- Parade magazine writer tries Microsoft’s "Project Natal" – I often talk about how technology creates new gestures that challenge social norms. This writer's gentle assertion that "you have to be okay with looking like a drunken maniac about to be arrested on Cops." is simply another great example. People use the language of aberrant behavior ("drunken maniac") to characterize behavior that doesn't currently fit into an acceptable standard. Natal will presumably be used backstage, in the living room, where such appearances are more tolerable than in public. But these assessments of when a product is breaking established norms are often warning signs that designers and marketers should pay attention to. Can Microsoft celebrate the spasmodic play? Can it reframe the abnormal as successful? Or will it simply recede with time and become acceptable (cf: bluetooth headsets, cell phones)?
- Learnvest: Our mission is to provide unbiased financial information to all women – Women have come a long way financially over the last three decades. Women today make up half of the professional work force and are found to buy or influence 80% of all consumer purchases in the United States yet they continue to lag behind men when it comes to managing their personal finances. According to a 2006 Prudential financial poll, 80% of women say that they plan to depend on Social Security to support them in their golden years and 38% of women 30-55 years old are worried they will live at or near the poverty level because they cannot adequately save for retirement. So even today–despite coming so far in many ways–too many women are still ignoring their finances. LearnVest provides a solution that is relevant and timely – it is something women need.
- Some Queries Prompt Google To Offer Suicide Hotline [NYTimes.com] – Last week Google started automatically giving a suggestion of where to call after receiving a search seemingly focused on suicide. Among the searches that result in an icon of a red phone and the toll-free number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are “ways to commit suicide” and “suicidal thoughts.” The information takes precedence over the linked results and is different and more prominent than an advertisement. Guidance on suicide prevention was suggested internally and was put in place on Wednesday.
- Virginia Heffernan – The Medium – Online Marketing [NYTimes.com] – An online group becomes formally classified when it comprises an advertising category. That’s the magic point in e-commerce: when the members of an online group turn eager to purchase, say, tank tops or bottles of sauvignon blanc as badges of membership in communities like the ones that flourish at Burton.com or Wine.com. The voluminous content that these sites produce — blogs, videos, articles, reviews, forums — becomes the main event. To sell actual products, the company then “merchandises” that content, the way museums and concert halls and, increasingly, online newspapers hawk souvenirs, including art books and hoodies and framed front pages. At the moment when content can be seamlessly merchandised, a group has generally developed robust forums in which the members (hoarders, mothers of twins, bodybuilders) develop codes and hierarchies and a firm notion that this is a place where they can finally be themselves.
- Last supper ‘has been super-sized’, say obesity experts [BBC News] – The food portions depicted in paintings of the Last Supper have grown larger – in line with our own super-sizing of meals, say obesity experts. A Cornell University team studied 52 of the most famous paintings of the Biblical scene over the millennium and scrutinized the size of the feast. They found the main courses, bread and plates put before Jesus and his disciples have progressively grown by up to two-thirds. Based on the assumption that the width of an average loaf of bread from the time should be twice that of the average disciple's head, the researchers plotted the size of the Passover evening dishes. The main meals grew 69% and plate size 66% between the oldest (carried out in 1000AD) and most recent (1700s) paintings. Bread size grew by about 23%.
- Butch Bakery – Where Butch Meets Buttercream – "Butch Bakery was born when David Arrick felt it was time to combine a masculine aesthetic to a traditionally cute product -the cupcake. When a magazine article mentioned that cupcakes were a combination of everything "pink, sweet, cute, and magical", he felt it was time to take action, and butch it up." Flavors include Rum & Coke, Mojito, Home Run, Beer Run, Campout, Tailgate, Driller, and (ahem) Jackhammer
- Making Design Research Less of a Mystery [ChangeOrder] – Design researchers don't work exactly like professional detectives. We don't sit down with their users and start asking them point-blank questions regarding a single moment in time, such as, "Exactly where were you on the night of November 17th, when Joe Coxson was found floating face-down in a kiddie pool?" We don't consider the users as criminals, having perpetrated crimes against the state—our clients?—that must be solved. The crimes are the points of friction that go remarked (or unremarked) about the course of our subject's lives, in using the tools that surround them, and in the myths and beliefs that drive their everyday behavior. Our methods of detection are geared towards being sponges, soaking up both the large-scale and minute details that indicate layers of behavior that may have gone unremarked in the design and everyday use of various products, services, and interactive systems.
- The Medium – Shelf Life [NYTimes.com] – People who reject e-books often say they can’t live without the heft, the texture and the scent of traditional books. This aria of hypersensual book love is not my favorite performance. I sometimes suspect that those who gush about book odor might not like to read. If they did, why would they waste so much time inhaling? Among the best features of the Kindleis that there’s none of that. The device, which consigns all poetry and prose to the same homely fog-toned screen, leaves nothing to the experience of books but reading. This strikes me as honest, even revolutionary….Most of these books were bought impulsively, more like making a note to myself to read this or that than acquiring a tangible 3-D book; the list is a list of resolutions with price tags that will, with any luck, make the resolutions more urgent. Though it’s different from Benjamin’s ecstatic book collecting, this cycle of list making and resolution and constant-reading-to-keep-up is not unpleasurable.
- Human-flesh Search Engines in China [NYTimes.com] – The popular meaning of the Chinese term for human-flesh search engine is now not just a search by humans but also a search for humans, initially performed online but intended to cause real-world consequences. Searches have been directed against all kinds of people, including cheating spouses, corrupt government officials, amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system. Human-flesh searches highlight what people are willing to fight for: the political issues, polarizing events and contested moral standards that are the fault lines of contemporary China.
- Books in the Age of the iPad [Craig Mod] – I propose the following to be considered whenever we think of printing a book
* The Books We Make embrace their physicality — working in concert with the content to illuminate the narrative
* The Books We Make are confident in form and usage of material
* The Books We Make exploit the advantages of print
* The Books We Make are built to last
The result of this is:
* The Books We Make will feel whole and solid in the hands
* The Books We Make will smell like now forgotten, far away libraries
* The Books We Make will be something of which even our children — who have fully embraced all things digital — will understand the worth
* The Books We Make will always remind people that the printed book can be a sculpture for thoughts and ideas;Anything less than this will be stepped over and promptly forgotten in the digital march forward. Goodbye disposable books. Hello new canvases.
- In Our Parents’ Bookshelves [The Millions] – A virtue of digital books is hey take up no space at all!—but even a megabyte seems bulky compared to what can be conveyed in the few cubic feet of a bookshelf. What other vessel is able to hold with such precision, intricacy, and economy, all the facets of your life: that you bake bread, vacationed in China, fetishize Melville, aspire to read Shakespeare, have coped with loss, and still tote around a copy of The Missing Piece as a totem of your childhood. What can a Kindle tell you about yourself or say to those who visit your house? All it offers is blithe reassurance that there is progress in the world, and that you are a part of it…To the extent that bookshelves persist, it will be in self-conscious form, as display cases filled with only the books we valued enough to acquire and preserve in hard copy. The more interesting story, the open-ended, undirected progression of a life defined by books will be lost to a digital world in which there is no such thing as time at all.
- Topeka, KS changes its name (for a month) to Google, KS – I wrote about this sort of bombastic advertising in interactions (http://interactions.acm.org/content/?p=1231) referencing the dot-com era's Half, Oregon, and the classic Truth or Consequences, NM
- Toy Traveling – Travel Agency for Teddy bears and cuddly toys – [Productizing the" trend" of taking pictures of your stuffed animals on your vacation] Is your darling exceptional? Give him extraordinary present – trip to Prague – the beautiful heart of Europe. Except amazing experiences, he will bring back home many great photos and other presents. Do you collect stuffed toys, dolls or other fun “non-living” friends and you believe they also deserve rest and vacation or an outstanding experience in an interesting country? If you do, pack up its suitcase, wish it a nice trip and send it to the Czech Republic where your friend can enjoy the historic beauty of Prague as well as other services that will leave both you and your friend satisfied. Let it go on cool trips, group events and wellness therapy in the heart of Europe – done with respect to your friend and loving care. We are tolerant and unbiased. We will be happy to welcome all kinds of your toys regardless nationality, race, religion, sexual preferences, age or handicaps.
- A list of UX-related sessions at SXSW Interactive [Nick Finck] – There's a great deal happening at this event! Here's one attempt to filter (including our session on UX methods!)
- Glamtini Events: Where Girls of All Ages GLAM IT UP – Party packages include hair, makeup, nails, dress-up accessories to glam it up, and a 15-minute photo shoot. Check out the "party photos" and the video at http://blip.tv/file/1714995/
- Adobe and Wired Introduce a New Digital Magazine Experience [YouTube] – A strong emphasis on digital (i.e., touch, pan-scroll, non-linear) navigation, with a lesser impact on the actual content.
- Lost Garden: Ribbon Hero turns learning Office into a game – If an activity can be learned; If the player’s performance can be measured; If the player can be rewarded or punished in a timely fashion, then any activity that meets these criteria can be turned into a game. Not only can you make a game out of the activity, but you can turn tasks traditionally seen as a rote or frustrating into compelling experiences that users find delightful.
- With Rival E-Book Readers, It’s Amazon vs. Apple – [NYTimes.com] – Ian Freed, vice president for the Kindle at Amazon, said he expected developers would devise a wide range of programs, including utilities like calculators, stock tickers and casual video games. He also predicts publishers will begin selling a new breed of e-books, like searchable travel books and restaurant guides that can be tailored to the Kindle owner’s location; textbooks with interactive quizzes; and novels that combine text and audio. “We knew from the earliest days of the Kindle that invention was not all going to take place within the walls of Amazon,” Mr. Freed said. “We wanted to open this up to a wide range of creative people, from developers to publishers to authors, to build whatever they like.”
- Pushing Military Styles to a New Level of Ferocity [NYTimes.com] – A stepped-up demand for vests, blazers and hoodies tough enough to deflect a .22-caliber blast but sleek enough for a night of clubbing suggests that body armor is not just for the security-conscious. Fake or real, it exerts a pull on those inclined to flaunt it as a flinty fashion statement. “The trend to protective gear is pretty strong right now,” said Richard Geist, the founder of Uncle Sam’s Army Navy Outfitters in downtown Manhattan. “It’s big with rappers, alternative types and even some women.” Uncle Sam’s sells protective gear to the military. But most of its clients are civilians who snap up authentic bulletproof vests for as much as $1,000 or trade down to look-alike versions stripped of their armored lining ($24).
- ComScore Calls Shenanigans on Gartner’s 99.4% App Store Figure [Maximum PC] – Gartner says 99.4% of app sales in 2009 were from Apple. ComScore disputes the figures but Gartner stands by its determination.
- Amazon launching Kindle Development Kit so third parties can develop apps – Active content will be available to customers in the Kindle Store later this year. Remember that unlike smart phones, the Kindle user does not pay a monthly wireless fee or enter into an annual wireless contract. Kindle active content must be priced to cover the costs of downloads and on-going usage. Voice over IP functionality, advertising, offensive materials, collection of customer information without express customer knowledge and consent, or usage of the Amazon or Kindle brand in any way are not allowed. In addition, active content must meet all Amazon technical requirements, not be a generic reader, and not contain malicious code.
- 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)
- Zach Gage’s Antagonistic Books – A set of two books and instructions for how to build them. ANTAGONISTIC BOOKS turns the emotions and actions surrounding the banning of books into physical objects that undermine the user.
Danger reenacts what has historically been done to dangerous literature, self-immolating when opened.
Curiosity represents the notion that many book-banners feel, that the true danger of literature is that once you've opened a book you have been forever changed and can never go back. Emulating this notion, Curiosity can never be closed. Once opened, it is locked in an open position forever.
- Netflix agrees to delay in renting out Warner movies [latimes.com] – "This deal uniquely works for Netflix because our subscribers are desensitized to street dates and more interested in being matched to the perfect movie," said Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, who handles studio relationships. "Some subscribers will so passionately want to see it in the first 28 days they may go out and buy it, just as some people want to see 'Avatar' so badly they pay to watch it in 3-D." [Snort! Guffaw!]
- Book Industry Study Group – BISG is the leading U.S. book trade association for supply chain standards, research, and best practices. For over 30 years, BISG has been working on behalf of its diverse membership of publishers, retailers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, librarians and others involved in both print and digital publishing to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry supply chain for both physical and digital products.
In seeking support from and representing every sector of the book industry, BISG affirms its belief in the interdependence of all industry segments. BISG understands that success in business is often easier to achieve through joint effort and that common problems are best solved together.
- How to create new reading experiences profitably [booksahead.com] – Books have served well as containers for moving textual and visual information between places and across generations. [digita] books need to be conceived with an eye on the interactions that text/content will inspire. Those interactions happen between the author and work, the reader and the work, the author and reader, among readers and between the work and various services, none of which exist today in e-books, that connect works to one another and readers in the community of one book with those in other book-worlds….Publishing is only one of many industries battling the complex strategic challenge of just-in-time composition of information or products for delivery to an empowered individual customer. This isn’t to say that it is any harder, nor any easier, to be a publisher today compared to say, a consumer electronics manufacturer or auto maker, only that the discipline to recognize what creates wonderful engaging experience is growing more important by the day.
- New York, 2009 [Flickr] – My photos from my recent trip to New York City. Art, street art, strange signs, people watching, and other observations. Check it out!
I purchased a new shaver recently, and tossed in among all the paperwork (warranty info, ads for accessories, instructions in multiple languages) is this bit of afterthought:
This just screams of missed opportunity. In product development, a lot of effort is put into creating an attractive package that will encourage people to buy; some effort is put into the OOBE, or Out Of The Box Experience (what happens when you take everything out and see it for the first time and then try to set it up and use it); and while there’s a lot of us who talk about the overall user experience, it’s distressing to see products be delivered to the customer with such a lack of finish around something so crucial.
The developers have reason to believe that the first time you use the product, you may be disappointed. Or at least not delighted. Nor the next time. Nor the next time, for 30 days, at which point (gradually, we assume), you’ll be receiving the optimum results.
The automotive industry has framed this sort of issue as “break-in” where you the customer are responsible for taking extra care of the vehicle during that period (with specific dos and don’ts like top-speed, etc.). Consider the difference between “It won’t work at its best for a while” and “Be sure to take care of it while it breaks in.” If the issue was the customer learning curve you might see messages like
Congrats on your purchase of a new Kodak digital camera. If you’ve (somehow) never used a digital camera before, you’ll probably find you are taking a lot of crappy pictures (hey, no film, right?). But after a while you’ll get the hang of it: you’ll figure out how to best aim, focus, and expose your picture, and you’ll also clue into the need to delete all your failed pictures. Until then, you might feel a bit frustrated, but that’s just the regular learning curve and it takes most people about 30 days of regular picture taking before they feel more confident.
The shaver people have to do more than toss a piece of a paper in the box to properly reframe this initial-sub-par-evolving-to-primo-experience. Some ideas (and I’m sure if you’re reading this you have others)
- A 30-day supply of shaving lotion: “By the time you use up this lotion, you’ll be shaving at peak smoothness!”
- 30 days worth of calendar stickers showing a progressively more smiling shaving man that you can put on your calendar after each shave (variation: 30 Post-Its that go on your bathroom mirror and are pulled down one-by-one as you count down from 30)
- A phone call (or text, tweet, email, or snail mail) after 30 days congratulating you on reaching the optimum phase for your shaver and making you mindful of the experience you are now having
- A 30-day subscription to a local newspaper that will fit into the morning routine. Stickers on the paper remind you who paid for it and count down towards optimal shaving
- A social media app (i.e., a Facebook page) that alludes to a 12-step program, where members receive their 30-day tokens as they complete their trial period with the shaver (“I’ve got 30 days clean and shaved”)
The specific ideas, while fun to generate, aren’t really the point as much as the need for companies to think a little more broadly about optimizing the links between their promises, expectation management, and overall experience.
- Interview with hamster hotel proprietor – Short audio is worth a listen as the interview veers necessarily into "What *is* normal?" territory
- French hamster hotel lets guests live like rodents – Visitors to the hotel in Nantes can feast on hamster grain, get a workout by running in a giant wheel and sleep in hay stacks in the suite called the "Hamster Villa".
It is the latest venture from owners Frederic Tabary and Yann Falquerho, who run a company which rents out unusual venues to adventure-seekers. Both architects, the men designed the room in an 18th century building to resemble the inside of a hamster's cage.
- Drowning in Data in Kathmandu – Exchange between me and Dave Robertson about how to process the overwhelming amount of experiential and visual stimulation that comes from spending time someplace very foreign.
- Obituary: Ray Browne / Scholar who pioneered the study of popular culture – Ray Browne, an Ohio university professor who was credited with coining the phrase "popular culture" and pioneering the study of things such as bumper stickers and cartoons, has died. He was 87.
He developed the first academic department devoted to studying what he called the "people's culture" at Bowling Green in 1973.
"Culture is everything from the food we've always eaten to the clothes we've always worn," he said in a 2003 interview.
- Disney offers refunds for Baby Einstein DVDs – Canadian and U.S. parents who feel duped by claims that Baby Einstein videos were brain boosters for their infants and toddlers can now get a refund for old merchandise from the Walt Disney Company.
The company agreed after a lengthy campaign by a coalition of educators and parents, who complained Disney's marketing materials implied their videos for babies under 2 years of age were beneficial for cognitive development.
The move to compensate some customers comes after Disney's Baby Einstein stopped using some claims following a complaint lodged with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
The group alleged deceptive marketing.
"Disney took the word 'educational' off of its website and its marketing, but we felt that parents deserved more," child psychologist Susan Linn, co-founder of the organization, said yesterday.
- The Day It All Changed: The BookServer project – BookServer is a framework of tools and activities. It is an open-architectured set of tools that allow for the discoverability, distribution, and delivery of electronic books by retailers, librarians, and aggregators, all in a way that makes for a very easy and satisfying experience for the reader, on whatever device they want.
The Internet Archive expanded the availability of books to millions of people who never had access before, bringing knowledge to places that had never had it. Who knows what new markets that will create, or more importantly what new minds will contribute to our collective wisdom as a result of that access. In the same motion, Brewster demonstrated a world where free can coexist with the library borrowing model, and with the commercial marketplace. Protecting the interests of both of those important constituencies in this ecosystem. He also portrayed every 'closed system' including our big retail friends and search engine giants, as small potatoes.
- Stack America: Freedom from Choice + Surprise + Curation – Stack America is the subscription service that brings the best in hard-to-find independent magazines directly to your home or office. Based in New England and created in response to the huge demand for Stack from American subscribers, it exists to offer a targeted selection of independent magazines for anyone subscribing in the USA and beyond. (via DesignObserver)
- ANONthology – The Anonthology is an experimental project to assess the importance placed on name and reputation over quality of writing. Amongst the writers contained within we have Orange and Genius Prize winners, Booker and Pulitzer Prize nominees. We have one author who’s sold over half a million copies, another who’s written over fifty books. But can you tell which is which? And how does it change the reading experience, not knowing if the author is young or old, male or female?
- Richard Eoin Nash, Social Publisher – What “social” means is that there’s going to be more information about books, more scope to interact with the books (your own commenting & annotating and reading others’), more scope to interact with the author, more scope to interact with one another. (This latter item, to get semi-techy for a sec, is something that the broad horizontal book social networks—Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari—do well, though, so we’re likely to focus on using their APIs rather than asking people to build their own bookshelves anew.)
“Social” is taking the book and making it much easier to have a conversation with the book and its writer, and have conversations around the book and its writer.
- L-Prize – Lighting Competition – I've written before in frustration about money spent to push the CFL at us instead of spending money solving the product problem. The DOE is sponsoring the L-Prize to create a low-energy bulb. "The competition also includes a rigorous evaluation process for proposed products, designed to detect and address product weaknesses before market introduction, to avoid problems with long-term market acceptance."
- Princeton tests of Kindles for textbooks doesn’t go well for Kindle – “Much of my learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes, where most of my paper ideas come from and interaction with the material occurs,” he explained. “All these things have been lost, and if not lost they’re too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the ‘features’ have been rendered useless.”
“For some people,” she explained, “electronic reading can never replace the functionality and ‘feel’ of reading off paper.”
- The process of converting books to Kindle format introduces errors in the text – The cost of a printed book covers some degree of proofing and checking—not enough, but some. The cost of a Kindle book does not support editorial quality control, and the multi-step conversion process, handled in bulk by third parties, chops out content and creates other errors that no one fixes because no one is there to do QA.
As the economics of publishing continues to change, perhaps one day soon, a Kindle edition will contain the same text as the printed book. Until it does, Kindle is great for light reading. But if it’s critical that every word, comma, and code sample come through intact, for now, you’re better off with print.
- The Social History of the MP3 – For Reading Ahead, we're looking at other transitions to digital: "So omnipresent have these discussions become, in fact, that it's possible the past 10 years could become the first decade of pop music to be remembered by history for its musical technology rather than the actual music itself. This is a chastening thought, but at the same time we have to be careful not to overlook how the technologies we invent to deliver music also work to shape our perception of it. When radio came along, its broadcasts created communities of music-listening strangers, physically distant from each other but connected through the knowledge that they were listening to the same song at the same time. Where radio brought listeners together as a listening public, the LP started splitting them apart. The LP and 45 rpm formats took the phonograph, which had been in existence for over half a century, to the masses, right as the American middle-class was going suburban and privatizing their lives."
- Medical Students Experience Life as Nursing Home Patients – Students are given a “diagnosis” of an ailment and expected to live as someone with the condition does. They keep a daily journal chronicling their experiences and, in most cases, debunking their preconceived notions.
To Dr. Gugliucci’s surprise, she found nursing homes in the region that were willing to participate and students who were willing to volunteer. No money is exchanged between the school and nursing homes, and the homes agree to treat students like regular patients.
“My motivation is really to have somebody from the inside tell us what it’s like to be a resident,” said Rita Morgan, administrator of the Sarah Neuman Center for Healthcare and Rehabilitation here, one of the four campuses of Jewish Home Lifecare.