“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:
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.
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.
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:
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?
2. Help users to lose their work (and their tempers)
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?”
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.
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.
Finally, we had a brilliant talk from Dennis Williams about how to make and use sketches even though you “can’t draw.”
Cape Town’s UX community is growing well. We had a turnout of more than 50 people.
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.
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.
“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).
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.