Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Can you produce Apple-quality products and experiences using the highly autonomous environment you see at Google?

Here is what I think: I am not sure if Apple was popular for products or because Steve Jobs was selling its products. Moreover, how do we know if Google is not popular. 

I have an iPhone, iPad, and Macbook at home for personal use. However, most of my work happens on Google's software (Chrome, Google Search, Gmail, Drive, etc.). Google software ecosystem is phenomenal and works really well. The latest android update ‘Marshmallow’ move android phone experience at par with Apple. More devices in the world run on Android than iOS. Therefore, to deduce that autonomy decreases quality would not be fair. 

Apple could work and became successful in autonomous mode because of the brilliance and thought leadership of Steve Jobs. The new product line from Apple after Steve’s death does not excite me anymore. Perhaps, in couple of years Apple will look for a new CEO. The downside with autonomous companies are their dependence on a leader to handhold the employees. Google on the other hand can work with any CEO with very limited oversight or direction and continue developing breakthrough products. 

I think none of the approach is right or wrong; we will find successful companies across the spectrum - with Google on one end and Apple on another.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Key Takeaways from Product Management + UX Conference

I attended Rosenfeld Media's Product Management + UX Conference

Below are some of the key takeaways:

You are not building software, you are changing the world by solving people's problems! 

On product strategy and teams:
  • Strategy is essentially an intent rather than a plan.
  • There is no such thing as UX strategy, technology strategy, or business strategy. There is only one strategy, it’s called product strategy.
  • We build collaborative teams. We emphasize skills not roles, therefore, we must emphasize comprehensive strategy, not discipline specific strategy.
  • The real problem in organizations: a lack of organizational value for UX design. Bring UX to the table!
  • Core product team consists of PM, UX, and Lead Engineer. All of them have common goals and concerns and need each other’s support and help to achieve success.

How UX can influence executive decisions:
1. Understand ALL aspects of the business (finance, legal, marketing, pricing, sales, release cycles, etc.)
2. Use high-fidelity prototype to communicate new ideas
3. Communicate value by showing data from users (prototype testing or research)

What makes a good product team:
  • Good product teams celebrate when they achieve their objectives. Bad teams celebrate when they finally release something. 
  • Good product teams have PM-UX-Engg. side by side, embrace the give and take between the functionality, the experience, and the enabling tech.
  • Good product teams are skilled with many techniques to rapidly try out product ideas to determine which are truly worth building.
  • Good teams get their ideas from OKRs (Objective – Key Results), customer pain points & struggles, and applying new technology.

Myth: Engineers create products for themselves.
Truth: Engineers are great problem solvers and passionate to create great products, but they can't connect to customers. UXers can help them to connect with customers.

To win, you need a team of missionaries not mercenaries.
  1. Know your Mission 
  2. Set your Objectives 
  3. Choose your Actions 
  4. Learn from your Results

Advice for PMs
  1. UXers can make you heroes by filling knowledge gaps. Leverage their UX skills to fill your knowledge gaps.
  2. Stop relying on and using surveys, they rarely paint the true picture. Go find customer’s real pains and struggles by watching them work with your products. Ask for UX help.
  3. Customer meetings are a rare opportunity to learn. Include UXers in customer meetings.

Advice for UXers
  1. Be there early to shape the product roadmap. Work with PMs to help them shape the roadmap.
  2. Listen and talk to PMs to identify knowledge gaps and help PMs fill them.
  3. Let PMs be. Let them do what they want to do.
  4. Just like a crime-board from detective movies, keep your hypothesis and UX experiments VISIBLE to everybody. Do not rush to PPT.

Porto (prototype)-persona is a persona based on guesses and assumptions. Every product company has enough info to create it. Use proto-persona to create new products.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Wake up your inner child...

What is your mindset?

This article on provide a good overview on different mindset types.

As far as I understand, a mindset encompasses everything related to our brain: beliefs, thoughts, actions, and behavior. A mindset is never fixed, it evolves every moment. It's been confirmed that patterns of neuron-firing change with time and every action we take - our mind is plastic, it's malleable. The question is whether we are changing our minds to work better or worse. Our thought patterns and actions influence and change the way our mind works.

When I started my career as an industrial designer. I am sure, I had a growth mindset. I loved experimenting with new materials, technologies, etc. without the fear of failure or retribution. But working in the corporate culture for years, perhaps, had got a hold of me and my mindset changed. After reflecting on my mindset a year back, I realized my mindset had become somewhat fixed; I am not ashamed of letting everybody know about this. But I got aware of the problem and started working towards it.

How did I know my mindset had become fixed? For the reasons listed below:

  1. I was afraid of failure; therefore, I tried to procrastinate new things
  2. I was afraid of embarrassment; therefore, I didn’t speak out new wild ideas aloud
  3. I found comfort in doing the same thing, over and over again.

So, how did I fix my mindset or changed it from fixed to growth? I used the following strategies:

  1. Learn: Instead of looking at everything as a success or a failure. You should look at every task as an opportunity to learn something new. Failures should no longer be dreadful, you should consider them learning opportunities. Add an element of fun to whatever you do. Fun takes away the stress and negativity from mundane and important tasks alike and infuses positivity and playfulness.
  2. Embrace Setbacks: A setback can happen only when you are making a progress; therefore, setback is a good thing to happen. It means you are working towards a goal and moving forward.  Setback means you are trying to come out of misery. A few negative spikes, now and then, do not make the bullish trend bearish. What matters is the overall trend instead of these occasional setbacks. Again, embrace and learn from setbacks.
  3. Empathize: Instead of competing with people around you, treat them as your friends. Treat your boss as a friend, colleagues as a friend, customers as a friend. Considering them as friend, even mentally, will help you to empathize with them. When you start empathizing with other people, you make better connections. You make connections that are not only professional but emotional also; and emotional connections ring and resonate better. You become more compassionate. How to empathize? Read this...
  4. Be Grateful: This is an extension of the above bullet, but being grateful for people around you and material comforts you possess is very important. The feeling of gratefulness opens your mind. You start appreciating the world around you. Start telling people how awesome they are. Start sending 'thank you' emails. How to become grateful? Read this...
  5. Meditate: Meditation helps with mindfulness, which is a necessary element for the growth mindset. Mindfulness increases calmness and decreases stress. Meditation reduces the unwanted adrenaline surge in the body and helps us to focus and reflect. You perform things which you were afraid of in the past. Meditation removes the chronic resistance to unwanted thoughts and feelings. Instead of us fighting those feeling, meditation teaches us to embrace them. Headspace is a good meditation app to try.

If you do all the things mentioned above, you  will start to feel good about your life, other people's lives, and the world around you. You will stop seeing new things or people as a threat. Instead, you will start embracing them, and look at them with the mindset of curiosity, fun, playfulness, and learning. The mindset of a child. 

Wake up your inner child…

Thursday, February 6, 2014

How to Change Icon Color in 7 Steps

As a user experience architect, I do not do visual design myself. However, last month I needed to change the colors of some icons that was handed over to me (from Grey to Blue). I thought that should be simple and straightforward task. I searched online for the Photoshop solution but I did not find anything useful. I found vague responses on StackOverflow, which were least helpful to me.

So, I got in touch with my visual designer friend to demystify the approach. He gave me the solution that was straightforward and simple and worked for mono-colored icons. Here are the steps:

  1. Import the icon in Photoshop.
  2. Using Marquee too, select the area you want to apply the new color to.
  3. Lock the layer.
  4. Select the foreground color by picking on the foreground color icon in left hand tool bar.
  5. Enter the desired color values in the Color Picker dialog box and hit OK.
  6. In "Edit" click on "Fill.." or hit "Shift+F5" to invoke Fill dialog box. Ensure "Foreground Color" is selected in the dropdown menu and hit OK.
  7. Save the image with a different name.
Enjoy changing icon colors!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is Responsive Design the Answer to Mobile Design?

Mobile design has come a long way. It all started with native apps, then came an era of hybrid apps, then designers went crazy for mobile web (creation of mobile version of websites).
Lately, designers and developers are beating the drum for “Responsive Design.”

At least for now, responsive design appears to be a silver bullet to address all the design issues pertaining to various screen sizes – it is very promising. Responsive design works on the philosophy of: “design once and for all.” Meaning, there is no need to maintain multiple sites, which helps decreasing the development costs. The site – with a single url – renders itself differently on different devices by analyzing the query type using flexible grids, layouts.

So, is responsive design truly the solution to all problems? Most of the posts and blogs indicate that it really depends on user’s context than anything else. Some companies are creating a mash-up of both mobile and regular sites.

eSurance realized that their mobile users had different content needs than desktop users. For example, the mobile users needed contact and policy information handy in case of an accident. On the other hand, desktop users don’t really care for this kind of information. Therefore, they had to create two different sites. Responsive design didn't work for them.

In conclusion, there is no shortcut to identify whether a responsive site or two different sites – one for desktop and one for mobile users – are required. Therefore, as designers it’s our prerogative to go hard on user research to identify correct user scenarios and design accordingly.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Design Lessons - iPad Application for Supplemental Insurance Agents

Lately, I designed an iPad app for supplemental insurance agents for a global client based out of Chicago. Designing for mobile is always fun because of its connectivity and size constraints. Below are some of the design lessons from the insurance domain that I would like to share.

Supplemental Insurance Industry Context

  • The retention rate for sales agents is very low, at least for this client. Every year 2000 new sales agents are recruited to maintain an average of 1300 agents on payroll.
  • For effective selling, agent training is a significant part of the hiring process. Due to low retention rate, the training costs are pretty high.

Sales Agent Usage Context

  • Uses heavy paper binders for references on medications, sickness, product related brochures, during sales process
  • Spends significant time prospecting – customer conversion rate is less than 10%
  • Services customers in various locations; therefore, internet connectivity on iPad cannot be taken for granted
  • Works with both office and residential customers
  • Works at variety of locations: parks, coffee shops, fairs, homes, offices, inside the car, etc.

Design Considerations

  • Design for portrait mode (default) to accommodate more content (long forms, brochures, etc.).

  • Divide the content (long forms) in multiple sections and sub sections with expand and collapse functionality  For e.g. create a master section with expand/collapse functionality and create nested sub-sections with their own expand/collapse controls.

  • Use lookups with both alphabetical (A -> Z) navigation and search capabilities to reduce errors. List of medications and health conditions can be pretty long; their names are confusing and homo-phonic.

  • Reduce key strokes wherever possible, typing on iPad is not very user friendly. For e.g. Carry over the information that’s already entered in the form; e.g. names, addresses, etc.

  • Use wizards, wherever possible, to ensure 100% form completion and reduce training costs. Do not create a linear wizard; instead, allow the agent to hop back and forth between various steps – sales process is highly dynamic and unpredictable. A customer may demand an agent to show something from a step which may not be the next.

  • Allow the agent to save incomplete forms for future use. Sometimes prospect takes couple of days before making the final decision to pay for the insurance.

  • Make the forms editable as long as they are not submitted to the system for final processing.

  • Create effortless payment steps. Customers could use different payment methods or multiple payors for same or different policies – consider edge case scenarios.

  • Create an easy to read and sign payment summary screen. Customers like to read the application summary before approval.

  •  Create large area for signatures with a finger on touchscreen

  • Provide clear directions on every step if the agent needs to switch to paper for some reason

  • Use two or three column layouts for side-by-side comparison of rates and policies.

  • Agents need to know – just in time – if the customer doesn't qualify for insurance. The disqualification cue on the UI has to be subtle enough to not catch the customer’s eye.  Disqualification from one insurance type doesn't disqualify the customer from other insurances. Therefore, customer relationship, even with a disqualified customer, is really important – he can always refer the agent to his friends and family.

Of course, every project is unique and brings its own set of problems and challenges. Irrespective, we should try to leverage device or OS’s guidelines and patterns as much as possible for better user adoption.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Human Factors – Bed Time Reading on iPad

51% of iPad use is in bed or in front of the TV – according to Neilsen. 61% percent of eReader owners use their device in bed, compared with 57% of tablet owners and 51% of smartphone owners. Sorry, I don’t have the new numbers.

Some people are trying to solve the problem – to read effectively on iPad in bed – by creating plethora of kitschy products.

That’s why as designers, it’s very important for us to understand the context of use to create user friendly applications.

I use my iPad primarily during the bed time to read news and books. In bed, when I read on iPad, lying straight on my back, my viewing area or (scanning area) becomes almost half of the iPad screen length.

Unless I am using lot of pillows (in bed) to elevate my head from the rest of my body, it’s really difficult to view the whole iPad screen easily. Of course, I can hold the iPad slightly higher to make it easier for my eyes to scan the whole screen; however, its weight adds a lot of stress on my arms if continued for a long duration.

It’s incumbent upon us as designers to recognize this problem and provide better design solutions. Let’s not get into product design here; the easy fix is to first recognize the reduced screen scan area during lying on back and design for it.

For the same reason, browser based sites with long scrolls work like a charm for me - when I reach the middle of the page, instead of lifting my head or iPad up to read the bottom half of the screen, I just swipe the page up and bring the new content to the top half. On the other hand, reader applications like “Kindle” do not work in this scenario – at all, and cause lot of annoyance and frustration. Every time I reach the middle of the page, I am forced to lift the iPad screen or my head to view the content in the bottom half.

One solution could be around creating long scrolling pages instead of using paginations. Or provide the user an option to switch between long scroll and pagination based on his context.
I am sure some of you are also facing the same problem. But, we cannot just leave the problem for others to solve for us. We are the problem solvers, we are the designers.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Is Sitemap Dead?

Sorry, but I needed an interesting subject to draw your attention. Did it work? J

I am facing a growing problem of explaining the concept of sitemap effectively to our clients. It’s very important for the client to understand an artifact clearly – if we are seeking approval on it.

The problem is arising because of the connectedness and dynamism of the content and functionality that today’s technology offers. Gone are the days of static HTML pages, where the user used to navigate on pre-defined paths on the sitemap. We are in the era of portlets, multi-layered dynamic UI, widgets and context sensitive controls.

In today’s world, sitemap:

  • Is not a page hierarchy; It’s not information hierarchy either
  • Doesn’t “truly” represent hierarchy levels because the content/functionality can be accessed from multiple routes
  • Doesn’t map to user flows either

So, the question is: how to best present the sitemap to the client? Moreover, how to explain it effectively and clearly?

  • Are we doing the sitemap because it has been part of our deliverables – historically?
  • Does it really have any value? Shall we start doing conceptual sitemaps going forward, as the article (link below) suggests?
  • Does it makes sense to seek client approval on this – even when they don’t get it?

This article on Sitemap in UXMAG clearly defines my problem -

I am attaching a conceptual sitemap as an example. Do you think that the conceptual model works better than traditional sitemap?

I would like to hear your experiences, comments, thoughts, and suggestion on the same.