Think Different

Of course, as everyone raced to type their reviews of the iPhone 4S on Tuesday 4th October (myself included), little did they know that Steve Jobs was on his deathbed. And that Tim Cook, the new CEO, was having to deliver his annoucements almost certainly knowing that was the case.

I feel a great sense of loss of such a wonderful role model; many would say in the field of business, marketing, user experience - and clearly Jobs had so many talents in so many areas. But for me, all that rolls up into a genius for insight, innovationsimplicity and change. It is absolutely immeasureable the influence Steve Jobs had on so many lives in the digital age. He may not have solved World hunger, but you can bet your bottom dollar that his legacy in bringing digital information to the masses marks a turning point in history.

So much has been said about Steve Jobs over the 48 hours following (over 4000 tweets per second) and will no doubt continue to do so, that it's hard to add a fitting tribute.

So, I'm going to play back some of Apple's own words, words that have Steve Jobs' DNA all over them. Words that, to me, are poetry.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Rest In Peace Steve

Call centre automation could save economy £23bn a year

I don't even need to think about this heading in order to come to conclusion it could very well be true. Call Centre automation technology has the ability to rip out upto 95% of the costs of conducting contact centre transactions, and yet it has been deployed and designed so badly in the past that it is almost universally hated by everyone. Almost everyone has a tale of woe about a bad voice self-service experience and it's even de rigeur for comedians to make fun of it.

When I saw Kevin Bridges at the Edinburgh festival this year, he was at it regarding a cinema booking line. (Which incidentally does have a fundamental flaw that I spoke about at a conference almost 10 years ago, and it hasn't been improved). It's exactly this kind of lip service to good design that needs to be challenged. And there's no excuse not to do so, and do so well, when the savings can be so high.

For what it's worth, I think Gartner are totally wrong on this one. The technology is absolutely mature enough for the big time - what isn't mature enough is the commitment to user-centric design rather than cost-oriented and departmentally siloed project mentality.

Here's some of the article:

In an interview with Computing, local government CIO Jos Creese said local authorities should be looking to move as many services as possible into self-service. However, a report from Gartner last month argued that the technology was not yet sophisticated enough, and that self-service struggles to solve more than one eighth of IT problems.

A step towards self-service, at least from the perspective of the consumer, is call centre automation.

A study released yesterday and carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that UK organisations and consumers could save more than £23bn a year by reducing inefficiencies in public and private sector call centres using call automation technology.

The study, called The Economics of Call Automation, said firms could recoup £14.8bn through call centre automation, and consumers could save £8.3bn a year through not being put on hold at call centres.

The potential public sector gains rise to £13bn per year if increased call automation is applied across doctors' surgeries, universities and government departments, as well as call centres.



Designing Better Streets for People with Low Vision

Design plays a big role in giving people with low vision the confidence to use streets and public spaces.

But a new study funded by CABE has found that some features which should help people with low vision are hindering them instead.

Sight Line: designing better streets for people with low vision investigated how eight blind and partially sighted people navigate their local streets.

Local authorities use blister paving differently, even in adjacent boroughs, to demarcate the pavement edge at both controlled and uncontrolled crossings.

The study argues for national guidance to be clearer and for local authorities to coordinate across boundaries.

Author Ross Atkin, a research associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art, also interviewed local authority designers and researchers from across the country.

He has developed a practical new mapping technique to communicate how three different groups (residual sight users, long cane users and guide dog users) use a combination of sound, touch, and memory to get around safely.

[read full article]

A tale of 3 names: getDesign(in)

If you're bemused (or perhaps even grammatically horrified) by the new blog name, then that's possibly because it's very deliberately a play on words. 

My idea for this approach first started with the creation of - I wanted a domain name that closely matched my logo and business name as much as possible - which was the word brushstrokes with a blob of paint in it. The Spanish top-level-domain .es provided the perfect answer: you can just type into your address bar.  

My reworked business and tech blog is about design, in its various forms - whether it's processes, devices, experiences etc. good and bad. Things are designed, and whether that design is good or poor often depends on how the thing is to be used or viewed or interacted with. So, I wanted to literally capture that exact property in the name of my blog and the domain name, if possible.

My first idea was actually designsUX (UX being an accepted moniker for User Experience) - because this also had the property being read as "design sux". In one fell swoop it was able to convey two concepts, purely on how you viewed it, which is just what I was after.

However, after pondering it a week, I felt that of the two concepts being conveyed, design sucks wasn't really a strong one. I mean, yes, often it does suck due to lack of care and thought - but in principle, design itself doesn't suck - that is, after all, the point of my bloggings.

And then I had a flash of inspiration - thinking of designing (designin' dontchaknow!) and the availability of .in Indian domain names, I came up with "get designin" - realising that this can be read as both "get design in" (i.e. start to embody good design principles) and "get designin!" (i.e. start doing it). This was perfect, far more positive and could be encapsulated entirely in the domain name, just as was. 

Not only that - but there is a sort of third interpretation too, just around "get design" - i.e. to understand it. I felt I could bring this element out by quoting the name as getDesign(in), to show the "in" as paranthetical. Three birds, one stone. A name that literally demonstrates that the impact of design is in the eye of the beholder

For those of you that aren't enamoured by the choice of capitalisation, I do apologise. The choice has been made to reflect typical computer programming style and is thus a reference to the technology roots and interests of me and my blog; I'm aware it makes for lousy English. 

iTalkSpeech becomes getDesign(in)

Everything evolves and I'm finally getting round to deprecating my iTalkSpeech blog in favour of getDesign(in). Quite simply, this more accurately represents my interests, activities and skills. There'll be more on the choice of name later. 

It previously made a lot more sense to focus on the speech/voice world, since that aligned more with the bulk of my work.

However, not only did that align less well with everything I do outside of work, but that was a while a ago. It no longer really makes sense to be so narrowly focussed on the speech industry specifically, given that I'm looking at the wider picture of businesstechnology and experiences for customers; and really, always have done.  

For the sake of the search engines and the old content (which has been preserved), here's the old intro:

The speech technology blog: news, views and reviews of the speech recognition market, speech technology industry, voiceXML landscape and world of IVR and voice self-service; with a smattering of interaction, gadgetry and social media.

Moving forward, I'm looking to say and highlight much more about the world of interaction and design in all its various forms, from beautiful technology that delights us, to the dysfunction of huge corporate processes that destroy us. I hope you'll join me at

Google finding its voice


Google's Mike Cohen won't be satisfied until anyone who wants to talk to their computer can do so without laughing at the hideous translation or sighing in frustration.
Cohen, a leading figure in speech technology circles, heads up Google's efforts to advance the science of speech technology while applying it to as many products as possible. "Google's mission is to organize the world's information, and it turns out a lot of the world's information is spoken," Cohen said, in a recent interview with CNET about the search giant's speech ambitions.
Google is attempting to produce voice-recognition technology that fits in with its view that the computing universe is shifting toward mobile devices and browser-based applications. That is, easy-to-use software that does the heavy lifting at the data center in order to run over the Internet on a mobile device with limited hardware.
Computer speech recognition seems like it has been five to 10 years away for decades. Indeed, the electronics and computer industries have been chasing the goal of voice-directed computers for nearly 100 years, when a simple wooden toy dog released in 1911 called Radio Rex first captivated children and adults by responding (at least some of the time) when his owners called for "Rex!" by shooting out of a doghouse. (Cohen owns one of the few remaining gadgets.)
Huge advances have obviously been made since the 1920s, yet few of us use our computers like HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey" or KITT, the computerized car in "Knight Rider." Cohen, however, believes the industry is about to silence the jokes about amusingly garbled voice mails as speech recognition models grow more sophisticated, engineers pack mobile computing devices with more sophisticated hardware, and users start to realize that performance has made great strides.
"The goal is complete ubiquity of spoken input and output," Cohen said. "Wherever it makes sense, we want it to be available with very high performance."



Nuance's New Dragon NaturallySpeaking V.11: More Accurate, Faster, Easier

Nuance comes in with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, a new release of its speech recognition software, one that has been around for 13 years, that has been redesigned to let people spend more of their energy working and creating, rather than clicking and typing.  Dragon 11 says Nuance, “gives people a voice to perform almost any task on the computer to create documents, send e-mails, surf the Web, search Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter and interact with their favorite applications – at speeds up to three times faster than typing.”


(for more see source reference)

YouTube Launches Auto-Captioning for Videos

Mike Cohen, part of Google’s Speech Technology team (as a note, he is also deaf), spoke via sign language to talk about his team’s work on video. This press conference is about YouTube and accessibility to the disabled, specifically the deaf. It’s also about YouTube’s new auto-captioning technology, which is rolling out to everybody today.

Boring conversation? Let your computer listen for you

MOST of us talk to our computers, if only to curse them when a glitch destroys hours of work. Sadly the computer doesn't usually listen, but new kinds of software are being developed that make conversing with a computer rather more productive.

The longest established of these is automatic speech recognition (ASR), the technology that converts the spoken word to text. More recently it has been joined by subtler techniques that go beyond what you say, and analyse how you say it. Between them they could help us communicate more effectively in situations where face-to-face conversation is not possible.

ASR has come a long way since 1964, when visitors to the World's Fair in New York were wowed by a device called the IBM Shoebox, which performed simple arithmetic calculations in response to voice commands. Yet people's perceptions of the usefulness of ASR have, if anything, diminished.

"State-of-the-art ASR has an error rate of 30 to 35 per cent," says Simon Tucker at the University of Sheffield, UK, "and that's just very annoying." Its shortcomings are highlighted by the plethora of web pages poking fun at some of the mistakes made by Google Voice, which turns voicemail messages into text.

What's more, even when ASR gets it right the results can be unsatisfactory, as simply transcribing what someone says often makes for awkward reading. People's speech can be peppered with repetition, or sentences that just tail off.

"Even if you had perfect transcription of the words, it's often the case that you still couldn't tell what was going on," says Alex Pentland, who directs the Human Dynamics Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "People's language use is very indirect and idiomatic," he points out.

Despite these limitations, ASR has its uses, says Tucker. With colleagues at Sheffield and Steve Whittaker at IBM Research in Almaden, California, he has developed a system called Catchup, designed to summarise in almost real time what has been said at a business meeting so the latecomers can... well, catch up with what they missed. Catchup is able to identify the important words and phrases in an ASR transcript and edit out the unimportant ones. It does so by using the frequency with which a word appears as an indicator of its importance, having first ruled out a "stop list" of very common words. It leaves the text surrounding the important words in place to put them in context, and removes the rest.

A key feature of Catchup is that it then presents the result in audio form, so the latecomer hears a spoken summary rather than having to plough through a transcript. "It provides a much better user experience," says Tucker.

In tests of Catchup, its developers reported that around 80 per cent of subjects were able to understand the summary, even when it was less than half the length of the original conversation. A similar proportion said that it gave them a better idea of what they had missed than they could glean by trying to infer it from the portion of the meeting they could attend.

One advantage of the audio summary, rather than a written one, is that it preserves some of the social signals embedded in speech. A written transcript might show that one person spoke for several minutes, but it won't reveal the confidence or hesitancy in their voice. These signals "can be more important than what's actually said", says Steve Renals, a speech technologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who was one of the developers of the ASR technology used by Catchup.

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