FEATURED STORY

Design’s role is to bridge context gaps

Andrew Hinton on making context understandable, smart devices, and programming literacy.

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I sat down with Andrew Hinton, an information architect at The Understanding Group and author of the recently released O’Reilly book Understanding Context. Our conversation included a discussion of information architecture’s role in the context of the IoT, the complexities of context, and the well-debated “everyone should learn to code” argument.

Context, information architecture, and experience design

Information architecture (IA) has always been a critical part of creating great products and services, and many would argue that, until now, it hasn’t been given the attention or respect it deserves. The need for thoughtful IA is increasing as we enter the multimodal world of IoT. Whether you call yourself an Information Architect or Designer, you need to care about context. Hinton offers up this hidden motivation for writing Understanding Context:

“I’ll confess, the book is a bit of a Trojan horse to kind of get people to think about information architecture differently than maybe the way they assume they should think about it.”

I followed up with Hinton via email for a bit more on how we need to view IA:

“People tend to assume IA is mainly about arranging objects, the way we arrange cans in a cupboard or books in a library. That’s part of it, but the Internet has made it so that we co-exist in places made of semantic and digital information. So when we create or change the labels, relationships, and rules of those places, we change their environment. Not just on screens, but now outside of screens as well. And, to me, the central challenge of that work is making context understandable.”

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Design’s return to artisan, at scale

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Matt Nish-Lapidus on design's circular evolution, and designing in the post-Industrial era.

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In this week’s Radar Podcast episode, Jon Follett, editor of Designing for Emerging Technologies, chats with Matt Nish-Lapidus, partner and design director at Normative. Their discussion circles around the evolution of design, characteristics of post-Industrial design, and aesthetic intricacies of designing in networked systems. Also note, Nish-Lapidus will present a free webcast on these topics March 24, 2015.

Post-Industrial design relationships

Nish-Lapidus shares an interesting take on design evolution, from pre-Industrial to post-Industrial times, through the lens of eyeglasses. He uses eyeglasses as a case study, he says, because they’re a piece of technology that’s been used through a broad span of history, longer than many of the things we still use today. Nish-Lapidus walks us through the pre-Industrial era — so, Medieval times through about the 1800s — where a single craftsperson designed one product for a single individual; through the Industrial era, where mass-production took the main stage; to our modern post-Industrial era, where embedded personalization capabilities are bringing design almost full circle, back to a focus on the individual user:

“Once we move into this post-Industrial era, which we’re kind of entering now, the relationship’s starting to shift again, and glasses are a really interesting example. We go from having a single pair of glasses made for a single person, hand-made usually, to a pair of glasses designed and then mass-manufactured for a countless number of people, to having a pair of glasses that expresses a lot of different things. On one hand, you have something like Google Glass, which is still mass-produced, but the glasses actually contain embedded functionality. Then we also have, with the emergence of 3D printing and small-scale manufacturing, a return to a little bit of that artisan, one-to-one relationship, where you could get something that someone’s made just for you.

“These post-Industrial objects are more of an expression of the networked world in which we now live. We [again] have a way of building relationships with individual crafts-people. We also have objects that exist in the network themselves, as a physical instantiation of the networked environment that we live in.”

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Cross-device interactions and interusability

Designers need to create a coherent UX across all the devices with which a user interacts.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt by Claire Rowland from our upcoming book Designing Connected Products. This excerpt is included in our curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. Download a free copy of the Designing for the Internet of Things ebook here.

In systems where functionality and interactions are distributed across more than one device, it’s not enough to design individual UIs in isolation. Designers need to create a coherent UX across all the devices with which the user interacts. That means thinking about how UIs work together to create a coherent understanding of the overall system, and how the user may move between using different devices.

Cross-platform UX and usability

Many of the tools of UX design and HCI originate from a time when an interaction was usually a single user using a single device. This was almost always a desktop computer, which they’d be using to complete a work-like task, giving it more or less their full attention.

The reality of our digital lives moved on from this long ago. Many of us own multiple Internet-capable devices, such as smartphones, tablets, and connected TVs, used for leisure as well as for work. They have different form factors; may be used in different contexts; and some of them come with specific sensing capabilities, such as mobile location.

Cross-platform UX is an area of huge interest to the practitioner community. But academic researchers have given little attention to defining the properties of good cross-platform UX. This has left a gap between practice and theory that needs addressing.

In industry practice, cross-platform UX has often proceeded device by device. Designers begin with a key reference device and subsequent interfaces are treated as adaptations. In the early days of smartphones, this reference device was often the desktop. In recent years, the “mobile first” approach has encouraged us to start with mobile Web or apps as a way to focus on optimizing key functionality and minimize “feature-itis.” Such services usually have overarching design guidelines spanning all platforms to ensure a degree of consistency. The aim is usually on making the different interfaces feel like a family, rather than on making the devices work together as a system. Read more…

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From innovation to mass market: Lessons for the IoT

Consumers are more aware of connected devices, but they need to be convinced a product will do something valuable for them.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt by Claire Rowland from our upcoming book Designing Connected Products. This excerpt is included in our curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. Download a free copy of the Designing for the Internet of Things ebook here.

In 1962, the sociologist Everett Rogers introduced the idea of the technology lifecycle adoption curve, based on studies in agriculture. Rogers proposed that technologies are adopted in successive phases by different audience groups, based on a bell curve. This theory has gained wide traction in the technology industry. Successive thinkers have built upon it, such as the organizational consultant Geoffrey Moore in his book Crossing the Chasm.

In Rogers’ model, the early market for a product is composed of innovators (or technology enthusiasts) and early adopters. These people are inherently interested in the technology and willing to invest a lot of effort in getting the product to work for them. Innovators, especially, might be willing to accept a product with flaws as long as it represents a significant or interesting new idea.

The next two groups — the early and late majority — represent the mainstream market. Early majority users might take a chance on a new product if they have seen it used successfully by others whom they know personally. Late majority users are skeptical and will adopt a product only after seeing that the majority of other people are already doing so. Both groups are primarily interested in what the product can do for them, unwilling to invest significant time or effort in getting it to work, and intolerant of flaws. Different individuals can be in different groups for different types of product. A consumer could be an early adopter of video game consoles, but a late majority customer for microwave ovens. Read more…

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Designing the dynamic human-robot relationship

Scott Stropkay and Bill Hartman on human-robot interaction, choice architecture, and developing degrees of trust.

Jonathan Follett, editor of Designing for Emerging Technologies, recently sat down with Scott Stropkay, founding partner at Essential Design Service, and Bill Hartman, director of research at Essential Design Service, both of whom are also contributing authors for Designing for Emerging Technologies. Their conversation centers around the relationship dynamic between humans and robots, and they discuss ways that designers are being stretched in an interesting new direction.

Accepting human-robot relationships

Stropkay and Hartman discussed their work with telepresence robots. They shared the inherent challenges of introducing robots in a health care setting, but stressed that there’s tremendous opportunity for improving the health care experience:

“We think the challenges inherent in these kinds of scenarios are fascinating, how you get people to accept a robot in a relationship that you normally have with a person. Let’s say, a hospital setting — how do you develop acceptance from the team that’s not used to working with a robot as part of their functional team, how do you develop trust in those relationships, how do you engage people both practically and emotionally. How, as this scenario progresses, you bring robots into your home to monitor your recovery is one of the issues we’ve begun to address in our work.

“We’re pursuing other ideas in relations to using smart monitors, in the form of robot and robotic enhanced devices that can help you advance your improvement in behavior change over time … Ultimately, we’re thinking about some of the interesting science that’s happening with robots that you ingest that can learn about you and monitor you. There’s a world of fascinating issues about what you want to know, and how you might want to learn that, who gets access to this information, and how that interface could be designed.”

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Designing for technological context

The growing complexity of design and architecture will require a new definition of design foundations, practice, and theory.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt by Matt Nish-Lapidus from our recent book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a collection of works by several authors and edited by Jon Follett. This excerpt is included in our curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. Download a free copy of the Designing for the Internet of Things ebook here.

Bruce Sterling wrote in Shaping Things that the world is becoming increasingly connected, and the devices by which we are connecting are becoming smarter and more self aware. When every object in our environment contains data collection, communication, and interactive technology, how do we as human beings learn how to navigate all of this new information? We need new tools as designers — and humans — to work with all of this information and the new devices that create, consume, and store it.

Today, there’s a good chance that your car can park itself. Your phone likely knows where you are. You can walk through the interiors of famous buildings on the web. Everything around us is constantly collecting data, running algorithms, calculating outcomes, and accumulating more raw data than we can handle.

We all carry minicomputers in our pockets, often more than one; public and private infrastructure collects terabytes of data every minute; and personal analytics has become so commonplace that it’s more conspicuous to not collect data about yourself than to record every waking moment. In many ways, we’ve moved beyond Malcolm McCullough’s ideas of ubiquitous computing put forth in Digital Ground and into a world in which computing isn’t only ubiquitous and invisible, but pervasive, constant, and deeply embedded in our everyday lives. Read more…

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