Posts tagged “communication”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Sleep Dealer – Alex Rivera's 2008 film turns his Why Cybraceros? political-commentary 5-minute short into a feature film about an immigrant labor solution where impoverished Mexican workers use implants to remotely control robots in other countries, performing crappy dangerous jobs no one one in those countries wants to do. But they stay in Mexico to be exploited, rather than coming over the border.

    It's a powerful idea and the movie's history from agit-prop to entertainment meshes nicely with some of the points I made about science fiction recently in interactions magazine, in We Are Living in a Sci-Fi World.

  • Cybracero Systems – The ultimate in remote control. Workers doing whatever you need, from our state of the art facility in Tijuana, Mexico.
  • Why Cybraceros? (1997 video) – Link to the 1997 video
  • Why Cybraceros? – As agriculture has become a larger and larger industry in America, it has become harder and harder to find American workers willing to do the most basic farm tasks. Picking, pruning, cutting, and handling farm produce are all simple, but delicate tasks. Work that requires such attention to detail remains a challenge for farm technologists, and as of yet, cannot be automated. As the American work force grows increasingly sophisticated, it is even harder to find the hand labor to do these grueling tasks.

    Under the Cybracero program American farm labor will be accomplished on American soil, but no Mexican workers will need to leave Mexico. Only the labor of Mexicans will cross the border, Mexican workers will no longer have to.

    Using high speed internet connections, directly to Mexico, American farms and Mexican laborers will be directly connected. These workers will then be able to remotely control robotic farm workers, known as Cybraceros, from their village in Mexico.

  • Organizational Culture 101: A Practical How-To For Interaction Designers – Great piece by Sam Ladner. Success requires so much more than "doing the work" and this is a great look at some of the softer-yet-killer aspects of "consulting."

Reading Ahead: Research Findings

Reading ahead logo with space above

(Updated to include slideshow with synchronized audio track)

We’re very excited today to be posting our findings from the Reading Ahead research project.

Lots more in the deck below, but here’s the executive summary

  • Books are more than just pages with words and pictures; they are imbued with personal history, future aspirations, and signifiers of identity
  • The unabridged reading experience includes crucial events that take place before and after the elemental moments of eyes-looking-at-words
  • Digital reading privileges access to content while neglecting other essential aspects of this complete reading experience
  • There are opportunities to enhance digital reading by replicating, referencing, and replacing social (and other) aspects of traditional book reading

We sat down yesterday in the office and recorded ourselves delivering these findings, very much the way we would deliver them to one of our clients.

Usually, we deliver findings like these to a client team in a half day session, and there’s lots of dialogue, but we tried to keep it brief here to help you get through it. (The presentation lasts an hour and twenty minutes.)

It’s been a great project, and we’ve really appreciated hearing from people along the way. We welcome further comments and questions, and look forward to continuing the dialogue around this work.


Reading Ahead: Building models

Reading ahead logo with space above

We’ve been hard at work synthesizing the Reading Ahead data. There’s a great deal of writing involved in communicating the results, and sometimes it makes sense to develop a visual model that represents a key idea.

Here are several partial models evolving through paper and whiteboard sketches, and finally into digital form.

We’ll be finishing synthesis soon, and publishing our findings on Slideshare, with an audio commentary.

Stay tuned…




ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The Product Is You, No. 12 – Rob Walker does a series of advertisements that reveal a customer segmentation and the associated characteristics. Similar vein to my postings about personas leaking outside the enterprise
  • Please vote for our SXSW panel "Culture Kicks Our Ass: How To Kick Back" – The conference lineup is chosen partially based on input (i.e., voting) from the community. Even if you don't attend, you still have a voice about what the discourse should be in our various fields, so please vote for this panel from Steve Portigal and D. P. Haine, of Obvious Design.

    We’ll explore the different cultural challenges that breakthrough products must overcome: emergent usage behaviors that are impossible to predict, a global customer base and cultural barriers inside the corporation that suffocate innovation. We’ll also share best practices for addressing each challenge.

  • Please vote for our SXSW panel "FAIL: When User Research Goes Horribly, Horribly Wrong" – The conference lineup is chosen partially based on input (i.e., voting) from the community. Even if you don't attend, you still have a voice about what the discourse should be in our various fields, so please vote for this panel from
    Steve Portigal, Portigal Consulting
    Nate Bolt, Bolt|Peters
    Dan Saffer, Kicker Studio
    Aviva Rosenstein,
    Mark Trammell, Digg

    Best practices for user research are not hard to come by, but experience is the ideal way to develop mastery. And with experience inevitably comes failure. Embarrassing, awkward, hilarious failure that gives the gift of self-improvement. We’ll share our own unvarnished examples and what they taught us.

  • Do programmers still buy printed books? | Zen and the Art of Programming – Likewise, when I’m holding a book or have it open on my desk, I’m in “book reading mode”, which makes it far easier to immerse myself in it. This means that I’m focused on the task and can proceed quickly. The only context switch that happens is between the book and the editor/shell, if it’s the kind of book that warrants typing along. If you are reading a book in a browser tab, it’s very easy to think, “I’ll just check my email for a second”, or introduce similar distractions. I’m sure I’m not alone in this respect.

    When I buy a physical copy of a book, I feel psychologically more obliged to at least try to get through it. Online I experience a paradox of choice of sort. With hundreds of interesting books available there in front of me, I’m more inclined to excessively multitask, and end up checking out different books while I should still be reading the current one.

    (Thanks @onwardparam and @chirag_mehta)

  • New study suggests people from different cultures read facial expressions differently – East Asian participants in the study focused mostly on the eyes, but those from the West scanned the whole face.
    They were more likely than Westerners to read the expression for "fear" as "surprise", and "disgust" as "anger".

    The researchers say the confusion arises because people from different cultural groups observe different parts of the face when interpreting expression.


Reading Ahead: Participatory Design

Reading ahead logo with space above

Tracy and her younger son thinking about possibilities for books and reading devices

Our fieldwork sessions often include a piece in which we ask participants to brainstorm and fantasize about the future.

In an earlier post, we talked about the simple models we were building for the Reading Ahead interviews.

Book and device models for participatory design activity

We wanted to put something in people’s hands to help them show us what the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future” could be and do. (This fieldwork approach borrows from participatory design.)

We’ve had clients come out in the field with us and say after an interview, “That person didn’t give us any ideas,” so it’s important to clarify that we don’t expect this kind of activity to directly produce marketable ideas. Rather, it gives people another mode for expressing themselves, and it’s great for helping them communicate things which may not always be easy to verbalize, like:

  • Their desires
  • What they think should exist
  • What problems they are trying to solve
  • What seems acceptable and what seems outlandish to them
  • Preferences and in what ways they would like something to be different

Chris uses the device model to help express his thoughts about navigation

Often for us, the very act of making the props for an activity suggests new ways of using them. In this case, while making a blank cover for the “future book” model, we realized that we could also make a blank inner page spread.

Holding the “book of the future” model

As it turned out, this meant that when we were done with the sessions, people had created very nice book models for us, with a cover and inner spread.

Erica’s “telescoping shopping bag” book with digital annotations, hyperlinks, and built-in dictionary

Part of the preparation for each interview session was to get the models ready with new blank paper. Here I am on the trunk of my car, prepping the models before an interview in San Francisco.


Now that the fieldwork is done, we have a great collection of models made by the people we interviewed.

Artifacts from participants’ “future book” ideation


The last section (copied below) of our Topline Summary synthesizes some of what we gleaned from this part of the fieldwork. These are just quick hits; we’ll develop any themes and recommendations that come out of these activities much further in the analysis and synthesis phase of the project.

Excerpt from Topline Summary: Participant ideation about the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future”

NOTE: The first thing a number of the participants said when asked about what the “book of the future” could be and do was that it’s pretty hard to improve on the book-it works very well the way it is. In addition to all the qualities already mentioned, books are

  • Instant on-off

  • Durable
  • But people did have ideas. Here are some of them:

  • Interactive
  • Put yourself in the story
  • Leave the story for more information
  • Choose from alternate endings, versions
  • Size-shifting
  • Able to morph from bigger size for reading to smaller for transporting
  • Retain the book form while adding functionality
  • Book form with replaceable content: a merging of book and device, with a cover, and page-turning but content is not fixed-it can be many different books
  • Books that contain hyperlinks, electronic annotations, multimedia, etc.
  • Privacy
  • Hide what you’re reading from others, hide annotations, hide your personal book list and lend your device to someone (with content for them)
  • Projecting
  • A device that projects words that float above it, so that the reader doesn’t have to hold the device in their hands
  • ChittahChattah Quickies

    • An Anthropology of Everyday Life by Edward T. Hall, A Review by Bobby Matherne – In his childhood in New Mexico he studied impressionist painting and soon learned that "every part of a painting affects every other part." The adding of a dab of color to a painting can change the color of the dab and all the other colors already on the painting. It was a metaphor for what happened when he was later assigned to build earthen dams with the Hopi and Navajo tribes. This dab of white skin on a field of red skins were both changed by his presence. On a trip to Europe to visit his mother he noted how the German trains ran tightly and smoothly on the track and were always right on time. The French trains, however, swayed from side to side and ran late. He was far more observant about the hidden cultures of the continent than the French who confiscated German trains after World War II only to find them useless on the French tracks.
    • Edward Hall, Expert on Nonverbal Communication, Is Dead at 95 – Mr. Hall first became interested in space and time as forms of cultural expression while working on Navajo and Hopi reservations in the 1930s. He later developed a cultural model that emphasized the importance of nonverbal signals and modes of awareness over explicit messages.

    Station to Station

    Today about 15 minutes apart I posted, “Digging in to a day of reading transcripts for one project and laying out findings for another” on Facebook and, “Wondering how many things I can do simultaneously before my head explodes” on my Twitter account.

    Seems like a contradiction: one describes a deep dive and the other a multitasking frenzy. Yet both are true–each post represents a different way of looking at time and the meaning of “now.”

    With all of the channels we have for letting each other know what we’re up to, there is a huge range of options for what to say where and to whom. And each channel and tool suggests different approaches.

    There’s no doubt that these modes of communication are and will affect our ways of writing, starting and maintaining relationships…even our way of conceptualizing time.

    ChittahChattah Quickies

    • Reasonable Consumer Would Know "Crunchberries" Are Not Real, Judge Rules – Judge England also noted another federal court had "previously rejected substantially similar claims directed against the packaging of Fruit Loops [sic] cereal, and brought by these same Plaintiff attorneys." He found that their attack on "Crunchberries" should fare no better than their prior claims that "Froot Loops" did not contain real froot.

      (via BoingBoing)

    • A Manhattan Writing Of Six Therapists – “Everybody comes in with their own stories, and they can be so staggeringly original,” said Bonnie Zindel, the psychoanalyst who started the writing group seven years ago. “We all need stories to make sense of our lives, we’re all wired to tell stories, and nature gave us that. For us, we wonder, ‘What is the story that our patients are telling?’ There are mother stories, father stories, ghost stories and the eternal universal story of a child trying to separate from its mother.”
    • 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive – Read this post now, it won't last long! Most of our readers – including people like you – are already choosing to look at this post.

      (Lone Gunman, I'm giving you folks credit for this and look forward to you reciprocating, thanks!)

    ChittahChattah Quickies

    • The Global Digital Divide: No Profit From Developing Nation Users – Web companies that rely on advertising are enjoying some of their most vibrant growth in developing countries. But those are also the same places where it can be the most expensive to operate, since Web companies often need more servers to make content available to parts of the world with limited bandwidth. And in those countries, online display advertising is least likely to translate into results.

      Last year, Veoh, a video-sharing site operated from San Diego, decided to block its service from users in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, citing the dim prospects of making money and the high cost of delivering video there.

      “I believe in free, open communications,” Dmitry Shapiro, the company’s chief executive, said. “But these people are so hungry for this content. They sit and they watch and watch and watch. The problem is they are eating up bandwidth, and it’s very difficult to derive revenue from it.”

    • Omegle: Talk to Strangers! – A social-networking site for people who are burned out on their friends and want to interact with people they do NOT know: "When you use Omegle, we pick another user at random and let you have a one-on-one chat with each other. Chats are completely anonymous, although there is nothing to stop you from revealing personal details if you would like."

    ChittahChattah Quickies

    • Survey Says Baby Boomers Think Playing With Your Blackberry During A Meeting Is Rude – The 'tude in the blog entry about the survey is as interesting as the 'tude the survey's creation and content point to. Social norms shift and that gets introduced and changes the way people interact gets put through the social norm filter: is it rude? Is it distracting? Should other people stop doing it? Or should we get over it? This just points to the transition we're going through rather than offering any clear sense of what's going on. Full disclosure: I'm a Gen-Xer and I bolted from a boring presentation a few weeks ago when the person behind me tapped on the shoulder and asked me to stop using my iPhone as she found it distracting [I was discreetly using Google Reader in my lap].
    • Gartner's Hype cycle – a graphic representation of the maturity, adoption and business application of specific technologies – Hype cycles characterize the over-enthusiasm or "hype" and subsequent disappointment that typically happens with the introduction of new technologies.They also show how and when technologies move beyond the hype, offer practical benefits and become widely accepted.

      Five phases of the hype cycle
      1. "Technology Trigger" —A breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest
      2. "Peak of Inflated Expectations" — Frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations; There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures
      3. "Trough of Disillusionment" — Fails to meet expectations and becomes unfashionable
      4. "Slope of Enlightenment" —some businesses experiment to understand the benefits and practical application
      5. "Plateau of Productivity" — benefits become widely demonstrated and accepted

    Explaining your product puts you ahead of the pack

    A few weeks ago I saw this full-page newspaper ad for Verizon’s Hub:

    I’ve blown up the smaller text at the bottom:

    The phrase “the home phone reinvented” reminds us that explaining a new product in terms of what it is replacing, enhancing, or integrating with is often a very effective way to help ground something new. But the ad works mostly by establishing a physical context (the kitchen) and a use case (distributed family communication and meal planning). The actual functional specs are presented almost as an afterthought in the footer and greatly in service of the “reinvented” aspect.

    I was excited by this ad because it does a reasonable job at something crucial that so few companies are actually doing: explaining clearly what their product is and who it is for.

    I don’t know if this product is a good idea or a bad idea; it’d be fascinating to see how new users begin to use it and what sense they make it of it. But it seems that this product team Verizon is at least half a step ahead of many technology groups out there who collect a bundle of technology together but fail to create a compelling story about why this matters.

    ChittahChattah Quickies

    • Harley-Davidson: You Can File Our Obituary Where The Sun Don't Shine – Passionate and 100% on-brand response to rumblings about Harley not making it through 2009. Seen as full-page ad in today's New York Times and presumably elsewhere
    • Very slight story on how and why we use lines from movies in regular conversation – It also turns out that using movie quotes in everyday conversation is akin to telling a joke and a way to form solidarity with others, according to a researcher who has actually studied why we like to cite films in social situations.
      "People are doing it to feel good about themselves, to make others laugh, to make themselves laugh," said Richard Harris, a psychology professor at Kansas State University.
      Harris decided to ask hundreds of young adults about their film-quoting habits after he and his graduate students realized it was a common behavior that no one had looked at closely before.
      He found that all of the participants in his study had used movie quotes in conversation at one point or another. They overwhelmingly cited comedies, followed distantly by dramas and action adventure flicks.
      As for horror films, musicals and children's movies, "fuh-get about it." They were hardly ever cited.
      When asked about their emotions while quoting films, most people reported feeling happy.

    The power of pervasion

    Last October I blogged about NBC’s use of “fusion marketing” with the show My Own Worst Enemy.

    Are they at it again? A recent episode of the NBC show 30 Rock revolved around a mini-microwave, “The FunCooker“…


    …and then a week later in some webvertising I saw an ad for this-


    -the iWave cube, a tissue-box sized microwave.

    I couldn’t help but wonder if there was another fusion marketing approach afoot.

    Marketing is both ubiquitous and stealthy, and in this mashed-up and pervasive environment, any piece of communication in any medium could be a marketing effort. I find this simultaneously intriguing and disquieting.

    Pervasive, cross-context marketing is producing some creative and thought-provoking experiences (the recent Skittles/Twitter (Skwitter?) campaign, for one). And it can be fun to spot marketing easter eggs–I felt a little thrill of potential discovery about the two microwaves.

    At the same time, this lack of clarity about whether any particular piece of communication is company-sponsored or not adds another level of opacity to an already Filo-dough-like world of layered information. Will bionic critical thinking skills become the new common sense?

    Related posts:
    Interacting With Advertising
    Collateral Damage
    Crossover Hit


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