Alan Cooper , one of my user-centered design gurus, was the first to teach me that often, products that have been inspired by a specific need of a specific group of people end up being broadly successful (the rolling suitcase is a famous example). I’ve always loved this concept.
I love it even more when the niche product that becomes broadly successful was initially designed for people with special needs. (If you have such universal-design-is-good-for-you examples, please send them my way)
A nice example, Snaidero’s Skylab kitchen, is described in a book called Design-driven innovation: Changing the rules of competition by radically innovating what things mean, by Roberto Verganti (this is an interesting and provocative book, and it comes recommended by Don Norman)
This kitchen was created to make it easier for people in wheelchair to move around and access stuff in cabinets and on countertops. The team working on this project spent hours observing wheelchair users using traditional kitchens and thinking about ways to adapt the design to their needs.
For example, they created round countertops that allowed people in wheelchair to move around more easily, and carousel countertop to reach objects on counters and in cabinets (more pictures of Skylab)
It turned out that all sorts of people loved Skylab. The countertop carousel made easier and more convenient for everybody to reach objects. The curvy surfaces were beautiful and made moving around the kitchen easier. The rounded edges, notes Verganti, made also possible for people to cook without turning their back to others and made it easier and more pleasant to interact with family and friends.
“Although Snaidero had assumed that Skyline_lab’s features would prove meaningful for many users, the firm did not anticipate that the biggest demand would come from traditional users. In response, the company released a version of the kitchen addressed to a broader market. This version became the firm’s best-selling product after only two months and today accounts for more than 20% of Snaidero’s revenues. Many customers do not know about the product’s origin.”
In a recent New Yorker’s article, “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted,” Malcolm Gladwell discusses the role of new media in social movements. Gladwell writes that new social media are a bad fit for civil resistance movements, especially those that involve personal high risk and long-term commitment. New media are a good tool for weak-tie, loosely organized networks while social revolutions require centralized and tightly organized groups.
In an insightful post on his blog iRevolution, Patrick Meier, director of Ushahidi (and much more) replies with a yes and yes: yes, new digital technologies don’t work without understanding the practices of civil resistance, and yes, they can be very effective in making the practices of civil resistance more efficient and in increasing their reach. New media may not be the most effective way to recruit people into high-risk social movements, but they are a very good tool when it comes to sharing and disseminating information.
I agree with Patrick Meier: new digital media are essential to social movements. But something else in Gladwell’s article has caught my attention: the role of strong-ties in creating and maintaining powerful civil resistance movements and the inadequacy of new social media in creating and maintaining strong social ties.
The crew of Information Week visited Google recently and got an exclusive sneak preview of the redesign of the Google Docs editors that was launched today. They concluded that Google Docs is now ready to Take Microsoft Office Head On.
(You can find much more information and cool videos on Information Week’s special page on Google Docs)
During their visit, David Berlind took some time to visit the usability lab and to discuss with me how User Research helps shape Google products. Take a look!
A reminder to all of my friends that on Saturday I’m participating at the Interdependence Project marathon and I need your help.
As you can read in my previous post, I will be publicly sitting for 4 hours on Saturday, between 11AM and 3PM, in support of the Interdependence Project. This is the annual fund raising for this great non profit organization.
Showing your support is easy: visit this page, select your amount, and add my name in the “Name of sitter” field.
I know you want to do it, and the time is short! Come to the event, which is hosted by the ABC Carpet and Home at the corner between Broadway and 19th street, to see me sitting still and to get free meditation classes with three great teachers: Roshi O’Hara, Dr. Miles Neale, and Robert Chender. The classes are at 12:00PM, 2PM and 5:3pPM. If you want to learn more about meditation, now is the time.