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Psychological Functions of Badges April 30, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gamification, social computing.
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As mentioned before in this blog, badges play an essential role in the process of gamifying our daily lives.

pictures taken from the paper)

The paper “Badges in Social Media: A Social Psychological Perspective” (CHI 2011) by the Yahoo researchers Judd Antin and Elizabeth Churchill presents an interesting framework for the badges:

  1. goal setting
  2. instruction
  3. reputation
  4. status/affirmation
  5. group identification

For me the concept of “instruction” is interesting and new: Badges can provide instruction about what types of activity are possible within a given system. This function is useful for indoctrinating new users, but also for helping silo’d users diversify their participation.


TU Eindhoven & the mourning… April 29, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, service design, social computing.
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(image: booklet from the Department of Industrial Design, TU Eindhoven)

Last week I met my inspiring friend Caroline Hummels again, who is professor at the department of Industrial Design at the University of Eindhoven. This department developed a strong reputation through their research activity by focusing on the design of „intelligent systems, products and related services” – this is a surely modern way of describing the field of Industrial Design!

The education approach at the TU Eindhoven is well described in the booklet “Developing the competence of designing intelligent systems”: 5 development stages are defined (blank, awareness, depth, expertise, visionary) and the tool-set, which students have to learn at each stage.

Furthermore I like the strong intervening of research and education, which Eindhoven claims to live and which shows in the quality of the students’ projects. The strong focus on high-end prototypes and wonderful documentations (see picture).

I like to mention the project “Living Memory” by the master student Lizette Reitsma, especially as one of the master students I am supervising, Eva Burneleit, is doing research in a similar direction: Lizette explored a system, which “guides people who lost a dear-one through their mourning process by keeping memory alive”. For the symbolic representation of this guiding display, Lizette is suggesting a blooming flower. Unfortunately I could not find the full documentation online!

Predictably Irrational April 29, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in ecoviz, gamification, theory.
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As mentioned before I am currently involved in a research project where we try to understand how interfaces can support people to change their behavior, in our case, their ways of consuming energy.

For this project I just read the wonderful an inspiring book “predictably irrational” by Dan Ariely, who is a professor for Behavioural Economics at the MIT. In this book, Ariely is describing various “hidden forces”, which make us decide in ways, which are not rational.

In the chapter “The Truth about Relativity” Ariely shows that people always base their decisions on direct comparisons, be it the price of a certain product, their salary or even the partner they choose. He also shows that this behavioral pattern leads to irrational decisions: for example we compare locally to the available alternative regardless of the true impact of our decision: “it is so easy for a person to add 200$ to a 5.000$ catering bill for a soup entrée, when the same person will clip coupons to save 25 cents on a one-dollar can of condensed soup.”
Ariely also presents a popular pattern in marketing to make people decide in a certain way. He names this pattern the “decoy”: Offering three options – two are easily comparable with being one a those is not as good as the other one (A and –A), and the third option is not comparable (B). Most people will then go for A, because they can compare A to –A, while B is cannot be compared and therefore will not be considered. His examples range from ranking attractiveness of people to selling magazine subscriptions.

(image from the book)(Example for the decoy effect: Ariely took pictures of two similarly attractive people (A, B), added one, which was a digitally modified version of one of the faces to look less attractive (-A). Over 75% of the participants responded that they would prefer A. – for the left side)

Regarding my own research project “Experience the Energy” I think that Ariely’s thought in this chapter are quite interesting: How many of us are using energy saving light bulbs  and therefore feel like contributing our fair share to a better world. However, for every holiday trip we fly all over the world – causing a huge pollution in comparison with the savings from our bulbs – or should we rather think as my mother taught me: Kleinvieh macht auch Mist!?

In the chapter “The Fallacy of Supply and Demand” Ariely proves that the old concept of supply and demand is not true with us, non-rational humans. Instead the values of products are imprinted on us – similar to the attachment of ducks to the first moving object they encounter (similar to Konrad Lorenz and his ducks).

(image source)

Ariely calls this process anchoring: a new product or service is connected to a certain price/anchor. According to Ariely, these anchors can be arbitrary, but once they are set, we use them quite coherent. He calls this observation “arbitrary coherence” and proves it with an experiment, where the value of products (wine and cordless keyboards) was connected to an random number (in his experiment the last two digit of the participant’s social security number). Once these products were anchored to these random values, the participants reasoned very coherent within this system, e.g. a higher rated bottle of wine would cost more. He is even proving that humans stick to the initial anchoring – so once a price is set, it is very hard to get re-anchor it. I have sometimes the feeling that with most electronics innovations this price is set far too low – they are turned into gadgets. Apple is one of the few companies, who manages to keep prices high!
As an good example of how anchoring works Ariely explains the phenomena of Starbucks, who – when started – offered a new anchoring system: “Starbucks did everything in its power to make the experience feel different – so different that we would not use the prices at Dunkin’ Donuts as an anchor, but instead would be open to the new anchor that Starbucks was preparing for us.”. They did so by being like a “continental coffeehouse”, e.g. not offering small, medium and large coffees, but “Short, Tall, Grande and Venti, as well as drinks with high pedigree names like Caffè Americano, Caffè Misto, Macchiato, and Frappucino.
For designers the “different experience” is the key: that is what we can offer to a new product and where we have to be very careful of how to design this experience!

A third thought in this book was important for me: How expectations shape our perception and our behavior – be it through fandom/stereotypes/fanaticisms, through related rituals or through the price. Ariely is quoting a couple of studies with quite surprising results, amongst others on Placebos with different price tags (the more expensive the better), on tests with Asia-American women, who perceived themselves either as Asian-American (good in math test) or as women (bad in math test), or on beer with vinegar and how the right story made people even like this drink.
I guess this area is the one, where most of traditional design is happening – and as Ariely points out, it is important to understand that “two mechanisms shape the expectation that make placebos work. One is belief – our confidence or faith in the drug, the procedure, or the caregiver. […] The second mechanism is conditioning. Like Pavlov’s famous dogs […], the body builds up expectancy after repeated experiences and releases various chemicals to prepare us for the future.
How true for good marketing and design!

Hunger Games April 20, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gamification.
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Just finished the very entertaining book “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. I do not really write about my reading habits in this blog, however this book made me think on one of the topics I am currently interested: gamification.

The book is about a dark America in the future with 12 disctricts, which were defeated in a war long time ago by the “Capitol”. Since then, each district has to provide one teenage boy and one teenage girl to the yearly “hunger games” – highly televised games, where there is only one winner: the boy or girl who reminds alive at the end of these murderous games!

(images source)

Anyways, I will not talk about the reflection on reality TV and “Big Brother” and neither about the 400+ pages of pure suspense. I will also not talk about the easy reading of this book as everything is at least explained twice.

This book made me think about gamification and about how existing rules are making us behaving in the wrong way – wrong for us personally and maybe also for the society.

There is one scene, where the best friend of the main character in the game, Katniss, is being killed by a boy from District 1. Katniss then thinks to herself:

“Es wäre unangebracht, den Jungen aus Distrikt 1 zu hassen […]. Ich hasse das Kapitol, das uns allen dies antut.”

My translation: It would be inappropriate to hate the boy from District 1. I hate the Capitol for what they do to all of us.

In my research class I will investigate situations where rules (existing gamification systems) lead to bad results for all participants. I will keep you posted!

Gamification and Leadership April 18, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gamification, play.
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The Harvard Business Review is – as far as I know – a monthly business journal with quite high reputation. In 2008 they published a study, amongst others by Byron Reeves, a professor with Stanfort University and the founder of Seriosity, a startup around games or gamification in management.

In the study, the authors compared management skills in online games – mainly MMORPG – to real life management skills. For this study, they interviewed players and real life managers and came up with some interesting conclusions:

A number of our conclusions about the future of business leadership were unantici- pated. For one, individuals you’d never expect to identify—and who’d never expect to be identified—as “high potentials” for real- world management training end up taking on significant leadership roles in games. Even more provocative was our finding that successful leadership in online games has less to do with the attributes of individual leaders than with the game environment, as created by the developer and enhanced by the gamers themselves. Furthermore, some characteristics of that environment— for example, immediate compensation for successful completion of a project with non- monetary incentives, such as points for commit- ment and game performance—represent more than mere foreshadowing of how leadership might evolve.

Some insights – rather important from a manager’s perspective:

Risktakingisencouraged.Trial and error play a big role in accomplishing game tasks. Failure, instead of being viewed as a career killer, is accepted as a frequent and necessary antecedent to success.


leadership in games is a task, not an identity [comment: to avoid burn-outs, to have the best person in place for a certain task and to involve also shy or reserved players]


We pinpointed at least two properties of games that we believe facilitate and enhance leadership: nonmonetary incentives rooted in a virtual game economy; and hypertransparency of a wide range of information, including data about individual players’ capabilities and performance.

In the article the authors then discuss about synthetic currencies as dragon kill points, or DKPs to motivate team members, sometime even on a extreme short range as “I have an additional four DKPs for those that can clear the dungeon in under three hours!”

The authors than suggest to transport this concept into real life management problems. Here their example:

We have seen virtual incentives affect digital communication in other ways. In a study done at a Fortune 100 company on methods for reducing information overload, employees received an allotment of a virtual currency, which they could use to indicate the relative importance of e-mail messages they sent. Attaching a large amount of the scarce currency to a particular message would draw attention to it or even serve as a feedback mechanism: You send me an e-mail you value at 100 units, and I respond with one valued at 200, giving you a credit of 100 units to validate the usefulness of the information you sent. One experiment showed that the currency, as a marker of information importance, in fact influenced how quickly colleagues opened and read different messages in their inboxes. Other gamelike elements were also tested: For example, the ability to win publicly visible digital badges in return for efficient communication helped reduce unnecessary e-mail.

I think that ATTEND (demo video) by Seriosity is the tool they talk about in above chapter.

The article closes with a nice statement:

At the very least, digitally enabled environments and techniques could increase productivity by making many aspects of work simpler, less tedious, and—dare we say it?—more fun. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Peppermill and the license agreement April 16, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, legal, new technologies, physical interaction design.

I am big fan of  peppermill project by Nic Villar and Steve Hodges:at TEI 2010 in Boston he presented this wonderful concept for a remote control: through a rotary input device the user is not only controlling something (e.g. TV), but also generating the enegry needed to make the device communicate wirelessly.

We need to think more into this direction to make interaction design more sustainable!

At the Microsoft Software Summit every attendee was given the circuit board for building his or her own peppermill. Thanks, Nic!

Nic told me an interesting story related to this gift: when they had the idea of making the peppermill PCB a give-away, they had to consult with the Microsoft legal department: those guys wanted to make everyone sign a 4-pages-legal agreement, which is kind of nasty for a gift… So, Nic worked hard on reducing the legal statement so that it would fit on a postcard. Plus, and this is the nice thing, without having anybody to sigh:

Nice: by removing a PCB from a postcard, I agree to the legal conditions!

I guess if we do more innovative hardware interfaces, we will have to learn a lot about the legal impacts! What a nightmare!!!

Tutorial TouchStudio April 16, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovation process, mobile, prototyping tools.

The last event at the Microsoft Software Summit in Paris was the Tutorial of TouchStudio by the Microsoft researchers Nikolai Tillmann Peli de Halleux and Michał Moskal.

They gave a nice introduction, starting with the Commodore 64 and how the main experience was to have to program this device. Exactly this experience made the C64 so successful. However, in today’s mobile phone, there is no programming environment, despite the fact, that all over the world for many people the mobile phone is the only access to computer technology.

Then they pointed out, how today’s IDEs are really supportive and have a lot of intelligent features which support the programmer while typing. However, text input on smartphones is not really suitable for programming. So, they invented TouchStudio, a programming environment for the mobile phone, where on can program with “one finger only”.

I really like the idea behind TouchStudio – and the first demo was quite impressive. It took the programmer less than a minute to program an app, which would turn off your music player when you turn the phone with the display facedown.

When working with the TouchStudio I was quite impressed with a couple of text editing features they build: the zooming to a specific line of code works extremely intuitive, the selection and completion of commands is also well executed.

(Here is a video about TouchStudio)

They already implemented some interesting access to the phone’s internal technology as the camera or music player.

The performance is also good: I programmed some Processing-like animations and they worked fine.

The code itself is still displayed as text. I am wondering whether it would add to the joy and clarity if the code would be displayed a little more visually, similar to scratch.

In some cases one needs to provide the software with too much details, e.g. a given color in the draw commands would be sufficient.

Currently scrips cannot be shared with friends or sold in the marketplace, which is another downside, but they are working on this.

And not all sensors of the phone are accessible, yet, but I guess that this will also soon be changed.

One thing I could not find out was how to change parts of the code, which are in the middle of the code, e.g. I wanted to change a “while”-statement to a “for”-statement and could not find a way to do this.

I love this tool and I am looking forward to the innovations which will happen, once lots of people can play with it!

Microsoft is finally opening the Kinect SDK April 15, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, prototyping tools.

Still being at the Microsoft Software Summit in Paris we are of course talking about the big news from Las Vegas: At MIX11 Microsoft announced that the SDK will be open for PCs. And actually they gave away a kinect-camera to all attendees – I am so jalous… 🙂

(image source)

Check out the nice presentation and the great work of German students Stephan Huver and Michael Zöllner, who demonstrate “Navi”, a Kinect-based tools, which allows visually impaired to feel their surounding, in this video.

I guess we will have to experiment with this in one of my upcoming classes…

What I am a little surprise is one sentence in the announcement:

“This SDK is intended for non-commercial use to enable experimentation in the world of natural user interface experiences, with new state-of-the-art features planned for future releases that will continue to provide new ways to experiment.”

Why only for non-commercial use? Did they not understand the power of communities? Do I really want to teach a tool to my students, where they cannot do commercial work with? Does anyone want to explore Kinect under such a licence? I think this is ridiculous and I hope that Microsoft will change this part of the SDK!

Peter Lee and his Balloons April 14, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in service design, social computing.
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Last night I met at the Microsoft Software Summit with Peter Lee, who is the newly appointed director of Microsoft Research in Redmond. Prior to this he was for many years the dean from computer science at CMU. In between these two jobs he was director with DARPA, an public research institution belonging to the DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DAPRA has quite a surprising mission – at least for me: they have to “prevent strategic surprises”. Peter explained to me that DAPRA was funded after the USSR’s launch of the Sputnik, which was such a surprise…!

We talked about one project, which he initiated and which I liked a lot: Peter wanted to find out how technology can motivate a large group of people to work together on a joined goal. For this he prepared the DARPA Network ChallengeThe challenge is to be the first to submit the locations of 10 moored, 8-foot, red, weather balloons at 10 fixed locations in the continental United States. The balloons will be in readily accessible locations and visible from nearby roads.

(image source)

Guess, who won: a group of students at the MIT. They set up an interesting system for sharing the 40.000$ among a big group of people. The interesting part is that the people who directly or indirectly introduced a finder to the team also won money:

(image source)

I really like the challenge (and of course the solution). Especially interesting is that this challenged was posted by Peter, who comes from computer science: This combination of social challenges supported by computer science (or interface design) are one of the important areas we got to look at – not only to find red wheather balloons, but to involve people in a lot of urgent tasks.

The way of sharing and recognizing each individual’s contribution in a fair and motivating way is also quite an interesting challenge, which needs to be better understood!

Hands on with Gadgeteer April 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, innovative interfaces, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.

I am currently at the Microsoft Software Summit in Paris. This morning I attended a wonderful workshop hosted by Nic Villar and James Scott. They presented their new hardware prototyping platform called “.Net Gadgeteer“.

The concept behind Gadgeteer is “modular hardware” – as Nic and James called it.

So, you have lots of small PCBs with various features as button, camera, display or many different sensors. These PCB are connected to a “mainboard”:

(I am sorry, but I have no details about the technology of the mainboard, but it seem to be quite powerful!)

To connect the moduls, one uses 10-core flat cable – with connectors, which are really hard to remove – you have actually to tear off the connector by tearing the cable, which eventually might break the cable soon… Nik actually told me that the connectors have been chosen with purpose: they are very reliable. Once a group of kids play with gadgeteer – with the only goal to tear off as many cables as they could – and not a single connector broke. So far, the cables or connectors did not break. Actually, the manufacturer suggested cheaper connectors, but Nik and James insisted on the existing once to make sure that connecting and disconnecting works!

(original image from gadgeteer)

What was quite surprising to me is that there are different plugs on the mainboard for different modules. According to Nic they decided to not use a protocol, but to be more flexible on what the modules need and can do – and also keep costs down! Maybe the product design of the modules could communicate this concept a little better.

The whole system is programmed with C# (called “C sharp”), part of Microsoft’s .Net-Framework and VisualStudio. This is a problem with Gadgeteer: currently one has to use Microsoft environment to program it. There is a free version of the programming environment called C# express, but as said, only for Windows! This is too bad as Nic and James are targeting designers to use Gadgeteer for their prototyping.

The nice thing is, that every module has its representation in the software – including all the actions one can do with this module. I was quite impressed of what an button or an multicolored LED can do – including “blink repeatedly” or “button released”. This makes programming quite easy.

Even more impressive this concept is when using complex modules as cameras or displays: in the end it takes a few lines of code to make the camera take a picture when motion is detected and show the picture on the display. I managed to implement this within a couple of minutes… 🙂

Another impressive idea behind the gadgeteer concept is the full integration in current state-of-the-art industrial design: when using Solidworks, you can use the gadgeteer add-in, which helps to quickly integrate the shapes of gadgeteer modules into your 3D-design and additionally generate mounting fixtures (those little pillars to screw the module to the product) and cutout fixtures (e.g. hole for a camera or display).

(sorry for the quality of the image, but i had to do it with my mobile…)

Gadgeteer will be sold soon for 150 – 250 US $. According to the two inventors, the system is very stable: some of the researchers at Microsoft are using gadgeteer to control their heating at home – non stop for weeks already!

I think it is an interesting product, especially for quickly producing small series or technically complex prototypes. Interesting is also the open-source approach they are going to take: so hopefully an active community will arise once this product is on the market.

I hope that I can get a testing kit soon to try out with my students – I will report on our experience!