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Understanding human behaviour is vital for good product design. But you can’t just ask people what they need, you have to observe them first-hand. iPods, eBay and TiVo exist because designers watched people, noticed a problem with current products, and designed a solution for a problem people didn’t even know they had.

At OXO Foods in the UK, researchers studied how people measure liquids while cooking, and noticed that most people need to bend down repeatedly to read the markings on the side of the container. None of them reported this as a problem when interviewed. So OXO designed a measuring jug(cup) which could be viewed from above (shown right). This is an example of the growing science of design ethnography – product design based on direct human observation.

How to measure human behaviour “in the wild”?

Observational studies are expensive to conduct, and sometimes distorted because you can’t always observe someone in their natural environment. Fortunately, computers now make it much easier to collect data from “real world” activities. Such data is invaluable – for product designers to better understand their users, and also for us to help us cultivate a deeper understanding of ourselves. Read more »

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Using an iPad as a paintbrush of light

Design firm BERG have found an innovative new use for an iPad – as a paintbrush. They swipe the iPad through the air, while it displays the different components of a 3D object or text, and repeat this multiple times to produce a stop frame animation. Check out the video:

Read more at Fast Co Design.

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AR meets 3D modeling

Techi has a piece on Leonar3Do, a new take on 3D modeling. It looks as far from traditional modeling tools as they were from pen and paper.

Years ago, I played around with 3D modeling (and narrowly avoided a career at Matrox and Softimage in the process.) Building models was tedious: manipulating 3D space with two-dimensional tools like a mouse and a screen is tough. Software relies on all sorts of controllers, UI conceits, and tricks: rotating the onscreen image; holding down shift to move along the third dimension, and so on.

Google acquired Sketchup to help crowdsource 3D content for Google Earth largely because it was comparatively easy to use. But so far, we can’t work with 3D content in three dimensions.

That’s about to change: using modeling tools and AR visualization, designers can actually manipulate in three dimensions. Which will go a long way to making 3D models mainstream, unlocking all kinds of use cases.

Who knows, maybe soon, we’ll have opt-in vandalism, where taggers add 3D objects to the real world for those who want to see them.

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Usability expert Jakob Nielsen has carried out a detailed user study on the iPad, Apple’s new tablet computer. The study found that applications are inconsistently designed, possible actions are non-obvious, and users are often left confused. Also, there is a war of philosophies taking place: Should each publication be a stand-alone environment, controlled and defined by the author? Or should users continue to be empowered to consume, reorganize and manipulate their content as they have been on the Web? As this new device paradigm emerges, it’s clear that a new form of interaction design will evolve with it.

Read more at Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox.

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It’s common practice today to think that the solution to every problem is to be found in technology. This video is a concept video from the 2009 Challenge your World competition reminding us to not to fall into the trap of that kind of thinking.
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A better design for Twitter retweets

Birds on a wire

This week, many people have been given beta access to Twitter’s new Retweet feature. Unfortunately, rather than seizing the opportunity to pave the cowpaths by building a feature that reflects the way users are currently retweeting each other, Twitter have launched something which behaves quite differently.

You have to change your retweet behavior to use the new feature. This has angered many users, myself included, so I’d like to explain how I think the new feature should have been designed. To start with I’ll look at where retweeting came from, I’ll then explain some of the problems with the way it works currently, how Twitter are trying to address these problems with the new feature, and finally how I think the problems could be better addressed.

Why do we need a retweet feature anyway?

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Design Patterns for Social Experience

Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone explain Social Experience Design PatternsAt IDEA2009, Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone, authors of the forthcoming book “Designing Social Interfaces”, gave an overview of some key steps and design patterns that can be used when creating social software or sites.

Christian started by reiterating that social experience design is about the interaction between people rather than the interface between the human and the computer – and that while you can fairly well control one person’s experience with a system, you cannot predict or control how people will choose to interact with each other.

As such, when you design a social experience, all you can really do is provide a framework. You can set the basic rules and capabilities, but the participants will finish the design for you.

Five steps of social experience design

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