• [Moo! Mackie's Makes It]

    Professor James Fleck visited the IDEAs lab on June 4th, 2004 from the Management School and Economics at the University of Edinburgh, to present a talk on “Processes of Innovation and Design for Usability”.

    This was a very interesting seminar, if not immediately relevant to my own research. Not only was some of the content fascinating, but the method of presentation was also novel. Professor Flack uses mindmapping software to prepare his presentation and then uses the mindmap as a navigation tool during the presentation. By clicking on a mindmap element, a separate page would be opened where he could explore that concept in detail or perhaps an image clip launched.

    Here, belatedly, are a copy of the abstract and my notes from the seminar.


    In this seminar I will outline a range of theories of innovation within the broader context of technological development, to draw lessons about how the design process may be facilitated or constrained, especially with regard to usability. The discussion will be grounded with reflections about several empirical cases. These will include the design of a particular “smart Product” (Persona–the electronic contraceptive) and the development of a “Personal Learning Appliance” for a new e-learning initiative at Edinburgh (The Global Innovation MBA–GIMBA).

    Conclusions will address the need for practical trialling; the need for mapping the space of behavioural interactions (behavioural ergonomics?) and the need to overcome “default satisficing behaviour” among prospective users.


    Technology, according to Pacey, is only successful when technological, cultural, and organizational components are all in place. Ownership, for example, in the case of a water well is important in keeping the pump running and maintained. This is one theoretical underpinning to understanding the process of innovation and designing for usability.

    One of the fascinating case studies that Professor Fleck discussed was about the robot milking machines. Mackie’s of Scotland make ice-cream from the milk of their own Jersey herd. They were interested in increasing milk yields and decreasing the cost of human labour required to obtain the milk. They implemented a series of portable robotic milking stations in the fields. Using RFID or some such similar technology, when a cow comes to the milking station, she can be identified and the milking station automatically configures itself to milk that particular cow. Milk yields rose by 19% in the first year. It took the cows three months to adjust to the new system. It took the human staff almost a year. It was easy for the cows to adjust to because it required very little training on their part. They went to get food when they were hungry. They went to be milked when they felt full. The process here also had an unintended side benefit. While the primary goal was to increase milk yields, because the opportunities for human intervention in the supply chain (milk to ice-cream) were significantly reduced, the liability was subsantially reduced. Their cost of implementation was quickly repaid by the savings on the liability alone. Good for the cows. Good for Mackie’s. Good for the ice-cream too.

    One problem of implementing new technology is that people are reluctant to change their behaviour of usage beyond what works for them. Professor Fleck called this “default satisficing behaviour.” In many cases, this manifests iteself as resistence to learning anything beyond basis usage of a piece of technology. Innovation and technology requires many components (bits and pieces from many seemingly unrelated fields) and customer context is important.

    With respect to learning, we need to realize that in a bricks-and-mortar university, learning is an interaction between the instructor and the students, not between the student and the materials.