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Posted by at 8:52 AM | 0 comments

A day worth blogging about

Yesterday I had the good fortune to be invited to "Made in India." a lecture put on by Carlos Teixeira at Parsons School of Design. The reason I had that good fortune was by the grace of Sonia Manchanda of Idiom, my collaborator and co-curator for the workshop series at EPIC 2010.

The lecture was fascinating. It was the first in a series related to Carlos' current project, to understand how Design is developing in emerging markets. Of particular interest is his observation that Design is developing differently in those markets. The lecture put facts to that observation. Much of their recent work at Idiom has been in the "design of business," through a collaboration with The Future Group, a company dedicated to bringing to the masses what only the rich had before, through a fusion of modern retail business models with Indian culture.

Idiom and Future Group take a particularly aggressive approach to scenario and prototype testing, quickly turning out realistic concepts for introduction to real users in real situations. Some of their innovations include BigBazaar, a big box food retailer that incorporates the local seasonal vendors that Indian communities have come to rely on, and Home Town, a Home Depot / IKEA mashup that makes home design and construction available in a cultural context that does not do DIY.

But that's not all, earlier in the day, I spoke briefly with a collection of the brightest minds working at the intersection of ethnography and business from Latin America, the US and Europe, some of whom are old friends and some I hope will be. That call was to begin the planning process for the EPIC 2010 program, for which I'm the workshop co-chair. Here's a secret: the papers deadline is going to be extended. If you're so inclined, submit something... There's still time.

Working backwards, I spent the morning doing secondary research on the current state of the Healthcare IT arena here in the U.S. and identifying opportunities for innovation in software and services. I found some inspiring new work and personalities like Dr. Jay Parkinson, a physician entrepreneur whose own pediatric practice has been described as
"Geek Squad with doctors and a Netflix-priced monthly membership subscription fee — it is a branded healthcare “experience” that mixes “concierge service for all,” with house/office calls and web visits via email, IM, video chat, and text messaging."

This is why I love what I do... It was a good day.

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Posted by at 6:13 AM | 0 comments

Friction, Reach and Social Network Dynamics

A recent Economist article profiles Dr. Robin Dunbar's research into social circles and extrapolates her findings to current social networking behavior.
Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist who now works at Oxford University, concluded that the cognitive power of the brain limits the size of the social network that an individual of any given species can develop. Extrapolating from the brain sizes and social networks of apes, Dr Dunbar suggested that the size of the human brain allows stable networks of about 148. Rounded to 150, this has become famous as “the Dunbar number”.

The rise of online social networks, with their troves of data, might shed some light on these matters. So The Economist asked Cameron Marlow, the “in-house sociologist” at Facebook, to crunch some numbers. Dr Marlow found that the average number of “friends” in a Facebook network is 120, consistent with Dr Dunbar’s hypothesis...

What also struck Dr Marlow, however, was that the number of people on an individual’s friend list with whom he (or she) frequently interacts is remarkably small and stable. The more “active” or intimate the interaction, the smaller and more stable the group.

What mainly goes up, therefore, is not the core network but the number of casual contacts that people track more passively.
The author concludes that as particpants we are not "networking" exactly, but "broadcasting our lives to an outer tier of acquaintances" more efficiently than ever before.

Though the extended reach that online social networks provide may not change the physiological limitations on how we relate to each other, the increased familiarity this reach engenders with those in our outer tiers may change the dynamics of our social groups over time, destabilizing them and reducing the friction inherent in moving from one tier to another.

Full Article: Primates on Facebook

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Posted by at 12:05 PM | 0 comments

The Death and Life of Journalism

Outlining the current and future state of the news media. Some great lessons here on organizational vs. entrepreneurial innovation and strategic focus.

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable
Clay Shirky's article is a solid analysis of the evolution of the news media. In particular, I like the points he makes about the dynamics of the old-guard enterprise re: innovation.
When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse.
Then he paints a picture of how 'the journalism we need' will exist in the future, brought into being by the former consumers of corporate journalism.
For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

Old Growth Media and the Future of News
Steven Johnson offers a complimentary outlook on the future of the news. He points out some of the sources of the new journalism, and how user needs may be better served by the new model.
I think in the long run, we’re going to look back at many facets of old media and realize that we were living in a desert disguised as a rain forest. Local news may be the best example of this. When people talk about the civic damage that a community suffers by losing its newspaper, one of the key things that people point to is the loss of local news coverage. But I suspect in ten years, when we look back at traditional local coverage, it will look much more like MacWorld circa 1987. I adore the City section of the New York Times, but every Sunday when I pick it up, there are only three or four stories in the whole section that I find interesting or relevant to my life – out of probably twenty stories total. And yet every week in my neighborhood there are easily twenty stories that I would be interested in reading: a mugging three blocks from my house; a new deli opening; a house sale; the baseball team at my kid’s school winning a big game. The New York Times can’t cover those things in a print paper not because of some journalistic failing on their part, but rather because the economics are all wrong: there are only a few thousand people potentially interested in those news events, in a city of 8 million people. There are metro area stories that matter to everyone in a city: mayoral races, school cuts, big snowstorms. But most of what we care about in our local experience lives in the long tail. We’ve never thought of it as a failing of the newspaper that its metro section didn’t report on a deli closing, because it wasn’t even conceivable that a big centralized paper could cover an event with such a small radius of interest.
...and offers the suggestion that the news media shift to a curatorial function, editing and endorsing the best of what the web already provides, and focusing journalistic effort on what it may be more challenging to cover.
Measured by pure audience interest, newspapers have never been more relevant. If they embrace this role as an authoritative guide to the entire ecosystem of news, if they stop paying for content that the web is already generating on its own, I suspect in the long run they will be as sustainable and as vital as they have ever been.
Now I suppose it’s possible that somehow investigative or international reporting won’t thrive on its own in this new ecosystem, that we’ll look back in ten years and realize that most everything improved except for those two areas. But I think it’s just as possible that all this innovation elsewhere will free up the traditional media to focus on things like war reporting because they won’t need to pay for all the other content they’ve historically had to produce.
Overall, both articles are required reading. The effect of the current economic situation on the news media has accelerated the evolution that the web began and the speed of change in this industry provides rare glimpse into how innovation really happens.

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Posted by at 7:47 PM | 0 comments

Hulu, Boxee, and the threat of user experience

I've been following the developing Hulu/Boxee situation closely because I believe the real issue here is one of user experience. In case you haven't been following along:

...two weeks ago Hulu called and told us their content partners were asking them to remove Hulu from boxee. we tried (many times) to plead the case for keeping Hulu on boxee, but on Friday of this week, in good faith, we will be removing it.
Full Post: the Hulu situation

That good faith didn't last for long:

Early this morning, Boxee rolled out a workaround that let Boxee users watch Hulu shows again, which they haven’t been able to do since last month when Hulu pulled its shows off Boxee’s browser. Late this afternoon, Hulu squelched that workaround.
Full Article: All Things Digital

If you are in the business of serving web video content, why block one particular browser, one that could potentially be your largest channel? Because, when it comes down to it, Boxee provides a superior user experience for watching internet TV, superior, quite possibly to watching regular TV. In fact, Boxee, and it's brethren could very well be the tipping point in the great public switch to internet television. The networks apparently agree:

Why does the TV industry need to keep Web video off your big-screen TV? Not because it hates technology. But because it hasn't figured out how to make money off Web video yet -- and needs you to keep watching TV on your TV.

NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker all but admitted as much in a keynote this morning: "What we’ve lost in viewers and advertising dollars on the analog side isn’t being made up for at all on the digital side. We want to find an economic model that makes sense."
Full Article: Silicon Alley Insider

Television is being tivoed all over again.

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Posted by at 5:05 PM | 0 comments

Empathy is the new black

It's good to see empathy making the rounds in the business publications again.
The key to delivering a great experience for is to have empathy for your customers. And the best way to develop that empathy is obvious, yet it requires constant repeating: Go to them. It's shocking how many methods companies have for learning about customers (surveys, focus groups, phone questionnaires), and how hesitant they are to engage in the simplest approach. I suspect its because they're afraid of what they'll find when engaging customers directly, and prefer to hide behind the reports and charts those other techniques produce, and which provide endless opportunities for interpretation.
Full Article: Harvardbusiness.org

It's become fashionable in the last decade to prescribe innovation as the cure for every ill facing business. If companies could only start creating compelling products and services on a regular basis, they would never need to worry about next year's growth figures. While that might be true, such talk tends to focus on design or even flashy marketing. In the process, a critical factor gets left out of the conversation: empathy, the ability to see the world through the eyes of another person. Unless new products or services connect with the lives of real people, design or marketing can't do much to make them succeed.
Full Article: BusinessWeek

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Posted by at 4:14 PM | 0 comments

Memory Is More Important that Actuality

In the latest Interactions Magazine there is a piece by Don Norman on the tendency for people to minimize the bad and amplify the good when remembering an experience. From the article:
Terence Mitchell and Leigh Thompson identify three different aspects of an experience: “rosy projection,” “dampening,” and “rosy retrospection.”
  • Rosy projection: “the tendency for people to anticipate events as more favorable and positive than they describe the experience at the time of its occurrence”;
  • Dampening: “the tendency for people to minimize the favorability or pleasure of events they are currently experiencing”;
  • Rosy retrospection: “the tendency for people to remember and recollect events they experience more fondly and positively than they evaluated them to be at the time of their occurrence."
This struck a chord in my memory, a couple actually. Doblin Group's Compelling Experiences framework (bottom of the page, PDF download) and Adaptive Path's The Long Wow approach to Customer Loyalty both start from a similar experience model. The thing that strikes me as novel about the Norman piece is not it's psychological underpinnings, but his advice for designers:
Design for memory. Exploit it. Make sure there are reminders of the good parts of the experience: Photographs, mementos, trinkets. Make sure the experience delights, whether it be the simple unfolding of a car’s cup holder or the band serenading departing cruise-ship customers. Accentuate the positive and it will overwhelm the negative.
It's difficult to accept the notion that there is something more important than the quality of the experience as it happens, but it's a compelling argument. To embrace this thinking, we need to put more focus on prototyping tools and techniques that allow us to enact experiences for people in addition to those which explain experiences to them. Then we need more analytical focus on the understanding the aftereffects of these experiences on the people who engage in them.

Full Article: Interactions Magazine


Posted by at 10:52 PM | 0 comments

Ethnography is not an in-home interview

Grant McCracken provides a case on how the new Tesco US stores are underperforming expectations, and where the blame may lie.

Ethnography is good at the following things.

  1. it is good at picking up the telling detail. And yes, you want to be in someone's home to do this. Or at point of purchase. Or where the product gets consumed.

  2. it is good an embracing point of view, so that we see all the details at once. This is the "holistic" approach for which anthropological is in the social sciences famous.

  3. it is good at seeing the topic from several (and collective) points of view, the client's, the consumer's, the various members of the household, family, neighborhood, city, etc. This is the cultural point of view. And it looks as if Tesco entirely missed this entirely.

  4. it is good at dollying back from fine details to an ever larger picture so that we see the product, or innovation, or opportunity in successively broaders contexts. This is the strength of the big management consulting houses like McKinsey. What they lack in ethnographic nuance and cultural understanding, they make up in the construction of a powerful strategic picture.
The irony: when we define ethnography as interviews done in-home, almost all of this potential value is lost.

Full post: This Blog Sits at the…

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Posted by at 6:20 PM | 0 comments

Industry trends in prototyping

Dave Cronin of Cooper put together a nice overview of the current thinking on prototyping in interaction design, both the rationale creating them and the forms they may take.
In the broadest sense, all kinds of design artifacts are prototypes. Pencil sketches, blocks of wood, storyboards, wireframes, foam-core models, pixel-perfect state renderings, clickable demos, and functioning production code are all strategies for representing a thing being designed. However, in the world of interaction design, we usually reserve the term for ways of representing interactivity—not just the form but also behavior.

Full Article: Adobe - Developer Center

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Posted by at 7:49 AM | 0 comments

Patterns in UX Research

Steve Baty illustrates 10 common patterns found in user research data. Knowing what to look for can help you see the forest and the trees, but it can also make everything look like a forest.
One of the key objectives of user research is to identify themes or threads that are common across participants. These patterns help us to turn our data into insights about the underlying forces at work, influencing user behavior. Patterns demonstrate a recurring theme, with data or objects appearing in a predictable manner. Seeing a visual representation of the data is usually enough for us to recognize a pattern. However, it is much harder to see patterns in raw data, so identifying patterns can be a daunting task when we face large volumes of research data. Patterns stand out above the typical noise we’re used to seeing in nature or in raw data.

Full article: UX Matters

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Posted by at 8:52 PM | 0 comments


I'm John Payne. Generally speaking, I'm interested in the interplay of technology, culture, and human behavior—in particular, the interventions possible via the artifacts and situations that designers create. That's what you'll find here.

I'm a founding partner at Moment. You'll also find me on Tumblr, Twitter, Flickr, Last.fm, Friendfeed and Linkedin.

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