- [from wstarosta] Status displays: I’ve got you labelled [The Economist] – [Evolutionary biology helps to explain why luxury branded objects, even counterfeit ones, are so appealing.] DESIGNERS of fancy apparel would like their customers to believe that wearing their creations lends an air of wealth, sophistication and high status. And it does—but not, perhaps, for the reason those designers might like to believe, namely their inherent creative genius. A new piece of research confirms what many, not least in the marketing departments of fashion houses, will long have suspected: that it is not the design itself that counts, but the label.
- [from steve_portigal] The Future of Books. [McSweeney's Internet Tendency] – [As usual, McSweeney's does razor-sharp mockery, but you could read this as straight-ahead prediction and it would sadly almost pass for believable] 2050: Analog Reading Will Be Digitally Simulated. As people spend more and more of time immersed in massively multi-player role-playing games, they will begin to crave some downtime. Virtual simulation worlds will start to include hideaway "libraries" you can lock yourself into. There you'll be able to climb into a virtual bath and lovingly turn the pages of a pixilated representation of one of those dog-eared tomes—reliant on old-school linear narrative— that by this time will have been made illegal in the real world. Perfectly reproduced will be the sensation of turning the pages, the crack of the spine, and even the occasional paper cut.
- [from steve_portigal] When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? [Smithsonian Magazine] – [Fascinating cultural history] The march toward gender-specific clothes was neither linear nor rapid. Pink and blue arrived, along with other pastels, as colors for babies in the mid-19th century, yet the two colors were not promoted as gender signifiers until just before WW I—and even then, it took time for popular culture to sort things out. In 1927, Time magazine printed a chart showing sex-appropriate colors for girls and boys according to leading U.S. stores. In Boston, Filene’s told parents to dress boys in pink. Today’s color dictate wasn’t established until the 1940s, as a result of Americans’ preferences as interpreted by manufacturers and retailers. “It could have gone the other way,” Paoletti says..Nowadays people just have to know the sex of a baby or young child at first glance, says Jo B. Paoletti, a historian & author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America. Thus we see a pink headband encircling the bald head of an infant girl. [Via @boingboing]
- [from steve_portigal] In Sweden’s frigid north, auto testing is hot [SFGate] – [Obvious car companies do a ton of lab and simulation testing, but they are also big advocates of real world testing] Arjeplog, a region in northern Sweden is is important to car makers eager to optimize their vehicles for driving in extreme weather, This winter, temperatures have hovered around -4 F, making ice on the lakes consistently thick enough for driving. About 180 engineers convened at the test center at one point this season to work on making cars more fuel-efficient in cold weather and to optimize their anti-spin function. While Arjeplog is the world's largest winter testing area, rival locations include Ivalo, Finland; West Yellowstone, Mont.; Carson City, Nev.; and Millbrook, England. Francisco Carvalho, an analyst at IHS Automotive, says such tracks provide automakers with "the ultimate test for the little things they can't detect or predict in a lab." Almost 9,000 car industry officials visit Arjeplog each winter, with about 2,800 engineers working on any given day.
- Forrester’s 2010 Customer Experience Rankings [Customer Experience Matters] – # Retailers take 12 out of the top 20 spots. Most of the top rated companies on the list are retailers. Hotels also grabbed three of the top 20 spots. Interestingly, three financial services firms also cracked the top 20: credit unions, SunTrust Bank, and Vanguard.
# Healthcare, Internet and TV services dominate the bottom. The bottom 11 companies on the list came from only four industries: five health insurance plans (United Healthcare, Medicaid, Anthem, and CIGNA), three ISPs (Charter Communications, Comcast, and Qwest), two TV service providers (Charter Communications and Comcast), and one credit card provider (HSBC).
- Can Design Change Behavior? [Stanford School of Engineering] – Because behavior can be influenced—not just observed—it provides an important opportunity for tackling complex challenges such as sustainability. That opportunity is perhaps best addressed with design…With this outlook, Banerjee says he is excited to be one of the principal investigators in a new project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy in which he is working with other Stanford professors who have expertise in behavioral sciences, communications, human-computer interaction, and behavioral economics. The team aims to create interventions that influence behavior to bring about significant reductions in energy use. But what designers understand well is that people are “predictably irrational” and influenced by emotional as well as rational criteria, Banerjee says.
- The Art of Asking the Question [UIE Brain Sparks] – Steve Portigal will show your team the art of asking the question. You might visit the user in their office or home, have them come to you for a usability test, or even have a chance encounter at a trade show or while waiting for an airplane. Do you know what to ask? Do you know what to listen for, to extract the critical detail of what they can tell you about your design?
Steve will help you prepare your team for any opportunity, be it formal user research or less structured, ad-hoc research. He’ll also give you tips on how to work with your stakeholders and executives, who may also be meeting potential customers and users, so they know what to ask and how to listen—integrating their efforts into the research team. (Wouldn’t it be great if they understood why you’re doing what you’re doing?)
Update: Use promotion code CHITTAHCHATTAH to get lifetime free access to the recording after the fact (normally a separate cost)
- Devising the stove that could save the world [The New Yorker] – The effort to develop a better stove (safer, healthier, uses less fuel) for developing nations, and the challenges in getting that solution adopted once it's development is funded and the engineering problems are solved.
- What means to find out what your customers want – The idea behind the centers is to foster innovation by combining a richer understanding of customer needs with creative links among 3M technologies. “Being customer-driven doesn’t mean asking customers what they want and then giving it to them,” says Ranjay Gulati, a professor at the Harvard Business School. “It’s about building a deep awareness of how the customer uses your product.”
Sometimes a seemingly minor interaction has a big impact.
At Black China Cafe in Santa Cruz, a small rock keeps napkins in place at the coffee station. With a cup of coffee in one hand, getting a napkin means picking up the rock, putting it down somewhere, picking up a napkin, and then putting the rock back in place.
I had just been thinking as I walked to the cafe about how hard it’s become for me to do something simple like walk across a parking lot without simultaneously jumping on my phone and checking my email, Twitter feed, etc.
I like being able to get lots of things done while I’m mobile, but at times I do this even when I don’t need to, and it starts to feel like a compulsion to multitask. Coming out of that context, the focused attention and step-at-a-time-ness of this little rock/napkin moment at the cafe shifted my whole pace of being.
Interaction design has always talked about temporal elements like pacing and pause. In their book, Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, authors Helen Sharp, Yvonne Rogers, and Jenny Preece present a case study in which software testing showed adding pauses to a particular interaction would benefit users, and discuss some of the engineers’ reaction to this finding:
To make these changes would require adding additional menus and building in pauses in the software. This conflicts with the way engineers write their code: they are extremely reluctant to purposely add additional levels to a menu structure and resist purposely slowing down a system with pauses.
Right now, human/device interactions commonly involve waiting impatiently for our things to do what we’ve asked them to, and faster processing is often a goal. But as technological capability increases and our devices become faster than we are, I wonder if it may become increasingly necessary to also think about purposely slowing down elements of an interaction to create a different user experience – a’la the napkin rock – that is more aligned with “human-speed.”
- The Nike Experiment: How the Shoe Giant Unleashed the Power of Personal Metrics – Using a flood of new tools and technologies, each of us now has the ability to collect granular information about our lives—what we eat, how much we sleep, when our mood changes.
Not only can we collect that data, we can analyze it, looking for patterns, information that might help us change both the quality and the length of our lives. We can live longer and better by applying, on a personal scale, the same quantitative mindset that powers Google and medical research. Call it Living by Numbers—the ability to gather and analyze data about yourself, setting up a feedback loop that we can use to upgrade our lives, from better health to better habits to better performance.
Nike has discovered that there's a magic number for a Nike+ user: 5. If someone uploads only a couple of runs to the site, they might just be trying it out. But once they hit 5 runs, they're massively more likely to keep running and uploading data. At 5 runs, they've gotten hooked on what their data tells them.
- To Sleep, Perchance to Analyze Data: David Pogue on the Zeo sleep monitoring system – Just watching the Zeo track your sleep cycles doesn’t do anything to help you sleep better. Plotting your statistics on the Web doesn’t help, either.
But the funny thing is, you do wind up getting better sleep — because of what I call the Personal Trainer Phenomenon. People who hire a personal trainer at the gym wind up attending more workouts than people who are just members. Why? Because after spending that much money and effort, you take the whole thing much more seriously.
In the same way, the Zeo winds up focusing you so much on sleep that you wind up making some of the lifestyle changes that you could have made on your own, but didn’t. (“Otherwise,” a little voice in your head keeps arguing, “you’ve thrown away $400.”)
That’s the punch line: that in the end, the Zeo does make you a better sleeper. Not through sleep science — but through psychology.
- Baechtold's Best photo series – While they are framed as travel guides, they are really more visual anthropology. A range of topics and places captured and presented in a compelling and simple fashion, illustrating similarities and differences between people, artifacts, and the like.
- It's girls-only at Fresno State engineering camp – This is the first year for the girls-only engineering camp. Its goal is to increase the number of female engineering majors at Fresno State, which lags behind the national average in graduating female engineers. Nationwide, about 20% of engineering graduates are women. 20 years ago the national average was 25%. At Fresno State, only 13% of engineering graduates are women.
Jenkins said he hopes the camp will convince girls "who might not have thought about it" that engineering is fun, and entice them to major in engineering.
- Selling Tampax With Male Menstruation – This campaign, by Tampax, is in the form of a story featuring blog entries and short videos. The story is about a 16-year-old boy named Zack who suddenly wakes up with “girl parts.” He goes on to narrate what it’s like including, of course, his experience of menstruation and what a big help Tampax tampons were.
Simulator technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and car designers are building new understanding of the causes (and techniques for preventing) accidents. Lab testing absolutely has its place, but what are these tools doing to help understand the impact of real-world stress (road rage, traffic jams, late for a meeting) or distractions (your favorite song, an annoying cell phone call) – in other words, the context that doesn’t naturally occur in a laboratory. I fear the model is more to consider the human as a component with performance parameters and therefor engineer the hell out of the situation.
Driving simulators are interior mock-ups (or in some cases, complete cars) placed on hydraulically actuated platforms and surrounded by video screens and speakers. Drivers at the wheel feel vibrations, acceleration and deceleration just as if they were driving on the roads projected around them.
“You save 50 percent of your research time,” said Beuzit, noting one reason companies build multimillion-dollar simulators. “It has transformed the automobile industry in the last 20 to 30 years.”
Because the simulator experience is so close to reality, providing the physical sensation of going around a curve or bouncing over a badly paved road, scientists can use it to do fundamental research on how all the senses contribute to what a driver perceives, said Andras Kemeny, a research director at the technical center.
For Renault, he said, “It is absolutely necessary to understand the driver’s strategy in driving, and then design industrial objects according to this knowledge.” Kemeny said it would take a decade to complete the loop of bringing fundamental research results to showrooms.