Filtering by Category: User Experience

Baudrillard on the difficulty to grasp people's needs

A good quote by Jean Baudrillard, Selected writings (1988):

"...he is forced to represent the individual as a completely passive victim of the system... we are all aware of how consumers resist such a precise injunction, and of how they play with needs, on a keyboard of objects. We know that advertising is not omnipotent and at times produces opposite reactions; and we know that in relation to a single need, objects can be substituted for one another... if we acknowledge that a need is not a need for a particular object as much as it is a need for difference (the desire for social meanings), only them will we understand that satisfaction can never be fulfilled, and consequently that there can never be a definition of needs."

Why do I blog this? Because it encapsulates a lot of the problems I see in the debate around user needs: the difficult to define what it is, the relationship betweens needs and product communication, etc. Surely useful for discussion with students next weeks in my user-oriented design class.

GPS failed pattern: wrong door

from here to there I think it would be good to start a catalogue of weird "failed GPS paths" patterns. The one above could be called "right way, wrong door". The other day I Geneva, while going to a seminar, my iPhone GPS gave me this curious set of information that I liked a lot. I was looking for a building I've never been into and used the GPS device to help me.

The "path solution" it gave me is the one above, strip naked in terms of urban elements (for some reasons, it's only a grid as if I was playing "Space harrier"). I simply had to go back on the avenue and find the entrance on the other side of the building. It left me wondering about the way navigation database are aware of building entrance, surely a parameter that add a layer of complexity.

German status

Car plate A korean car license plate encountered last week that features the European Union flag and the "D" which corresponds to Germany. It's of course a german car and I also noticed it on BMW and Mercedes here and there in Seoul. What is intriguing is that the plate shape is also the one from the EU and different from other korean cars. The status of the EU + german industry is thus sported and shown to other people.

Why do I blog this? an interesting sign of a social and cultural status embedded in a mundane artifact. Nothing really new here but it's funny to document such phenomenon that takes multiple forms.

Digital keypads in Paris

Paris keypad Among the various objects that we touch on an everyday basis, the outdoor keypads always catch my eyes each time. Called "digicode" in France (standing for "digital code"), the examples in this blogpost are a small sample that I ran across in Paris last week-end. The first one (above) is definitely the classic and clean version of the standard model in Paris. The keypad layout, a topic we already addressed here about the iphone is the classical "dial layout" that comes from the telephone set (as opposed to the calculator layout) with 1 2 3 on the first line.

The other examples below reveal some interesting features about touch interactions:

Paris keypad This one nicely shows what happens over time when people input codes. Buttons with dirt and patina on 1 2 3 6 9 A reveal their frequent usage (and possibly inspire stalkers and people who want to sneak in). Nonetheless, it's inevitable and it's how things age. But wait a minute, this one has the "calculator layout" with the 7 8 9 above, another intriguing component, which may be caused by the fact that this "coditel" brand could prefer this setting.

Paris keypad At night, Paris doorways features these red (or blue)-lighted versions that aims at helping people to locate the correct keypad structure.

Paris keypad And finally, this one, a bit messed-up for some reasons beyond my understanding depicts a nice and nonchalant design.

Why do I blog this? documenting everyday objects, as usual here. In a time of "touch interactions" craziness (towards iphone and interactive table), I find interesting to revisit existing touch interfaces and understand the whole gamut of design issues.

Personal informatics instances

Walk with me Playing with personal informatics' devices lately. Such as Walk with me or On Life.

On Life

Walk with me enables you to track and monitor your daily walking routine, set certain goals, rate your day, etc. Onlife is meant to observe interactions with digital services (such as your web browser mailer, IM client, etc.). The two of these services belong to a category of applications called "personal informatics" that track people's daily activities to eventually allow them to modify their behavior based on trends. Of course, there are plenty of others. Some are more well-known than others.

Why do I blog this? The two aforementioned examples are interesting as they reveal some patterns that people may not have noticed but two things struck me as important:

  • Both examples depict a sort of limited visualization of the traces that has been collected. In these two examples the information architecture is very similar (though it represents various things on the y axis) and the Gantt-like aspect could be replaced by other metaphors.
  • The overemphasis on quantification: in Walk with Me, most of the stuff here is about counting the number of steps, it allows to see accumulations (per day, etc.), cycles and holes during your days. However, life's more than quantification, there are single and non-repeated events that can make sense to (weak signals coming from nowhere) and I wonder how they could be taken into account with a certain weight. To some extent... how the quality of traces could be more elaborate and not just represented with a scale. Let's explore this more thoroughly

User participation

Out of order A basic occurrence of user participation, taking the form of a rough message that indicates this stamps machine is broken. User-generated content if I may use this term.

This sort of activity has been taken as potentially transferable to digital interfaces. Think, for instance, about GPS devices that allow people to send over some updates concerning traffic jams and constructions (and sometimes send fake information about non-existing constructions only to prevent other persons to use certain routes). A topic I address yesterday on the french radio "France Culture" (podcast here, french only, sorry about that).

Count on something else happening

Three card monte The observation of this sidewalk game (three card monte) the other day in Geneva 5 minutes after starting a book by Howard Becker lead me to acknowledge the full veracity of the following quote:

"We can always count on something else happening, another glancing experience, another half-witnessed event. What we can't count on is that we will have something useful to say about it when it does. We are in no danger of running out of reality; we are in constant danger of running out of signs, or at least of having the old ones die on us."

Geertz, C. (1995), After the Fact: Two Countries, Four Decades, One Anthropologist, Harvard University Press.

Why do I blog this? this should be at the roots of scouting for insights and elements for design research. An interesting quote to be re-used in one my course.

Yet another weird toilet interface

Toilet door interface(Out)

Toilet door interface (In)

This toilet door encountered in a french train yesterday struck me as fascinating. On both side of the door (in and out the toilet), you have a remnant of the past (a door handle that has its highly efficient affordance) and a set of button (open/close). As you can imagine, most the passers-by start by turning the door handle, which fails to open the door, they then froze and realize they can press a button. The next step is that they come in and realize that a similar masquerade happens inside. What is intriguing is that when outside of the toilet, the button set is close to the door handle, which is not the case inside (hence the presence of weird yellow arrow-shaped stickers).

What happened here? The combination of two interaction styles (buttons + door handle) is stunning and detrimental to this basic interaction (opening and closing a door uh!). What's the design rational here? maybe that it's less physically demanding to press a button and wait that the door automatically closes/opens. However, and you may expect, people IN the toilet are generally anxious about how to close this god damn door. Some even try to grasp and push the handle, which does not allow to lock the door.

Let's have a look closer:

Toilet door interface

Besides, the button set is perhaps not the best way to interact but the presence of both is even more confusing. Weird arrows, red circles for emergency opening, what a mess!

Why do I blog this? observing how everyday basic interactions can be transformed into complex encounters with objects. And yes, I always bring my camera when I go to ANY toilets, it's an interesting place to analyze weird technological innovations.

City quantification devices

Quantification device A quantification device encountered on a bike path in Marseille last sunday when riding "le vélo" (that's how they call the bike rental system down there). Two intriguing pieces of strings connected to a metal box. As an aside, the warning sign on top of it could even be re-used by angry punk-rock guitar players if they wish to start a new band.

This artifact led me thinking about how measurement devices could take different shape.

On one side you can have small and portable objects like pedometers or fancy nike+ shoes. You just take the damned thing and put it in your pocket or simply sport it while walking/running. It's individual, each human who like to have a reflective account of his/her own movement use it. And that's all good: as a user you can access the data and reflect on them. Of course, there are different levels of access ranging from reading them on the screen to exporting them in a fancy spreadsheet to run statistical computations.

Quantification device

On the other side, it's also possible to have measurements infrastructures like the one represented above. It's collective and generally put in place by a city stakeholder (be it a transportation company/institution or the city council). In this latter case, the information is less accessible to the users: it sits rights there in the weird box and some human comes uploading them before parsing the whole thing on the 7th floor of a building owned by his company. Obviously, the granularity of the information collected by this device is way different than our first category. In addition, the aim is also distinct. The point here is to get some insights about the number of cyclists riding on this bike lane. For the record, this is the "sensable city" from the 20th century: situated data-capture at its best, then-turned into a tool for decision-makers about how this place is "used" by people who ride bikes.

Why do I blog this? categorizing different measurement devices is intriguing and contrasting the approaches.

Playful surveillance?

phone In the various interviews for my book about location-based services, privacy is often brought to the table, especially with french journalists who really want to deal with this angle. What happens is that most of the discussion revolves around the potential fear caused by Google Latitude, Aka-aki (I was even asked what I thought about the GPS bra). Most of the time, there is a big confusion between the imaginary representations some people of these technologies (trackable everytime everywhere) and what is really implemented.

It's generally hard to talk about something else so I try to move the discussion to different grounds. My point is to show that privacy is indeed a problem but that there are other interesting matters when it comes to locative media. In order to do that, I highlight how locative technologies can be repurposed or hacked through playful or critical practices. Projects such as iSee that that maps the locations of surveillance cameras in urban environments and propose paths to avoid them are interesting for that matter. The possibility to avoid surveillance becomes a purpose here.

Which is why I was interested in reading "Playing with Surveillance", a short paper by Judy Chen that deals with this issue. It basically presents a playful design of an application that exploits surveillance as a playful practice through a camera phone. The paper describes the application but I was more interested by the design rationale:

"Our design for mopix was inspired by an observation we made of a woman taking a photo with her phone in a shopping mall. The woman was photographing an object in a store across the walkway, but another woman sitting nearby hid behind a baby stroller in an effort to avoid being in the photograph. To the first woman, her camera phone was a device she could use to capture a memento from her experience at the mall. To the second woman, the camera phone was an unwanted surveillance device that was invading her privacy and anonymity. (...) By taking a playful approach in our design, we trivialize aspects of surveillance that are typically disconcerting to users, while at the same time, providing engaging experiences with the system and between users. "

Why do I blog this? documenting interesting examples of technology ambiguity and their non-neutral nature. This work is interesting also in the discussion about locative media and privacy or how to go beyond the general discourse about these 2 issues.

Workshop in Torino

Last tuesday I was in Torino, Italy for the "I Realize" conference organized by TOPIX (Torino Piemontre Internet eXchange). Participating as a workshop facilitator, I was told to focus on how people will move and interact in the city of tomorrow. We worked on identifying unsolved problems, suggesting possible (technological?) solutions. The day after the workshop, I presented a quick overview of the results that others such as Bruce Sterling commented during the panel. Annotated slides can be found here. The workshop was based on a quick field exploration in the morning, during which participants were told to collect some material about people practices and needs. The afternoon as devoted to material analysis and discussion of design issues and solutions.

Thanks Leonardo for the invitation!

City quantification devices

Street scale The presence of scales in public space has always intrigued me. Such a quantification device is generally private but there are different occurrences of public appearances. The picture above in Torino depict street scales that people can use (and pay for) to know their weight, which is definitely a personal use, although it takes place in a public space. There is clearly a cultural thing to have this sort of artifact in the urban environment and I don't really know the whole picture here. It seems curious though.

The one below, taken from a lift in an hotel in Paris shows the scale of the group: it's a group indicator that is meant to prevent the elevator to break down if the weight is too important. I can't help thinking about the awkward situation that may happen if the scale warns people that there are too much people in the lift. Will the negotiation process be fluid or will it lead to unexpected arguments. As usual with devices that make things explicit, I foresee surprises.

Weight indicator

Why do I blog this? yet another example of quantification devices employed in our material world. The practices at stake here are important to document and compare to the whole discourse about how measuring our movements/activities can lead to original representations and services (will individual weight be a parameter in some sort of scary identification process? will we have elevator services based on group weight? how weird?).

The use of these measurement devices in public space is certainly an interesting locus of interest for people who want to explore what happens when "things that were implicit becomes explicit"... which is also what happens with ubiquitous computing as Adam Greenfield put it in his "Everyware" book:

"Everyware surfaces and makes explicit information that has always been latent in our lives, and this will frequently be incommensurate with social or psychological comfort"

About digital and paper maps

Taxi map Mapping is a favorite topic of mine, not only because I worked on locative media, but also because I find they are fascinating objects. Maps are really interesting these days as they exemplify one of the design trend I spotted recently: the transformation of non-digital objects by design techniques coming from the digital world. To some extent, lots of artifacts from the material world can be re-designed by applying insights learned when creating weird interfaces and new sorts of interactions.

This is what happens currently with paper-maps which design is reshuffled by people who grew up with video-games and on-line mapping tools, or by designers who consciously want to apply techniques coming from the digital. What is highly captivating in this context is that it also reshapes the user experience of the object at hands. Maps are a good example of such phenomena.

One of the most advanced project along these lines is certainly Jack Shulze's Here and There. Although I don't have the poster version, the Wired UK version will do to exemplify what it is:

Here and There

Here is the idea:

"Imagine a person standing at a street corner. The projection begins with a three-dimensional representation of the immediate environment. Close buildings are represented normally, and the viewer himself is shown in the third person, exactly where she stands. As the model bends from sideways to top-down in a smooth join, more distant parts of the city are revealed in plan view. The projection connects the viewer's local environment to remote destinations normally out of sight."

There is more on S&W's on-line web log where Schulze describes how he wanted to "exploits and expands upon the higher levels of visual literacy born of television, games, comics and print". More specifically, he wanted to tap into the satellite representation as a symbol of omniscience and the reason why a platform such as Google Earth is so compelling. The point was to have "a speculative projections of dense cities (...) intended to be seen at those same places, putting the viewer simultaneously above the city and in it where she stands, both looking down and looking forward".

Reading this in the train yesterday made sense when few minutes after, arrived at my final destination in the city of Lyon (France), I encountered this curious map:

Horizontal Map

The map depicts the city of Lyon from the train station at the bottom (in this white area) and the city itself in the upper part of the picture. There is a lot to discuss here and I won't comment about what is not represented (can the white part be absent because it may have been perceived as not interesting for tourists?). What I find relevant there is:

  • The sort of bird eye's view, as if we were in a video game, where the landscape is represented in plan over distance
  • The color overlay that shows the subway, tram and bus lines is also curious. It basically maps the public transport infrastructure on the perspective
  • The map is fixed and located in the train station, it's only drawn for this specific viewpoint (the station) and definitely match the context of use.

Why do I blog this? trying to make some connection between online musing and urban scouting... and the map topic is highly intriguing for that matter. I am convinced there is a lot to work on to modify non-digital objects with this sort of design techniques.

See-through toilet

See-through toilet (3) Another item I found curious while spending time in Lausanne the the other day: a see-through toilet. Based on a steel-and-glass architecture, the toilet is based on a transparent system: when pressing the "voir" button (which means "see"), the glass gets transparent and it turns opaque when someone is inside and presses the button again. A motion sensor also turn the glass transparent if there's no motion during a certain amount of time (to prevent people from staying there for too long or in case of a problem) OR if there is TOO MUCH ACTIVITY (no party is allowed in there).

See-through toilet (1)

See-through toilet (2)

It's questioning as well to see that the button has been called "VOIR" ("see"), as most of the people who enter the toilet do not want to "see" but instead to "not be seen". My guess is that it's on purpose, to disrupt people's behavior (who would want to press a button anyway to see how to make the glass opaque).

From what I've read, the point is to find an answer the recurring problems of toilet trashing. By looking at the inside, people can have a direct overview of the toilet state. Designed by Oloom in 2008, the whole point of this is explained on their website:

"Eleven glass sides for this toilet whose walls are partly made of liquid cristal glass. Under electric tension, the glass is transparent and the toilet shows its clean and functional inside/interior: the user feels safe and sound. Out of tension, they become opaque: the place is now occupied and the users intimacy guaranteed. An innovative concept to deal with insecurity problems whilst playing with transparency."

An important feature in this design is the presence of a pine tree next to the transparent toilet. This tree has been especially chosen to be planted there because it's aimed at bringing more pleasant smell. A sort of high-tech/low tech combination.

Why do I blog this? An intriguing piece of furniture with curious combinations (the pine tree, the syringe trash can). Is this the Everyware-like city toilet of the future? I don't know but it's certainly interesting to understand more the way the glass gets transparent or opaque. The rules embedded in the system, that I described at the beginning of this post, tells us captivating insights about what is considered as normal or not in society.

Wifi zone

Wifi area +place to sit Interesting configuration in Lausanne: a WiFi area (that is indicated through the signage on the wall depicting both the waves and the usage with a laptop) and places to sit with a laptop (the wifi wave are also present there too). A small cluster of high chairs for people who pass by. And yes, it's covered in case of rain. Looking at the chairs show clear sign of dirt and old remnants of cigarettes though.

Wifi area +place to sit

Why do I blog this? urban scouting in Lausanne today led me to investigate this area. The design intent here is to support new forms of activities in our contemporary cities. I love the signage on the wall. The direction of the wave is clearly going from the user to the cloud. I see this as an echo of the "creative city" meme: it's prosumer/active contributors to the network who are expected to use their laptops here.

Digital close to physical

Digital+physical Seen at the office today.

When the digital (in the form of a DVD that contains drivers and software) needs to be put close to the physical (this scanner) through the magical use of duct tape. DVD like this often gets lost although they're generally needed, a quick trick to avoid losing it is to keep it close to the physical items it is related to.

Johanna Brewer about ethnography and design

Johanna Brewer at LDM/EPFL Back to EPFL today for a lecture by Johanna Brewer about "What can ethnography do for technology?". She basically presented how ethnography, as a methodological strategy, is relevant for design in the context of her PhD projects. Johanna did her PhD with Paul Dourish at UCI Irvine and she recently launched a new start-up called frestyl (in the mobile/web music business).

After a brief introduction of *what is ethnography*, she showed how Human-Computer Interaction, initially based in Computer Science, evolved to include cognitive psycho concepts with a quantitative understanding of how humans interact with technology. Researchers recognized that this approach, though fruitful for certain purposes, could be complemented by others, such as ethnography. Which is *Ethnography met HCI*: as technology has become ubiquitous, multi-purpose, embedded, social, there was trend to move beyond lab-based studies of individuals and instead understand social use of technology. The point was then to leverage ethnographic techniques to seek inspiration for new designs. This quick summary was interesting but I think it partly ignores the use of ethnographically-inspired method in the broader context of design (that happened in parallel).

Johanna then summarized what *ethnography can do for HCI*:

  1. broadening the notions of requirements gathering
  2. understanding social context of service increases chances of adoption (rather than just the use of technology)
  3. creating new engaging experiences (things that move beyond practices people are already doing, push the envelope, push the boundaries)
  4. inspired by real-world social interaction

In human-computer interaction, the way ethnography is employed is different than its earlier roots in anthropology: field study is shorter (week-long rather than year-long but the rationale is that one day is better than no days at all!), there is a deep/narrow focus on particular setting (what's like to ride the public transport in lausanne?), study of target users, with an eye towards technology design, not just understanding culture for the sake of it. Which led her to delineate two scopes: "open-ended, exploratory, revolutionary" versus "target, tailored, techno-centric" (look at a particular setting, or at particular features to be changed).

A big part of the presentation was then a description of the different techniques, which she categorized in two clusters:

  • Traditional methods: participant observation (and the importance of taking personal field notes), photography, video, interviews
  • Innovative methods: defamiliarization (looking at your culture with fresh eyes), people shadowing (following a person (often with consent), documenting their actions, in-situ discussions, ask "stupid" things: Why did you push that button here?), object shadowing (following things instead of people, like newspaper dropped on the tube in London), disrupting and intervention (shaking up a social situation and observing the result), cultural and technological probes (low-fi/hi-fi design interventions: exploring people's reactions, probe a situation, once you have designed something)

After a brief description of the analysis part (documentation is analyzed through coding: looking for common themes in data), she presented the existence of various outcomes: a plan for follow-up ethnographic study (as it allowed to ask more questions), general guidelines for futures technologies, concept design, implementation of prototype, fully realized product. And all of this can take a large range of format: written document, video, photographic essay, design response/prototype to demonstrate ethnographic work.

She then showed various examples taken from her work. I enjoyed the part about how she chose the sample group for her interviews.

(undersound is one of the project that emerged from Johanna and her colleagues' ethnographic research)

She used what she called "theoretical sampling": chose a theoretically interesting sample of people (rather than statistically representative) who are interested by the experience of the context she was exploring (the tube). I was also intrigued by how she looked for inspiration for design, not guidelines, something that I was not surprised of given that this was the reason why I invited her PhD advisor to Lift last year. Her point was that ethnography can give an impetus that what you design is culturally relevant as it roots your design in cultural underpinnings "when you go to a place and talk to people, you design sth that is relevant for them (and it also makes them appreciate what you do)".

Why do I blog this an interesting overview that is certainly useful as I am preparing a course about these issues for next year's class at the design school in Geneva.

Speech idioms

-) @ Idioms going from the interwebs to the physical, seen on ads in Berlin last october.

Thought about it the other day when I overheard a goof on the streets screaming "lol" (in a french conversation), found it funny to think about the transfer of idioms.

Plus, I am always intrigued by speech bubbles on posters.