Category Archives: Research

Research Through Design 2015

We’re proud to be hosting the Research Through Design 2015 conference between July the 25th and 27th next year at Microsoft Research Cambridge, UK. RTD2013 was a definite highlight for me last year (see my previous posts). It manages to straddle design and academia very well, with an emphasis on submitting short papers, so not a huge amount of writing, along with an artefact which is both exhibited at the conference and then forms the centrepiece of discussion in each of the breakout sessions. This makes the conference really design friendly, and conversations happen in a round-table style that makes them very open and democratic.

I’d encourage anyone in design, either in or on the edges of academia, in the creative disciplines or in HCI, to consider submitting something to this great conference. The more diverse a mix of designers and practitioners it can get, the more the conversations get interesting.

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Research Through Design Session 1 | Room 2 | Doing

Continuing my notes from the recent Research Through Design conference in Newcastle [see opening keynote]. This is the first of the sessions I attended on Day 1. Each session was held in a small room that sat about 30 people, all around a large conference table, and featured talks by 3 or 4 of the participants who had each submitted some kind of artefact to the event. Each artefact was presented, then plenty of time was left for discussion amongst the presenters and audience, not that it felt like there was a division between the two. Each session was tied thematically, with the following talks all being connected through the “Doing” of design research.

Below are my notes from day 1 of this event, featuring biological/architectural work, code, craft and paper electronics.

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Things We’ve Learnt About…Search and Web Use

We have a new issue of the “Things We’ve Learnt About…” magazine, a regular publication we release each issue of which summarizes the research work of the Socio-Digital Systems team around a particular theme. This one is all about “Search & Web Use” and has been primarily authored by Richard Harper and Sian Lindley, with a LOT of hard work by Nick Duffield, who did all the design work on it.

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The digital version is available for free, or you can buy a printed version if you want (they’re really nicely printed, but done print-on-demand so are a little pricey – we don’t make any money from them).

This issue is a summary of the SDS “Beyond Search” theme, focussing on Sian’s “5 Web Modes”, and showcasing various projects that have come out of the work, including Seeds, Cards and our work with Aalto University on “Domesticating Search”. I’m pretty proud of this magazine series, and this is another great issue for us to give out both internally and externally, to showcase what we do.

As a reminder, there are now three issues of the magazine, on Communication, Memory and Search. All of them are available from the here.

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Technology Heirlooms in the National Media Museum

I was lucky enough to get a request from the UK’s National Media Museum in Bradford for the use of our Technology Heirlooms prototypes in their new exhibition, Life Online, all about the development of computing and the internet.

The exhibition opened in April, but I only just had a chance to see it in August when I travelled North to Yorkshire for a spot of camping. It’s a great exhibition, with a lot of old bits of technology leading to more contemporary content. A timeline made of glass, embedded in the floor, runs all the way through the gallery, counting off the years next to examples of technology of the time. At the end of the timeline is a glass exhibition case, with our prototypes in them under the banner “Into the Future”. Really nice to see them put to good use.

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The future of looking back – now in paperback.

I’m really delighted to be able to announce that I’ve written a book, entitled The future of looking back and published by Microsoft Press, which deals with the topic of digital legacy, technology heirlooms and other themes close to my heart. It covers a lot of the work that we’ve been doing in Cambridge around memory, reminiscing and so on, as well as including a lot of references to research and design work that I’ve come across that points to new and interesting directions.

The book was announced on the 27th of September as part of Microsoft Research’s 20th Anniversary celebration, and is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and O’Reilly. I’m expecting it to be physically released in just a week (Amazon says the 4th of October).

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The book is broken down into three broad parts (there’s a pretty extensive preview of the content on Amazon). First, in “Stuff and Sentimentality” I talk about the difference in nature of physical things versus digital things, and the impact that our transition from the world of real to the world of the virtual might have on the way we preserve and pass on our content. In “A Digital Life” I talk generally about lifespans, and key life events (including bereavement), focusing on the role that technology is starting to play in each, particularly with regard to the creation of personal and sentimental digital artefacts. Finally, in “New Sentimental Things” I speculate more on the future and trends in technology and the impact that new directions may have in the way we record, remember and reflect on our past.

My book is the launch title for “ The Microsoft Research Series”, newly announced by Microsoft Press, which kicks off a regular release cycle of books that will focus on making the work of the Microsoft Research Division more accessible. You can read more about the series, as well as a Q&A with me on some of the topics in my book, up on the announcement page for Microsoft Press.

A massive thanks to Devon Musgrave at Microsoft Press for pushing me to write this title, as well as to colleagues and family for their support and encouragement.

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“The Things We Keep” by Christian Svanes

Christan Svanes video of objects and their history is a simple piece of work that reminds me of Berg’s visualizations or the great experiments and ideas from the Oslo School of Architecture and Designs “Touch” project (particularly this one). This idea that objects can hold their history, and through that keep us in touch with out past, is one that I find really compelling, and is obviously related to my interest in digital heirlooms. It’s also being explored through projects like “Tales of Things”, using RFID tags to connect objects to their data.

the things we keep from svanes on Vimeo.

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Our magazine is out

A lot of the written material that we produce in the research team that I’m a part of is directed very much at an academic audience. Through conferences like CHI and CSCW we build on the research work of others and find out about new efforts going on in our domain of human-computer interaction. That’s as it should be for research.

We’ve been trying to think of some ways to make our work more accessible, though. Partially this is because the busy people who work for Microsoft in the US, building products that we want to help influence, don’t have a great deal of time to read a 10 page academic treatise. They need something a little more…succinct, and to the point. In addition to a focus on Microsoft, we think the subject of our research work is generally and genuinely interesting to a broad audience. We deal with the way people live their lives, and try and gain some understanding of the appropriate way in which technology should play a part. We look for the “human values” that motivate people, particularly in their personal relationships and in the places in which they spend time, then we ask how technology can enhance, rather than undermine, them.

So as part of this effort to make our work more approachable we’ve started a magazine called “Things we’ve learnt about…”, which will focus on succinctly summarizing what we’ve learnt around a particular theme, to provide simple insights into how we think people tick. You can download read about, and download the magazine from our site at:

http://research.microsoft.com/thingswevelearnt

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Feel free to print it any way you want, if you want a hard copy. We’ve also made the magazine available through MagCloud, which is another alternative for getting a printed version. They can do a great, glossy print on demand version for you at cost.

The first issue deals with human-to-human communication. We’ve tried to wrap up over 5 years of research and design work in this area to talk about why people communicate. A lot of the focus on communication technologies is on the substance of the message – getting some “data” if you like, from person A to person B. A lot of this issue of the magazine deals with the reasons and methods through which people communicate that have little to do with the message. Sometimes people send message to remind other people that they care about them, for example. The content of the message matters less than the fact that the sender thought about sending it. The magazine is full of little insights like that, that are about the subtle underpinnings that make communication important.

Anyway, hope you like it. Let us know what you think in the comments below. And look for future issues on different themes.

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We got ourselves a design award!

It’s not common for a team at Microsoft Research, a division involved in the academic exploration of all things computer science-like, to have much of a connection to the discipline of design. There are quite a few teams in addition to mine that have designers in them, though, and who take design practice seriously as part of the process of developing and exploring ideas.

So it’s great to get a little recognition from the design community, rather than from the academic one. I’m pleased to say that the Technology Heirlooms work that we’re doing in Cambridge, and which I’ve talked about a lot on this site, just got itself a prestigious design award.

We entered the work in the “Design Research” category for the IDEA 2011 competition, run by the Industrial Design Society of America, and came away with a silver award, which I’m very happy and proud about.

You can see our submission details on the IDEA 2011 site.

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For those who are interested, here’s my original PDF submission.

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And for good measure, here’s the follow up poster.

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Camille at TEI

My very talented ex-intern Camille Moussette was at the Tangible, Embedded and Embedded Interactions (TEI) conference in Madeira last week, and presented and demoed the work he did with us last year in Cambridge. He’s written up his experiences. He did some very cool thinking, and built some great examples, of how to allow product designers to sketch haptic experiences (so things that buzz, shake, rattle etc). See the paper he wrote here.

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Timecard Video

As promised a while ago, when I posted the videos of the Backup Box and Digital Slide Viewer, I’ve finally put together something that shows the Timecard device (see video below). This is a timeline viewer, meant to represent someone’s life, that we imagine might be the digital equivalent of a photo album or baby book. We’d like to think that it might become a precious object for a family, forming a new class of digital heirloom.

More explanation of these devices (including Timecard) here and of our ideas behind Technology Heirlooms here.

Timecard from Richard Banks on Vimeo.

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