Posts tagged “manipulation”

Stories behind the themes: Biological

Welcome to the fourth installment of an unfolding bibliography of secondary research that fueled our generation of themes for the Omni project. This time around we are focusing on the blurring biological boundaries between technology and our everyday lives (and bodies). We have seen a number of articles and other tidbits that hint at how far technology has advanced towards human behavior, brain function, and biomechanics. We also see quite a bit that suggests how far humans are leaning towards (and on) technology as inspiration, mediation, medication, and meme.

Is It Time To Welcome Our New Computer Overlords? [TheAtlantic.com] – The human codes of nuance and meaning in language are not yet cracked – they cannot yet be simulated.

Elsewhere, Ferrucci has been more circumspect about Watson’s level of “understanding.” In an interview with IBM’s own magazine ForwardView, he said, “For a computer, there is no connection from words to human experience and human cognition. The words are just symbols to the computer. How does it know what they really mean?” In other words, for all of the impressive NLP programming that has gone into Watson, the computer is unable to penetrate the semantics of language, or comprehend how meanings of words are shot through with allusions to human culture and the experience of daily life.

How much is a life worth in pixels? [SocialMediaCollective] – An effort to quantify the value of a human life (or in this case death) as measured by screen space allocated to reporting it on the webpages of various news sites. Not the most rigorous metric, but certainly a clever approach to valuing human presence in the virtual world.

Frustrated by this, I decided to get a more objective assessment of the coverage by counting the number of pixels different news websites were assigning to the story of the massacre. I know web designers put a lot of work into every single pixel on the screen, especially of high-traffic websites. Visitor’s attention is scarce and every pixel counts. So I took screenshots of¬† the front pages of some of the major news websites and calculated the amount of screen real state assigned to the story of the massacre.

The Cyborg in Us All [NYT.com] – Tracing the steps we are taking towards a totally hands-free interaction with technology where brains will send messages directly to devices. One less interaction to sit between man and machine.

Now it was my turn. Mukerjee removed the headset and moistened the tips of its electrodes with contact-lens fluid, then arranged the EEG device on top of my hair. The electrodes poked into my scalp like wet fingers. I held the iPhone in front of me and beamed a blast of willpower at it. “Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs,” I shouted inside my mind. The phone picked George Bush.

PUMPED UP KICKS|DUBSTEP [YouTube] – Here we see technology influencing body – this guy dances like what you are watching is a video effect; in the way that the audio IS an audio effect – loops, run backwards, etc. very digital. But the video is real – this is his way of moving his body, but the aesthetic is entirely defined by something created elsewhere as technology. Yes, we had The Robot in the 70s, but this is different – that was a human dancing like a machine, this is a human dancing like an effect – something that doesn’t exist except as the manipulation of data.

You are a robot [TheTechnium] РKK deconstructs dancing like a robot and highlights the myriad ways the human body can be molded to perform like a techno-being.  

Everywhere we look in pop culture today, some of the coolest expressions are created by humans imitating machines. Exhibit A would be the surging popularity of popping, tutting, and dub step dancing. You’ve seen these dancers on YouTube: the best of them look exactly like robots dancing, with the mechanical stutter of today’s crude robots trying to move like humans. Except the imitators robotically dance better than any robot could — so far.

A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design [worrydream.com] – Bret Victor has his finger (pun certainly intended) on the pulse of our future interactions with technology. The rant focuses on our bodies, namely our hands and fingers, and their place of privilege between humans and technology (I feel a Michelangelo Sistine Chapel reference coming on). If, as they say, all things are created twice (first in the mind and then in reality) then Victor has me wondering if technology has already infiltrated our minds and influenced the pursuit of Pictures Under Glass as opposed to, say, envisioning an experience rich with tactility and manual manipulation.

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

Biomimicry’s Greatest Hits [FastCompany.com] – We continue to see blurring of the boundaries between humans and technology in this presentation which offers examples of how nature has inspired and informed some memorable technological advances.

The idea of taking inspiration from nature may be gaining traction in many industries today, but the natural world has always been a powerful inspiration for designers and inventors. Here are some of the most important objects that take their cue from the world around us.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • In defense of inspired design: Deyan Sudjic and "The Language of Things: Understanding the World of Desirable Objects" – Tthe Clift Hotel in 2001 was reborn as an outpost of the globe-trotting cultural elite. The 1913 exterior still exudes staid pomp; inside it's a dark wonderland of affectation, with theatrically scaled furniture, thick silk drapes & techno rhythms in the background.

    The interiors are by Philippe Starck whom Sudjic describes as "constantly seeking to amuse the grown-ups with his daringly naughty tricks."

    The ambiance is profoundly different a few blocks away at Blue Bottle Cafe. Here, light streams through the bare windows of a 17-foot-high corner retail space. The stools are utilitarian, the walls dull white.

    Yet everything here is arranged as deliberately as at the Clift, including the coffee beans in grainy paper bags with the blend names stamped by hand. It's all very DIY – and you can grind the beans at home with the $700 grinder on sale a few feet away.

    "In objects we value the 'authentic,' the hand-pressed. It's often the same thing with cities," Sudjic said .

  • Dance Off with the Star Wars Stars 2009 – Many YouTube videos to explore here, but possibly one of the most inauthentic things ever. Taking beloved character archetypes out of their true context and into a tepid cheesy new context. Funny, or a betrayal, (or cool?) depending on where you come from. While the related video, Star Wars Weekends – Special Effects Edition (with real lightsabers!), evokes a real authenticity, even though it creates humor by mixing fantasy with reality, there's a underlying difference – love for the original versus exploitation of the original
  • The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock – Another complex and rambling Errol Morris investigation into politics, authentication, media, photography, truth, fakery, and more
  • Les Sans Culottes: a French band from Brooklyn that isn’t really French – "Brooklyn’s Les Sans Culottes have taken the whole faux-French-band thing pretty far—the group’s live shows are superenergetic, fake-multicultural events. You might not learn anything about French culcha, but you’ll probably hop around like a lunatic."
  • Authentic Organizations — aligning identity, action and purpose – A blog that explores
    * What does it mean for an organization to be “authentic”?
    * Why does it matter that an organization be authentic?
    * Which organizations are being authentic, and what are they doing to pursue authenticity?
    * Which organizations are not being authentic, why, and what could they be doing to become more authentic?
    * What should an organization do to become more authentic, or to address a specific authenticity dilemma?
    * What can you and I do, as organization members, as managers, leaders, scholars or practitioners, as persons, to help organizations pursue authenticity?
  • When Consumers Search For Authenticity: In The Eye Of The Beholder? – "Consumer identity goals (or their idealized images of themselves) underpin assessments of whether a brand is authentic (genuine, real, and true) or not." The researchers identified three primary identity goals: a desire for control, connection, or virtue. "These goals reflect three respective societal norms: the need to be practical, to participate in community, and to be moral," the authors explain. "When seeking to achieve these different goals, consumers choose different brands. When consumers desire to be in control, they may view McDonalds as an inauthentic brand partner because fast food leads to increases in weight. Alternately, McDonald's may be viewed as a genuine partner when the same consumer is seeking to connect with others."
  • Creating Authentic Product Experiences: a teaser for this presentation – Authenticity is an increasingly crucial attribute for successful products and services, but understanding how to apply it is slippery. In this presentation, Steve presents a number of facets of authenticity, from product form and aesthetics, to the evolution of meaning over time, to personal interactions, and brands. While there is no magic answer to "what is authenticity?" the journey to answer that question is an essential one.
  • All This ChittahChattah (Kindle Edition) – Understanding culture, design, and business – For only $1.99 a month. Not available to customers in the US, for reasons I don't understand.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Lou Rosenfeld revisits an old engagement where the client sought to dissuade usage – What they told me was that they didn't really want to make it easy for veterans—those people risking their lives for their country—to learn about the health benefits that they were entitled to. And that taxpayers had committed to funding. All to save money—and for what??

    IT issue? Not. It was an issue of business model design, and this particular business model was shrouded in a sick morality emanating from the top levels of the VA's management structure. Absolutely immorally, shamefully, and horribly sick.

    [With the theme of persuasion, manipulation, and user-centeredness floating around lately, good to consider an example where the organization goals are 180 degrees from the user's supposed goals]

  • Citations for California drivers not using hands-free are on the rise – Seems like there was good compliance when the law was first passed but the numbers are climbing back up. One might think the best way to drive adoption of a product/service/behavior is to make it legally mandated but people are citing the poor user experience with Bluetooth headsets as a reason/rationalization for ignoring the law. "Sometimes, it can be more dangerous to figure out your Bluetooth than just to pick up the phone."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Robert Fabricant of frogdesign considers whether understanding users means that design is or isn't persuasive/manipulative – How do we decide what the user really 'wants to achieve'? The fact is that there are a host of different influences that come to bear in any experience. And a host of different needs that drive user behavior. Designers are constantly making judgment calls about which 'needs' we choose to privilege in our designs. In fact, you could argue that this is the central function of design: to sort through the mess of user needs and prioritize the 'right' ones, the most valuable, meaningful…and profitable.

    But according to what criteria? These decisions, necessarily, value judgments, no matter how much design research you do. And few designers want to be accountable for these decisions. From that perspective, UCD, starts to seem a bit naive, possibly even a way to avoid accountability for these value judgments.

    [Obviously no easy answers here; even defining the terms for the discussion is challenging, but the dialog between Robert and others is provocative]

  • Dave Blum, treasure hunt designer, offers 100 treasure hunts around the world – I was always a puzzle and a game kid. I had a friend when I was growing up in Millbrae, Mike Savasta, and he and I were just board game and card game fanatics. Monopoly, Life, Sorry, Stratego.

    In college, I played thousands of games of cribbage. I like the intellectual challenge, the analytical challenge. I'm very much a "play-it-by-ear" kind of guy, so I like a game where you have to think on your feet.

    After college, I lived in Japan for 3 1/2 years and taught English. Then I spent 11 months traveling through Asia and Europe, and when I came back to San Francisco, I worked in tourism for a while. I said, "I need to find a career that I really love." I thought if I could combine group work, travel, games and puzzles – that would be the ultimate job. I started Dr. Clue in 1995.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Mass Customization of the Fiat 500 – A number of folks we recently met in Europe mentioned this new (although an updated classic) car as being perfect for their needs. The variation and customizing, while perhaps not unique in today's marketplace (I'm imaging the Mini's variability is similar if not beyond) was still striking: "The 500 is available with four different trim levels: Naked, Pop, Lounge, and Sport. Customers can choose also between 15 interior trims, 9 wheel options, 19 decals, and 12 body colours. There are over 500,000 different personalized combinations of the 500 that can be made by adding all kinds of accessories, decals, interior and exterior colours, and trims."
  • Searching for Value in Ludicrous Ideas – Allison Arieff writes about "inventor/author/cartoonist/former urban planner Steven M. Johnson" whose "work tends toward the nodes where social issues intersect with design and urban planning issues." I'm reminded of my formative experiences with Al Jaffee features from MAD magazine where he's describe future products or technologies, or explain (fancifully) the workings of some current product (i.e. bars of soap that are made with quick disappearing stuff on the outside and then a small interior core that takes a long long time to dissolve).
  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt – Suggested to me by René Vendrig at the Amsterdam UX Cocktail Hour, after my talk on looking at cultural differences based on everyday observations. He tells me "It is about traffic, but the real subject is human psychology and how we deal with that kind of situations."
  • It's Not TV, It's HBO – HBO's standard-creating slogan, giving words to the premium experience of their programming.
  • It's not just coffee, it's Starbucks. – New ad campaign for Starbucks attempts to differentiate on quality, but sounds just a bit familiar.
  • All This ChittahChattah | Flying the sneaky skies – (see link for screen grab)

    While checking in online for a United Airlines flight, you may be offered the opportunity to upgrade to Economy Plus. It’s likely that most people decline upsells in many situations, though. The default would be to click “no thanks” and move on to completing the transaction. But United has done some tricky and manipulative interface design. The bright yellow arrow with bold text placed on the right is almost irresistible. E-commerce sites have trained us to envision a transaction moving from left to right (granted that they’ve landed on that model since it corresponds to how we read and other cultural factors); it’s very easy to click on the arrow and make a purchase you didn’t want. It takes cognitive work to search for the preferred option which is a lowly blue-underlined unbolded text link off to the left.

  • Evil-interface design in airline website design spanked by European Commission – "Another common problem is the use of prechecked boxes offering services like travel insurance; consumers must uncheck the boxes to remove the unwanted charge." I've written before about United's website being slightly more subtle in their evilness, by offering an upgrade during check-in where the highly visible (colored graphic arrow) button in the default location will cost you tons of money; it's more effort to realize, locate, and decline the offer. Why do we live in a world where major brands want to sell us things that we don't want by tricking us? It's unconscionable that any company can claim to respect consumers and then pull crap like this.
  • Cyd Harrell of Bolt | Peters reacts to the ludicrous Dell campaign trying to sell computers to women, in 2009 – "…a woman, with the last Dell I will ever own. It’s my current laptop, and I chose it because I needed a computer powerful enough to run screensharing tools and high-res video; I needed mobile broadband to stay in touch with my clients and employees, and not just my kid (heresy!); I needed my screen to look great when I go to meetings with clients. That is to say, I needed it for work. Dell, let’s make it official: you can bite me and the millions of other women who take themselves and their technology seriously."

    I love the articulate passion here, as well as the insight into what may have happened organizationally/culturally at Dell (ahem, really crappy research) that leads to such a horrendously offensive sales pitch to HALF of their buying population

Get our latest article, Interacting With Advertising

ipodad

My latest interactions column, Interacting With Advertising has just been published.

There’s a famous saying (attributed to John Wanamaker, the retailing pioneer): “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” And while that’s still true, we propose this corollary: Half our encounters with advertising are dripping with evil; the trouble is, we don’t know which half.

Get a PDF of the article here. To receive a copy of the article, send an email to steve AT portigal DOT com and (if you haven’t given us this info before) tell us your name, organization, and title. We’ll send you a PDF.

Related: Forced Engagement

Other articles

Collateral Damage

I got this thing in the mail from a company called Veer. The cover slip said: “A giant hand. Angsty Cats. Rioting Models.”

veer-mailer.jpg

How could I not open it?

veer-billboard.jpg

It turned out to be a huge advertisement poster. It was so big that once I’d unfolded it, I had to lay it on a chair.

It looked like such a pain in the ass to fold it up again that I left it lying there and went and made coffee.

I was standing in the living room again a few minutes later deciding what to do with my Saturday morning, and I started absentmindedly reading some of the copy on the poster.

It was like I’d created a Veer billboard in my living room.

There was a picture of a sweatshirt I thought was kind of cool. Turns out it’s for sale at Veer’s website. (Veer’s primary business is selling stock photography, fonts, and other graphic design resources.) Then, a description of an animated short that sounded interesting, free to view on the site.

Next thing I know, I’m on my way to Veer’s website, looking for the sweatshirt and the film. Wow. They really got me, didn’t they!

In consideration of the web’s enormous power and ubiquitous presence as a commercial tool, I think this is a testimony to the continuing importance of things you can touch, that interpose themselves in our three-dimensional spaces.

But the story’s not over…

veer-site-down.jpg

Veer’s website is down.

At this point, I’ve been so adroitly manipulated from being a complete bystander to actively seeking out this company that I’m sure this shutdown itself is also part of the strategy: a way to get me to come back on Monday and talk to someone at Veer, hooked in just a little deeper by thinking I’ve serendipitously ended up with this 10% discount opportunity.

Now I’m caught up in this interesting meta-story–curious about Veer’s tactical moves, wondering if they are being as deeply strategic as I’m imagining?

This whole interaction is an object lesson in the complexity of moving a potential customer back and forth between realspace and webspace, and how many interesting ways there are to go about pursuing this objective.

We’ll see if I use the 10% discount to buy a sweatshirt.

Manipulating Social Realities With Technology

One stance is that technology is neither inherently good or bad, it’s what we do with it, as humans with the ability to choose and judge and reflect our own cultural norms, that’s where the morality comes in. Of course, there are any number of agents along the way to actual use. Those that package a technology in a way that instructs in its usage may persaude or encourage behaviors that are not “approved” of. We see the media blaming cell phones, texting, the Internet whenever possible – it’s a better headline than to blame a gun, or a parent, or a person. Where does the accountability lie?

An emerging special case is the set of technologies that we can use to misrepresent reality to others. The first that caught my eye (back in 2004) was SoundCover (company website is now defunct, but story is here), software that would play fake background noises over your mobile phone, to add credence to an excuse (i.e., “I’m stuck in traffic.”). A more recent mobile twist is the popularity dialer that will automatically call you at pre-arranged times so you can look popular, or fake an exit from a bad date, or whatever. Hacking social norms and faking reality through technology.

Those are both sort of high-schoolish in concept and implementation, but the super-geekery (and with it, super-powers) come in a couple of tools for digital photography. HP has some software built into their digital cameras that automatically slims the subjects of the photo, while some software in development in Israel will automatically beautify women’s faces. Tourist Remover carries less cultural baggage and lets you get the picture you never really got, by taking a few pictures of the same scene and putting together a composite without all those other pesky people.

HP’s entry is the most surprising, for a rather cautious organization, it seems pretty brazen. Every week is another indicator of our culture’s poor health (X-rays don’t work as well because people are too fat, toilet seats are being redesigned for fatter butts, etc. etc.), and of course our body image standard doesn’t change in the same direction. Is this technology for vanity? Or worse? Or is it any better than correcting red-eye? Or removing a blemish in Photoshop? Where do we cross the line from correcting photography to faking reality, and when is that line-crossing a problem?

[Thanks, JZC, for the HP tip]

Series

About Steve