Student's service design projects

The week is finally over and my student’s work was great! I invited them to post all of their service ideas online and will be updating this post with the links as time goes by. They also conducted a short interview, nothing none of you don’t already know. We didn’t really get to the core ideas about interaction design which some of the other professors talked about. Pity.

Jan, Simon and Andy thought about how to bridge the digital divide and allow metaphors to converge. SnailMail is a service that allows you to send an email to an elderly person even if they don’t have an email address. That email would be printed out and sent via the postal service to that person. In return they could write a regular letter and send it through regular mail but with special envelopes provided by the service. In time, the elderly person would understand the concept of using email and eventually transition out of the service.

Designed by Dries, Ellent and Maxime, this service is quite complex but holds a lot of potential in my opinion. Mr Shop4u is a service that aims to piggyback on local services to reduce the amount of packaging of frehs goods at the source. A convenient and online virtual shopping experience allows you to pick your goods and then get them delivered by local bikers that give you boxes you can then hand back to the service at your next delivery. Very smart.

Video on Youtube

3. Mod, this service by Carmen, Klaas, Wouter and Nils caters to people who want to discover new places to hang out in. Depending on their mood, calculated by a bracelet the service provides, you would be suggested a location to spend and evening. the bracelet also helps you locate that place by indicating which direction to walk in, since the last thing you want to do is pull out a map late at night. Then you can feedback to the system which takes that information into consideration when picking the next place or for other users in general, recording what the good nights are and the less interesting night are within a same location.

4. Braceme is a service idea from Bert, Tom and Eva Teresa that explores the different ways in which we can connect while in urban environments. You would go buy a Braceme bracelet and fill in a survey to highlight some caracter traits, likes and dislikes. This information would be implanted in this bracelet that would respond quite visually to whether anyone in your direct environment has more or less things in common with you. This bracelet is coupled to a mobile application that allows you to tweak the visual notifications you would get on your bracelet and also allow you to send your picture to the service who relays it to that person to establish a meeting.

About the democracy of creation and sustainability

As soon as I started blogging, a little over a year ago now, I’ve always been interested in how my former life of industrial designer merged with the internet. I went to blogject workshops, read about the “internet of things”, went to “near field interactions” workshop, looked at Matt’s work on Second life, listen to the likes of Ezio Manzini and John Thackara talk about services and the lightness of systems, watched as buzz words like “rapid prototyping”, “user generated content”, “semantic web”,”web 2.0″,”netocracy” fly around and get tagged onto a whole bunch of different virtual businesses. Today was different though. Something weird is happening: the bottom-up approach is gaining industrial design, and this is completely changing the game… Let’s talk about clear examples then:

Article 1: USA today article on Amazon’s new plan to start looking at creating a platform for product development and distribution on a “user- generatable scale”. Their argument is that if we can create platforms for entrepreneurship on a virtual level, why shouldn’t we be able to do the same with products? Why shouldn’t GM be interested in niche markets and production?

Article 2: Teapotters,
a new online community of people who publish and share their 3D models. Not that this didn’t exist before of course, but i guess their web2.0 logo makes them more credible : P

Article 3: Crowdspirit which proposes to make electronic products that are less than 150 euros manufacturable by individuals.
“Our community will have the power for the first time in the history of manufacturing to be actively involved in the design, selection and the sales of highly innovative products. These products will no longer depend on big manufacturers having control over what is made and what isn’t.”

Well the PSS model just went straight out the window didn’t it?

One of a number of issues I see with a lot of this has to do with the discrepancy in perception. There is no such thing as a bad guy in manufacturing, there are large and small companies making products on large or small scale. The large old and dirty media and advertising companies who scew our view of the world aren’t the same. This is not the same battle as the rest of the web2.0 world, its not the same ballpark or the same sport.

The impact of an online services or business is worlds away from real manufacture. At this particular point in time, it costs very little to start an online business, a coffee maker, two to 3 clever people with a good idea, some VC funding, a server or 2, a couple of sleepless nights and voilà, your idea is accessible to all, has little material impact (if you exclude the shwag you’ll be producing to get groupies to promote you at geeky conferences).

Now when we’re talking about product design, architecture, engineering, this is definitely a different world. This is when some of the problems that industrial design always had in defining itself legally are coming back to bite it in the ass. If you’re an engineer or an architect, you are responsible under law for what you design. You have a responsibility and a duty to create and and maintain what you produce. Industrial designers never had that, because their field of work was way too vague and complex… what legal responsibility did you need if you were designing a salt and pepper shaker for Alessi? None. Even if you were designing window sills, you didn’t need to report or feel responsible to anyone. You didn’t even need to feel responsible for the material waste you created by choosing particular materials. Some of that has changed of course in the past 10 years… green became popular and industrial designers started to embrace “eco-design”, looking into reusing materials, offering environmentally-friendly products, etc… This was a small revolution that still takes place consistently in isolated areas of the field…

However, what happens when you put this power of creation in the hands of anyone? Well, that revolution ceases to have an impact on our thinking. As soon as you start putting the power of manufacturing creation on individuals, you stop asking yourselves the important questions, because then manufacturing happens on the basis of “i want one”, and the all important barrier to design: market and scale, ceases to have an impact. Why are these things important? Firstly, because you have to make sure as a business that your potential sales will be worth the tons of investment that you will make in providing the VERY expensive and pollution-heavy tooling. (Let’s also be clear here: making one or making a million is the same tooling if you want to get the quality right.) And then you need to think, where do your unsold item go? Where are the secondary markets?

These act as controls for products which might not stand the test of time. We also know how polluting manufacture is and this is why micro-systems like Etsy and Ebay act as great ways to give used objects a second life. But what happens when manufacture is necessary out of individual whims? It’s all good and well when it’s self directed and done through craft… but do you really want to put together, assemble, plan, spend energy and carbon on tooling for one object at a time?

And please don’t talk to me about rapid prototyping… the golden cow of glory that was supposed to save the world of designers since the mid nineties… it’s always been too costly to run and purchase and doesn’t apply to materials that last. It works as an intermediate step in the overall design process alone, or to make small sculptures of Second Life characters : ) not a cell phone!

There’s already so much that’s been done to encourage large companies to offer green services. We vote more and more with our dollars for the companies whose products we respect. When we wont have any company to identify who will be to blame, who will take responsability? Whose fault will it be when our landfills fill up twice as fast because now we have two models running at the same time: the industrial one, and the individual one?

Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, but I got shivers down my spine today…

Why I believe in people

I had a fairly shocking meeting with a man who was supposedly interested in redesigning Youth centres in the UK. This sounded great to me especially because the landscape of childhood now, with the addition of technology, is very different from my own. Growing up in the 80s I only had contact with technology later on in life through my first walkman at age 11 maybe, my first computer at the age of 15 and was introduced to it through school computers when i was young, and then DOS and Windows 3.1 classes in Saudi Arabia. Ok so maybe i didnt have a classic childhood to begin with, but that’s not the point… : )

Now children have access to cell phones at age 6, a computer present in the house from birth, and they probably try to suck on an iPod shuffle once or twice…Age compression they call it in large toy companies, or the changes that children have gone through that make their traditional toys irrelevant more quickly, is an example of this change.

As children grow up, their social dynamics are now shaped by the tools they have: cell phones, texting, emails, chat, online communities such as MySpace (or Bebo in the UK) etc…

With all this in mind you would think that anyone attempting to redesign Youth Centres would be interested , even a little, in the ways that “growing up” have changed. You would also think that as an adult designer, you would want to have a very user-centrered design approach to that problem. Why aren’t joung kids using these youth centres. What is their perception of them. What so they seek elsewhere that the centre doesn’t provide? What would they like out of an urban structure that is supposedly catering to them? Those would be just a few of a miriad of quesions that one could ask kids of all ages. Wouldn’t this be the perfect way to make sure you’re not perpetrating the “patriarchal designer” model… the “i know best” model which has proven to fail and has led to the web-2.0-user-generated- content generation of applications to emerge?

But no. I sat there in Greenwitch park listening to a man who thinks that when designing youth centres “people don’t know what they want”, “children are not my client, society is my client”, “i dont understand the web”, “we need to work with experts in child development”, ” a child doesnt know what it needs to grow up properly”. I’m not saying that i disagree with all of what he was suggesting… but this is such a dangerous approach to take. It was like talking to a product designer who doesn’t know that people use his product. It was like going back in time and as i spoke to him about Fresh Start and experience prototyping, iterative design, etc… I saw how far removed I am from the normal world. I think I need to dumb things down these days for anyone outside of my field to understand me. I’m not sure what this means for me as a professional, but what I do know is that as Ezio Manzini (who I admire greatly) said :

“[Start with the premise that] people are smart” and what you will design with ultimately be better.

Illustrating a service design process

I wont be attending Emergence but I had the pleasure on working on illustrating our design process for the poster session where Fresh Start will be presented and i suddenly found it a fascinating exercise. How do you represent what starts out by being boxes and arrows and make it compelling? I had to think about the flow of the process for one. We went through some design steps that influenced the way we analyzed prior assumptions (so the loop) and iterative processes around core design elements (around experience prototyping for example) that completely shaped the final product. So I tried to convey the dynamic essence of that process without losing sight of the visual flow i wanted to keep, i.e. some respect of a left to right, top to bottom way of reading.
So what i came up with eventually was reshaped because we had a lot of copy to include for each step as well as pictures, but i still really like the visual illustration of 7 weeks of hard work, that solely focuses on process and not on detailing the service. On an academic level it’s really interesting and worthwhile.

The final poster version will be present at the conference of course, but consider this the teaser ;)

Fresh Start @ Emergence

More than a year ago, I worked, along with Dave Chiu and Haiyan Zhang on designing Fresh Start a service design project to prevent obesity that I am very proud of. The elevator pitch for it is:

“Two friends sign up for the Fresh Start service and make a commitment to cook with each other on a regular basis. On scheduled days, the Fresh Start service delivers to each of their homes a recipe, along with the required ingredients. Each friend receives a recipe with a different half covered. Using communication devices in their kitchens, each friend talks the other through their half of the recipe. At the end of cooking, the friends remove the sticker to reveal the complete recipe.

The Fresh Start service helps people develop healthy food habits they can utilize throughout their lives. By activating existing social networks, the Fresh Start service enables both the cultivation of routine and education through a process of learning by doing”

Curious? Well we’ve presented the project to the Design Council, TechnoGym and wrote a paper for CHI 2006 and now we’re presenting it at the poster session of Emergence, a service design conference going on in 2 weeks that Dave will be attending as well.

All details of the project will be released soon as we are also putting together a website for the conference.

Force-feeding: Inflight service design thoughts

I am back from a much too short trip to New Zealand ( I will spare you the horrors that followed my initial 11 hour delay, the lost luggage, additional 18 hour delay in Singapore etc… yuck), then back in Amsterdam I went to see the Airworld exhibition at the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam and talking to Victor and Molly I now have enough to write a very looong rant about air travel. So pull your tray table up and your seat in the upright position and off we go.

Let’s just lay down some basics I boarded a plane 6 times in a week, with 2 airline companies. I was also counting and have taken a plane 20 times in the past 2 years…(ugh, so much for sustainable living) so that kinda allows me at this point to draw some conclusions about the experience of flying with low cost airline companies and regular ones as well.

Lets start with the beginning: the half way journey. You’ve packed, you spent hours choosing how many pairs of shoes you really do need for a 4 day trip. (5? or 6?) and now its the painful bit. It’s the transport to the airport that’s the worse. Of course there’s always taxis, or a car, but in general taxis are soooo expensive (eg. in Amsterdam its 3, 60 euros to take the 15 minute train to Schipol or 40 euros to take a taxi). So what about a special oversized shuttle you could book perhaps, like the ones you have at hotels? SMS your address and time of pickup and it goes and picks you up and a bunch of other people, maybe even people from the same flight!

Then when you get to the airport, already sweating and wishing for a shower, commences the check-in process. With any air travel of course come the luggage restrictions (never mind the more recent restrictions), which usually means that i have excess luggage every time and have to pay a hefty sum of local currency. Why on earth is it that you can’t pay for excess luggage at the same point where you check in. You’re there, you hauled your luggage halfway across town, you cued up half an hour or more, the bags are on the scale, they’re inevitably heavier than 20 kgs, and then they ask you to go to ticket booth number blabla over there, take your bags with you, then come back with the receipt and drop them off again. So you pick up everything again, clue up at booth number blabla, and try to pay with your credit card but they only take cash. This would imply you’d have to then look for an atm, cue up again, pay , dragging your luggage with you. What I would like to see is someone at the check in say “oh yeh i have 12 kgs less?” and remove their clothing from the luggage right there and then (because really who wouldn’t pay the fine, its not like you can repack on site) then say “here, ill take this as a carry on then”…
How about this then? What if you were able, to go online before leaving, and once you’ve packed everything, go to your ticket reservation and pay the fine right there… you have a scale at home you can figure it out… and then if you declare a false weight, the luggage still gets checked at the check-in directly. A few steps removed to make for a smoother experience.

Now to the in-flight experience. After I went to the Airworld exhibition I was surprised to learn that the first seats were made out of wicker which they eventually covered with some padding and then made in metal. How odd to think of that material with airplane design nowadays. I guess this is just to say that the seat design is absolutely terrible, not only the position itself but especially the cushion they provide. I appreciate the very strict conditions under which they are operating but i would love to see an integrated and foldable piece of foam that would actually support my head when i am trying to sleep and fall sideways toward another person’s seat. The cushion they provide are a joke, more like 2 pieces of thick toilet paper stitched together…. sigh another thing that i discovered is that meals during flights were a big part of the appeal and a way to 1) give a sense of security to people flying the first planes, because surely if you can eat on a plane, nothing bad could possibly happen : / and 2) a way to divide time in manageable chunks. This now resulted in me eating close to 6 meals in 24 hours… i’m meant to be traveling not bingeing! Is there a way to perhaps deflect attention without necessarily having to deal with food? In one of the flights, I had a Sudoku grid on my snack box, nice idea but where do i get a pen from if i want to solve it? I remember as a child having color crayons and toys given to me to distract me… what’s the adult equivalent? TV? that’s it? What about the intraweb!!!! its fun and people can spend houuuurss on it without seeing the time go by : )

Speaking of food, the experience was practically surreal on the KLM flight on the way to Singapore the first time around… the first thing they fed us was a choice of either ice-cream or a Cup-o-Noodle! Branded and all! This is something that, for the majority of people my age at least is the food you get during your college education coz you can’t afford anything else… and this is what they give to people who’ve just paid a few grand for that flight…wow… : / Would this be a lame attempt at introducing passengers to asian cuisine? I hope not otherwise we’re all doomed.

Then came the Heinz meal of chicken, more branding but little taste. Because my boyfriend is a vegetarian, I’m particularly aware of this at the moment and noticed that there were absolutely no vegetarian options… i wonder if you must mention it when you order your ticket… ill have to do this next time, because 4 meat dishes in a day is just gross. This could make airlines think about who their passengers are and how long they’ve been flying as well. Transfer passengers have been sitting down for what feels like years and need much more useful stimulation than food at that point. Anything else? Inflight yoga stretching solutions? (that actually take into consideration the lack of personal space that you have?)

It was also the first time since sept 11th that I was given metal cutlery , something that I’m sure has been banned again in light of recent events, but boy did that feel weird after so many years of plastic utensils. ( I was once told that companies do all their utensil and cutlery design tests on El Al the Isreali airline because of the religious restrictions. If it passes the El Al tests, it’s good for everyone.)

The one last archaic notion that I think could use great improvement, especially as a woman is the onboard duty-free store. Ask any woman and if you gave her the choice between an expensive piece of kitsch jewelry or a small bottle of hand cream of a moisturizer the choice is quite obvious. Body Shop products anyone? Travel portions of useful in-flight beauty products would sell no problem. All the women in the flight all have their little pouch of stuff to make you feel like you’re not a zombie when you fly and when you step out the plane… there’s definitely opportunities there.

So be smarter, listen to people who are power users and get me a bottle of Evian facial mist!

So much for smooth flying

I can now declare I am cursed.

It’s monday night and i am still in Amsterdam. I showed up with Matt at the airport only to see on the blinking billboard in red LEDs under the delayed column a 8:00. I didnt know what to think at first: delayed 8 hours? 8 cabbages? No it was really delayed to 8 o’clock tomorrow morning. This means that I would get into Singapore at midnight tomorrow night and would have to stay overnight and leave at 20:20 on wednesday night and then get to Auckland on thursday morning, a ful 24 hours later than planned and with an extra night in Singapore… arghhh and jetlagged I would have to go back on sunday morning…

I am cursed…