Jenn Webb

Jenn Webb is a veteran of the newspaper industry turned freelance scribe, editor and researcher. She is a nerd with a passion for technology and cultural disruption. She currently serves as O'Reilly Radar's online managing editor and is investigating the future of UI design beyond the screen.

Technology that gets under your skin

Embeddables won't just be a revolution in functionality, but will dramatically alter how people fit into society.

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Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt, author Andy Goodman, group director at Fjord Madrid, looks beyond wearable computing to a deeper, more personal emerging computing technology: embeddables. Goodman says that beyond wearables and implants lies a future symbiosis of human and machine that will transform not only the delivery of information and services, but human nature as well.


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Author Andy Goodman, group director at Fjord Madrid.

Wearables are yesterday’s news; tomorrow’s news will be all about embeddables, tiny computing devices implanted inside your body that monitor your health, improve your functioning, and connect you to the digital world.

There is currently a lot of buzz in technology and design circles about wearables, living services, the Internet of Things, and smart materials. As designers working in these realms, we’ve begun to think about even more transformative things, envisioning a future where evolved technology is embedded inside our digestive tracts, sense organs, blood vessels, and even our cells. Everyday objects will become responsive and predictive, connecting us to the data sphere and reducing the distance between our skin and the surfaces of the made world. What we see further out, beyond the realm of wearables and implants, is the future symbiosis of the human body and the machine. Read more…

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Expanding the 3Cs framework for the IoT ecosystem

Multi-device experiences can be approached in very diverse ways in a connected world.

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Editor’s note: the following is an excerpt from our recently released book Designing Multi-Device Experiences, by Michal Levin.

In this excerpt, Levin addresses ecosystem experience design beyond the four core devices — smartphones, tablets, PCs, and TVs. She explores ways a consistent, continuous, and complementary (3Cs) design framework can be applied across the physical and digital spheres in our increasingly connected world.


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Author Michal Levin, Senior User Experience Designer at Google.

The IoT stretches the multi-device notion into a new world of connected things, expanding our family of devices to include a diversified range of gadgets, appliances, and accessories of any shape, size, or form factor. These devices are not necessarily equipped with a screen or computing power. To continue the LEGO analogy from Chapter 5, we now have a new array of LEGO bricks, gears, and various other parts that get added to the playground. Accordingly, they introduce new ways to assemble an ecosystem experience and interact with it.

We still need the oxygen flow provided by the wireless connection, transferring data between things across all experiences. But we can augment these digital connections with physical ones. Things can be physically attached or plugged into other things, and by doing so, we augment their capabilities in various ways. Read more…

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Thinking with things

Something is lost when we limit interactions to pressing or clicking — our bodies are capable of so much more.

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Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt, author Stephen Anderson addresses the importance of embodied learning and stresses that those concepts need to extend to the way we design and interact with our increasingly connected environment, noting that the digital devices today are painfully unaware of our many human capabilities.


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Stephen Anderson, author, consultant, and creator of the Mental Notes card deck.

You may wonder, “why should we care about tangible computing?” Isn’t interacting with our fingers or through devices such as a mouse or touchscreens sufficient? In a world constrained by costs and resources, isn’t it preferable to ship interactive software, that can be easily replicated and doesn’t take up physical space? If you look at how media has shifted from vinyl records to cassette tapes to compact discs and finally digital files, isn’t this the direction that everything is headed?

Where learning and understanding is required, I’d argue no. And a definite no wherever young children are involved. Jean Piaget established four stages of learning (sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operations, and formal operations), and argued that children “learn best from concrete activities.” This work was preceded by John Dewey, who emphasized first-hand learning experiences. Other child psychologists, such as Jerome Bruner and Zoltán Dienes, have built on these “constructivist” ideas, creating materials used to facilitate learning. In a review of studies on the use of manipulatives in the classroom, Marilyn Suydam and Jon Higgins concluded in their 1976 report “Review and Synthesis of Studies of Activity-Based Approaches to Mathematics Teaching” that “studies at every grade level support the importance and use of manipulative materials.”

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Defining and sculpting interactions between man and technology

Jonathan Follett on the future of design and designers.

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Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt, author — and editor of Designing for Emerging TechnologiesJonathan Follett addresses designer’s roles as new technologies begin to blur the boundaries between design and engineering for software, hardware, and biotech.


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Author and editor Jonathan Follett, principal at Involution Studios.

Technology extends our grasp, making it possible for us to achieve our goals rapidly and efficiently; but it also places its own set of demands upon us. The fields of industrial design, graphic design, and software user experience design have all evolved in response to these demands — a need for a human way to relate to and interact with our new tools. Graphic design makes information depicted in printed media clear, understandable, and beautiful; industrial design makes products elegant, usable, and humane; and user experience design makes the interaction with our digital tools and services efficient and even pleasurable.

The future of design is to envision humanity’s relationship to technology and each other — whether we’re struggling with fear and loathing in reaction to genetically altered foods, the moral issues of changing a child’s traits to suit a parent’s preferences, the ethics guiding battlefield robots, or the societal implications of a 150-year extended lifetime. Now, more than ever, designers have the opportunity to help define the parameters of and sculpt the interactions between man and technology.

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Podcast: automation and an abundance-oriented economy

Jim Stogdill, Jon Bruner and Jenn Webb discuss James Burke, ninja homes, IoT standards and robots.

What happens if emerging technology and automation result in a world of abundance, where anyone at anytime can produce anything they need and there’s no need for jobs? In his recent Strata keynote, James Burke warned that society is not prepared for scarcity (and the value it brings) to be a thing of the past — an eventuality Burke predicts will occur in the next 40 years or so. This topic kicks off a discussion between Jim Stogdill, Jon Bruner and myself that we recorded while at Strata.

Link fodder from our chat includes:

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Solid-report-cover-smallIf you liked this article, you might be interested in a new report, “Building a Solid World,” that explores the key trends and developments that are accelerating the growth of a software-enhanced, networked physical world. (Download the free report.)

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Democratizing technology and the road to empowerment

BIF9 storytellers share how their work and experiences enrich our world.

Advancements in technology are making what once was relegated only to highly educated scientists, engineers and developers accessible to — and affordable for — the mainstream. This democratization of technology and the empowerment it affords was an underlying thread through many of the stories at this year’s Business Innovation Factory (BIF) summit. From allowing hobbyists and makers to innovate and develop on an advanced level to enabling individuals to take control of their personal health data to using space suits to help children with cerebral palsy, technological advancements are beginning to empower — and enrich — at scale.

With the rise of quantified self, for example, people have begun amassing personal data based on their activities and behaviors. Some argue that QS doesn’t go quite far enough and that a more complete story can be told by incorporating emotional data, our sense of experience. While it’s empowering in many ways to be able to collect and control all this personal big data, what to do with this onslaught of information and how to process it remains a question for many.

Alexander Tsiaras, who founded theVisualMD, argued in his talk at BIF9 that “story gives a soul to the data,” and that it’s time to change the paradigm, to start using technology to create ecosystems to empower people to understand what’s going on inside their bodies as a result of their behaviors.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2sevCMFeIw Read more…

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The Amazon whisperer, invisible interfaces, FDA vs 23andMe, and robots usher in a new polical order

A backchannel look at what's on our radar.

The Radar team does a lot of sharing in the backchannel. Here’s a look at a selection of stories and innovative people and companies from around the web that have caught our recent attention. Have an interesting tidbit to contribute to the conversation? Send me an email or ping me on Twitter

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IoT meets agriculture, Intellistreets, immersive opera, and high-tech pencils

A backchannel look at what's on our radar.

The Radar team does a lot of sharing in the backchannel. Here’s a look at a selection of stories and innovation highlights from around the web that have caught our recent attention. Have an interesting tidbit to contribute to the conversation? Join the discussion in the comments section, send me an email or ping me on Twitter.

  • Pencil — FiftyThree’s new Pencil tool is a super cool gadget that exhibits interesting technology from a software meets hardware perspective. (Via Mike Loukides)
  • littleBits Synth KitlittleBits and Korg have teamed up to bring DIY to music with a modular synthesizer kit. From John Paul Titlow on Fast Company: “Hobbyists have been doing this for many years, either through prepackaged kits or off-the-shelf components. The difference here is that no soldering or wiring is required. Each circuit piece’s magnetized and color-coded end makes them effortlessly easy to snap together and pull apart … Notably, the components of the kit are compatible with other littleBits modules, so it’s possible to build a synthesizer that integrates with other types of sensors, lights, and whatever else littleBits cooks up down the line.” (Via Jim Stogdill)
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Podcast: the Internet of Things should work like the Internet

A chat about the future of UI/UX design with Alasdair Allan, Josh Marinacci and Tony Santos.

At our OSCON conference this summer, Jon Bruner, Renee DiResta and I sat down with Alasdair Allan, a hardware hacker and O’Reilly author; Josh Marinacci, a researcher with Nokia; and Tony Santos, a user experience designer with Mozilla. Our discussion focused on the future of UI/UX design, from the perils of designing from the top down to declining diversity in washing machines to controlling your car from anywhere in the world.

Here are some highlights from our chat:

  • Alasdair’s Ignite talk on the bad design of UX in the Internet of Things: the more widgets and dials and sliders that you add on are delayed design decisions that you’re putting onto the user. (1:55 mark)
  • Looking at startups working in the Internet of Things, design seems to be “pretty far down on the general level of importance.” Much of the innovation is happening on Kickstarter and is driven by hardware hackers, many of whom don’t have design experience — and products are often designed as an end to themselves, as opposed to parts of a connected ecosystem. “We’re not building an Internet of Things, we’re building a series of islands…we should be looking at systems.” (3:23)
  • Read more…

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Podcast: expanding our experience of interfaces and interaction

A chat with Amanda Parkes, Ivan Poupyrev, and Hayes Raffle.

At our Sci Foo Camp this past summer, Jon Bruner, Jim Stogdill, Roger Magoulas, and I were joined by guests Amanda Parkes, a professor in the Department of Architecture at Columbia University, and CTO at algae biofuels company Bodega Algae and fashion technology company Skinteractive Studio; Ivan Poupyrev, principle research scientist at Disney Research, who leads an interaction research team; and Hayes Raffle, an interaction designer at Google [X] working on Project Glass. Our discussion covered a wide range of topics, from scalable sensors to tactile design to synthetic biology to haptic design to why technology isn’t a threat but rather is essential for human survival.

Here are some highlights from our discussion:

  • The Botanicus Interacticus project from Disney research and the Touché sensor technology.
  • Poupyrev explains the concept behind the Touché sensor is that we need to figure out how to make the entire world interactive, developing a single sensor that can be scalable to any situation — finding a universal solution that can adapt to multiple uses. That’s what Touché is, Poupyrev says: “a sensing technology that can dynamically adapt to multiple objects and can sense interaction with water, with everyday objects, with tables, with surfaces, the human body, plants, cats, birds, whatever you want.” (2:50 mark)

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