Scaffolding

BRIDGE to Health

This week, I was invited to attend a BRIDGE Summit at Stanford. I was there to represent Ushahidi’s work and wasn’t particularly sure what to expect… But it turned out to be a very interesting brainstorming session for a new product/service in the health space: BRIDGE. Dr. Stephen Friend (M.D. and PH.D., president/co-founder/director of Sage Bionetworks) ran the show. What you will read below are just my notes, ideas, and understanding of what we were trying to do. I’m sure others at this summit came away with a whole different set thoughts, but, in the interest of advancing my own understanding and sharing of ideas in general, it seemed worth putting together a narrative of the product we were designing. So what is BRIDGE? After a two day discussion, we settled that BRIDGE is a platform (rather than an app) that will strive to: help gather medical information; crowdsource algorithms that would act on collected data with an aim to make medical advances; provide services to patients (information, education, support); facilitate research and make it easier for scientists to get access to data and to post requests for crowdsourcing projects; ease communication between all individuals and organizations working to advance…

Words, Language, Influence, & Design

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of language. Sure, there have been a lot of news relating to language (election, after all, is only a few months away): legitimate rape is one example of powerful words/phrases in the news. But I would like to briefly explore how words and language can influence the design and use of a product. Language Development It might be interesting to start really early (or to look to unusual cases of individuals without language). The following program by RadioLab does a wonderful job of introducing language and the development of comprehension: Words that Change the World. This half-hour audio show presents the work of Susan Schaller, Charles Fernyhough, Elizabeth Spelke, and James Shapiro. Susan describes a case of a deaf 27 year old man who was never taught language and his journey to comprehension. Charles describes an experiment where babies, kids, and rats are asked to find items in a blank room after a brief disorientation. He discovers that language is essential to linking concepts in our brain. Elizabeth explores the benefits of language farther. And James, a Shakespeare scholar at Columbia University, talks about the use of language to communicate complex…

Designing an Optimum Nudge

Tornado Exhibit at the Exploratorium

I’m sitting by a window looking out at a rainy Paris street, thinking of cultural differences between Paris and San Francisco, taking advantage of bad weather to do some writing. Over two decades ago, I did some ethnographic research a Exploratorium, looking at how different visitors interacted with the museum’s hands-on exhibits. I was looking for ways to improve the visitors’ experience, raise understanding of the phenomena they were observing. What I saw was different ways in which visitors experienced failure: p-prims that got in a way; folksy wisdom that caused confusion; lack of affordances that led to bottlenecks; permission giving that set up strange expectations; etc. The results of this study turned into a Master Thesis for UC Berkeley. Now, I would like to explore some of the ideas that surfaced during my Exploratorium research and apply them to design of nudging — carefully crafted affordances and perceptual cues that manipulated users into acting a certain way while maintaining the illusion of freedom of action. Let me start with a bit of history — a quick summary of some of the results of Exploratorium study. Permission Giving Two decades ago, “hands-on” exhibits were still novel in the museum world.…

Design Solution to Real World Problem — Speeding!

Canada Road Slowdown Project

Knowing something about behavior, visual processing, and human nature, designers can nudge users into doing the right (or in this case, lawful) action. Speeding is a problem all over the world. People are notorious for underestimating the real amount of time it takes to get places they need to be. Traffic congestion, car problems, detours, and other (un)foreseen events can make a huge difference in time variability of getting from one place to another. The problem, though, is that we can’t really force people to leave on time or drive the speed limit when the drivers think that no one is looking. So with the law on our side, we can create other ways of forcing people to behave lawfully by changing environmental conditions and relying on human nature not to do what’s right, but to do what they think they have to based on circumstance. Here are a few creative ways of solving the speeding problem on our streets. Using Visual Processing Errors to Slow Traffic Canadian drives misdiagnose the problem and try to drive straddling the “hole” in the road. Everyone is successfully slowed down. The Fake Traffic Cop Threat as a Speeding Deterrent In general, people tend…

Special Preview: Wearable Computing (Steve Mann)

The next chapter in the Interaction-Design.org tome on human-computer interaction design is now up for an early review to my readers. This chapter takes on Wearable Computing and is written by Steve Mann. Mostly, this is a historical review of Prof. Mann’s experimentations with wearable computing devices, and for those unfamiliar with this subject area, this is an interesting introduction. On the left, you can see an early version of wearable computing: Steve Mann’s backpack based system from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. But as always, I have a slightly different take on this topic… The Little Mac That Saved My Son’s Life Almost 18 years ago, I went into a preterm labor. At 24 and a half weeks into gestation, this was very scary. At the time, San Francisco Children’s Hospital was pioneering a program for high risk pregnancies (which mine just turned out to be). Two doctors, Dr. Kuts and Dr. Maine, figured out how to use an old Mac SE, a modem, a telephone, a subcutaneous pump, and a belt which measures contractions to allow women like me to stay at home as much as we could (as opposed to spending months in the hospital). Here’s…

Compensations and Accommodations

chair from hell

Product design is a careful balance between building accommodations for different users and hoping users would compensate for aspects of design that are not well-suited to them. The power of good design is to know where this balance is located. It’s impossible to accommodate everyone. A chair that is the most comfortable sitting for one person might not work for another at all (some people are short, some are tall, some are wide, some are narrow, some have back problems…). And even a beloved chair only works for in some situations for some particular time in our lives — the rocking chair that we used to read to our kids when they were little… I talk about a chair because we can all relate: my “homework” chair, my “lucky” stool, my “lazy afternoon” stoop, my “theater” lounge, my “reading” nook, my “power” throne… It’s easy to see how my reading nook would be different from your reading divan or surfing seat. I can come up with compensations: I can add pillows or use the little knobs to adjust the hight. But the more things I have to do to make the sitting arrangement more comfortable, the less likely I’m to…