Congratulations, Humanized!

At this time last year, I was hard at work with a team of extremely talented developers, designing and building the humane computing environment that Jef Raskin described in his book, The Humane Interface.

That project basically fell apart after Jef passed away (for a number of reasons), but some of the developers went on to start a company founded on the principles of humane computing. That company is Humanized.

Today, Humanized released their first product, Enso, which comes in two flavors, Launcher and Words.

Launcher gives you lightening fast, mouse-free access to launching your programs by making use of a quasi-mode that you invoke by pressing the caps lock key. Finally, caps lock does something useful!

Words is invoked in the same way, but is adds a spellcheck that works exactly the same in every program – even programs that don’t have spellcheck built in. Brilliant!

Both of the products do other things as well. I recommend checking out the demos on the Humanized site. You can also download trial versions of both products. You might also want to check out Walt Mossberg’s review of the products.

I’m very proud of what the guys at Humanized have accomplished in less than a year. They’ve carried on Jef Raskin’s work in a practical, accessible way that I’m sure will lead to some exciting innovations in both user interfaces and ways of interacting with your computer.

Side note: Some of the work we did is still available at the Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces website.

Rethinking Designing for Experience

A few months ago, a friend of mine, Todd Wilkens, posted some provocative thoughts on the Adaptive Path blog. Essentially, Todd says:

  1. Instead of a framework focused on tasks, goals, and states, designers should use a framework focused on behaviors, motivations, and contexts.
  2. A new framework is needed because the framework based on tasks, goals, and states doesn’t explicitly account for behaviors, motivations and context. Because of this, it’s difficult to account for those concerns in our designs. That is, we fail to realize certain solutions because our framework for thinking about the problem actually prevents us from considering some solutions.

I agree with Todd. A better understanding of peoples’ behaviors related to, motivations with regard to and contexts of use concerning our designs will lead to better designs.

But why stop there? Why not move even further, toward an integral framework for design? The more considerations we can integrate into our framework for design, the better our resulting solutions should be, yes?

Why not consider an even higher calling? What if, for example, our designs could help people become better people?

Imagine the level of integration into someone’s life your design would need to have for someone to say, “That [service] has my back,” or “My [product] actually cares for me.”

Now, when I say caring, I’m not simply talking about displaying kindness and concern for others. I’m talking about something deeper than that. I’m talking about having a relationship that facilitates self-actualization.

Self-actualization is probably not a word you use every day, but the concept is simple. Self-actualization is the fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities. Self-actualization is about becoming the best “you” that you can be.

What I’m talking about are designs that are deeply ethical, not only in terms of environmental sustainability and social responsibility, but also in terms of caring.

I think few will argue that this is a bad idea, but all we have so far is an interesting thought experiment. In my mind, there are several important questions that remain:

  1. Can a system be designed such that it can actually have a relationship with a person?
  2. Are the concerns that go into designing such a system really that different from the concerns that go into user-centered design as we practice it today?
  3. In practice, how do we go about understanding these concerns?
  4. What would an integral framework for design look like?

What are your thoughts? Are there other questions I should be answering?

Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford

Yesterday I attended a party to celebrate the establishment of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University.

Bruce Nussbaum of Business Week already wrote a wonderful post about Plattner’s 35 million dollar gift, a post that David Kelley mentioned in his speech.

As Plattner pointed out during his speech, Nussbaum was essentially responsible for introducing him to IDEO when he got IDEO on the cover of Business Week in May 2004. That led to Plattner and David Kelley (a professor at Stanford and founder of IDEO) getting together, which eventually led to the gift.

The party was full of the usual suspects from Stanford’s Mechanical Engineering and HCI programs, as well as people from IDEO and students from Stanford. There were even a bunch a Stanford GSB students there, which I thought was cool.

The Institute is only offering certificates at this point, but I believe they’ll offer design degrees once their new space opens up in 2007.

There are some pictures from the event, including a few of my own, posted under the d.school tag on flickr.

Design as Experience Placebo

Randy Dotinga’s Wired.com article, Why Sugar Pills Cure Some Ills, made me wonder if design could be used as an experience placebo?

That is, could a person’s perception that a product, service, object or system has been “designed” have a positive affect on the person’s experience with the product, service, object or system?

This also brings up the question of whether or not design processes will become part of a product’s marketing collateral? Will certain design methodologies or even user-centered (or any other philosophical approaches to) design ever become mainstream enough to be advertised?

Personal shout-out: David Spiegel, who is quoted in the article, runs the Stanford Emotional Coding Lab, at which I volunteer occasionally.

Brian Knutson

I also saw Brian Knutson speak at Stanford recently.

Brian is interested in the neural basis of emotion and runs the Symbiotic Project on Affective Neuroscience. (Psychologists use the word “affect” to describe mood states and personality traits characterized both by high arousal and either positive or negative valence.)

Brian is also interested in the convergence of disciplines brought about by his research. I’m going to see if I can speak with him about design.

John Gabrieli

Last week, I attended a talk by John Gabrieli at Stanford’s Symbolic Systems Forum.

John is the director of the Gabrieli Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory. He discussed some of his work using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to study the regulation of thoughts, emotions and memories in the human brain.

Cool stuff. Obviously though, emotion and memory are related to human experience, but I’m not yet sure how they fit together with experience and design.