Smell and taste: New frontiers for experience design

Designers need not start from scratch as they wrestle with orchestrating experiences that span digital and physical.

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Download a free copy of Designing for the Internet of Things, a curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. This post is an excerpt from Understanding Industrial Design, by Simon King and Kuen Chang, one of the books included in the curated collection.

Two of our richest senses, smell and taste, are not often associated with design. However, the creation of objects that support these senses is an ancient practice, embodied best by the tea set, where rituals of assembly and service lead to hints of the aroma. Holding the tea cup warms your hand without burning it, and the slow sipping of the tea forms a communal bond with other participants. Outside of classic and common serving items, designers today are increasingly finding new ways to collaborate with chefs and food companies to design with smell and taste in mind, forging a new frontier for sensorial design.

Martin Kastner is the founder and principal of Crucial Detail, a studio in Chicago that specializes in custom pieces to support unique culinary experiences. Martin is best known for his work designing serviceware concepts for Alinea, the 3-star Michelin restaurant founded by chef Grant Achatz. That collaboration has extended to other restaurants owned by Achatz, including The Aviary, a cocktail bar that prides itself on serving drinks with the same level of attention as a fine dinner.

At The Aviary, one of the most popular creations by Crucial Detail is the Porthole Infuser, a round vessel that presents the ingredients of a patron’s cocktail between two flat panes of glass, emphasizing the transformative action of the steeping process and building anticipation for the cocktail’s taste. The Porthole Infuser takes a part of the preparation process that is normally hidden and brings it directly to the person’s table, providing time for the drinker to contemplate the ingredients on display, creating a mental checklist for their tongue to seek out when they take their first sip.

The popularity of the Porthole Infuser at the Aviary led Kastner to create a Kickstarter campaign to fund the additional design and manufacturing required to release it as a commercial product. Support for the project was dramatic, achieving 25 times more funding than originally asked. This backing set the course for a redesign that allowed the infuser to be manufactured at scale and sold for $100, down from the several hundred dollars that each custom constructed version for The Aviary cost.

The Porthole Infuser is marketed as more than a cocktail tool, working equally well to support the smell and taste of oils, teas, or any other infusion recipe. It’s an example of how designers can enhance the dining experience, not by crafting the smell or taste of the food itself, but working in collaboration with a chef to heighten our awareness of those senses. Read more…

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More tools for managing and reproducing complex data projects

A survey of the landscape shows the types of tools remain the same, but interfaces continue to improve.

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As data projects become complex and as data teams grow in size, individuals and organizations need tools to efficiently manage data projects. A while back, I wrote a post on common options, and I closed that piece by asking:

Are there completely different ways of thinking about reproducibility, lineage, sharing, and collaboration in the data science and engineering context?

At the time, I listed categories that seemed to capture much of what I was seeing in practice: (proprietary) workbooks aimed at business analysts, sophisticated IDEs, notebooks (for mixing text, code, and graphics), and workflow tools. At a high level, these tools aspire to enable data teams to do the following:

  • Reproduce their work — so they can rerun and/or audit when needed
  • Collaborate
  • Facilitate storytelling — because in many cases, it’s important to explain to others how results were derived
  • Operationalize successful and well-tested pipelines — particularly when deploying to production is a long-term objective

As I survey the landscape, the types of tools remain the same, but interfaces continue to improve, and domain specific languages (DSLs) are starting to appear in the context of data projects. One interesting trend is that popular user interface models are being adapted to different sets of data professionals (e.g. workflow tools for business users). Read more…

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Empathy: The designer’s superpower

Scott Jenson on empathy, interaction on demand, and Google’s Physical Web Project.

Toolbox_florianric_FlickrI recently connected with veteran designer Scott Jenson, who is currently developing the Physical Web Project with the Chrome team at Google. We’ve been talking quite a bit about empathy in the past few months here at O’Reilly, and Scott’s recent blog post, The Paradox of Empathy, caught my attention. I sat down with him to learn more about his thinking around empathy and to talk about his work on the Physical Web Project.

Empathy is part of every great designer’s toolkit

Jenson is often asked for recommendations for learning the next tool, or program. but as he explains, learning how to empathize is fundamental to product design:

When I reflected on what I wanted people to understand, what the core thing was, it wasn’t a technique. It wasn’t a visual style. It wasn’t learning a certain program. The core thing was making sure that you never thought about the product from your point of view, but from somebody else’s point of view. That’s what prompted the [The Paradox of Empathy] post.

He breaks empathy down into four components:

I basically take the whole design process from soup to nuts and break it up into four types of things, what I called understanding, bridging, flowing, and refining, which is a little bit of wordplay, but it was just really trying to say that most people talk about the icons and the buttons. That’s the last category, the refining. What I tried to do was to go back in time to get earlier and earlier interactions with people. So, the flowing is basically just how the whole program feels and what metaphors do you use, and how many steps do they take. It’s the level above the bits. Bridging was about matching the technology to the actual user needs. The most important one, the one that we actually tried to do the most when I was at Frog Design, was understanding, which was just to understand what people were doing, what were they up to, where they were at. In fact, to the point where you’re not even designing a product for them. One of the reasons why I think [The Paradox of Empathy] post got some positive response, was the fact that the first two were so clearly focused on user research.

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Embracing failure and learning from the Imposter Syndrome

What you miss with a "get it right the first time" mentality

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Download our updated Women in Data report, which features four new profiles of women across the European Union. You can also pick-up a copy at Strata + Hadoop World London, where Alice Zheng will lead a session on Deploying Machine Learning in Production.

Lately, there has been a slew of media coverage about the Imposter Syndrome. Many columnists, bloggers, and public speakers have spoken or written about their own struggles with the Imposter Syndrome. And original psychological research on the Imposter Syndrome has found that out of every five successful people, two consider themselves a fraud.

I’m certainly no stranger to the sinking feeling of being out of place. During college and graduate school, it often seemed like everyone else around me was sailing through to the finish line, while I alone lumbered with the weight of programming projects and mathematical proofs. This led to an ongoing self-debate about my choice of a major and profession. One day, I noticed myself reading the same sentence over and over again in a textbook; my eyes were looking at the text, but my mind was saying, “Why aren’t you getting this yet? It’s so simple. Everybody else gets it. What’s wrong with you?”

When I look back upon those years, I have two thoughts: 1. That was hard. 2. What a waste of perfectly good brain cells! I could have done so many cool things if I had not spent all that time doubting myself.

But one can’t simply snap out of the Imposter Syndrome. It has a variety of causes, and it’s sticky. I was brought up with the idea of holding myself to a high standard, to measure my own progress against others’ achievements. Falling short of expectations is supposed to be a great motivator for action…or is it? Read more…

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Google’s Physical Web vs Apple’s iBeacon

How proximity approaches compare and a look at the flourishing proximity startup ecosystem.

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This is the second post in a three-part series looking at beacon technology and the burgeoning beacon ecosystem.

Beacosystem_webcast_imageIn the first of this series, I covered some of the basics behind proximity, Bluetooth Low Energy, and iBeacon, and walked through some use cases where proximity and iBeacon have started showing up in retail, travel, and other applications.

While iBeacon has arguably galvanised the notion of using proximity in applications and services, it’s not the only game in town.

In this post, I’ll cover one of the alternatives to Apple’s iBeacon, Physical Web from Google, and then I’ll zoom out to look at the flurry of activity in startups in the evolving “Beacosystem.”

First, a small recap on what helped iBeacon gain so much traction, so quickly and helped shape the landscape for a proximity ecosystem to emerge.

Creating an ecosystem

Apple’s iBeacon is a layer, or a “convention,” that builds on the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) Standard. Apple has spurred an ecosystem around iBeacon by doing several things, which all feed into each other:

  1. Baked support for iBeacon into its mobile operating system (iOS) so that APIs are readily available for developers.
  2. Included support for background notifications at the OS level, so that push notifications can be triggered in certain situations, but without killing your phone’s battery.
  3. Provided a certification program to enable hardware manufacturers to create iBeacon-compatible hardware. This allows third-party manufacturers to provide iBeacon-compatible hardware of all shapes, sizes, and form factors, At last count, there were more than 50 suppliers of iBeacon hardware.
  4. Enabled every iOS device to be an iBeacon. This has many potential uses, from iPad-based POS systems welcoming you to a store, to the Hailo App letting you know that you can pay by Hailo.
  5. Ate its own dog food, by using iBeacon with their Apple Store App in all their US based Apple Stores.

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IBM is banking on design’s ROI

Phil Gilbert on IBM’s deep design roots, change management, and hiring for culture fit.

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Companies of all sizes are recognizing that by taking a design-first approach to product development, they can improve profit. I recently sat down with Phil Gilbert, GM of design at IBM, to discuss how he is helping to lead the transformation to a design-first company within IBM. Adopting design as a key corporate asset may seem like a no-brainer, but for a company of more than 350,000 employees, it’s a massive undertaking. IBM hasn’t been quiet about its plans to hire 1,000 designers over the course of five years and embed design in product teams throughout the organization.

IBM’s long history of design

What I was surprised to find when reading about IBM’s latest design plans, is that the giant tech company has design roots dating back to the 1950s. Gilbert shares in more detail:

We started our first design program — and we were one of the first to really apply design holistically at scale — in 1956. In the 1950s and the 1960s and into the early 1970s, we had a constellation of designers around IBM that, quite frankly, has never been equaled.

Elliott Noyes was our first head of design. Thomas Watson Jr. hired him in 1956. He assembled people like Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, and Paul Rand. He assembled this team of people, and, essentially, I think the reason it happened then is because humanity was addressing a fundamentally different relationship between ourselves and technology. There was a lot of turmoil and angst as a result. We used design at that time to communicate and engage in a conversation with humanity about that relationship and about our role with technology. We viewed it as a very holistic statement — we communicated it through our products, our communications, our buildings, and we did it through our exhibits at places like the World’s Fair.

Since then, I don’t think there has been as fundamental a change in the relationship between human beings and technology. The move from mainframe to mini-computer, the move from mini-computer to personal computer, the move to client-server computing — all of these things were actually fairly incremental. But I think in 2007, with the release of the iPhone and with the ubiquitous access via mobile devices, I actually think that we’re, again, in a time of real turmoil and change around this relationship of where does technology sit with human beings.

This is a real change, and I think that human-centered design and design thinking as a method to achieve human-centered design is why it’s become so important. Because our relationship with technology is, it may not be as frightening as it was in the 50s and 60s, but it certainly is fundamental. I don’t think we quite yet understand it. I think design is the primary lever that we have to understand that relationship and then to communicate that relationship.

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