there are also a number of open source homebrew music applications - here is 24 examples courtesy of synthopia. Most of these applications are for more experienced users (unlike Ocarina and Bloom on the iPhone). Most of them are designed to provide advanced features and to run these apps users have to learn how to install homebrew software on their Nintendo DS. This requires a higher level technical know-how that tends to be limited to heavier user of the device.

[some content sourced via PSFK]

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Designing Interactions with Music

In late October I wrote a post about an article on Wired that noted how the iPhone, Wii and Guitar Hero helped bring to physical computing computing interfaces into the mainstream. My first prolonged experience with such an interface was through the DJ software Final Scratch that was release back in 2004. Through this experience I learned a lot about the meaning embodied through physical objects that support and guide our interactions with them. I also become present to the difficulties of trying to digitize your life (especially before there were millions of MP3 music sites online).

Sidenote: Music is one area where physical computing interafaces have been adopted earlier than in the mainstream. Over the next couple of weeks I will explore some interesting designs for interaction with music. However, now back to my own experience with digital DJing.

At the time that I started using Final Scratch I was a DJ who relied mostly on vinyl records, backed up by a small collection of CDs and an effects unit and sampler. I had reached the point where it was hard to organize of all my music, especially since my place was overflowing with records. I decided that digitizing my expansive electronic music collection was the best way to organize my music and make it findable; not to mention that this solution was going to address the space issue that would soon become exacerbated by the fact that I was moving in with my girlfriend, who is now my wife.

Final Scratch was designed to enable DJs to use vinyl records on any turntable to control the tempo and pitch of MP3 files playing from the computer, and it also supported the use of almost any 2 channel mixer as an output device. This hardware/software application enabled DJs to interact with music files on the computer by using the same physical instruments and gestures that they use when mixing vinyl records. Best of all it allowed DJs to carry a much larger amount of music and easily switch back and forth between tracks from the computer and vinyl records.

Though this type of interface does afford a lot of new possibilities to DJs, is also lacks some of the attributes embodied in vinyl DJing. First of all it took a few years before the reaction speed of the software was able to accurately mimic the feel of vinyl. Currently Serato Scratch Live is considered the market leader mainly due to their system's natural feel.

Next, the surface of records have natural, and sometime artificial, visible markers that serve as visual cues for DJs. Modern DJ applications have evolved to enable the DJ to add markers to visual displays of a track's soundwave to mimic this capability.

Lastly, the physical location of the record in your record bag/stack and the look and tactile feel of the cover had meaning that enabled you to easily locate tracks. It is harder to find tracks on a list where each entry lacks unique visual or tactile features. Now finding a record requires either text-based searches or a well thoughout playlist-based organization.

All pros and cons aside I decided to make the conversion. The next step in my grand plan was to digitize a large selection of records so that I could: (a) have the music available on FinalScratch on my computer; (b) sell the records on ebay to make sure that me and my wife could fit into our new 1-bedroom rental. It took me about a thousand hours over the span of a year and a quarter to digitize one thousand records. This experience helped me understand the amount of work it takes to convert analogue media into digital data (I can only imagine the costs of digitizing records for large older companies).

There were two main challenges that considerably lengthened the process. The first is caused by a physical feature of analogue media - it can only be recorded in real time. The second is due to the nature of digital media - music files are not searcheable, therefore, to make them easy to find you need to leverage metadata to properly categorize the files using some type of taxonomy (which, of course, I had to create on the fly).

Culture and Technology: Wifi Adoption in Brazil

While I was down in Brazil during Thanksgiving one of my friend accused me of having become too Americanized. This accusation was instigated by my expectation to find greater availability of Wifi connectivity in Sao Paulo. In my friend's defense, I am a freak about staying connected to the internet being accustomed to accessing the web via phone and wireless broadband card. In my hometown's defense, there are actually a growing number of restaurants and cafes that offer free Wifi (and this type of technology is still a lot more expensive down there).

One interesting characteristics of Wifi adoption in Brazil is how quickly the service industry has begun to leverage this technology. A large number of restaurants outfit their waiters with wireless PDAs to more efficiently capture orders and communicate those orders to the kitchen. They also use portable debit/credit card machines (similar to those seen at the Apple store) to enable guests to pay via debit card from their dinning table.

In my view these devices enhanced my experience, though I do understand that they are not appropriate for all dinning establishments. In New York I don't know of any restaurants that uses Wifi technology in this manner. Though I am sure there are a few, the adoption of this technology in this industry is extremelly limited in comparison to what I saw in Sao Paulo.

So how can we explain this different adoption trends? I posit that in Brazil technology is more closely associated with status and is viewed more widely as a positive sign of progress. This explains why the technology is used in a customer-facing manner, and why the restaurants where you find it are upscale and modern places. I attribute the lag in personal Wifi adoption to the current costs of the technology (which is still out of reach for most Brazilians).

In the US people have a more skeptical stance towards technology. This is especially in a food-related settings, which is echoed by the growing demand for organic and fresh offerings. Therefore, restaurants in the US are more reticent to adopt technology in such an "in-your-face". I assume that here in the US the use of technology in non-customer facing areas is equally, or more widely, adopted as in Brazil. On a individual-level, Americans had no sensitivity to adopting this technology for personal and professional purposes, quickly realizing the value it provides.

It is interesting to think about how these cultural differences impact the adoption and use of technology in different contexts, and the design of technology for these contexts.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Design Trends from Frog Design [Trendforum 2008]

Last week I came across a presentation from Frog Design about design trends. There were several ideas about the evolving nature of design that sparked my thinking (and considerable interest). First let me share with you highlights from the presentation first, then I will elaborate on my own thoughts.

Highlights from Frog Design Presentation
  • We are moving towards a design democracy: transition from mass consumption to mass customization. People are starting to take design into their own hands, enabled by technology. People are participating in the design of their own lives within a world that is "always on" for conversation and self-expression.
  • Designers beware of becoming an enemy of design: A shift in design mindset is happening from designing "for" to designing "with" people. This, of course, requires increased focus on understanding the people who will use the product. It also points to the opportunity for designers to focus on the creation of tools rather than final products - tools then enable users to make their own creation.
  • The system is the product. People are buying what the system means to them - e.g. what it enables them to accomplish - rather than the products/tools themselves. The system to which I refer here is comprised by the actual products that function as tools - Think iPod and lego.

Thoughts Sparked by the Presentation

Technology is no longer just a tool. It has expanded its domain over numerous aspects of our lives - personal, social, professional, expressive, etc. Our ability to leverage technology to customize products, and to customize technology itself, has is driving force in this evolution. The increasingly pervasive role that technology plays as a medium, "through" which we act, has led to an increased focus on it as an object of interaction itself, "on" which we act.

The malleability of modern day computation-based technologies has greatly increased the need for design. Design with a capital "D" (the formal practice of design as embodied by professional designers) has received a lot of attention and is being applied to many new areas for business and social purposes. design with a small "d" (design thinking and behavior that is a core element of human beings) has been impacted in an even more interesting manner. People have become increasingly conscious of their ability to design their own lives.

My perspective is based on my personal experience - hence, it is most definitely biased. I have a high-level of comfort with technology and have often used it as a tool to support my pursuits. Technology definitely plays an important role in enabling me to design my life - it is a medium through which I express my identity, a place where I converse with other people and a tool for me to complete various tasks. I am both technology literate and design literate. We can't forget that our current education system is not designed to support design and technology literacy. There is a need for a concerted effort to educate people how to make sense of, and act in, this new world.

An important question to consider: how can we support literacy in the realms of technology and design? There are some schools that are exploring how to address these needs; the New Design High School is such a school in my own neighborhood. They have an innovative curriculum that is based on design principles (check out their website) [disclaimer: earlier this year I helped organize two fundraisers for their music production program]. Another approach is to address this challenge is through design itself. Focusing on designing ways to interact with technology that are more natural and social appropriate for new contexts and to lower the learning curve for inexperienced or under-served users.

Another question to investigate: how can designers understand how to create designs for technology that address human needs from emotional and social perspectives, rather than focus on usability? Brenda Laurel's on book design research has some interesting methods and perspectives aimed at helping designers better understand how to emotional and social needs. The chapter written by Nathan Shedroff is of special interest, he shares some very unconventional approaches to design research that are focused on these areas.

[via DesignMind]

Monday, December 8, 2008

Touchscreen Design Insights from UIQ Technology

I really like SlideShare. Since I've started my curriculum, I've found numerous interesting presentations regarding interaction and experience design here. That said, this post is not about SlideShare (though that could be an interesting topic). The topic of inquiry is a great primer on the design of touchscreen interfaces for mobile devices that I came across on SlideShare. It provides insightful design tips along with an overview of the current state of the technology. It was written by UIQ Design, a Swedish firm that has a mobile design practice.

Here is a summary of the takeaways that were of special interest to me:
  • Overview of the two dominant styles of touchscreen interaction: "double tap" and "drill down". The first style works by requiring two "taps" to initiate an action. The first "tap" on an object puts it in focus, then a second "tap" on the object itself, or an options menu, is provides access to a set of available actions (think tablet PCs). On the other hand, the "drill down" style requires that user tap objects only once to immediately access all available actions (think iPhone).
  • Insights regarding how design principles associated to traditional mobile device interfaces need to be adapted to support finger-based touchscreen interactions. (1) The need to provide quick and short interactions can best be satisfied by offering direct access to applications and data (think one-click access on iPhone); (2) To deliver an experience that is easy to use and learn, objects, and the actions they afford, should be made obvious; Lastly, (3) designers need to address the challenge of the small screen while needing to support large hit areas that support finger touches.
  • Description of two most common touchscreen technologies on portable devices: Resistive and Capacitive. The former is a technology that is used on the screen of palms and other devices that rely on a stylus for interaction. The benefits provided by these screens include costs coupled with their support for handwriting recognition technologies. Capacitive technology is better suited for finger-touch based devices. It is highly durable and can support multi-touch interfaces. (Some details in this area are definitely lost by the absence of the talking notes).
  • Impact of screen resolution and size on the design of mobile applications. Two common approaches are used by designers to design interfaces that work across devices with different specs: "design by pixels" and "design by size". The names are pretty self-explanatory - the first is exemplified by when designers create interfaces that are always fully viewable on the screen of the device. Unfortunately, this often causes fonts to become unreadable on smaller devices. The other approach, "design by size", is where the icons and objects in the interface do not change size regardless of device size. In smaller devices the user is always able to read the fonts, though he may often have to scroll in order to access all options. The suggestion from UIQ is for designers to leverage a mix of both of these approaches.

UIQ Presentation on Touchscreen Design

[via TouchUsability]