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Service Design at the RCA in London December 7, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in learning, methods, service design, theory.
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(image source)

The RCA has always been very influencal for the European and maybe even international design educaton: not only did I have the chance to work with Gillan Crampton Smith, who I consider to be one of the inventors of Interaction Design as a design discipline. I also consider the approach of Tony Dunne as very important for the role of designers as innovators.

Now the RCA announced a new MA program for Service Design. They are not the first academic institution to work in this field, still I am excited to see that they are approaching this field and I am looking forward to see how they are doing this.

Upon request I received a 16-page-pdf describing the course (I am not sure whether I can publish it, so please contact the RCA for this document). Some points in this paper were quite interesting:

Very positive is the broad understanding of Service Design:
The design of service experiences involves the design of the spaces and places in which services are delivered. It involves communications design, product design, interaction design and the exploitation of digital technologies that support those services.

The interdisciplinary nature of Service Design is nicely reflected in the collaboration with another university:
The core design-based courses will be complemented by Imperial College’s Department of Computing and Business School who will provide an introduction to, or enhance your technical skills in, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as well as business skills such as strategy, organisational behaviour and innovation management 

I also appreciate the academic approach to Service Design, which I don’t see so much with other institutions, especially in the area of the hyped “Design Thinking”: The course combines lectures, workshop and projects that are grounded in empirical evidence drawn from ‘real world’ practice as well as theory

“Measurement” seems to be an important topic and I am looking forward to seeing how this is applied to Services.

I aslo like the partnership with the “real live” as with IDEO, LifeWork and Engine. It is new to me that agencies are involved so closely into education, but I think this is a good approach.

Also their classification of Service Design is comprehensible and interesting:

  • Designing Consumer Service (e.g. Virgin Atlantic)
  • Designing Business to Business Service (e.g. IBM / Cisco)
  • Design of Public Services (e.g. Health, Social Services, Security)

It seems that Dr. Nick Leon will be running this course, at least it was him who sent me the mail – with the title “Head of Service Design”. Nick is currently leading Design London, a “collaboration between RCA and Imperial College London, with a remit to develop, teach, research, and deliver radical new practices, tools and processes that transform the way organisations innovate, and help them translate their creativity into commercial success.”

Too bad that I am already a professor; I would consider to study there… 🙂

App helping to pay off debt September 15, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gamification, learning, making the invisible visible, service design.
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(image source)

There are various approaches of how to pay back loans. One is called the ‘Snowball Method‘: “one who owes on more than one account pays off the accounts starting with the smallest balances first while paying the minimum on larger debts. Once the smallest debt is paid off, one proceeds to the next slightly larger small debt above that, so on and so forth, gradually proceeding to the larger ones later” (Wiki).

The idea behind this method is that it is that it is psychologically rewarding to see results, “because of the psychological boost people get when they pay off a loan—it encourages them to keep working at clearing the other debts” (M.Frauenfelder)

There is an app for that – called “Debt Free”. Here a screenshot:

(image source)

I am posting this not only as service design in banking is a upcoming area, but also because this app fits into the discussion we currently are having related to Gamification:Some of the aspects off the ‘Snowball Method’ can for sure be transferred into other domains, as e.g. learning.

IFA: Ladybug robot kit by JS-ROBOTICS September 12, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, learning, physical interaction design.
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(own image)

(image source)

At the IFA I had a wonderful encounter with Jin Sato from JS ROBOTICS, the inventor of the Ladybug robot kit. Sato-san was so excited to meet someone from the Fritzing-team that he needed to take a picture immediately:

(image: Jin Sato)

I really like the concept behind Sato-san’s educational robot: one can program this robot without typing, “without PC” as Sato brings it to the point. The robot is very simple – movement is for example done through 2 vibrating motors and placing the robot on two tooth brushes (without the handle!):

(images source)

The next bigger version has wheels…

The programming works through a 6-bit command encryption which is called M-code: the user just draws the 6-bit-version of a command on a special grid and the robot learns the software by being moved over this grid. The four light-sensors are reading the “software”. Here the list of possible commands:

(images source: JS ROBOTICS hand-out during IFA 2011)

Here you can find an nice instructional video (in Japanese) for this robot:

I hope I will soon be able to try out this robot with my children or with my students!

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…)

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

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.

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.

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!

Another Platform for Computer Science Education May 6, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in learning, play, prototyping tools.
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Just stumbled across The Finch, a new and very cute robot for computer science education, developed by Carnegie Mellon’s Create Lab.

I was quite impressed that the software to program the Finch is available in a lot of different languages, amongst others Java, Processing and Python.

I also quite impressed by the price and robustness of this device. The only thing I am not so excited about is the permanent connection of Finch to a PC via USB-cable. This seems to be quite troublesome or limiting, even though one doesn’t need to take care of batteries – as they say in their video…

In the introduction video the inventors argue for Finch based on their own framework for using robots in the computer science eduction:

  • Works Everywhere
  • Rich Interactivity
  • Aesthetically Appealing
  • Robust Hardware
  • Minimal Curricular Changes

I think this framework sounds reasonable, however the point “Minimal Curricular Changes” is too applyed for my taste. I prefer the thoughts of my ex-MA student and colleague André Knörig, who described in his MA-thesis the goals of our tool Fritzing as “low entry barrier”, “high ceiling” and “wide walls”.