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The Challenges of Personalization May 27, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, learning, making the invisible visible, service design, social computing.
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As one of my MA students is currently looking into a more immersive experience of Twitter we had a discussion on the danger of personalization.

Jacob Nielsen already wrote 1998 that “personalization is over-rated“: “Having the computer personalize the website to the user assumes that the computer can guess the user’s needs. This is difficult to do and even more difficult when you consider that the same person may have different desires at different times. It is annoying to have the computer try to be smarter than it really is and second-guess your needs, only to have to spend extra time to correct it when it gets it wrong.
In 1998, at least we were thinking that the user could correct the computer – this is not true anymore!

Eli Pariser talks in his inspiring TED talk about the impact of personalized contents: he mentions the danger of the “algorithmic editing of the web” as google and facebook, but also news portals or shopping sites are doing it:

According to Eli, even if one is not logged in in any Google service, there are 57 signals, which are interpreted by the search engine, such as where you are or what computer you are using.

He calls this phenomena a “filter bubble”, “your own personal unique universe of information”. And he shows that currently this filter bubble is based on your direct , quite impulsive interests (“what you click on first”) and not offering a “balanced information diet”.

What I like in his talk, is that Eli is pointing out that this very personalized experience of the web is not visible – a great challenge for us interaction designers, I would say! He is requesting not only transparency, but also control, so that “we can decide what gets through and what doesn’t”.

Henry Lieberman, researcher with the MIT, comes to similar conclusion when talking about the “Challenges in HCI Design for AI Applications“: “the underlying complexity of AI algorithms means that interface design needs to pay special attention to transparency and explanation. Since complex algorithms might indeed be “smarter than the user” (and therein may lie their value), both the programs and their users may need to invest some effort in communication about what the program does and how it can be of service to its users.” (2009)

Interesting challenges for interaction designers!


mint.com – Gamification in Personal Finance May 25, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gamification, service design.

Those of you, who read this blog, know that I am currently interested in gamification and in banking (amongst a lot of other things… 🙂 )

In his Google Tech Talk, the researcher and designer Sebastian Deterding mentions mint.com, basically an online banking software, which “pulls all your financial accounts into one place” – for free, which is kind of scary…

Mint’s “core beliefs has always been that money management shouldn’t feel like a chore” (source: mintblog) and therefore Mint trying various approaches to bring gamification into their service:

One approach is to help their customers to become finacially “fit”: they made a list of tasks to achieve this fitness and are showing the progress:

(image source)

(image source)

Mint also helps their customers to achieve personal saving goals by using similar game mechanics:

(image source)

(image source)

Mint is also using a simple computer game to teach highschool kids about how to deal with money in a responsible way:

(images source) (you need to play the game)
Well, this game is really too simple for my taste. I guess it would be much more interesting to use a sim-city kind of approach to let young people know how dealing with money in a wrong way might affect their future…

But altogether I think it is a good idea to use gamification for managing personal finances. I guess mint could even go some steps further as e.g. with the integration into personal social networks, but who knows: maybe there are planning this right now…

Service Design for a Bank: Keep the Change May 18, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in service design.
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A famous show case for a result in user-centered service innovation is the feature “Keep the Change“, developed by Ideo in 2006 for the Bank of America. Ideo is a design consultancy I used to work with.

(image source)

This feature still exists and is describe by the bank as follows (click on the feature in the upper right corner):

When you sign up, every purchase you make with your Bank of America Visa® debit card will be rounded up to the next dollar amount, and the difference will be transferred from your checking account to your savings account. You get to keep the change and grow your savings.

Additionally the bank is rewarding your saving effords by giving you additional money based on how much you are saving.

According to this article, “one year after it’s October 2005 launch, the service had 2.5 million subscribers, 1.7 million of these new accounts.” Unfortunately I could not find any newer numbers, but the fact that the service still exists proves that it is considered successful by the bank.

I think this is a great example for how the close involvement of users leads to improvements in service design. One criteria for the quality of a design solution is to see how people are using it for purposes never imagined by the design team:

For example people are discussing how to take advantage of this program, as e.g. descriped here, where some writer suggest to breaking up bananas and paying one at a time or to stop the pump at a gas station at $0.01. 🙂

Competion is also not sleeping and offering alternative services as described here (with all advantages over the “Keep the Change”-program).

Pricing Models for Extra Feature in Cars May 17, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, gadgets, service design.
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After some discussion within the – quite proud of being close to academic thinking – team of our design research firm whether or not it is ok to quote the yellow press, we decided to do so:

The pricing model of extra features in cars is being accused by the Bild-Zeitung for being far to expensive. They use a trick, which we all would hate if it would happen in a restaraunt: to buy a not so expensive feature, one has to buy other, even more expensive features, which are not really related to the original feature.

(detail from price list)

The Number 1 in this article is the  “Pre-Crash-Safety-System” (Anti-Collision-Radar) in Toyota Prius, which costs 1500 Euro, however can only be ordered with  Lederausstattung (leather interior, 1700 Euro) und der Executive-Ausstattung (executive fitting, 3300 Euro), so it ends up with 6700 Euro.
Interesting: only with leather interior…
(It is actually true, you can check the price list here.)

(detail from price list)

BMW does a similar trick when selling a couple of digital features as Sourround View or Spurwechselwarnung (Lane Change Warning). You need – amongst others – to buy the feature “Innen- und Außenspiegel automatisch abblendend” (interior and exterior mirror automatically screening off, 550 Euro)(price list here).

First of all that fits very well to the wonderful book “Predictably Irrational“, which I discussed recently, where the author writes: “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.”

Furthermore I think that you need to have some reasoning to argue a certain price, whether it makes sense or not as e.g. the leather interior for a anti-collision-radar. In the complex situation of purchasing a car, people might just forget that not every argument is logical.

To protect customers of having the feeling of being cheated maybe it would be helpful to show these dependencies in a more visual way – eventually with some explanation!

And again: The Future of Banking May 16, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, service design.
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The Technology Review, published by the MIT, has an interesting article on “Redesigning Banking” (here a version without the need to login) through a user-centered approach. They quote a couple of innovative solutions which came from closely looking at the way people deal with the financial issues:

One insight is that “it’s easier to get people to try something if they have to opt out of it rather than opt in.” So, one project (BankSimple) developed the concept of a goal-based saving accounts (“Trip to Hawaii” or “New Laptop”), which was introduced by automativally setting up such an account called “emergency fund”. I am wondering whether this would be legal in Germany – to make people opt-out of certain services…

(image source)

Similar to the goal-based saving is the concept “Punch the Pig” (feature described here, needs some searching) by a bank called PNC, which allows users to “spontaneously set aside a small amount of money, getting a small emotional kick at the same time.

(“safe to spend”-feature from BankSimple)

Another innovative concept is the “safe to spend” balance, which “deducts amounts set aside for goals, upcoming bills, and card debits that have not yet been processed. “
(Technology Review is writing about BankSimple – under the title “Redesigning Banking with Behavioral Economics in Mind“)

(image source)

Rauhreif, a company founded by two former students of the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, where I am a professor, recently launched their own banking app called moneymoney. One important focus of their app is the interactive data-visualizations, which allow a quick overview of the transactions on your bank-account.

Generally speaking I think there is a lot of space for innovation in service design for banking! I had a meeting recently with some bank people and they explained to me that there is too little competition in banking and therefore innovation was slow in the past – however, they also see a change in this pattern!

Serious Play in HBR May 16, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, gamification, social computing.
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The Harvard Business Review had last month an article on gamification or „Serious Play“ as they call it. They write about Badgeville, a concept very similar to what my students are going to present this week at the un-conference “sustainable lifestyles and entrepreneurship”. Furthermore the author, David Armano, who is Executive Vice President at Edelman, talks about the “social reward economy” and four points, which he considers important in this context:

Competition: Here he reminds us that “friendly competition” is the way to go – however he fails in decribing this concept in a detailed way. I agree with Armano that “not everyone enjoys competition” and therefore I also understand his idea/wish for friendly competition. However, I am not so sure how a solution for this can look like – especially in times of economic downturns. Friendly competition can easily turn unfriendly – once a company has to let go employees…

Play: Armano example for play is the Twitter slot machine, which they displayed when they were acquiring another company. Might have been fun, and I am sure that ‘play’ can often be fun. However, I am not sure that this very literally implementation of play in the business world is what we talk about when we talk about gamification: In my point of view, play means that a serious task is turned into play through certain strategies as e.g. breaking the tasks down to small subtasks which are easily accomplished.

Revard: That’s good and important.

(image source)

Status: I guess this is closely linked to competition and the leaderboard, also mentioned in his description of “competion”. Armano is quite interested in algorithms that allow to measure one’s status in online reach. He mentions two companies, which do so: “Klout-The Standart of Influence“, which “uses over 35 variables on Facebook and Twitter to measure True Reach, Amplification Probability, and Network Score.” (company’s description). The other company Armano mentions is one he is affiliated with and is called SocMetrics, which develops a ranking of “top influencers” based on topics. Another system in this direction is the way the influence of researchers are measured (please dont check me…), through the G-Index and H-Index, as implemented in Microsoft’s academic search engine.

I need to investigate these kind of topic-centered, but global leaderboards a little more to see whether they work or not and to see whether they are motivating or not. One argument agains them is already mentioned in the article: people might cheat…!

Job Offer at IxDS – only for German speakers May 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in jobs.
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Here comes a job offer with IxDS, the design research firm I am involved with – unfortunately we are currently only looking for someone with German language skills:

Zur tatkräftigen Unterstützung für mehrere spannende Interface-Projekte suchen wir bei den IxDS Interaction Design Studios ab sofort zwei

Junior Designer_innen
(Student_in im Hauptstudium oder Absolvent_in)

zur Mitarbeit in unserem Berliner Büro.

(Die Stellen sind sowohl in Teil- als auch in Vollzeit denkbar)


Zu den Aufgabenfeldern gehören

  • Qualitative Benutzerstudien (Interviews/Beobachtungen)
  • Begleitung von CoDesign-Prozessen mit Nutzern
  • Konzeption  von grafischen und physischen Interfaces
  • Datenvisualisierung
  • Prototypische Umsetzung in Zusammenarbeit mit unseren Software-Entwicklern und
  • Benutzertests

Du solltest Verständnis in allen Bereichen und tiefere Kenntnisse im Bereich Interface-Gestaltung und/oder Datenvisualisierung mitbringen.


Wenn Du Interesse an der einer anspruchsvollen Tätigkeit in einem interdisziplinären und internationalem Team hast, dann bewerbe Dich bitte mit ein paar passenden Arbeitsproben bei uns.

Wenn noch Fragen offen sind, beantworten wir sie jederzeit gerne.


Johannes Landstorfer, work@ixds.de

Report on Microsoft Research Summit 2011 in Paris May 10, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in exhibitions, gadgets, innovative interfaces, new technologies, physical interaction design.
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Besides the post I already wrote about the Microsoft Research Summit (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)I report in my talk about the following inspiring projects:

I met with Sharam Izadi, who was – with our friend Nic Villar the organizer of TEI 2009 in Cambridge. At the Summit he presented a couple of his works, which I think are very inspiring:

He worked on the Second Light Project, which was first shown to the scientific community in 2008, but which they are now preparing for launch for research institutions. The team presented a new idea for SecondLight: using IR-light to track the second layer and therefore being able to display images onto tilted surfaces without distortion.

Sharam was very proud about his first product out on the market: He is the inventor of the Microsoft Touch Mouse, which can interpret multitouch gestures:

(image source)

I think the mouse looks really cool and has a couple of interesting features, e.g. the ability to read three-fingers-gerstures. Sharam is particularly proud on the fact that the capacitive sensor is just printed on the shell – and is not a PCB. With this sensor technology one can make basically any shape a multi-touch-environment.

In his talk Ashram also mentioned another mouse project he did, the SideSight, which allows a multi-touch-input at the side of the phone, using infrared-sensors.

(image source)

Besides Sharam’s work I was inspired by the following presentations:

Microsoft’s new academic search engine, which – similar to a dick lendth comparison – allows ranking of researchers.

The Worldwide Telescope controlled with the Kinect:

Last, but not least the XML VM: This open-source-initiative developed a system, which translate Android apps to other platforms, as iPhone or (at least in near future) to Windows Mobile. They use Android as a well-documented SDK and from a debugging perspective a powerful tool. The cross-compiling seems to work fine, even for quite complex games.

Another nice talk was from Jamie Shotton, who showed his impressive work on Body Part Recognition and Human Pose Estimation. I really like the way they taught the computer all these poses through machine learning. The created millions of poses as the image below and the computer had to learn them… (Jamie showed a slide with all these poses, which was really impressive and beautiful – too bad, that I couldn’t find it online)

(image source)

Ubiquitous Computing getting closer and closer May 8, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in new technologies, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.
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The basic philosophy of my foundation class teaching in Physical Interaction Design is very inspired by the thoughts on Ubiquitous Computing by Marc Weiser dating back to 1991. He did this nice graph showing the development in computing, from main frame to what he call ubiquitous (many computers per person):

(image source)

Not only that he was very right, today I read about a PC called Raspberry Pi device for 25$ in the size of an USB-stick:

(image source)

With this size and this price and the fact of not being an embedded or proprietary system I guess that a lot of new use cases are thinkable! And I think that Arduino and these friends need to update their concept as well – as least the price!

I also talked to J. Cohen, our wonderful lead developer of Fritzing, and he said that even Fritzing might run on this device. We need to try, but that would be impressive!

Service Design for Banking May 6, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in service design, Uncategorized.

I am currently preparing a short talk on the topic of how service-design can improve our experience in banking, especially in branches.

The future of banking is in my point of view clearly online and – for certain aspects – even mobile. One of the loudest advocats of this future scenario is the blogger Chris Skinner, who shouts in his blog (and maybe somewhere else): The branch-based banking model is dead.

A more serious looking research by the Centre for European Economic Research proves his point: The authors M. Köhler and G. Lang did a market research and had 250 experts participating in their questionnaires.

First they show that the number of branches in Germany are declining:

(image source)

The surveyed experts indicated that they think that the number of branches will decline also in future:

(image source)

This is so far not too surprising, and I am sure this is true for most developed countries. According to the authors, banks are focussing not so much on closing branches, but on transformation of existing branches. They describe six different concepts for branches:

  • Vollservice-Filiale (full service branch)
  • Beratungsfiliale (branch for consulting – with highly qualitfied employees)
  • Selbstbedienungsfiliale (self service branch – as of today only for basic banking services applicable, but maybe in future for more. One suggestion is to get customer loyalitee through additional services at the terminal as e.g. ticket sales)
  • Banking Shop (in the paper also called ‘Credit-Shop’) (like a retail shop – the “contrary of the ‘branch for consulting'” – it is all about selling banking products in highly populated areas)
  • Erlebnisfiliale (experience branch – to offer an emotional experience related to the brand of the bank)
  • andere Filialkonzepte (others – highly specialized towards a certain audience)

(I arranged the order according to the ranking of significance by the experts)

So, this means that still the full-service branch is considered to be the most important concept of a branch. According to the authors, however, 1/5th of all transaction will be done in ‘branches for consulting’. They recommend that banks need to design their branches closer to the needs of the customers – and not to just offer the one fits all-branch.

In Berlin, we have one example for the Erlebnisfiliale: The Deutsche Bank branch Q110 in Friedrichstrasse:

(image source)