Category: Innovate

How the Future of Text Content Should Be

Pic: source

As our attention spans go from low to almost non-existent in an increasingly noisy world, I get especially wary whenever I need to read a verbose report. Especially ones with unusually large paragraphs. You know it might be important, but just the way it is structured makes it very difficult to read to the end. Not to mention all those hours of sleep you missed over the years seems to visit you all together.

When texting friends or colleagues about topics of interest, I tend to type some longish messages myself. But what I have been doing, is structuring them in a manner that I think makes it a little easier for someone to read. I’m not exactly sure how effective it is, but in my opinion, going forward, it might be easier for people to read text content across platforms (websites, news articles, blog posts, social media posts, tweets, etc.) if you toss the traditional paragraph and format it the way I have been…

This here is a paragraph I pasted from the Creative Commons site. And below it is the same paragraph in my ‘attempt to make it more readable’ format…

Original Format:
Use Creative Commons tools to help share your work. Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses provide a simple, standardized way to give your permission to share and use your creative work— on conditions of your choice. You can adopt one of our licenses by sharing on a platform, or choosing a license below.

How I think it should be to make it easier to read+understand:
Use Creative Commons tools
to help share your work.
Our free, easy-to-use copyright licenses
provide a simple, standardized way
to give your permission to share and use your creative work— on conditions of your choice.
You can adopt one of our licenses
by sharing on a platform,
or choosing a license below.

While this format would be horrible to available space and formats and layouts we are familiar with, it might just help your audience better understand more complex thoughts you are trying to convey.

Thoughts?

Product Use and Experience – Range and Layers

There is a beauty to how some products (and software) are designed.

Think scissors. If we want to cut something fast, we use the forward section of the blades (speed multiplier). Want to cut something fatter or tougher, use the rear end of the blades (effort multiplier); and cut slower, or risk breaking the scissors.

And Mixer grinders. Need to grind coffee beans to a powder? Start with the low speed, and slowly increase. Jump to the highest speed fast, and you could damage the blades or motor.

Cars (MT) and commuter bikes follow a similar rule. More torque for climbing on lower gears, and better speed on higher gears. Try climbing in a high gear, and you’ll stall. Go fast in a lower gear (or drop to a low gear at high speed), and you wear out the gear.

Think Software. I’ve always admired the MS Office suite. Layered, so novices like the teenage us got some basic fun. And as our task complexity deepened, the software opened up to keep pace.

Physical products have manuals. Tech service cos would benefit if they spelt out the expertise/ features they offered. Many of us use online services not knowing half their features; many of which could simplify our work or make things more enjoyable.
Make layers appear as the user gets ready for them.

Pic: source

 

 

We Need Better Staplers


Pic: source

It took a nice bleeding cut, thanks to a tough staple pin that held some car mats together, for me to realize how hostile the world was for animals.

Staple-less staplers exist, but are far from commonplace. Got to wonder why they are so expensive. A cursory look on Amazon showed the cheapest (mini) stapler available for INR 80, while staple-less staplers seemed to cost around 17x more!

To elaborate a little, while we could get away with folding corners of a few unimportant sheets to keep them together, important documents could risk tearing or getting misplaced.

So, how does one hold larger documents together; fastened with a material that when disposed, does not pose a risk to (external injury to, or if accidentally consumed by) animals?

Where Should Laptop Charging Lights be, and Why are Laptop Keyboards so Small?

Firstly, should laptop charging lights be put on the side the charger plugs in?
That is where the charger plugs in, but not where we sit. Which means many a times, it would be an effort to confirm charging.

How about on the front? Better, since most often, many of us (remember to) charge the laptop only when using. Still not the greatest place since it might require a slight head movement to check.

Or should it be placed someplace else?
Of course, there’s also the flip-side, that of prominently placed lights being a subtle distraction to the user.

Till date, Apple’s indicator on the charger end logically seems to be one of the best spots.
Though surely there are other spots or angles that might be more easily visible to the user.

Where do you think the charging lights should be?

And, on the topic of laptops..their keyboard sizes in particular… guess most of us assume what we buy is all we get…

I stumbled upon a clip of a 1995 IBM ThinkPad 701. Surely pricey at $1500-3200 a laptop, but look at that keyboard!
Incredible! Why isn’t this feature standard in laptops now?

Makes you wonder why the most useful of technology never seems to survive time.

 

 

The Gap between Good Intentions and Impact

The gap between good intentions and impact of the resulting action (or choice) has been an area of interest to me.

A decade ago, a Brad Pitt linked non-profit messed up an affordable homes project [2008-2015] in New Orleans.
Meant to be green and sustainable, the homes had severe structural and mold problems. 6 of 150 are in good condition. They were not even adequately designed for heavy rains the region received.

Even the best intentioned plans must cross the Usability bridge and be adopted by users to achieve their purpose.
However often, noble intent overshadows recipient needs.

Few years ago, the Delhi government messed up a similarly noble homeless shelter project.

Growing up here in India, another amusing example I’d hear of, is slum redevelopment.
Governments built apartments for city slum dwellers in city suburbs. But oftentimes, many of these dwellers would rent out their new accommodation (thus gaining a new source of income), and move back to their old slum, which was familiar as a place, people, and place of employment.

In all of these cases, the beneficiaries are not to blame. They are not too demanding or picky or greedy.
Despite the best of intentions, it is simply a failure to design a more caring solution for them.

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.
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