Kingsley Joseph is founder of Petal Flame, a startup focused on innovative mobile social apps.
Reblogged from tripthirsty
Tripthirsty now suggests friends you can travel with! We’ve always been about helping people travel more, and starting today, we’re taking a fun new step in that direction. We noticed that one of the main reasons we don’t travel as much as we want to, is because we don’t know who to go with. Well, fret no more - we’ll send you a weekly email with suggestions of friends who are also interested in the same places you are interested in! We’re hoping that this will help you kickstart a discussion on making the trip happen.
Check your inbox for that email from TripThirsty, and start discovering more about your friends’ travel thirst :)
Brand new feature at tripthirsty.com.
Since a number of startup founders are using user experience terms in weird ways, I thought I’d write this basic primer on what goes into UX . But remember that the best user experience still can’t save a product that does not offer value to the user (poor product), or a product that no one has heard of or can remember to use (poor marketing/sales/training).
Aesthetics - a lot of people refer to this as design, but it is only one of many components of design. Aesthetic appeal is subjective, but a good designer will find you an aesthetic that your target market will associate with positively. Sometimes, the same aesthetic will have very different effects on different audiences. Take steam punk for example. It has an eclectic, off-beat hipster appeal in the US, but is often seen as dull and old fashioned in India. So the trick with aesthetics is to make sure that your audience reacts positively to it. Sometimes you’ll get a positive reaction that is not the one you want. Your audience might think “sexy”, when what you were going for is “classy”. The output of aesthetics is a finished product appearance and a style guide.
Interface Design - This is how you lay out the basic building blocks of your user interface. This includes not only visible/ audible controls, but also gestures like swiping, pinching, double clicking etc. Every platform makes a number of surfaces, widgets and controls available, and it’s important to lay them out well and use them in appropriate ways. Many UI design patterns fall squarely within Interface Design, although many straddle the line with Interaction Design. The output of Interface Design is a set of screens.
Interaction Design - Interaction design is all about flow. From a high level goal of what the user wishes to accomplish, an interaction designer should be able to distill it into a certain number of screens, come up with branching flows and evaluate them against each other. Sometimes though, the best interaction is no interaction at all. The output of interaction design is user flows for various user segments and features.
The next three disciplines are more abstract. They deal with the the “what” and “why” of your product more than the “how” of it. Ideally, you want senior folks in these roles.
Usability - this is everything about letting users do what they want to do, as easily and as comfortably as possible with the least amount of training. A good usability engineer will help you think through questions like, “do we even need this feature?”, “should this be a basic option or an advanced one?” through both, heuristics as well as user testing. They will also be able to take into account the needs of your audience and come up with appropriate solutions. For example, if you are designing an app for professional stock trading, you need to simplify some things, but you need to live with the complexity of stock information display. Documentation, technical writing and training are associated disciplines that are more important for complex systems.
Group usability - this is all about the dynamics of social systems. Where interaction design focuses on how the user interacts with the UI, group usability focuses on how users interact with each-other. The types of interactions (friending, liking, retweeting) and the objects that they interact over (“social objects”, like posts, tweets, pictures etc), have to be designed to allow for the emergent phenomena that happens due to such interactions (timelines, lists, rankings, recommendations). Often, these interactions are peripheral to the users’ actual purpose. For example, the user goes to an online news site to be informed. But the news site would like the user to spread the word about its articles. So in addition to producing quality content, they also need to make it really easy to share the article.
Persuasion - Persuasion, optimisation and Gamification all deal with how you can convince users to do something that you want them to do. It’s pretty hard to convince a user to do something they don’t really want to do, but it’s possible to convince them to do something that they are just too lazy or slightly reluctant to do. The strategies adopted to do this fall into 2 broad buckets: simplification and incentivisation. Simplification is what made the Facebook “like” button such a huge success. Many B2B lead forms have used both, a simpler form and a case study or white paper incentive, to increase conversion rates. Incentivisation (both positive and negative) works especially well within games as well as in well-gamified systems like Foursquare. A word of warning though - just slapping badges and levels on to any old app may not just be ineffective, but it can even turn users off. So approach gamification with care.
I dream of a BottomBerry - a BlackBerry for the Bottom of the Pyramid. A phone that will help BOP users connect with each other in more meaningful and economically productive ways. Let me describe some of the things it will have:
Such a device should be fairly simple to build. However, the real problem is in taking it to market. Not only will it have to be sold at a premium, the marketing expenses involved in educating the customer of it’s benefits , and especially educating the semi-literate, offline, sales channels will result in a product that will then be too expensive for the intended customer. One of the great ironies created by the internet is that, affluent customers are now much, much, cheaper to reach than the poor.
Still, I’m sure someone will come up with creative ways to work around these challenges. As for me, I pivoted away from this about 2 months ago. More on my current focus, and how it connects to the BottomBerry, in another post.
"The Macintosh was the first computer worth criticizing" - Alan Kay
I’m going to rip on the glorious, flawless, made-in-heaven-by-angel-elves iPhone. I’m going to rip on it because I simultaneously want to tie it to an AT&T contract and make sweet love to it, but also want to bludgeon its design team with a book on affordances and gestalt-principles.
The Phone Part of the iPhone was an Afterthought …
… and no surprises there. It was apparent to many, and was later confirmed by Apple CEO Steve Jobs himself, that Apple set out to design the iPad first, but later decided to shrink it into a phone. Remarkable as that feat was, there was an unsuspecting victim - the phone. I’m not just talking about the hardware issues - poor reception, unusual antenna design etc. I’m talking about the sheer blown opportunity in elevating the phone.
First, it gets relegated to being “just an app.” It’s just another icon in the icon grid. Neither size, nor saturation, or even placement, calls it out as the most-bloody-important app on the phone. And it is the most important app. It’s used by more users, more days of the month, more times of the day, than any other single app.
People are NOT First-Class Entities on an iPhone
When desktop GUIs were in their infancy, they assumed that most of what users wanted to do was manage files and folders. That is why the Finder and Windows Explorer find such prominent placement in their respective operating system, and the Start Menu and Dock were after-thoughts. Heck, the entire GUI layer is run by the file manager. If you don’t believe me, try killing the Finder or Windows Explorer - or actually, don’t, ‘cause I don’t want to lose you just yet.
If we go through the same thought process with a phone, we have to arrive at the conclusion that people are the most important entities on a phone. We call, text, poke, tweet and email people all the time. I’m not saying everything needs to be people-centric - that only works for apps like Facebook - but why can’t my phone favorites have their pictures added to my homescreen, for example? Why isn’t there a view where I can see my frequently called friends, so I dont have to manually create a favorites list? Why do apps get so much UI love and your friends & family don’t? Because Apple doesn’t get 30% when you make a friend.
The iPhone is Full of Half-Baked Innovation & Plain Bad UI
The phone experience should be 10x better for friends who are both on iPhones. It’s a “smart” phone, the most anticipated and celebrated gizmo of the last decade, and nothing less will do. It’s a phone, dammit, and that’s inherently social!
Yet, I dont know if my friend is even using an iPhone, let alone see if it is FaceTime capable. What a smart idea, to make a next-gen, hi-tech feature without understanding the basics of social presence! Skype gets it right, and guess which one I actually use for video calls?
And then there’s the poorly thought-through UI. Here are a couple of examples that I’ve actually observed stumping users:
And for my grand finale, the slide-to-unlock screen. This is not so much wrong, as just horribly lazy. Allow me to illustrate:
Remember how much fun we made of that in design and usability blogs? Well now Apple creates the finger-equivalent of the same thing and we’re all ooh-ing and aah-ing. Shame on us, design community.
I wrote this critique in the spirit of the Alan Kay quote I began this piece with. The iPhone is truly the best-designed mobile device in the world for now, but let’s not get lazy like we did with PCs and Macs. No more sticking grids of icons on a home screen and cooing over the beautiful “design.” There’s a LOT of room for design and technology innovation in the mobile space. I believe that we will actually see a lot of amazingly social design and innovation on these devices soon, in spite of the fact that Apple wants nothing to do with it and Google doesn’t know good design from an overstuffed meta-tag.
Last evening, I thought I’d experiment with the new Facebook Questions feature, and created a poll to see what smartphone platforms my socio-professional circles were using. Thanks to everyone who voted. The response - 384 votes in less than 12 hrs - is overwhelming. I’m taking a snapshot of this data as something representative of my social circle*. Facebook won’t let me close polling, but beyond this point, it’s likely to become a large, more diverse respondent pool.
FB doesn’t provide very in-depth data, so this isn’t a great tool for primary research. But what it lacks in depth, it adequately makes up for in viral distribution. Some observations:
Conclusions: iPhone still rules among early-adopters in my inner circle. Android is an equal competitor just outside of it, and I’m pretty sure that handset price plays a big role in Android’s competitiveness, both in India and the US.
*Demographic note about me: For those of you who don’t know me personally, my online social circles are in the Bay Area, where I lived for 6 years, Bangalore, where I live now, and in other major Indian and US cities. I have just over 1000 friends on Facebook, of whom about 600 could be said to active, and 1300ish followers on twitter, of whom maybe 100 are actual humans who care about things I tweet. 10% of my direct social circle responded, making up 30% of all survey respondents.
This article illustrates many points I consider crucial to the difference between social intelligence and “absolute” intelligence of the type that is often pursued by AI researchers. I believe that it’s actually easier to create a machine that imitates social intelligence because humans are so easily hackable. It’ll just have to be done without telling them they’re being hacked. Oh, my evil brain.
I’ve finalized on a name for our company - it’s going to be called PetalFlame, after the flame-like flowers of the Butea Monosperma tree (aka the Flame of The Forest). I wanted something universally appealing, which speaks to our Indian roots, but hasn’t been overused and which also symbolized our design philosophy.
Our design philosophy is to make products that are uniquely useful and pleasurable to use for an individual, which also multiply the intensity and usefulness of the user’s experience many fold, when used with friends and family.
Known as Palaash (Hindi) or Parasu(Tamil), the tree is native to the Indian Subcontinent. In spring, the entire tree bursts forth in fiery blooms, making entire hillsides appear to be on fire. There is an obvious parallel to our goals of great individual user experience, and collective intelligence that benefits our users.
PS: This is the name of our company, not our product.
Smartphones are selling more than computers today. The next generation of users will use the internet through a mobile device long before they ever use a PC. And yet, we still force them through an aging interface, which hasn’t changed much in the last 27 years since the first Mac OS debuted the desktop.
Traditionally, computers were built to be general-purpose devices. Icons on an open desktop create the impression of choice. Open desktop space invites the user to fill it with documents and more applications. After desktops became crowded with documents created by users, and users started becoming confused by apps vs docs, separate launchers (Start Menu, the Dock) were created to disambiguate these spaces.
In 2011, this idea that a consumer-level computer is a general-purpose device is laughably wrong. Users use it for email, Facebook and web more than anything else. Even business users follow this usage pattern. Which is why Google’s idea of building an entire operating system around the web browser makes complete sense to me.
Smartphones are NOT general-purpose devices. Users use them mostly for phone calls. SMS, Email and Facebook come next. Phone user experience & features need to reflect that. As we develop our ideas, I’ll be posting more on what kinds of metaphors/models support social & communication functions best.
A very passionate expression of a true hacker’s mind.
Starting today, I’m leaving my steady, full-time job, and starting work on taking the suck out of so-called “smart phones.” I know, everyone’s pretty thrilled with their new pocket ‘puters, but to a user experience/ social experience nerd like me, we’ve just started taking baby steps towards what it means to have so much computing power on-the-go, in so many pockets. I’ll be posting more regularly about some of the problems we’ll be solving and my design/ research notes along the way.