Category Archives: conference

Open for Open Questions – UX London 2014

How do you design the user research so that you can be more flexible for unexpected questions? These unexpected questions may come after you have done your research work, but while you are still on the journey to make your product.  This talk, given in UX London 2014 conference is based on my own reflections from various projects, rather than any academic framework.

The increasingly blurring line between user and creator means that understanding and gathering people’s feedback on what you are making also needs to evolve – regardless of the size of the organisation you are in, or the nature of the work you are doing. Products are becoming more interactive in nature, therefore passive feedback from unengaged, remotely plausible ‘users’ recruited temporarily in a one-way mirror room may not give you any meaningful insight.

Having said that, I also argue that the need for the user research requires a more critical assessment. And the very ability to assess the need should be one of the qualities of experienced designers and researchers. More often than not, big corporations rely too much on consumer research results to make decisions. While it makes sense for some issues, it tends to create the faulty dependency that merely acts as delaying or delegating the power to make the decision. If you have expert designers and researchers in their domain, they should have the ability to tell you a lot about the user behaviours without having to do an extensive consumer research every time you launch a new product or change the design.

If you have the opposite issue of not having any time or budget to spend on user research, I would like to add that the user research does not need to be expensive and time-consuming – especially if your target users are not super rare species of human beings. When I was hands-on interaction designer developing mobile applications & services, my regular source of quicky user research was my colleagues and their family and friends. And there was no need to rely on any external agency to run your paper prototype or scenarios of use through with them to evaluate your own design ideas.

The Unknown, The Untried : A tutorial on design research

In case you have not noticed, there is a conference on design research in Seoul from tomorrow, October 20th, 2009. The online registration is already closed, but if you happen to be in Seoul – the onsite registration is still possible.

I will be running a full-day tutorial on the exploratory design research, with a special focus on how to involve people in the process. I will approach it like a participatory workshop: I plan to use my past projects as a way to let participants think about designing the design research methods.

A full-day tutorial means 5-6 hours on Sunday, so it’s only for the really dedicated (and those who are free from the real-world chores on weekend).

But it will be good to see you there: this is a very rare chance for me to look back at and share the various projects over the last decade in depth with you. Your opinions and feedback will be of great inspiration to me.

Conference website:

the local wisdom

the heavy snail-shaped door stopper shown in the picture below has an important function in this design office: without it, the door will automatically get shut.
automatically closing door

mark from experientia explains that it is a typical traditional door design in turin / torino, italy, quite suitable for the cold winter.
automatically closing door

energy-efficient traditional designs fascinates me. in light of the approaching energy crisis, i hope we will revive lots of local wisdoms. furthermore i hope we will make more use of other localities’ wisdoms that suit our own culture and environment. the picture below is the interior of a riad in marrakech, morocco. the center of the house is a huge open space, and rooms are with loft-style high ceilings to keep the air cool indoors.
riad in marrakech

the alleyways in the residential areas of marrakech are covered by buildings and therefore kept pleasant temperature even when the sun is shining blazingly hot.
residential alleyway in marrakech

below is a passage leading to guest rooms in hotel lingotto in turin, italy, designed by renzo piano. looking at photos from earlier trips – i am quite behind with my postings but looking forward to catching up as my carbon footprints become lower in november.
entrance to the hotel

the conference that brought me to turin (torino), italy left me with lots of thought-provoking experience, one of them being the death of my close family members. furthermore, spending time with friends and inspiring thought leaders like mark, elizabeth, adam, nicholas, jeffrey, and bruce+yasmina marked my last summer. my special thanks goes to mark who was an exceptional host for all the visitors.

zurich in october

i just had a nice conversation about electrolux design lab 2008 with suzanne who has been managing electrolux’s annual design lab, which is a student design competition. this year’s theme is designing home appliances for internet generation. i am told that there were hundreds of high quality entries this year. belonging to the target user group myself for the submitted design concepts, i will serve the event as one of the 4 jury members.

having organized a lot of workshops & small-scale community design competitions as part of my research projects myself, i will be quite curious to know entrants’ thinking process that motivated ideas. Nokia Open Studios, which were organized so far as community design competition in Dharavi, Favela Jacarezinho, and Camp Buduburam were an immensely meaningful learning journey for me as an individual – apart from them being a good research guidance to understand the local culture and living.

unlike nokia open studios which encouraged entrants to design an ideal mobile phone for themeselves, i will have to put myself into the position of the target user in this event, which is a very unusual experience for me. perhaps i can compensate for the lack of my role as a researcher by interviewing the electrolux team about their experience in managing the design lab when i get a chance.

smalltalk on toilets – for interesting08

june 20th was the interesting day! thanks to russell, i got a 3-min talk slot in exchange for the ticket to the event. the day was full of inspiring and interesting talks, thanks to all speakers and participants who made the day shine bright. some video clips seem to be available through the Guardian, if you want to taste the flavour of the day. personally i was glad to get a chance to push myself to poke at some old piles of photos i randomly collected on toilets for the past couple of years.

why am i interested in toilets? my banal explanation is that toilets are the mirrors of culture with their prominence for everyone’s life in the society. the design of toilets can be a powerful element in providing anyone’s happiness, a sense of wellbeing, or even a feeling of small everyday achievement.

i am always shy about putting any work related slideshow on my weblog but as this is my hobby – the slideset from the day is downloadable in this page for anyone who’s interested in the topic & promises not to get offended by any part of the content. it’s a powerpoint file with brief explanation on each slide found in the ‘notes’ window.

download: small smalltalk on toilets (powerpoint, 2.2mb)

amsterdam in september

i have two – probably three – reasons to visit amsterdam in september this year.
one is mobile hci 2008 where i will be presenting my last project done while i was in helsinki back in 2005 in the industrial case study track: the evolution of mobile phonebook design. the study was not just creating a design concept, but building a prototype for a month-long field trial and generating further insights for design direction and details. the final version of the super-short paper is posted here which is a truly condensed version of the whole study. i hope i can make time to write up a full paper later as i still strongly believe in the importance of contacts/ points of contacts/ interface to communication. akseli, rob, jan, and panu were all part of the project team.

on thursday, september 4th – i will be also joining the crowd at social strategy talk event organized by creative crowds.

hope to see some of you in amsterdam!

a confession on being a bubble in the internet of stuff

I am grateful for the opportunity to attend LIFT conference this year (thanks to organizers).
What left me thinking after the conference was the access to information, both in terms of breadth and speed. Within minutes, video recordings of talks became available online. The army of healthily pulsating Apple logos seen from the speaker’s stage was daunting, tappitytaptaptap, opinions and snippets of the talks being available and marked online as soon as they came to existence, in people’s ears and eyes. You are there, but at the same time you can potentially be anywhere.


LIFT was a big contrast to the academic conferences I am more used to, such as CHI, DIS, DUX, Ubicomp, and Mobile HCI. What you see in these conferences as audience is guaranteed to be old, usually at least 1 year. You as a shy speaker have little to worry about the presentation because your paper is your real glory. Having been published in these conferences can be considered that you earned a little stamp of quality for your work, at least in the eyes of your professors at your graduate school. Your paper might end up being read by less than a handful of people, but that’s ok – because you registered your name in the ACM digital library. Who knows, perhaps in 10 years there will be some other graduate students who will cite your publication? OK, I am overly negative now. Being a Korean and because of my personal upbringing, I am and will be perpetually chased by the favoritism to meritocracy – subsequently I still respect the academic institutions and their authorities.

But the world has changed. It’s about the influence. Information not found through google may have less value to humanity in general; outdated information goes through devaluation not necessarily because of the content but because of streams of other information we have to digest everyday.

Information is power. In many countries in Asia – knowledge and information has been used as a weapon to keep the general public out of power. The infrastructure will soon be there for any willing individuals to have access to the gigantic information pool created in the online universe. But there, we are defining a new type of meritocracy: Ability to search, ability to filter, ability to ignore, and ability to build and control online identity and reputation.

It is uplifting to hear the story of an undercover video clip made online by Humane Society, prompting USDA investigation which lead to recalling of millions of kilograms of beef; it is scary to watch the interview of a Korean celebrity against all the malignant gossips created around him, amplified and spread by the Internet. We are marching towards creating human societies in the subjective online universe – comprised of smaller bubbles of entities with their existence endowed by the attention and interests they manage to evoke; others wither into ether, or in memory and emotion of their creators.

I have no showmanship when it comes to speak in front of hundreds of pulsating Apple logos or unfamiliar people. I felt standing on a street on stage in front of LIFT audience and camera crews, a street that I cannot perceive how it is shaped, where it was, or how crowded it will be. I felt I was leaving a piece of me in a space that is not governed by the natural law of time. There was no protection of the wall that academic conferences provided, making the information not so accessible. Would I be able to get used to being on such spaces? It’s a question mark. After all – so long as I don’t google myself, those spaces minimizes their existence for me to a certain extent.

There is always a battle in preparing my talk to cut the material short to fit 20-min stage time I am usually given. 20 minutes is still way too short for me as I usually work with 1 hour or longer slots of time at my work place. But I do understand very well my value as a speaker is up to my ability to condense whatever material I got into the given time slot. After all, many professions depend on how well we tell the story, not on how well you do your job in your own world. My LIFT talk was mainly about the process of setting up a design competition in communities we went to for quick yet much focused ethnographic research, as a complementary method to understand the communities we knew almost nothing about. I didn’t go about its value and validity much, which probably disappointed some people but probably would have bored lots of people who do not work in the related professions if I did.



A few remarkable things for me about LIFT: I had the honor of being in the same session with the reverend Genevieve and Paul – which will be very memorable for a long time to come. I met a few brilliant minds that I never knew before, through the smartly arranged social breaks. I enjoyed experiencing the little Swiss moments, like the cheese fondue dinner, slices of cheese at lunch time, crisp air and Geneva’s efficiency. If you are around and available – come join next year! Or you can always watch videos online, without the extras.



Originally uploaded by jabberer

Noticed that these things bear my name on them already. It gives a very different feeling to see my name written by someone else on objects. Personalization in a very impersonal way. Maybe i’m not a target consumer for such an approach.