Reframe: Design thinking for Africa

Image source: Cyrus Kabiru, C-Stunners 2012. Caribbean Sun. © Cyrus Kabiru. Foto: Miguel Luciano.
What is the reframing? Cultural intelligence

What is the idea of cultural intelligence?

We start by defining what cultural intelligence is not. It is not: something derived from clever marketing tools; an myriad of digital insights that inform marketing practices; a device that is on standby and called on when needed.

We begin by understanding cultural intelligence as the air that brings life to humans, the core of what informs daily human decisions, an underlying sense of connectedness and belonging innately placed before the idea of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs creeps into an adolescent youth on their path to existential inquiry.

Cultural intelligence is the idea that culture inherently is and of itself a sentient being, a living, breathing thing, in other words human; one with thoughts, ideas and basic survival instincts. To push the envelope, the idea of its own existence in the broader category of other social nuances.

Cultural insights is a more passive and evasive stance in understanding the makeup of a tribe.

Consider this, Tim Brown, CEO of global design firm IDEO advocates for a new model of living, the circular economy – the need to move away from linear movement of raw materials along an assembly line to a more distributed and democratic model of bending the assembly line into a circular flow where the output of the system now informs how the system is built. The notion that people comes before process.

Image source: http://report.akzonobel.com/2015/ar/case-studies/the-circular-economy.html

 

This is not a new idea when one traces the harmony of man and nature, something very characteristic of indigenous tribes in Afrika. Intelligence speaks to the holistic need for change and balancing, insights is represented in the change process.

To expand on the idea of cultural intelligence, let’s take a closer look at indigenous knowledge systems, a more digestible and pragmatic way to understand it.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge – knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. Indigenous knowledge contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions and private firms. It is the basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education: natural resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities.

Flavier. De Jesus and Navarro (1995:10) state that:

Indigenous knowledge is the information base for a society. which facilitates communication and decision-making. Indigenous information systems are dynamic. and are continually influenced by internal creativity and experimentation as well as by contact with external systems.

To propose a new idea of design thinking re-framed for Afrika appeals to the former stance of internal creativity and experimentation. By design, design thinking prompts the ‘innateness’ to surface. Afrikan design thinking means reverting back to dynamic communal structures and nuances and interrogate those means to which we can interpret the world and its problems.

With design firms such as IDEO and Frog Design, they have had the mileage in producing methodologies that systematically find themselves adopted into similar societies and externalities, offering a plug-and-play approach to design thinking.

Reframing for Afrika means beginning with the end in mind, starting with the understanding that systems change in Afrika rests with the information base from indigenous rural areas like Sauri, Kenya; Adet, Ethiopia; Chibuto, Mozambique and how these knowledge reserves play themselves out and inform the rural, peri-urban and urban migrant as they carry them into urban spaces.

Reframing urban dilemmas emphatically using peri-rural intelligence over insight.

Cultural preservation

There is keen debate amongst indigenous communities, government officials, public negotiators and academic commentators alike over whether intellectual property rights are appropriate for the preservation and legal protection of traditional cultural expressions. These debates need to be understood in relation to the intrinsic nature of traditional cultural expressions, and how they carry with them ‘shared, symbolic meanings, which may represent for a community a link with the sacred…its history, or an attribute of its identity’

In reframing design thinking for Afrika we begin with the idea that cultures, inherently carry with them a sense of expressions and being. To this end, we employ devices as empathy and resign preconceived notions of systems challenges in communal structures.

How might we preserve Afrikan traditional systems? How might we use cultural systems thinking to inform design thinking?

Image source: https://www.tripsavvy.com/games-played-in-africa-1454491

Mancala is one of oldest games in the world, dating back thousands of years. Pits have been found carved into the roofs of ancient Egyptian tombs in Luxor and Thebes.

How might we build a culture for Afrikan design thinking?

  1. Isintu (empathy)Design and innovation are geared to solving problems, problems experienced by humans.

    Derived from Ubuntu, isintu suggests consistent and genuine human values being a part of everyday life gathered from “umthombo”, the essence of being human.

  2. Context driven learningMany tools are used by design thinking practitioners locally. While functional, how many of those tools have been informed by indigenous knowledge systems?

    The idea of a deep, native narrative creeps up in the learning. Learning from folklore practice and oral storytelling and charging this into the facilitation.

  3. Content driven ideationAs suggested by the context driven learning point above, practitioners ought to move into a space of iterative content ideation, the aim of creating unique design tools and innovation methodologies.
  4. “Cultural misappropriation”Although counterintuitive to the main idea carried by this piece, cultural appropriation suggest being unapologetic and disruptive jeering of cultural intelligence in design practice. Instead of using insights and layering them onto an appropriate medium that advertising and marketing types place on campaigns (ready-placed frameworks), a deliberate celebration and highlighting of innate cultural qualities needs to surface.

    The idea of Afrika with a “K” and not a “C”

  5. Deep dives and immersionDriving a culture that all are ethnographers, that every team member once given enough latitude can relate to a situation and personalities and not treating the challenge from a passive stance.

    Mindfulness, that every moment presents an opportunity for observation and learning.

  6. GamificationUsing Afrikan games as a point of assimilating and expounding on new approaches to design and innovation.

What are the impacts of reframing for Afrika?

Seeking first to be understood and then to understand

For the better part of this thought piece, reference to the marketing and advertising arena is made, not to take away from its impact however to highlight approaches to problem-solving where corporate Afrika relies heavily to solve problems of understanding people to gain market traction.

Design thinking over-emphasizes the human.

Reframing design thinking places a deeper need to understand the human, wholly, from a point of their decision-making.

Systems change

With an invigorated approach, this contextual with content backed by evidence and facts-based intelligence and the creative confidence to implement to problems, Afrikan design thinking is a host to new innovations.

References
1. http://reference.sabinet.co.za/webx/access/journal_archive/10113487/324.pdf
2. http://www.piipa.org/images/IP_Book/Chapter_5_-_IP_and_Human_Development.pdf

Does technology impact culture?

Original article: https://mediaculturesociety.org/2013/01/29/does-technology-impact-culture/

In today’s technology driven world, people expect to have the means to communicate with others at any given moment. The ability to create relationships based solely on mutual understandings and shared common interests have fed the social media phenomena. In the past, people were able to get together physically and discuss concerns or share thoughts. However public spheres are changing from gathering in coffee shops to meeting online through forums and other social media platforms. As read in Mediated Society – a critical sociology of media, the prospective of critical sociology, the focus is on how media practices impact what we see as normal and affects society’s values. In today’s world, the easy access to technology creates the situation that, when you look around, people are often using smartphones or using their computers to check on what’s happening in the world around them, providing a feeling of connectedness. Does this ease of connection to the online world hold significant consequences on culture?

Let’s start by defining culture. According to Georg Simmel, “objective culture is seen as a ‘thing’ and subjective culture as its ‘unique experience’ (Jackson, J. D., Neilsen, G, and Hsu, Yon, 2011, p. 10)”. Culture is experienced, shared and adopted.

According to Digital Nation, a 90-minute PBS documentary which aired on Feb. 10, 2010, the purpose of the program was: “to examine the risks and possibilities, myths and realities presented by the new digital culture we all inhabit”. One of the many insights from this documentary is that in this wired world, people living in the same house or workplace can all be looking at different screens and communicating with different people. This changes how people interact with each other, as well as where our public spheres may be found (online instead of discussions at the dining room table or in meetings at work, perhaps?). Most concerning to me is the suggestion that multi-tasking online is not to be applauded but to be concerned because of the impact on cognitive abilities.

Sherry Turkle, is an Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor in the Program of Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and is considered to be a distinguished scholar in the area of how technology influences human identity to understand what happens when mind meets machine.

As seen in TED talks, Turkle shares her thoughts on technology’s impact. She says, “As we expect more from technology; we start to expect less from each other”. She suggests we often hide by sending messages electronically rather than discussing difficult issues in person. This is because of the belief that online is less personal and the effort to connect on a human level and is reduced by sending messages online rather than in person. Why? If by talking about the issues or concerns in person, discussions are open up where feelings, thoughts, ideas are exposed to be shared and probed. Turkle suggests we can hide from each other even though we are more electronically connected. She points out we’re not building relationships with each other, but building relationship with technology as if it’s a real thing. Turkle explains that technology doesn’t empathize, and doesn’t experience death or disappointments. Instead we select to use technology when we feel vulnerable and technology provides us with an illusion of comfort and of being in control.

Turkle says, “We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” Does this approach of using technology have an impact on relationships?

It’s important that we look at the reasons for the messages we send. Berger’s research looked at the thought processes people go through in order to produce the messages they speak. Berger concluded, “Most social interaction is a goal-driven; we have reasons for saying what we say” (Griffen, 2012. p. 130). With the speed of technology and pace for which many people respond, do they really consider and think through the potential consequences of what they are conveying?

As discussed during our class, Always Already New, the media history and the data of Culture (Gitelman, 2006, p. 59), “Publics are comprised as users, but not all users are entitled or constitutive members of the public sphere.” This can divide more than connect people based on their ability with technology, choice in being connected 24/7, skill in written communications and use of tone in writing.

Constant communication through use of technology is changing the way people think of themselves and how they communicate. They can get attention, always be heard, and never have to be alone. Connecting electronically can also lead to isolation. They often don’t allow the time to think or listen to each other with the constant sensory stimulus of texts, tweets, Facebook updates, emails and more. Understanding the prospective of critical sociology and how media practices impact what is seen as normal affects society’s values. The ease of connecting through technology and communicating online does have an impact on culture locally and globally as more and more people choose to communicate online instead of in person.

Building a better design culture

Original article: https://design.google/library/building-better-design-culture/

Designers are special creatures. Mike Buzzard understands this, and for the last four years he’s been working to make sure Google develops a strong appreciation for design and designers. His mission at Google is ambitious: to foster a world-class UX culture through cross-functional product development, internal operations, programs, education, talent recruitment, and perhaps most impactfully, by improving how Google defines roles and performance expectations for designers. This is an endless exercise in refinement, revision, and keen observation. So how does one become an unapologetic design evangelist in a world where engineering reigns supreme? It helps when you yourself are an edge case: a high-school dropout, an entrepreneur, and a self-taught developer who loves design. Buzzard has learned a number of lessons on his unconventional path to becoming a design lead—ideas helpful not only to understanding the rising stature of design at Google, but also for fostering excellent design vibes on any team.

Amber Bravo: Tell us a bit about how you came to work at Google?

Mike Buzzard: I started out in the ’90s as a self-taught developer with a strong interest in design. I worked for an architecture firm and built a bunch of internal, internet-based tools. Then I moved to San Francisco in 2000, and worked at a startup while also building a freelance practice. I ended up co-founding a design and development studio called Cuban Council. We ran the company for about 10 years out of San Francisco, New York, and Portland. We did a lot of identity, branding—logos for Facebook and Quora at one point—and content management tools for startups and more established entities like NASA, Francis Ford Coppola, BBC, Evernote, et cetera. Google was a client for about seven years, which is how we eventually got acquired to work on Google Plus.

AB: What inspired you to get involved in fostering the UX community at Google?

MB: Well, I had immediate design needs for Google Plus, so I had that motivation. But I also joined the hiring committee and gained a top-down view on how we source, qualify, and assess design talent, which put me in unique position to start bolstering the design disciplines. I also had an existing network of UX leads across Google that I’d meet with to understand their needs and perspective. I realized that by changing the documentation you can actually reframe the way the whole company views a discipline. In 2012, there were a lot of design generalists at Google, and we were trying to diversify and enhance our design capabilities by hiring a lot of specialists. It’s one thing to source specialists, but it’s completely another to build confidence that they’ll be successful. That requires making sure the company understands who they are and what they do, and how to sequence the various disciplines successfully in the product design process.

AB: How has this work evolved over the years?

MB: Google is an engineering-driven company, and I think it’s important that those roots remain. However, I do think Google can become more design oriented. Signals of that would be in the vocabulary engineers use when talking to designers about their work, or even just a top-down, bottom-up sort of comfort in understanding how design influences the company’s products and culture. To me that influence should be visible from the outside. Things like the Google rebrand or Material Design, for example. It’s a slow transition, but it’s clear that the company is definitely moving in this direction. The number of people working in UX at Google has multiplied over the last 5 years—that magnitude of growth is partly why we created a team dedicated to UX community and culture, to ensure the health and success of UX across all of Google.

AB: What types of designers thrive at Google?

MB: I think designers who are interested in creating products from top-to-bottom, who understand the importance of how something functions as well as how it looks and feels. Designers working in brand marketing are often responsible for making sure that brand, content, and functionality goals are met, but often don’t receive the same level of rigor and testing that Google requires. At Google, it’s not uncommon to be working on something that will affect hundreds of millions of people, so there’s an inherent responsibility that you need to get the design as close to “right” as possible before you push it out the door. A lot of people who come in actually appreciate that rigor, that level of ownership and accountability. People with an agency background tend to be great listeners with a strong sense of self-awareness because they have to be—every client is different and their needs are different. That’s a really translatable characteristic that can serve the designer well at Google.

AB: At Google, all designers are hired and evaluated based on the same universal criteria: impact. How does that fit into fostering the company’s design culture?

MB: The idea is that as we hire into roles and grow both the diversity of disciplines as well as the diversity of experience, it will feed back into improving the broad culture of design at Google. We started with scaffolding, or a framework—first aiming to simplify by focusing on the essentials, and then we focused on refining and evolving rubrics. This helps designers better understand and communicate: What is hard about the work I do? What did I do to make a difference or what would have happened if I wasn’t there, and what impact has my work had? When you have peers from different job functions evaluating each other, they’re absorbing this information, and it influences how they think about design roles within the company.

AB: Having a strong criteria is great, but is there a level where feedback and self-assessment has to be tailored to each team?

MB: Really good managers will provide tools and education for their team, they’ll create clear language which people can evaluate themselves and their peers against. It’s important to have a framework for people to tell their story, to help others understand and appreciate the work that they do, especially with the broad range of team compositions. We aren’t doing this work in a vacuum. We observe design promotion committees, we help compose them, we also collect heaps of feedback from pools of reviewers ranging from specialists to leadership. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that people understand their job profiles and criteria for advancement, by routinely providing resources and training. It’s an end-to-end, ongoing process.

AB: Measuring your personal success or job impact doesn’t necessarily require that the project or product you worked on was successful, right?

MB: It can be an impact on a project. It can be an impact on a product. It can be an impact on a team or on Google at large. A good example of impact that isn’t necessarily quantifiable, or measurable, or launch-related could be something like building tools for automation, or identifying common problems that designers have and creating programs to address them. It might be very project specific, and if it is, and everybody adopts that program or process, then it just made the whole team more efficient in their work.

AB: What’s the key to attracting talent at different levels and from different backgrounds?

MB: When we look at the slotting of a discipline at a particular level, we are careful to consider all of the data we have available to us. We look at a person’s former or current role and assess his or her level of influence, leadership, and impact. It’s very important that they will be able to meet or exceed the expectations of the teams when they join. At the more junior levels, we’re looking for opportunities for designers to feel their individual contribution helps them develop a strong sense of purpose and self-awareness. It’s up to them to deliver the value, not just the assets, but younger designers aren’t often wired that way. You’ve got to put yourself in meetings where there’s something to be gained or learned—you can’t always wait for invitations, especially when you have a curiosity or an idea or a concern about the larger product work that you’re contributing to. We look for the hint of an entrepreneurial spirit.

AB: What do you think is uniquely challenging about evaluating design success at Google?

MB: Google is big and has so many different teams. Part of developing criteria for measuring success is to not overly prescribe based on the norm. I’m a great example—I’m a one-off at Google. The ladder has to be general enough to allow me to show how I have impact and demonstrate leadership, yet at the same time it can’t be too vague. We have to be considerate of all the different use cases, and it’s not something we finish and then just walk away from. As Google’s understanding and appreciation of design matures, we need to make sure that the documentation that sets those expectations is representative of the culture that we want. We’re constantly collecting feedback. Some of it’s very small and detailed, and some of it is very philosophical. We’ve come up with different models and frameworks for testing the concepts, profiles, and criteria that we produce. And we regularly observe committees to see how these materials are considered and applied in practice.

AB: In the UX ladder you talk about many qualities of leadership—driving an idea to fruition, building consensus, being a thought leader—can you be a strong leader and be deficient in one of those things?

MB: Leadership manifests itself in many ways. I wouldn’t say that you have to check all the boxes to be a good leader. You could go very deep in one area that has significant impact. As many people progress in their career, they move into the management realm, often times circumstantially. If you have more than eight people reporting to you and you’re not spending more time managing the careers and efficacy of those individuals, you’re doing a disservice to the team and probably the product. In the agency world, this is similar to transitioning from a designer to a creative director, where the challenge is to detach yourself from the details of the design execution and essentially learn to design through others. A “lead” is a person who’s designing through others as they scale themselves. And a lot of the great managers will build a team that’s so high-functioning that they can then focus their time more strategically. When this happens, the manager typically begins to think more logistically about how the team is operating and functioning, focusing on things such as resource allocation, product strategy, and cross-functional partnerships. For example, I know one director who thinks very carefully about personality pairing in trying to identify who’s going to be the UX lead that partners with such and such product manager. What keeps that person up at night is not the pixel accuracy or the simplification of a flow, as much as it is the level of healthy collaboration of the team with its partners. People have to be acutely aware of these organizational traits if they’re going to successfully grow as a managing leader.

AB: What advice would you give to a young designer interested in working at Google?

MB: Excellent design skills are table stakes, communication and presentation skills are also extremely important. If a designer comes into a role and they’re the only designer on the team, they need to be able to confidently express their ideas, rationalize and justify their design decisions, and understand how to align both user and business goals while being mindful of engineering constraints and opportunities. If they’re not comfortable with that level of engagement, then they might consider working on a larger team where they’ll get more mentoring and structure to grow.

AB: How does pedagogy play into this?

MB: Investing in education is about helping people find their passion. In 2013, I started visiting design schools just to see what kind of events we were running and the message Google was sending. Immediately I recognized that there was room for improvement. We were sending mixed messages, and students were leaving school not knowing how they wanted to apply and expand their training or what type of organization would be the best first step down their career path. So a lot of my involvement with Google’s university recruiting programs has been spent trying to help on both sides—to help students develop a better understanding of what type of company, role, and work would provide them with the best opportunity to thrive—and to help Google set clear expectations that help students self-qualify more confidently.

AB: How much of your work is about ensuring general happiness?

MB: We want to make sure that Google is a great place for design and designers, whether you’re a 15-year veteran designer coming from a small brand studio or an entrepreneurial junior designer. We want people to be comfortable on a product team. That’s a big ask. There’s often a sort of a reboot with somebody’s personal identity when they come to Google. They need to try to figure out how to apply their skills within a massive product organization.

To me, this work is most important because it helps designers understand where they exist in the world of Google. They have specific criteria to measure themselves against and can align their day-to-day work with those expectations. Equally important is the definition of what is expected of designers within Google to people in functions other than design. I want it to be a healthy place for designers to grow and evolve. Not everybody is going to climb all the way up the ladder, nor do they all want to, but everyone should have the opportunity to grow, whether it be intentionally developing specific skills, assuming more ownership over a product, or leading a team. I just want to see happy, successful, healthy designers and design culture. I can’t think of another way for me to have a more widespread effect than in doing this kind of work.

Is this the World’s cheapest solar lamp?

Original article: http://www.designindaba.com/articles/creative-work/world’s-cheapest-solar-lamp

SM100

For the millions without electricity in Africa, basic lighting remains a luxury. Kerosene lamps are expensive. Candles and fires are hazardous and ultimately affects a household’s air quality. Manchester-based design consultancy Inventid’s recent development of what they are claiming is the world’s cheapest solar light could present a solution for this ongoing struggle.

Developed in collaboration with Chinese manufacturer Yingli, the hand-sized lamps retail for around about R63 ($5) and are able to stay lit for up to eight hours when fully charged. Called the SM100 solar light, it is reportedly twice as bright as kerosene lamps and features strap slots so that it can be used as a head-torch or easily strapped to a bicycle.

The lamp was trialled by about 9,000 families in Malawi, Uganda and Zambia. It was important to Inventid’s founders that the product’s initial trial be far-reaching in order to best address potential users’ needs.

SM100

“Working closely with charities in Africa we gathered local insights into family routines, the layout of dwellings and environmental conditions,” explains co-founder Henry James. “We listened to the aspirations and ideas of people whose personal experiences have shaped a product that is co-created in Africa.”

Though the SM100 solar light was developed in partnership with charity SolarAid, Inventid have chosen to sell them at cost rather than give them away. According to SolarAid’s founding director, each lamp sold generates money for food and essentials in East Africa.

The recent winner of a silver award in the design for society and design for sustainability categories at the European Product Design Awards, the SM100 solar light can also be bought online for £10 in the UK, with all extra profits going to SolarAid.

Ndebele design

Original article: http://lightcolorsound.blogspot.co.za/2013/12/ndebele.html

Ndebele


The Ndebele houses are painted by women who have been taught the techniques as part of their girlhood initiations. Originally, the designs, painted in mud and naturally occurring oxides, were comparatively muted. 
Over time, the colours and shape became a key aspect in the overall design. In the late 1960s, the new style was evident. What was once a finger-painted creation was now created using bundled twigs with feathers as brushes. The walls are still originally whitewashed, but the outlines and colours have significantly changed. The patterns and symbols can be seen today with a rich black outline and a vivid colour inside. 
There are five main colours represented: red and dark red, yellow to gold, a sky blue, green, and sometimes pink. The colours give an intensified symbolic meaning to the Ndebele. They can mean status or power of the home’s owners, offer prayer, announce a marriage in the home, or can represent a current protest. The paintings express an abstract meaning with no real reference to any specific characteristic of their homes. This is the most direct way to show their individual expression to the people outside their far distinct family, showing of the talent and the taste of the mother. The colour white is always used as the background because it makes the bright patterns stand out more.

Why user experience always has to come first

Original article: https://hbr.org/2016/09/why-user-experience-always-has-to-come-first

Actions speak louder than mission statements. If a UX feels more like “User Exploitation” than “User Experience,” business becomes ripe for disruption. Profitability predicated on customer friction, intrusion, and irritation simply isn’t sustainable. Privileging easy money over better user experience is the antithesis of customer centricity.

That’s why digital services in general, and mobile advertising in particular, make superior templates for evaluating business model design. Entwining real-time data and predictive analytics lets serious organizations quickly calculate and calibrate trade-offs between experiential and exploitive UXs. Those trade-offs become explicit. Most everyone in the enterprise can now see where customers are respected partners in value creation, and where they’re data-herded sheep to be sheared.

For example, Facebook makes great money from mobile advertisers, but it’s now refusing to subsidize technical inefficiencies that undermine overall UX. Roughly 40% of Facebook mobile users abandon sites that take even three seconds to load. Delays frequently lead to abandoning the Facebook visit as well. Unsurprisingly, the company informed advertisers to speed up their load times or else.

“Our goal is to give people the best ad experience possible on mobile. By considering website performance and a person’s network connection, we can improve that experience and help drive the outcomes advertisers are looking for,” a Facebook spokesman said.

Crudely put, when advertising latencies undermine perceived UX quality, Facebook optimizes UX at the tardy advertisers’ expense. Abandonment in any form is an increasingly measurable outcome. Facebook has effectively declared that it prioritizes superior UX over inferior advertising.

This highlights a fundamental dynamic that’s transforming digital product and services worldwide: Dynamic pricing is being superceded by dynamic opportunism. That is, platform providers and innovation ecosystems are rethinking how they really make money from, and with, their customers and partners. That means they must constantly (re)calculate whether, and when, degrading their UX in exchange for easy or instant money is worth it.

The ongoing networked fusion of data and analytics basically forces organizations to reveal how much they value their customer relationships as relationships, as opposed to as a series of transactions aggregated over time. The former perspective inspires and incents a different investment in UX than the latter.

Reducing UX frictions and irritations that have nothing to do with money or value creation is a no-brainer. But technology makes it easier and simpler for more organizations to try to get away with profitable but irritating little nicks and customer scrapes. In other words, temptations and opportunities for “nickel and diming” one’s customers and partners are digitally rising.

Google’s policies curtailing mobile interstitial adverts — pop-ups that spread, fungus-like, across your mobile screen — underscore this intensifying theme.

“Google’s intention is to not just direct people to more informative results, but to results that work better for them — e.g., don’t annoy them with a pop-up — too,” The Verge observed. “This is something Google has increasingly been doing with its search algorithm. Last year it began boosting the rank of ‘mobile friendly’ websites, and in 2014, it began boosting the rank of sites with encryption as well.”

Note that a pop-up’s IQ — Irritation Quotient — is but one of hundreds of elements that Google uses to weight its mobile search algorithm. That said, Google tracks user abandonment rates as assiduously as Facebook does. The essential tension doesn’t go away: When does user experience feel like, or become, user exploitation?

Advertisements that genuinely interest or intrigue users will obviously be welcome no matter how intrusively or invasively they materialize. The receptivity/abandonment ratios can now be tracked and analyzed with increasing rigor.

But the most important takeaway should revolve not around advertising efficacy but around how — individually and collectively — advertising defines and determines the UX. The death-by-a-thousand-cuts, or pop-ups, phenomenon remains a real threat to sustainable platforms and ecosystem growth.

So these UX themes transcend digital advertising trends. An Amazon developer, for example, told me that her company takes great pains to avoid digitally irritating customers. Entire KPI dashboards have apparently been built around receptivity/abandonment behaviors. Tests explicitly examining how “best” customers or “typical/average” customers respond to intrusive offers are hotly debated. Enhancing Amazon’s overall UX is paramount, she insists. Optimizing the overall relationship, not the individual transaction, is the core value.

The leadership challenge around customer centricity will become sharper and starker both inside the enterprise and outside. Will business discipline revolve around optimizing UX for customer value? Or does “dynamic opportunism” devolve into user exploitation? How your organization defines and manages its receptivity/abandonment ratios will tell you the answers.

How We Use Data to Inspire Design

 

Original article: https://medium.com/design-x-data/how-we-use-data-to-inspire-design-ccc51327e904

When most people imagine good design, numbers probably don’t come to mind. In fact, anything quantitative might feel completely at odds with the concept of beautiful design. But at IDEO, in addition to connecting with people and learning their stories, designers use quantitative data as a tool to gain empathy and inspiration. We learn from numbers the same way we learn from people, because we see numbers as a representation of people.

In our traditional human-centered design process, we empathize by going where people live and work. We talk with extreme users. We immerse ourselves in their lives. We explore the tension between what people say versus what they do. We prototype. As the world becomes increasingly digital, data becomes a natural byproduct of people’s lives. We’ve learned that the qualitative process we traditionally use cannot only be strengthened by this quantitative data, but can also uncover insights that qualitative data alone cannot. Quantitative data is a rich, ripe source for design research that IDEO is using (and you should too!) to get inspired by users.

How might we use quantitative data to inspire design?

Talk to extreme users

If we wanted to learn how to improve a product, would it be better to talk to someone who feels indifferent towards the product or someone who hates it? At IDEO, we prefer to talk to the extreme users, the “haters” and “super users.” Why? We’ve learned that the needs of extreme users are amplified. They really need something to be one way or another. There’s no in-between. They can clearly articulate what is amazing or awful about the product and show us the workarounds they use to make up for the product’s weaknesses. This helps us pull out meaningful needs that may not emerge when engaging with the average user who represents the mean.

Quantitative data is perfect for helping designers determine who the extreme users are to better understand what makes them stand out. We can analyze the behaviors of people in the bottom or top quartile of the dataset. We can also use the data to guide our qualitative research. For example, one startup we were working with was questioning whether or not to incorporate a feature into their product. The data showed that most people used the feature only ~1.5 times, so their first thought was to get rid of it. Rather than focusing on the “average” user, we looked at the whole distribution. We spoke to the two or three people at the extreme who maxed out the use of the feature to learn what value the feature was providing and how to tweak the feature (and the messaging) to make it more helpful to others.

Immerse yourself in people’s lives

There’s no better way to understand the people we’re designing for than by immersing ourselves in their lives. Why? Because observing what people do and how they interact with their environment gives us clues about what they think, feel, and need. This helps us uncover insights and inspire new design solutions.

Digital products enable designers to collect an endless stream of quantitative data to immerse themselves in the lives of users. With permission, users can take us along with them wherever they go — even when we’re not physically present — and share their needs and desires in real time with us. For example, IDEO worked with an automobile company to understand how people move through cities. To immerse ourselves in users’ lives, we asked them to download the Moves app which tracked how they moved through their city. We also asked users to take photos and videos of moments when their trips went wrong, and moments when their trips made them smile. For every major travel incident, we were able to connect the quantitative data with the photos taken in the field and the human stories. This way, we understood the insight wasn’t just the numbers: it was grounded in human experience and connected to a larger system.

Explore the tension between what people say versus what they do

Good design is often built on a solid understanding of both people’s explicit and latent needs. One way we uncover the needs and values that may not be obvious to the people who hold them is by listening to the stories people tell and comparing them to observations of what they actually do. The differences often indicate a latent need that might not otherwise be expressed.

In addition to traditional ethnographic observation, designers can capture the tension between what people say and do from both survey data and behavioral data. Survey data lets us understand people’s thoughts and attitudes about a subject. Live data (i.e., from a website or app) helps us observe actual behavior in a real-world context. For example, an IDEO team was developing an app to identify levers of behavior change to coach safe driving. In surveys and interviews, the team heard people claim they were good drivers. However, the team observed through tracking behavioral data that those drivers were actually riskier. If the team designed opportunities based on what they heard, they’d design products to reward good drivers. If they designed based on what they observed, they’d design products to help people improve bad driving. However, the people who needed their driving improved wouldn’t have used the product because they believed they were good drivers. This insight helped us design for that tension.

Create a prototype and see how it resonates

Prototyping gets ideas out of designers’ heads and into the world. By building rough prototypes that participants can see, touch, feel, and react to, we can rapidly elicit feedback and test the functionality of early design ideas. This is done overtly, through tactics like questioning and role playing; and tacitly, through observation. After asking for feedback from a number of people who represent different types of users, we synthesize it to find strategic and directional themes to guide our teams in further development.

Traditionally when we built prototypes (anything from paper wireframes to physical retail spaces), we relied on our own observations and conversations with users to understand how the concept resonated. Now, digital tools enable us to collect and leverage quantitative data in our prototype as well. We use live data and integrate it with tools like Slack to prototype digital experiences that feel real for users, but are actually very rough and rapid to create on the backend. These “Wizard of Oz” prototypes enable us to learn quickly and investigate a lot of different possibilities.

For example, an IDEO team was working on a behavior change project and wanted to design a messaging system. Rather than spending time coding a system that would automate responses, we created a ‘magic’ automated experience to quickly prototype effective messaging statements. First, we hooked up the Slack interface to import user data so designers could quickly understand it. Then, we used that data to create, send, and receive personalized text messages to help improve users’ behavior. Based on the the user’s qualitative responses via text messages and behaviors captured via quantitative data, we were able to figure out messaging statements that resonated with users. By creating prototypes that collect both qualitative and quantitative feedback, designers are able to get a better, more holistic understanding of how a concept resonates with users.


Inspiration comes from a variety of sources including observations, conversations, and quantitative data. Quantitative data can be used for direction and inspiration throughout the design process, as it helps us understand where to focus and how and why people behave the way they do. It also serves as an input for prototyping. And together, with qualitative data, it provides us with a complete, meaningful story. The combination of both heightens insights to ensure that the weakness of one is balanced by the other. So the next time you turn to data, consider how you can merge both the people and the numbers to get to the heart of your design challenge.

The hip-hop architect on how music and the environment can influence one another

Original article: http://brandnudesign.com/new-blog/?offset=1482008769401
Youths fly a kite in a street bordered with firegutted buildings in the South Bronx section of New York City in June, 1977. The Carter Administration has agreed to revive urban renewal projects in an effort to revive the neighborhood. 
AP Images

From its early roots in the Bronx to its current status as a worldwide cultural movement, hip-hop has never lost its street-level sensibility. When writing songs, rappers and lyricists trade in the currency of credibility, constantly dropping the names of street corners, city neighborhoods, even specific buildings and housing projects to connect listeners with the urban environment.

Hip-hop is often about place. And, according to architect Michael Ford, it is place—often poorly designed, underfunded, and cut off from the rest of the city through bad urban planning and structural racism—that birthed the genre. Ford, who has been tapped to design the forthcoming Universal Hip-Hop Museum in the Bronx, has helped coin the term “hip-hop architecture,” popularizing the concept as a lens for looking at the intersections of culture and the built environment.

But it’s not just about looking back at the ways urban planning and housing policy created the environment for new forms of music; it’s how the ethics and ethos of hip-hop can help inspire new solutions for designing our cities.

“I’m looking at the intersection of architecture and hip-hop,” Ford says. “I use hip-hop to look at the impact architecture has had on the community, and the impact my profession has made. Architecture has shaped communities, but we can go back and reclaim them, and reconnect those that have been lost to things such as freeways.”

Michael Ford

Ford, who wrote a thesis about the subject, Cultural Innovation, Hip-Hop Inspired Architecture and Design, while studying at the University of Detroit Mercy in 2005, believes this is a perfect example of the power of narrative. Historical discourse often pushes the idea that the “black ghetto” exists because of the cultural behaviors of its occupants. Exploring and exposing the conscious and subconscious efforts of past members of his profession to shape these spaces, and the effects those decisions have, can inform and inspire more community-oriented design in the future.

1520 Sedgewick Avenue
A Feb. 11, 2010 photo of the exterior of 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx borough of New York.
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The Beginning: Moses, Le Corbusier, and Structural Racism

Ford can talk all day about hip-hop, how it started in the Bronx and at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue. But ask him who the godfather of hip-hop is, and he won’t say Grandmaster Flash or Kool Herc. He says it’s Le Corbusier. Of course, he doesn’t mean that literally. But the famed French modernist did create the architectural blueprints for the buildings that would become the cradle of the art form.

“This is not a means of taking credit away from the brothers and sisters who actually created hip-hop, but a method to make a sustaining narrative which links the built environment and hip-hop culture based on historical facts,” he said during a presentation in Austin. “And, to be honest, it’s a subtle jab at modernism and those celebrated as the standard bearers of our profession.”

Corbusier’s famous towers-in-the-park concept—a series of soaring high-rises interspersed with parks—aimed to bring “democracy and equality through the built environment.” He thought “good” or “enlightened” buildings would create good and enlightened citizens. Officials in Paris “thought his idea were crazy,” and never implemented Corbusier’s plans.

Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan
Built in 1942, Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan, a Robert Moses project, was an early example of the tower blocks concept
Scott Davies: Flickr/Creative Commons

New York, and its infamous master-builder Robert Moses, had no such reservations, replicating parts of Corbusier’s plan as part of the massive slum-clearance and housing project programs he oversaw in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But, in what Ford calls “a terrible early example of sampling,” Moses borrowed part of Corbusier’s plan—the tall, narrow towers, and dense living conditions—but didn’t include all the amenities and park spaces Corbusier envisioned. The housing projects he created, an architectural sample, then became the standard for public housing across the country.

The construction of these dense towers, and the concurrent freeway construction that cut neighborhoods off from one another, created the spaces that birthed the different elements of hip-hop; DJing, MCing, B-boying, and graffiti. Areas choked of private spaces and arts funding, where creative youth congregated in public parks, towers and basketball courts, and created a cross-pollination of culture.

“People criticized Corbusier’s plans, saying they would ‘create a culture that begs for creativity,’” says Ford. “I call it a prediction of hip-hop culture, almost 50 years before it was born.

These towers had perverse impacts on their residents, says Ford. The physical environments had psychological effects. And it wasn’t just the landscape; social priorities and lack of funding for education or the arts also had a huge impact.

The Project: The Hip-Hop Museum

While Ford and others have published essays and research looking at the historical connections between hip-hop and architecture, he’s also trying to practice a new type of architecture influenced by the cultural movement.

The most high-profile example is his Universal Hip-Hop Museum, a forthcoming cultural institution in the Bronx that not only seeks to share the artform, be inspired by it as well. Instead of a traditional design brief and community feedback loop, the museum’s look was designed in part by a “cypher,” a term that references a freestyle rap battle, and has the support of rap legends such as Kurtis Blow and the Sugar Hill Gang.

Universal Hip-Hop Museum mobile museum
A rendering of the mobile version of the Universal Hip-Hop Museum

Set to open in 2019 or 2020, the museum will also embody hip-hop’s focus on community. Thanks to funding from Microsoft, the initiative will also build a portable museum that, starting later this year, will travel between major cities in the years leading up to the permanent museum’s opening. A truck-like portable space, which Ford has nicknamed “Optimus Prime,” will travel to Detroit, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York, not only allowing fans to visit the museum in their hometown, but also to contribute. In a hip-hop spin on StoryCorps, visitors will be able to add their stories, including text and images, and tag them to a specific place, creating a map of hip-hop’s influence across different parts of the country.

“We wanted to figure out a way to make the museum accessible to people around the country,” says Ford. “It’s like mapping a phenomenon. It allows the pioneers of hip hop to tell their own story, it allows architects, designers and urban planners to fuse their culture with their practice and it allows the community to effectively engage in the design process of developments in their neighborhood. ”

The Vision: Architecture that reflects the community

Ford has described hip-hop as the “post-occupancy report of Modernism.” Referencing the term architects, designers and engineers typically use for their account of mistakes and success after a project is finished, Ford feels the lyrics and language of hip-hop, and the visceral descriptions of the urban environment, can teach his profession important lessons.

Creating spaces for and by the community matters. Using hip-hop as a connector, narrative, and frame of reference can get more people, especially people of color, engaged in shaping and designing their environments, a form of self-empowerment that seems perfectly aligned with the genre’s message. Only three percent of architects in the United States are African-American, says Ford. He wants to see more kids follow President Obama’s suggestion and become literal architects of change.

“Will hip-hop architecture allow minority students and young practitioners to make immediate contributions to the field of architecture, instantly raising the visibility of minority practitioners as a whole? “ says Ford. “I hope that the hip-hop generation will champion this new vernacular, and rely on our love for hip-hop coupled with our architectural knowledge, to build our communities and increase the number of minority practitioners.”

The Music: A hip-hop playlist about the environment and architecture

Consider this the playlist to Ford’s work. Curbed asked the architect to name some of the songs he feels showcase the relationship between hip-hop and architecture; we included a few below, which he recently played during a lecture.

KRS One – R.E.A.L.I.T.Y. – “Rhymes Equal Actual Life in The Youth”

“I used this song to describe hip-hop lyrics’ are reflections of real life in urban communities. If you want to hear a critique of the environment from which the music is made, listen to the music.”

Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, “The Message”

“This song describes the urban reality of urban renewal.”

Snoop Dog, “Life in The Projects”

“Describes the dismal environments resulting from the modernist vision, Towers in a Park. The monotonous superblocks failed to provide the lush green environments once envisioned by Le Corbusier.”

Ain’t no trees, the grass ain’t green, And when I say it’s all bad, you know what I mean

Wu-Tang Clan, “S.O.S.”

“Wu-Tang member Street Life’s contribution to ‘S.O.S” reveals a deep frustration and level of tension between public housing authorities, architects and the tenants about the cyclical fostering and implementation of injustices upon African-American communities.

Street chronicle, wise words by the abdominal

High honorable, rap quotable phenomenal

Seniority kid, I speak for the minority

Ghetto poverty f*** the housing authority

The West Coast All-Stars, “We’re All in the Same Gang”

“In the song “We’re All in The Same Gang”, produced by Dr. Dre in 1990, featuring the top hip hop artists and rappers from the West Coast. Shock G eludes to John B Calhoun’s research during his verse below. Sociologist John B. Calhoun studied the behavior of lab mice under conditions of overcrowding and controlled resources. People eventually made parallels between the activities of his study subjects to humans, some predicting that overcrowding was in the future for the human race, and based on his research, violence, amongst other things, was an inevitable part of that future if we don’t change the way we design our cities.

I’m in a rage. Oh Yea? Why is that G?

Because other races, they say we act like rats in a cage.

I tried to argue, but check it, every night in the news, We prove them suckers right and I got the blues

Nas, “I Can”

“Nas told your hip hoppers they can be whomever they want to be, including an architect.”

Be, B-Boys and girls, listen up

You can be anything in the world, in God we trust

An architect, doctor, maybe an actress

But nothing comes easy it takes much practice

African Innovation Outlook

Original article: http://www.nepad.org/resource/african-innovation-outlook-ii-0

Science, technology and innovation (STI) are engines of growth in any economy. Realising that Africa can also benefit from STI activities, in 2005 the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST) adopted Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA) which articulates the African Union (AU) agenda for harnessing STI to boost economic growth and improve the lives of African people.

The challenges are how to link science, technology and innovation to poverty reduction, job creation, sustainable livelihoods and the improved well-being of citizens. How should capacity and competencies be built in order to innovate? As countries engage in knowledge intensive activities, how will Africa expand its knowledge?

Understanding the concepts of STI should support prudent policy formulation and research agendas that address economic and social challenges. Assessing STI is fundamental to formulating policies but in the absence of relevant indicators this is difficult. Most African countries do not have STI indicators or adequate means to produce them, with the reasons for this inadequacy differing from country to country. The lack of STI indicators is of serious concern when evidence-based decisions and policies have to be made. The development of the CPA, which outlined among other things the need to develop STI indicators in Africa, is a result of this concern.

The implementation of the CPA to develop STI indicators bore fruit when the African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators (ASTII) initiative was launched in 2007.

The first phase of the ASTII initiative was implemented in 19 countries: Algeria, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The outcomes of this phase include building STI capacity and related activities in Africa and the publication of the first African Innovation Outlook (AIO) in 2010 (AU-NEPAD, 2010). The AIO was launched as a first of the series aimed at publishing STI indicators in Africa. The publication presented research and development (R&D), innovation and bibliometric indicators. The baseline year for the data was 2007 although some countries submitted data collected for the 2008 financial year. The report also highlighted structural issues that constrain economic growth and human development and the role of STI in resolving some of these issues.

The number of countries participating in this phase increased from 19 to 35 between 2011 and 2013. New countries joining the project were Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Togo, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. Focal points were identified and training on how to conduct surveys was provided.

The first intergovernmental meeting on ASTII held in Maputo in 2007 decided that countries should use the already established Frascati and Oslo Manuals to collect data while efforts are made to develop guidelines for collecting and interpreting data for indicators in African countries (NEPAD, 2007). Both the first and second phases of the ASTII initiative used the OECD’s Frascati Manual for conducting the R&D surveys while the innovation surveys used the OECD/Eurostat Oslo Manual.

This report presents the results of the R&D and innovation surveys and bibliometric studies as well as information on the status of STI policies and/or strategies of each country.

In the case of R&D surveys, the baseline year is 2010, though some countries provided more recent data. Angola, Cape Verde, Egypt and Lesotho provided R&D data for 2011 and data from Zimbabwe is for 2012. Six countries (Egypt, Ghana, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia) provided innovation data for the period 2008-2010; Gabon and Lesotho data are for 2010-2012; while data for Kenya, Senegal and South Africa is for 2008-2011, 2009–2011 and 2005-2007 respectively.

Bibliometric data was sourced from the study undertaken by AOSTI and the results presented in this report are for the countries participating in the ASTII initiative. Chapter 2 generally speaks to STI policy activities in the selected African countries.