The internet bubble burst in 2001 couldn’t stop nor slow down one of the most rapid and profound transformations society had ever experienced. Over a short period of time, nearly all of the everyday practices used to go about daily life, were ported from physical to digital settings and, in the process, deeply transformed. As transactions were disintermediated, people took direct control of many activities that previously required travel to dedicated locations, presence, lenghty processes, material artifacts and face-to-face interactions. The mad race to be the first and the best on-line unleashed a formidable amount of energy, innovation, creativity and capital.
Social activities cannot however simply be translated from the material to the digital realms. Many aspects of the physical settings, like guidance and help from human agents, familiarity, dedicated artefacts, immediate feedback and the learning context available to master the activity, are not immediately available in the digital setting. On the other hand, when operating in the digital realm, people can choose where and when to engage in the activity; can learn the task first hand and can find additional guidance from documentation and customer care.
I was fortunate enough to be fully involved and play an active part in this transformation. I worked alongside Internet Service Providers who were introducing people to the internet; publishers who were making their contents available digitally; bankers who were giving direct access to a level of information and direct transactions tools to their customers; television channels who were developing interactive TV.
One theme run across all these innovation domains: empower people, make them more autonomous, while at the same time extract value by increasing returns and/or decreasing costs.
The Nouvelles Architectures de l’Information article, written with Stefana Broadbent, which was first published in French (2003) and then in English (2006), captures the spirit of the moment and discusses some of the principles that were driving our design work at the time to make the new transactions enjoyable and successful. Our design work aimed at removing hurdles and frustrations; giving full visibility on options, immediate control and support for learning; making the digital setting familiar.
The approach we took to design services combined observations of existing routines, emerging digital practices and benchmarking of best in class services. The Narrative Approach to User Requirements for Web Design (Interactions of the ACM, November-December 2000) article, written with Stefana Broadbent, describes the way we linked consolidated practices to new digital ones, while introducing tangible new benefits as incentives to adopt the new services and adapt to it. We came to the sweet spot for innovation by tightly linking ethnography and design: gaining quick insights on existing practices and emerging digital practices through ethinographic observations; combined with in-depth analysis of the leading services for positioning and differentiation.
This systematic, demanding approach led to several groundbreaking web designs for media, maps and navigation, financial, travel and public services, measured in terms of experience innovation, uptake and usage.
The user-centered process underlying this approach was captured in rational unified process e-business development and then documented as the IconProcess.
One of the conditions of successful design is the in-depth knowledge of the target audience’s aspirations, expectations and behaviours that a new product or service is meant to address and serve. Research on usage of innovations generates insights on the behaviours that emerge around the innovation as well as on the needs and aspirations that remain unmet.
Most of the usage research I was involved in was part of the early phases of design projects. Some research projects were instead aimed at following the evolution of usage over a period of time, to be in the position of extrapolating future trajectories and identifying new opportunities. This type of usage research was strategic in nature.
The Usages d’internet par les demandeurs d’emploi (Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales (52/3, 2006) article reports on a series of observations of unemployed people using the internet not only to search and apply for jobs, but also to be part of networks and support each other.