Falling Light by Troika

Falling Light by Troika is an installation that will be available to view at the V&A;’s British Design exhibition opening on 31st March.

50 ceiling suspended mechanical devices each incorporating a custom cut Swarovski crystal optical lens, a computer programmed motor and a white LED, comprise TROIKA’s installation ‘Falling Light’.

The white-painted metal armatures rise in syncopation by rotating cam before gravity releases them earthward, activating the LED to move away, closer to the crystal lens. The lens acts as a prism, transforming through diffraction, the LED’s white light into a rainbow myriad, in turn creating the rhythmical ebb and flow of the floor-strewn droplets.

I always like how technology plays a part in Troika’s work, but it’s as a medium, not as the content. Words don’t do it justice — Seb describes it best in this video.

Rigor and relevance in interaction design research

Rigor and relevance in interaction design research is a good find by @nicolasnova from the Near Future Laboratory. As Nicolas describes:

It addresses the problem of ‘disciplinary anxiety’ that is often felt by people in this field and the inherent discussion about what constitutes ‘good research’ in terms of rigor and relevance.

The paper by Daniel Fallman and Erik Stolterman makes the argument “that the only way to discuss and examine rigor and relevance for interaction design research is to do it in relation to the three forms of research and to their particular purposes.”

I had similar problems when writing my PhD on interactivity and play. I had to put in several caveats at the beginning to be sure that it would be read in the right context. Discipline anxiety indeed.

Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving


Serendipitously, given my previous post, I’ve just seen that Jon Kolko has put out a new book called, Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving that focuses on design’s role in social entrepreneurship.

This book was started with the intent of changing design and social entrepreneurship education. As these disciplines converge, it becomes evident that existing pedagogy doesn’t support either students or practitioners attempting to design for impact. This text is a reaction to that convergence, and will ideally be used by various students, educators, and practitioners.

You can order a physical copy here, buy a DRM-free eBook version for as much or as little as you like and read the entire book online for free. Nice. The book as a service. I hope we see more of that.

(Via Johnny Holland).

Design Research: What Is It and Why Do It?

Design Research: What Is It and Why Do It? is a good piece from Panthea Lee arguing the case for design research in the public and international development sectors. As she says, “understanding and meeting human needs are critical for improved livelihoods and better governance.”

The work Reboot is doing looks fascinating and, I think, an area that service design’s approach and methods can really contribute too.

Coming from the other direction, The Policy Lab are also engaging in similar processes for peace, security and development.

Sir Jonathan Ive: The iMan cometh

Sir Jonathan Ive: The iMan cometh is an appalling headline for an unusual interview with Jonny Ive in celebration of his knighthood.

Some great quotes:

Most of our competitors are interesting [sic] in doing something different, or want to appear new – I think those are completely the wrong goals. A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that’s what drives us – a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better. Committees just don’t work, and it’s not about price, schedule or a bizarre marketing goal to appear different – they are corporate goals with scant regard for people who use the product.
One of the things we’ve really learnt over the last 20 years is that while people would often struggle to articulate why they like something – as consumers we are incredibly discerning, we sense where has been great care in the design, and when there is cynicism and greed. It’s one of the thing we’ve found really encouraging.
What is more difficult is when you are intrigued by an opportunity. That, I think, really exercises the skills of a designer. It’s not a problem you’re aware or, nobody has articulated a need. But you start asking questions, what if we do this, combine it with that, would that be useful? This creates opportunities that could replace entire categories of device, rather than tactically responding to an individual problem. That’s the real challenge, and that’s what is exciting.

Digital to Analogue with Paper.li and Newspaper Club


Newspapers are tomorrow’s chip paper anyway right? (Photo: Sameold2010 CC licensed on Flickr)

I’m working on a research project at the moment that is exploring the crossover of digital and analogue back-channels in offices and studios. We have an issue in our research department that the building is pretty unsparing and, worse, has a long corridor down the middle with offices off of it, like a hotel. The probably is exacerbated by having entrances at both ends. People who work down one end go in and out of that door as do the others at the other end. We also have a large part-time and distance workforce, so many people aren’t there at the same time. Even if you are there at the same time, the corridor problem means you might not see them.

Our situation isn’t unusual, but there is a digital backchannel via e-mail, Twitter and external and internal blogs that connect some of us up pretty well. At the same time, most of the interesting face-to-face connections happen informally. We don’t have a water cooler, but if we did, they would be water cooler conversations. You know the kind of thing, you walk into someone’s office and see an interesting book on their desk or some Post-It notes on the wall and start chatting about ideas.

The project is looking at how to connect those two worlds together. How do you bring the digital back-channel into the physical space (is it just a big screen on the wall somewhere or something more sophisticated?) and, slightly more difficult, how do you bring the physical back-channel into the digital realm.

I’ve been looking at services like Findings, which nicely collates and publishes your Kindle highlights as one way of dealing with the book example. Would we have a barcode scanner and a Delicious Library online somewhere to go the other way, for example? Perhaps something like Kooaba’s Shortcut is the way to go, given the ubiquity of smartphones.

The Near Future Laboratory’s post about making their own newspaper using Newspaper Club to print and deliver got me thinking. It still takes some manual effort to create the design and layout, of course, but perhaps it would be possible to semi-automate the digital ephemera generated via Twitter, RSS feeds, etc. and output it all as a PDF and upload it to Newspaper Club. Perhaps something like Paper.li would be the intermediary service, hooked into If This Then Than or Dropbox Automator to do the PDF processing. Might looks like a dog’s breakfast though.

I’ve turned off comments on this blog now, but if anyone has any thoughts on this please get in touch here or on Twitter.

Raspberry Pi


Raspberry Pi, if you haven’t already heard, is an ARM GNU/Linux box for $25. It is a roughly credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. Model A 256Mb RAM, one USB port and no Ethernet (network connection). Model B has 256Mb RAM, 2 USB port and an Ethernet port (costs $35). You can boot from SD cards and even hook a hard-drive up to it to take over after the initial boot. Seneca College have put together a “remix” of Fedora to work on the Pi.

The makers of it basically want to put it in the hands of every schoolchild so that they can learn to program and not just use computers and devices. It’s founder talking on Radio 4 the other day said, “If you ask kids to code, they think it’s boring, but if you ask them to build their own “app”, they get really excited.” I’m paraphrasing, but it’s interesting what language can do.

Reminds me of the Sinclair ZX80 days. I seem to be having a bit of a retro computing week.

The Psychologist’s View of UX Design

The Psychologist’s View of UX Designis a useful article from Dr. Susan Weinschenk, author of Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?. It really applies to all design, not just UX. Most of it is pretty obvious, actually, but much of it gets forgotten.

I came across it on Johnny Holland who summarize it well:

  1. People Don’t Want to Work: they will do the least amount of work possible to get a task done;
  2. People Have Limitations: they can only look at so much information or read so much text on a screen without losing interest;
  3. People Make Mistakes: Assume people will make mistakes. Anticipate what they will be and try to prevent them;
  4. Human Memory Is Complicated: People reconstruct memories, which means they are always changing;
  5. People are Social: they will always try to use technology to be social. This has been true for thousands of years;
  6. Attention: Grabbing and holding onto attention, and not distracting someone when they are paying attention to something, are key concerns;
  7. People Crave Information: Learning is dopaminergic—we can’t help but want more information;
  8. Unconscious Processing: Most mental processing occurs unconsciously;
  9. People Create Mental Models: People always have a mental model in place about a certain object or task (paying my bills, reading a book, using a remote control);
  10. Use Visual Systems to help people.

The book is on Amazon here: book (Amazon affiliate link if you want to give me a kickback – non-affiliate link here). It gets mixed reviews, so your mileage may vary, but it may be a useful addition to your library if you need some arguments to persuade clients or colleagues of the value of what you are doing.


Coursekit is a free online learning management system. I’ve used a lot of the heavy duty, clunky systems over the years, such as Blackboard, WebCT and Moodle and most of them feel stuck in 1996. Right now I use Omnium for my online teaching. It’s something I’ve put a lot of time into helping shape in the early days, but I’d be fibbing if I said it couldn’t do with a bit of an UI update.

I haven’t used Coursekit yet – these days I mostly create a blog for my students and let them use whatever tools they like – but it looks promising and is really how these systems should look and feel. Light, uncluttered, user-friendly. Obvious, really, except to university IT departments.

The only worry is its financial model, which is the build it and hope they will come approach. I’d like to know they’ll be around in 5 years’ time.

Via Veronica Grow (@oldschoolthenew)

Speaking at Webdagene, Oslo, 26-28 September 2012


I am very pleased to announce that I will be giving a keynote talk on Service Design at Webdagene, billed as “Norway’s premier conference for web communicators with an expected 300 attendants in 2012.”

The conference is hosted and organized by Netlife Research, a leading Norwegian user experience consultancy and has had some pretty rocking speakers in the past, including Dan Roam, Jared Spool, Aarron Walter, Gerry McGovern, Stephen Anderson, Brian Sollis, and BJ Fogg. This year I’ll be in the company of Oliver Reichenstein, Des Traynor, Angela Morelli among others.

Designing for People vs. Screens

The theme of the conference is “Vs.” which of course sets up a slightly combative vibe, very much intended to get discussions going. My talk is “Service Design: Designing for People vs. Screens” or, in Norwegian, “Service design: Å designe for mennesker vs. for skjermer,” which sounds much cooler.

As someone with a background in interaction design who has moved into service design and who now teaches a lot of product design students, I find the conversations along the lines of “Isn’t service design just UX or IxD, etc.?” tend to be focused on screen-based experiences and this is a real point of difference in service design.

My talk will cover a some of the material and thinking in our Rosenfeld Media book, which may just be out around that time (if we hit our deadlines!). Here is the description I wrote in English (the Webdagene website is mainly in Norwegian):

Web and UX design has championed the user-experience over the past decade or so, but the domain in which they have been working is largely screen-based. Users and customers do not use these websites, applications and devices in a vacuum, but in the context of messy, complicated lives and service ecosystems. A well-built car-sharing website and smartphone app is only part of the challenge, for example. If the car is a pain to unlock in the rain or there are no designated parking spaces in the city, the service will suffer or fail.

We instantly recognise the design craft and appeal of an iPhone or a Porsche, but why are our experiences with telcos, insurance companies, airlines, etc. so poor? The answer is usually that they have just happened and have not been deliberately designed. Service design is the design for experiences that reach people through many different touch-points, and that happen over time, not just screens. It provides a powerful set of methods that help map out the entire service ecosystem and people’s journeys through it in order to design a coherent experience. Web and UX designers have an opportunity to expand on their existing skills to push upwards into designing with people instead of just for them.

But wait! There’s more. A Workshop with Lavrans and I.

I’m also really looking forward to running a workshop at the conference on the 26th called From UX to Service Design with one my co-authors and friend, live|work’s Lavrans Løvlie. Here’s the English description of what we’re planning:

The differences between service design and UX [or web design?] are best understood by trying to do it. This workshop introduces participants to the main principles and methods of service design through a practical, hands-on approach. Using a surprise theme as a starting point, participants will go out and do some quick and dirty insights research, bring their results back to the studio and map them out in a service blueprint. Having spotted the potential failures and opportunities, they will have to sketch up service propositions and touchpoints before presenting it all as a coherent experience by the end of the day. It will be fast-paced and jam-packed, but by the end participants will have designed a service or died trying.

I’m looking forward to it and hope to meet some of you there. I’ll report back on the rest, assuming I understood any of the Norwegian.