Paving the way for the short-film : branding

Hi.

I get very excited every time I see an argument that supports the idea of this short-film I’m working on.

Without mentioning what it is about, I want to start making sense of it by throwing here some posts found elsewhere to equip forthcoming debates.

Here is  why branding is an artifact of the past, by Brian Millar. In this post, he compares branding to “flat-earth theory” 🙂

Some important quotes (the bolding was up to me):

In Mary Poppins, we learn about Mr. Banks, the children’s father, and what he does for a living.

“He sat on a large chair in front of a large desk and made money. All day long he worked, cutting out pennies and shillings and half-crowns and threepenny-bits. And he brought them home with him in his little black bag.”

It’s a charming way to describe something that only a small child, and possibly Robert Mugabe, could ever believe: That you can make money by literally making money.

Yet many people seem happy to apply this Mary Poppins logic to branding: Brands are valuable, so you need to go to work to make brands. There’s a category mistake at work here. Money isn’t valuable because the paper it’s made of is valuable. It’s valuable because we all agree it’s valuable. Society creates that value, not the printing presses or the mints or the chaps in storybooks who cut pound notes out with scissors.

So we go to work to make things and do stuff that people value, and are willing to pay money for. Similarly, to build a brand your organization needs to do and say things that people find valuable.

But it’s consumers who create the value intrinsic in brands: We all judge companies by the things they say, the things they do, and how those two things match up.

Another one:

But the more we understand about the way that consumers make choices, the less brand thinking and traditional brand-tracking research make sense. Brand tracking often makes artificial distinctions for consumers that really don’t model the way we make a buying decision. They ask things like: Does A wash whites better than B? Which performs best on coloured clothes? They rarely give consumers an option that says, Meh. I just don’t care.

And this:

So the classic simplified branding model, where you make a promise, deliver on the promise, and then repeat the process, actually worked pretty well. Now the situation is a lot more complicated. Consumers don’t just form opinions in their own minds any more. Instead, we have conversations. And one vociferous consumer who, say, writes a song about your airline can earn a louder voice than the biggest brand can buy. So brands are even less of a property than they used to be.

It seems branding is overrated these days. Keep it somewhere you won’t forget 🙂

 

I heart alternatives to touching a screen…

…simply because it bothers me having anything between my eye and what I’m looking at (even if it’s my own finger). Those milliseconds I can’t see what I have just decided to choose/click/touch in an interface remind me that fingertips are not 1×1 pixels wide – as discreet mouse pointers.

This is why I would like to mention the great HCI work the guys at BERG are doing with their Connbox. So cool.

(I am really looking forward to trying this “reverse-skeuomorphism” on my own prototypes 🙂

In their words: “This feels like a rich direction to explore in future projects, of a kind of ‘reverse-skeuomorphism‘ where digital and physical affordances work together to do what each does best rather than just one imitating the other.”

 

Legible-interaction3

Legible-interaction2

Legible-interaction1

Here is a link to the whole thing:

http://berglondon.com/blog/2013/02/26/connbox/

 

Cheers!

Getting physical – Arduino adventures #2

I have a very clear picture of me, in 1997, the coolest sideburns in my class (although they looked like underarm hair) at the Database Introduction class. Our teacher introduced us to the concept of “The Real World”. She sketched this cartoonish cloud, to introduce us to how to do database modeling. I remember that I felt confused and frustrated, because there was the eager of creating my own war robots (i  was 14). But instead, I was learning how to organize information for a sales office.

There was nothing wrong about it. Now I know it was necessary.

But I was missing the ability of intervening in the physical world.

My final work on my last high school year (’99) was finally something on it. I wrote this software for PC, which controlled a “building”. I could control “lights” and “air-conditioners”. It was a wood model of a building, which my father hand-crafted, and car lights, and processor coolers. Good times.

Now, with all this arduinoing, I feel like I am free to shop for parts, to go into the electronic components stores and fearlessly ask my newbie questions. And it is all amazing.

The other day I went shopping, downtown Manaus, for parts. There were these fancy organized stores, but I was really mesmerized with some others, dark, dusty, dungeon like, gadgets cemetery. It still felt like shopping for ingredients for a slow cooking initiative.

Check it out:

 

Let the cooking begin.

Arduino adventures #1

I am arduinoing.

It feels awesome. Ask anyone who’s been playing with it.

It kind of links to the feelings of hope I had when I first started programming. It’s been a long time, but when I was thirteen, fourteen, I know I wanted to make things. I wanted to go embedded. But then, algorithms, networks and databases came along, and, you know.. they are appealing, and you can go webbing with them, and they give jobs, etc.

But when you work with the process concept-design-code your whole life, you get used to thinking of solutions that will deliver on a screen, through software.. On a computer or on a phone.

Now I feel like I am allowed to think objects. I am free to think of tangible. It is so thrilling.

This is a reminder to self, so I will always remember the feeling of making my code move/blink/buzz/turn/sense/go.

 

Technology for Pai Mei Precision Interaction.

In order to perform the event of focusing on most mobile phone cameras, you need to press the tiny little shutter button half-way down? Half-way down. That is an example of how much of a surgeon dexterity one needs to interact with some technology pieces.

The funny thing is that technologists (me) are often included into the non-athletic types category. It seems their (mine) muscular structure is not as solid as it should..  I mean, they (I)  have no motor coordination whatsover. Don´t get me wrong: when they have to strike on their PS3/Xbox controllers, they are the best. But we are talking dexterity here.

Take a look at this blog post snippet from a photography expert text about the Canon Rebel..

mastering the "half-way-down" dexterity

Please note I am not criticizing the blog post above. It´s actually cool.

I think they call it a two step shutter and some seem to dislike it. Many cameras have it. Many phone cameras have it too.

These buttons measure about 1mm of height (?). The software event of starting the auto-focus process is triggered by pressing these things half-way down, which measures 1/2mm (?)! Now seriously, it is not impossible, I know. But let´s face it, we have a large and comfortable room for improvement here.

Or, we can take Pai Mei´s training and be ready to use such technology:

We are all disabled #0 – Intro post.

I have told you the story about how I started to be interested in human-computer interactions here. I got deeply amazed about how accessibility problems (situations where the disabled strive to use a mobile phone) challenged me into thinking of alternative ways they (people and phones) could interact. I mean, how could one make a phone call without being able to speak? Or how can someone send a text message with no hands, or with no motor dexterity. The list goes on. A quick sit-down with a blind person could feed our innovators-hci-brain-cells with nitro.

Quick side note: I have very dear memories of me and my father watching bruce lee, jackie chan, van-damme movies, and it was always a cool part when the masters had creative (and painful) ways to teach their techniques. It was interesting how the blindfold fighting was a recurrent scene. I think it was supposed to enhance awareness by disabling the sight of the student. I think this relates well to creating alternative hci. See a classical example below on 03:18  :):

So, i kept going with experiments with mobile apps for the disabled. It felt both challenging and it was like the industry and the academia were not exploring it how it could (or should). Some ideas from our brainstorming sessions sounded so obvious and we could not find them implemented anywhere. We thought that maybe the it was a commercial/market thing, that accessibility would not be profitable enough for them to put a team of developers and designers together to work with it. After some time of reflection, we thought of many reasons to invest in accessibility, which we have been presenting in a lot of places, over the last 3 or 4 years.

But one of these reasons kept maturing and has taken over the way I think about hci. I realized that not only the disabled benefit from accessibility solutions. Think of someone trying to talk on the phone during that loud party. You will find yourself absolutely deaf (to the phone). Maybe this was an obvious example, but it is possible to stress these scenarios a bit further. Like when you are driving and you can´t (or you shouldn´t) look at the phone screen and you just have to blindly interact with it. Or this: Let´s say you are cooking and your hands are viscous, slimy, sticky, viscid, tacky, stringy, glairy, and you cannot hold your phone, but you do have to take that urgent call. How much of a handicap are you right there?

Anyway, we all have limitations and those should be the fuel of human x technology interaction innovation. Again,I keep thinking I am being so obvious here, but it gets tiring to see technologists getting self-amazed with their technically-wowing but humanless solutions. Really.

the rules of my thumb #0 – intro post

I wish to transform my own repertoire of early experiments into building blocks of scientific investigation maturity. Hopefully this will reflect on solutions to be developed further. A quick note on the expression “rule of thumb” I used in this post title. Some say that the term’s etymological origin lies in a law that limited the maximum thickness of a stick with which it was permissible for a man to beat his wife.

In the United States, legal decisions in Mississippi (1824) and North Carolina (1868 and 1874) make reference to—and reject—an unnamed “old doctrine” or “ancient law” by which a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick no wider than his thumb. For example, the 1874 case State v. Oliver (North Carolina Reports, Vol. 70, Sec. 60, p. 44) states: “We assume that the old doctrine that a husband had the right to whip his wife, provided that he used a switch no larger than his thumb, is not the law in North Carolina.” The Straight Dope

Jokes aside: maybe i should probably have said the rule of thumb relates to principles that are not intended to be very accurate or much reliable for every situation. Let the lessons learned from my failures stick with me permanently and, as my own thumb, may I be able to easily access them as thinking tools in the time of need.

I should be posting things I’ve come to notice, as a developer, and should be paying attention when dealing with human/accessible/usable/social/urban technology. Maybe I will come up with old-news for some, but maybe useful for some and reminders for myself.

A cold night in Finland.

The story of how alternative human-computer interaction started for me:

Late 2007, we were invited to participate in a quick meeting with the corporate social responsibility team in Nokia. They had just held a workshop with disable and elderly mobile phone users and listened to their complaints about their limitations and restricted use of this technology. The team shared a few testimonials and ideas. Some of the ideas felt challenging, simply because the sentences we heard were prefixed with “Are you guys able to …[]”. Our brains itched. It was me-the-developer, wilson-the-designer and carlos-the-marketing-guy. A person from Nokia CSR asked us if we could develop a mobile phone app that could use the phone camera as a magnifier, to help the hard of reading to e.g. check what are the nutrition facts on their cereal and make other types of fine printed information legible.

We went straight back to the hotel, on a cold Finnish night and started debating about the use of zooming and macro focus range on mobile phone cameras. We started from there. Countless builds later (around two months doing this after work hours), we came up with an app that adjusted zoom and macro to what we felt it was optimal and we sent it to the accessibility team in Nokia. I have to say they were actually very patient to coach us through several accessibility principles that shaped basically all of our experiments.

So we were at this point: The accessibility team in Nokia was checking out our app! And they liked it?! And after a few improvements and bug fixes we were publishing the app here. They wrote the entry post for Nokia Beta Labs and the guys from NRC Finland produced the video. It felt really rewarding. (good times, sigh..) We have a new version now, downloadable here (S60 3rd Edition) and here (Symbian^3). Also, here is a post on the Magnifier and its results.

From there on, I understand that mobile phones are intimate pieces of technology, full of sensors, fully connected and perfectly equipped to help people assessing their environment. It also lighted up the fact that humans have limitations which will prevent some of their senses to interact with mobile phones. I am not talking to the usual concept of a disabled user. But we can talk about that later. [here]

to be someone who makes things.

I remember when I was 14 and I was studying to pass the exam to enter this technical school in Manaus[1], and I was trying to make the cut into the Computer Science high school. I know I was hoping to be like dad or one of my uncles[2], just because they were the guys who made things. I mean they could really handcraft electro-things. One could go to the music shop and buy a guitar. Dad would just go ahead and make one[3]. It was nothing too fancy, but they did make amplifiers, smart furniture, and other gadgetry just for the sake of it. Just because they could. I felt like being one of them, even though this was not a clear self-reading back then.

I did make the cut. I did joined that technical school. Full of the smartest kids at their preceding schools. Not one athletic type. Not one cheerleader/prom queen kind[4]. They, like myself, were all awkward, inward talkers, toe-staring,  asthma pumpers,  and so forth. A comfortable place.

Except for one little-but-growing seed of discomfort. A forehead wrinkling  sensation of this-is-not-ive-signed-up-for.

We started studying all sort of introductions to technology. I have this very clear memory of the first Relational Database Design class: The teacher sketched a cartoonish cloud on the white board. Then she inflated her lungs with the dense solemn atmosphere of the birth of new technicians and said “this is the real world”[5]. At this point, my hopes of being a guy who could really make things were none. My friends were all so excited about programming techniques, just-launched SDKs, coding contests and so forth. I liked it too, but it was the kind of liking that you just have to like whatever is left-over to like when people like something so much. If this last sentence makes any sense to you, we can be friends.

It would start to get better at anytime now. I know I had to keep going with the learning curve for programming logic, digital electronics, etc. I liked it. It was challenging. But I guess it was like one wanting to be rich not because of the money itself, but because of what it can buy. I mean, I liked conceiving the ideas, making software, experimenting computational concepts, but didn’t really worship a particular programming language or an IDE.

I guess what I am trying to say is that this blog should be about technology making and how this relates to any human aspect I may find interesting . It should be about how the things I code will relate to e.g. the productivity of my sleep. Or how the use of a certain mobile app could slow down the pace of information pollution making around me… I also have to say that I believe mobile phones are one of the most intimate pieces of technology there are. I should be delivering some of the experiments around here in the form of hand-sculptured apps.

Now here is one thing: I graduated from Computer Science. That will not give you a solid base on Psychology or Sociology. We are not crafted to think human interactions, communications, etc. So, whenever I am debating on any topic around human aspects, I will be sitting in the comfortable chair of ignorance[6].

I wish all content delivered here reflects unveiling truth, not to awe an audience, but hopefully to inspire or provoke debate on our technology-influenced condition.
FOOT NOTES
[1] – Just so you know where I am from. I did not think this was relevant to anyone reading this blog, until I started reading this  or this and etc.
[2] – They are all engineers. Dad was the first with mechanical engineering, then his three younger brothers followed him with electronics.  Now that I am talking about it, *all* his cousins have gone ‘engineers’ after him. Btw, mom is a civil engineer. Then she decided to “humanize my profession” and graduated in Architecture. Enough with family business now.
[3] – I am now talking to him, see if i can get a picture of the guitar.
[4] – Here are the samples. I miss them.
[5] – It felt like I was going nowhere on making things.  I mean, now I get it, but for someone who was just ready to start soldering robots arms, this can be a cold shower.
[6] – The comfortable chair of ignorance is the one you sit whenever you feel like debating about something in more depth than you technically could. But you do it anyway, without the responsibility of saying the right thing (otherwise you are incompetent).  It is a self-consciousness free rhetoric tool I will use here.