Mark’s UX clippings: the importance of context

Each week Mark will bring us the latest UX news from around the world wide web. This week the the most important news was the announcement by Intel CTO Justin Rattner on a future of context-aware devices. And there were some cultural bytes (or shall I say bites) by ethnographer Tricia Wang, who in her own way also talked about context.

Intel CTO on the future of context-aware devices

Justin Rattner, Intel CTO, talked this week about a future of context-aware devices. If you think carefully about how we live now with the devices we own and carry around, we have to admit that we still have to adapt way too much to them. Devices are dumb about the context they are in or the people that carry them. As UX researchers we know that many people complain about the overload of information and ask for simplification and real support. We know people want relevancy and Rattner provides an initial answer to that need, by imagining a future where devices become highly personal assistants or companions. His answer was initial and highly tech-centric, so it now needs to be worked on. This is our challenge, as user experience designers. It is not a minor job. In fact, it could turn out to be our key challenge in the coming years. It surprised me that hardly anyone in the UX community has reflected on the implications of Rattner’s speech – coverage was mostly in the tech press – and I hope this analysis will come in the coming weeks.


The other main inspiration for me this week was Tricia Wang, whose blog Culturalbytes I explored again with delight. I particularly like her determined eagerness to exposing the myth that free and open access to information, and in particular information technology, can create real social change, most of all outside of the United States. “Neo-informationalist policies, such as the new “internet freedom” foreign policy to ensure free and flowing information, compliment neoliberal practices in corporate welfare to keep markets free and open to the US and all of our allies who benefit from our work. But it’s not free for all when it’s just free for some.” Her analysis is daring and thought provoking, and I think quite on the mark. It makes you think twice about ITC4D and HCI4D initiatives. And thinking twice is always a good approach to follow.

Other interesting news

Intel: it’s all about the experience

The Intel announcements this week, particularly those by CTO Justin Rattner, are quite visionary. But also anthropologist Genevieve Bell’s approach is making waves in the community, such as this article by

Before the Experience Lab, [Genevieve Bell] was working with the Digital Home team; a job she jokes that she got because of her criticism of Intel’s ill-fated Viiv platform; while Intel engineers were promising to “unleash the PC in your TV” she was pointing out that people already had a screen in their living room and they didn’t want it to behave anything like a PC.

“We put up with things in PCs that we would never put up with in a TV. Imagine the first time the TV told you it needed a new driver or the first time your Tivo said it needed to defragment before you could record a programme – or the first time your TV blue screened!”

Instead, she says, Intel should have been asking “What is the essence of TV that people love so much? What is it that’s so compelling that we still organise our day, our time and our furniture around it?” The very un-PC answer is that “People love TV because it’s not complicated. It’s one button to a story they care about.”

The digital panopticon
source: O’Reilly Radar

In 2009 Joshua-Michéle Ross explored on O’Reilly Radar a series of questions on the value and function of social media (a.k.a. social technologies).

“I will not be arguing that social technologies are a bane or should be stopped. I don’t believe the former is true and I believe the latter is impossible… I will not be arguing against technology. Rather, I will raise questions about the potential abuse of social technologies and the steps we might take to remedy them. The more discussion this prompts within the Radar community the better.”

Part 1: The evangelist fallacy, social media and the new Age of Enlightenment
Part 2: Captivity of the commons
Part 3: The digital panopticon

Mark Vanderbeeken

Mark Vanderbeeken is a senior partner at Experientia, an international experience design consultancy, based in Turin, Italy. He is also the author of the successful experience design blog Putting People First.

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