Category: Design Thinking

Exploitative Businesses & Divine (and Tech) Interventions

When I wrote ‘Design the Future’ about Design Thinking, it had a brief overview of the behavioural aspects of innovation – from an innovator’s and user’s perspective.
 
There was a mention of nudges (not sure I used the term though).
I have been of the (possibly obvious) view that, as companies get increasingly sneaky, especially when selling ill-health or stuff we don’t necessarily need, that despite how creative their marketing gets, customers too keep pace by becoming resistant to the nudges.
 
I also think the Ben Franklin Effect probably wears off, and that people aren’t exactly suckers to keep giving. Of course, it varies for people, their preferences, value trade-off, etc.
 
Unless business are sincerely trying to benefit or create a good habit in customers, I’ve personally never been a fan of exploitative nudges. Which is why, while some soft drink or fast food ads and initiatives are creative and impressive, you know it isn’t promoting something great in customers.
 
Two recent events seemed to be a sort of divine intervention to nudges and business practices that aren’t exactly in the best interest of customers.
 
First, Cristiano Ronaldo removing Coca-Cola bottles during a press conference at the Euros coinciding with a $4bn fall in the company’s share price. Nothing against the company in particular, but not a fan of global giants that proudly continue to promote ill-health.
 
The Second, email marketing. While useful to businesses including mine to spread the word, it also has become increasingly sneaky in that they closely track numerous user interactions. I recently got an email about an offer. Opened the email because the subject line was interesting, but immediately realized I didn’t need it. Instantly, the next mail appears, asking if there was something missing in the offer (previous mail). That was pushing it.
 
As per developments discussed at Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that ended about a week ago, Apple will be putting more limitations on email marketing and in-app advertising. They’ll likely be preventing marketers from knowing when users have accessed their emails, among other features.
 
During a recent project with a company trying to create a positive habit in customers, the analytics team had a list of around 140 data points/actions on the app to track. I found some more to take the tally to 200. While the overarching service is beneficial to customers, I wasn’t overly proud of my contribution and faced the moral dilemma of whether we should track so much, or simply create a more effective user experience that might achieve the dual objective: one for the customer and one for the company.
 
Interesting how some businesses offer invasive tech to businesses, and other businesses offer defense against such tech in the form of new features on their products.
 
 

Don’t Worry, Nothing’ll Happen

What was missing before and during the 2007-08 global financial meltdown, and during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Or during the Spanish Flu? Or in Nazi Germany? Something that perhaps could have prevented the resulting tragedies?

 

In 2002, somewhere on the outskirts of Mangalore, I was part of the way through third-year engineering. One day, we had classes in an adjoining campus building, one we thought was exclusively for junior college which was also on campus.

After class on the first floor, a few of us close buddies were talking about random topic by a large open window. It was the first time we were in that building which seemed empty on that day. One of my buddies, this giant we call ‘Bear’, was suspiciously quiet through the conversation between the rest of us. Known for the occasional prank, it was almost as though he was concocting something sinister while the rest of us spoke. Then, and without warning, he picked me up, and held me outside the large window. It was a sunny afternoon, and I could feel myself slowly slipping out of the Bear’s hands. As I said, ‘WTF’ and asked him to pull me back in, he very calmly goes, ‘nothing’ll happen, man’. Horrified, my head was doing a ‘time-to-eventuality’ countdown, as I struggled without much success to get a grip on his arm. Finally, after the prank probably got boring, he got me back in. And while I was still breathing a sigh of relief, he seemed really calm, almost like he was confident of his estimates on the safety margin he had for that prank. And yet, I knew that I had little grip, and that I was mere seconds away from slipping to the tipping point from where there was nothing Bear could have done to stop the fall.

(Mis)calculations, and (over)confidence is a cocktail we humans seem addicted to. And sometimes we get the proportions right, and sometimes, terribly wrong. And the worst times are where we are overly confident of the proportions despite glaring evidence to the contrary.

This excerpt from the book ‘The Signal and the Noise’ by Nate Silver mentions one such instance. The global financial meltdown of 2007-08, triggered by the collapse of suspicious mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO). [Excerpt at the bottom of the post]

As per this excerpt, apart from overlooking the obvious risks of these precariously balanced investment instruments, even as late as 2005, S&P conducted a simulation to assess housing prices. It found a potential 20% drop over the next 2 years. But S&P perhaps was content in knowing that their simulation successfully captured the risk. And that was it.

Cut to more recent times. There are far lower chances of a developed or developing nation getting into a full-scale war, than there is of a virus outbreak.

And yet, most countries across the world, many of whom probably have dozens upon dozens of battle possibilities and multiple theatre scenarios, most were caught with their pants around their ankles when Covid-19 hit. From delaying shutting down international borders, to shutting state-borders and trying to contain the spread.

Covid-19 was of course, a virus more dangerous than most the world has seen in recent times. But yet, the countries that did manage to contain it in the months that followed, were not the most confident or the ones most capable or equipped in containing it. It was almost in all cases, those countries whose leaders accepted (either publicly or in private), that they were dealing with something beyond their abilities and experience; so they followed a more basic, first principles approach to tackle the challenge. And emerged largely successful.

As is common knowledge now, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns (Donald Rumsfeld). The quicker we accept the situation when something is outside the realm of our understanding, and resist the urge to apply our standard actions and reactions to it, the faster we can begin to deal with it.

The problem is, these instances keep repeating and will continue to repeat. In our personal lives, and also in more far-reaching world events. We are wired in such a manner, that each time a crisis is approaching or presents itself, we tend to react in the same manner. By wasting time in applying what we know, without attempting to first understand.

 

Answer: Humility

 

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the face of humble leadership the world yearns for.

 

Life is a Highway

India – More highways or Better National & Public Transport?
 
This is an email I had sent to our Minister for Road Transport & Highways in January this year. Of course I am still optimistic (or delusional) enough to hope for a response or an opportunity to further discuss this topic. Either way, I hope they at least consider it for a moment.
 
email–
I have two thoughts to share with regard to your ministry’s awe-inspiring INR 3.3 lakh crore highway development plan [23 highways, 4-5 years]. It might help to reconsider the scale of the projects.
 
Please consider these two historical events:
Scenario 1: In the late 1800’s, electric car prototypes existed [William Morrison and others]. But given limited research and push, fuel-powered cars won, leading to a century of polluting vehicles and climate damage.
Imagine the world today if a more long-term view was taken in the late 1800’s and electric vehicles were pursued and developed!
 
Scenario 2: In the 1950’s, a few leaders and businesses saw great potential for plastic in consumer goods. Almost instantly, entire industry sectors were created around plastic goods and packaging. Half a century later, our helpless dependence on plastic continues, and its resulting ecological disaster is becoming irreparable.
Imagine the world today if a more long-term view was taken in the 1950’s and plastic was to be used sparingly and responsibly!
 
Sir, we are now at a similar crossroads with regard to vehicles in India. And you have the power to choose one of two possible routes for us. Please let it be the one that remains relevant half a century later.
 
Here are two thoughts for your consideration:
1. As autonomous vehicles become prevalent in the next 1-2 decades, we will most likely shift from a car ownership to a Transportation as a Service (TaaS) model, taking the usage efficiency from the current ~10% to ~90%. With this, the total number of cars needed could reduce to 1/5th its current growing demand [Ref.: https://www.slideshare.net/Ideafarms/transportation-2050-the-future-of-personal-mobility ]
 While cargo related road expansion plans could continue as planned, if we only add sufficient road infrastructure for passenger cars to factor a future TaaS model, our planned highways might not need to be as wide as planned, and the project cost need not be as high as it is.
 
2. India, compared to North America, has four times the US population living on an area that is 1/3rd that of the US landmass. Therefore, higher individual ownership of vehicles made more sense in the US given the distance between people and places.
   The Indian scenario is quite opposite. Many people on a smaller land mass. This means, a world class national and state based public and private mass transportation would be a more logical option to pursue than individual car ownership. If we simply build wider highways and push car ownership from an auto industry that is largely dependent on a captive domestic market but struggles to compete globally, we would end up with (i) an inefficient auto industry, (ii) traffic-jammed cities and towns, and (iii) huge, inefficiently used automotive assets sitting idle at homes and offices. We might lose our global efficiency and edge due to challenges this inefficiency would present not necessarily now, but in the decades to come.
 
So, if we create more efficient public and private mass transportation infrastructure like Singapore today, we can save investments on the current highway projects by making them more future-efficient. And the saved funds could be diverted to boost relevant economy sectors that will give us a global edge in the coming decades, while creating more efficient lives in a cleaner and traffic-free India.
end of email–
 
Thoughts?

The Next Educational Diversion from our normal human behaviour

In my book, I briefly discussed the topic of quality in the world of innovation and automation.

My view was that through the quality revolution in the US and Japan and then other parts of the world, logically back then, someone visualizing the year 2021 might have assumed a world where everyone has quality integrated into their lives. From punctuality to cleanliness, to meeting deadlines and creating high quality products efficiently, and designing efficient processes and having employees adhere to them.

However, general human behaviour and smartphones really did a number on that possibility. Now, a lot of us tend to waste a lot of time mindlessly going down rabbit holes on the web. And how many of us are punctual? We also buy things we don’t need, and spend money we don’t have yet. And our general sense of quality isn’t much to aspire to.

So, what was the upside of the quality revolution, you might ask?
I think it was more of an educational diversion from our normal human behaviour so that we could then get our machines to be efficient instead of us.

And right now, I see something similar happening on the tech development front.

I recently got familiar with the project management software Jira. And user stories. And all I can think is, it isn’t going to be long before AI will handle a good part of all tech development. And we humans would simply have to communicate our tech requirements in a very simple manner to a system that will build it for us.

Tony Stark: Paint it.
Jarvis : Commencing automated assembly. Estimated completion time is five hours.

Imagine something similar with the next website or app you want to build in the coming years.

Segway

Not sure y’all heard, but Segway stopped production in 2020.

Founded in 2001, those incredible-looking, futuristic two-wheeled, self-balancing personal transporters were priced at a prohibitive $5000-8000 a unit.
Probably why, despite their universal popularity and appeal, only some 140,000 sold in two decades.

Along the way, Chinese robotics startup Ninebot started selling Segway rip-offs.
They then raised funding (from Xiaomi and Sequoia), and acquired Segway in 2015, offering it as part of their mobility products portfolio.

However, as of June 2020 however, due to low sales and some past accidents, Ninebot decided to stop manufacturing Segways. They seem to be doing well selling their own range of kick scooters, go-karts and other personal transport products though.

An odd end for what was once a fascinating, seemingly ahead of its time, self-balancing personal mobility solution.
I suppose that’s how progress works.
And perhaps ‘affordability’ should be an important element of it? Especially if the product has a mass appeal and can be made cheaper than you are.

The Paradox of Colour Choices

Many of us are familiar with the paradox of choice, whether or not we have heard of the phrase itself.

The paradox of choice, is our tendency to believe that more options or variants or choices in a given situation or purchase event is a good thing. After all, who wouldn’t want more flavours in a cereal or jam, or more accessory choices when buying a car or colour options when buying shoes or maybe laptops?

However, I think it was psychologist Barry Schwartz who first argued that for consumers, eliminating choices in fact dramatically reduced their anxiety as opposed to making them more content or delighted. It also simplifies our ability to compare and decide quickly, as opposed to being confused by the complexity of the multiple options presented.

I personally went through a similar experience with my calendar app. I think I installed it sometime in 2013-14. It had a few basic colour options for each entry. And since it was quite basic, I felt the need for some features, and the flexibility of some more colour options, to be able to categorize different priorities or types of reminders by colour. So I signed up for the Pro version.

All of a sudden, I got access to probably three times the colour options which, after an update in the recent months, has now become unlimited colours! There are the basic 11 Google supported colours, 39 more on the app’s extended palette, and the ability to create custom colours using the colour slider or by entering a Hex code.

And with all the options, came the chaos. In an attempt to highlight different types of activities with different colours, in the hope of remembering to get them done, the calendar started looking nauseatingly colourful. And chaotic!

And as the different colours overwhelmed the senses, it became increasingly tough to remember and understand priority.

So I regressed to a better format. I now use less than the initial colour options I started with. And, just as with the paradox of choice, clarity has improved. Now timebound or important matters are in red or green, and everything else is in one colour. So rather than depend on multiple colours fighting for attention while leaving me in a state of chaos, now I am required to pay attention to each to make sure nothing important gets missed out.

Have you faced any similar choice paradox that you solved by simplifying?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[the before & after screenshots are only representational. The actual calendar was far more chaotic before, & far clearer now]

Towards a Better Mask – 3

An internal project under Rattl has been to try create a better mask for the (Covid) times.

While it is possible we fail to actually create an ideal one, the exercise so far has been a learning one.

This is post #3.

Post 1 listed some basic criteria and good to have features that served as guidelines/constraints and some initial sketches.

Post 2 factored in all the basic criteria and most of the ‘good-to-have’ features, in that it was transparent (though slightly off the mark) and had reasonably good circulation.

Based on the basic criteria, good-to-have features and general observation of regular folk preferring a handkerchief to a mask (walking through markets, handkerchiefs seem to be a preferred choice, especially for those needing to wear it all day), the next prototype has the following:

  • Addresses all basic features (though I didn’t have the time to cut out a section so it fits better around the nose)
  • Safety (basic criteria) is far higher than a handkerchief
  • Regarding ‘good-to-have’ features, it wasn’t transparent, but circulation was probably better than with handkerchiefs

What it is, is a section (slightly less than half) of a takeaway plastic soup bowl between the folds of a regular handkerchief.
Used a mini vice to hold the bowl in place, and cut it with a rotary tool.

Since a good number of people prefer a handkerchief (possibly due to convenience and affordability), but are probably not aware of the limited safety provided, this design simply offers a safer handkerchief.

Strings from the bowl (how about call it mask henceforth? 😁) run along the ends of the handkerchief folded in half (how people normally fold it before tying).
How it is different or safer than regular handkerchiefs, is the plastic over the nose and mouth section prevents any direct spit/particles from anyone nearby landing on the handkerchief from passing right through.

The bulge creates breathing room, something both handkerchiefs and regular masks don’t offer, and which is what causes a lot of people to slide them down or stop wearing them – the suffocation.

The small breathing space offered by the curvature of the bowl makes it more comfortable to wear, and the bottom section of the handkerchief can be partly folded into the bottom section of the mask, to allow for better ventilation while not giving direct exit to any germ from the user.

Let me know what you think!

Previous post Towards a Better Mask – 2

Towards a Better Mask – 2

An internal project under Rattl has been to try create a better mask for the (Covid) times.

While it is possible we fail to actually create an ideal one, the exercise so far has been a learning one.

This is post #2.

This was part experiment, part fun. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of using car components for things. For instance, a dream is to someday replace the sofa in the hall with car seats.

Back to the topic, affordability comes from using empty soup bowls from an earlier food delivery. 😛 

As for the funny white extensions on the sides, they are cardboard (from some box) and inside it lies the “protection” – A decent quality car air-conditioning filter. The entire AC filter comes for a few hundred bucks, and I barely used 10-15% of one. There’s a section of folded filter, and a second single layer where that white section joins the s̶o̶u̶p̶ ̶b̶o̶w̶l̶  mask via a ~1.2 cm opening [below].

So that’s double layer of protection! The plastic section wouldn’t allow the virus in. And the front is transparent to allow for better human interaction. With this particular prototype, the nose cut-out was not deep enough so the transparent section focused more on the beard, but ideally, it would give a view of the mouth and part of the nose.

If you’ve seen the criteria listed in the 1st post of this series, this one prototype addresses:

Among the basic criteria:

  • Protection
  • Affordability
  • Partly achieves ‘breathable’
  • Addresses gaps on the sides of the nose

And among Good-to-have features:

  • Transparency (almost on this one, but should be easy to fix)
  • Partly addresses good circulation (by being a few centimeters away from the mouth and nose, it allows for a more open, relaxed breathing setting as opposed to most regular masks)

Of course the air filtering packs on the sides are huge and unwieldy. General comfort too wasn’t great as I simply used the elastic bands from a used surgical mask so it was tight (to the point it almost took my eye out when the nose protection cushion slipped out and the strain of the bands pushed the jagged plastic edge in my eye as I was fumbling around trying to take a selfie with the mask on.

Anyway, till the next prototype…

Previous post Towards a Better Mask – 1                                                                  Next post Towards a Better Mask – 3

Towards a Better Mask – 1

An internal project under Rattl has been to try create a better mask for the (Covid) times.

While it is possible we fail to actually create an ideal one, the exercise so far has been a learning one.

Some basic criteria considered:

  • protection against the virus (> handkerchiefs and cloth masks, at least)
  • affordability (pointless if a solution for a global problem is not affordable by everyone)
  • breathable (one reason a lot of people wear it on their chins, etc., is because many masks aren’t exactly easy to breathe in for more than a few minutes)
  • address the gaps on the sides of the nose that are not adequately covered by masks without the nose wire/pin

Good to have features:

  • transparent (at least around the mouth), to enable quality interactions
  • good circulation (ideally explicit unidirectional channels for inhaling and exhaling

Will share any findings or updates as and when I get to work on it.

To start with, these were some initial sketches. Faces 3 & 5 were a quick rough digital trace from an image.

Some advantages of a full-face mask are:

  • less strain of elastic bands on the ears
  • an ignored aspect – the relatively more ‘breathing room’ inside the mask, while being better shielded

Next post Towards a Better Mask – 2

Zomato’s Vertical Slider

Zomato has a really simple but brilliant vertical filter slider.
Many sites and apps aren’t great when it comes to their filters. And oddly, most who use sliders have horizontal ones.

The problem with horizontal sliders on mobile apps, is that we are usually using our phones with one hand. And horizontal slider options are a strain on the thumb. Vertical sliders are simply easier to use. It’s odd how most other apps still use horizontal sliders.

Might not be long before others copy it; but nice work, Zomato!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#VerticalSlider #Design #UX #UI #app #slider #userexperience

%d bloggers like this: