Category: Innovate

What if the Comments Section on Social Media had a Search Feature?

Image: source

Say you create a post on social media, and friends or acquaintances comment on it over the next few days or weeks.
Now, sometimes it gets tricky if the comments function is basic.

If there are a few new comments before the next time you check that account, finding them could be a little tricky. Especially if someone comments in reply to your or someone else’s reply. Or if the platform takes you broadly to that section but not specifically to the new comment.

Facebook does a decent job of highlighting the region around a new comment, making it easier to spot.
And LinkedIn gives you the option of sorting comments by Most Relevant and Most Recent.

However, this still leaves a lot to desire.

What if social media platforms could include a search function as a feature on comments?

For instance, LinkedIn has a fairly good search function on messages. It allows a user to sort messages by Archived, from Connections, Unread, InMail, and Spam. However, commenting on posts can get messy really fast if you have a conversation in comments with multiple people, and each one replying to their respective sub-threads.

Facebook gets a bit tricky on birthdays, especially if you are someone who tries to respond to everyone who wished you, and then there are a few small interactions happening in those sub-threads.

Would be nice if the search feature in comments across social media platforms would let us sort by recency, maybe even filter by commenter, etc.

Social media platforms also collapse the comments section for appearance and probably speed, and show only a few comments at a time. With each ‘next’ click, Facebook (and probably LinkedIn) show the next 10 comments, Instagram shows the next 3 only!
Would be great for social media platforms to have a ‘See All Comments’ feature.

From a development perspective, I would imagine it would be similar to adding the Filter function to a spreadsheet.

Do you feel the need for a more effective comments section on social media?

Reading and Writing Smarter

While looking up an old blogging account of mine, I stumbled upon a #RattLem idea from many years ago.

I had made a suggestion to Google, sometime in Feb., 2013 regarding composing of emails.

People sometimes want to, or even unintentionally tend to write lengthy mails.
And people’s attention spans have become shorter [or unchanged, as per some reports, while number of distractions have increased]. Which means, most of us have lesser and lesser time and patience to read through any written matter. And since most of what we read is online, I felt there is scope for improvement.

My suggestion was that emails could have the option to group sections [remember the ‘Group’ option available in Microsoft Excel]. These sections would become collapsible. That way, the recipient of the email can quickly get a gist of the content, and could then expand any or all section if they want more details, and toggle back to birds-eye view whenever needed.

This would be better than overloading the reader with an endless sea of paragraphs that stand the risk of going partly unread.

Main points or key news headlines could be listed out, with  details kept hidden by a [+] sign, so that recipients could expand and read more.
Let me know what you think, and if you have any better suggestions.

What if We could Mute Serial-Forwarders on WhatsApp Groups

A recent ‘RattL ’em‘ idea was for Will Cathcart and Matthew Idema at WhatsApp.

Through the lockdown, a lot of people began spending considerable time on WhatsApp. And some, let’s call them ‘serial forwarders’, dump forwards literally like there is no tomorrow.

While it is possible to block or mute individuals and entire groups, currently one cannot mute an individual on a group. Which means either the Admin has to tell them, or remove them. Something that can be difficult and delicate in some groups.

What if WhatsApp had a feature that allows a user to mute specific person(s) in groups? The user who mutes another user on a group is simply not shown messages from that user.

And, both sides win. The serial forwarder gets whatever pleasure they get, and no one has to suffer for it.

***

This idea is part of our RattL ’em initiative.
What is RattL ’em?
We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online, about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. What we share is either an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy.

The Middle Seat

In 2019, the US FAA approved the company Molon Labe Seating‘s (MLS) landmark seat design for commercial airplanes.
 
What MLS did, is take the problem of discomfort of middle-seat passengers, and attempted to solve it by:
(i) widening the middle seat (from 18″ to 21″), and
(ii) placing the seat slightly lower, and slightly behind the other two seats.
Like this: https://youtu.be/LbWyXPYAXU0 
Unless I’m wrong about this, the FAA’s blessings might make the middle seat passenger more uncomfortable than she already is, if airlines buy into the new design. Here are my limited views about this. I did enjoy studying this. Hopefully MLS finds these inputs helpful in making flying a bit more comfortable.
 
For clarity, let’s break the challenge MLS was dealing with, into its components:
  1. Seat width
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward)
    • Height
  3. Wing passenger movement
For simplicity, let’s consider an obese person who gets the middle seat.
 
Looking at the above components:
  1. Seat width – going by the video, actual seat width has not increased, but only the seat (stretching under the armrest) and backrest are wider. This would undoubtedly be more comfortable than the present seats. However, the armrests would still press into the stomach region of an obese passenger. Fixing this would need a seat redesign, as it would be tough to widen the gap between armrests without narrowing the passage area
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward) – Purely from a position perspective, the MLS design is an improvement. Ordinarily, middle-seat passengers perhaps have even less privacy than others (ever been in the middle seat looking into your phone, and realized your co-passengers were too? :P). With the centre seat slightly behind, its passenger would at least get some privacy for suffering the seat.
      My bigger concern: The back of any person, is not a flat plane. It curves slightly at the shoulders, more if the person hunches. In the current design, an obese person’s shoulders might extend into the backrests of seats on either side, whether they are all in upright or reclined position. With the new offset layout, it would be very restrictive (and for some, claustrophobic even) as it obstructs at arguably a person’s widest cross-section.
    • Height – If the obese passenger is short (maybe under 5’3″, the lower new seat position works fine. But for an average to tall passenger, it is a transition from uncomfortable, narrow seats; to uncomfortable, narrow and low seats – which means not only might their back hurt afterwards, but also their thighs and calves
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, the wing seat passenger moves straight in and out. With the MLS redesign, they would have to zigzag their way in and out (and for loo visits) – a partial inconvenience

Image [2018]: source

Using the above 2018 seat comparison by SeatGuru of popular US airlines, I took a simple average to arrive at:
Seat width: 17.885″, and Seat Pitch of: 33.35″.
 
Now, here’s an alternate layout that I’m suggesting. It takes MLS’s new (wider) seats, but at normal height.
I rounded down Seat Width to 17″, and Seat Pitch up to 34″ for ease of scale and representation.

In the above image, the section on the left depicts a sample 9 rows of economy seats on the left section of an aircraft with the existing seat layout. The aisle would be on the right of this section. Similarly, the right side of the image is my suggested new seat layout pattern. For a sample 9 rows (total 27 economy seats in the existing layout) on the left section of an aircraft, my suggested design (right) offers hopefully a better layout with the trade-off of 1 seat (total 26 seats). 

Possible advantages of my suggested design:

  1. Seat width – the new MLS wide seat design, which seems marginally more comfortable. However, only a complete redesign allowing for wider gaps between armrests would actually make it better for the passenger
  2. Seat position
    1. Position (backward) – 3 seats slightly offset from the other, forming an “A” layout (if you consider all 6 seats, three on either side of the aisle in a given row, they would form an A pattern, with the aisle seats forward, and the wing seats further behind for the same row). Seemingly more uniform level of privacy irrespective of seat. And each passenger has zero obstruction of adjoining seat backrest or passenger on one side
    2. Height – all seats of same height to prevent added leg/thigh and lower back fatigue for middle-seat passengers
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, passengers need to turn 90° into or out of their row. In the suggested layout, while visits too the loo would involve a bigger angle of turn, but only boarding and disembarking would be at only a slight angle from the aisle.

Thoughts?
@MLS, like you, I am simply looking at it from trying to improve passenger experience. Hope you find this useful.

On the topic of airline seats, here’s an old thought I had.

The Middle Seat analysis was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. The email either contains an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

WT f UX

Last week, I was speaking with a post-grad design student who had just finished her Masters, and was trying to figure out her career options. She mentioned that most job opportunities on campus involved UI/UX related to mobile apps or websites. Something that wasn’t to her liking. My suggestion was not to obsess too much about industry lingo, but instead, try to figure out across industry sectors, what she would (and would not) like to work on instead.
 
In the recent years, industry lingo has made the job market murky, with plenty of keywords being irresponsibly thrown about. A few years ago, a leading digital transformation company with some very elite global clientele got in touch saying they felt I was a good fit for a senior role at their company. A note on the position had words like ‘design thinking’ and ‘innovation’ used generously. I got back to their HR contact to request her to explain the role in more detail to me. Turned out, they were simply looking for someone to help them with UI/UX for the mobile apps they built. I spent some time explaining design thinking, UI and UX, so she would be able to identify potential candidates better.
 
It obviously wasn’t her fault. Many industry sectors are evolving so rapidly for the past many years; with new skills, new terminologies and jargon popping up regularly. So much so, sometimes even human resources of such companies have not been adequately explained what and whom they should be looking for.
 
For starters, one can simply define UX (user experience) as the overarching journey to create meaningful experiences for users. And UI (user interface…design) involves different components of a product or service itself that strive to make better UX possible. Of course, the term UI tends to get used largely in relation to web and mobile or related display contexts, but let that not limit us by way of examples.
 
Let’s consider more traditional products. Take a car for example; some of them have a footrest next to the clutch, that drivers can rest their left foot on when not engaging the clutch, especially on longer journeys (instead of straining the foot by resting it only on the heel). Here, the footrest itself is a UI element that is added to improve the overall UX for the driver of that car (by reducing driver fatigue by way of the footrest feature).
 
There’s good UX and bad UX out there in the world. But here’s an example of arguably the worst kind of bad UI & UX. The seemingly invisible kind.

This switch panel is very old. From long before I knew what design thinking is. If I remember correctly, back in the day, such panels came with fixed square slots. One such slot of two would be used by one 3-point socket, or would accommodate two switches.
 
The left plug is of the refrigerator, and the right one of the microwave oven. While it might appear perfectly normal to us, there is a small invisible UX challenge here. The fridge switch obviously needs to be on at all times. The microwave however, is switched on and off a few times each day. The close proximity of the two switches is where the bad UX layout is at.
 
In an ideal layout, the switches be on either sides of the two plugs, thereby reducing almost any possibility of someone accidentally switching off the fridge while intending to switch off the microwave. And most of us might not even realize something like this when going about our busy daily routines. However, in such cases, our semi-conscious mind tends to be in a state of partial alert whenever we reach out to switch on or off the microwave. Because we do not want to accidentally switch off the fridge, but at the same time, it is too routine a task for us to pay 100% attention to it. Sometimes, we might reach out for the switch while reading something on our phone, or while speaking to someone standing opposite to the switches.
 
The reason we might not realize the layout flaw is because it is subtle. We might accidentally switch off the fridge 1 in 50 times, but for the other 49 times, we are probably in a state of partial alertness, for a task which should not ideally require that alertness of us.
 
As a UX designer or anyone who wants to create a more seamless experience around this, would ensure the fridge switch was either placed away, or access to it was covered or restricted (by placing a partially blocking partition if necessary).
 
Of course, thanks to progress in the switches and related products space, products in more recent years do not have square slots like this one. Instead, you can place switches and plug points anywhere along a line as per your preference.
 
Which brings us to trying to imagine what good UX design might be. It is one or more UI elements that make the experience so seamless for the user, that they get the task done with minimal mental processing, especially with frequent use.
 
In my book, I mention one about TV remote design – how some have buttons so well laid out (UI) that after initially familiarizing yourself with it, you can operate it without needing to look at the remote each time (UX). Well designed remotes follow a simple logical layout that makes it easier for the user to recreate a spatial position of essential buttons in their mind that are built around a central reference point.. A tacky button layout will have an inbuilt resistance, preventing the user from creating (and from remembering) a mental picture of the remote, and therefore being unable to use it without needing to first look for the button.
 
With a glaringly bad UI feature, a user almost instantly knows and doesn’t like it. However, with the seemingly invisible bad UI, the glitch might not be very obvious, and the inconvenience to the user too, might be brief and occasional. In such cases, the user might tolerate the product or experience, never at peace and enjoying it, but also unfortunately not aware enough to change it, unless a better product and the need to replace the old one comes along.

Constraints and the beautiful A-10

Image: source

Contrary to popular belief:

  1. constraints help make better products (or services), and
  2. a good innovative product or service does not need to be expensive

As a young kid, one thing I was good at, was identifying fighter jets just looking at their pictures. Especially American ones. In fact, with American jets, a look at the tail section, canopy or nose and I could tell an F-14 Tomcat from an F-15 Eagle, among many other jets. Each fighter design seemed to speak of a unique personality.

In the past month though, I have been overly fascinated by another American jet from the 1970’s.
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. Or simply the A-10 or Warthog. Developed as a close air support jet during the Cold War, and there dozens of reasons that make the A-10 an exceptionally designed machine.

During the Cold War, there was the need to defend a 50-kilometre region called the Fulda Gap, from a potential Soviet advance. To do so, in addition to tank regiments, the US needed a low-flying jet that could protect its tanks and troops, while being capable of causing sizeable damage to enemy tanks. Flying close to the ground, such a jet also (obviously!) needed to be able to protect its pilot and survive missions. And, just like in WWII, in case of a possible escalation in the Cold War, the winning side would be the one that was designed for quantity (ability to quickly manufacture and deploy, or repair and reuse) as opposed to quality. So, another requirement criteria was to have a jet that could be easily fixed, with affordable and easily available spares.

Imagine you were tasked with designing such a jet. Doesn’t it already sound like quite a limiting list of constraints?

To top it, the Americans had also chosen the main gun that would be used on such a jet (before knowing what such a jet itself might look like). The gun was the 30 mm General Electric GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon; a real monster. Fully loaded and with its feed system, it measured nearly 6 metres, and weighed 1.8 tonnes!

However, what emerged despite this tall-list of requirements (or constraints), was the incredible and unique looking A-10. Every design aspect aligned with its purpose – close air support, protect ground troops & artillery, destroy tanks, protect the pilot, survive being shot at. Placement of its twin turbofan engines reduced its heat signature to enemy missiles. Its cockpit was a titanium tub that protected its pilot from ground fire, even when the plane itself was badly damaged. Its low stall speed and high maneuverability allowed for close range attack. More in the fascinating video at the end of the post.

For now, let’s focus on 3 things:
1. Constraints,
2. Affordability of the solution, and
3. Advantages of a clearly defined purpose (and focus). 

The A-10 was the first and probably the last close air support jet developed by the US. However, the latest jet in their fleet, the F-35 Lightning II is supposed to be a far more advanced plane which, at least in theory, has the ability to replace the A-10s. A direct comparison does sound a bit absurd at first, like trying to compare an old pickup with a Tesla Cybertruck. But that’s for the Cybertruck to defend.

The A-10 came into service in 1977, and despite some discussions to discontinue it in the past decade or two, given its continued relevance, affordable flight time and maintenance; performance upgrades now enable them to serve till at least 2028. The F-35 came into service in 2015, and while expected to be in service till 2070, there are already many concerns, from its initial delay and escalated project cost, to its high flying time and maintenance related costs.

The F-35 has the obvious edge on several specifications when compared to the old 1970’s A-10. Consider the following:

A-10 (introduction to service: 1977):

  • Cost: $3 million (equivalent to $21.2 million today), Unit cost: US$1.4 million ($9.3 million today)
  • Max. Cruise Speed: 741 Km/h
  • Travel range: 4148 Km
  • Fuel economy: 0.68 km/litre
  • Take-off / Landing distance: 945m / 610m
  • Max. Take-off weight / Max. Payload: 22950 Kg. / 7257 Kg.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 7257 litres
  • Flight cost per hour: USD 20,000
    source: link

F-35 (introduction to service: 2015)

  • Cost: between $94 million (F-35A) and $122 million
  • Max. Cruise Speed: 1932 Km/h
  • Travel range: 2778 Km
  • Fuel economy: 0.46 km/litre
  • Take-off/ Landing distance: 168m / 213m
  • Max. Take-off weight / Max. Payload: 31751 Kg. / 8160 Kg.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 10448 litres
  • Flight cost per hour: USD 36,000
    source: link

As the A-10 was meant for attacking ground targets with its gun, it was designed to be able to fly at a slow 222 km/h without stalling. In contrast, while the F-35 can even hover in one position; but being a stealth fighter, is not exactly meant to be too close to enemy sites. The price difference between the two is obviously glaring. The A-10 costs $21 mil, the F-35, $122 mil. While the F-35 is a third more fuel efficient than the A-10, it is almost twice as expensive to fly an F-35 per hour, than the A-10. While the F-35 would certainly be relevant in a high-tech war against, say a China or Russia, for its regular action in the middle east, it is a very expensive overkill.

The A-10 was built in a time of a specific need, with numerous other constraints in mind. And that resulted in an innovative product that not just catered well to those needs, but as a result continues to stay relevant even today.

The F-35 in comparison, was built in more peaceful times, without perhaps a sharp focus on its intended purpose. And the result was an expensive Swiss army knife that isn’t too great in most of the individual specific roles it might be called in for.

To wrap it up simply, constraints can do wonders to the development of a truly innovative solution (the A-10). And just because a solution has exceptional features and capability, does not necessarily mean it is the greatest of all time (F-35), as has been proven by all the doubt looming over the F-35 project merely 6 years into service, while the 44-year old A-10’s service is already being considered for extension to 2040 or beyond.

Check out this incredible video about the A-10.

 Alternate title for this post was: Brrrrrrrrrrrrt

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.
 
 

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.

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 – 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

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