Design by Fire 2010… and how I learned to hate my camera

Bill Buxton was coming to the Design by Fire 2010 conference in Amsterdam. That was the only thing I needed to hear to sign up for it. The man is a legend in the human-computer interaction field and his talks are usually very interesting, inspiring and full of great insights. Of course he did not disappoint.

I had to stand on the back of the room where his talk was taking place, just so that I could video record the whole thing without disturbing the people sitting behind me with my camera blocking their view. He started the talk by addressing the audience in perfect Dutch and putting on the jersey of the Dutch national team with the name “Buxton” on his back, in a gesture to celebrate the fact that Oranje had trashed Sweden 4-1 the night before (you gotta love the man!). He then proceeded to delight us for about an hour with his view on what Natural User Interfaces are really all about.

And I was a happy man! I could just enjoy the moment and would be able to review it later on in the comfort of my house to make notes and take it all in… that is IF my stupid camera hadn’t decided to break down 0,0005 seconds before the end of the talk and erase any data that had been saved so far on my SD card. Disaster!

Designing the new touch interface language

Last Tuesday I attended a short presentation at the Delft University of Technology, where Kay Hofmeester (former UX manager for Microsoft Surface) told us a bit about how the Surface team tried to handle the new challenges posed by designing user interfaces under the new touch interface paradigm. I took the liberty to record it to share it with whoever is interested (Kay if you’re out there reading this, I hope you don’t mind ;-)).

It was a very interesting lecture with some nice and concrete examples of how wrong it is to try to directly translate old user interfaces for new input devices such as touch screens.

The Spanish speaking pointer and the Italian speaking finger

In the lecture, Kay explains very nicely and in depth some of the main practical differences between interacting with a classical GUI and with a touch interface, but I’m gonna give it a go with my own metaphor.

Think of the following scenario. You’ve been speaking Spanish all your life. You know the ins and outs of your language. One day you move to Italy and all of a sudden you find yourself surrounded by Italians. Sure! your Spanish might help you get by to a certain level due to the language similarities, and you

Design for Interaction (and the afterlife)

A few days back, I was invited to give a short presentation at the TU Delft to the new first year students of the Design for Interaction (DfI) master of science. Apparently being a DfI alumnus working at the biggest dutch industrial design studio made me an interesting profile to talk to Delft’s future interaction designers… or maybe I was the only one who accepted to come ūüėČ

I was asked to talk a bit about my experience during the master, especially during my graduation project and how it’s been so far as an interaction designer “in the wild”.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have much time to practice it very well, but anyway since the faculty recorded the presentation I figured “why not publish it?”. So here it is…

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic…

I’ve always been fascinated with magic, the making possible of that which our mind tells us that is “clearly” impossible; those things that we are too puzzled (or narrow minded) to understand. And as I think back to some of the tech I’ve seen so far in my lifetime and the way I perceived it the first time I came in contact with it, I can’t help but agree with Arthur C. Clarke when he said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

When you think about it, it wasn’t that long ago that we were still baffled by the novelty of technologies like a GPS, a smoothly working multitouch surface or the controls of a Nintendo Wii, and how they had this almost magical quality to them the first time we experienced them, yet thanks to Moore’s law and the ever thriving minds of designers and engineers out there I think that things are about to get REALLY interesting and I can’t wait to see the true magic that is coming our way.

Here are just a couple of examples of things I’ve come across lately that I’m very much looking forward to, both as a designer and as a consumer.

Why does Apple think that a stylus is a design flaw?

“It’s like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it.”

Steven P. Jobs – CEO, Apple Inc.

I wonder why is it that Apple considers the use of a stylus as a design flaw?

I understand where Steve is coming from and as an interaction designer I agree that a touch interface should NOT depend on the accuracy offered by a stylus to be usable, but c’mon!

What are tangible user interfaces?

During the last few days, I’ve been doing a lot of internet surfing at the office in search for good examples of trends in user interface (UI) design for one of our award winning 360 Trend Reports.

On it’s on, that is already quite a daunting task, as there are so many things out there that it’s difficult to pick and filter everything out. To top it off, there seem to be a lot of overlapping terms to define different types of interfaces which doesn’t make it any easier when you try to organize and classify them.

But anyway, going straight to the point, one of the most interesting user interface paradigms I’ve come across not only during my search but also during my studies, is the Tangible User Interface (TUI), so I decided to dedicate this post to explaining what they are and to show a few great examples of (soon to be) products which make use of this type of interaction.

To start up, here’s my definition:

A tangible user interface is one in which the user interacts with a digital system through the manipulation of physical objects linked to and directly representing a quality of said system.

The idea with TUIs is to have a direct link between the system and the way you control it through physical manipulations by having an underlying meaning or direct relationship which connects the physical manipulations to the behaviours which they trigger on the system.

RepRap: Be fruitful and multiply!

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and¬† multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over¬† the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living¬† thing that moveth upon the earth”

Genesis 1:28

I’m not a religious person at all, but this quote from Genesis illustrates very nicely the awesome powers that were bestowed by “the dude upstairs” upon that couple of naked people living in his garden: Usefulness and Self reproduction!

This gave way to the opportunity to get more of these  naked people to walk around, do some cool things which could help themselves and others and eventually create some more naked people of their own to keep the ball rolling.

Well this amazing power is exactly what the guys behind the RepRap project gave to their open source rapid prototyping machine. That’s right, it’s a SELF REPLICATING RAPID PROTOTYPING MACHINE! it creates useful things for us and has the ability to create a copy of itself so that others can take advantage of it too. How awesome is that??

New year, new decade, new job, new city… and I get to play with robots!

It’s being a pretty hectic end/start of the year. As of last Monday (11th of January) I started working as Interaction Designer at VanBerlo Studios, the biggest design studio in the Netherlands and an important player in the European scene of product development.

As a consequence and after 9 years of my life spent in the little and picturesque town of Delft I had to move to Eindhoven, a bigger city down to the south of the Netherlands, very well known for being the headquarters of technology giants Philips and home of former European champions PSV Eindhoven (I guess I can never wear my Ajax jersey in public around this town).

The city is not as charming, but the work and the company is absolutely fantastic so far… and I get to play with robots! One of the first projects I’ll be working on deals with robotics and therefore today I paid a visit to the mechanical engineering department of the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e).

Sustainable packaging? Bring out the popcorn!

Another way of 'recycling' packing peanuts?

For my first post of the year I received the inspiration from a Christmas present my sister received while I was visiting her.

I’ve always had the habit of keeping the little styrofoam packing peanuts of any package I receive so that I can reuse them whenever I have to send something out myself. It saves me money and I ensure that the material is used at least once more. Sadly though, I’m sure that this is not something that everybody does and undoubtedly most of these peanuts end up in the trash after a single use, contributing to our waste problems.

But what’s the alternative? Well, as I mentioned, my sister received this gift during the holidays which I thought was brilliantly simple and a very nicely thought alternative. It was a little box with shower and bath soaps which used POPCORN (!!!) instead of styrofoam.

TomTom: UX design of mobile driving apps


Relevant keywords

Mobile apps, iOS, Android, Driving, Workshops, Mockups, Flowcharts, Interactive Prototypes

Design goal

As a Senior Interaction Designer at TomTom, I’ve been responsible for UX work on several mobile driving apps (for both Android and iOS) from the company’s product portfolio, as well as work on desktop and web for our automotive customers.

Specific role & contribution

  • UX lead of several mobile driving apps
  • Direct communication with developers, product owners and marketing within an Agile environment
  • Organise and carry out creative workshops
  • Development of interactive prototypes for “hallway” and “formal” testing

Novility HELP: A hospitality training system based on motion tracking


Relevant keywords

Motion tracking, Hospitality training, Gamification, Ergonomics, Agile development, Start up, New product development

Design goal

Create a Kinect based training system for the hotel industry that teaches housekeepers the correct procedures, ergonomic movements and required English language skills to perform their job efficiently, effectively and free of injuries.

Specific role & contribution

  • Product owner in charge of defining all mayor features from the very beginning
  • Part of the project planning and management team under an Agile development, including set up of bi-weekly sprints and monitoring of progress
  • Head of the design team, leading analysis, conceptualization and styling of product features
  • Lead for design research activities, such as observational research, interviews and user testing
  • Direct communication with developers
  • Art director for all graphical communication material

Sapiens: Solutions for deep brain stimulation


Relevant keywords

Brain surgery, Medical software, UI design, Process analysis, Workshops

Design goal

Analyse the product offering of Sapiens, to identify the design challenges faced by their new brain stimulation products. A special emphasis is laid on the design and styling of their medical software for brain surgery planning.

Specific role & contribution

  • Organization and execution of workshops with medical experts¬†
  • Analysis of collected insights
  • Mapping out the brain surgery procedure¬†in order to¬†identifying challenges and opportunities
  • Assist in the analysis of current product
  • Assist in the conceptualization and wire-framing of the planning software
  • Assist in the implementation of the styling to different screens

Atag Magna: User experience design of an electrical oven

Atag - Combi Steam Oven


Relevant keywords

User interface design, Kitchen appliances, Observational research, Focus group, Prototyping, Workshops, Red Dot Award

Design goal

Development of a touch interface for a new line of high-end ovens for Atag. A user centred design approach was used to ensure that the features available would be in line with what people actually want to use in their kitchens. The product should be able to support the experienced cook while at the same time guiding the novice.

Specific role & contribution

  • Project planning and management, including preparation of quotes and direct communication with client
  • Organize and facilitate the research activities. Analyse and draw results from research
  • Responsible for 90% of conceptualization
  • Art direction, including the creation of detailed styling mock-ups
  • Planning and execution of a qualitative testing protocol for¬†usability testing

Promesso: User experience design of an office coffee machine


Relevant keywords

Office appliances, UI design, Prototyping, Usability testing

Design goal

Development of the user interface for a new line of self service coffee machines. Personalization of your drink was to be a key factor for the user’s experience so several proofs of concept were developed to explore different possibilities.

Specific role & contribution

  • Assistance in planning the project’s approach
  • Organization of workshops with client and stakeholders
  • Assistance with the users &¬†system analysis, and product requirements
  • Direct communication with client
  • Responsible for 50% of conceptualization activities
  • Responsible for interactive proofs of concept
  • Production of a mid-fi interactive prototype
  • Drafting of qualitative usability testing protocol

Bosch – Nefit Easy: User experience design of a smart thermostat


Relevant keywords

Home appliances, smart home, touch thermostat, User interface design, GIO Award 2013

Design goal

As part of the latest trends of smart home appliances, Nefit commissioned VanBerlo with the design of their newest smart thermostat, the Nefit Easy. The project included the design of the user interface in terms of logic and styling.

Specific role & contribution

  • Direct communication with the client
  • Created¬†the styling proposal for the UI¬†in association with the industrial designer in charge of the hardware
  • Early prototypes of initial ideas
  • Conceptualization and final screen mock-ups

Pontual: Design of an Amsterdam ferry-catching app

Relevant keywords

Android app, Cycling time, Ferry, Logo design, UI design, Interaction design

Design goal

Assist in the concept development and design the branding, interaction and user interface of an Android app that allows people in Amsterdam to know exactly when to leave a location in order to catch their ferry on time.

Specific role & contribution

  • Assist with concept development
  • Define interaction flow and initial wireframes
  • Design and implement a branding¬†and styling proposal concept
  • High-fidelity native interactive prototype