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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.

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?

Experience Driven Marketing

18 Aug

I recently read a thought provoking post on Teehan+Lax’s company blog called “Adaptive Marketing”. It is a well written and inspiring piece around the shifting role of marketing with the advent of brand/consumer social interaction. The post and its comments brought this thought to mind:

Marketing must be in the business of helping customers or be relegated to the sidelines.

Marketing cannot rely on outreach efforts and advertising alone anymore. No longer do we depend on brands to tell us how great their products are and leave it at that. We have access to reviews and friends on social media that perform that job much better than brands do. They do it better because of a simple factor: Trust. I trust what another person says about a product or service much more than whatever the official brand message might tell me. This phenomenon has actually come to form much more malleable brand experiences for consumers. Because of that shift, the attitudes and perception trends tend to evolve a lot faster than they used to. It’s not that third party opinions were not around before. It’s just that our access to volumes of information and the speed of response from go-to-market to reviews and product development has accelerated exponentially.

So what does it mean for marketing to be in the business of helping customers?

IMHO, and simply put, marketing needs to create tools that help consumers make better choices about the products and services they’re considering, help them customize these products and services to their exact needs and further empower them to influence the next evolution or iteration of these same products and services.

For that to work, marketing must increasingly be involved with the experiential aspect of brand communication rather than the messaging. And marketing and product development must be more closely related. The issue is that this is difficult to deliver in a marketing organization whose culture is primarily one of 18-month linear reach and frequency planning cycles and all the process rigidity that implies.

But let’s assume our organization has let go of the shackles of set-in-stone strategy and is ready to adopt an Adaptive Marketing model. Then what? How can we make that marketing model where programs (not epic campaigns but simple highly responsive programs) continuously evolve and adapt in a highly volatile space with very little time for making a connection. It’s become increasingly clear that the challenge is equally creative as it is one of technological fluency. If the problem revolved strictly around technology, then every brand with a Facebook page would have millions of fans constantly engaging with them.

The one area of differentiation that brands will increasingly need to foster is how they relate on an emotional level with their customers. And that is first and foremost a creative problem. However, it can no longer be handled solely through clever advertising. Inventing new ways to connect and new forms of engagement as a process rather than an event is what creates breakthroughs. This practice is really what can be referred to as Experience Driven Marketing. At many levels, this is what we’ve been involved in digital media for years. Interactive media in many ways has forced us to consider the customer experience in ways that weren’t possible before and has created the possibility for meaningful tools (or experiences) that actually bring added value to the brand/customer relationship. It’s a two way street.

One seminal example of that approach to marketing is the Nike+ Apple marketing/product program. The digital experience (the website and its integrated social and route mapping services), and the product experience (shoe sensor and iPod, iPhone app) all came together to form an entirely new and evolving relationship with customers. Instead of trying new reach and frequency approaches to selling more running shoes, Nike adopted the approach of helping their customers get more out of their running experience, which in turn helped Nike develop other iterations of the tool to adapt to customers’ needs. But the idea of trying to sell shoes as the focus of the program is gone, it has become a “byproduct” of the customer experience.

This approach doesn’t have to be the sole domain of big consumer brands. The same principle applies to a B2B environment. When an industrial manufacturer opens up their design templates and lets customers figure out their needs with an interactive visualization tool on their website. And subsequently lets customers suggest modifications to the tool itself, they are doing exactly the same thing.

The goal is to focus on the experience as a holistic practice that spans the entire customer life cycle. Not just something that happens after a purchase.

More to come on the Experiential Mindset in my next post. Stay tuned…

Droid Suddenly Looks So Primitive…

11 Jun

… like a cave man clumsily hitting something with a big stick.  That’s because a supernatural superhuman being, whose DNA is a perfect mix of James Bond, Iron Man, Leonardo DaVinci and Albert Einstein has just entered the scene. I’m talking about the iPhone 4 of course. Just in case you were wondering.

iPhone 4

Sliced bread all over again

Now, the only reason I’m even mentioning the Android platform is because for just a brief interlude (as the novelty of my original iPhone was sort of wearing off dare I say). I did the unimaginable and considered an Android phone as a potential contender for the prime real estate in my right front pocket. Can you imagine that? Thank heaven I have been restored to sanity. (How I was ever wooed by the cheesy animated lights on the Nexus phone’s home screen remains a mystery). That was a proverbial “flash in the pan” if there ever was one.

Steve Jobs’ iPhone 4 presentation just blew me away. The Apple design folks have managed to once again create pure magic. Not just in its interactions and features but at the very core of it, in its ability to deeply, emotionally and meaningfully connect through the experience. And that is why the Android folks — and all the other ones, save for perhaps Microsoft (I think they might be onto something with their new mobile platform) — are chasing the wrong chimera in my humble opinion. They are trying to keep up with the features and by doing so they are missing the point. But that’s a separate discussion.

So, what is it about the iPhone 4 that makes it so magical? Well here it is in simple bullet form:

  • FaceTime. Science fiction realized. Enough said.
  • The incredibly elegant folder creation scheme. Makes anything else look like pushing a wheelbarrow on cobblestones while this is like zipping away in a GT3 RS at Laguna Seca.
  • iMovie on the iPhone. The home movie experience totally reinvented. It will take years for the competition to even come close. This thing will blow your mind.
  • iAds – A very innovative approach to digital ads integration with incredible consumer engagement potential.

I could go on and on…

Take that Jacket Off

17 May

Wrangler Europe recently launched a series of websites that are a compelling example of emotional branding, engaging visuals and meaningful interactions all rolled into one. Form, content and behavior have been artfully meshed together to create brand immersion media that effectively presents and sells products. Put together as a series of highly stylized video vignettes — featuring models for whom you can interactively change outfits and in effect have them “try on” different looks — the digital experience can be navigated from multiple angles and has a beautiful other-worldly mesmerizing effect. The Blue Bell sub-site also features a very entertaining video model puppeteer gizmo (for lack of a better description) that allows you to virtually push and pull the model around with the click and drag action of your mouse. This is an effect that really needs to be experienced to fully understand (see the secondary link below). This clever creative piece of digital wizardry makes a subtle statement about the human condition that I assume plays well into the target buyer’s psyche.

Wrangler Video Puppet

Wrangler's European Brand Site - User Controlled Video Action

Now granted, Wrangler is not selling dental floss. But even though our products or services may not have the sex appeal a lifestyle brand such as Wrangler can infuse, I firmly believe there are lessons to be learned from Wrangler Europe’s highly engaging experiences no matter what you sell. This plays into Interaction Design’s principles of goal oriented design vs. feature oriented design. No matter what type of digital product we’re putting together, it is always more effective to focus on the user’s deeper, sometimes hidden goal (in this instance picturing oneself as a style maven first and foremost and then knowing how many stitches the pockets on the dark blue number 5 denims might have rather than the other way around). And so the same goes for an accounting application: What will it be about the interactions within that software that will let accounting clerks feel they are clever and industrious? So they can in effect become more productive, as a result of spending more time with an application they feel great about.

Wrangler Europe

Video Model Puppet

The User Experience is Your Brand Message

3 Jul

More than 40 years ago Marshall McLuhan declared “the medium is the message”. This prophetic statement has never rang truer than since the widespread use of interactive media. Think about how much your brand says about itself through the interactions (the medium) that are part of the functions and features that your customers get to experience online.

Given that consumers have been spending an ever increasing amount of time online for years now, you would think the User Experience (UX) would have become a priority for most businesses. Yet, still today, most online experiences are tolerable and uninspiring at best, aggravating or extremely frustrating at worst. The endemic lack of attention to UX often erroneously justified by a misguided attempt to increase Search Engine rankings is one of the most mystifying practices coming out of branding and marketing organizations ever since paying $5M for a 2 square inch logo on a NASCAR racing car has become the norm. (not sure what the actual going rate is, but I’m pretty sure that is close)

Usability does not constitute good UX

Now, to clarify the meaning of UX, I think it is important to outline what it encompasses. In my humble opinion UX goes beyond usability and ergonomics. Usability alone does not make a great UX. You can even have (in some instances) good UX with spotty usability. But to illustrate the point on how usability alone does not constitute good UX, here’s an example: Ordering a book on was easy to accomplish and the process was simple and straightforward and yet I can’t say the experience was pleasurable and I can’t say it left me with a “warm and fuzzy” about the Amazon brand.

So what constitutes great UX and why should we care?

We should care because time and time again, studies show that a perceived positive UX is the differentiator between brand indifference and brand advocacy. Or in a sales environment it is the difference between single digit and double digit conversion metrics.