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Mobile Community Design
Research and design information for mobile community developers.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Moving to San Francisco

Now that the PhD is in the final printing stages, I am finally making the move to San Francisco / Silicon Valley. I will be moved down by Dec. 11th 2006.

I am currently looking for employment in the Bay Area. My research and previous work experience relate to ubiquitous computing, mobile CSCW product design, usability and ethnography. I am ideally looking for a senior design role, preferably with some research involved. I also have sufficient experience to lead design projects, and advise on development processes and product strategy in this area.

If you live around SF/SV and work in the industry I'd like to meet you. Do you know of any reasonable size startups/companies looking for a motivated designer who likes pushing the boundaries of current interface design concepts? Please contact me if you know someone who I should get in touch with.

Also, I am now a member of BayCHI and I may be giving a talk at the next Mobile BOF group.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Time article on the effects of technology

Stepping outside the thesis excerpt series for a moment:

Time magazine posted a very cool article (pdf) by Evan Eisenberg and David Plunkert called Original Patents. It's a satirical look at what effects our toys actually have on the world through a visual medium.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Social Responsibility and Theoretical Choice - Part 1

Now that my thesis has been examined and accepted, I am going to begin posting excerpts that I think will be of interest to mobile designers and the broader HCI community. After it has been formally published I will post the entire thesis PDF, but as it is rather lengthy, I believe the smaller portions here should be easier to read.

This excerpt is the first of a six part series which addresses how design methods and theory affect the types of technologies we create and the social impact of those technologies. Are we ensuring a more humane world by using certain methods or frameworks? What can we learn from the historical examples of technology development? How can we determine if our new creations will make the world better or worse?

Excerpt from:
Axup, J. (2006, Forthcoming). Methods of Understanding and Designing For Mobile Communities. Thesis, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

It is not always clear to practitioners what the theoretical aims and resulting consequences of the methods they use are. Some methods are structured not only to produce useful results, but also to advance a social agenda or produce certain kinds of technologies. The remainder of this section explores the influence that technology has on human behaviour and the influence that designers and users have on technology. Several possibilities are presented which could help developers produce more humane technologies which likewise advance humanity’s potential.

Choosing Design Theory With Social Intent

All methods have a theoretical bias. Ethnomethodology leans towards accounts of socially constructed behaviour from the perspective of those that live it. Ethnography similarly advocates observations of natural behaviour. Participatory design has trade union and democratic leanings. Action research sometimes aims for social emancipation. Traditional software engineering can be reductionist and seeks organised structure and logical workflows. Cultural probes aim to be playful and provoke participants to reconsider their lives. Each of these theories or methods influences the participants who take part in the research, and ultimately the type of designs and ideas that result from using them. When we choose methods we necessarily promote certain social values and design processes.

Choosing a method is often a practical issue concerning what will get results or which methods are familiar and comfortable to use. However this means that we may be supporting certain design ideologies and social outcomes of our work without realising it. So what are the implications of our design choices? What is the societal goal behind the design? Recently Google and other major US technology companies were publicly admonished for their social policies in foreign markets. Wired reported that US representative Tom Lantos said "Your abhorrent actions in China are a disgrace. I simply do not understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night." and went on to discuss the need for social responsibility in the tech industry . So it seems that governments are interested in the social implications of technology use, and that perhaps designers should increasingly do so as well.

Next post: Technology and Those That Control Its Use

Monday, November 06, 2006

UMPC vision video

The UMPC site has an interesting little future scenario video about how UMPCs might be used. The vision seems fairly keyboard dominant which is interesting for a device that boasts handwriting recognition potential. The size has also come down to a more reasonable A5 size that would be a good compromise for reasonable web browsing but not be unwieldy.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Writing While Walking

While doing some of my doctoral research I found it difficult to walk (or run) around after people and take notes, or keep eye contact with them at the same time. Also, I discovered how slow writing with a pen actually is when you have a complex observation or thought. Thus, it occurred to me to use a wearable computer, which would enable touch typing. However, head-mounted displays and twiddlers each have their issues, so I thought about a solution using more conventional hardware and a wireless connection.

At the time I was playing with an older bluetooth enabled PDA and a FrogPad one-handed keyboard. However the bluetooth drivers didn't work and I had trouble mounting the PDA to my arm. And that's where the experiment ended. However, now that I've submitted the thesis I have more time to play with it - and I think I have a working solution now. The following sections show a system which enables mobile data logging for field work, which is particularly suitable for situations with mobile participants.

Here is the "covert" operating mode. The right sleeve doesn't have to be rolled up like I have it in the photo. The band can fit over a sleeve.

Here's the equipment being used for data entry. A frogpad bluetooth keyboard is attached to a pocket on the hip. The I-mate K-JAM PDA is attached via a makeshift armband on the left arm.

Here's how you could touch-type, walk, and quickly review your writing while walking (use your imagination for the walking part).

Here's a closeup of the equipment.

Typing on the FrogPad. It is a chord keyboard. I haven't learned to touch-type on it yet, but theoretically you can get around 40wpm on it. This placement and angle isn't ideal, but isn't too bad either.

Here's the wearer's view of what is being typed.

The screen can be easily turned back into the body for privacy. The PDA and keyboard are paired wirelessly (don't try this with an older PDA). It's not necessary to view what you're typing most of the time. This is only to check for misspellings, etc. It's currently using a standard installation of pocket MS Word and a screen rotation utility. There's no reason you couldn't use pocket Excel and set up macros to automatically time-stamp every entry you put into a cell - perfect for data logging.

The armband is a piece of stretchy foam/fabric commonly found in sports/health stores pre-packaged as an arm or muscle brace. I got this used, but you can buy them for 10-$20. Sometimes they already have velcro bits you can remove and reapply as needed with a seam ripper and sewing kit.

Here's my makeshift addition of metal clips to the back of the keyboard with velcro strips.

It seems to work reasonably well and is removable. I might just glue them to the back eventually. It's possible to clip to a pocket (if the pocket is at the right angle) or to a combination of belt and pocket.

I've used some pretty heavy-duty contact cement to fasten some velcro directly onto the battery compartment of the PDA. However the battery compartment only has a flimsy plastic catch on the inside, so I may look into other options eventually. Having velcro on the PDA itself allows for repositioning of the angle of the screen on the arm.

So that's it. A wearable typing system using standard technology. A head-mounted display could also work, however, it's difficult to avoid attracting attention while taking notes anyhow. As most wearable users can tell you, they attract A LOT of attention. This can change observed behavior drastically and distract the observer. This system does look a little geeky, but most other people around will probably figure out what it is rapidly and they won't think they're under video surveillance.

If you try something like this yourself please post comments about it. Thanks!

Related papers:
Lumsden, J. and Gammell, A., Mobile Note Taking: Investigating the Efficacy of Mobile Text Entry, 6th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, September 13-16, 2004 (2004) p. 156-167.