Category Archives: Product Design

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The Ethics of Free

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The latest Facebook controversy surrounds their plan to offer a service called Free Basics that allows people with feature phones (in the developing world) to access online services without paying for data. The problem is that they can only access Facebook approved apps.

You can’t just surf over to anyplace on the web with Free Basics. Which raises the question: Is Free Basics an altruistic effort to connect the world’s financially strapped people to information and opportunities, or a neocolonial race to capitalize on those markets?

distracted school girl

Mind Wandering versus Mindfulness: Finding the Middle Path

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Mindfulness. It seems to be the holy grail for everything these days. From productivity improvement to psychotherapy. It also seems to be something we are not particularly good at, as this episode of South Park hilariously illustrates (skip forward to minute 10). A 2010 study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that we are mentally absent for half of our waking hours.

In Howard Rheingold’s 1993 book Virtual Communities, one of the earliest works to chronicle the reality of life online, he laid out two rules for the coming age: “Rule Number One is to pay attention. Rule Number Two might be: attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.”

Edible Containers

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Last month, there was a piece that caught my eye because of its implications for user experience. They highlight the great convenience of the packaging on this delicious looking meal of spaghetti with basil and buffalo mozzarella. We have spoken before about why convenience is such a powerful feature. It is amazing how much we will give up in product functionality and efficiency for a little bit of convenience. Face it, we are lazy.

To hold up to the hustle and bustle of New York streets, owner Emanuele Attala and his partners developed a sturdy, no-spill carrier with a lid. The curved sides help guide the strands of spaghetti around the fork, facilitating twirling and lessening the risk of losing even a single caper on the ground, Attala says.

texting while driving

HUDs Don’t Solve the Problem

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My Take I have been following the public debates about distracting driving and cell phone use with some dismay. The biggest problem seems to be the intuitive attractiveness of handsfree cell phone usage. The general public wants to use their cell phones while driving. But the distraction they cause is hard to deny. So hands free is a very alluring solution. And since they don’t know much about cognitive attention and distraction, the fact that the driver can keep his or her eyes on the…

Lying Chair

Lying Desk

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If you like to slouch when you work, this product may be the perfect match for you. Instead of preaching to employees to maintain good posture when working, perhaps it is about time to throw in the towel and design a workstation to match what people are going to do anyway. Isn’t that really what user-centered design is all about? While the standing desk has become a staple in homes and offices, this ergonomic revolution hasn’t given us an acceptable way to recline flat and…

Smiling Trashcan

Friendly Trash Can

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This is a great example of affective design. For the unfamiliar, affective design is the integration of emotional considerations into user experience design. It can go in two directions:

  • Using biometrics or facial recognition to model the user’s emotional state and to customize the UX accordingly. For example we know that users who are angry have narrower scope of attention so we can provide more salient cues for peripheral indicators.
  • Using design techniques that intentionally induce a particular emotion in a user to evoke a behavior associated with that emotion. For example we can use design patterns that are associated with anger if we want to narrow the user’s attentional scope.

    The secret of success, they believe, is not just to devise furnishings that will do what they are told, but to give them personalities, convincing their owners that communication with them is a two-way process

Iphone

UX Steel Cage Match

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If you haven’t seen it, Don Norman co-wrote an article in Fast Company decrying the collapse of Apple’s commitment to usable design. Then Anthony Franco (from UX Magazine) pilloried him in a Pulse piece on LinkedIn.

No more. Now, although the products are indeed even more beautiful than before, that beauty has come at a great price. Gone are the fundamental principles of good design: discoverability, feedback, recovery, and so on. Instead, Apple has, in striving for beauty, created fonts that are so small or thin, coupled with low contrast, that they are difficult or impossible for many people with normal vision to read. We have obscure gestures that are beyond even the developer’s ability to remember. We have great features that most people don’t realize exist.

a person and a computer with doves representing peace

Intentional Intuition

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In the cognitive sciences, intuition is described as a way of processing information based on automatic, affective and personal standards, but it is not the opposite of rationality. Designers generate solutions to daily issues, which forces them to make decisions that cannot be always understood rationally. Designing for experiences is a delicate practice in a rational perspective, since the designer’s interpretation on how to trigger particular experiences can be highly influenced by intuition.

Girl working on computer

Flow

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Flow is one of those concepts that we all like to talk about but is much harder to achieve in practice. At its essence, flow is that feeling you get when you are “in the zone.” You are fully immersed in an activity, totally focused, high levels of challenge are balanced with high levels of skill so you get a great feeling of accomplishment. It increases your ability to persist through difficulty.

Man in suite thinking

This is Serious Stuff

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Case One: e-signatures The Hidden Brain had an interesting study that highlights the importance of framing. There is a strong trend towards the use of e-signatures to promote ease of signing contracts on digital media. But new research shows that even if the regulations for e-signatures are identical and the security is at least as good as with handwritten signatures, people are more likely to cheat when they use e-signatures to sign a document. Note – this is not a question of a third party…