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.



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


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:
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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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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.

Extreme e-commerce

“South Africans would always rather jump in the car to go an buy something than buy it over the internet,” says Andrew Smith, director of YuppieChef. He’s right. And it means that if you can design an e-commerce site that sells in South Africa, you can do it anywhere.

At the end of May, there was a free one day conference about South African, digital entrepreneurship: Net Prophet. Andrew Smith, a director of South Africa’s most delightful e-commerce site, YuppieChef, gave a great talk about e-commerce in South Africa. It was called E-commerce is not a technology problem.

Andrew Smith's recipe for a successful e-commerce site

Andrew covered user experience and customer experience in a completely jargon-free way. And he offered a great summary of the themes that an e-commerce operations needs to consider.

Of course e-commerce is not primarily a technology problem. But when you meet organisations starting e-commerce operations, you still need to spell it out every time. A great example from Andrew:  Pick and Pay’s website is high on technology and short on selling. The search engine returns results, sure, but if you search for milk, you get milk stout and milky bar buttons coming up first. Surely cartons of milk would make better sense.

(My limited experience of talking to the Sainsbury’s and Occado teams in the UK tells me that getting supermarket IA right takes about 2 years, or four iterations. So don’t give up, Pick and Pay).

Andrew also offers some great checklists for what it takes to run a successful e-commerce operation.

  • Product: Hard to find, trusted brands, easy to deliver
  • Marketing: Offline credibility, word of mouth, community
  • Customer service: Real people, in touch, full time

It’s a great introduction.  But what’s really intriguing is that online trust-building and persuasion tactics don’t seem to be enough. Andrew is convinced that in South Africa, you have to establish trust via telephone calls and offline marketing. Like I said: if you can build a successful e-commerce business in South Africa, you can do it anywhere.

Apalling and astonishing

Two flowsters, Ofer Deshe and Simon Johnson, dug out these two fine blog posts and sent them to me.
The five worst website designs in the world

Bad web design

Worse web design

Ten futuristic user interfaces

Futuristic glass integrates information services with everyday life

A 180 dome display makes gaming more immersive

What I take from this:

  • The web on a computer is old, flat and slow.  But still incredibly useful.
  • When you ask cutting edge design teams to create interfaces, you get discernably better results.
  • The value that good design brings to a business couldn’t be clearer.

Social design for Springleap

Cape Town’s new collaborative T-shirt design website is a really interesting piece of social design.

A couple of weeks ago, Eric Edelstein, the CEO of Springleap asked me to pop by and chat about the user experience strategy for his site.

The idea for the site is simple: Designers submit designs for t-shirts, the community votes on the designs, and the winning t-shirts get printed and made available for to buy on the site. The designers of those shirts get a cash prize and people can come and buy the shirts.

Eric holding a Springleap shirt
Eric Edelstein and one of Springleap’s shirts.

It’s similar to Threadless but the community rules and processes are a bit different. And therein lies the challenge. Designing a community that works, and that makes money, is not easy but always interesting.

The number one rule for social design is: deliver personal value to each individual user. That way you’ll attract members regardless of how big or small the network is already. When you’ve attracted members, value will start to emerge from their interactions, and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Now: where’s the personal value? Designers see value in submitting designs: they might win money, and they will certainly get exposure. And shoppers see value in buying: the shirts are limited editions by talented designers. The tricky part is the getting people to vote. There’s no obvious incentive for them to do it.

But people are already voting, and with some planned improvements to the site, they should soon be voting even more. Here are some reasons:

  • The designers encourage people to come and vote for them. This means the promotional activity for the site is distributed to the members themselves. That’s very scalable.
  • People who came to the site as designers or shoppers can be “seduced” into voting. Once they have completed their primary goals, designers want to check out the competition and shoppers want to find new things to buy.
  • Voters will earn kudos for voting, and particularly for predicting the winning designs. So if you vote well, you can become a respected design pundit on the site, and get free stuff too.
  • Voting will be very very easy. That’s a straight usability challenge. Put voting opportunities in attaractive locations, and make the voting process extremely quick.

Springleap T shirts in their bags
Getting a Springleap t-shirt is a great customer experience. There’s a mini brochure of that month’s winning shirts, and a postcard and badge of your chosen design.

It’s working so far

There are all sorts of business and community design challenges for Springleap to tackle. But the bottom line is: they’re getting designs in, selling t-shirts and doing something amazing. The web gives them world-wide reach, and there’s no need to stop at just t-shirts, either.

There’s a great vibe in the office, and we had a lot of fun brainstorming ideas. But the best thing about my visit: they paid me in T-shirts!

Collaboration and creativity use up the social surplus

Organised, industrial society creates left-over time for its citizens — and that time has to be used up somehow. At first it was with gin. Then TV. Now it’s just beginning to be with mass creation and collaboration.

Thanks to Anne Sophie Leens for the pointer. And “wow” to Clay Shirky for such a great post. I hope the book is just as good.

I have to say – it really shifted my mindset.

…if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

See? Read the whole thing…

Why did Apple launch a bad phone?

If if the 1st Gen iPhone was so “bad” – what was Apple thinking when they launched it?

Lots of people are excited about the new iPhone because they think it will address many of the annoyances present in the first one. (Well – not all of those issues are getting addressed, in fact. But some are.)

There was much complaining about the iPhone 1.0. And vocal user complaints are not usually a great recipe for a popular product and strong sales. In fact often, companies that rush products out to be “first to market” end up having their lunch eaten by products that arrive a little later, but offer a better UX. Apple themselves demonstrated with the ipod that late-comers can steal the the show by being “best-to-market.”

Here are 5 reasons I can think of why Apple launched a “bad” product, braved all that negative publicity, and gave companies like Samsung and HTC a chance to take a shot at them.

1. Launch simple products first.

Apple like everyone else had to launch a version 1.0. Business reality and human psychology demand it. At some point you have to get something out the door becfore you run out of cash or go insane. iPhone 1.0 was a product of controlled project scope.

iphone 3g

2. Get feedback from beta testers

Getting live market feedback works well – but mostly with early adopters. So perhaps Apple didn’t want go mainstream yet. Did they elect to keep sales constrained and stay with the iPhone *BETA crowd until they had perfected the product?

3. Move the focus to UX

The iPhone caused a stir because it moved the focus to a different aspect of the mobile UX. Were Apple deliberately saying “it’s not about hardware. Stop competing on hardware. This new phone is all about the user experience.” So in a way, the hardware shortcomings drew attention to the UX. People complaining about missing hardware could be accused of “missing the point/having no vision” – and frequently were.

4. No competitors stand a chance anyway

Apple decided it didn’t matter if their prodcut wasn’t perfect, because they were confident that none of the existing mobile manufacturers could get their act together to compete on Apple’s UX turf nearly fast enough. Efforts from HTC and Samsung were hardly mind-blowing. Nokia’s device is still in development.

And realistically, that wasn’t hard to predict. For traditional electronics companies try to squeeze into the Apple mold seems to be all but impossible. So Apple put their money where their mouth was and went first to market with an incomplete product. They knew they would get a way with it.

5. And now they can generate more buzz by launching version 2.

All publicity is good publicity.

Are people going to buy iPhone2? Some more will. That I suspect that question doesn’t matter to Apple too much. We’re still, arguably, in beta 2. One more release and it’s going to get interesting.

Tower Bridge starts to Twitter

Tower Bridge has joined the ranks of an increasing number of intelligent objects that can tell us things about themselves.

My colleague David Whittle uncovered this beautiful little story: Tower Bridge is now on Twitter. Effecitvely the bridge is keeping its own micro blog of its activitiy and notifying anyone who cares to subscribe about what it is doing.

Tower Bridges Twitter stream

This makes Tower Bridge into a spime – an object that is in some why aware of its’s own position in space and time, and able to report it to interested parties.

You’ve found your keys

Spimes offer a lovely way to connect the world of physical objects to the information flow of the Internet.

Lost your keys? If they were spime keys, you could Google for them.

Lent a book to someone but can’t remember who? If it were a spime you could Google for who had it. And maybe even if they had read it.

Bruce Sterling describes a vision of the future where product designers can iteratively enhance spime-products using spime data about when and where the products were used. Kind of like Web analytics but for physical products too. (Fascinating and useful for the designers, but no replacement for experience labs and other ethno techniques. Why? Because a spime will still not be able to capture and relay its users intentions, motivations and desires.)

Spimes and spime kludges

You can’t yet google your keys or get analytics about how someone used their new shoes. But there is already a lot of spime-like stuff out there, beyond Tower Bridge.

Track packages: Express parcels are spimes. They have barcodes and RFID tags, so that you can track where they have got to. There was furore a few years back over the idea of RFID tags embedded in clothes to help with inventory tracking. If you forgot to remove the tags, then conceivably, people could track you!

Find children: Mobile phones and cool sneakers with GPS are being used to help worried parents keep track of their children. (No need to implant the chip in the child, just give them a kid-friendly phone or trendy sneakers and they’ll take their treasure with them everywhere).

Kid tracking phone

And this low tech but ingenious approach is helping people find lost digital cameras. If you find a lost camera, just mail four pictures from it to the Found Cameras and Orphan Pictures blog, and maybe the owner will find them and claim it.

Spime your stuff now

If you own something that you feel need to be searchable by others, Google can help. Google Base lets you store any information about anything online now, so that others can search for it. But unless you can find a way to update the information in real time, then your object won’t yet be a spime.

Know any other good spimes? Do tell.