One of the great Psychologists in User Experience, Don Norman, complained last month when he was in Portugal, about the high costs mobile phone operators charge when you roam outside the country in which the phones are registered. This week Norman will be giving the key note speech at UxLx, a Usability conference in Lisbon. What will be missing that day is any Portuguese Speakers. Should there be a Portuguese speaker? And what has Don Norman´s phone bill got to do with this?
When Don arrives he should buy himself a Pay as You Go card, thus saving himself a fortune, and so experience one of Portugal’s great Service Design innovations. In the 1990′s Portugal Telecom was the first in the World to introduce Pay as You Go for mobiles. This has changed the way we pay and interact with mobiles. The idea has spread across the world, and has vastly expanded the ways that people interact amongst themselves, particularly in developing countries. For example, the idea has been adapted in Africa so that many millions of people have been able to replace physical banking with banking through the use of mobile phones. This has allowed the usage of mobile phones to be fully democratised. You might be in the middle of a dirt road halfway between nowhere, but just as you can be sure the tiny tin stall by the road sells coca-cola, and you can bet they also sell Pay as You Go cards.
Before Don has the chance to buy a Pay as You Go card, he will have to go through immigration. Unlike America where he will wait in a queue for up to 45 minutes, in Portugal the immigration officer has been replaced by a robot that shortens passport control to 20 seconds. The system was developed by a Portuguese company called Vision Box. The robotic immigration officer has been exported to other countries, such as the Netherlands, Brazil, and the UK, making you look at your passport as something from the 19th century.
If Don´s luggage got lost, in a couple of years time he will be able to use Bruno Pereira da Silva´s idea to incorporate a special wireless chip into the bag, so that the bag can be followed anywhere in the world. Some airlines already tag suitcases, but these have a cost every time a bag is tagged, whereas the Bruno´s solution incorporates the devices inside the bag so that travellers only have to pay once.
As Don wonders if there are other Interaction ideas in Portugal that are different from the rest of the world, he will be able to do a Google search on that while riding the bus. Last year the bus/tram public company Carris introduced WiFi on some of its major routes, and plans are to extend the coverage.
One issue often experienced in Portugal is the long queues for an ATM. Here, ATM’s are more than a system to get cash, or check your balance. With the Portuguese ATM’s, called Multibanco, you can pay your utility bills, a flight, a train, or a concert ticket. Recently, a team of young scientists have introduced a prototype for you to vote in ATM machines using your citizen card.
So when Don leaves the airport, he will have already come across more Portuguese interaction design products than you would have guessed. This might seem unlikely for a foreigner, but a Portuguese would consider it quite obvious. Portugal has always been a land of inventors and creators.
The news at the moment may be full of the Portuguese current financial problems, but the one saviour to the country’s problems may be its latent creativity. Creativity comes out of need, and entrepreneurship out of necessity.
Portuguese people manage to find means out of difficult times through developing their ability of integrating different cultures, adapting to novelty, accepting change and creating, inventing.
Of course, the best known period was the Age of Discoveries when Portugal discovered the sea route to Asia. Nautical instruments were created and redesigned to serve the purpose of navigation. The importance of the Discoveries was not just the discovery of the new lands but enabling others to follow in the same footsteps. This necessitated the development of nautical instruments to know where you are, and the refinement of the map to plot your position.
Compass, astrolabe, armillary sphere, quadrant and backstaff: these were innovatory not just by virtue of their novelty, but by their utility. In fact, the idea of the compass, a magnetic metal needle, placed in a bowel of water was probably introduced to the Portuguese, by the Arabs. To make the instrument useful at sea, it needed development. The needle was enclosed and the compass rose painted around the edge thus allowing the sailor to know easily where he was.
Knowing the position of the sun and the planets was critical to plot your position on a map before the days of the GPS. Abraham Zacuto’s idea, 500 years ago, was to put them into a simple table and so make their use easy. Zacuto also developed the first astrolabe out of metal improving its
In the Age of Discoveries, The Portuguese connected the globe, bringing ideas from one culture to another. The chilli pepper from South America to India, filo pastry from the Near East to China (the spring roll), and even the famous Indian curry is a Portuguese introduction. What our country needs now is to rediscover and improve its ability to introduce ideas to the rest of
Sure the Age of Discoveries did not happen over night. Political will, economical investment and continuous hard work are a part of it, but from studying and experimenting we can find the same spirit again.
At the end of the day, Don may want a glass of wine. Helping him chose which wine to drink, is the “Social Wine Discovery service”. Adegga takes the complexity out of choosing from the 1,000´s of wines and would allow Don to discover wines based on other people’s choice. A by-product of Adegga has been AVIN. AVIN is a unique identifier which gives every wine a unique number, rather like ISBN is to books. This enables you to quickly find a bottle of wine on the Internet.
Portugal might be facing serious backlash lately, but it is also the EU country with the highest increase in patent requests. This article has barely scratched the surface of current Interaction Design in Portugal. There are start-ups producing iPhone apps like Weddar which allows users to report the weather conditions in their own city. And then there are also start ups which are basing their development here, such as TouchToGive and Webnographer, who has opened an office here because of untapped pool of talent.
Portugal continues to shape the way we interact not only with objects and but also amongst ourselves in everyday life.