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.

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

Design thinking: Make your business amazing

sketch_for_blog

Originally posted on memeburn.com

What is design? Most people will answer that question by pointing to a designed object – the iPhone, for example. Now that’s good design! The Mini Cooper. London’s famous map of the Tube. Anything ever built by Norman Foster. That’s design, right?

Wrong. Design is not the object, but the process that created that object. It’s a process that is part creativity, part method. A process that takes a lot of time, much instructive failure and a great deal of thinking. And thinking is something that looks a lot like Doing Nothing At All.

Amazing: The only adjective that counts

It’s very hard to explain this to a client. The Silicon Cape is beavering away right now, making software and websites and iPhone apps. Just do me a design! I need to show my investors something by next Tuesday, and we’re launching before the end of the month. You guys have designed stuff before, right?

Yes, we have designed stuff before. So we know that if you just take assumptions and preconceptions and bundle them up in the first format that crosses your mind, you might churn out something decent, but you’re never going to make something amazing. And given how much stuff is out there, and how little attention people have left to give to it, amazing is the only adjective that counts.

If you want to make something amazing, you have to be prepared to do the following:
Read more

Flow project: MWEB’s uncapped broadband site

MWEB’s uncapped broadband will revolutionise the web in South Africa. But there’s another revolution here – they designed for their customers and took the complexity out of buying broadband.

MWEB has launched affordable uncapped broadband in South Africa. Flow Interactive has been working with them on the interaction design for the launch website and the sign-up process. It’s been a complex but exciting project.

Working with Flow, MWEB took a user-centred design approach to this project. We started by doing a round of usability testing on their existing website earlier this year. This gave us many insights into how people buy ADSL. The most notable of these was that  people were almost utterly clueless about the terms that ISPs use on their sites. ADSL? HSDPA? Unshaped? Even the IT consultants we interviewed weren’t completely sure what it all meant.

MWEB's new ADSL pages

MWEB's new ADSL pages

There was a second layer of complexity: there were so many variables to the choice. ADSL vs 3G. Three different line speeds. Multiple data caps that depended on the line speed you chose. Pricing that was affected by the choice of router.

Read more

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

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

Balsamiq starts to show promise

Rapid interface sketching tool Balsamiq allows anyone to throw simple clickable interfaces together quickly. But if decides to become a professional tool for interaction designers, it still has a way to go.

I made this mockup in seconds

Balsamiq is a tool for creating rapid interface sketches. Due to skilful social marketing, its reputation is spreading fast.  And at $79.99 it’s a fairly cost effective bit of software.

Balsamiq has found a great niche. A growing group of folk in the web and software business understand that they should be sketching interfaces before implementation, but feel they “can’t draw”. So making a dedicated piece of software for them is a good idea. Integration with various enterprise collaboration tools makes another nice USP.

Sketch really fast

Balsamiq genuinely allows you to produce sketch interfaces faster then any other tool I’ve seen.  You can add a window, say, then instantly customize the thickness of the status bar, and title bar, and add or remove the maximize, minimize and close buttons. You can chuck in a tree control and quickly customize exactly how many folders it is showing and what each one is called.  Everything lines up automatically so it looks fairly neat.

You can also make scrolling pages and string them together into clickable demos. That means you can mock up a simple website clickthough in a few minutes. Balsamiq also captures some of the fun and creativity that makes sketching such a joy.  Clever!

A few widgets from Balsamiq's colelction

But then what?

There are at least three good reasons to create interface sketches and prototypes:

  1. To get new ideas and quickly explore and enhance them in design sessions with colleagues. Balsamiq is right at home here.
  2. To usability test ideas with target users. Balsamiq is close to being very useful here.
  3. To explain, persuade and demonstrate to other project stakeholders. Balsamiq needs quite a lot of work here.

As an interaction designer, I also need a tool to help me when interaction design projects get big and complex. Balsamiq isn’t yet great at handling large, complex mockups and helping you to keep all the pages consistent and up to date.

Read more

Three blades to Occam’s Razor

The principle of Occam’s Razor offers interaction designers three ways to keep complexity under control.

Razors - by Viscousplatypus. http://www.flickr.com/photos/pneumatic_transport/

Occam’s razor has been really useful to me on several projects recently. It’s nothing new. Occam was around in the 14th Century. And it wasn’t even his idea: it might well have been Aristotle’s. Perhaps that long history proves that it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal when designing user experiences.

The basic idea is something like:

“If you have two equivalent theories or explanations for observed facts, all other things being equal, use the simpler one.”

The user-centred design version might be:

“If you have two interfaces that both address user needs, go with the simpler one.”

But there are three different ways the idea gets expressed, and each form has something to offer interaction designers. Here they are:

  1. Choose simple solutions
  2. Keep merging features
  3. Don’t oversimplify

Read more