Designing journeys from the hamster’s point of view

Want to be “customer-centred?” Instead of designing from a birds-eye view, the simplest change to make is to use journey maps and design each step as the customer would experience it.

On Saturday mornings, we occasionally build mazes for the kids pet hamsters out of Duplo. This is fun for everyone, including the hamsters who get a chance to come out of their cages and stretch their little legs.

As the architects of the mazes, we come up with various features that make the mazes more interesting to us. Rooms full of tasty treats at the end of long and complicated tunnels. We even did an elevator once. Here’s a typical maze…

A maze for the hamsters, made of Duplo bricks and viewed from the top

The hamsters have different ideas. They rarely go for the tasty treats because they are rarely aware they exist. From the their perspective the maze looks like this…

The hamster's view of the maze. Just a few walls and a left or right turn.

As you can see, it’s pretty hard to tell where the rewards will lie. To the left? Or the right? That’s all the hamster can see. Very often, the hamsters choose to escape from the experience altogether. (It’s amazing how tall you need to build the walls to stop this. That’s a lesson in itself.)

The hamster pops out the top of the maze and stops playing.

To make a successful maze that the hamster will run around it, we have to appreciate that the hamster can’t see the whole maze at once. They can only live through the experience of it step by step. And if a given step isn’t easy and clearly rewarding, then they won’t take it – even if there’s a mountain of popcorn waiting for them just a little further on.

As Flow has worked with various corporations in South Africa, it always seems to come down to the same key activity: Helping teams think through “what would our customer want to do next”. The simple act of viewing an experience step by step, as a customer would, solves squabbles, uncovers points of pain, and drives out simple new ideas that make things work better for everyone. Without doing this, business units and dev teams tend just to think about the component parts and how to click them together. And customers are faced with fragmented experiences that range from irrelevant to downright bizarre.

A sample scenario/simple journey map

The tools I’m talking about are just personas, scenarios, and journey maps here – techniques that are as old as the hills. But they’re still fundamental, and if you do them earnestly and intelligently they make all the difference.

UX innovation in Africa: Culture and relevance

It’s rare to find black women working in technology. So, last week, I was delighted to find myself the only “pale male” on the panel at the Interact2013 UX in Africa discussion.

The other three panelists were women from Kenya engaged in different aspects of UX design.

The Interact2013 UX industry in Africa panel
Left to right… Susan Dray (Panel chair). Shikoh Gitau, who works for Google. Me, Phil Barrett. Kagonya Awari, a UX reseacher at iHub’s UX lab in Nairobi. Edna Chelule who manages design and UX at DSTV.

The panel discussed a couple of interesting points about UX in African Countries:

  1. Traditional culture in Kenya, and elsewhere in Africa, does not foster innovation.
  2. Poor people in Africa want what everyone else wants, but in more affordable formats/portions.

Traditional cultures and innovation

There was general agreement that traditionally, Kenyan culture maintains unquestioning respect for leaders and this can stifle innovation or prevent successful adoption of new ideas like user-centred design.

Shikoh, who has a PhD in HCI and computer science, talked about her experience of that ingrained respectfulness. When her opinion differs from that of a senior person in an organisation, she said, she’ll often have to check herself to make sure she doesn’t just stand down immediately out of deference to their seniority.

Mobolaji Ayoade, from the audience, described a similar issue in Nigeria. His strategy was to voice his opinion clearly and then bide his time. When the leader ignored his advice, and encountered problems, he was around to quietly say “Let’s try it this way instead.”

Kagonya described how the iHub has a very flat organisational structure and this causes amazement and admiration from Kenyans who visit, but it takes a bit of explaining.

Kagonya also told me she believes that respect for authority can cause people across Africa to withhold complaints or feedback about poor service. This is bad for them, but also bad for the growth of UX as a whole. It’s hard for organisations to appreciate a business need for an improved customer experience when no-one complains about the current experience.

Update from Kagonya, after reading this post…

Quick correction: I wouldn’t boldy say that traditional culture does not foster innovation in Kenya, but more specifically traditional office culture. The reason being that culturally, while all Kenyan tribes push for respect for elders, I do not think that this always and therefore results in the hindrance of new ideas. Most communities have avenues where the young can pass on their ideas to the old and by these channels create room for new ideas.

Similarly, “traditional culture in Kenya does not foster innovation” may perhaps be too broad a statement? Maybe, “traditional culture in Kenya and other Africa countries, may hinder innovation”.

Poor people in Africa want the normal stuff

Shikoh and Kagonya agreed that many efforts at seed funding African startups are misguided. Well meaning NGOs and investors want tech projects to tackle the “big” issues – like AIDS for example. But the target users of the technology aren’t interested in that. They tend to be interested in the same things everything else wants, like entertainment, beauty and communication.

Both Shikoh and Kagonya said (slightly flippantly) that they could get venture funding in minutes from well-meaning investment funds, just by putting together a powerpoint slide mentioning Kibera (Nairobi’s largest slum), AIDS and mobile apps. But the product that such a venture would deliver would have little or no impact because people wouldn’t make time for it in their lives – or space on their phones.

As an example of what poor people in emerging markets do want, Shikoh gave the example of Unilever. They market the same face creams to several different market segments. But they make the creams available in small sachets for customers on the tightest budgets.

We talked about South African companies that do an excellent job at making products and services available in formats and at price points that people can afford. PEP’s focus on minimising overhead lets them save several cents per rand on distribution costs relative to competitors. DSTV offers pay as you go pricing. And Mxit offers messaging and photo sharing with minimal data usage – something that its loyal customers really appreciate.

Black, South African UX designers

The panel was great fun and very informative. I just wish there were more black South African UX designers who could have participated. Perhaps South Africa’s newly emerging middle class prefers its young people to study law, medicine or engineering? A shame from my perspective, since design thinking in South Africa is just as likely as any of those disciplines to change life for the better.