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.

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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…

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Tread carefully if you want to try relationship marketing

Relationship marketing is the holy grail of the modern marketer – but if you get it wrong, you will annoy your customers forever

[Debre Barrett is my wife and also an excellent experience designer, with many years experience at BBC.co.uk and some great Flow projects under her belt too. She wrote this post.]

Something awful happens to babies at exactly 5pm every day. They cry, they niggle, they scream. They drive you nuts until you’ve bathed them, fed them, and put them to bed. Suicide Hour, is what a friend and mother of four calls it.

crying-baby

One evening last week, at 5.45pm, I was busy preparing a puréed meal for the baby, a proper meal for myself, and a meal where none of the ingredients touch each other for my older daughter. The baby was perched on my one hip, exploring the boundaries of Suicide Hour. The older one needed help working the DVD, and there was only 1 hour 15 minutes between me, a glass of red wine, and a sit-down with Twitter.

Then the phone rang. It was a friendly, middle-aged lady.

Lady: “Oh hello there Mrs Barrett. I’m just calling to congratulate you on the birth of your little one, they are such blessings aren’t they? What did you have, a little boy or a girl?”

She was calling from Pampers. And I gave her an earful.
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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.

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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.

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.

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