Flow project: 25% increase in registrations for MXit

Flow helped MXit create MXit 6: a stylish and easy-to-use new version of their mobile phone software across three types of handset. The project delivered a 25% increase in daily registrations in the first month, to over 60 000 registrations per day.

Delivering a great user experience across the widest range of handsets is key to our strategy. Flow has been an essential part of the process for us. – Juan Du Toit, Head of International Business Development and Marketing.

MXit_handsets

MXit_Usability1

The Brief: Design a new user experience for MXit on Java, Blackberry and Android devices.

MXit is Africa’s largest mobile social network. It earned this position by offering cost-effective access to messaging, gaming and information services on more than 3000 models of handsets, which include low-end feature handsets.

But the minimalist approach that gave the platform such broad reach tended to make MXit hard to understand for first-time users, and less appealing on smartphones.

So Flow was asked to help create a new vision for MXit, called MXit 6, The aim being to improve the user experience and make it more appealing to more users on more devices.

What we did: Research, concept design and detailed interaction design in an agile software development process.

Usability testing on the existing product showed that Read more

Handing over control of your social profile?

Registering for a site using Facebook connect, or connecting an app to your Twitter account, asks such scary questions that you could be forgiven for backing out of the process.

Zynga wants complete control of your Twitter account. Does that feel safe to you?
Zynga wants complete control of your Twitter account. Does that feel safe to you?

Gowalla wants to access your private Facebook data while you sleep. Spooky.
Gowalla wants to access your private Facebook data while you sleep. Spooky.

Who’s fault is this? I think Facebook and Twitter need to provide a better mechanism for companies like Gowalla and Zynga to explain their privacy policy and how they will really use the power you are granting them. Then again, maybe Zynga is being a bit greedy with the permissions it is asking for.

We’ve seen it in usability tests and we feel it as users. It’s too scary and unless the motivation is sky high. And we ain’t playing.

Launch and learn – don’t crash and burn

“Launch and learn” is a great way to tune innovative, digital products to customer needs. But at worst, I’ve seen “launch and learn” used as an excuse for lazy, dysfunctional teams to launch ill-thought-out products that don’t provide customer value. And then listen in all the wrong ways.

Digital teams can behave in strange ways. Designing software can do that to you. To highlight how launch and learn can go wrong, let’s try a thought experiment…

If the Johannesburg’s rail link had been launched by a digital team

Johannesburg’s airport rail link, the Gautrain, was launched in 2010 before it was finished. But they did a pretty good job. I was happy to put up with the unfinished stations because they provided something essentially valuable to me from the start: fast transport with no traffic jams.

But if the Gautrain had been rolled out in the style of many a digital innovation, the process might have looked something more like this:

Gautrain, rickshaw, skates

Version 1.0 Beta

Open the tracks between Rhodesfield and Marlborough, two small stations. Don’t run any trains. Let customers walk between the two stations.

User opinion: Read more

How to lose customers and alienate people

Originally published on Memeburn.com

South African websites repeatedly make basic usability mistakes. The results: frustrated customers, negative brand impact, reduced online sales, and poor return on investment for the whole web project.

The best advice for making an impact online is to Zig when others Zag. Stand out. Be amazing. Give a shit.

But if you work for a South African corporation, I’m sure you’ll feel much more comfortable following the herd. So here are five instructions for making sure your ecommerce site delivers industry-standard quantities of pain and frustration.

1. Let the programmers write the copy

Here’s an error message Flow discovered during a usability test for MWEB. If you choose the wrong kind of password, you get a message that says:

alphanumeric-mweb

Oops indeed…

This kind of language is fine for programmers, but there are a lot of people who might want to buy an internet connection but are not sure what the word “alphanumeric” means.

So how about, “Please make sure there are both letters and numbers in the password you choose, to improve your online security.” Surely more people will understand what that means?

Usability recommendation for the inspired: You won’t ask a copywriter to program JavaScript. So don’t ask the programmers to write the copy.

2. Help users to lose their work (and their tempers)

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4 ways to combat usability testing avoidance

Working with users during the design process will untie project knots and boost team productivity and focus. But there always seems to be an excuse for not testing. Here are 4 ways to counter the excuses and make usability testing happen.

Testing a paper prototype

Testing a paper prototype

Excuse 1: “It’ll slow us down”

Finding users, building prototypes and working through hours of research takes time. Why not spend that effort on writing more code?

Counter argument. You say: “Our business objective is to reach profitability as quickly as possible. To do that, we need to understand what our customers really need and make sure we’re all agreed on the direction. A usability test might take some time in the short term, but it will help us reach our overall business goal quicker.

Usability testing, like many UCD tactics, is an investment. You put in time and money, but you get back a product that sells better and costs less to support. But usability testing is also beneficial during the design process…

Read more

Sketching for innovation at the SA|UX forum

Sketching is an essential tool for innovation. If you don’t explore new ideas effectively and cheaply at the start of a project, you risk expensive failures. At the fifth SA|UX forum Cape Town meet-up, we had some great presentations about the subject.

An overview of my intro presentation

An overview of my intro presentation

My talk covered the essentials of sketching for innovation: I’ve guest blogged it over on the 20Four labs blog.

We had a talk from Microsoft’s, Kath Roderick about Blend3 Sketchflow. I have to say – the tool really looks like it has merit.

  • It’s primarily focussed on making fairly robust, clickable prototypes, so it may, be a bit more fiddly than a very early stage skecthing tool like Balsamiq. But it seems to make it easy to do a lot of the things that usually take ages during UX design.
  • You can do data binding – to import sample data quickly into scrolly boxes.
  • And you can make re-usable elements, like, say a universal navbar, and put them onto each page with ease.
  • It also shows you your prototype pages as a network diagram rather than as a list (like say Fireworks or Dreamweaver does), which I think will make pages easier to find, organise and remember.
  • Sketchflow lets you package up your prototype so you can put it on a website, and not worry about how to share the prototype. And the packaging mechanism includes a feedback tool so stakeholders can annotate and comment on it in their own time. Very clever.

Sketchflow shows your prototype pages  in a network

Finally, we had a brilliant talk from Dennis Williams about how to make and use sketches even though you “can’t draw.”

Dennis presents at the SA|UX forum

Dennis presents at the SA|UX forum

Cape Town’s UX community is growing well. We had a turnout of more than 50 people.

Further reading:

Vodacom service: Experience the dancing bear

Signing up with Vodacom for an iPhone: it worked, but only just. Next to Apple’s amazing user experience design, Vodacom’s service design looks distinctly shabby. Sorting it out would benefit customers and shareholders.

A “dancing bear” is Alan Cooper’s term for a piece of technology that gets accepted because it does something valuable – not because it does something well. The miracle is that the bear dances. But if you needed a dancer, you wouldn’t hire a bear.

The Diamond RIO. It played music!  Amazing. But it was a pain.

The Diamond RIO. It played music: Amazing! But it was a pain.

A classic example. The Diamond Rio: dancing bear. iPod: Prima ballerina.

Service design is another form of experience design. And it can have dancing bears too.

See the bear dance

So low are our expectations of South African mobile service providers, that we applaud when they manage the absolute basics of their business: connecting new customers to their service so they can make money out of them. A service provider that actually tried to provide a real customer experience? We can bearly imagine it.

The actual Vodacom experience (as braved by my wife, Debre):
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Completed UX project: Desktop design tool for antenna engineers

“Awesomeness” was one of the project goals. User-centred design helped to deliver it.

As we use wi-fi networks, satellite TV, mobile phones, we don’t give a thought to the antennas that makes them work. But designing antennas is hard. It’s almost as much an art as a science, takes lots of knowledge, dedication and experience… and months.

Antenna Magus is a new piece of software which cuts weeks off the antenna design process. It represents a revolution in antenna design. (If you want to know what it actually does, your best bet is to watch their chuckle-provoking video).

Antenna Magus screenshots

The Magus team wanted the software to be useful and quick to use. They wanted it to be “awesome” (with tongues slightly in cheeks). Most of all, they wanted it to be exportable globally and generate significant revenue, in a shortish time frame. So they asked me to help get them there.

Read more

Destructive excuses

Here are four excuses I’ve heard recently. Not delivered in these exact words or course. I’ve summarised them to save us all time.

I’m too busy coding to work out whether people will want the product I am trying to deliver.

I’m too busy fighting fires to make sure we have a reliable process and happy staff.

I’m too busy thinking up new features to focus on what people really need.

I’m too busy trying to push the product to think about how to make people choose to buy it.

These are the underlying thought and behavior patterns behind some very expensive mistakes.