Archive for October, 2013

UnBounce — http://unbounce.com/online-marketing/32-bullseye-ux-posts-to-hit-your-conversion-targets/

Capture the user at the first interaction.

I started working with Organimi a little over a year ago and I worked on BringList V-1.0 Muhammad Ali a little over a month ago. While working on both these products, I started picking up design related books and blogs to learn more about the area. Soon after I realized that both needed strong user experience and product design.

To me this means a couple of things:

Feature/Benefit — otherwise known as product messaging is clear and succinct.

The copy in product supports intended action/reaction — the save button say’s ‘save document’ clearly through text or visuals.

Functionality is clear — I can navigate around the product without fumbling around. We need to put the user in a state of flow.

At critical steps communicate with user through a feedback loop.

When a user downloads or signs up for an app and opens it for the first time — the value must be delivered. This applies to both, B2B and consumer apps (Web/Mobile/Desktop). That is the moment where you must charm, convince and intrigue the person enough to continue onwards into the journey. No one likes a steep learning curve and we don’t have time to figure out how stuff works. Our attentions are divided enough as it is.

BringList is an unconventional app because it generates a grocery list or to-do list from a text message. My assumption here was that we had to communicate the potential value clearly at first use or we would get alot of uninstalls.

In other words I have to grab the user at the First Moment of Truth or FMOT ( A jargon I used and heard during my time at P&G). If this was not achieved in BringList they would delete the app without a second thought.

So what does it mean to catch them at the First Moment of Truth? Take a look at Dropbox. When you first open the Dropbox app, there is a splash screen that communicates what Dropbox does and why you should care.

Dropbox on Android. Extra points for noticing the Pebble icon.

It’s simple but effective. If I was in a comma for the last couple of years (Aware of the internet and the concept of USB storage but missed the Cloud Storage Revolution) I would probably grasp the concept of Dropbox pretty quickly.

Box Splash Screen. Enterprise focus hence expense reports.

Box is another example — the enterprise focus comes through.

I used Dropbox and Box because that came to mind. There must be others who do the same — Bump is another example. They have a small animation of bumping fists and files jumping between the two devices.

As for BringList — my assumption was correct. After we launched our first version I noticed some uninstalls happening through the Google Play Developer Dashboard. It was not a big jump to assume that some of the uninstalls occurred because there is no splash screen + the messaging I have on Google Play is well, all over the place. When the person opens the app for the first time and are taken to a blank screen (Because there are no items listed out) it just causes confusion and perhaps anger. The result the app goes to the trash.

The design of the product should communicate value + guide my actions towards the intended purpose.

Too many words. Not enough visual communication. BringList Splash Screen first attempt.

Above is the first splash screen I made.It is not well designed (both visual and content) so I’ll be re-doing the whole screen again.

As for Organimi it was more challenging to create a FMOT.

An enterprise web app focused on HR folks, I did tutorial videos, I wrote a FAQ, short help guide, a long help guide and the basic help guide to help guide the user journey. But the core issue was that when users sign in, they are taken to a blank canvas. This can be very intimidating and a potential roadblock for further use.

So we set-up a template Org Chart for them with blank roles. That did not quiet solve the problem so the next step is to set-up a sample Org Chart with dummy data for user’s to explore the functionality. For now I do this by providing them sample dummy data and encouraging them to upload and create an Org Chart following a step by step guide. Why? Because it will take a user a couple of minutes to set-up his/her Organization Chart in Organimi and then derive value from it’s simplicity and easy of use. We need to accelerate that ‘Aha’ moment and give them a sense of what it can do for them the first time they sign in to the application.

Product, User Experience and User Interface Design should facilitate the user’s intentions and actions towards the desired outcomes. This can range from a guided tour, a splash screen or a complex demo.

Thanks to my friends and family for reading drafts of this post.

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How Not to be Pakistani


Because we won’t be able to take it. We can barely take the nomination; if she were to actually be awarded the prize, some sort of bhook hartaal and tire burning and fatwa screaming would likely ensue. As a country, we fucking hate Malala Yousafzai.

In my misguided quest to let every voice be heard and attempt to engage whoever I’m talking to in civilized discourse – regardless of how unfortunate their beliefs may be – I’ve run into many a Malala hater from all walks of life. I’d say there are more people who hate Malala over here than Justin Bieber. That in itself points to how twisted things have gotten.

After all, she is a 16 year old CIA super-soldier, right? She hasn’t actually done anything for peace, it’s all one big drama, the whole shooting her in the face thing was staged by the CIA at the…

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Listening To Users.

Attempts at UI Design. Obviously I have a long way to go. 

How a basic app taught me what it means.

Don’t try to control how users use your app.

Couple of months ago, I built an Android App with my conspirator Muhammad Ali. The premise was simple based on two principles:

1) Text messaging still plays a big part of our lives despite the fancy smartphones we we all carry around in your our pockets. But text messages are perishable.

2) The both him and I used to get text messages from our parents every time we were out of the house to get something on our way home.

The problem — I read the text message and I would forget. Text messages cant be as marked as unread (which is something I love doing in Gmail whenever there is something I want to respond to or work on later)

So we created BringList– a simple app that creates a sticky notification in your android task bar whenever you get a message that starting with Bring followed by items. For example Bring eggs,milk butter bread etc. would tell BringList to make a list of items containing eggs, milk & butter.The fun (or annoying) part is that until you go into the app and delete every item one by one the notification wont go away. The assumption was that every time you looked at your phone screen you would see a tiny B in the corner always reminding you got you got some items to bring/grab or buy. That in theory would force you to go into the app and check the items.

Remembrance by Repetition.

We launched with a very early version to validate our assumption and we got some downloads (150 at last count) and we were satisfied enough to consider doing a V-2.

But then something surprising happened. We had built this app strictly or ‘grocery’ purposes but a friend of mine emailed me saying how he loved to use BringList a a as a to-do list app.

What! What? To- Do list? That wasn’t our intended purpose. It is so far from what we thought was our core use case that we didn’t even consider it.

What he does is text himself all the items he needs to do for the day. E.g Bring Finish marking papers, work on research paper, grab groceries,email X etc — He is a professor so his to-do list probably revolves more around research and marking then mine.

We or at least I did not see that coming. BringList wasn’t designed for that purpose but my friend was tired of using overcomplicated to-do apps (I have to ask him if he used Any.Do) so he simply re-purposed the app to fit is his need for a simple to-do app. No fancy reminders, no fancy UI. Just a simple text message.

This was interesting enough to set about to re-work the app to support this a little more. Texting yourself “Bring” while you want to “Do” isn’t very elegant.

The point of this story — we all hear this all the time in blogs and talks by success full founders. Always be listening to your users. But this was the first time in my limited experience with startups that I had actually been surprised or really understood the depth of the simple statement ‘listen to your users’ — albeit the user in question is a close friend and he was happy enough to tell me. Alot of people wont bother telling you what they do or what they don’t like unless you ask nicely or one can always utilize analytic tools like MixPanel and create custom events.

Written with the help of Caroline Gordon

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Traffic Pakistan

Photo Credit – Aisha Linnea Akhtar

Not to long ago I was on the phone with a good friend and co-conspirator of mine — we were bouncing idea’s back and forth on potential ventures we could do aimed towards Pakistan. 3 years ago M.Ali had built a very neat traffic reporting service. This was a low tech version of traffic and incident reporting over text message, web & Twitter. Before we even knew there was such a thing ( later found out via Google about Waze) and Pakistan being a feature phone country by majority this made sense. Being pragmatists we named it ‘Traffic Pakistan’. The idea was simple, Pakistani roads are horrible and often get congested. With more cars and less roads it was highly likely you’d get stuck in a traffic jam somewhere around town. Other then the road conditions and massive amount of population, it was also highly possible (if you were in Islamabad [the Federal Capital City]) that a VIP/General/PM/Diplomat was passing through and the Police had shut off all roads within a 10 KM radius of the movement.

The first iteration of the solution — M.Ali built a Twitter parser that would look for tweets with #trafficislamabad #traffickarachi #trafficlahore #traffic(insert city) and reroute those to a website thus providing a ‘real time’ traffic update. An SMS server would run in parallel using the same # structure using our personal cell number. We gave people options on how they wanted to update and feed the data. We had plans.Big plans. I was going to get early users on it to get the data flow going. If it worked the next step was to get an SMS short code and enable the same # service over SMS. We were going to integrate our service or make it available on Pring. You as a user could then ‘subscribe’ to specific city/location/neighborhood updates and plan your route before the day started. You see Google Maps doesn’t have traffic updates for Pakistan and numerous ‘points of interest’ aren’t even on it. Yes.

It was a brilliant idea!
We ‘launched’ — which back then meant I emailed, texted, Facebook messaged all my Gmail contacts/Facebook Contacts and tweeted the living Jesus out of it. Nothing happened. It is UNBELIEVABLY hard to get all your Facebook/LinkedIn/Gmail/Twitter contacts to actually use something. I begged them. I pleaded. I offered chocolates and some of them agreed to start using it. They were intrigued and curious. But then it stopped. The only ‘updates’ on the site were from M.Ali. I was in Waterloo/Kitchener at that time so I couldn’t even tweet any updates even if I wanted to. That would just be false information and misleading. I checked. Every day. Every Morning. Every Night. The activity stream started looking bleaker and bleaker. Eventually even M.Ali stopped giving updates. Seemed like lost cause.

So we shut Traffic Pakistan down.

– – – – –

So where did we go wrong?

On the surface we had developed Traffic Pakistan as a solution to a problem we both had. We knew our friends had it. Our friends of friends had it. The technology was simple enough to be easy. The implementation was simple to be not intimidating. What we didn’t count for was the culture. Pakistan’s culture is not around crowd-sourcing and we’re not that tech savvy (Credit Cards are not the norm for various reasons). Our entire product was hinged on people being kind enough to take the time to send the update to help fellow commuters. We needed a strong, very strong community around the product or partner with the Traffic Police in respective cities. We did not have the cash to pay people to stand at various points around the city. We did not have enough cash to provide an incentive to the users to send updates. We could have gamified it but I doubt that would have worked.

The other part of Traffic Pakistan relied on Twitter. Perhaps if the telecom companies had been kind enough to issue us a short code without making us jump through hoops and a tiny fortune we would have had something. Pakistan is not big on Tweeting except when Facebook gets blocked [which also spawns local Facebook clones]. There was some SMS to Twitter services that I used to use while in Pakistan and still new to Twitter in the early days. Twitter didn’t have a short code for Pakistan in those days.

But most of all we needed to partner with the local authorities to actually get the mass adoption. Since I was in Canada, there was only so much I could do while sitting here. I needed to be there, on the ground, knocking doors, calling, setting up meetings, driving the marketing/adoption engine. There is only so much I can do over the phone/Google Docs/Gmail/Streak.

When Waze got acquired by Google, my first email was to M.Ali. Calling would have been awkward, it was past midnight there. With a heavy heart, I wrote something about the acquisition and how ‘it could have been us & Traffic Pakistan’. Calm and reasonable as he is, Ali simply said that could never have been us. We had a long way to go but that proves that our product had some legs.

A recent Facebook update by M.Ali regarding ‘Islamabad Highway being blocked’ due to protests against a recent bombing in Peshawar prompted me to revisit Traffic Pakistan. As for the status update by Ali — I cheekily commented ‘Brought to you by Traffic Pakistan’ in tribute to what could have been or what it might be.

Recently I read about Karachi Police using their extensive man power and a SMS short code for the same purpose.
We are working on reviving the Traffic Pakistan service. If you are from Pakistan and would like to be part of it — please follow us @trafficPakistan.

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Keep An Eye On The World

photo credit:Chris Ison/PA

What is the purpose of education? Sir Ken Robinson gave his answer. He said,“currently, our education system produces professors”. There is certainly,nothing wrong with being a professor, but not everyone can be a professor and we need more professionals than professors.

Today, when I look back on my almost 20 years of education, I realize, the  purpose of education for me, is to discover myself, and learn how to learn. However, this process has cost me so much that I almost regret it.

The rising tech companies in Silicon Valley have spread their contempt of university education to a broader audience. Mark Zukerberg dropped out of school so he can continue building his social media empire and the legend of Bill Gates of course, once inspired many young people drop out of school to pursue their dreams.

Numbers of technology professionals in Silicon Valley today do not have proper school…

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