Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Social Media for Organizations

I created this presentation to explain why Social Media is important for organizations. It is no longer about asking, "What social media will do for us," but, it is about asking, "What Social Media will do to us?"

View more presentations from praveenkvma.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to Design a $100 Tablet – A Quick Overview

Intel's Classmate PC (Eduwise) low-cost PC revealed (May 04, 2006)

The head of the world's largest chipmaker unveiled a mobile personal computer Wednesday designed to provide affordable collaborative learning environments for teachers and students around the world.
Intel Corp. Chief Executive Paul Otellini said the $400 machines, code-named "Eduwise," will feature built-in wireless and will be able to run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows or the Linux operating system.
"What we want to do is accelerate to uncompromised technology for everyone in the world," Otellini said during a demonstration at the World Congress on Information Technology in Austin. "No one wants to cross the digital divide with yesterday's technology."

How to Design a $100 Tablet – A Quick Overview

The Context

Education is one of our most fundamental needs that help us to live with respect and dignity in society. It is the gateway to vast knowledge that ultimately leads to wisdom and virtues. Despite of education’s profound importance in our lives, not every is fortunate enough to receive it. Access to education is a grave issue in developing nations. The other important issue to ponder about is the quality of education.
Some Quick Facts on Education in India (Based on 7th All India School Education Survey)
·         Less than half of India’s children between the age 6 and 14 go to school.
·         A little over one-third of all children who enroll in grade one reach grade eight.
·         At least 35 million children aged 6 – 14 years do not attend school.
·         53% of girls in the age group of 5 to 9 years are illiterate.
·         In India, only 53% of habitation has a primary school.
·         In India, only 20% of habitation has a secondary school.
·         On an average an upper primary school is 3 km away in 22% of areas under habitations.
·         In nearly 60% of schools, there are less than two teachers to teach Classes I to V.
·         On an average, there are less than three teachers per primary school. They have to manage classes from I to V every day.
·         High cost of private education and need to work to support their families and little interest in studies are the reasons given by 3 in every four drop-outs as the reason they leave.
·         Dropout rates increase alarmingly in class III to V, its 50% for boys, 58% for girls.
·         1 in 40, primary school in India is conducted in open spaces or tents.
·         More than 50 per cent of girls fail to enroll in school; those that do are likely to drop out by the age of 12.
·         50% of Indian children aged 6-18 do not go to school
(Data extracted by

The Intervention

A marketing team in a large computer chip manufacturing company assessed the education situation in India and other developing countries. The team proposed using technology to increase the effectiveness, quality, and reach of education. Further research, by the team, on economic scene and expenditure capacity of people in these countries suggested an opportunity to introduce an inexpensive futuristic device to support educational needs of students.

The Design Brief

The chip maker approached a human-centered-design firm to design a breakthrough product – A $100 device that would use the client’s chipset. The product was positioned somewhere between a Smartphone and a Laptop.
A team of researchers (including me) was created to conduct user research and design. The main focal points were:
·         How students learn at school, home, and tuitions
·         What are student’s motivations, goals, aspirations and needs
·         How do students interact with their parents and teachers
·         How teachers interact with students and within themselves (Teaching Methods and Sharing of Information about students)
·         How teachers could best introduce technology into the classroom
·         What are parents expectations from their children’s school
·         How the new product fits in the education eco-system (Home – School – Tuition; Parents – Students – Teachers)

The Process – Contextual Design

According to Wikipedia: Contextual Design is a user-centered design process developed by Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt. It incorporates ethnographic methods for gathering data relevant to the product, field studies, rationalizing workflows, system and designing human-computer interfaces.
University of Twente, New Zealand, goes further and breaks apart Contextual Design into seven parts:
1.        Contextual Inquiry: uncovers who customers really are and how they work on a day-to-day basis to understand the customers: their needs, their desires and their approach to the work.
2.        Work Modeling: capture the work of individuals and organizations in diagrams to provide different perspectives on how work is done.
3.        Consolidation: brings data from individual customer interviews together so the team can see common pattern and structure without losing individual variation.
4.        Work redesign: uses the consolidated data to drive conversations about how to improve work by using technology to support the new work practice.
5.        The User Environment Design: captures the floor plan of the new system. It shows each part of the system, how it supports the user's work, exactly what function is available in that part, and how the user gets to and from other parts of the system.
6.        Test with customers: Paper prototyping develops rough mockups of the system using Post-its to represent windows, dialog boxes, buttons, and menus.
7.        Putting it into practice: Prioritization helps the transition to implementation by planning your system implementation over time. Object-oriented design helps you move from systems design to design of the implementation.

Our Process

It is one thing to read the process in books and it is another thing to implement the process - in practice. Every project comes with its own uniqueness and requires custom solutions. Given the constraints of time, context, and nature of project the design team had to tailor the design process to suit project requirements.
The design team, obviously, had Contextual Design experience from other projects and clients but this project required a different approach. It was a large scale and face paced project for a large client. Also, the introduction of the product would bring about a major social change to the lives of many students, teachers, and parents. The design team’s responsibility exceeded far beyond traditional professionalism norms and blended into moral and social responsibility. The team was in the process of designing the future of students and their lives in developing countries.
The tailored Contextual Design process consisted of following steps:
1.        Identify the Design Team
2.        Recruit Participants
3.        Conduct Contextual Inquiry
o    Document pictorial artifacts of physical spaces that students interact with (Home, School), materials, objects, technology
o    Document various observations during contextual inquiry
o    Interviews with Students, Parents, and Teachers
4.        Analyze and Interpret Contextual Inquiry Data and Create Affinity Notes
5.        Create Affinity Diagrams using Affinity Notes
6.        Create Personas based on Research
7.        Envision Future
o    Analysis – of all dependencies and relationships in the system
o    Ecosystem – with all the entities and establishing relationships between them
o    Future Scenarios – initiating the process of change
8.        User Interface Requirements and Design
9.        The Product Conceptualized – User Testing and Refinements
The design process worked successfully for the team. The process helped the team accomplishing the design goals: in time, with great quality control, and without personal biases.

Identify the Deign Team

Five design teams were created to conduct user research. Each team had three researchers. The research informed the design and development of the product.
Team Structure:
·         Moderator (Interviewer)
·         Observer (To capture behavioral, emotional, and contextual aspects)
·         Recorder (To transcribe the interview)

Recruit Participants

Forty five participants were recruited for the project. The human centered design firm hired an external vendor to take care of the recruitment process. Of course, the design team provided the vendor with details of user group profiles.
Forty five user interviews of two hours each were planned across all the stakeholders: Students, Teachers and Parents. Three distinct categories were created to cover users and schools across various economic strata in the society.

Conduct Contextual Inquiry

The design team observed participants in the context of their work environment while participants were busy doing their day-to-day education related tasks. The team documented the observations (including pictures and drawings of workspaces) related to participant’s core educational tasks. The team captured explicit and implicit aspects by probing and discovering.
All user interviews were non-technical in nature. Interviews were primarily designed to capture user needs, motivations, goals and desires.
The team briefed the participants – about the nature of interviews and project focus – at a very high level without revealing any information about the product itself. The team never mentioned “computer” or “technology” in their design briefs to participants in order to avoid biases in the data.

Analyze and Interpret Contextual Inquiry Data and Create Affinity Notes

The team collected large amounts of data from forty five interviews. It was essential to share the data across the core design team. Every evening the team would meet for couple of hours in the meeting room to analyze the data collected during that day.
Affinity notes were created on post-its to capture: important observations, issues, breakdowns in work, insights, and design ideas. The average number of affinity notes for forty five interviews were sixty per interview. Given the number of interviews and humongous data sets, the team decided to capture only important aspects of the interviews as affinity notes.

Create Affinity Diagrams Using Affinity Notes

Affinity diagrams were used to make sense out of this large data set. Affinity diagrams helped the team to find patterns, hidden connections, and driving themes from large information set. It provided great insights into unseen linkages of information and helped the team identifying issues and gaps.

Create Personas

Personas are a great tool to communicate understanding of users to clients and other teams involved in the process. Also, it keeps the design team focused on user goals. A persona for every user profile was created. Overall, fifteen personas were created to represent all user categories. All personas were backed by exhaustive user research.

Envision Future

The team visualized how the new technology could fit in the existing eco-system. The eco-system consisted of: students, parents, and teachers. The ecosystem depicted flow of relationships, hierarchies, and dependencies, and information between each of its user profiles. It helped the team understanding the dynamics of the ecosystem. The team wanted to design the new device in such a way that it would meet everybody’s needs and goals without creating negative interference in the ecosystem. The new device should solve all the issues and gaps uncovered in the affinity diagrams.
The team created future scenarios with the help of personas. In the scenarios, the stakeholders of the ecosystem used the product to accomplish their common goals. The “product in use” scenarios helped the team in creating “winning” features and functionalities for the product.
After five grilling weeks, the team produced three concepts depicting both the user interface and product design.
The client finally picked one of the concepts for final product development.
Yes, a-hundred-dollar-tablet for education was born!

A chart depicting the design process:


Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Kill the Death Grip - A humble design suggestion

Design is the intrinsic element of lifestyle - the essence of living. The more we talk, the more we explore it. This is the one-liner on my blog header. I firmly believe in design discourses as an exploration and discovery tool.
Lately, we heard a lot about Apple iPhone 4.0 antenna design flaw. Apple never accepted the flaw and orchestrated a big cover up, until lately, when it succumbed to deafening media coverage and continuous customer complaints.
 It surprised me how Apple could create a product with such a basic design flaw. The wrong placement for the joint of antenna is definitely not an engineering flaw but a design flaw.
Someone in the design team did mess up user research. He forgot to perform contextual inquiry with the users while they used the product. Or he did not write enough future scenarios depicting the usage of this product. Something certainly went terribly wrong somewhere in the design process. Otherwise, Apple wouldn’t have to teach us how to hold mobile phones or give away free jumpers. A good design fits itself seamlessly in the user space in all usage scenarios.
All these years, Apple thrived on its outstanding user experience and high quality products. One design flaw has significantly tarnished its clean image. People are afraid of upgrading their phones to iPhone 4.0 from iPhone 3.0. Instead, they want to wait for a new hardware release with the problem fixed.
As a product designer, I also thought about the flaw and looked into different ways in which my friends and I use our mobile phones. I came up with a quick sketch based on my observations. The best place for the band seems to be top center.
I would love to get your feedback, suggestions, and criticisms on the design.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Learn to Get it On Paper

Visual thinking is an important weapon in the arsenal of a designer. It not only helps solving complex problems but also helps in depicting complex relationships, task-flows, processes, etc. in a simplified manner.

Two days back one of my project managers came to me and requested help for a production support model, which he himself created in Microsoft PPT and was not happy with. He told me that his boxes/blocks model that spread across three slides was not really convincing and presentable. It not only lacked important relationships between components but had some of the components spread across multiple slides. He was not sure how to fit them together on a single piece of paper.

The crux: Information was in his head but not on the paper.

I decided to take the challenge. I sat with him for 2 hours where he explained me the entire model and the components associated with it.

My task was to:
1. Simplify the complexity
2. Establish clear hierarchy and relationship
3. Represent all the components
4. Make everything look presentable to an EVP
5. And create a single diagram.

This is what I created…

And here is the response from my PM after looking at the new diagram:
“This is exactly I wanted and it looks awesome. Thanks a lot!”
Not a bad day, considering that all this happened on Monday.

How did I do it? Here is a simple process:
  1. Jot down all the components on a piece of paper.
  2. Draw all these components on individual 3M Post-Its. Draw people as people and not as boxes; servers as servers, etc. You do not have to be an artist for this. Use simple graphics. Post-Its allow easy movement of components without drawing them all over again.
  3. Paste the Post-Its on a whiteboard or a big sheet and using markers try to draw lines to establish relationships between them.
  4. The art is to minimize the number and criss-crossing of lines.
  5. Move the Post-Its if the current relationships do not make sense.
  6. Keep on repeating step 3,4 and 5 until you have got what you wanted.
  7. Whoa! You are done. What a nice job! :)
Remember, this is an iterative process. The more the time spent on thinking the better the end product gets.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Do You Want to Become a Leader?

Over the course of my career, I have come across, seen and heard many management people. For some strange reason, some of them really inspired and motivated me. If you are working in User Experience (UX) domain, then leadership really becomes an important trait for you. Selling and champion UX in the organization is part of our day-to-day job for all UXers.
Therefore, I decided to pen down my thoughts and definition of leadership. Here is my definition of true leader with which you may agree or disagree.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "A true leader is someone who creates new leaders." This holds true for today's corporate context also.
  1. A true leader mentors and provides exciting opportunities to others.
  2. A true leader is never afraid of losing his position because he is continuously growing and educating himself with others.
  3. A true leader is devoid of any ego, proud, or superiority complex.
  4. A true leader understands the power of one-to-one human bond and believes in life-long personal relationships that go beyond professions.
  5. A true leader knows you as a person and not as an employee/worker.
  6. A true leader treats everyone equally and fairly.
  7. A true leader is both a great listener and speaker.
  8. A true leader does not command respect because he earns it.
  9. And lastly, a true leader brings smiles, joy and hope.
As true User Experience professionals it is important for all of us to instill these leadership values to grow ourselves and the organization.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Two Hundred Thousand Dollars Mistake

The definition of business according to Wikipedia: A business (also called a company, enterprise or firm) is a legally recognized organization designed to provide goods and/or services to consumers.
My definition of business is slightly different. You may consider it inappropriate and skewed but to me real businesses are the ones that make profits by improving the quality of life of their customers. However, most of the businesses these days work on maximizing profits by taking short cuts so that the senior executives could make their CEOs happy. The shortcut formula does not stop at the senior executive level but trickles down and mixes with the life-blood of the organization culture. Ultimately people become myopic and look for short term profits which cost them miserably in the future.

The Context
This is a story about three companies:
  1. Financial Services company (Let us call it FS)
  2. IT Solutions company (Let us call it IT)
  3. User Experience Design consultancy. (Let us call it UX)
As a first step to design its application Suite, FS invites companies to come and assess their existing systems. Finally, IT gets the approval to develop its suite of applications. UX, which does user experience work for FS was not invited for two reasons: first, it would increase the cost of the project; and second, they were designers (who made things look beautiful thus not required at the start of the project).

Process of Assessment and Business Requirement Document (BRD)

IT sends two of their Business Analysts to FS for system assessment.

In case if you are not aware of system assessment, here is a brief description:

“System assessment begins with the evaluation of the system to collect and analyze information on current system design, existing task flows, system performance, and technology. Later this information is used to identify existing pain points, gaps, and improvements that will optimize the system performance. It also includes additional recommendations for improving resource utilization, and improving environmental performance related to the assessed system(s).”

The BAs work relentlessly day and night to study the existing systems, create “existing” business process model, discuss and document the new functionality that FS seeks in their new suite. The assessment exercise lasts for two months. Everybody works overtime to complete the assignment and to make it “happen” and “successful”.
The documents that were created as part of the assessment exercise were:
  • Business Process Model (in MS Visio)
  • Business Requirement Document (BRD) (in MS Word)
Just to give you an idea of a *BRD, it consists of:

- Introduction

- Document Purpose

- Project Overview and Background

- Impacts (Users and Characteristics)

- Business Requirements

- Attachments

- References

- Modifications

- Approvals
    (*BRD format is company specific and may differ from company to company)

    The Project Starts
    Everybody celebrated the success of completion of BRD. Project managers from IT sat together with their Business Analysts and designed phases of the project. The project team divided the BRD functionality in terms of use cases. They further divided the use cases on the basis of their complexity and prioritized them in chronological order for development. The project plan was ready and the project got kicked off.
    At that point of time, one senior executive at FS realized to include UX to add some design and colors to their new product suite – yes, design and color stuff (at least that was the perception). What the executive had missed was the second point made by Roberto Verganti in his article in Design Mind. “Designers have an amazing capacity to get close to users, understand their needs, and then creatively generate countless ideas,” Professor Roberto said.
    UX team arrived on site with their bag of tricks and tools. The UX team was told to design the solution without contacting the real “users” as the project was in stealth mode. The UX team was granted permission to talk to Subject Matter Experts (SME) and employees of FS.

    From MS Word to Whiteboard
    The project started with Joint Application Development (JAD) sessions. In JAD sessions, FS's SMEs and some managers, IT consultants, and UX team participated. They would start the session discussing the use case assigned for the session and later look into the BRD for the functionalities mentioned – bullet-by-bullet to detail down requirements as per BRD.
    The problem with the UX team was that it did not think of the project in bulleted points as defined in the BRD. UX approached it in terms of scenarios and stories (yes, even when they had no access to users) and looked at problems from holistic perspective. The UX team started weaving a story around the bulleted points of BRD. The team did not stop here but start to these stories on the whiteboard.
    As Dan Roam has mentioned in his book “Back of the Napkin”
    Visual thinking means taking advantage of our innate ability to see – both with our eyes and with our mind’s eye – in order to discover ideas that are otherwise invisible, develop those ideas quickly and intuitively, and then share those ideas with other people in a way that they simply “get”.
    The JAD session turned into brainstorming sessions. Brainstorming sessions broke the team hierarchy and brought everybody on the same platform. Everybody was freely expressing his ideas. Great! The project started rolling but there was a problem.
    When FS executives started seeing the BRD on whiteboard, they soon realized the gaps in the BRD. As a consequence, the BRD was updated not once or twice but again and again. Whenever the team discussed a use case, BRD was updated with some or the other missing functionality. FS was neck deep in problem because it had already signed the BRD and every change to it was costing them money. The BRD was full of requirement gaps.
    Not only FS faced the requirement gaps problem but IT also realized that the order of their use case for development did not make sense anymore. The detailed scenarios revealed that some of the dependent use cases were planned before the parent use cases. It was like expecting a child before the parents were born.
    Both FS and IT were in deep mess. FS had to sign a couple of change requests to BRD, which not only impacted their scheduled launch of the web application suite but costs also.
    IT had to alter development schedule and ate up some of the added scope to maintain good relationship with FS.
    If all the damages - both money and time - to both FS and IT are quantified, it will run in excess of two hundred thousand dollars.

    Where the heck is the problem?
    BRD was not the only problem. BRD was the outcome of a closed requirement gathering session and not an open brainstorming session. Nobody was made to thought out of the box. The process happened to be a traditional and liner question and answer session (mostly one-to-one); instead of a vibrant and participatory group brainstorming session.
    Clients can articulate their “wants” but not every “need” and “goal” that they have. A Consultant’s job is not only to elicit visible but latent requirements also - using his expertise and experience.
    Because the clients want something does not mean that they need it. Most of the times, clients do not ask for what they actually need. Often, clients miss on their needs and jump straight to the solution that they have in their minds. They tend to state the same solution as a list of requirements that are not really requirements that they “need”.
    IT did not have the same tricks and tools that UX team had. If UX team were brought onboard during the BRD phase, this sheer waste of time and money could have been avoided.

    Designers bring Design Thinking?
    Tim Brown of IDEO has rightly said, “Thinking like a designer can transform the way you develop products, services, processes—and even strategy. Great design thinking results in functionally and emotionally satisfying solutions where the emotional value is generated through the creation of meaning.”
    He also mentioned in one of his other posts,Design thinking can be described as a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.”
    In Roberto Verganti words, “Now that designers have become highly effective at being creative and user-centered, they can pursue an exciting new challenge that taps into their unique cultural background: that of being radical researchers.”
    Executives do not have time to train themselves as a designer; therefore, the best bet for them is to hire a design firm. Designers save waste of money and time and also bring in terrific user experience to improve end user's quality of life. As an executive it is important to look at the long term profits and not to repeat the “The-Two-Hundred-Thousand-Dollars-Mistake.”


    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Agile and User Experience Design Bookmarks

    Agile and User Experience are like two opposite corners of a room. They will never meet. On one hand we have Agile which proposes building the system feature by feature. On the other we have User Experience which thrives on holistic approach to product development to bring in seamless experience for the user. It is difficult to marry them together and the industry is still experimenting to get the best of both.

    This page as a repository of bookmarks to articles that talk about UX and Agile:

    * Integrating UX into an Agile Environment -
    * Cooper's Q&A "Integrating User Experience and Agile" on video -
    * Burndowns and Flareups in Agile Design -
    * Twelve emerging best practices for adding UX work to Agile development -
    * Agile Usability: Best Practices for User Experience on Agile Development Projects
    * Agile Development Processes: An Interview with Jeff Patton -
    * Adapting Usability Investigations for Agile User-Centered Design -
    * Bringing User Centered Design to the Agile Environment -
    * Agile Personas -

    Friday, March 19, 2010

    Looking Beyond Heuristics

    Despite of the fact that User Experience (UX) discipline requires specialist to do the job not all companies embrace it. These days I have seen lot of requests coming from non User Experience (UX) people (managers, marketing executives, software engineers, etc.) to guide them to perform Heuristic Evaluations. These folks work in companies that do not believe in spending on User Experience Design teams. Certainly, without training these people would not produce the best of the world results but with proper tools in hands they may deliver “just good enough” results.
    Heuristic Evaluation provides an immediate tactical analysis of the user experience of Web site, Web application, GUI application, or Intranet. It provides a prioritized list of changes to correct confusing elements of the current design. The result is a redesign solution that leads to an enhanced user experience.
    Here is couple of links which may be handy for your heuristic evaluation:
    25-point Website Usability Checklist -
    Research based Web Deisgn and Usability Guidelines -
    Ten Usability Heuristics by Jakob Nielsen -
    Heuristic Evaluation – A System Check List -

    If you are an executive champion in your organization read further:
    If you are not Leonardo da Vinci then better leave Monalisa for him. Let UXers do the UX.
    User Experience Design is not mathematics where every time 2 and 2 makes 4. In UX things are based on context rather than content. It is about converting science and technology to arts in such a way that it brings joy and delight to people. This magic of converting left-brain logic to right-brain creativity comes with lot of experience, education, practice and time.
    It is one thing to rate an application against a set of heuristics and it is another to add tremendous value by looking beyond heuristics. An expert User Experience professional not only looks at the heuristics but also at Users, Context, Competition, Brand and Client’s strategic vision. He provides a solution which not only improves your system but ROIs and brand image too.