Trillions of things sending billions of messages

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Mickey McManus on preparing for an era of unbounded malignant complexity.

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Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

In this week’s episode of the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mike Hendrickson talks with Autodesk research fellow Mickey McManus about engaging with extreme users and what’s going to happen when we have trillions of things sending billions of messages. McManus also talked about how we can prepare for the coming era of unbounded malignant complexity.

Unbounded malignant complexity

In talking about Trillions, a book McManus co-authored with Peter Lucas and Joe Ballay, McManus explained what exactly we’re up against in the next five years as our world becomes more and more permeated with computation:

We are probably five years away from trillions of computing devices, and that wouldn’t be bad, but then imagine a world saturated with computers. It’s almost like a super-saturated solution. They’re not all connected, so maybe we could cope with that. But, concurrently, connectivity is joining Moore’s law — people like Intel are working on Moore’s law radio that basically puts all the parts of a radio on silicon. Which means that, suddenly, the cost of connectivity drops to dirt, to nothing, to dust.

We’ll have this super-saturated solution where that seed hits it, and we’re going to turn the sock inside out. We’re going to go from information in computers, like your super computer in your pocket, to us being surrounded by information. … The next information age will be an era of unbounded malignant complexity. Because there’s a lot of stuff. We have to get ready for that.

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Designing with all of the data

More than just filling in where big data leaves off, thick data can provide a new perspective on how people experience designs.

Download a free copy of our new report “Data-Informed Product Design, by Pamela Pavliscak. Editor’s note: this post is an excerpt from the report.

There is a lot of hype about “data-driven” or “data-informed” design, but there is very little agreement about what it really means. Even deciding how to define data is difficult for teams with spotty access to data in the organization, uneven understanding, and little shared language. For some interactive products, it’s possible to have analytics, A/B tests, surveys, intercepts, benchmarks, scores of usability tests, ethnographic studies, and interviews. But what counts as data? And more important, what will inform design in a meaningful way?

When it comes to data, we tend to think in dichotomies: quantitative and qualitative, objective and subjective, abstract and sensory, messy and curated, business and user experience, science and story. Thinking about the key differences can help us to sort out how it fits together, but it can also set up unproductive oppositions. Using data for design does not have to be an either/or; instead, it should be yes, and

Big data and the user experience

At its simplest, big data is data generated by machines recording what people do and say. Some of this data is simply counts — counts of who has come to your website, how they got there, how long they stayed, and what they clicked or tapped. They also could be counts of how many clicked A and how many clicked B, or perhaps counts of purchases or transactions.

For a site such as Amazon, there are a million different articles for sale, several million customers, a hundred million sales transactions, and billions of clicks. The big challenge is how to cluster only the 250,000 best customers or how to reduce 1,000 data dimensions to only two or three relevant ones. Big data has to be cleaned, segmented, and visualized to start getting a sense of what it might mean. Read more…

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“Internet of Things” is a temporary term

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Pilgrim Beart on the scale, challenges, and opportunities of the IoT.

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Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

In this week’s Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mary Treseler chatted with Pilgrim Beart about co-founding his company, AlertMe, and about why the scale of the Internet of Things creates as many challenges as it does opportunities. He also talked about the “gnarly problems” emerging from consumer wants and behaviors.

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What to see at Solid

A look at the interdisciplinary learning paths you'll find at Solid.

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Flipping through the schedule for our Solid conference, you might wonder why we offer talks on synthetic biology in the same program that includes sessions on smart factories and how to ship goods within supply chains. The answer is that Solid is about a nascent movement — new hardware — that draws on a lot of different areas of expertise. It’s about access and the idea that physical things are becoming easier for anyone to create and engineer. Understanding hardware and the Internet of Things, then, is critical for every technologist and every company.

Solid’s program has emphasized interdisciplinary learning from the beginning; we’ve seen that a smart, accessible, connected world will need contributions from a lot of different backgrounds: designers, electrical engineers, software developers, executives, investors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and artists.

The keynotes that we’ve lined up will provide an overview, and a sense of how widely impactful this idea is; they touch on designmanufacturing, urban futures, synthetic biology, governmentinnovation, and techno-archaeology (a topic we’ve explored in the Solid Podcast). And they’ll wrap up with a thought-provoking talk — with a demo — on how we experience flavor.

After lunch on Wednesday and Thursday, the program gets broad.

I’ve drawn up a handful of paths that you might consider taking as you go through Solid next week. None of these is a comprehensive program, but they’ll serve as jumping-off points for different members of the new hardware community. Read more…

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Designing with best practices, principles, and interaction patterns

It's important for designers to see emerging standards and understand how one experience affects expectations for the next.

Download a free copy of “The New Design Fundamentals” ebook, a curated collection of chapters from our Design library. Note: this post is an excerpt from “Designing Social Interfaces,” by Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone, which is included in the curated collection.

With the growing expectation of seamless experiences, it is important for designers to see the emerging standards and to understand how one experience of a site and its interactions affects expectations for the next site. By working with standard and emerging best practices, principles, and interaction patterns, the designer takes some of the burden of understanding how the application works off the user, who then can focus on the unique properties of the social experience she is building.

To start, we do define these three things differently. They live along a continuum, from prescriptive (rules you should follow) to assumptions (a basic generalization that is accepted as true) to process (ways to approach thinking about these concepts).

Principle: A basic truth, law, or assumption

Principles are basic assumptions that have been accepted as true. In interaction design, they can lend guidance for how to approach a design problem, and have been shown to be generally true with respect to a known user experience problem or a set of accepted truths.

For example: be learnable — create systems that are easily learned and provide cues for users to predict how things work from one area to another.

Principles don’t prescribe the solution, though, like an interaction pattern does; instead, they support the rationale behind an interaction design pattern or set of best practices. Read more…

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Golden opportunities for design lie in social-impact projects

Designers can find fertile ground in governmental, philanthropic, and health care domains.

Download the free report “Designing for Social Impact,” by Gretchen Anderson. Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from the report.

During the 2000 United States presidential election, product designers and developers discovered an uncomfortable truth about our nation. American democracy, long held up as a beacon for others to follow, was susceptible to “user error.” As the stories of hanging chads, bad ballot layouts, and unclear instructions unfolded, it became clear that the election process contained quite a few bugs from an end-user perspective. Dana Chisnell, the creator of Field Guides for voting, was inspired to fix such problems the best she knew how — by applying user-entered design practices. Until the 2000 presidential election, she pointed out, a “usable” ballot was one that was readable by the machines that count them. But the “hanging chad” phenomenon brought to everyone’s attention the role that user error (or rather, terrible design) can play in affecting outcomes and a nation at large. This is but one example of how the design of simple things has an impact far beyond its immediate surroundings. It’s part of a clear case that more comprehensive: thoughtful design can have more predictable, measurable effects on our world at large.

More and more, designers of all stripes seek projects and organizations that have a mission to serve the greater good at their core. Partly, it stems from an innate desire to use our skills to their highest potential. It also reflects broader trends in design and tools that make it possible for us to tackle problems that we observe in society, measure their root causes, and more quickly and efficiently test what works to create positive change. The inherent “usability” issues within the systems that surround social impact objectives are becoming more evident. Design increasingly has the ability to run programs at scale that address more systemic issues that arise from a lack of infrastructure or overly complicated regulation. Read more…

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