From Observing Failures to Provoking Them

Session Title

From Observing Failures to Provoking Them


Nicolas Nova, Lift lab

Session Type: Presentation

One of the reasons why product and technology failures are important is that they can be seen as “seeds of the future” or “good ideas before their time”. A common example lies in the use of personal communication with pictures, which failed several times in its phone instantiation, but is now a huge success with laptops, PCs, webcams and Skype.

In the context of design, this talk with discuss how failures can be explored through field research and eventually help creating innovative products or services.

The underlying rationale of field research in design is generally to conduct studies so that the results can bring out insights, constraints and relevant material to design inventive or groundbreaking artifacts. When it comes to failures, this investigation can be tackled through two approaches. On the one hand, research can observe design flops and identify symptoms of failures. On the other hand, I am interested by a much more radical approach: provoking product failures as a way to document user behavior. What I mean here is the conscious design of questionable prototypes to investigate user experience. The point is to have “anti-probe”: failed materialization of the principles of technology that can be shown to people to engage them in open-ended ways. This alternative to start dialogue with users highlight inspirational data about how people would really happened.

The presentation will describe different case studies about failures following these two approaches to shed some light on original design questions.


Nicolas Nova is both researcher at Liftlab – with a specific interest in user experience and foresight in particular with regards to future technologies/practices and their implications – and the editorial manager of the Lift conferences (Switzerland, South Korea, France). He has a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction from the Swiss Institute of Technology (EPFL, Lausanne) where he also worked as a research scientist at the Media and Design Lab.

He runs field studies that aim at informing design projects for various companies and institutions in domains such as mobile/urban/location-based applications, tangible and gestural interactions, social computing, gaming and networked objects.

He blogs at Pasta and Vinegar, about future technologies/practices and their implications. He speaks and lectures widely on these topics at such institutions and conferences as Mediamatic (Amsterdam), the Institute for the Future (Palo Alto), Experientia (Torino), the Annenberg Center for Communication (Los Angeles), Ubicomp, NordicCHI to name just a few. He teaches design research at ENSCI (Paris) and HEAD (Geneva).