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Internet of Things August 31, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovation process, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.

Last year, I wrote an application for research funding together with Prof. Vandenhouten from the University Wildau. We were suggesting to developing a easy-to-use prototyping environment for the next generation of internet of things.

(image taken from the application, artist: A. Knörig)

Similar to the concept behind Fritzing and other high tech prototyping tools we follow the philosophy that making new technology accessible to non-experts leads to a wave of innovation. The art is to design these tools right – with a low entry barrier, high ceiling and wide walls – as Ben Sheiderman describes it in his wonderful paper “Creativity Support Tools” (2006):

“low threshold to enable easy entry for novices, high ceiling to enable experts to work on increasingly sophisticated projects, and wide walls to support a wide range of possible explorations.”

We suggested to not only design a new board, but also to develop a programming environment, which suits the potentials of an always-on hardware. Furthermore we wanted to adress many of the complicated and delicate issues (as privacy) in the background and proved a support platform with courses, sample projects etc.

Our application was perceived positively by the jury – with 91 out of 100 possible points. Unfortunately the German government decided recently to cut down on spending and so only a low percentage of projects have been funded. However, my partner and me decided to submit our application again for this year’s call.

Now, we are looking for partners, especially from telecommunications: even though we are planning to develop an open tool, it would be nice to have a partner, who brings in knowledge in the telecommunication side of this project and – at the same time – has an interest in opening the infrastructure for small-scale and innovative projects – and not only for the classical use cases as the car industry…



Gamification and Learning (2 examples) August 25, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gamification, learning, play.
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It is obvious and heavily discussed that gamification can help while learning.

Here are two examples for how this could look like:

Salman Khan founded the Khan Academy, which not only offers videos for learning (which is handy as the laerner can choose his own pace and his own content) but also exploits gamification strategies for motivating the learners:

(image source)

One can see badges (they are called archievements), progress bars in various forms (as e.g. “80/99”) or points (653285 – wow!), all classical elements of gamification.

In his inspiring TED-talk, Salman points out that “technology is used to humanize the class room”. This thought is important, especially as I come from Physical Interaction Design: using gamification and other e-learning technologies does NOT mean that traditional classrooms have to be closed down. On the contrary, they play a crutial role in learning as only here one can provide a human experience where peers and/or student and teachers interact with each other.

(video source)(In this video, Salman also explains a little more about the game mechanics they are using)

This link to the real world is even taken one step further in the next example: Quest-to-Learn, a New York based school founded in 2009, is bringing the concept of gamification to traditional schools. Katie Salen, the founder of the school, talks about “game-like learning”. By this she means amongst others “challenge-based contexts”, “high expectations of students’ abilities and skills”, “participation in activities that engage their voluntary commitment”, “opportunities to make contributions and to have these recognized and assessed” and “continuity of support” (source). In this video Katie explains a little more about her concept:

(video source)

I think both projects are quite inspiring for what we are planning to do in my research project “Experience the Energy,” but also for the way we teach academically. Luckily in Design we already have small classes and a strong focus on doing, but I think we can get much better…

Also for interface design we need to understand more about gamification and learning: the tasks which can be supported by technology are getting more and more complex but the willingness to learn is not growing at all!!! (Actually, two years ago, a friend of mine, senior designer at Philips Medical, told me, that they are having huge problems because medical personell (including doctors) are not willing to learn anything – actually most Dictaphones returned are returned by doctors who are claiming that the device is not working, but who just didn know how to use it… I am already scared of my first encounter with a complicated medical device – hopefully the operator read and understood the instructions…)

Why we do Co-Creation… August 22, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovation process, service design, theory.
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Designing new services or interfaces needs the involvement of end-users. IxDS always approaches new projects by involving all stake holders – we call this process “Co-Creation” (based on the work by L. Sanders).

Why do we use this approach? Amongst others, because designers (and product managers and software engineers and …) are not able to see the world as their future users are seeing it. One nice prove for this I found today on boingboing:

Dan Russel, an anthopologist working with Google found out that “90 percent of US net users don’t know from crtl-F”.

In the original article Dan then explains that he is usually showing the people this feature after conducting his interview, and then “very often” people will say: ‘I can’t believe I’ve been wasting my life!'”

(image source)

Too bad that I could not find any paper by Dan showing his research…

Why I like peer-review… August 18, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovation process, theory.
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Coming from the field of design (or rather design research) the concept of peer-reviewed conferences and publications is not well established in our field. Usually in design, there are three forms of going public:

1. DIY: you open your studio or any other (real or virtual) location and show your stuff. With facebook and lots of friends this should not be a problem at all, especially in a city like Berlin with such a big audience. I usually like these events because they feel a little bit like family gatherings, but the quality of the work remains suspenseful…

2. Renting a slot in a design fair: Design fairs have a long tradition and recently have been popping up all over the place from fashion weeks in every larger city to the big commercial fairs as the Salone del Mobile in Milano to the highly specialized fairs as DMY in Berlin. In a commercial context this approach makes sense – however the participation in such an event does not prove anything about the quality of the work.

3. Curated events and exhibitions: a team of curators decides – in a quite intransparent way – what gets shown and what not -either based on applications or not. Even though this is quite usual in arts, when it comes to design or design research I think that this (more or less) dictatorial approach is not suitable anymore: one needs to know how the selection process works! This is important, both for the audience and their understanding of the relevance of the selection and for the contributors and their understanding of the quality of their own work.

(images source)

In the scientific community the peer-review process has been established: peers, who are researchers in the same field, would – mostly anonymously  – review a paper before publication and write quite a detailed report about their opinion on the paper. Usually a paper is reviewed by three peers and then the programm commitee decides upon acceptance or refusal. The program comitee does not only select the reviewers, but also outlines the review criteria.

I have been both – reviewer and author – and even though this is quite a lot of work, it is great to be part of this process, not only because one knows that it keeps the quality in science high. It is exciting to be a reviewer and to try to understand the impact of a paper and to see what the other reviewers wrote. It is even more exciting to be an author and receive detailed feedback – even if you don’t get accepted as you learn a lot!

For the audience it is the best as they know that there has been a quite comprehensible decision making process and therefore they can be sure that the quality is high!

One note on the side: I was a little surprised when I first joined this process that the reviewers’ comments are not made public: I think they could be quite interesting for readers and could give the reviewers some fame – but as far as I know these comments remain secret. However, after reading these quotes from reviewers, I understand the culture a little better… 🙂

So, I hope that in design we will see more peer-reviewed publications, exhibitions or conference to keep the quality of our work high!

Patents……………… August 17, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, innovative interfaces, legal, new technologies, physical interaction design.
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Working with an university and especially in the innovative area between hardware and software, we are having the discussion about patents on a regular base.

Not only I am the inventor of some patents, which originated from various research projects, but also some of my students are currenty filing patents for inventions they did.

I must honestly say that I am not sure about patents for “small people”:

As seen in the current acquisition behavior of Google, of course patents make sense in big business.

How relevant are patents for small companies or even for “projects” as we would call it in Berlin?

When your plan is to start a company with the goal of selling this company, then I would say a key patent makes sense: it adds value to the company and furthermore protects your invention from being copied by a competitor. However, I would recommend to think really hard about the patent and to make it essential for the entire product philosophy of the company – as my friends from ic! Berlin, who protected their screwless hinge, which is essential part of all their glasses…

(image source)

When you are planning to build a product and sell it and you think that a patent for this particular product is going to protect you, then I would be careful:
First of all, filing a patent is a lot of work and quite expensive. You might miss that money and time in the product development or in the distibution.
Secondly, as you are not allowed to go public before filing the patent, you will hit the market later than you could, which might actually be your only advantage.
Thirdly, even though it is possible to file patents in Physical Interaction Design (as most inventions are in between hardware and software), I am not sure whether such patents are strong: technically most of these inventions are reconfigurations of existing technologies and I guess that it will be difficult to prevent others doing similar things as your patent might not cover all implementations of your idea.
Speaking of preventing others doing similar things – in our area it might be difficult to fight for your patent:  if one of the large competitors is copying your idea, what will you do? Do you have enough recourses to fight a legal war against highly paid advocates? Are you sure that you will win this war? And are sure that winning this war will be relevant for the sales of your product (maybe your competitor is targeting other audiences or the market for the product is anyway only temporary due to the high pace of innovation in our domain)?

So, my recommendation would be to start selling the product as soon as possible. Nobody else will be able to patent your idea then because you went public, so there is no danger from that side. And the earlier you start, the more chances are that you or your company will become the top dog  for that domain!

Good luck!

My Blackberry is not working… August 16, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, new technologies, poetic.
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Energy Visualization in Japan August 3, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in ecoviz, gamification, innovative interfaces, sustainable interaction design.





Because of the horrible disaster in Japan only 17 out of 55 nuclear plants are currently operating. Therefore there is a high need of reducing energy consumption.


One oft the measures taken is a visualization of the current energy consumption. On this website, TEPCO, the company operating the broken plants of Fukushima, is showing real time data about energy consumption, and comparing it with last year’s consumption, the day’s maximum supply and demand from the day before:

(image source, screenshot taken today)

According to this article in the New York Times, so far forecasts and actual use have hovered around 75 percent of maximum capacity, “thanks to unseasonably cool weather brought on by a typhoon”.

I doubt whether this tool will really make people change their behavior. It does not really help to understand one’s personal impact on reduction of energy consumption as the graph is displaying the total Electricity use within TEPCO’s service area. This includes not only a huge population, but also many industrial facilities.

So, I guess it would make more sense to break this information down to individual consumption of households and companies. Furthermore, I suggest that applying simple rules of gamification (goal setting, comparison to similar units, communicating personal behaviors, etc.) would help to support the good will of the motivated population. Especially in Japan, where the society is very transparent (just think of paper doors and walls), I assume that making one’s energy consumption more transparent would motivate people – and not make them feel like living in Orwell’s 1984 – at least when the form of displaying this information is designed correctly.