We’re glowing with pride that our concept and interaction design helped Dr William Mapham, a doctor with a vision, to win the first prize at the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards 2013. He’ll use the R1 million prize to fund the creation of his app.
Dr Mapham wanted to create an Android app to improve the diagnosis and referral process from rural clinics to hospital ophthalmologists. By making sure the correct information reached the hospitals they could help the right people to get cataract surgery at the right time, and avoid blindness.
Dr Mapham approached Flow for help with refining the concept and creating an interactive prototype.
We worked with Dr Mapham on personas and scenarios to get understanding and agreement of who would be using the app, and what they would need it to do. We worked iteratively, improving the scenarios until they reflected a story that was practical for doctors at Tygerberg and quick and simple for nurses in regional clinics.
We designed the app, starting with a map of all the screens, then creating a clickable prototype to run on Android. Making a prototype and viewing it on a phone enabled us to iteratively improve the design. About 13 iterations later, the app was in decent shape – easy to use, even for people with limited experience in ophthalmology.
Now that Dr Mapham has secured funding he can get the app developed. We’ll help him with the visual design and with final usability tweaks.
Dr. Mapham’s feedback: “R1 million! I still can’t quite believe it. Thanks for all your team’s work!”
Congrats to you, Doctor! It was you vision, optimism and determination that made it happen.
About a year ago Chris Dixon wrote a great post called Some problems are so hard they need to be solved piece by piece. It was based on an old Andrew Parker post The Spawn of craigslist about how Craigslist is getting beaten not by another similar company, but by niche startups going after their business piece by piece. Chris writes:
Startups that have tried to go head-to-head against the entirety of Craigslist (the “horizontal approach”) have struggled. Startups that have tried to go up against pieces of Craigslist (the “vertical approach”) have been much more successful (e.g. StubHub, AirBnB).
Andrew’s chart got me thinking about Facebook, and it looks like something similar is happening in the social media space. There are, of course, many ways to cut this, but here’s a possible view of some of the startups and companies that are going after different pieces of Facebook:
A few thoughts on this:
Things worth knowing about start on sites like 9gag and 4chan (and others that I’m not brave enough to visit), as well as RSS feeds (yep, not dead yet). From there it spreads to reddit, where the best stuff goes on to Twitter. Eventually — usually about 2 weeks later — a few of the best memes find their way all the way to Facebook.
The question is, what happens when people start moving up this funnel, away from Facebook to Twitter, to reddit, or even further? Then they won’t need Facebook to find interesting links any more, because Facebook is basically just a filter for links you can find sooner elsewhere.
But that’s not the only scary part. Here’s the other interesting thing. When you take away all the things on Facebook that can possibly replaced by niche products, you’re left with this:
Apps, and ads.
How long can a company sustain itself with that type of content?
Facebook is in a classic position where, as a dominant provider of horizontal social services, it is in danger of being taken down piece by piece by several vertical players who provide specific, narrow experiences very well. Facebook has become a social media firehose. It won’t be replaced by another firehose, but by a bunch of different cocktails that users can customize as they please.
Getting feedback is an essential component of good design. No matter how smart we are, we are going to get too invested in our solutions, and we need the help of knowledgeable outsiders to nudge us in the right direction. The problem is that feedback sessions can get out of hand quickly, because we’re just not very good at providing (or receiving) feedback. We are prone to seeing the negative parts of someone’s ideas first, so we often jump straight into the teardown. This puts the person who is presenting their designs in defensive mode right away, which usually starts a negative spiral into unhelpful arguments and distrust.
There is, however, a better way. In an interview on criticism and judgment, French philosopher Michel Foucault once laid out the purpose of any good critique. In his view, criticism should be focused not on what doesn’t work, but on how one can build on the ideas of others to make it better:
I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would fight fires, watch grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgements but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes — all the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination. It would not be sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms.
Keeping this purpose in mind, I particularly like the process used by Jared Spool and his team at UIE. The team uses this specifically for design critiques, but it can be applied generically to any kind of feedback session. Here’s how the process works:
Let’s not forget that as designers we are responsible for making sure feedback sessions happen, and that they happen in a respectful and useful way. Scott Berkun has a great set of ground rules about critiques that are worth remembering:
If we change our approach to provide critique, not criticism, we’ll be able to build on the best ideas of others, and iterate faster to better products. So remember: design like you’re right; listen like you’re wrong.
Amen to everything in Mona Patel’s article The Lean Agency:
While being lean is awesome, being innovative means that spending time and money on smart research and devoting ample time to thinking through the problem space can sometimes mean the difference between a good design and a great design. Our focus is not just on making something usable, but on creating value for a business and really impacting people’s lives.
And a double Amen to this:
Yes, agencies typically end engagements with deliverables. But, we don’t charge our clients just for the deliverables. We charge them for the value that we provide and the objective insights, fresh perspectives, and innovative solutions that we offer. We provide an innovative vision for an exceptional user experience in the form of an artifact, or deliverable. The presentation of our insights and recommendations in a solid deliverable can often be the tipping point for organizations seeking to change their product or experience for the better.
This is how we work at Flow as well. And especially since we started using Expanded User Journey Maps, good deliverables have become the difference between a successful and unsuccessful project.
I realise it will ruin some of my coffee street cred to say something positive about Starbucks. However, their use of ethnographic research outlined in Maria O’Connell’s Not Just Coffee: Starbucks’ Rise to Success is commendable (and clearly successful):
Starbucks interviewed hundreds of coffee drinkers, seeking what it was that they wanted from a coffee shop. The overwhelming consensus actually had nothing to do with coffee; what consumers sought was a place of relaxation, a place of belonging. They sought an atmosphere.
The round tables in a Starbucks store were strategically created in an effort to protect self-esteem for those coffee-drinkers flying solo. After all, there are no “empty” seats at a round table. Service counters are built out of natural materials like warm woods and stone, rather than plastics and metals, to create a homier atmosphere.
It’s still so frustrating to see how many companies embark on their redesigns or MVPs without doing contextual research first. You might get the usability of your product right, but without utility, it will still be useless. As Milica T. Jovanovic points out in Better safe than sorry:
Startup culture is using a bunch of clichés to tell (mostly) young people that it’s ok to invest an enormous amount of time and energy into something and then let it fail. Well, it’s not ok. It’s bollocks. There is nothing wrong in investing your time and effort into something you are passionate about, but you can make sure that the risk of failure is as small as possible.
In short, do your research first!
Related reading from the Elezea archive: Coffee, sense of place, and designing whole experiences
I just got back from an intense but amazing trip to Iran. Every morning when I woke up, this is the first thing I saw:
On the way I home I started writing a post called “iPhone as travel companion”. It was going to be centered around that home screen animation, and how it makes me feel more connected to the people I care about the most while I’m away on business trips. But I was tired, so I only wrote a couple of sentences and then fell asleep (ok, I watched Man of Steel, but that’s kind of the same thing as falling asleep).
When I arrived back in Cape Town, the first SMS I received was from a Samsung PR company:
Hi Rian, this is [redacted] from [redacted]. Your friend [redacted] contacted us and suggested we give you a Samsung Galaxy S4 for a 2 week review to change your mind about how you feel about fruits. Please let me know when and where I can deliver the device to.
A part of me thought, maybe this is fate. Maybe my undying devotion to iPhone is misplaced and this is the universe telling me I should take a trip to a Galaxy far far away (ugh, sorry). So I responded that I’d be happy to try out the device. And I was serious, too. I vowed to try to make it my default device for 2 weeks, and I decided to put my iPhone post on ice until I’ve had a chance to make the Galaxy S4 part of my daily routine.
So I went where no Apple user has gone before (ok, I’ll stop with the awful space movie tie-ins now) and strapped the S4 to my person for a few days. At first, there were some things I liked:
However, after a while everything started to annoy me about the device:
Every time I use an Android device it completely lives up to its name: it’s like interacting with a very smart robot. The problem is, that’s not what I want. I want something that connects a little bit more with who I am. And that’s what the iPhone gets right.
So, back to my trip (which you can read about here). My iPhone became my lifeline. I woke up with Rise. I spoke to my family on Skype. I kept up with close friends on Path. I stayed connected through Reeder and BBC News. And yes, I’m sure there are equivalent apps on Android that could replace the ones I use every day on my iPhone.
But here’s the thing.
I don’t want to change. iOS is comfortable. It’s familiar. It keeps improving without changing too much. It feels better — more personal. I know that’s subjective and not quantifiable, but look at that unlock motion effect above. It’s not about accessing a folder. It’s about opening a door to connection. It’s my favorite business travel companion, and you can pry it from my cold, dead hands.
P.S. Google, please make the Gmail iOS app as good as the Android version.
I recently added a Hario Coffee Kettle to my favorite way to brew coffee at home (Chemex). And I realized that every tool I add to my coffee making routine makes it take a little longer, and taste a little better. I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days, wondering if there is a deeper lesson in there somewhere. And then Craig Mod published Pull back, which made it all fall into place:
I want them all to slow down. I want to whisper in their ears: pull back for a second. Just for a moment. Stop and refine. Refine and refine. [...]
In refinement and iteration you finally get to know the thing you made. Really know it. Understand how bad it is. How great it could be. How much potential is still left unrealized. And within each iteration you move the thing forward; sometimes better, sometimes worse.
This is how it is with coffee, life, and yes — design. We can choose to make something and move on as soon as it’s done (Remember, The Biggest Lie in Corporate America Is Phase 2). Or we can choose to slow down, refine, and take the time to make things better. I think we should try to do more of the latter.
In How I Made $4000 Selling A Product I Didn’t Have one entrepreneur explains how his new startup deceived users into thinking the product already existed (even though it didn’t). They did this so that they could collect credit card details to validate whether or not users would actually pay for the product. You should really read the whole post, but here’s a key section:
It doesn’t feel good to deceive prospective customers (or anyone for that matter). I didn’t like this bit. Then again, is there really a big difference between this and in putting up a landing page to test a new idea? I don’t know. I think if your intention is right (i.e. your heart is in the right place), then this deception is more of a white lie.
Is this what it means to be a lean startup these days? It’s at worst fraud, and at best an extremely dark pattern. I get the need for validation before launching a product — I’m a big proponent of it. But the user-centered design and Lean UX methodologies both give us great ways to do validation in an ethical and honest way: through prototype testing with potential target customers.
Prototype testing helps us find out if a product is useful before we launch it — whether it has good utility as well as good usability. Sure, it doesn’t give us absolute validation on whether or not someone will actually pay for it, but that’s unfortunately part of the danger and excitement of creating software. Or are we really at the point where we agree with the ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles when he said, “Profit is sweet, even if it comes from deception”? I hope not.
I just don’t think deception of any kind is ok, even if “your heart is in the right place”. This isn’t user-centered, it’s persuasion. And as Cennydd Bowles put it in The perils of persuasion:
What privileges the designer [or the entrepreneur] to dictate desired behaviour? And since we’re for hire, does that mean we’re ethical relativists, bending people toward whatever agenda lines our pockets?
Profit is sweet, even if it comes from deception.
This isn’t really a post about one entrepreneur’s methods. I’m more interested in where the line is here, and I think this is crossing a very dangerous one. Where does this approach end? At what point will we, as users, constantly have to worry that every time we enter our credit card details online it might be for a product that doesn’t actually exist? Even if it isn’t fraud, that’s not the type of relationship I think we should build with our customers.
Incidentally, I recently watched Mike Monteiro’s excellent talk at Webstock called How Designers Destroyed the World. It’s embedded below — please watch it. But I’ll close with this quote from the talk that I find very relevant to this discussion:
We need to fear the consequences of our work more than we love the cleverness of our ideas.
We’re responsible for the work we put into the world. We always have a choice to be honest or deceitful. And we have to consider how those choices add up in the long term. That’s our job.
Dr. Drang did some iPhone battery calculations and concludes as follows in The small improvement in iPhone battery capacity:
It’s no secret that Apple has taken pains to make iPhones more and more stingy with power. What I didn’t appreciate until I put this table together was that the ability to still get a day of use out of an iPhone is due almost entirely to improvements in all the non-battery hardware and the software that drives it.
There have been a lot of complaints about battery life under iOS 7 — myself included:
7.0.1 please come soon
to make my battery last past noon
— Rian van der Merwe (@RianVDM) September 22, 2013
There has also been a slew of articles on how to improve battery life under iOS 7, the most helpful being The Huffington Post with 9 Ways To Improve iOS 7′s Battery Life. Although some might argue that this advice from Yahoo! is the best solution:
That said, Dr. Drang’s points are interesting, and his article is well worth reading. It seems that improving software is an easier way to improve battery life than changing the actual hardware is. But I do hope we see some hardware improvements soon, too, because it’s really starting to cripple the phone. If you have to turn off essential features just to make it through the day, something is not right.
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.
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:
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.
A correction 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”.
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.
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.