Posted by Rob Knies

Download Issue 3

Over at the Next at Microsoft blog, Steve Clayton has just published a post about the latest issue of the Things We’ve Learnt About … series from the Socio-Digital Systems (SDS) group at Microsoft Research Cambridge.

This issue, the third in this compelling, visually stunning series of magazine-type treatments, focuses on search and web use—or, more specifically, what it means to move beyond search.

The latest copy is available for download, as are its predecessors, which addressed the areas of communication and memory, respectively. What you’ll find is a few dozen pages of incisive text blocks, liberally seasoned with eye-popping graphics, that look beyond the search engines and mechanisms currently in vogue to what the future could hold.

“Each issue of our magazine is on a different theme, drawn from a broad range of our work,” says Richard Banks, project manager for the series and principal interaction designer at the lab, based in the United Kingdom. “The idea of an ‘insight' is really key for these magazines. We are trying to provide new ways for others to think about their own work, and we hope each insight will provoke that. These often come in the form of a question to the reader.”

The Cambridge personnel who produced the latest Things We’ve Learnt About … issue summarized more than five years of research and design work in the information-retrieval area, deploying a series of interrogations designed to spark thoughts and elicit inspiration.

“For this magazine, we started with the premise that a good deal of work was being put into making search quicker and more efficient,” says Siân Lindley, an SDS researcher, “but that an additional set of questions might open up the design space, allowing us to facilitate new and richer user experiences.”

Adds Banks: “Through our field research, we uncovered five modes of web use, and these provide the backbone for the set of insights in this magazine.”

Interestingly, while the Things We’ve Learnt About … series is aimed at the Microsoft employee community, the public at large is free to access the content, as well. Those interested might find themselves veering in unintended directions.

“The research reflects what we do in SDS,” says Richard Harper, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, “insofar as we continually move from one research theme to another, mining each area in ways we think offer views that the company as a whole might be unfamiliar with.

“We prepare our magazines as calling cards that, hopefully, lead to new conversations within the company—sometimes on that topic, and sometimes in other areas.”

And, importantly, it gives those who produce the magazines—a list that also includes Abigail Sellen, Alex Taylor, and Nick Duffield—a different kind of creative outlet from the academic papers at which they excel. It’s an alternative planned from the outset to be reader-friendly.

“The magazines are designed to be accessible and, we hope, inspirational and actionable,” Banks concludes. “They are a contrast to our more academic publications, like the papers we publish at conferences, which tend to take more effort to consume.”