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Old School Physical Interaction June 24, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, learning, physical interaction design.
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Already in the 30s electronics was used in more phyiscal ways. Here a training environment for pickpockets:

(image source)

via boingboing


Quote June 23, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in jobs, new technologies, service design.
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An old (2003) quote from the ubiquitous hero Steve Jobs – just for the sake of completeness:

 ”Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. ”People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”


Service Design for Capital Goods Producers June 22, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in service design.
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In Germany, we have a wonderful inspiring, non-macho business magazine called brandeins. In their last issue they featured an example for service design for capital goods producer (Investitionsgüterhersteller): they describe the example of a medium-size company called Zwick/Roel AG, which produces mainly specialized measuring devices.

So far, Zwick/Roel terminated their relationship with their customers after selling their product to them. Today, after designing their service offering, more than 70 % of the customer sign long term service agreements in the moment of purchasing the product.

There are a couple of interesting insights in this article:

First of all the fact that a producer of machines changes his self-image from a “manufacturer with additional service offerings” (“dienstleistender Hersteller”) to “service company with attached manufacturing” (“herstellender Dienstleister”). This is a huge shift – but also an important one: It leads to a more holistic product development and a closer relationship with the customers – and through this to a better situation in the market and new forms of income.
The final quote in the article is a nice illustration of the service design concept:
“Ein Mann geht in den Baumarkt und kauft eine Bohrmaschine. Dabei will er nur ein Loch in der Wand haben. Vielleicht denken wir noch zu viel an die Maschine.” (” A man goes into the hardware store and buys a power drill. But all he really wants is a hole in the wall. Maybe we have been thinking too much about the power drill in the past.”)

Then I learned about the Fraunhofer IAO, which offer “service engineering” to its clients. Fraunhofer is Germany’s biggest research organisation; actually my colleague Frank Heidmann was working with them. They have a department called “ServLab“, which describes its offering as follows:

“As a holistic platform, the ServLab is not only used to develop and design new and innovative services, but also offers a wide range of modern methods, techniques and technologies for testing, modelling and simulating these services in a realistic context.”

I think the idea of testing services is really interesting. As a designer I strongly believe in prototyping any design and then evaluating it. One way of doing this is to work with what ServLab calls “Unternehmenstheater” (“company theatre”) : to stage this experience in a role play. We at my University and at IxDS have been doing this approach for many years and find it extremely helpful, fast and cheap – it is kind of the equivalent of paper prototyping, but for services. I like to use this method not only to test but also in the creative process as suggested by Jane Fulton Suri and Marion Buchenau (they call this method “body storming” in their paper “Experience Prototyping“, Proceedings of DIS’00, 2000)

(image source)
One of ServLabs’s other heavily advertised methods for such testing of services is to do this in VR.

(image source)

Sounds to me like a lot of effort for little insight. Technically they are using Second Life for the service modeling and they argue that this method is “cheap, fast and globally accessible” and furthermore provides a “high social touch”.
One of the application for VR is to find out where the check-in-desk should be positioned within a hotel lobby. While I follow this one, the other case, where they claim to additionally use VR avatars instead of actors, I am not convinced: Is it really cheaper than doing lowfi testing through role plays?
(Unfortunately all scientific publications by Fraunhofer related to this topic are with costs – so I cannot really find out more about how they evaluate the deployment of VR in service design…)

Sumarizing, I think that the community needs to develop more strategies to test services. We at IxDS are currently developing a generic enviroment to test location-based services in real life. I will keep you updated…

The described project was part of a publicly funded research project called “Services Made in Germany“. I requested their final publication – please stay tuned…

Interface Design Positions – Boris Müller June 21, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in learning, making the invisible visible, theory.
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My colleagues from university and me were hosting an event with the topic “Position in Interface Design” last week. Here some thoughts from my colleague Boris Müller:

Boris basically presented three thoughts, which he wanted to see discussed a little more in future:

(photo: J. Landstorfer)

“Why do the things actually look the way they do?” – a hint that everything around us is designed, even though we forget sometimes. Especially with technical or digital products humans tend to take certain solutions for granted because it seems that the technology requires them to be a certain way, which is not true! More work and responsibility for designers!

(photo: J. Landstorfer)

The second thought of Boris caused a lot of discussion: he presented the dilema of Interface Design to be somewhere inbetween “Appolonian” and “Dionysian”. By “Appolonian” he means inivsible, action-oriented (efficient) solutions, which are rather more intellectual pleasure, while “Dionysian” represent more impressive, more sensual, more physical pleasure in interface design.

I think I understand what Boris meant by this “Dichotomie”, but I am not sure that I follow: a good interaciton is invisible and an intellectual pleasure, but is also sensually fun – I would think. But I am really not part of this really impressive “design-centered-design scene” as my colleague Frank Heidmann formulated it – and I think Boris meant these people when talking about “dionysian design”…

(photo: J. Landstorfer)

In the last part of his talk, Boris used the nice word play (by Donald Rumsfeld when arguing the Iraq war) and discussed that in interface/interaction design there are

  • known knows, which we need to teach
  • known unknown, which we can solve with out methods
  • and unknown unknown, and that’s what we need design research for.

Thanks for an inspiring talk, Boris!


Interface Design Positions – my own June 21, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in learning, physical interaction design, social computing, theory.

My colleagues from university and me were hosting an event with the topic “Position in Interface Design” last week. Here an outline of my talk – feedback welcome:

(me talking without slides, Photo: J. Landstorfer)

From Physical Interaction Design to Service Design

I was talking about my personal journey from doing and teaching Physical Interaction Design and why I expanded the focus of my research towards Service Design.

Physical Interaction Design is an important area from various perspectives:

1. From the perspecitve of us humans being more than Igoe’s famous finger-eye-beings:

(Igoe, O’Sullivan: “How the computer sees us”, image source)

  • We perceive the world differently and richer than the dominating HCI model pretends that we do (example: periphery of human perception = ambient displays)
  • We act in the world differently and richer than the dominating HCI model pretends that we do (example: rich expression from stone mason to violinist = tangible interaction)
  • We learn differently than the dominating HCI model pretends that we do (example: mirror neurons = cscw)

2. From an economical perspective:

  • Number of micro controllers in the world is growing exponentially
  • Interfaces become more and more important purchasing criteria also for non IT-products as e.g. cars
  • New areas for work for designers occur as e.g. exhibition design

3. From a pedagogical perspective:

  • Doing practical projects in Physical Interaction Design helps to understand computers, which is important for academically trained designers
  • Doing Physical Interaction Design forces one to understand humans and their mental models, cognitive and physical abilities and their fears etc.
  • Working exploratively in Physical Interaction Design forces one to apply various research and evaluation methods to argue design decissions

Then I explained how doing Physical Interaction Design also led to some suffering, which I already adressed at the CHI workshop “programming reality” in 2009:

  • It is very hard and time-consuming to bring new hardware to market, be it as an start-up or with a client – and this did not improve in the last years, even though we are trying with Fritzing.
  • The introduction of smart phones brough the software/hardware-model to the world of gadgets. Prior to the iPhone (2007) there were many highly specialized computing devices as dictionaries, love-getties, tamagotchis etc.
  • Our ecological responsibility also embraces the current trend towards less specialized hardware and apps

And then I talked about how at IxDS our clients actually understood that our knowledge and our methods could also be used for other areas than Physical Interaction Design: in 2007 we were asked to do a design project on “Women and ICT (Information and Communication Technology)” – with no focus on innovative hardware, but any kind of improvements.
Especially in Germany, an economy with about 70% of its GNP, service design becomes more and more essential.

Then I explained a little more what Serive Design is and showed that the same skills that are important for Physical Interaction Design are also important for Service Design:

  • The abillity to understand the potentials of technology
  • The ability to understand humans
  • The ability to prototype and evaluate

In the final part of my talk I suggested a Potsdam Model for Service Design consisting of:

  • the strength of our university (interface design including strong links to communication and product design, media studies)
  • proximity to Berlin, which seems to become the new hub of service design and start-ups in  Germany
  • the industry and diversity of lifestyles in Berlin and Potsdam

I ended by summarizing that Physical Interaction Design will stay important, but that Service Design is a good direction for an extension of the quite narrow focus of Physical Interaction Design.

Behavior Grid June 20, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gamification, service design, social computing, theory.
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B.J. Fogg, the Director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, published the “behavior grid“, which categorized 15 forms of behavior change:

(image source)

Now we can talk more clearly about behavior changes (e.g. “BlueDot Behavior” vs. “BlackPath Behavior”). I think this is really helpful.

Fogg is also offering strategies for each use case. However, the free online version does not really offer mind-blowing “guides”. For example in the GrayPathBehavior they suggest:

“A. Remove the trigger that leads to the undesirable behavior
B. Reduce ability to perform the behavior (make it harder to do)
C. Replace motivation for doing the behavior with de-motivators:  pain, fear, or social rejection”

Similar to this, in the BlackPathBehavior they also suggest “Remove the triggerReduce the Motivation and Reduce the Ability”…

Even though I appreciate the model of trigger, ability and motivation, I think it is hard to define really differentiating strategies for all use cases.

One of my MA-students, David Ikuye, pointed this work out to me. Thanks!

Visualization of Conversations June 8, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, making the invisible visible, social computing.
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(image source)

Talk-o-Meter is a new App, which visualizes what percentage of time each speaker in a group conversation is speaking – currently only available for two speakers “who do not have similar voices” – later they plan to have a version with multiple speakers. I could not really find out who is the developer of this app, but they seem to be German, because on of the screenshots on the website is called “Wortwaage” (word scale or word balance), which sounds very poetic – in German at least.

(image source)

This project reminds me of the “Conversation Table” (2005) by Lira Nikolovska from the Computing Culture Group at the MIT. This table is a “visual representation of conversational dynamics” and was sponsored by the MIT Council for the Arts. In this project I like the reduced ubiquitous visualization.

(image source)

While researching for this post I stumbled upon another, more recent project on this subject: At the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne Khaled Bachour wrote his thesis about the subject “Augmenting Face-to-Face Collaboration with Low-Resolution Semi-Ambient Feedback“. In his thesis Khaled discusses a whole range of similar interfaces, ranging from timebased visualizations to dial-based representation of the conversation.

Khaled also invented a mobile version of the conversation visualization, which I think is nice idea, specially the form factor and they way one can add participants:

(image source)

Khaled evaluated his concept and came to some – well maybe not so – surprising results: “when the level of engagement was displayed on the table, the outcome was that male users increased their engagement but female users did not.”


As the general idea behind the concept is quite old, I am wondering why so far nobody started to use this content of the spoken word for visualization of conversation. One could easily use the various “buzz word bingos” lists to show who is just making noise…

Reto Wettach Interview June 6, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, prototyping tools, theory.

Last weekend I gave an interview in maybe Germany’s most interesting radio program for “media and digital culture” called Breitband (German for ‘broadband’).

On the occasion of the International Design Festival DMY we were discussion the challenges of interaction design, especially ‘design for debate’, ‘co-creation’ and the importance of design tools for design. The title of my part of the show is “design as a cultural technique” -wow!

The interview is in German and can be heard online.

Interface Design Positions June 3, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in learning, physical interaction design, theory.

The university where I am teaching and researching is going to have an open house on 15.06.2011. We, the professors from the department of “Interface Design” are taking this day as an opportunity to publicly discuss our positions on our subjects and how they changed over the last six years. I guess this will be a controversial, but inspiring discussion. Please feel free to join.

Further information can be found here.

Drum Machines June 2, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in exhibitions, innovative interfaces, media art, music, physical interaction design.
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Last weekend I went to the since 2001 abandoned Berlin amusement park Lunapark. One of the most avangartisitic theaters in Belrin, HAU, opened the park for a weekend to work with the visitors on the question, what kind of amusement parc suits to Berlin.

Since living in Japan I love ruined amusment parcs – and the Berlin version is no exception. The atmosphere is so wonderfully morbid.

Anyways, there were lots of art installations and performances. The one I like most was a sound installation by an artist group called “Tobia Euler und Freunde” (unfortunately I could not find anything about this group online except a website under construction). They build a whole range of digitally triggered, but mechanically performed musical instruments as drums,mouth organs (powered by old fans) or boom boxes. The noise, which these machines made was quite cool and actually danceable!

(images by author)

This project reminded me at a very nice project within the course “Musical Interfaces“, which I supervised with my colleague Boris Müller in 2007 and which was shown at the Ars Electronica: my student Marcus Paeschke developed “MC Hammer 2.0”, a drum computer with mechanical outputs. He called it “everything is a drum”:

(image source)