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Mobile-ize Your Workforce

16 Aug


Should You Consider Mobile-First Applications for Employees?

Mobile-first application strategy

According to Nick Jones of Gartner: “In 5 to 10 years the definition of the term “mobile” will change. Instead of devices, mobile will come to mean ubiquity of relevant services, delivered anywhere, by any person or thing, to any person or thing.”

Thanks to the widespread use of mobile apps by employees at every level, from executives to field technicians, a recent study by Frost & Sullivan Surveys found that 80 percent of businesses plan to keep adding new employee apps to their portfolios in the next 12 months.

So the question we should ask ourselves at this point is not what is the risk of going mobile first, but rather what is the risk of not properly investing in people’s access to the right mobile business tools?


Mobility is best suited to accelerate productivity. When you think of it, it only makes sense. By providing the everywhere workplace, mobile business apps free your employees to harness inspiration when it comes to them, and on their own terms. And research shows that productivity goes up when employees are inspired.

In the past, it would take huge efforts to build web applications. These initiatives usually required IT’s deep involvement in the effort and therefore kept these enterprise resources from carrying out their core function or at least slowed them down.

The processes and methodologies in building mobile apps are fare simpler and more flexible and adaptive. This presents an unprecedented opportunity to evolve like never before.


There are plenty of potential mobile solutions for common business challenges. The consumer app landscape often offers a harbinger of what’s to come for business. Explore the latest consumer apps and look at how some of the most compelling ones can inspire ideas for a business app. Think of instant connectivity to everything and the power of that in someone’s hand while not being tied to a desk.

Take for example fitness apps. You can use a similar approach to boost productivity in an area that might currently be inefficient because it is perceived as difficult and tedious. (Think of pulling reports.) Whatever it is, mobility means your workers are always connected to critical data and are more often motivated to take immediate action to drive business.

For example we developed an app that provides orders status to customers for a manufacturing client of ours. It links directly to the factory production management software and provides real time updates to customers using the app. The inspiration for this was literally a pizza ordering app.

Also apps can do things desktop applications can’t, thanks to the devices’ many instruments such as the camera, the accelerometer (step tracker), compass and GPS capabilities.

Keep it Simple

You want solutions that enable your workforce without being overly burdened with security, scalability, and availability concerns. The great news is now in the age of mobility, those concerns are for the most part moot. Security is taken care of. Mobile solutions come with highly secure platforms right out of the box.

However, what was once considered the icing on the cake, a great user experience is no longer a nice-to-have option. It is the expected norm. The overwhelming popularity of consumer apps has created the expectation to find apps that are not only intuitive and easy to use but also appealing. Your apps must not only be relevant and useful they must also delight your users.

We have found that when an app is appealing and favorably perceived it is more than twice as likely to be rated as “easy to use” than an equally usable app that is not as visually appealing.

The first step in that direction is to focus your app on one or two essential functions, as if it were an appliance. It has been shown that apps that try to be a “Swiss Army knife” are not as successful as those that just do one or two things really well. The next step is to create a user experience that aligns well with business objectives as well as your users’ mental model and expectations. The third step is to hire app developers you can closely collaborate with so the outcome can evolve as the project goes through its various stages.

Another Frost & Sullivan survey found that 83 percent of organizations noted that they need outside assistance when using application support services. As custom mobile app development has become more economical, this approach is often more cost-effective than dedicating internal IT resources who are already stretched thin as it is.

Prioritize Mobility

Today there is little doubt that application strategies will benefit from placing mobility first and making it a keystone to business development. In fact, thinking mobile first, helps design better desktop experiences as well. Desktop applications will benefit from a mobile mindset that encourages stakeholders to simplify business processes and make interactions more efficient.

Think of how much our personal lives have been enhanced in so many ways thanks to mobile apps. Now take that thought to business and start imagining the possibilities.

Sales Mobile Rocket

25 May


In the spirit of sharing our success, not because we particularly like to brag but because it may be of value to others, we are especially proud of this little sales rep app.

We recently custom designed and developed a mobile app designed to encourage sales activity for a global manufacturer client of ours.   

The app engages sales consultants to record customer facing and sales training activities through a fun, easy to use and competitive environment. It keeps track of the sales reps’ weekly performance and displays their score and ranking on a web based leaderboard. Score and ranking are then used to reward top performers with prizes.

Since its launch the app has seen significant success. It was promptly adopted by a majority of its target audience. Most importantly, it has driven a major up-tic in sales activity.

If you’re thinking of finding innovative ways to motivate your salesforce, ask us about our mobile app solutions.


The Consumable Enterprise

30 Mar

How IT, User Experience Designers and Technologists are set to collaborate toward a new Digital Enterprise.




The Consumerization of IT has become quite the buzzword these days. The term was originally coined to refer to employees using popular “consumer market” technologies and devices at home and then introducing them in their work environment. This has become the rallying point for advocates of a more intuitive, human-centered approach to enterprise applications.

One of the most notable outcomes of the Consumerization of IT has been the fact that IT departments are no longer the gatekeepers of enterprise software solutions. Popular consumer market applications such as DropBox and Google Docs have created spaces where workers collaborate in the enterprise outside of IT’s control. This can also present a host of problems around security and information policies.

With this new development in employee behavior, the challenge is a new set of expectations traditionally ignored by IT and other enterprise technology stakeholders. Workers are accustomed to the intuitive and sleek consumer applications they use for various personal and professional tasks using their own devices. Now they want their enterprise software to provide them with the same experience.

For IT to provide software solutions that compete favorably with consumer market apps from a User Experience standpoint, while providing the enterprise what it needs (policy compliance and secure information) is  a big challenge. IT departments are already strained with endless demands for data coming from all corners of the enterprise. Compounding the difficulty, is the traditional view in the enterprise app hierarchy, that function trumps form. Creating intuitive and engaging user experiences is simply not in the IT toolbox.

Most IT departments recognize this shortcoming and try to find partners to help them. Not every organization has a user experience team and even when they do, the UX team can be too far removed from the technology. So while they may be able to design good customer experiences in theory, these rarely get implemented successfully. Most are challenged when it comes to selecting the right technology to best deliver on the whole customer experience. 

To use an example, our company PULL was recently engaged to help create a portal for a corporate educational platform. The portal experience needed to incorporate a multitude of functions including transactions, account management, community interactions, gamification and more. Our assessment process looked at several technology solutions until we helped our client settle on a single platform of choice. That platform provided the ideal software solution to execute experiences that allow internal customers to easily navigate from “shopping”, registering for new learning tracks, accessing courses, to managing their accounts, and participating in peer discussions all under a single user account. When making that selection we also analyzed the risk with potential future evolutions. We looked at how the platform might eventually be used for learning management and reporting as well. We made our selection with the advance knowledge that it had the ability to easily integrate all these future business needs with plugins.

The recipe for success for IT and the enterprise lies in partnering with resources who not only have human-centered design expertise but are seasoned technologists as well. In other words, there needs to be a concerted effort to not only create an intuitive and engaging app that will boost productivity and user satisfaction, the software also needs to fit within a technology ecosystem that can evolve according to business priorities.


Rolling with the Rollout

12 Feb
Let's not be subtle about it.

Let’s not be subtle about it.

Digital product rollouts are often treated as an afterthought. That is the proper planning of internal and external socialization activities that would ensure the product persuades users of its benefits beforehand. “We’re building a very inviting and intuitive digital experience, that should be persuasive enough for any user…” or so the thinking goes. The problem with this approach is that it totally discounts that users often have a thousand other things on their mind. Just because we think our product is inherently persuasive  right out of the box, doesn’t make others see it that way. Most new things, no matter how intuitive, will present a cognitive challenge. And we can easily fool ourselves during usability testing because the “first encounter” challenge is simply sidestepped. Sure, test participants may tell us the app is easy to understand and use, because by the very nature of the testing environment we have effectively socialized them with the product. We have their attention. We are not really testing it “in the wild”, where distractions abound.

Many brilliant applications have failed because of poor rollouts. I have been recently exposed to the story of a fantastic customer facing application for the mortgage division of a national bank that tested beautifully, yet completely failed in the market. The bank pulled the plug on it and is now back to the drawing board. The reason, according to the parties involved I had a chance to meet with, was poor rollout. When the application was launched the organization failed to properly socialize it with key internal constituents. These constituents who had roles in the process the app was supposed to support did not know about the app. Or if they knew about it, they were poorly educated about its strategic objectives and features. Worse, many key interactions and resulting customer data never made it to their CRM system. What happened is as these people were not invited and persuaded to use the application, they were kept in the dark of many customer interactions they needed to know about. This was a recipe for disaster.

So what does this mean in concrete terms? I thought I’d put a simple practical outline together. The key idea is to care for the planning part of the rollout. A good rollout needs to be planned in advance. Not when the product is ready to “hit the shelves”. And it needs to provide each user base with clear and unequivocal answers to the following questions.

What is this application or tool for?

We need to explain to users in clear and simple terms what the product will do and most importantly how it will benefit them. And we need to hammer it in. Studies in persuasive psychology have shown that if we can identify the users pain points, remind them of those and prove that the product will alleviate them in succinct, clear and easy-to-understand terms, we are well on our way.

What am I supposed to do with it?

We want to illustrate in a bit more detail why the app will benefit users. This is the exercise of explaining the features that support the objective mentioned above. Simply put, demonstrate why it will benefit users if they use it as expected.

How does it work?

A picture is worth a thousand words. Videos that explain the features and show users what to expect have proven to be extremely effective in persuading users to try an app. Although, let’s be clear: We do need a good product to begin with. No amount of video illustration will help persuade customers to use a poorly designed, cluttered and confusing app.

How/Where do I get it?

This is about ensuring the app (or whatever it is) is easy to find, download and install. This seems like common sense but is also often ignored.

Rollout plans don’t have to be onerous and time consuming. In fact, the steps presented above can be planned for and executed during the development stages of the product with minimal effort using the same resources who actually produce the app. Then of course, someone in the organization needs to ensure all of that gets properly delivered to the target audience.

Mirror Mirror on the Screen

7 Feb

This stache is all me.

Designing for Reflection

According to Don Norman (author of Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things) there are three levels of cognitive processing. The visceral level is the most immediate and is the one marketing departments look to when trying to elicit trigger responses and be persuasive. Behavioral processing is the middle level, and is the concern of traditional usability or human factors practitioners designing for ergonomics and ease of use. The third level is reflective processing.

Reflective processing is when our desires for uniqueness and cultural or aesthetic sophistication influence our preferences. Simply put, it is about seeing ourselves positively reflected in the products we use. What that means to individuals and their own self-images is highly subjective (as the picture above clearly attest), however—and again according to Norman—designing for reflection is the most powerful way to build long-term product/user relationships.

Unfortunately, reflective processing is often dismissed by interaction designers as a style question they shouldn’t concern themselves with. To be fair, applying superficial style has too often been used in ways that cause major usability issues—a fairly common occurrence with brand websites for consumer packaged goods. One that comes to mind (although perhaps not the most egregious) is, with its wood paneling background image where the navigation gets lost. It is superficial style with no reflective trade-off because not only is its usability quite poor, it is also completely product-centric rather than customer-centric. On the flip side, and what seems to be a recurring problem, is that many very usable digital products and services fail to generate the levels of adoption, engagement, and retention their creators were after because they lack that certain je ne sais quoi that connects with users at a deeper level.

The point of this article is to make the case for reflective processing design in a way that does not detract from usability’s chief concerns. When reflection-based design goes deeper than superficial stylization tricks and taps into our reflected sense of self, products become much more rewarding and life-enhancing, and have a higher potential for a more engaged and longer-lasting customer relationship.

Equally important, and deserving of attention from a UX and user-centered design perspective, is the fact that products that successfully address the reflective level are almost unanimously perceived as more intuitive and easier to use. Norman famously makes that case by pointing out how the original iPod click-wheel navigation was perhaps not the most usable solution but was perceived as the easiest because of Apple’s amazing instinct for reflection-based design.

Reflective Processing in Action

One example of a purely digital product that goes beyond the behavioral and visceral processing design aspects to connect with users at a deeper reflective level is Instagram. What started as a simple photo-editing tool for consumers, quickly became a ubiquitous social image-sharing app that speaks to each user’s creative and nostalgia-imbued sense of identity. Instagram is now woven into social media users’ habits as an intuitive extension of social interactions that also satisfies a reflective sense of aesthetics. It has, in many instances, usurped the more direct—and perhaps more usable—approach of simply uploading unedited photos. Facebook saw immense value in Instagram and bought the company for at least twice its market valuation.

Someone designing a LOB application might ask: “Why should I care about reflective processing when designing business software?” The answer is that it is not just a matter of creating amazing engagement, like Instagram. Attention paid to reflective processing also supports usability and user-centered design objectives, no matter the application or audience. An application that people feel connects to their reflected sense of self will elicit more engagement and be perceived as more intuitive and easy to use.

Here’s the challenge: Effectively designing for reflection is perhaps the hardest task for a designer to perform, as there are really no predictive models, much less a rigorous and empirical process to follow. Success stories typically get attributed to luck, and being able to intuitively tap into the collective zeitgeist to produce creative digital products people can personally relate with. But does that always have to be the case? Aren’t there some tools we can all use to better our odds? Here are a few approaches that, in my experience, have worked in favor of designing for reflection.

Be a cultural anthropologist

Being aware of current cultural trends within a target user group is crucial for many reasons, but also plays a role in designing for reflection. Think of some strong current cultural identities at the moment—the bohemian-chic global traveler, for example, or, in the case of a business environment, those who identify themselves as conscious capitalists.

How can functionality and tonality be reflective of a particular notion of self or style that a group identifies with? Spend some time with the target group in their context—in a non-transactional manner that favors intimacy and relationship building—and find out.

Cultural anthropology can also be employed by hiring cultural ambassadors (also referred to as reverse mentors) who help set the tone for your product. To be successful, reverse mentors typically go beyond simply asking the target set their opinions and observe attitudes and behaviors on their turf.

Many designers start by basing their work on universal design principles before trying to apply some cultural specificity, when working the other way around can unlock better adoption rates. Start with a reflective level user experience in mind when defining what the product is, then apply universal design principles and reflective level UX should flow out with more fluidity.

For instance, at the outset of the Nike+ product and user experience concept development process, Nike and their creative technology partners not only learned more about the behaviors and attitudes of casual runners, they also immersed themselves in their particular lifestyle. As a result they learned the importance of a number of self-reflecting attributes such as enjoying music while running, goal-setting, and the weaving of social interactions in building up motivation and keeping track of performance. These attributes did not evolve out of a usability study. They evolved out of a deeper understanding (a keen observation) of how the particular target behaves, and, in this case, how running contributes to their reflected sense of self.

To further enhance a deep connection to users, Nike developed the whole experience with a modern, purposeful, utilitarian, humorous, cool, and not-too-techy interaction and user interface style that reflected the aesthetic aspirations of “casual runners who aspire to be serious about their running and fitness.” The Nike+ series of apps has been a massive success and is credited with helping the brand increase its running shoe market share by 10% (and has also branched out to include training and basketball). There is no question that although many other running performance-tracking apps are out there on the market, Nike+ dominates because of its superb reflective user experience.

Approach it like a digital brand-building exercise

Another way to look at designing for reflective processing is to think of it as digital brand building. Successful brand building is, in effect, the process of aligning a brand’s external attributes (its messaging) with its inherent attributes (its promise) in a way that complements its target audience’s reflected sense of self.

Traditionally, digital brand building is reserved for marketing departments—not necessarily the most educated crowd where interaction design principles are concerned. What ends up happening, more often than not, is simply a skinning exercise, where the brand’s tonality, logo, and colors are slapped onto a prefabricated piece of interactive media. This might even be the case with a custom application that incorporates usability best practices but offers no inspiring deeper connection to users through its interactions. Examples of this approach abound, as we in the UX design field have frustratingly witnessed so many times. The difference between reflective processing-based design and basic usable design also has to do with the types of interactions, not just product concept and style.

I recently analyzed the difference between the default Apple Reminders app and a third party developer’s mobile app called Stky. Stky functions as a reflective digital product, addressing a specific sense of self by seemingly realizing that to-dos needed to be managed in a much more flexible and fluid manner while not losing the ability to assign a sense of urgency when needed—Reminders less so. The Stky app allows users to create a general bucket of to-dos that they can easily shuffle back and forth from very simple completion-goal timeframes like “soon” and “whenever.” The whole experience is presented in an informal visual style that focuses on the day ahead only. The combination of these aspects seems to effectively connect with what might be a Millennial’s reflected sense of self surrounding productivity.

So the question is: What combination of interactions, tonality, and feel allows a function to align itself more with the brand? Wildly hypothesizing to make a point and using an example similar to the Stky app above, let’s assume we’re creating a scheduling/calendar app for suburban Gen X parents. The brand promise statement may go something like this: “For the Gen X parent overwhelmed by their children’s schedule, Brand A is the smart application that makes managing and keeping track of their kids’ activities a breeze.”

The important part of the positioning is that it addresses through its promise a specific pain point that can be construed as part of the target’s reflected sense of self. Knowing that, would you create a “My Account” tool to help them manage their preferences or invent something entirely new under the label “Our Ride” or “Rear Hatch” because carpooling or mobility are such big parts of that lifestyle and sense of self? That would imply that one of your research findings is that these things are a crucial part of that specific experience. You would also know what features to include in the tool based on user research. To flesh things out further, you might take inspiration from the best in brand advertising. I’m thinking of what Toyota did with their very clever minivan “Swagger Wagon” campaign aimed at Gen X parents—a great example of reflective level communication in advertising.

Try to inject some of that brand building into your design process. Applying the same principle to all aspects of the experience—architecturally, in the content, and into the visual details—will almost certainly raise your odds at producing reflection-based adoption, engagement, and retention.

Conduct fast generative research

Unfortunately, we don’t always have the resources to hire reverse mentors or the time to conduct extensive cultural anthropologic or ethnographic research. Luckily, there are cheaper and quicker ways to glean some valuable information that could be used for reflective processing design.

Conducting a few non-directed user interviews that focus on the larger picture, not just user tasks as defined by business requirements can help tremendously. By broadening the conversation with interview participants, researchers can discover actual user goals and attitudes that may inform the functions of a specific tool or the aesthetic of the tool from a reflective processing angle. And it doesn’t have to be overly involved. Even five relatively short interviews can produce amazing insights.

Because during non-directed interviews users are not limited to commenting on the current application, (or a planned one) but instead invited to openly speak about what makes them (as humans) successful in achieving their goals, they are likely to reveal attitudes, behaviors, and a reflected sense of self that would otherwise not be displayed or expressed. (For more on non-directed interview techniques and methodology read Mental Models by Indi Young.)

My firm recently conducted research and redesign efforts for a line of business application on behalf of a large manufacturer. The study uncovered that users were resorting to makeshift workarounds away from the application in order to conduct a task they deemed crucial as customer reps. (It’s important to note, this task was not initially identified by the business.) Such a finding would have likely never been discovered had our user research focused strictly on an evaluation of the current application. We would have been stuck focusing on the tool only—trying to improve existing functionalities. Instead, we uncovered a significant opportunity for reflective level design.

Customer reps were performing a self-motivated task that is an essential part of how they consider themselves successful at their job. A large part of this user group’s reflected sense of self as customer service reps is the special relationship they cultivate with their customers. That is why a tool that reflects that back to them is instantly and subjectively perceived as a benefit. The results have been unanimous, with overwhelmingly positive feedback of the entire application’s design during user testing, thanks in large part to this reflective feature.


Reflective processing isn’t anything new to most UX practitioners. Many in the design disciplines have more or less identified the phenomenon using various descriptions to essentially say the same thing. It is the “Style Captures the Attention” section of Steve Tengler’s excellent UX Mag article “Five User Experience Lessons from Tom Cruise”. It is what some call the Apple effect—that special ethereal quality that helps us emotionally connect to the products we use.

It’s just been much harder to embrace in non-consumer product development environments that aren’t highly competitive and where creative brainstorming may be seen as frivolous. As discussed above, the outcomes are hard to predict and it is not just a matter of applying a thin layer of style to our products and services. We have to dig deeper to find what it is that will connect with users at the reflective level. Up until now, the extra effort has rarely been considered worth it.

However, as digital applications increasingly surround us and we have an ever-expanding choice of products and services to use, designing for behavior (usability) and visceral response (persuasion) will gradually become commoditized. There is no doubt in my mind that the next critical differentiator for UX practitioners will be to offer knowledge, guidance, and creative solutions specifically addressing reflective processing. The good news is we have some tools that can help us and as we push forward, using these tools more often, we will eventually have more predictable models.

Homage to the King of UX

1 Nov
Steve Jobs

King of UX

I’ve been reflecting over the past few days on Steve Jobs and his legacy. He was such an inspiration through his products from the earliest age for me and through today. I was one of the lucky kids who got their hands on an Apple II circa 1977. I was 8 at the time and it wasn’t too long after, that I produced my very first piece of digital media. It was an interactive animation of the periscope going up on a primitive pixel-blocks picture of a yellow submarine that I designed and programmed in Basic. At the time, it felt like magic to be so intimately (and enjoyably) engaged with computers. That was already something proprietary to Apple. I remember other computers back then that didn’t quite have the same meaning. And I promise you, I wasn’t a geek-ish kid. Well, alright, maybe just a little…

Steve Jobs and Apple applied the same formula seven years later with the Mac, and twenty some years later with the iPod and iTunes. Steve Jobs was in the business of creating experiences. It was a misunderstanding to categorize him as simply a technology entrepreneur. For sure, he was a tech geek. Perhaps the first cool geek to ever roam the earth. He was, however; more concerned with experiences rather than being enthralled with functionality sets. He knew experiences were first and foremost visceral in nature. He famously said that Apple products were a merger of art and science. I think that pretty much sums it up in a language anyone can understand. Today we may see it as almost common sense to view technology his way. Though, there was a time when his views were considered almost “cute”. Fine for a few aficionados and creative types, but not really applicable to the real world of business. The cold hard fact was that technology belonged to business. Or so we thought. What mattered was functionality and how many features you had. Engineering, numbers and strict usability were the values to adhere to.

We can now say his views have been fully vindicated by the marketplace. That final arbiter of all arguments. And, what a wonderful thing. Look at Apple today and think of how the naysayers pronounced it dead-in-the-water only fifteen years ago. What a ride it has been. And, I might add, what a victory for all the lovers of human-centered products and good design.

As a UX practitioner, I feel it’s crucial that we not let ourselves be directed by the “science” of it. In other words, the usability metrics, the research, and even ergonomics (that human side of engineering that doesn’t quite cut it all the way). All of this stuff is important, but used on its own fails at creating extraordinary experiences, because it will always lack that human spark. You can’t fool people into loving stuff that is purely the product of an engineering process. One must inject a good dose of inspired intuition and playfulness or emotion.

To all of us in the business of developing software or other digital media, let’s pay homage to Steve Jobs in our own way. Let’s continue to immerse ourselves in the philosophy that he espoused and continue to push forward to design products that are not just user-centric but that also have a human face.

Steve Jobs was one of the historical representatives of the notion that the human spirit always prevails. We’ve had a few in other fields. Not too many in technology and definitely no one else like him. Let’s say thanks to that! Steve Jobs found a way to masterfully respond to the fact that, no matter how complex our tools become, we, being human, will always strive to bring those back into our hands and minds and make them work at our level. Because ultimately, we want to relate to them and like them. We want to enjoy using them.

Steve Jobs keenly understood the basic nature of human desire and created a technology brand around it. I hope his legacy lives on for a very long time continuing to bring us experiences that enhance our lives.

The Business Side Effect of UX

7 Oct

We’ve come to a point where pretty much every single business process from the most complex data analytics to the most pedestrian expense report is touched by technology.  As a result there is an increasing number of opportunities for UX practitioners to get involved at the business level of enterprises and help make their tools more convivial and usable.

The interesting twist is that in the process of developing UX with business stakeholders, we often find ourselves in the position of questioning the very business processes that we were simply called to make more usable through better user interfaces. The assumption made by business at the outset, was that these processes were founded in sound logic and therefore it is just a question of developing the right “flow” on the screen.

What ends up happening instead, is that the practice of developing UX shines a sort of a design-thinking black light on the business process itself and reveals inefficiencies that might have gone unnoticed otherwise. The simple act of thinking the process from a UX perspective helps take that process through yet another efficiency filter.

What if UX practioners became the business logic architects of the future? What if it all came down to a visual sketching tool, that seamlessy scales up to a full fledged business application?