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Aaron Marcus, the President of Aaron Marcus and Associates, Inc., (AM+A), an independent user-experience design, research, and consulting company in Berkeley, California, USA was recently invited to be a Master of the De Tao Masters Academy based in Beijing China (http://www.detaoma.com). He is one of about 100 people selected from North America and Europe to share the “best of the West” with “wisdom of the East,” to combine them in a harmonious approach that can help China improve its nation, culture, economy, and, in my case, its approach to user-centered design of products and services for an ever-incrasing domestic marketplace, as well as, potentially, for global markets.


Aaron spoke to Design with India about his concept of Persuasive Design and his vision for creating East West Collaboration in India. Aaron is seeking partnerships for setting up a Center for  User Experience Design in India.

Best of the West with Wisdom of the East

Indian Center for User-Experience Design


The objective of a Center of User-Experience Design (CUXD) would be to ippart wisdom of user-centered, user-experience development to design, engineering, business, and marketing professionals and students throughout India. The  primary CUXD focus would be to produce computer-based products and services that are more usable, useful, and appealing to domestic as well as global markets. UX development encompases all of these activities in an iterative process: planning, research, analysis, design, evaluation, implementation (coding or building), documentation, training, and marketing (including brand identity, messaging, and executive marketing presentations. The CUXD would work in all six user-experience spaces identified by AM+A in previous publications:


Interview with Aaron Marcus


Uday: Hello Aaron,  I understand that recently you have been invited to China to help establish a strategy for  "Made In China". Our friends in India are very intrigued by this concept. Could you please tell us what this project is about and what you have been commissioned to achieve.


Aaron: Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you, Uday. I have been honored this year to be invited to be a Master of the De Tao Masters Academy based in Beijing China (http://www.detaoma.com). I am one of about 100 people selected from North America and Europe to share the “best of the West” with “wisdom of the East,” to combine them in a harmonious approach that can help China improve its nation, culture, economy, and, in my case, its approach to user-centered design of products and services for an ever-incrasing domestic marketplace, as well as, potentially, for global markets.


I am hoping to establish an Institute for User-Centered Design in Shanghai that will replicate some of the activities of my own company (http:www.amanda.com) over the past 30 years: planning, research, analysis, design, evaluation, implementation, documentation, training and marketing related to computer-based products and services. I hope to develop a “multi-cultural” East-West team that can take on consulting and professional practice with innovative startups, corporations, and multinations in China, to provide training to software engineers and user-experience designers both onsite and at the Institute as apprentices, and to publish in Chinese many of my books and publications that have been available in English. I hope in my own way to follow the insights of Dr Shang-Ling JUI, who recently published From “Made in China” to “Innovated in China.” My approach is to change the brand of China into both “Made in China and Designed in China.”


However, I believe this approach can be adapted to other countries and cultures, which is part of our cross-cultural approach to innovation, communication, collaboration, and design. For example, the same issues and opportunities exist in India.


Uday: I am very interested in your idea of "Pursuasive design" could you please tell me a little more about what this means in terms of tangible benefits to your clients and who do you persuade and why?


Aaron: Let me back up in time a bit. I have been involved with computer-graphics design since 1967 and may have been the first graphic designer in the world to use computers then. Although I was always interested in information design and visualization, it was not until I was a Research Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, in 1978 that I realized my future career direction. I led a research/design team to visualize global energy interdependence.


Our multicultural team (including an Indian audio-visual expert) produced a non-verbal sign/symbol presentation using charts, maps, and diagrams. We had some success with the presentation showing it around the world, but we didn’t change the world. In the meantime, Senator Al Gore In the USA began to awaken people’s interest in sustainabilty.


In 2001-05 I began to study Robert Cialdini’s persuasion science theories and B.J. Fogg’s persuasive technology theories. It was not long after that I conceived in about 2008 a project to combine information design with persuasion design using mobile technology to change people’s behavior. We already had a lot of experience doing mobile-oriented research-and-design projects for HP Labs, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and Siemens.


The version of the behavior-change process include these steps:


1.Attract people to some new product or service, getting them engaged.

2.Help them to get started with some small aspect of behavior change.

3.Provide training and/or assistance, advice or tips oriented to helping them start or maintain or improve their performance in achieveing their objectives

4.Guide them to short-term behavior changes

5.Guide them to long-term behavior changes, which usually means some form of life-style change.


We have taken this theory and brought it into practice in our conceptual design projects for mobile devices that are intended to help change people’s behavior regarding ecological, healthcare, wealth management, and storytelling, among other subject areas.


Uday: During our recent conversations you expressed keen interest in finding partners in India who could bring to market your Machine concepts. You talked about the Green Machine, Health Machine, Money Machine, Story Machine and Travel Machine. Could you please begin by explaining what these ideas are and how they are different from hundreds of thousands of apps being developed for mobile phones today?


Aaron: It was just a short step from thinking about persuasion theory to conceive of developing on our own a concept design for a Green Machine, a mobile app for smartphones that would change people’s behavior about energy consumption. I have been intertested in the subject of energy conservation for many decades. I felt we might be able to accomplish what we had not been able to do just with information design and visualization in our East-West Center project.


For our self-funded R+D projects, I was fortunate to have the assistance of several capable R+D Interns to work with me in researching the subject matter, conducting competitive product analyses, designing the information architecture, and designing initial and revised screens based on potential-user feedback.


We were able to present our results first at a Septermber 2009 international conference sponsored by the International Institute for Information Design (Vienna) in Paris. We later published a case study and a professional-practice article, and I have lectured about the project worldwide since then.


Now comes an exciting development. The enterprise software company SAP saw our presentation and invited AM+A to assist their staff to incorporate our ideas into their enterprise software. We worked under the Chief Sustainability Office of SAP and the Senior Vice-President for User-Experience Design of SAP. We researched and designed several mobile concepts, wrote guidelines for combining persuasion design and sustainability in enterprise software, worked with a product team to implement our ideas in a product, and were kindly made co-signers of three SAP patent applications based on our work with them. In general, it was a success story for our original concept design. We were able to show and eventually demonstrate the value of persuasion design added to software technology to help change users’ behavior for the better.


Since that time, we have gone on to design three more Machines: The Health Machine  (2010) helps to change consumer behavior about diet and exercise to avoid obesity and type 2 diabetes. The Money Machine (2011) helps to change the spending and saving behavior of US Baby Boomers who are about to retire. The Story Machine (2011) helps to change the story-sharing behavior of geographically distributed, asynchronous families, to enable grandparents, children, and grandchildren to use mobile media to share stories with each other, especially for grandparents to share their wisdom with their grandchildren, whom they may not see that often.


We have published white papers, case studies, and/or professional articles and delivered presentations about all of our four Machines. Three of our machines received design awards in Taiwan in 2011 in an international competition held by the International Institute for Information Design. In fact, the Money Machine was deemed the best of the financial category. We also lectured about these project in India at the Mobile Plus conference in Chennai in September 2011 (see http://www.mobileplus-india.net for the conference information and free, downloadable proceedings.)


We are at work now on the Innovation Machine, which we expect to finish in the fall of 2012. Like its predecessors, the Innovation Machine concept design combines information design and persuasion design in a mobile product (smartphone, tablet, and associated Web portal) that changes people's behavior about innovation and design thinking when they are creating new products and services, whether they are a single innovator, a member of a startup, or a member of a corporate/organizational innovation team.


By providing suitable dashboards, process models, focused social networking, filtered just-in-time knowledge, and appropriate challenges (games and competitions), the Innovation Machine seeks to change people's behavior towards better, wiser, more effective, engaged, and successful practices. Similar to our earlier projects, the Innovation Machine team is researching the subject matter of innovation theory and design thinking, conducting competitive product/service analysis, developing a suitable information architecture for user personas and use scenarios, and designing example screens of the planned product. These examples will be used for informal evaluation by potential users, which will inevitably lead to some design changs.  After about three months of research and development, our team will produce a white paper and presentation about their achievements, which will be a basis for follow-on publication of a case study and professional article.


In the accompanying images, you can see some screens of the Green Machine and Health Machine to give you an idea about the designs.


[See Example images from the Green Machine and the Health Machine on this page]


We are trying to find partners for each Machine to take these innovative concepts to commercial products, somewhat as we did with SAP. We believe that specific solutions can be found to meet the condidtions in India, China, and elsewhere to improve people’s lives using this approach to make products that are truly usable, useful, and engaging because of the user-experience they provide.


Our approach is somewhat broader than most of the thousands of apps being developed because most to not incorporate a plan for behavior change and do not do the necessary research and development to achieve that short-term and long-term behavior change. They are usually more narrowly focused on immediate sales success and focused on a more narrow range of functions and data.


Uday: You are a busy man in the US. You have already taken up a responsibility in China. So, why are you interested in India? Don't you have enough already on your plate? I would really appreciate if you could please elaborate your reasons and vision for partnering with an agency in India.


Aaron: When I first visited India in 1975, I was overwhelmed by the experience. As many people in India said, “India is a different planet than the rest of the earth.” I found it had the densest concentration of beauty in people, colors, smells, sounds, tastes, textures, crafts, and history that I had ever witnessed. Everywhere else seemed “pale” or somewhat “empty.” The country and its culture have continued to attract me.


That said, I do have many activities and responsibilities, but at this point in my life, I see patterns of opportunity and ways to make changes that do not require the wanderings and activities in which I engaged in earlier decades of my life. I see the possibility of taking the 30-year history of my firm, my life’s professional activities, and bringing that knowledge to help change the way design education takes place, the way that design practice takes place in India. What is needed are significant and powerful partners who would be committed to start a Center for User-Experience Design in India, and to spread the word, and the knowledge, of how to change the practice of many companies and organizations in India. People in India know best how to accomplish that. They are experts in tactics. I am confident that I can provide strategic guidance or mentorship of appropriate hubs of innovation in user-experience design practice that would be carried further into many companies and institutions. What is necessary now is to light the spark., to create the light. There are many people to carry on with torches to light the way along many paths to a better tomorrow.


Uday: Let us talk business now. Design with India is a forum for connecting potential partners. Could you please describe the profile of people or organizations you are looking for in India and why they should partner with you?


Aaron: We are looking for partners in the form of bright, dedicated people with funds, political and social power, and organized structures of energetic communities who can transform words into actions, who can turn ideas into buildings, processes, activities, and institutions that turn a Center for User-Experience Design from a theoretical position paper to a living, breathing event that has long-lasting effects on industry, academia, government, and the general public.


As for why they should partner with us, I would say we have an established track record as a source of pioneering, innovative insights in to the future of computer-based communication and interaction, we have worked with major government and industry groups, and we have been entrusted with helping to form evolutionary and revolutionary changes in products and services over a period of three decades.

The CUXD would conduct consulting/contracted R+D activities with companies in India focusing on knowledge-design and –visualization, cross-cultural communication, mobile user-experience design, social networking, dashboards and process modeling, and games/competition, all tied to persuasion design.

In addition, the CUXD would provide training at conferences, on-site at companies, through Internet-based courses, and through apprenticeships and internships on-site at the CUXD. The target audience for such training will include software engineers, user-experience designers, interaction designers, visual designers, prodcut designers, human-factors specialists, technical documentation specialists, business managers, marketing managers, and others, all of whom are stakeholders in achieving an excellent user-experience for computer-based products and services. Wherever possible, CUXD would provide training with Indian local audio-visual materials.

CUXD would also publish book, monographs, e-books/monographs, blogs, and articles in India for domestic and also for global markets to promote the CUXD  philosophy, principles, techniques, and tools for excellent user-experience design.

As occasions arise CUXD would tranfer some of its strategy, tactics, prototypes, and publications to start-ups or intrepeneurial businesses within Indian companies for future product/service development.

The CUXD would plans to offer full professional services as a center for user-experience development, with an emphais on design.

Market Overview

India’s economy, society, and industry are at a cross-roads of human history in 2012.


India  has succeeded in creating a large middle class. From about 2010 to about 2030, the country’s middle class will grow from about 5 percent of the population to more than 40 percent and create the world’s fifth-largest consumer market. [AUGUST 2007 • Eric D. Beinhocker, Diana Farrell, and Adil S. Zainulbhai, Source: McKinsey Global Institute, quoted in the McKinsey Quarterly, January 2012, www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Tracking_the_growth_of_Indias_middle_class_2032.] With 1.21 billion people in April 2011, demographers expect India's population to surpass the population of China, currently the most populous country in the world, by 2030. At that time, India is expected to have a population of more than 1.53 billion while China's population is forecast to be at its peak of 1.46 billion, which will begin to drop in subsequent years [http://geography.about.com/od/obtainpopulationdata/a/indiapopulation.htm].


These statistics suggest an increasing production and consumption of products and services. Naturally, India would like to be at the center of the production. At the same time, it is important that these products and services, whether from domestic or global sources fit the Indian country and culture. The achievement of fit, of culturally sensitive design, especially related to user-centered design, is a big challenge.


User-centered design means that product and service developers must do the appropriate research into user needs and wants, design appropriate personas or user profiles and use scenarios, conduct appropriate competitive product/service analysis (with regard to usability, usefulness, and appeal), design appropriate information architecture and look-and-feel that result in an excellent user experience. For many computer-based products, this achievement centers around user-interface design and information design/visualization. All of this activity is also called interaction design, information-architecture design, computer-human interaction design, and human-computer interaction design, depending on which professional organization one follows. The development process is also taking place at ever-increasing speed, thanks to lean, agile software development practices, which place special demands on incorporating user-experience design.


As people, industry, government, and education increase the development of computer-based products and services for both domestic and global markets, there is a strong need for wise practices that result in products and services that are usable, useful, and appealing, not only for domestic, but for global markets.


Aside from a growing domestic market, exports abroad can grow and be in the form of computer-based products and services that require developers to produce an excellent user experience: making products that are easy to learn and easy to use. Will India be ready for the demands of design? It remains to be seen.


What is needed is to work an Indian way of assisting major companies and educational institutions in India to achieve some of their aspirations in the area of user-experience design.


he objective of a Center for User-Experience Design is to help tranform India from a maker of products and services to a design engine: from Made In India to Designed in India. In the course of this evolution, India may come up with unique solutions that fit the Indian domestic markets’ needs and expectations, which are different from other countries and culture. In order to achieve this evolution to Designed in India, many professionals must be given expertise and experience quickly. The CUXD  proposes to provide that kind of wise assistance and just-in-time training.


These products/services will emphasize and utilize effective knowledge and information visualization and sonification as well as advanced user-interface, user-interaction, and user-interface design.


Many companies are using too few user-exeprience professionals who have only a few years of experience and relatively little education/training in user-centered design. Such training requires a corporate research and development (R+D) culture that understands, values, and acts upon good design. Unfortunately, this understanding is lacking in India in many schools, although a limited number of companies, laboratories, schools of design, and university departments have begun to focus on the set of activities that can improve and innovate in how products/services are designed, making them more usable, useful, and appealing.


In the business world, many theories of innovation, knowledge management, information mining, crowdsourcing, use of cloud resources and mobile solutions, social networking, and other conceptual developments are influencing the directions of business development. All of these evolutionary and revolutionary approaches must inevitably rely on interactive knowledge visualization and sonification, which is on the path toward the highest level of knowledge, information, and data management.


The objective of the CUXD is to assist all developer in improving their processes, structures, and policies. Leading to improved user-experience design. The return on investment (ROI) of employing user-centered design in the development of products and services has been demonstrated decades ago. The fact that multinational enterprise software companies now have armies of 300-500 UX design professionals and 1000-2000 UX programmers devoted to UX design is a testament to the mission-critical nature of this activity and training. These same companies are committing hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to training their teams. Indian companies will need to do the same to compete domestically and globally, with consequent results of increased sales, greater customer satisfaction, lower development and customer support costs, and greater brand recognition.


The  CUXD concept seeks to take advantage of the latest, most significant, most sophisticated, developments of business, technology, science, and design thinking, and to bring them in conjunction with knowledge design, visualization, and sonification to produce superior user experiences. The CUXD will take advantage of AM+A’s expertise and experience over the past 30 years throughout the world and Aaron Marcus’ pioneering design, research, publishing, and trainng efforts over the past 45 years. The consequences of not making this transformation of product/servcie development to superior user-experience design is to lose out in the transformation of India’s domestic and global market opportunities.

AM+A’s Green Machine Mobile Concept with Persuasion Design, 2009.



AM+A researched and designed prototypes for a mobile application designed to change  consumer behavior about saving energy. The project combined information design and persuasion design. AM+A published case studies in Information Design Journal and User Experience magazine, 2010. SAP saw the presentations about the project and hired AM+A to adapt the ideas to enterprise software and company emplyees seeking to change their sustainabilty behavior. AM+A is a co-signer to three patent applications based on their work for SAP, 2011. The International Institute of Information Design awarded the Green Machine for the sustainability section of its international competition for information design, 2011.

AM+A’s Health Machine Mobile Concept with Persuasion Design, 2010.



AM+A researched and designed prototypes for a mobile application designed to change  consumer behavior about nutrition and exercise in order to avoid obesity and type 2 diabetes. The project combined information design and persuasion design. AM+A published a case study in Information Design Journal 2011. The International Institute of Information Design awarded the Health Machine for the health section of its international competition for information design, 2011.

The photo of Aaron Marcus on US currency comes from his published projects called Customized Currency and Collectible Currency, in which he proposes that the US Treasury Department should allow anyone’s portrait and any company’s logo to appear on the front and back of official US currency provided the sponsor of the imagery pays $100 million for each image. In this way, the US could reduce its deficit of $1.4 trillion dollars by about 50 percent in a relatively short time. The project relies on the idea of re-branding national currency as an ego/pr medium.