Blog

27 July 2014

Reasearch in Nairobi

By David

I visited Nairobi recently to do research and usability testing. Besides being my first visit to Kenya, two things excited me about going. Firstly, putting websites in front of people to find out what they think about them. And secondly, to get a better understanding of what mobile first, or mobile only, means in a country like Kenya, described as the epicenter of mobile innovation.

The battle is fierce for the hands and minds of Nairobi’s mobile phone users.

Doing research

I was going to Kenya because there were things we didn’t know – and talking to people firsthand is the best way to find out. In Nairobi we teamed up with a research company who provided space where I setup two laptops, a smart phone, and a mobile testing sled, and armed with a modicum of background knowledge, I interviewed ten people and tested two websites.

Usability testing on the move: two laptops, a smartphone, and a mobile testing sled.

Before starting a research project I sometimes worry that I won’t find useful information, either because I don’t have the right questions, or that I’m looking in the wrong place. I then remind myself that the only predictable thing about doing research is that you can’t predict what you’ll find. You have to get stuck in and do it, and be prepared to, as Erica Hall writes: Joyfully release all of your preconceived plans and ideas. In time I’ve learnt that this sense of apprehension comes from the fact that preconceived plans create a kind of comfort, whereas what you discover in research can change the entire trajectory of a project. And that is what design is all about.

The trip reminded me of three things

  • The global village is mediated by technology, it provides a universal language of sorts, the result is that on the surface we all appear quite similar, but it is a trap that can hide local knowledge and insight from us.
  • Africa is described as a mobile first continent. But it does not mean that mobile is the solution to all problems. Talking to people is the best way to avoid generalisations.
  • When we look at interfaces we interpret meaning, putting things on screen entails taking responsibility for how we assume others think, testing means owning up to that responsibility.

Reflecting on what to do next I’m reminded of Rebekah Cox’s definition of design:

Design is a set of decisions about a product. It’s not an interface or an aesthetic, it’s not a brand or a color. Design is the actual decisions. 1

Finding out what you don’t know is not a guarantee that things will be easier – the opposite often happens – but you’ll have information to base your decisions on.

And that is why we do research.

29 June 2014

From contracts to collaboration

By David

There are two sides to being a consultant.

On the one hand you get to work with a wide range of clients on projects that are varied and interesting. You’re exposed to different perspectives and ideas, and if you’re open to them it means you’re always learning. It keeps you on your toes and that’s what I like about it.

On the other hand, you are usually contracted to produce a deliverable at the outset of a project with limited scope for change. Sometimes you realise that what you’re doing is not exactly the right thing, but you’re somehow stuck in a one-way project track where your ability to create change is limited. This always feels like an opportunity lost.

But there is hope. Imagine a move away from purely deliverable-based contracts. In Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience Jeff Gothelf argues that we:

… give up the illusion of control that a deliverable-based contract offers but gain a freedom to pursue meaningful and high quality solutions that are defined in terms of outcomes, not feature lists.

So instead of working mostly in isolation, making something, you turn the process on its head by involving clients more in what you’re doing. What becomes visible is the boundary of a process and not the physicality of a thing. This has many advantages, Jeff Gothelf continues:

… both agency and client benefit form additional insight, feedback, and collaboration with one another.

The learning from this process may reframe the problem, or for example, bypass the creation of a wireframe deck completely, leading straight to the creation of a MVP.

Insight, feedback, and collaboration are the necessary foundations for making better products. Getting there requires boldness and a desire to explore, from both consultants and clients alike. And I think it is a risk worth taking.

11 June 2014

A unified product management framework

By Phil Barrett

If you want to succeed as a digital businesses you need product management. But understanding what product management is, or what a product manager does, can be difficult. I thought a diagram might help.

Part of the problem is that product managers need to adapt their approach based on context. You might be product managing a startup, searching for a killer business model. Or working in a large corporation, creating a digital interface to an existing business product. Or perhaps you’re managing software that has been around for years, with dedicated and vocal users.

Tactics will be different in each case. But there are some fundamentals about the process that stay true regardless. So I came up with this.

The product management process

Three phases, four tracks

All in all there seem to be three phases. They can vary in length and importance, and there are different tactics you can employ in each one. But there do seem to be three. I’ve called them product discovery, ship MVP and grow incrementally.

And in each of the phases, you should be doing some of everything: Designing, planning, building and learning from customers.

What changes from phase to phase is the balance and purpose of the activity on each track…

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5 June 2014

Future of the hamburger icon

The Android Google Plus app is experimenting with an alternative navigation pattern by removing the hamburger icon and replacing it with a drop down called “everything”. If Google is considering losing the hamburger icon, does it really have a future?

Chris discusses this and possible alternatives in his blog post:

The future of the hamburger icon

 

Screen shot of Google plus's 'everything' dropdown

2 June 2014

Designing and releasing a good Android app: Tips from Mxit

Mxit has launched their new Android app recently and it’s getting a good response from their target users. I chatted to Ryno Kotzé and Maia Grotepass, two members of the dev team, about how they did it.

Getting the right balance

And example of chat cards on Mxit for Android And example of a backdrop on Mxit for Android

As advocated by the Kano model, the new version contains a mixture of basic expectations, new functions and delighters.  For example…

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29 May 2014

Design thinking meets urban planning

By David du Plessis

The psychologist Rom Harré wrote that ‘the primary human reality is persons in conversation’. It’s a validating idea for design thinkers and user-centred designers because we do a lot of talking, and listening, to find the emotional touchpoints between people and products.

With Harré’s quote in the back of my mind I joined a World Design Capital 2014 co-design workshop, teaming up with members of the community, city officials, and fellow designers to talk about regenerating the Gatesville Central Business District and the Lansdowne Civic Precinct.

The co-design workshop was structured as an end-to-end design thinking process, and for many participants it was their first encounter with design thinking. But the premise of the day was that everyone is a design thinker, and we were encouraged to participate in conversations structured by the primary design thinking stages of:

  1. empathy, context and ideas,
  2. creating a vision,
  3. prototyping and iteration.

Empathy, context and ideas

First up, members of the community told their stories, setting the scene and context for the workshop. Next, they brainstormed the challenges faced by the two sites in their community, followed by a card sort and voting session to identify and prioritise the key issues.

*Voting in progress to whittle down prioritised issues.*

Voting in progress to whittle down prioritised issues.

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16 May 2014

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

By Steve Barnett

Yesterday was Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Accessibility means making sure that people can get all of your content quickly and easily, regardless of the any disabilities they have, the device they’re using, or the type of connection they’re on. The Flow team took time out to do some of the participation activities (Go mouseless, enlarge your fonts, use a screen reader) that the GAAD site suggests. We came away with a renewed appreciation for making our work accessible. That means keeping this in mind from the Content Strategy phase all the way through to front-end development. Here are some more details of the things we found out.

Go mouseless for an hour

We put aside our mice and trackpads, and used only our keyboards to interact with our computers. Figuring out the basic ways to navigate was relatively easy, but time-consuming. For things that we couldn’t figure out, we found that we had to know the right technical terms when searching otherwise we wouldn’t find the search results you needed.

It can be very difficult to target a particular link. The tab order of links may take you all around the page, but you might never hit the link you actually want. Most pages have a lot of links, which only makes it worse. Google calendar was particularly guilty here: you can tab all around the calendar, but not individual entries. It seems like the only way to edit an entry directly is to search for it first. On top of that, quite a lot of sites don’t use :focus styles: you can’t see what you’ve got highlighted, so you don’t know what you’re clicking.

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7 May 2014

6 reasons why one-colour branding can be bad for usability

By Debré Barrett

We often work with corporate brand guidelines that specify in detail what the brand is about: from fonts and colours, to how you’re allowed to use the logo on a T-shirt.

skype-forbidden

Skype explains how not to use their logo. 

These guidelines usually contain a single page for how the brand should be represented on the web, which is fine – it means the web designers have some room for interpretation.

But there is one frequent oversight in brand guidelines when it comes to web use: not enough colours.

If your branding specifies only 1 colour, or 1 colour with black or grey, a variety of usability problems can happen.

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22 April 2014

For the love of hamburgers

How necessary hamburger icons are is one of the conversation topics around the Flow coffee fountain. Chris expresses some of his thoughts in: Mmm, I do like hamburgers… with a side of off screen canvas

“Off screen canvases are the best option that we have at the moment to get the nav out of the way, and its not going anywhere soon.”

26 March 2014

The differences between the Android and Apple App stores

By Chris Metcalfe

I’ver recently been thinking how I decide whether I should buy an app or not. And I have found that this choice is different in iOS and Android:

http://chrism.co.za/app-reviews-google-play-and-the-apple-app-store/