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Making Data Useful: Inspiring Projects from the Microsoft Design Expo 2013

By communitytumblblog1 year ago - permalink

(today we had the Microsoft Design Expo. These livenotes are a raw, as-it-happened record of the presentations)

We live in a world alive with sensors and data. The big data, sensor networks and transparency movements have left us with a supply-side glut of potential useful free data that is lying fallow. How can we use this to improve life, local community and the world at large? Today, the Microsoft Design Expo, part of the annual Faculty Summit, showcased projects along this theme from design students at:

  • Technische Universiteit (TU) Eindhoven
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • National Institute of Design
  • Universidad Iberoamericana, Design Department
  • Northumbria University
  • UCLA, Design Media Arts,
  • New York University, Interactive Telecommunications Program
  • Interdisciplinary Center (IDC)

To prepare for the Design Expo, students take a semester-long course. The best projects are then selected for presentation here at Microsoft.

Mine - see & control what data-miners see about you, by NYU


Professor: Clay Shirky

Students: Omar, Donna, (two others)

Microsoft Liaisons: Robert Dietz, Jenny Rodenhouse

The students tell us the story of Sharon, a 31-year-old woman who’s looking for a house. Whenever she goes to the pub, she posts it to Foursquare. Whenever she tweets about spending, her banks make a note of it. Her posts to Tumblr also generate revenue for companies.

Companies are making money from Sharon’s data; how can she understand what data they’re collecting and take control of her data?

To understand this, they did interviews in person and with Mechanical Turkers, showing Turkers photos from social media and asking them to make judgments about people. In one case, people were shown two images, a “regular” looking guy and a guy potterssing with a bunny. “Who would you share data with?” they asked.

In another study, they found that respondents would be more likely to lend their phone to a drunk woman than a serious-looking one.

They learned from their research:

  1. Context really matters.
  2. Safety buffers. Gmail’s undo send.

To use Mine, first give Mine access to your social media accounts. When Mine tells you what a system might guess about your character from your data, Mine gives you a chance to choose what to highlight and hide.


One of the attendees asks: at what point does data privacy become an arms race? Answer: sites like this can reveal

Bill Buxton asks: Where is firewall for this?

Note from Nathan: Mine is a very sophisticated version of what Mike Ananny calls “folk theories” of algorithms. It doesn’t necessarily reveal what data-miners are actually doing, but it offers an example of what might be done.

Clashers - music discovery via people watching, IDC

Professor: Oren Zuckerman, Noa Morag

Microsoft Liaison: Ruth Kikin-Gil, Adi Diamant

Media Innovation at IDC

Clashers project page

Read about Clashers in an article in the Times of Israel.

Are you curious to know what other people around you are listening to? The decision who to clash with, depends only on your first reaction to that person. Next, the students show us a great video that illustrates the different soundtracks that people in the same neighborhood are enjoying— a high tech version of the early practice of plugging into someone else’s iPod. on: Appreciates the process of reflection of what people did not do.

Historical context: MSFT included a feature like this into our Zune mp3 player. One of the panel asks what makes this app different. 

Answer: This project relies on people’s first impressions of other people. There are tons of new ways of discovering music, but this is the first one that allows you to find music by engaging in the physical world.

You can download and install the app now, they tell us!

To deal with GPS battery usage, Clashers only uses GPS when music is on, the frequency of GPS sampling changes when it doesn’t find any users around.

This app is inspired by a YouTube video “hey, what are you listening to? of a guy approaching people in the streets asking people what they were listening to. Of the 256 people they interviewed most people were interested in sharing their music listening, privacy, they argue, is not a big concern for “generation y.”

There are no social features in the app (no FB, no Twitter, etc). This is intentional, leaving the communication open only to face to face interactions.

When all the data is combined, the app can also help us classify streets by different types of interactions and listening habits.

Business model: get trend setters to listen to music and have others follow them.

Q: Can it be misused?

The team thinks that the people who download it understand what they are doing. People know what they are getting into. Music is big part of you and you want to share it. They chose simplicity, no chats, you cannot do much damage.

Q from Bill Buxton: Nice to see the reflection on what people did not do. Also, historical context: Zune mp3 player was designed to be social.

Audience: given that you don’t know who has the app. How do you bootstrap the early users?

A: At the beginning they will get trendsetters to use the app, influentials.

Seedlinks: CMU School of Design

Brynn Flynn, Jiwon Paik, et al.

Seedlinks is a system that uses data to help people who care contribute to their local communities. It’s aimed at meeting needs, building knowledge, and cultivating relationships, pushing people into their local communities to collaborate and foster positive social change.The focus of the project is in empowering non-expert participants who are not already leading projects to be more involved in projects in their communities. Seedlinks takes input from public data, personal Facebook data, and data internal to the Seedlinks system. The site also offers members the possibility to contribute in a variety of ways: online and with actions. Each member also has a dashboard to track their actions over time, and their connections to their community.

Getting people to work together for the common good is tough. Seedlinks focuses on this in three ways:

  1. Facilitate trust.
  2. Motivate socially. Use existing relationships, and create new ones.
  3. Learn and share.

Q: This project draws people’s attention to issues. Is your view of humans that they need to be “paid” with money or other things? The team argues that giving feedback and reflect is the key, less than giving rewards.

Buxton asks: We want things free, and we are not very giving. But, if I have a need how do I do that?

Answer: if you know how to do the project, you can try to leverage people around you. If you don’t know how to make it happen, this is when pulling data will help you, giving you examples of previously successful projects.

Projector Concert Art, Walt Disney Concert Hall, UCLA

Professor: Christian Moeller, Casey Reas, Su Hyun Kim

Microsoft Liaisons: Jim Faris, Don Coyner

Presenter: Refik Anadol

What is the hidden language between the conductor and the orchestra?

This project uses projectors to display images on the side of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA. Inspired by the architecture, Refik is creating a performance using data from an orchestra performing inside the building. How can we use the space itself to show the data from the 16 sound channels, he asks.

Data input comes from 3D tracking of the conductor Gustavo Dudamel using the Kinect’s motion tracking.

BARCO projectors are going to be used projecting into the building. The project will have 3d scanning techniques to display images on the walls.

Q: People walking by will see the projections?

A: Yes, and people will hear the sound outside too.So people can enjoy the performance inside and outside

Q: Lili mentioned that Benko at MSR does similar (insert link to Ilumiroom). Benko asks but how do you deal multiple viewpoints?

A: Organic movements try to simulate movements that happen in the clouds.

Q: How do you get people excited to help with the project?

A: The video helped a lot!

Community Slate – Improving public participation in urban planning, by UW

Professor: Axel Roesler

Microsoft Liaison: Nathan Auer, Corrina Black, March Rogers

CommunitySlate website

Their goal is Improving public participation in city planning.

City officials cannot hear the voices of many people, yet the government makes decisions based on the few voices that reach them.

They ask then, what if you could use social media to reach city planners.

The video shows an example of a change in a bus rest stop. The platform allows people to discover and participate in the new projects in the city.

Their goal is to work together with communities to create a better city. Create accessibility between the public and city planners:

CommunitySlate offers three entry points

  1. Development sign. Experiments showed that the most effective signs were colorful, and visually appealing. Incorporates color, visually dynamic. Includes a removable portion of the sign. NFC tag.
  2. Mobile app. People can go to the project info and see questions from the city planners. Public can agree/disagree or bring issues of their own. It also has a map view to help people view other projects. 
  3. Website. It has a space for structure conversations. Description of projects. A timeline showing at what stage the project is. There is also a questionnaire to help city planners. To create more transparency, the information that is generating the most concern can be answered by the city planners.

Public opposition to planning can be costly; the designers are hoping that if the city relates more directly to the public, that costs can be reduced.

Question: what are the difficult aspects of getting information out there, and where is there resistance to something like this working? Answer: sites like forums don’t take into account the models that are used by planners. Designers need to use processes that make sense with the way that government works. Likewise, governments’ outreach plans aren’t especially well suited to people’s needs or availability. The city will usually want specific feedback at certain phases.

Question: don’t projects like this just give greater voice to people who are already powerful and have the time to get involved? Answer: perhaps by identifying people, it should be possible to create processes that are more accountable and democratic?

Clay Shirky: a lot of politics is tradeoffs. People will often choose the cheaper option. How do we introduce the public to the idea that there are tradeoffs for the choices they make? Answer: The CommunitySlate system does not give people influence— there’s no guarantee that the decisions people make will be implemented. Perhaps that could be added in time.

(Note by Nathan Matias: Another company in a similar space is Courbanize, that recently completed the TechStars startup accellerator program

AMP, Illuminating social data in physical space, by TU

Professor: J.H. Berry Eggen

Microsoft Liaison: Jakob Nielsen, Anton Andrews

An intriguing 3d-printed artifact has appeared onstage…. the AMP lamp. This team has focused on sharing social data. Today we have devices with access to lots of information. We use our phones over two hours a day. We are addicted. This harms social interaction. They interviewed people, had workshops.

Workshop participants indicated that removing phones was not an option. They ask: how can we bring data to a social context in a way that it adds value?

They did explorative prototyping to map out values and act out sessions, to have first person perspectives on what to do.

They decided to pick data related to the city, to use location-based data from Twitter and Instagram.

Three components:

1. Lamp that can be placed in an environment — like a bar — and blend in

2. Map created by shadow showing online activity

3. App. People can play phone on hotspots and represent what is happening right now.


It uses a small water container and vibration motors. Looks very techie so it fits in the decor of a restaurant.


  1. Amplifies social interactions, enhances the quality of the conversation.
  2. Tangible interaction.
  3. Seamless context integration of city data.

Q: How do you intend to move the vibrations to different places? How do you project the lights?

A: It blends in the environent. They rejected projector idea for something more analog, more old skool.

Q: Did you deploy it in a place and got feedback?

Yes, they deployed the prototype in tests, but not in real social contexts but they are planning to do it. Most of the interviews and user tests were very supportive of having something unobstrusive in the background (Andres notes that this is similar to the Ambient Intelligence work done at the Tangible Media Group at the MIT Media Lab which turned into a company)

More info: amp.project@outlook.com

PoliCiti — improving trust between the local police and citizens, by NID

Professors: Rupeshkumar Ishwarlal Vyas, Dr. Bibhudutta Baral

Microsoft Liaisons: Deepak Menon, Nithin Ismail, Surya Vanka

Project Plus blog

Crime is increasing in India, and sometimes, it seems as if the police don’t care about citizens. Citizens have very little trust in the policing system.

To start, the designers interviewed citizens, who told them stories about harrowing experiences with the police. They also interviewed police to find out the pressures that police face. In response, they created a video that explains the current context in which police operate:

Video shows citizen having trouble interacting with police officer due language, educational, and bureaucratic barriers.

They ask how do we create better relationship between citizens and police?

People usually don’t have information about jurisdiction, timely information, who/what/where, unable to share stories among citizens.

Three key factors for success:

  1. Lower cognitive load.
  2. Guidance through the process.
  3. Tone of voice should be reassuring

Policiti helps people navigate the interaction with police. Tells people where is the closest police officer.

They found people want to go in groups to the police. It is reassuring.

With the data it helps citizens and police make decisions, but most importantly it helps people reflect on their reality.

Comment from panelist: What is to prevent people from abusing it, e.g. if they have a grudge against the police?

The team acknowledges that is possible but they think it is more pressing to change the dynamics of power for once.

Another juror wonders if we really need an app for this, or something more broad?

It is actually a multi-platform process, a mobile app is one aspect of it. Apps help it make it more personal. They are also considering using this is an app for public kiosks.

Bill Buxton complimented the team on the videos. The project is not confrontational as it shows the police as part of an ecosystem, (e.g., don’t hate the player, hate the game ).

Note by Nathan Matias: The MIT Center for Civic Media recently hosted a conversation on corruption reporting technologies in India

Living Memory – embedding data in a traditional makers mark, by Northumbria


Professor: Trevor Duncan

Microsoft Liaisons: Richard Banks, Tim Regan, Alex Taylor

Students: Leah Xandora and Luke Emmerson

Living Memory explores the relationship between memory and meaning by linking the physical and the digital

They wanted to link data and physical objects so people can see digital objects with greater value. One common mark of the value of a physical object is a maker’s mark. What makes these marks precious is that they have been touched by hands.

Inspired by maker’s marks, they created digitally-active maker’s makers, making it possible for the maker to be identified and leave data behind. They put sensor on objects, so each object has its own digital signature. One example collected sensor data from the use of a hand tool and then used that sensor data to laser cut a maker’s mark based on the data collected for a particular crafted object

They are using the Microsoft Gadgeteer for their project.

> Example: Farmers markets, paintings, etc. We keep objects when we know the maker. They created a personalized service for each maker.

Q: Some artists don’t touch their craft. How does this extend to digital artifacts, despite not physically touching with the hand.

A: They are trying to think of a future that is more hands on, that focuses on small scale.

Greenery – an urban agriculture systemm, by Universidad Iberoamericana


Professors: Jorje Meza Aguilar, Lachlan Steward

Microsoft Liaisons: Tobias Kinnebrew, Andres Monroy Hernandez, Don Coyner

Greenery Website

"How many of you have played Farmville? How many of you have actually cultivated an urban garden?"

Greenery promotes a reconnection with nature through technology, helping users learn how to grow their own food. It is not just about growing veggies, it’s about a full immersive experience.

Greenery has the following components:

  1. Tutorial. This teaches you the intricacies of gardening.
  2. Simulation. Teaches you how to grow your own garden through a virtual garden..
  3. Box + Augmented Reality view of your urban garden.
  4. Social. You can like and comment on your friend’s gardens.

A video shows an advanced user interacting with Greenery who is spreading the knowledge and passion about urban gardening with his friends.

Key elements for design:

  1. Create empathy between user and system.
  2. New learning process, practical and theoretical.
  3. Smart gamification

Next steps:

Bill Buxton comments that in WWI, there was a movement called “Liberty Gardens”. There was an external social force to make that happen. The question is how to use social media s a catalyst. It is not a crazy idea! The challenge is how to get people started in a world of instant gratification? The team replies that their user studies show people who are motivated to do it, don’t even know how to do it. They will be patient and get people excited about it.

Kati London wonders more about the gaming aspect of the project and whether watering is automated or done through the app. The team responds that it is a part of it but they want is to go beyond points. 

Thanks everyone, for an awesome design summit this year!

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