Your project manager walks in. He wants to release a version of the product that you have just started designing for. And he wants it released before the end of next month.
Not surprising. After all, yours is a lean (and mean) organisation. This can’t be all that bad, especially when you are getting feedback on actual usage from customers. Quickly.
You could call ‘Super Designer’ to the rescue. Or you could look deeper and analyze the situation further.
You realize, for example, that the team is making a number of compromises. To crunch the time required to build the product, they have skipped certain bits of the process all together. User research for example. It has been the first on the chopping board.
But that need not be always the case. You can save research from the guillotine by employing some innovative techniques. By using ‘Zippy User Research’, for example.
This will allow you to incorporate effective research into your lean development cycle. Unlike traditional research methods (or even lean research), ‘Zippy User Research’ is far easier to execute. And need not be resource intensive.
If you have to do an attitudinal research, say a focus group or an online survey, there is a significant investment you would require. Firstly you will have to recruit right. Followed by execution and finally data analysis. Same for usability tests or A/B analysis.
These are valid investments as the returns you will get are significant. However, as a startup, these are not necessarily luxuries you can afford. After all, you want to capitalize on the first mover advantage (what ever that means).
But that should not become an excuse to forsake user research. Usually, at this point, most organisations utilize lean or guerrilla research techniques. Most of these techniques talk about using tools like spreadsheets and SurveyMonkey forms to gather the same old information. In almost the same old fashion. However it is somewhat faster and cheaper. But not by much.
This of course, is better than nothing.
But what if the time you had been severely constrained? In crunch situations, dates and deadlines have already been chalked out by immovable circumstances. Like a conference, for example. Or a potential investor who is available only for a short period.
Is there anything you can do in a situation like this? Something better than relying on your gut.
That’s where ‘Zippy Research’ comes in. Unlike traditional research it removes the constraint of relying on actual users. Making the process a lot faster. And it works much better than simply relying on gut feel.
Additionally it works great for brand new products.
Let’s take a look at what Zippy User Research entails. It is actually not a single technique but a combination of a number of techniques. They include:
- Reviewing reviews
- Role play
- Relating to the future
- Pattern based design and heuristics
Let’s look at these in detail.
Reviewing reviews: When you buy any product, you usually do a thorough review before you commit to buying it. This helps you form an opinion about the product. Tech review, iTunes Reviews and Play Store reviews help you form that opinion. These reviews give you insights into how other people are perceiving the product.
Similarly you can gain a lot of insight into what the user is thinking when they post on the internet about your product.
But if your product has not been around for a long time, making a presence on social media or review sites is difficult.
This is where you might have to go innovative. Look for a competitor’s review on Play Store or iTunes Store. You can even search on Quora for what people have to say about similar products. Or on online forums about how many people are facing the pain points you are trying to address.
You should end up with either a scenario or persona that you built using information you found online. However during the research, you need to be mindful about the task at hand. You will encounter a lot of useless information, but you need to decide soon if the source is worth your investment. Note down every bit of information that will help you define the unmet need more succinctly. Don’t get lost in the sea of information online.
Role Play: Here you could use empathy to imagine what a user would do a particular scenario.
Assign yourself tasks that the user would most likely perform. Note down how you would go about doing it. For example, will you pick up a phone and call for a taxi. Or can the phone offer you a view of all the taxis around your area. Putting yourself into this role play will help you see the obvious advantage one option provide you over another.
Sketching out of brainstorming over possible tasks and then actually doing a role play for each would add more authenticity to this technique. If you have some rough sketches, it allows you to empathize a bit more with the user and evaluate the task at hand better. You can use this technique but the caveat is that you should not to bias yourself based on the design solution you already have.
To avoid bias, it would be better to use this in combination with a hallway research technique. Get someone else (who ideally is not part of your team) to get involved in the role play. Since the person you ask for opinion has no role in the design of the interface, chances of bias are lesser.
Relating to the future: Have you every written you own obituary. Written a press release for an unreleased product. Or interviewed your future self?
This can be a life enhancing experience. Since this involves imagining how you would have responded to challenges and events to come out stronger.
A similar exercise in product development would be to write out future press release for product launches or actually conduct a mock review with a tech writer or blogger that will bring out key challenges and approaches on how you might be able to address them.
Ask questions about situations that require complex solutions. See how you have addressed these situations. This will clear your mind to bring out solutions you have not thought about.
Pattern based design and heuristics: Use existing design patterns like the ones enumerated here (). Or something like Material Design Guideline . Or the Apple HIG. This is not a replacement for design but is a good way to kick-start the process that you get to a MVP.
But essentially you should think whether an MVP works at all. You might actually start thinking about a Minimum Desirable Product.
I’m sure you have been using some these techniques in your design. Maybe have been calling it get feel. But using the technique consciously as design tool, will make you explain the reason you came up with a design with more accuracy. It will also help you release faster. And result in a well designed product that not sacrifice user research in the process of using a lean development philosophy. However think of zippy research as ‘User Research on Steroids’, while it is fast, it is not necessarily healthy…
Zero to One is an interesting book about building companies. It has ‘Notes on startups’ in the title, but is a look at Peter Thiel’s analysis of what works and what does not in the tech industry. Some of the premises presented in the book are expanded below.
Competition is bad: Thiel actually believes that competition is contrary to the principles of capitalism and that operating in an environment where there are a number of competing organisations is bad for an organisation. They end up dissipating their energies by waging a war with each other. This does not necessary create better products. In fact it hurts profits. Thiel uses Apple, Microsoft and Google to illustrate this point. In 2010, both Google and Microsoft had more market capitalisation than Apple. But in 2013 Apple had more than overtaken the combined market capitalisation of Microsoft and Google. When you think about this, India is also facing a similar situation in almost every sector. In transport there is Uber, Ola, Meru and TFS. In real-estate, there is Housing.com, MagicBricks, CommonFloor and others. In e-commerce it’s Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon. India is a war-zone as far as competing technology companies go. Thiel goes to say that the same concept can be applied to individuals within the organisation. If each person’s role is defined and they concentrate only on that task, internal competition is reduced. And appraisals are easier. People on the whole are more productive as well.
No technology company can be built on branding alone: When Marissa Mayer took over Yahoo in mid 2012, she had a one line strategy. People, the products, then traffic and finally revenue. Sounded good. And she went about in earnest executing it. Working at Yahoo was a lot cooler with free food and so on. She redesigned the logo. Almost single-handedly. And worked on products by acquiring Tumblr and re-launching core products like Flickr. These looked like steps in the right direction. But there have not been any new products or radical changes in the strategy. Thiel uses this as an example of not doing enough to impact the core company. Though a lot has been achieved for the brand. But is that enough? According to Their what is required is something like what Steve Jobs did on his return to Apple. Something that worked on the product impact directly. For example, a sharp slash in the number of products. Directly resulting in a 10x improvement.
Strong AI is like a cosmic lottery: If we win it, we get utopia. If we lose, we will be substituted by Skynet. However Thiel does not look at Strong AI as an immediate problem or opportunity to be dealt with. In fact Thiel sees the improvements in computing power more as an ally to humans. Tim Urban however thinks otherwise. And I actually think the future might be closer to Urban’s analysis.
Lean Startup does not work (not the way you expect at least): This is a slightly controversial if misunderstood point in the book. There have been talks on TechCrunch about how Thiel is wrong about this. What Thiel says is actually this “Leanness is methodology not a goal. But iteration without a goal will not take you from 0 to 1.” This does not deride the who Lean Startup philosophy but augments it. I’d also touched upon the Minimum Desirable Product in this article and it is an interesting way augment the lean methodology.
Overall the book is really thought provoking. Highly recommended.
Looks like Zomato has added a taxi hailing feature into its mobile app.
With taxi aggregators like Ola adding food delivery through Ola Cafe (Uber has tested out the same with UberFresh) there seems to be a nice synergy going on between food and travel. In any case, the integration seems like a fairly intuitive one. We have to wait and watch how the uptake will be.
What do you think? Will you use it?
I’m nearing end of the Steve Jobs biography, the one which Cook and Ive believe is better than the Isaacson one. Towards the end of what I think is more a memoir by a close acquaintance the author talks about AppleU an university that looks at developing future Apple leaders by looking and dissecting past decisions. The hope is to encapsulate the decision making powers that made Steve Jobs a legend.
While this is a laudable vision and the hope is to preserve the culture of the company. It actually functions as a way to maintain the legacy of one person. Steve. In some ironic way, this is essentially an implementation of an Orwellian big brother philosophy, albeit one that may be a little more aspirational than 1984.
So far Apple has been true to two of the three tests that Jim Collins puts to test for companies that are ‘Built to Last’. The book is not sure of the third, “Does Apple have an enduring legacy that can be displayed by across multiple leaderships?”
Having read this biography in addition to Isaacson biography, iCon, Infinite Loop, Pepsi to Apple and even the Ive bio, I really fail to see a pattern in Apple’s success. And neither does there seem to be a pattern amongst the competitors or even the individuals within the core team at Apple. Gates, for example, is an antithesis of Jobs but highly successful. And Ive, a brilliant designer that he is, could not have gained the recognition at Apple without Jobs. Even Jonathan Rubinstein who was extremely good at Apple was hardly able to make an impact at Palm. And anybody remember a genius named Avie Tevanian?
So let’s look at Apple post the Jobs era. Despite the platform and the brand, the company has made a few false steps. The Apple Watch was not exactly what people expected. And the new MacBook still has some naysayers.
Others have been quick to pounce on this relatively lean period in the history of Apple. Mark Leslie, for example, talks about the innovation drought at Apple to Forbes and goes on to suggest that the problems began while Jobs was still there. Though, I personally believe that the duo of Cook and Ive have put up a rather good show. And with some upcoming rumors like the Apple Car, maybe the company could be on its way back to finding its footing.
So the question really is how long will Apple stay on this pedestal of good design and brilliant products? Want to take a guess?
According to this article, MS is trying to regain it’s lost mojo in mobile (as is Yahoo BTW.) But what is more interesting is the number of articles praising the new MS Outlook app is appearing. Sure the app is good, but is it so much better than anything else in the market? I doubt it. I really think it is more the PR dollar talking than the actual ability of the app. Edit: I do have some feedback that people are actually using the app and liking it. Maybe you can point out some of your favourite mail apps and this will help me do an evaluation some time in the future. There are certainly a lot out there including:
And others. What is your favourite?
Connected cars have been in the talk for over a year now. Most people put it forward as a safe and convenient way to reduce traffic and and travel delays. It sure does. But that’s not the only reason connected cars make sense. There is one more important aspect. It improves the driving User Experience.
Now with Apple apparently joining the fray, and the fact the Google has already been working in making improvements for the automotive industry, we could soon see this happening.
So what could we expect from projects like this. Here’s a not so moonshot look at it.
Apart from a smart almost cockily irritating sense of humor that Siri tends to put across, most devices today seem to lack personality. Let’s hope that’s not the case with your car.
Meet your car. No really meet him.
By denying your car a personality, you might be blocking out a rugged, outdoorsy and jovial friend in your life. The one that accompanies you on all your hikes, vacations and even your commute. You probably spend as much time in your car as you do at home. Isn’t it time you got to know each other better? Well it should be.
Let’s start with giving your car a name. Does Jake sound right? Some, of course, might have Anne for their companion. While others might prefer Terry. Your friend has the personality that blends in with your lifestyle. While belonging uniquely to your car.
There should be a way to personalize this. You need not be stuck with the personality of a Siri or Cortana that you may or may not like.
One of the reasons most companies are looking at the car eco-system is because they realize there is not much advancements in phone technologies possible in the near future that will motivate people to upgrade.
The watch and glass are all devices that you would want to use to augment your necessity for the phone. No reason why a car should not do the same.
So as you would expect, you communicate with your car with a phone application. Something that also lets the car talk back to you. Your cars knows as much as your choose to reveal about it. And you can check your car’s health and performance based on the diagnostic information the app provides.
Let’s get started. You walk in to pickup your car from the showroom and when you finish the purchase of the car, the dealer provides you with a login to the website that lets you customize your new purchase. While you purchase the car, you also select the personality that you wish your car to posses. Jake, the jovial, outdoorsy and rugged SUV will surely be a hit with the entire family.
You connect your social profiles on the website so that the application has data to build a profile about your preferences and also checks profiles that let it find frequently visited sites based on Yelp reviews and other information available on the web.
None of this profile information is ever shared with anybody, in fact you can choose not to share the information. You can also shut off the location tracking feature in the car with a simple command.
One of the first things you realize on accessing your car once connected to the app is that there is a deep connect between the car and you right from the word GO. You unlock the car simply by having your phone in the vicinity of the car and thus do not need to search for the keys in your pocket with your coat in one hand and the bag in the other. You simply walk in and you can either connect through the hard network or even wirelessly though the car network. Your car has it’s own cellular network that communicates over LTE and also provides a network for all people using the car, so their individual devices can provide individual control for the various car functions.
The first time you enter the car, Jake welcomes you and the heads up display on the car gives you a tour of the car and it’s cool new features. Also asks you where you want to go. It already knows where your home is and provides you with a update on the traffic conditions on the way at the time and asks if you would require driving directions. Driving directions are conveniently shown on the heads up display of the car.
Placing your finger on the biometric identification on your phone actually starts the ignition on your car, and you and Jake enjoy your first ride.
For the application we focus on future and trust as keywords to drive the look and feel of application. While the application will be as unobtrusive as possible, it will basically be driven by an intuitive VUI and will use the heads up display to present information to the driver.
This will enable the driver to focus ahead on the road and will not have to shift between the touch panel on the center or oven the steering wheel to control Jake. Jake will also provide individual entertainment and information needs for all the other occupants of the car. This is especially useful when there are children travelling together who may not be interested in the same entertainment needs as the other passengers of the car.
It also offers you to connect to your Spotify, Audible or Pandora accounts and quickly shazam a song playing on the radio. In conversations, you can always ask Jake to get you information you would like.
OK Jake, where is the closest ATM?
OK Jake, what is the average length of a bottle-nose dolphin?
OK Jake, when is the next show for ‘The Imitation Game’ at Century Cinemas?
Jake not only provides you with all the information but can also book tickets for you and can make dinner reservations for you. If for some reason, you make a dinner reservation at a restaurant, depending upon it settings it can even recommend for you a better alternative.
Jake also has access to your calendar, so it knows when you are on the way to a meeting. It can quickly send all participants (or just a few important ones) a short voice message. So you can let them know that you are going to be a few minutes late. Or you can ask your colleagues to go ahead with the meeting and you would be joining a few minutes late.
There are other use cases that the application would need to fulfil and these will be outlined in more detail shortly. Some of these use cases are:
Directions and traffic updates
Birthday and anniversary wishes
Hotel bookings and arrival alerts with automated check-in with participating hotels
Get car vital stats like fuel status and battery status
Know your car performance like fuel efficiency, average travel distance, mean load etc.
Individual control of entertainment
Video call for passengers and not driver
Voice calls for driver
Read out messages (privately)
Marked read out messages as unread
We will continue our journey on the evolution of Jake over the next couple of posts.
PS: There has been a long gap between posts I took some time off to do a long retreat and have recently joined an exciting new startup that has been taking a lot of my time. For good 🙂
Everybody today understands the importance of shipping early but in that process, the team inevitably makes a lot of compromises. What if you did not have make any concessions? What if you still had time to iterate? And what if you still made sure you listened to the user?
You could say that is an ideal scenario. Maybe not.
There is a lot of focus today by companies to get a minimum viable product out early.
I had written some time back on the framework for user motivation. It works great as a framework for prioritizing the different amount of time we spend upon each part of the product. Ideally one would like to concentrate on getting each aspect of product right. This is ideal product focus which looks something like this:
But today’s market the reality is that you do not have the time to spend on getting all aspects right before you release. The idea is to get a minimum viable product out into the market as soon as possible and then concentrate on getting things right. Though an excellent plan in theory, most MVPs tend to focus on getting the functionality right and not rest of the aspects. An ideal way would be to concentrate on all aspects of the product. Something like what was mentioned in this article. So the actual MVP (which should be called a Minimum Desirable Product) would look something like this:
Now the question is how does one arrive at this short list of features that make it to the minimum desirable product. This is where Buffet comes in. Recently read an article about the process he uses to prioritize life goals. So here goes the Buffet way to prioritize user stories for a minimum desirable product.
Step 1: Write down 25 user stories that you would want to make it to the product. Keep the stories broad but not too broad. For example, for a product like a word processor, you may want to keep ‘work with documents’ as as story that includes create, delete, open and close rather than have stories based on these individual use cases.
Step 2: Now circle the top 5 stories from this list that you reckon as most important. Get some users involved in this process. Try doing a card sorting exercise where you can get users to do some prioritizing for you. Whatever method you choose you need to come up with the top 5 user stories you would want to concentrate upon.
Now halt. Have you done step 1 & 2 for your set of products. Now come to the next step.
Step 3: Now do the top 5 in the list. Ignore the bottom 20.
When you are iterating. Do all that is possible to keep this 20 out of your iteration cycle. Your initial definition of what the product should do might change but you will end up with a much simpler and focused product. Depending upon how the product is doing get each of the remaining feature in only after you feel there is no way that the product can improve without getting the feature in. Play the devil’s advocate up to the point that the feature wins based on the merit.
Try it out. This worked for Buffet, there should be all reasons for it work for designers and product managers.
Amazon recently announced it family digital assistant name Echo and a voice enable artificially intelligent assistant named Alexa. So much for Siri and Cortana, do we really need one more. Amazon seems to think so, and they have released a video so show the new device in all it’s glory:
Interestingly there is already a video that takes a fun look at what would happen if echo did not work as well as expected:
Given that voice is still something that people are not used to, though there is amazing potential (this is something I touched upon a while back.) The question is, will a product like echo actually make it? It will be interesting to wait and watch. And I would say, if it does succeed, this would be great addition to the ever expanding set of devices we have to design for. If not, we will at least learn from the effort…
I was recently giving a demo of Google Now speech recognition to a few people who had never seen it before (It could have been Siri or Cortana for all I care.) It was, to say the very least, a very impressive demo. Speech recognition has come a long way and the recent video that Google released is testament to it.
However over the years I’ve not used Google Now or Siri as much as I thought I would. Maybe I’m a victim of inertia. Maybe I’m not motivated enough by the lack of accuracy. Maybe it lacks enough features that are needed to make it a daily habit. Maybe.
But the truth is I’m usually an early adopter who would definitely give things a try and make it part of my routine, if I found the experience compelling enough. However since that did not happen; and since the demo I had given was impressive enough even for laggards to find the feature useful, maybe there is one aspect to the to the whole gamut of speech recognition that we are missing.
It wasn’t a need for more human like responses. In fact, I noticed that Google Now in India has started using an Indian voice for the responses to make it sound more natural. Not that it helps in my opinion.
In fact there was something that I was reading recently that made me think even more:
According to the above article using Siri while driving was extremely distracting. Interestingly, the comment below seems a little telling:
Some of the participants also expressed disapproval with Siri’s “sarcasm and wit.”
I think we need to look into some of these features that make the response seem almost human like.
This may actually work against the experience. Especially when the input that we tend to provide completely natural.
Let me explain. When we talk with people (except maybe visually challenged people,) we tend to rely upon speech associated gestures to convey a lot of underlying meaning.
The frantic waving of arms to augment the immediacy of speech, or the increase in breathing frequency when you are angry are all providing inputs to your communication. This is lacking when we interact with a speech recognition system. However, when the response from the other end is extremely human like, there is a disconnect.
Being able to use speech associated gestures in addition to normal speech may be the next step to make this interaction more intuitive. Maybe we should put speech and kinect together to make things more intuitive…
I’m doing a half day workshop at UXIndia and this is what I intend to present:
It is based on a technique I picked up at Google and found it to be quite useful. It’s something that is also used at IDEO and Facebook to name a few. Maybe you will find it useful as well…
I did a presentation at D-Camp many years ago on a framework on user motivation. While a little dated it has concepts that are still relevant. Maybe it might help a few people…
Whether the Apple watch is a success or not only time will tell (no pun intended.)
It has got mixed reviews so far. But one thing is for sure, it is another example of Apple trying hard to lock the user into the Apple ecosystem.
While this is not really a bad strategy, in fact, it plays well when done right. But even for Apple things don’t always fall into place.
The Apple watch works with iPhones 5 and above. So the demand for the watch can drive users to upgrade their phones as well. More over, the watch is targeted towards health freaks and the new iOS 8 health features make these duo high on the wish list. It certainly seems like an irresistible pair.
There are a few things that may not work for them though. The fact that the phone and the watch are tied together means people who are already invested in products like the Fitbit and Ginger.io will have to go for an upgrade. Also it alienates Android users which the other quantified self products serve rather well.
Microsoft has had tried the ecosystem game in the past. And failed.
So has Apple.
It has had successes like the iPhone and iPod. But also failure like MobileMe and G4 Cube.
To lock users into the ecosystem you need two products which are absolutely irresistible and work seamlessly.
This worked well for the iPod which paired will with iTunes and an incredible library of licensed music.
And the original Mac had Desktop Publishing.
However, it’s not worked so well for the Windows phone, which had a decent hardware but not enough support from the developer community to warrant a switch.
While the G4 Mac Cube was a beautifully designed machine, it was expensive. But more importantly, it lacked the support from other hardware and software components that make the deal complete. Imagine if the Cube came with a whole range of accessories that made it irresistible for gamers. Maybe we could have a winner on hand.
So when you design new products, see how they fit into the ecosystem. See if there is any pair available that makes your product complete. Make sure both the part of the pair are irresistible, the combination might just prove to be a winner.
There is an interesting concept that Tim Parsey used to talk about. He thought of three levels of design. Design that is 1. Rational 2. Emotional and 3. Meaningful.
This is indeed a very useful framework to look at software development. Let’s look at how Tim defines these three parameters.
1. Rational Design: This is purely a look at functional design. It means that the design meets all the defined use cases. The basic needs that must be filled each day. This includes utilitarian things such as checking the weather forecast, finding information, and communicating.
2. Emotional Design: This is design that touches you on an aspirational level. It includes the desires that people require to enjoy contentment. It includes being entertained, inspired, educated, and amazed.
3. Meaningful design: When the designs include ways to perform higher aspirations that bring about a peak of daily bliss. This includes sharing and receiving, and feeling like you are a part of something larger than yourself.
Tim talks more about meaningful design in this talk at TEDx Conejo
Personally, however I have a slightly different view of these three levels. At the lowest Level, I agree, the basic is rational design. Beyond rational design, I see software as being liberating and beyond that, fulfilling.
Rational design, according to me, however has three sub-levels. 1. Viable Design, 2. Persistent Design & 3. Lively Design
A question one may ask, is why a need for this sub-division. While software can be well designed visually from a usefulness point of view they become useful only when the reach the level of a lively rational design. Let’s see how these three sub levels can be defined.
One of the most familiar designs we all have at some time or the other designed would be what termed as the minimum viable product. While I completely agree with the fact that software development has to be iterative, the idea to release to your user base, a product that is just about viable is dangerous. Release early and release often, but do not make the mistake of releasing something that is so half-baked that your user does not come back to it. Viable design, by that definition, is something that takes care of the bare minimum use cases and is functional but does not motivate the user to use the product beyond handling the tasks the user set out to complete.
Persistent design, goes one level above it and take care of all the use cases and actually does a good job of motivating the user to use all the use the features on the product. It ideally also make sure it plays the catch up game well and has on paper all feature parity with competition.
Ideally a product should be released to users at this level. It is a point where you have the minimum desirable product. And delivers a lot more than a minimum viable product and ensures that early users are not lost while testing out the product. You can of course release to a closed, motivated, group of user at any point before this but the product should not be available for general access before this.
However the real ration design is one that delights the user and makes it desirable to use the product, hence the name Lively design. This is a design that makes sure all the features that competing products have are already worked into the design. It also does a good job on making sure that motivation levels for users to complete these tasks are met. It actually goes on to let the user use the product in ways that it was not originally designed for.
This is the level of design excellence that most designers strive for and is something that is quite prevalent. Beyond this level we see the two types of design that further improve on the experience.
Liberating design is the next level and at this point the product almost becomes invisible and the user is just concerned with the the task at hand. An example your be the default text messaging app on the phone as long as it does not add any cognitive load on the user.
Fulfilling design is the final level of software design where the software actually facilitates an ecosystem that allows others to build rational and liberating design without any additional cognitional overload.
I shall delve into these levels in other articles.