Sunday, 26 June 2011

Design Thinking

We had the pleasure to attend a session on "Design Thinking – Looking beyond the obvious and crafting a vision for the future" by Prof. Ulrich Weinberg, who is the Head of “School of Design Thinking” at Hasso Plattner Institute, Potsdam, Germany since 2007.

First, I will note down some key points from his session on Design Thinking and then I will put in my opinions & thoughts. 

Key points from the session:

Sustainable Innovation

  • For a sustainable innovation the process has to start with human needs. When the human needs are understood, then one has to understand how technology can support those human needs. And finally, one has to build the business case.
  • Key requirement of Design Thinking is a multi-disciplinary team. This team has to work on an iterative process in an appropriate environment. The appropriate environment for design thinking is a variable space as will be discussed subsequently.
  • Multi-disciplinary team is very important and every individual has to understand and rely on the power of team.
  • Our education systems have corrupted us in thinking only about ourselves. It has made us increasingly individualistic. But, for Design Thinking to succeed we have to think of our collective success rather than individual achievements. 
  • Iterative Process

  • In the iterative process, it is necessary that no one thinks about the solution in the first 3 steps. The first 3 steps are to:
    • Understand the problem
    • Observe the users and the problems in depth
    • Build a point of view about the users and the problems
  • Only, after building a point of view should the team move on to Ideation phase that is like a brainstorming session. The objective is to come out with as many solutions possible. "One has to build quantity before quality."
  • Iteration of the whole process is important for the success. Usually, the first prototype is only 60-70% successful after testing. And every iteration refines the solution further.
  • Many team members of the mulit-disciplinary team come from a non-creative backgrounds. Everyone has to understand that creativity is in-built in everyone. What is important is to "reactivate the skills" and bring back "creativity from kindergarten
    • This is also known as building up of Creative Confidence.
  • "Failing early and often" is a lesson not just for the failing student but for the team and other observants as well. 
  • How to create a flexible working environment
    • Lots of white boards should be placed. Enough for everyone to play with.
    • Movable furniture
    • Standing positions for team members has been found to be better suited for such process. It was observed that individuals were more active participants when standing compared to sitting. 
    • Information environment - An environment where information flow is very easy.
  • What sort of individuals are best suited for Design Thinking process?
    • T shaped people: Individuals who are good in the filed they are in, but are equally capable of appreciating and understanding other fields and people from other domains.
  • How has digital media helped?
    • Design Thinking would not have been possible without the advent of Digital Media. Collecting ideas very rapidly has been possible using this media.
My thoughts & opinions:
  • Building multi-disciplinary teams is very important for Design Thinking. But, for most of the businesses this is the hardest part. All said and done, bringing together such a team would be hard for smaller businesses or in fact for anyone except some academic institutions.
  • Multi-disciplinary team formulation does not take care of cultural sensitivities.
    • How can one solve a problem in India sitting in other parts of the world, by building a team of people who have never been to or lived in India?
  • Sustainable innovation also leaves aside the culture and society.
    • A solution may be good for user needs, technologically feasible and with a good business case, but society may see it as a threat or the solution may be culturally unacceptable. So, it should be (User Needs + Cultural impact + Societal Values)
  • Physical environment seems to be a key component of the whole process. With decreasing interactions in real world and increased interactions in virtual world, it is not clear how to build an appropriate environment in virtual world.
    • In one of our projects where we are applying Design Thinking, half the team members sit in US and half are in India. It is a real challenge to create a suitable environment on digital world. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Content Publishers Going ‘Tabletized’

Newspapers were the first to realize the power of the Web to communicate instantly with their readers. Now being mobile-enabled has become increasingly important for them to stay relevant today. And as if it wasn’t enough of a problem to choose the right platform (Android, iOS), device capability, or to choose between mobile Web and native application, things have become more complicated with penetration of tablet devices (though there's no competition to iPad yet).

Tablet devices will become the biggest point of influence as to how users will interact and consume digital content. Companies such as BBC, FLUD, Wired, and many more already have their iPad native application available on Apple 'sApp store. CNN, Reuters, ESPN,, and have made themselves aligned to iPad Web browsing experience.

However, the strategic choices will become easier for digital content publishers if they try to understand how different stakeholders of the publishing industry will deal with content in future.

Native Experience of Information

The first advantage of creating a native application for iPad is the richness of experience the app provides. Designers seem to be designing apps more as amalgamations of games and info-graphic interfaces and less as task-driven interfaces. Native applications can make good use of device capabilities such as camera, accelerometer, gyroscope, voice and motion sensor, and GPS and add to the overall experience of the application which is difficult to achieve on browser-based app designs. While some amount of offline browsing and location aware services are possible using HTML 5, it is still not possible to access some of the native capabilities of mobile devices from browsers due to security and privacy concerns (for example, access to address book or calendar).

The Wired iPad app is a beautiful example of static magazine content being made available in a highly interactive and multimedia-based content delivery format, without compromising on the magazine’s original free flow content designs, large visuals, large advertisements, and silky smooth page flip transitions. However, in many ways the content is confusing and unusable because of non-obvious controls, unintuitive interactions, and game design thinking. Read NN Group report on usability of iPad apps and websites.

Hybrid Experience of Information

Publications need to think — Does reading infotainment content always require such rich multimedia experiences? What about serious content readers who would want to read articles for hours? Does it make more sense to have subtle and clean reading experience for them?

Financial Times has designed a hybrid version of Web and native applications for their website (, optimized for an iPad. The website exploits HTML5 capabilities to load content in the background and provides a newspaper's page-after-page flip reading experience that is completely browser based. Users can easily differentiate the content reading experience from traditional Web content rendering without compromising the subtle simplicity.

Richness of Content is Expensive
Rich content comes with its weight and each bite of space on the iPad is expensive. Single copy of Wired magazine consumes half a gigabyte of storage space on the iPad before one can use it. Data on mobile is still expensive; downloading a copy of Wired using the 3G iPad connectivity would easily cost a fortune in many countries along with the time that it would take. And all of it will impact the end user experience.
Natural Digital Content Interactions Are Missing
In many ways native applications' designs reduce the user’s natural tendency of reading and interacting with the digital content. Features and controls that users use in browsers are not available (for example, copy text and photos and share it with friends by pasting it in an email). Features like bookmarking and printing pages are not available unless they are built seamlessly within the application.

Access and Reach
Digital content is highly search driven. To access a certain publication's content, users may use any of the search engines or they may find it via links from other websites, blogs, Twitter, and/or links embedded in emails. However, the mobile native apps currently do not support such navigation. So, if a publisher's marketing strategy is to increase the number of visitors and not bother about the repeat visitors, it makes sense to go for mobile optimized Web, especially if it is viral.

Media Advertising Means Money!
Advertising has been a primary source of revenue for most media companies across platforms. For a decade, it was believed that ‘Web users are ad blind’ and they don’t care about ads. At the same time, there has been a significant growth in various media companies' advertising budgets year after year. It’s time media content producers rethink about advertising.
Designers and marketers of traditional Web have worked on aspects like ad slots, positions, sizes, context, level of interactivity, personalization, and more but now iPad can potentially sail them far ahead in time. Ads designed for Wired app are more persuasive by being highly interactive. Perhaps there is scope to make them more meaningful, information exchangeable, intelligent and personalized by adding context sensitiveness. Advertising of such kind will certainly provide better branding mileage to advertisers and also the opportunity to get richer data in bargain. It might just be advertisers who will push publishers to go ‘tabletized’.

Editorial Control: Rigid vs Flexible vs Time to Publish
For publications that are in the business of providing real-time digital content, it is important to package content and keep updating it (for example, coverage of elections or scams). It becomes utmost important for the editorial staff to have flexibility and control over the content and presentation. Native application takes away that flexibility and control because of rigid content meta data structures and templates. Due to cumbersome maintenance and update routines in native applications and app stores, any change made to the app design can take weeks to happen. The work includes programming, testing, approval process, and then finally the end users have to actively choose to update the app. Mobile Web apps, however, require limited programming and testing, hence always providing users with the latest content and experience.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Content is King

"People don’t read, especially when it comes to web and mobile" - I said that!
Content is important:
  • Content adds value
  • Content is part of user experience
And it is becoming increasingly important with the 'Mobile First' design philosophy coming into power. But, much of the mobile first design philosophy fails due to one big reason: CONTENT

And CONTENT failure is not a new phenomenon; it is to be seen even in web specific designs. If, we go to the root of the problem, then it is the different user behavior on web and mobile.

Keeping this in mind here are some guidelines to create content. These are applicable not just for Mobile but for web as well: 

1. If first 160 characters do not sound meaningful, rest of content cannot be useful!
With reducing attention spans, one needs to impress the audience with the first 160 characters. If an idea can’t be put in short, there will be no one listening to it. And if there is no one listening then an idea is useless. So, it makes more sense to put in all the skills to make that 160 character impressive!

2. If everything is useful, then everything is useless
Yes! There has been no mistake in the above statement. If one thinks that everything is useful for a site’s target audience, then surely there has been a mistake. Usually, we tend to fill in so much content, that everything seems to be useless and a person tends to drift away.

3. Use scan-able keywords
Every user opens a site with something in mind. If that is not scanable or searchable then it is highly unlikely that the user will stay for more.

4. Start with conclusions and recommendations
Inverted pyramid style of writing is the key for every content on web and mobile. People want to know quickly about everything; no one has time to read on and on….

5. Attention grabbing headings, meaningful subheadings
Headings are to get attention and subheadings are to make use of that attention span. Keeping a subheading simple, without jargons and to the point helps to gain trust as well. Jargons, complex terms, clever lines are meant to be for the Main heading, keep them out of the rest!

6. A picture is worth 1000 words, but we don’t want 1000 words!! Do we??
The intention is to keep it simple, neat and easy to download. A picture may seem to be the best option to give a visual appeal and represent an idea, but it increases the size. And with download speeds varying unpredictably, sometimes, pictures are a blot to user experience.