Backpack PLUS Will Empower Community Health Workers
DesignWell

Backpack PLUS Will Empower Community Health Workers

A comprehensive toolkit to empower and activate Community Health Workers.

The Third Wave of Computing
Corpus Callosum

The Third Wave of Computing

Hear more from Theo Forbath at MobileCon 2013.

As Myanmar Opens Up, Will Mobile Money Emerge?
frogs on the road

As Myanmar Opens Up, Will Mobile Money Emerge?

Myanmar is easing sanctions and its economy is opening up.

What You Will Find On a Design Researcher's Bookshelf
Interpretations

What You Will Find On a Design Researcher's Bookshelf

Your guide to design research education.

Where do you look for the future?

William Gibson’s well worn quote, “The future is here, it’s just unevenly distributed,” is a potent thinking tool. He compels us to look around and find things today that already represent the possibilities the future holds. Whether it’s looking to South Korea and Japan for mobile communication technologies and practices, or into India to understand the effects of micro-credit on prosperity, we understand that some places in the world are more advanced than others. Some of today’s local innovations will be the forces of the future globally.

Looking for the future in today’s world, though, doesn’t necessarily mean looking for something “new”. Innovation and signals of the future may happen around the edges, but it’s often repurposing or reuse of the things we already have that are the most compelling signals of things to come. In the world of mobile communications, for example, the massive flows of migrant workers through China are forcing people to think about how to keep family bonds tight. In Africa, poverty has created businesses that center around the communal use of mobile phones, which in turn requires the creation of new tools and practices for communication (Jan Chipchase documents some of this wonderfully).

Discovering the future is often just a matter of engaging with life on the edges. The companies that are imagining and creating the future must experience and engage with the unfamiliar to expand our horizons for thought. Those same companies can also discover the hidden nuggets of the future deposited in the everyday. It could be just a matter of re-engaging with our familiar environments in unfamiliar ways, or stepping across the world to spend time with people from different cultures. The unevenly distributed future is buried in the practices of the everyday, waiting to be uncovered.

Desktop PC innovation in China

There's been a lot of buzz about Dell's recent announcement of their EC280 desktop PC for the China market. A bold move for a market characterized by cybermarts selling everything from branded PCs to low-cost, custom-built generics and everything in between, and by a PC's brand over time being nothing more than the label on the box, given the tendency to upgrade the innards over time rather than replace the full system.

BusinessWeek offers the most insight into how this computer was designed. Coming out of Dell's Shanghai R&D center, the EC280 went through a design research process that uncovered the need for the EC280 to be smaller than the average PC (due to the smaller size of the average Chinese home); the need to have a lower power consumption, thereby requiring only one fan, thereby reducing the noise level (for the same home size reason); and the presence of just one expansion slot (rather than the standard 8, which are rarely used by most users) to improve reliability.

Compare this approach to the business model innovation of Lenovo and Microsoft to address the same challenge last year: a "pay as you go" approach that offers consumers a very cheap ($150) PC partially financed by loans which are repaid over time through purchase of prepaid cards, eventually leading to full ownership. I wonder how that program is doing 9 months later?

TED Conference 2007

The TED conference for this year has happened and they have begun posting some of the discussions.  I highly recommend checking them out.

My favorite is Sir Ken Robinson from the 2006 TED Conference.  Sir Ken Robinson is author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, and a leading expert on innovation and human resources. (Recorded February, 2006 in Monterey, CA.)

retail trends

Experience retailing, a trend that began to be noticed by TrendWatching back in 2004, is still being demonstrated by stores that followed it. As TrendWatching stated, "We’ve all heard about it but what exactly does ‘experience’ or ‘inspirational’ retailing mean? Do consumers want a song and dance every time they come into your store? Not necessary, but consumers do want to enjoy an ‘experience’ when they shop."

Safeway was one who helped start this trend and put it into motion in 2003 and has done rather well with this strategy, as Kevin O’Mahoney wrote about this year in The Hub. "Safeway’s long-term growth strategy is paying off. Sales growth at the remodeled stores along with product innovations are expected to boost sales by more than three percent in 2007, well ahead of its competitors."

Read TrendWatching's retail report.

Read about Safeway in the January/February 2007 issue of The Hub from Reveries.

Inconsistency as a Design Strategy

Consistency is typically the holy grail of design strategies: Create a "design language" that can cover a wide range of products and markets, which communicates a consistent brand message and which creates efficiencies by not having to invent the wheel for each new product. At frog we have done many design language projects over the years, including one of the very first, for Apple back in the early 80's. However, while consistency is a terrific way to create a design language, it is not the only one -- inconsistency can be used as well.

boomers could be assured of independent living as they age

-- from the School of Electronics & Computer Science, University of Southampton --

Pervasive computing technology which can monitor the welfare of the elderly will be made available within the next 18 months.

The Centre, co-directed by Professor Bashir Al-Hashimi and Professor David De Roure, both from the University's School of Electronics & Computer Science (ECS) brings together multidisciplinary expertise from across the school's research groups, ranging from sensors and wireless communications to computer science theory and practice.

This combined expertise will make it possible for them to develop a Wireless Sensor Network (WSN) which can operate in homes to monitor the health of the elderly.

According to Stephen Spikings, a PhD student under the supervision of Professors De Roure and Al-Hashimi, statistics show that due to the 1960s baby boom, by 2031 almost a quarter of the population will be over state pension age.

In order to make it possible for such individuals to live independently, the researchers are developing low-cost sensor networks to monitor their environment so that changes in health can be detected.

For example a weight sensor positioned under the bed could detect the individual's movements throughout the night. A sensor in the bathroom could monitor use of toilet facilities to pick up signs of digestive problems, and body imaging and temperature sensors could highlight areas of the body that are painful.

'If we image the body and then attach temperature sensors, say, to a chair, the parts of the body that are in pain will radiate infra-red and will be picked up by the sensor,' said Professor De Roure.

> the story... March 19, 2007

70% of mac owners could buy apple tv

-- from Information Week and mediapost.com and ThinkEquity Partners -- "When it comes to Apple, it's all about cachet, which is precisely why a new ThinkEquity Partners report says Apple TV, the company's latest consumer electronics offering, has the potential to make big waves.

Chinese product round-up: Planes, bikes, and automobiles, and buses…

There's been a lot of product hype across Chinese transportation industries recently. Here's a roundup:

Chery Automobile is developing a bulletproof car, believing there's a ripe market in China. Read about it here. Chery is also known for their Windcloud that in test conditions has outperformed a Ferrari F430 (see the video).

Also in automotive news, GM is developing its Buick LaCrosse sedan in China. This Fast Company article discusses GM designer Joe Qiu's approach to redesigning the interior of the LaCrosse for the Chinese market, which involved introducing numerous design elements to appeal to a young, trendy, rich, and urban Chinese demoraphic instead of Buick's traditional aged demographic.

Buick LaCrosse

Moving to a different mode of transportation: electro-bikes. They're ubiquitous and growing in China. Designer Michael Downe also offers additional thoughts on the bold and brash design of electro-bikes.

Electro-bikes

Also take a look at Luo Jianping's double-seated bike, with one seat for speed-riding and another for navigating traffic.

Double-seater bike

On the bus front, the world's largest bus is coming to China.

World's largest bus

And finally, as I noted in a previous post, China is leveraging the success of its regional jet to spur development of large commercial jets.

Regional jet

Mobile Development Still A Mystery to Most

I spent a lot of my time at SXSW this year sitting on panels discussing the mobile space. I did learn quite a bit, but the thing that I found most intriguing was the difficulty people are having distinguishing the various mobile spaces, particularly the difference between mobile applications and the mobile web. These two practices are fundamentally different and must be mentally separated by our community. The mobile web is about re-purposing current sites or creating stand-alone sites that are meant to be experienced through the phone's web browser. Mobile application development deals in applications written to run directly on the phone. These spaces are vastly different and have noticeably divergent challenges to overcome. Obviously, I am doing both of these spaces a slight disservice by only using one sentence to explain them, but hey, this is a blog post.

On Sunday I sat in an excellent session by Brian Fling of Blue Flavor where he opened a fire hose of information into the audience concerning the mobile web, running the gamut from mobile IA to the sweet spot of visual design. The overall message was clear: we already have most of the tools we need, it's getting easier, and mobile users are a space that absolutely cannot be ignored. When he finished and the questions started coming in, they were centered around technologies such as flash lite, brew, and other mobile development platforms. He deflected the questions easily, but the confusion in the audience was quite clear.

Later, I sat in a panel specifically put together to talk about mobile application development. This panel was a bit of a disappointment. One of the panelists was John Poisson from radar.net. He was very well spoken and their crew had done some very intelligent things (like only choosing words in their destination email addresses that didn't have letters on the same key adjacent to one another), but I don't believe that they have actually built a mobile application. Their service depends upon a user taking a picture and sending it to their servers via MMS, and the service then provides them with a site where they can view their friends' pictures in their mobile browser. This is NOT a mobile application, this is a very clever use of the mobile web. Yet there he was on the mobile apps panel. No wonder people are confused.

The only person on the panel that had any experience building a true mobile application was Simon King from Yahoo! who is working on their Zone Tag product (there was a designer/developer from Nokia but he couldn't talk to specifics due to secrecy issues). King spoke with authority and the most interesting thing he said was his definitive statement that Flash Lite is not a production ready technology primarily because of memory leak issues and lack of access to the phone's firmware. He did mention that it is an excellent prototyping tool, but certainly not ready for prime-time. Naturally, once the panelists finished and the questions started coming in, they were along the lines of migrating current web sites to the mobile environment, the state of ajax on the mobile phone, and other mobile-web centric topics. Most of these questions were simply deflected by the panelists and referred to Fling's presentation notes.

There will be enormous growth in both the web and application development for mobile devices in the near future. Yes, it is true that mobile applications use the same data services as the mobile web and there is definitely overlap between the two spaces, but they are different enough that they must be separated in people's minds. One is no better than the other, but developing and designing for them is going to be a challenge and we need to ensure that people understand their medium so that the correct challenges are addressed and questions are answered. I do not believe that there was any clarity delivered at SXSW, and that is mildly disappointing.