Agile Development, Business Analysis, Information Technology, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience

People all over the world celebrated the onset of new year 2011 with fun, aspirations and resolutions. This cheer and  high-spirited enthusiasm continued well into the first week of the new year.  However for some people, the early days of the new year proved not all that fun. They got up later than usual, reported late, missed their appointments and meetings. You might want to blame all this mayhem caused due to the hangover and the high-spirited celebrations :). Well, that was not the true reason. The real culprit was the mobile phone they were using. Yes, it was Apple iPhone4 that these people have been using that created the problem.  The Alarm app of the iPhone4 failed and did not set off (or is it ‘set on’ ? ) the alarm.

Small problem, big pain

You might say that this is just one small problem for a few users which happened, one day. After all alarm is just one small app in iPhone and it did not work on one day and so, its really not a big deal. I agree, but then think about the consequences of this small bug and the inconvenience it caused to the users. Even a small defect in the product could become pricking one to users. I remember my good-old Hero Honda CBZ,  first version which I bought in 2001. It was a brilliant motor bike with a fantastic performance and great looks. I was really happy with it except one small itchy glitch. Look at the images below and you can guess what the problem with this motor bike could be.

Its not all about look and feel

Yes, you got it right. The problem was with the placement of  kick-rod and footrest in this model of CBZ. Footrest was placed right below and would stop the kick rod from going down. Since there was no electronic auto-ignition, starting the motor cycle requires three steps…

  1. Take the footrest up, so that it doesn’t come in the way of kick-rod
  2. Kick the rod down so that mo-bike gets started
  3. Immediately get the footrest down, for applying breaks

Phew…so much pain just to start a mo-bike. Just imagine your plight when in the midst of heavy traffic on a busy road, the CBZ stops and you need to start it in a split-second, else you might incur the wrath of a 100 horns blazing all at once. The curses and prayers of many a user like me, would have reached the people who matter at the motor cycle company. In the newer version of the CBZ, Hero Honda introduced is an electronic-ignition. So, the moral of the story is ‘all looks and no work makes your product a flop and users irate’.

Go beyond the briefing, but first get the basics right

The above problems have nothing to do with lack of user experience, or delight factors. They refer to the breakdown of a simple and basic functionality of the product. Nowadays in a bid to get quicker and closer to customers, product companies have been getting on to the bandwagon of offering delight to their users. They have been treading past the drawn lines, going beyond the briefing. I fully support their intent and actions and also believe in the end results of their efforts, which is better products and happy users. However, this is not completely hunky dory and in a few cases, companies do not realize that they are committing some basic errors. To attract their users, the product companies are forgetting that their products must first work well and satisfy the immediate needs of their users.  There is an imminent need to realize that ignoring this might lead to frustrated users who will shun using their products and services.

It does not really matter if your product offers great bells andwhistles, while at the same time it cannot provide the core  functions. Often, in the name of user experience, product owners do tend to overly focus on the presentation losing sight of the other important factors such as functionality, navigation and interaction. As Steve Jobs rightly puts it, “Design is not what it looks like and feels like, Design is how it works”. A case in point is the call dropping functionality of iPhone4. Not too long back, you might recollect the problems reported with the dropping of calls in iPhone4. This issue was more noticed when users holding their iPhone in left hand at a particular angle.  Apple accepted the that there was indeed a defect with the phone’s antenna placement and offered a bumper cover free to the users.


In case you are wondering why I am riling Apple only all along, well it is not alone in getting the bad campaign.  Hotmail recently joined the shame game when most of its users, one fine morning, found their mail boxes empty, all of a sudden. Some other users found a few mails missing. A few others were annoyed to note that some emails were lost. I guess you would agree that the basic purpose of an email product is to receive and send mails. If this very primary functionality is not in place, don’t you think it raises alarm with the users? Of course, not only do they stop using the  product, but they spread the bad word pretty quick. So, address the  important things first in your products, services or processes…functionality, those that matter the most to your users and you too.

Form follows Function

There has  been an eternal debate in the design circles about the seemingly conflicting approaches of ‘Function follows form‘ and ‘form follows function‘.  My ‘Business Systems Analyst’ background gets the better of me and I support the latter option, i.e., ‘Form follows function’ theory. Of course, I don’t apply this to all and sundry. Leave alone some specific products like art works, paintings, craft and decorative items etc.,  which definitely have a dire need to look prettier first, as that is their core objective. However, for the rest of the other products which we use in our everyday life and work, functionality should be the first goal followed by the looks. Often times, the way a product has been designed, especially the aesthetic appeal  accentuate the function and make it better.

FURPS and You

Functionality scores over pure-play user interface and mere looks. So much so that the good old model, FURPS which classifies the software quality attributes, function places Functionality on the top much before other factors. For starters, FURPS refers to Functionality, Usability, Reliability, Performance and Supportability. There had been additions to this list, what is being referred to as FURPS+.  The + or extra attributes are interface, implementation, operations, packaging, legal etc. Irrespective of whatever gets added to this list, one thing is pretty clear… that functionality always precedes everything else. So, in case you ever doubted what the Business/Systems Analyst in your team does, you have an answer now.

Focus on the WHAT

I doubt how many times you would have lifted the bonnet of your car to see what’s inside. Compare this with driving your car using the steering wheel, gears, clutch and other parts in the car nearby to  the Driver’s seat.  Not many users (barring a few, such as technicians and mechanics ) would wonder how your product is working. What matters to most of them (the normal users, barring advanced and expert users) is that the product should work and do the things it is supposed to do, in the first place. From a Software Development Life cycle (SDLC) perspective, Requirements always come first before Design and Development. Even in this age of Agile development with SCRUM, Extreme Programming and User Stories, you still need to understand the ‘WHAT is to be done’ before you proceed with ‘HOW it is to be implemented’ . First, focus in understanding WHAT is required of the stakeholders, and users from the product or application that you are developing.

Make the functionality clear

Its not only important that you focus on getting the functionality right, but more importantly you need to make it clear to the user what are the things they can do with your product.

Design and develop your products and services in a way that users should understand what they can do with the products or services.  If it is not clear to your users as to what your product offers to them they will eventually dump it. For instance, Google Wave failed big time because it was not clear to the users what they could do with it and how it would help them  any better than the existing lot of the social networking and collaborative platforms. Also, iPad had a few takers initially in the first few days, as some people had questions about what exactly it offers. They could not see the real difference between iPhone and iPad, sans the ability to call. Some even called the iPad a glorified and bigger format of iPhone.


To conclude this post, all I have to say is that, as developer of products or services,  you need to set your eyes and mind first on the functionality. If it does not work, they will not use it!

Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, User Experience, User-centered Design

‘You are the Controller‘ says Kinect, the new gaming experience from Microsoft. Kinect beats its nearest rivals Sony Playstation and Nintendo Wii on the concept of playing games with a handheld motion controller. While PS3 requires you to play games with its ‘Move’ and Wii with Wiimote (or Wii Remote), Kinect doesn’t require any external motion controllers.

You are the controller

Why am I so excited about Kinect that I have started this blog post with it? I am not so much of a gaming freak to compare and contrast the quality of the games, nor am I interested in analyzing the top three ‘players’  from a business view in this market segment. I am really excited by Kinect’s promise of giving the control to YOU, the user. Well, in this post, I wish to review a few of the successful products out there in the market, analyzing why and how they thrived in the world of me-too products and those offering not so pleasant usage experiences.

YOU are the focus

Not just Microsoft or Kinect, but nowadays there are quite a few companies and products which are trying to lure you. They come in different shapes, sizes, colors, industries and domains. In this post, I will touch upon a few of them that have made a mark and succeeded in keeping their products, services and brands You-focused.

They make YOU (the users) omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent
Vodafone repositioned itself by giving “Power to YOU“. With the advent of innovation in the Telecom industry, jumping from 2G to 3G to 3.5G has been a breeze. Faster downloads, better connectivity and more things to do such as streaming videos etc., offered by the advanced technologies such as 3G provide a fillip to the users’ experience. Now, you can work faster, easier and better accessing your mails on the go, watching Cricket and Football matches when and where you want, watching the previews of latest movie releases.

Power to you

They make you super-hero
Sample this, Yahoo which struggled to get it right for the most part of the initial releases of its products, for once changed its positioning and perhaps along with it, a few of its products design too. Along comes an enhanced and delightful Yahoo mail and Yahoo’s portal. There was a sea change in the way users now interact with Yahoo’s products and no guessing why all this happened. Yes, Yahoo realized and believe strongly that “YOU are the new master of the digital universe.”

Its YOU!

They make you happy
Canon, with its continual innovation in the imaging products has been “Delighting YOU always“. If you look at the innovation that happened in the cameras and phtotography areas over the last few decades, you will agree with Canon. There were the days when you had to go to a certain photographer to get yourselves shot and wait for days to see the output. When on the first glimpse of your photo you felt really happy and pleased. You were delighted then. And what are you doing now? Clicking away hundreds and thousands of photographs, all by yourself with that tiny camera fitting in the pocket of your jacket.

Delighting you always

Who is YOU

You are the typical office goer, a home maker, a young student aspiring to be a champion, a tech-savvy banker,a professor, an engineer working an oil rig… in short, you are a user, consumer, customer, stakeholder. As a user/consumer, you use the product and enjoy the experience offered before, during and after the usage. As a customer, you buy the product and so are an easy target for the manufacturers and marketers, who have been striving to grab your attention. As a stakeholder in the product, you are either directly or indirectly influencing the customers or the consumers in using the product. So, its only logical for these product vendors to go after YOU.

Take the (Yo)U- Turn

As an organization which offers products and services, you need to note that this is the age of consumers and they dictate the ways companies operate, whether they are large, medium, small. From companies selling computers to schools teaching primary students, there had been a rise in the awareness of Global awareness and local impact. They realized that their true fortunes lie not just in knowing about their users, and understanding them, but in treating, pleading and pleasing them. Its not the features, nor the technology that would help them get to their objectives of surviving the dog-eat-dog markets and making profits. It is the experience and delight brought out by the organization, brand, product or service,  that makes the maximum impact on your customers, users and stakeholders.

What should the organizations do

To be successful in your industry segment, follow the leaders in your own or other industries. Google, Apple and Facebook did hinged their entire product strategy on the User-experience factor. YouTube , for instance, changed the way people create, consume and share the video content online. With the ability to upload videos of any (pre-defined) format and length and sharing the content, YouTube gave a new definition to user-generated content. It gave the users an easy and quick way of viewing,uploading, downloading, sharing, embedding videos anywhere. YOU got the power to “Broadcast Yourself“!

Broadcast yourself

As a product manufacturer and marketer or a service provider, you also need to re-orient the ways in which your products or services have been designed, developed and delivered. Think about the major focus areas which have been in your product strategy and re-define them to suit the need of the hour. Onida, a  reputed Indian manufacturer and marketer of  white-goods realized this earlier than others in their segment. Over the years, white goods (a.k.a. consumer durables) have become commodities and it had become extremely tough to maintain the market shares one enjoyed a few decades back. Onida re-positioned itself knowing fully well that consumers are the king and they should be the central focus of their product design. This had been evident in the recent launches of their products such as Microwave and Refrigerator which are easier-to-use and offer greater experience to the users. These products had been well received by the users because they were “Designed with YOU in mind“!

Designed with you in mind

YOUsability rocks!

To conclude, I suggest this is the time to know that YOU are the most powerful entity in the universe. Relish the lavish praises, attention and luxuries being offered to you to the extent that you can choose the type of bank account that suits your choice and requirements. You can decide the talk plan to fit your wallet, the holiday to suit your family, budget and lifestyle  and even you can decide how you wish the end the climax of a movie! You are the guest, for which most of the companies are going beyond their briefing to offer their service. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the privileges. No wonder, Time Magazine fittingly named the Person of the year, 2006 as ‘YOU’. Rock on!

Person of the year 2006 is you

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Agile Development, Business Analysis, Business Case, User Experience, User-centered Design

…and not hoping for billions of dollars, though I would be happy if the bounty comes as an extension to the delight and success of millions of customers, users and stakeholders across the globe. It’s the culmination of the expertise and experience coupled with insatiable urge and passion for delivering value and innovation spanning over a decade. It’s the answer for many a question arising in the minds of millions of people, questions such as “Will this new product work for me?” , “What value do I get out of this new model just launched”, etc. It’s the solution for many a problem plaguing the lives of many professionals, students and the like…problems ranging from the lack of usability and accessibility to the lack of basic interaction and navigation in many products and services they use day in and day out.

In the wake of a brand new decade, not just another new year, 2011 brings in a lot of aspirations, hopes and optimism. Along comes a newborn venture taking shape as a realization of the dreams for couple of decades. You must all be wondering what I am referring to. Well, I am both proud and happy to announce the launch of my new company…Texavi Innovative Solutions, in the early part of the new year 2011.

Texavi Innovative Solutions - Logo
Texavi Innovative Solutions' Logo

Motivation

Its true that the first decade of the 21st century had left few indelible marks- some good to forget, a few others hard to remembers and some others unforgettable by any scale of imagination. There have been instances of superlative technologies transforming the lives of people with their instant value. Mobile phones, ubiquitous computing, tablet PCs etc., provided the fillip for betterment of people’s lives.

There were also a lot of scenarios wherein the same technologies offer inconvenience, resentment and hatred, and invasion of privacy to add to the list. It is very clear that technology did bring in a lot of change, a positive change to that in the professional and personal spheres of people. Innumerable examples such as eMail, SMS (text messaging), social networking point to this aspect. However, these same technologies also brought about confusion, chaos, challenging the core beliefs, value-system and ideologies of most amongst us. Part of the blame is on product vendors and owners with their continuous launches and updates, excessive focus on features, short-sighted vision for hype and hep, leading to negligence for users and their usage experiences.

And, a new company is born

With the above as the backdrop, Texavi Innovative Solutions is being launched as the cure for the ills and answer for the calls of many a product vendors, technology /development companies, IT professionals, Business stakeholders, and users. I give below a quick view of Texavi’s core vision, mission and values.

Texavi’s Vision

To deliver delightful experiences to our customers, users and stakeholders leveraging our key strengths of Innovation, Expertise and Insight.

Texavi’s Mission

  • Solutions encompassing Products, Services, and Processes offering Business viability, Technical Feasibility, Superior Quality and to top it all Delightful Experiences
  • Multiple delivery channels – Desktop, Web, Mobile, and New media
  • Key focus on domains/verticals such as Scientific,Technical and Medical (STM) Publishing, Retail, and Financial Services
  • Rely on the core principle of ‘Explore, Experiment, Experience’
  • Agile development methodologies such as SCRUM, User stories etc.

Texavi’s Values

  • People-centered solutions
  • Imagineering – a powerful combination of Imagination and Engineering
  • Technology, for the welfare and usage of people…Technology that works for you, me and all of us.
  • Innovation, not just interaction or information
  • Honesty and Openness – for our own good and the good of all those associated with us, directly and indirectly

2011 and beyond

That’s a brief update on the origin and launch of Texavi Innovative Solutions. I am going to write a few more posts in the near future on Texavi’s way forward and walk you through the road that we are going to take, going forward. Please support Texavi by visiting the site and blogs, giving us your feedback and connecting with us.

Seasons Greetings and a Happy New Year,2011!