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If you have been following The Digital Life, you might recall that Invo founder Dirk Knemeyer was traveling in Asia last month. He shared his impressions of the unique cultural intersections of the first and third worlds in China in The View From China. Following that, in A Tour of Asia, he reflected on his experiences there including significant cultural differences, observations about the use of technology, and significant factors from an economic perspective.

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One of Dirk’s stops was at Service Design Salon in Tokyo, Japan. Service Design Salon is a meetup dedicated to service design to which they invite speakers from various industries and sectors to centralize thoughts and ideas on service design. Service Design Salon is hosted by Concent, Inc., a design strategy firm based in Tokyo. Upon their invitation Dirk gave a talk on April 3 entitled “UX & Emerging Technologies.” Following his presentation Dirk participated in a panel discussion with Atsushi Hasegawa, Ph.D., President and Information Architect at Concent, Inc. and Kazuhiko Yamazaki, Professor at Chiba Institute of Technology.

“Dirk’s talk was very inspiring and thought provoking,” said Mario Sakata, host of the event and User Experience Architect at Concent, Inc. “It got our wheels turning, and they haven’t stopped. Dirk has articulated what we all need to consider when designing for user experience with his gift of seeing things that will happen in the future and reveal their meaning which has lead to fertile and engaging conversations.”

“Tokyo is a global innovation hub including renowned strengths in emerging technologies such as robotics and virtual reality,” said Knemeyer. “The insight and sophistication from the participants of the Service Design Salon bodes well for the future of user experience and design in the region.”

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The Service Design Salon event was held at amu, a multi-purpose creative space run by AZ Group to which Concent, Inc. belongs, and it usually offers seminars and events to become a center of community activities. Near beside amu stands kusakanmuri, a flower shop also run by AZ Group, and it offers classes, a tea room, and a variety of design books and products along flowers and arrangements.

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This is the final article in our User Experience Maturity series. Read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Where will UX be in the hard-to-see future of the 2020s and beyond?

I think it will borrow a variety of characteristics from computer engineering, changing this “creative” discipline in ways that might seem unlikely given its present role and our assumptions about work related to the art and the design roots so important to the successful expression of user experience.

More frequent use of explicit design patterns, possibly expressed as open source software and libraries. Engineers often begin by using existing code that solves the problems they want to solve. It is taken for granted as the standard best practice, although once upon a time may have seemed threatening given all the time and jobs devoted to writing custom, one-off code. Remember when websites were all custom and unique? Today, few websites are truly custom, building instead upon templates, content management platforms, and e-commerce infrastructures. This practice will increasingly pervade the world of user experience, where we will agree on the best way to solve some of the easier problems and use those platforms to give us a leg-up in focusing on project-specific challenges.

Computers replacing people for completion of more incremental UX tasks and challenges. Recently a company called The Grid launched AI websites that design themselves. While their solution is unlikely to be the nemesis of the human-designed website, it is a shot across the bow to all digital designers that, yes, we, too can be replaced by machines. Realistically, the technology's most likely impact on the domain of user experience is in automating the smaller-scale, incremental evolution of existing systems. A/B testing is now an accepted way of trying out small changes and design tweaks. There is no reason in much of that process for there to be any human involvement whatsoever. Sooner than we think, the human will be removed entirely. Perhaps a human designer will introduce an alternate design for the system to consider, but the machine can do the rest. Everything from preparation, to data collection and analysis, to deploying the winning design, to passing along metrics and explanation to stakeholders can and probably should be entirely automated. Soon this will be a reality.

UX skills becoming more core to the general toolbox of knowledge workers. Again, we can look to software engineering for the example here. The far-flung campaigns of “everyone should know how to code!” have led to an interest in computer programming that has become truly mainstream. While much of this is driven by perceptions around what the jobs of the future will look like, some of it relates to the idea that the ability to code is a potentially valuable life skill in the future wacky world of technology. Yet, I suspect both of these initiatives are poorly conceived. Computer programming will be more based in libraries and reusable code in the future, to say nothing of artificial intelligence increasingly generating its own code. There will not be a giant job market for all, and perceived benefits from having some light ability to code is unlikely to serve us any better than conveniences like, say, knowing how to change the oil in our car by ourselves. On the other hand, core UX skills will prove increasingly essential for knowledge workers, as crisp problem solving and creative thinking increasingly define the value-add that human participants contribute to the corporate system. Research skills are an obvious example, empowering anyone, from marketing flack to product manager to software engineer, to determine context with clarity. Then, problem-solving tools like cardsorting are particularly useful for product managers as well as engineers. Indeed, to this point, the need for dedicated UX people is largely the result of the skills required to provide UX not being widely understood, and/or taken care of by people with those titles. In the future, our knowledge and skills will be absorbed into the work of other actors in the system. For us to maintain a role in the process we will need to develop more and different skills. This might manifest as those with a true art and design background being the practitioners with a key ongoing role discrete from other product disciplines, or it might require our gaining much deeper and more scientific insights related to genetics, psychology, sociology, and neuroscience. The one thing that is certain is that being trained in things like contextual inquiry and information architecture won’t be nearly enough for UX to remain relevant in the future.

So, what does this mean for both companies and practitioners?

For companies, not much. These shifts are years if not a decade away. So long as you keep prioritizing and investing in the quality of your user experiences, as the broader environment evolves so will the way UX manifests within your organization.

For practitioners, the path ahead is a little more uncertain. If you are already mid- or late career there likely is not much for you to worry about. Keep on keeping on. For those who are more early-to-mid-career, now is a good time to think about your relevance in the years ahead. If you are a trained designer or artist and can create beautiful things, you will probably be just fine as you are. If you are more of the liberal-arts-trained interaction designer type, or a researcher and strategist, you should think about ways that you can evolve with a changing landscape. This generally boils down to either branching into other job roles related to UX such as product management, or getting educated in advanced sciences and technologies that relate to human behaviour. Given that UX people are generally curious and enjoy learning new things, exploring different ways to evolve your knowledge and skills should prove enjoyable. In any event, proactively exploring new frontiers will keep you relevant and ahead of the changes sure to come in the future.

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This is the fifth of six articles in our User Experience Maturity series. Read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

We are at a transitional moment where user experience is commonplace, but it still isn’t being done particularly well in many cases.

Even as companies try to get the most that they can from user experience, investing time, money, and effort, the results remain uneven. UX might be everywhere, but the great demand has resulted in many employees, contractors, and agencies claiming UX expertise when their capabilities don't actually translate to that level. As a result, UX quality is not evenly distributed. The next phase in user experience evolution will have to address how to optimize and establish a consistent quality baseline across all of business.

One of the biggest challenges currently bedeviling UX is a lack of consistent training. While some universities have programs related to UX (in content if not in name) the structure and focus of those programs are maddeningly inconsistent. They differ in quality. They differ in skills taught. They have little or no standardization of terms and concepts. Now, just over the last year or so, a number of new post-secondary training options have emerged. Building off the popularity of software engineering programs like Codeacademy and Treehouse, we see initiatives like the Unicorn Institute, while programs such as General Assembly offer UX training as a core plank. What is notable about these newer educational offerings is not just the promise of UX professional standards; they also augment course training with real-world projects that enable students to gain the experience that builds competency. Consulting companies like Involution Studios and The Nerdery have offered this kind of training as a natural extension of our consulting practices. However, it is in the rise of unaffiliated training institutes that the potential for industry standardization is truly possible.

Companies are beginning to get a better sense for the different manifestations of user experience. It is not a “one-size-fits-all”; that is becoming increasingly clear. For example, the skills and temperament needed for people to work on incremental product improvements are significantly different from those needed for people who can conceptualize an entirely new product from scratch. Whether someone is a researcher, an interaction designer, or an artist does not necessarily mean that they are well-suited for any task. The reality of creative professionals is that the work they are cut out for is as diverse as their skillsets. It is a very different person who can be happy with incremental, long-term work that requires attention to detail and patience than one who enjoys the ambiguity of few constraints and the daunting nature of making something from nothing. Companies trying to improve the quality of their internal UX will need to consider such human factors when determining the right person, team, or agency to meet the specific challenge of the moment.

So, how do you position your organization to thrive with a best-practice UX approach?

  1. Identify the different contexts for user experience in your organization. Start with a crisp understanding of where your needs are. What are the current or future products and/or services that need dedicated UX focus? Within those areas, what are all of the roles and functions that need to be addressed for you to achieve excellence?
  2. Identify all existing UX resources to which you have access within and outside of your organization. Conduct a gap analysis between what you have and the needs you have identified.
  3. Create a plan for evolving your current UX resources to meet your future needs. This will likely require increased budget, so organize your thoughts and ideas such that you can convince other business leaders about the importance of these investments.
  4. Forge relationships with people and organizations that can help you find the talent you need, including employment firms, formal education institutes, training programs, and UX agencies. Each offers a different piece of the puzzle, as you figure out how to add staff to your team and plot out ways to leverage short-term and project-based resources.
  5. Hire or engage with an absolutely tip-top creative director. Amidst the various roles and skills within UX it is easy to lose track of one simple fact: if the person guiding the design effort and making the final call on what you ship does not have a good aesthetic sense, you could be putting a lot of effort into something that ultimately has indifferent results. Both Apple and Microsoft have fantastic designers; only one had Steve Jobs. Jobs was a striking example of the massive difference that one “little” role can have on an otherwise similar creative and UX process. As people like him are incredibly hard to find, it may make sense for you to partner with a strong UX agency.

The bottom line is that, to become an organization of UX excellence, you must take a systematic, strategic approach to identifying what you need and how you are going to fill it.

Our series will wrap up next week with a look at where UX is headed.

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This is the fourth of six articles in our User Experience Maturity series. Read part 1part 2, and part 3.

While the Web 2.0 period established user experience, it was the release of the iPhone in 2007 that truly took the profession everywhere.

Compared to other smartphones, the iPhone offered the perfect fit between work and play, moving the use of computing devices beyond working stiffs and geeks into the mainstream world of soccer moms and the glitterati. Along with its magical hardware Apple provided a tightly curated app store that made it safe and easy for people to load up their iPhones with interesting software. It didn’t take long before everyday use of apps convinced executives from Walla Walla to Miami that, “Hey, we should have an app, too!” The mobile explosion made creating software for your company a first-order consideration. By extension, this exposed different people and organizations within companies to UX, often outside of the product division. The seeds were spreading hither, thither, and yon.

Not only did the mobile computing revolution bring UX into companies everywhere, it introduced UX into different areas of even highly mature software companies where there had been little or no overlap. Marketing turned out to be a significant participant in this progression, often as the first to latch onto the potential of apps. As marketers watched social games take off, they quickly made “gamification” a hot trend, combining software and game mechanics to accelerate the spread of ubiquitous computing and help turn Facebook into a powerful social gaming platform.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social applications created a powerful circle that not only kept mobile climbing but gave us more reasons to use our more traditional computing devices. American pop culture revealed the sea change as traditional TV fare like police procedurals gave way to the top-rated show about geeks called “The Big Bang Theory.” Being a geek was cool, and walking (or driving!) around with a computer in your hand was the new normal. There was no better environment for user experience to heat up.

Prior to the mobile computing revolution, outside of Silicon Valley user experience had been largely limited to the domain of web design. Software design didn’t exist significantly outside of Silicon Valley, and the overlap between UX and emerging fields like service design was ambiguous. With the proliferation of software development, user experience became more broadly and correctly understood and considered. Along with the previous factors this created an environment where user experience in general and design in particular were in great demand, with not nearly enough supply. This kept consultants and agencies busy, as entrepreneurs increasingly began offering training to exploit these fertile new opportunities. User experience was everywhere, firmly established as a key pillar to successful products and an important resource for marketing and other areas as well.

“Growing up” UX in your organization

In the last article we talked about the awkward adolescence of getting UX established in your organization. While that may be the most challenging stage in UX maturity, the work is far from done. Now that UX is gaining space, respect, and an articulated place as part of your product and/or service organizations, it is time to deploy and implement it in a progressively consistent way. The reality is that, between little or no investment in user experience and what you might envision as an ideal, budget-doesn’t-matter form, there lies a massive gap. Once user experience is established there is a long way to go to actually exercise it in a full and correct way. In truth, few companies ever fully make that investment. UX might be accepted, but may still be viewed as a cocky upstart fighting for limited funds with an established and highly valued division, like engineering. If ubiquity is the goal, ultimately it's not going to be about doing everything, rather doing as much as you can as well as you can.

In order to have the most impact, focus on taking UX broadly. Every digital product, service, or experience coming out of your organization should have some degree of dedicated UX presence and contribution. It is kind of like the Foundation step all over again, but instead of trying to set up something new it is a matter of spreading out and deeper with what you’ve already established. Don’t accept limits on the impact of UX to the main product, or the new product, or your pet project. Make sure it is everywhere, a part of everything. Within the constraints of your budget, decide what constitutes the “minimum viable amount” of UX to be relevant and impactful and make it an assumed part of any work being done. For me, a meaningful up-front research component followed by a very high-quality designer or team and the ability to rapidly prototype designs is the place to start, flowering out from there as the budget and circumstances allow.

This is also a good time to establish a more specific framework for the different ways UX impacts initiatives. For example, while UX may be part of both the incremental iteration of your most profitable software as well as the completely new reconceptualization of a future tech product for the next decade, the reality is that the skills and temperament of the people—not to mention the tasks and processes being required—are substantially different in those two cases. It’s important to develop a sophisticated understanding of these contexts. This also helps to determine staffing and investment decisions: incremental evolution is typically best done by internal resources. The work is ultimately easier and can be accomplished competently by less expensive or less critical resources. On the other hand, you may want to staff a new initiative with an external agency that can provide a broader world view from outside your firewall. This is the time to start figuring out the right tool for the right job in all of your various contexts and making smart investments with that in mind.

The bottom line to achieving UX ubiquity is to have UX everywhere it needs to be. It may not be at a scale that you want it to be, but spreading user experience to all of the contexts it is suited for keeps the evolution moving forward. This sets the platform for easier budget conversations, and increases the capacity to move your company toward increasingly best-practice implementation in the years to come.

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What role should user experience play in your organization?

The answer to this question depends very much on who and what you are. Say you’re a bootstrapped startup founded by experts in technical issues and sales. You should try to get free advice and help, or maybe trade some equity for UX design, or perhaps even rely on your own intuition until you can raise some capital. On the other hand, a large software company such as Oracle or Microsoft should make user experience a key focus and investment for every business unit, and have a strong advocate and visionary in the C-suite. Between these extremes lie many different models for deploying user experience appropriately.

Over the next few weeks we will bring you a series of articles detailing a six-stage user experience maturity model. Beginning with the most limited level of immersion, it will provide a some simple criteria and examples of scale to help you evaluate the current role of UX in your organization while envisioning a more right-sized future. Beyond a model of scale, we’ll explore questions of resource type: when to staff up, and when to hire out.

Having worked with more than 200 clients at this point—ranging from the single-founder bootstrap to the Apples and Microsofts—we’ve seen UX operationally in just about every possible configuration. In the process we’ve learned what works, what doesn’t, and when and why different investments should be made. Over the course of this series we’ll share these learnings with you to help you invest smarter in making your experiences great.

Along with offering a blueprint for deploying UX, each recommendation will be paired with a historical overview of the user experience field. There is remarkable alignment between the way UX has evolved as a discipline and how UX should change and grow in actual deployment within companies. We will explore the following six stages:

  1. Intuition
  2. Foundations
  3. Organization
  4. Ubiquity
  5. Best Practice
  6. The Future

See you next week!

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Like wildfire, word of the demise of UX agencies is spreading through the community.

Sparked by the acquisition of Adaptive Path, the closing of Smart Design in San Francisco, and an analysis by UX influential Peter Merholz, the intelligentsia are hailing the decline of UX and design agency work in technology. Exacerbating the situation are rumors that a variety of other agencies are in trouble, trying desperately to get bought as they prepare for a shutdown.

Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! It’s so easy to get caught up in a few data points and a good story. So, let’s take a step back and talk about what is really going on, and the implications it has for digital agencies.

To be clear, we are in the early stages of a down cycle for digital agencies. We’ve seen this ourselves at Involution, with a decline in good leads and an overall decrease in realized billable rates compared to 2011–2013. But we’ve been aware for some time that the agency business is punctuated by up and down cycles. Sometimes a decline is related to macroeconomics, such as after the dot-com crash and 9/11 one-two punch in 2000–2001, or during the great recession of 2007–2011. In such cases, agencies are usually the first to get hurt but are also the first to recover. However, since the U.S. economy continues performing well, it is unlikely that macroeconomics is behind the recent slowdown in the digital agency business.

Agency downturns can also result from shifts in technology, or from the evolution of professional fields of practice. Take computer engineering, for example. In the early 2000s a trend of  “offshoring” emerged. Large companies sent massive amounts of engineering work to India, China, and other far-flung places, to take advantage of compensation that was literally pennies on the dollar compared to what would be paid in the United States. Many engineering professionals suffered when this outsourcing trend was at its peak. Of course, the offshore solution was not the silver bullet that companies thought it would be. The lower cost was nice, but not-so-nice was slower work, lower quality, and periodic catastrophic project failures that cost companies years and many millions of dollars. Eventually, offshoring became near-shoring and re-shoring.

The explosion of software sparked by the rise of Web 2.0 and the ubiquity of social computing brought engineering back with a vengeance. Talent surpluses turned to shortages and there were entirely new technologies and platforms that agencies were in great demand to help fill. During the emergence and rise of offshoring this rebirth would have seemed unlikely.

So, this little historical jaunt brings us back to the current moment: UX and digital design agencies struggling. I’ve spoken with over a dozen design and UX leaders of both corporate-based internal design organizations as well as on the agency side. A variety of factors are conspiring to create the current malaise:

There is a trend toward companies building internal design and UX capabilities in lieu of outsourcing. Organizations have a natural, practical drive to build an internal core of employees as opposed to using more expensive external resources. Large software companies, particularly in Silicon Valley, have had their own internal teams for a long time. For example, Adobe built theirs back in the 1990s. We were part of the transition to McAfee building their own internal Silicon Valley design organization in support of their primary consumer suite in 2008. This trend is not limited to software companies—other  industries, such as banking and financial institutions, are shifting from using external resources to building internal teams.

Design and UX people are enjoying the ride. Fresh career and compensation opportunities are presenting themselves. There is upward mobility, along with an unprecedented number of positions at or just under the C-level in a variety of companies. So, not only are companies building up internal capabilities, they are doing so at a level of authority, compensation, and recognition that is pulling in the best and brightest. In some cases, such as with the Adaptive Path buyout, this is happening in the shadow of diminishing agency opportunities (that may have made the sellout seem more attractive). Regardless, when tentpole agencies and independent stars head into companies and start building internal organizations, they naturally pull in other good people and agencies.

There is an abundance of junior, inexperienced talent. There has been a severe talent shortage in UX, really ever since companies started caring about design and UX in the 1990s. Now, with the availability of professional education (read: not academic) programs, both young people as well as older professionals (transitioning from dying industries) are preparing to enter the market. For the first time, there are significant number of UX people who are not able to find a job. While this is understandable—most of these folks are trained but inexperienced—it creates the impression that UX talent is easy to come by. This impacts the value placed on those professionals and their services.

The combined effect of these factors puts a strain on UX and digital design agencies, despite the growing importance and need for these services.

So, given all of this, why shouldn’t these trends cause panic for UX and digital design agencies? It’s simple, really.

  1. Software will continue to become more important to companies in every industry. The need for the various skills that create great software will only be in greater demand.
  2. While we should assume that the supply of trained-but-inexperienced talent will often exceed the demand, it will be years before the supply of experienced and exceptional talent exceeds the demand. Meanwhile, there is a significant disparity between the number of people qualified to assemble and lead a substantial internal UX organization and the number of companies that need this type of leadership. Right now, many people are finding their way into those positions. However, before long, there won’t be enough skilled leaders and, like with offshored engineering, catastrophic failed initiatives that cost years of time and/or millions of dollars will lead to a renewed demand for fast, skilled, and effective external design support.
  3. The best creative people won’t want to be in corporations for very long. There’s a reason that, despite companies aspiring to create internal ad agencies for decades now, those efforts have largely failed and they have turned to external agencies for support. So it will go in our creative sectors. We might be seduced by the big salary, or the opportunity to really focus on just one meaty thing, or promises of enlightened and flexible cultures. But, particularly for creatives, money isn’t everything, working on one thing for years gets boring, and big company cultures will never accommodate creatives as well as working on their own or for sexy agencies.
  4. External agencies have inherent functional strengths: we work faster and we’re more tightly tied into bleeding-edge technological developments and creative cultures across all industries. That benefit is not clear to large corporations until they’ve established their gleaming new internal design team and let it run for a couple of years. The shine on the new infrastructure wears off, and the impact of a leaner, more creative resource is required. (Even if the internal-external difference is more a matter of perception than capabilities, the desire to go external will be there.)
  5. The total cost of agency engagements can be less, perhaps significantly, than internal resources. Agencies can be deployed in a highly focused way on large initiatives. Use the elite talent for a period of time to help solve big problems (albeit at a higher rate than paying internal people) and then keep a smaller maintenance team in-house. This blended approach has a far lower cost over its total life than a strictly internal team and the crucial knowledge gained from the work remains inside the company. It may take some time running internal teams year-over-year and seeing the impact of total loaded costs on the bottom line, but this dynamic will become particularly clear to companies who’ve chosen to build internal teams and seen the relationship between overall volume and quality of output, knowledge building, and cost.

So, fear not, intrepid agency owner or happy-to-be-there staff: while some of us may go away as this trend catches wind and the market changes, the future for digital design and UX agencies remains promising. We may end up calling ourselves something different, or positioning ourselves in a new way. But, at the end of it, external creative organizations are essential to businesses striving to be better. The work will be there.

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37 Million Mile Data Challenge

Involution Principal Jon Follett has recently been selected to judge entries in the 37 Billion Mile Data Challenge, sponsored by The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Using data from the Massachusetts Vehicle Census, contest participants will have six weeks to determine why Massachusetts drivers burn up 37 billion miles each year, with the goal of discovering insights that can help the Commonwealth build a more efficient and sustainable transportation system.

“Particularly in the open government movement, information visualization has become an important method for making big data sets understandable, and stimulating discussion about critical issues,” says Follett. “Making data accessible helps people to spot patterns and trends and to approach problems in new ways — even getting answers to questions they hadn’t thought about before. Interactive designs make it possible to gain deeper insights that can lead to better decision making and more innovative solutions.” A seasoned designer, Follett has created data visualizations for AstraZeneca, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Survey Sampling International, among others.

Designers, researchers, analysts, and developers will work individually or in teams to come up with interactive visualizations, maps, infographics, and even games that reveal actionable information from the vehicle-use dataset. Data Challenge entries are due April 19 and the winners will be announced at an awards ceremony on May 1.

About Jon Follett
For nearly two decades Jon has been leading or contributing to Web application design and development for organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Jon is a recognized thought leader and internationally published author on the topics of user experience and information design. He recently contributed a chapter, “The Beautiful People: Keeping Users in Mind When Designing Data Collection Methods” to Beautiful Data published by O’Reilly Media, Inc. He has written over 25 articles for industry publications such as UXmatters, Digital Web and A List Apart, and his work has been translated into a variety of languages.

How did a workshop with Involution take the Personal Genome Project from “a bunch of ideas” to the creation of the award-winning Open Humans Network?

The Knight News Challenge: Health asked innovators to present solutions that harness the power of data for the health of communities, with a strong focus on civic participation and solution building. Among the seven projects that will share more than $2 million is the Open Humans Network.

The Open Humans Network proposes an online system that helps match people willing to share their health data with researchers who would benefit from access to more information, all with a focus on exploring new standards for open health data.

According to Madeleine Ball PhD, of the Harvard Personal Genome Project (PGP), the Open Humans portal will comprise three components: a personal page that will allow participants to set up their data profile, a public data explorer enabling people to explore and use data compiled from participant profiles, and a set of design guidelines for researchers looking to use a collaborative data sharing model.

Jason Bobe, PGP Executive Director, envisions “health discovery as a collaborative effort through the creation of a portal populated with research studies pre-screened for data-sharing practices, participants willing to share their data, and public data results.” Since its inception in 2005, the PGP has promoted a research and discovery model that selects participants who are comfortable with public sharing and the potential for re-identifiability—a practice called “open consent.”

The Open Humans Network project will involve collaboration of several studies including:

  • Harvard Personal Genome Project (George Church, Harvard Medical School)
  • American Gut (Rob Knight, University of Colorado, Boulder / HHMI)
  • Flu Near You Research Participants (Rumi Chunara, Boston Children’s Hospital / HMS)
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Study, (Eric Schadt, Mount Sinai School of Medicine)

Mapping the PGP Ecosystem
To reach a goal like the Open Humans Network, the PGP first had to have a clear view of its own organizational functioning. To gain a better focus, they called upon Involution Studios’ expertise and objectivity.

In a daylong exploratory workshop, Invo designers helped the PGP staff to map their organization, roles, and objectives. They were able to completely re-conceive their organizational model to separate their member recruitment efforts from the data collection and sequencing, and keeping the focus on their member relationships.

Involution Studios designers mapped the PGP organization and constituencies.

From this work came the idea for OpenHumans.org, a service and website that facilitates third-party researchers and others who can access the PGP database of genomes and medical histories. Members will be able to see how their data is being used to contribute to the advancement of science and medicine. By providing the PGP with the tools and expertise, Involution was able to serve as the catalyst for a new, organizational model that has now garnered the Knight Foundation’s recognition.

Learn more about the winners of the Knight News Challenge: Health awards.

About Involution’s Health Design Practice
For almost 10 years, Involution has been building software for health companies of every shape and size, from household names like AstraZeneca and Walgreens, to research leaders like the Personal Genome Project and Partners HealthCare. We also work with the most exciting and progressive health startups. We’ve made digital healthcare our top focus.

For Immediate Release

ARLINGTON, MA (U.S.) - January 17, 2014 - Online Budget Visualization Tool, Designed by Involution Studios with Town of Arlington, MA Offers Financial Transparency to Taxpayers

Arlington Visual Budget has been selected to receive the Massachusetts Municipal Association Innovation Award at the MMA Annual Meeting on January 25th in Boston.

Sponsored each year by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the Kenneth E. Pickard Municipal Innovation Award recognizes unique and creative projects and programs that increase the effectiveness of local government. Judged by former municipal officials, consultants, and professors, an innovation must address a problem that is common to municipalities across the Commonwealth in an original, cost-effective, and efficient way. Winning innovations must improve a municipal service, administration, or performance, while adaptability to other communities is also a consideration. This award lets municipalities recognize successfully established innovative programs or projects and to share these new, unique, and effective solutions with other cities and towns.

Last fall, Involution Studios of Arlington, MA, along with the Town of Arlington and Finance Committee members Annie Lacourt and Alan Jones, conceptualized a web application that provides an easier way to communicate complex municipal financial information. Involution donated all development services for this project, the first known municipal budget visual representation of its kind.

The initiative exemplifies the nation’s commitment to the international Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance. President Obama has challenged agencies to “harness new technologies” and “solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public” and emphasizes a “bottom-up” philosophy that taps citizen expertise to make government smarter and more responsive to private sector demands.

Arlington Visual Budget

AVB provides the next generation of accessibility in financial information that enables citizens to see, engage, and discuss.

The Visual Budget system converts the town’s revenues and expenditures to simple graphics and charts that describe Arlington’s finances. It also provides definitions for complex budgeting terminology, and includes a tool where residents can input their yearly property tax bill and find out exactly how the town spends their tax dollars. Taxpayers can learn about town revenues, expenses, and funds displayed in both graphical and tabular formats. What’s more, the system enables users to provide feedback and ideas, an essential component of empowering citizens with both information and a greater voice in decision-making.

Town Management Analyst Michael Bouton said he was happy to work with Involution’s creative team on the project. “It was a blank canvas,” Bouton said. “We came in with an idea and the conceptualization of it was them.” Involution designers Roger Zhu and Ivan Dilernia donated their time, and the company has made the code for the project available online for other town governments to use. An Arlington resident, Involution’s Creative Director Juhan Sonin was excited about the collaboration, saying “It’s a part of our civic responsibility as designers to get involved in the design of policy.”

Read what the Sunlight Foundation says about how the Arlington Visual Budget will be used in 2014.

About Involution Studios

Involution designs and builds exceptional software for innovative and visionary companies. We deploy small and experienced teams to create applications that are highly usable and appropriately beautiful. Our client list includes Apple, AstraZeneca, McAfee, Microsoft, Oracle, PayPal, Shutterfly, and Yahoo. For more information please contact info@goinvo.com or +1 617 803 7043.

Since June 2012, Involution has held weekly Office Hours, opening our doors to the public every Thursday afternoon from 4 PM - 6 PM and inviting anyone with a design issue or project to come by the studio for help. We've conducted these Office Hours at both our Boston and Columbus locations.

Over the past year and a half, we've had the privilege of meeting and assisting dozens of entrepreneurs, technologists, dreamers, and doers, working on interesting projects we probably would have never seen otherwise. Along the way, we've even inspired others to open their doors and hold office hours of their own. One of these groups is Test Double, a local Columbus agency of developers that helps businesses build custom software. We've partnered with Test Double on projects and are happy to count them as friends and colleagues. So, we're pleased to announce that, starting Thursday, December 5, 2013, Test Double will be joining us for Open Office Hours at Involution Studios Columbus to offer their software development expertise.

Both Involution and Test Double have a track record of solving complex business problems — using our design and development expertise to produce well-crafted products that matter. So, if you have any design or development related questions, or just want a different perspective on your current business problems, come chat with us (and now Test Double) every Thursday from 4 PM - 6 PM at Involution Studios Columbus. As always, we talk with people on a first-come-first-served basis. We're looking forward to seeing you soon.

Take a look at what some recent Office Hours attendees are saying:

"I just wanted to thank you and your team for your suggestions. Sometimes, as owners, we're too close to our projects. It can be easy to miss the glaring weaknesses that are apparent to others. I feel our meeting saved a disastrous product launch. For that, I thank you. We have refocused our app ..."

"Thanks so much for opening up Involution Studios tonight. What a wonderful opportunity! Please give your staff our sincere thanks for staying after work and for the generosity of their time, attention, and advice. Very cool! As we were driving in tonight, Ted and I were talking about what we hoped to gain from our time. You and your staff certainly delivered. We drove home with a clear understanding of our next actions. You also helped validate some of our assumptions, which was great."

"Just wanted to drop you and your team a sincere thank you. I enjoyed meeting everyone there at Involution Studios and really appreciate the time you spent just kicking around ideas and talking. Have a great day!"

"Hey, I came to your guys' office hours two weeks ago with the photo marketing app. ... I'd like to thank you for the absolutely amazing advice."

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