Site review: Thread

Thread looks like the perfect site for fashionable men or those who perhaps want to become a bit more fashionable. It was founded by serial entrepreneur Kieran O’Neill who explained to GQ at the end of last year what Thread is all about: “what’s special is that you have access to the exact same stylists that celebrities or wealthy individuals have access to.”

Kieran then went on to explain that Thread wants users to build a long term relationship with their stylists. I decided to have a go for myself and see what I can to do improve my style:

  1. How did this site come to my attention? – A friend of my mine, who I know to be very fashionable, mentioned Thread to me.
  2. My quick summary of the site (before using it) – A style guide for men who want to find out about fashion & apparel online which (1) fits their personal style and (2) takes away the need to search in multiple places online.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – Thread’s homepage states in bold letters: “Dress well without trying”. It then explains – in less bold letters – that one of Thread’s stylists can help you find clothes you’ll love, “all online and completely free”.
  4. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (1)? – First, I got asked the standard stuff like my gender, age and date of birth. Things got more interesting when I was asked to select a style that I was aiming for (see Fig. 1 below). Knowing that I could select as many styles as I wanted, I selected 5 different styles which I felt came closest to the look that I’m aiming for. The only downside was that when I wanted to go back and add a few more styles, I realised that there wasn’t a “back” button.
  5. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (2)? – I then had to give an indication of how much I usually spend on each item. Perhaps it’s just me, but I felt a tad confused by the term “usually”, especially since I sometimes a spend quite a lot of money on clothing (relatively speaking) and other times next to nothing. For example, I’m an addict for sneakers so my collection contains Nike Air Force 1s that weren’t that cheap as well as Converse All Stars which were very cheap in comparison. It might have been better to have been able to use budget ranges rather than a set price point when answering this question.
  6. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (3)? – The next step, selecting the brands that I wear, felt easy and intuitive (see Fig. 3 below). I picked a few brands and added a brand that wasn’t on the list. I was then asked to upload some photos of myself (see Fig. 4 below). Perhaps I had missed it when I first arrived on the site, but for me this was the first point where I started to understand where all the previous steps were taking me; enabling a dedicated stylist to provide me with recommendations tailored to my style and brand preferences. It wasn’t clear, however, from the explanatory text what would happen if I didn’t upload a picture of myself. Would the stylist recommendations be less good? Would the whole process come to a halt? It might be an idea to have an explanatory text which appears when a user hovers over the “Skip” button. The actual photo upload process from Facebook was very straightforward.
  7. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (4)? – Even though I had pressed “Done” after uploading my photos, I was nevertheless presented with another step: “What do you usually wear to work? Select by clicking on the pictures, and hit “Next Step” when done” (see Fig. 5 below). Perhaps others may well consider my next suggestion superfluous, but how about adding that one can select as many styles as they like? Not only would this be consistent with the copy used for previous steps but it would also work well with the scenario whereby men dress smart 4 days per week, apart from on ‘Casual Fridays’.
  8. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (5)? – Next, I was asked about the trouser fit that I prefer. To be honest, by this point I was starting to get a little bit restless. Nonetheless, I clicked on the trouser styles that I tend to wear most often (see Fig. 6 below). I then expected to be asked about the type of shirt fit I preferred. Instead, I was asked about the types of shoes that I prefer. I selected sandals/flip-flops and sneakers/trainers (see Fig. 7 below), followed by specific colours that I preferred (see Fig. 8 below).
  9. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (6)?  I felt I was getting close to the end when I was asked whether I was “open to trying more daring fashion styles?”. What!? Perhaps I was just getting a bit tired at this stage, but I was like: “are you telling me that my current fashion style isn’t daring enough!?” and “what does daring mean?” (I know guys for whom wearing a slim fit shirt takes them way out of their comfort zones but I also know guys who wear pink clothes like it’s nobody’s business – their interpretations of “daring” are likely to vary). I then realised that I was being a bit facetious, since a good stylist would be able to interpret what “daring” constitutes for each individual user, based on their input as part of the previous steps. Outcome: I dropped my initial thoughts, as they didn’t make sense!
  10. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (7)?  After I’d indicated which styles and products I’d never wear (see Fig. 10 below), I was then asked some check box questions which aimed to give Thread and its stylists a bit more context about me. Answering questions on the amount of style help I felt I needed and my reason for using Thread actually felt quite helpful (see Fig. 11 below). What I found most helpful when it came to selecting my sizes (see Fig. 12 below) was the ability to leave a comment on any specific requirements. For example, I left a comment in the text field to say that when I buy shirts, I sometimes buy them in size “small” and other times in size “medium”, depending on the make of the shirt (I assumed that the stylist would be able to work out that I’ve got funny shoulders from the pics that I uploaded earlier).
  11. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (8)?  I found the brief description of “How Thread works” (see Fig. 13 below) very helpful. Part of me was wondering whether some of the info in this description could have been peppered throughout the different onboarding steps. Doing so could in my opinion have helped to provide the user with a clear picture of the end goal. By this stage I was ready to get some good fashion advice and it was great that I could indicate to my stylist what I was looking for in my first outfit (see Fig. 14 below). Et voila, I was then presented with my personal stylist, Sophie Gaten (see Fig. 15 below).
  12. How easy to use was the site? – The signup process mostly felt easy and intuitive. As noted above, I felt that there were few points within the signup process where additional explanatory text could have been beneficial. Also, I believe it would be good if the site would provide with more opportunities to mention specific clothing requirements or issues. For example, I liked a recent F&F fashion campaign by social media agency We Are Social which allowed users to pose more specific styling enquiries or requirements.
  13. How did I feel while exploring the site? – Not sure if one can truly refer to the onboarding process as “exploring”, I guess that will come once I’ve received some specific recommendations from Sophie, my personal stylist. Having gone through all the steps of the signup process, I have some suggestions for potential improvements that Thread could consider in order to keep users fully engaged throughout the process (see Fig. 16 below).
  14. How does this app compare to similar sites? – As intuitive as I found Thread, I really struggled with a similar app in CoolGuy; I clicked on the icons for “My Closet” and “Outfits” but struggled to grasp what was expected of me or what the app was about. My first impression of Trunk Club, which promises similar things to Thread, was that this site wasn’t geared to people like me. Purely based on the imagery used, I got the sense that people wearing baggy Carhartt trousers and colourful sneakers, might not be well served by Trunk Club’s personal stylists. It would be good to see what the user experience on similar apps for women (e.g. My Shape Stylist and Blynk) is like.
  15. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Overall, I was very happy with the signup process, even though it did feel lengthy at times. The proof is in the pudding, so I’m looking forward to Thread’s actual recommendations!

Fig. 1 – Signing up for Thread: Screenshot of “What kind of style are you aiming for? Select as many as you like”

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Fig. 2 – Signing up for Thread: Screenshot of “How much do you usually spend? Select the amount you usually spend on each item”

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Fig. 3 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “What brands do you wear – Select as many as you like”

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Fig. 4 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Upload photos of you”

 

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Fig. 5 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “What do you usually wear to work?”

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Fig. 6 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Which trouser fits do you prefer?”

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Fig. 7 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Are there any of these shoe types you prefer?”

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Fig. 8 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Which colours can your stylist include in their recommendations?”

 

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Fig. 9 – Signing up for Thread: “How open are you to trying more daring fashion styles?”

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Fig. 10 – Signing up for Thread: “Are there any of these styles you’d never consider wearing?”

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Fig. 11 – Signing up for Thread – Screenshot of “Tell us a couple things about yourself”

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Fig. 12 – Signing up for thread – Screenshot of “Select your sizes”

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Fig. 13 – Signing up for Thread  – Screenshot of “How Thread Works”

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Fig. 14 – Signing up for Thread – Screenshot of “Tell your stylist what you’re looking for your in your first outfits”

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Fig. 15 – Signing up for Thread – Screenshot of my personal stylist

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Fig. 16 – Suggested improvements in relation to Thread’s signup

  • Ability for users to save their signup information and be able to come back to it later – There were quite a few steps to go through, which made me think that it would be good for users to feel comfortable abandoning the process halfway through, knowing that they can always come back to and edit their info.
  • Style summary at the end – I like having my style profile captured as part of my account info on Thread. However, it would be great if users could be presented with their profiles at the end of the signup process, prior to ‘submitting’ one’s profile. This way users will have the opportunity to edit any info before sending it over to Thread and their dedicated stylist.
  • Progress bar – Given the number of steps involved in the signup process, I’d suggest introducing a progress bar which gives users a sense of where they are in the process. During the signup process I felt at times  that I wasn’t sure when this process was ever going to end. It would be good if I could see a visual representation of the remaining steps and understand the consequences of skipping a step.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://reviewify.co.uk/thread-free-personal-stylist-review/
  2. http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/style/articles/2014-01/02/kieran-oneill-thread-personal-stylist-website-for-men
  3. http://www.businessoffashion.com/2013/12/thread-kieran-oneill-offers-a-personal-stylist-for-every-shopper.html
  4. http://adamreynolds85.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/threadcom-shop-with-online-stylist-for.html

Electric Objects brings art from the Internet into your living room

I recently found out about Electronic Objects, “a computer made for art”. An Electric Object is effectively a wall-mounted device which comes without a mouse or a keyboard. It promises to bring “art from the Internet into your home”, and I can see that it will do exactly this:

  1. Designed for the home (1) – The problem that Electronic Objects are looking to solve is that of small devices not being great for properly experiencing art on the Internet. As Electronic Objects founder and CEO Jake Levine explained to TechCrunch recently: “The devices that we use to access the Internet (our tablets, our laptops, our phones, our computers), they’re designed not for contemplation, not to live in the background, not to be quiet or still, but to demand your attention and absorb you.” Reason why the Electric Object “01” is created in such way that users don’t have to worry about all the – utility and productivity related stuff – happening on their devices.
  2. Designed for the home (2) – In a recent Product Hunt podcast, Jake Levine mentioned how digital hasn’t yet made its full foray into people’s living rooms. There are products such as Nest which cater for the whole house or the kitchen, but the “Internet of Things” hasn’t quite made it into the living room yet. Electric Objects aims to provide a product which isn’t about utility but something that can become “a part of our lives fitting seamlessly into our familiar home and work environments” according to Jake Levine.
  3. Designed to fade away – On Electric Objects’ Kickstarter page it describes how the “01” has been designed to “fade away”, like a photograph or a painting. I like that the screen of Electric Objects 01 is effectively just a frame that you can stick onto your wall. There’s no keyboard, mouse or alerts, avatars, slideshows, feeds or docks. The frame is connect to your WiFi account, which means that you can directly control the artwork on the frame from your smartphone or any other device.

Main learning point: Electric Objects have created an exciting new product in this computer made for the display of art from the Internet. Their “01” computer is now available for pre-order and it will be interesting to see how many people will buy it to bring digital art into their living rooms. Separately, I’m keen to see how many product people and designers will start to concentrate more on the ‘living room’ as a place to create digital products for. Watch this space!

Fig. 1 – An Electric Object ‘in action’ – Taken from: http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/30/electric-objects-funding/ 

electric-objects

Fig. 2 – Electric Objects Founder and CTO in conversation with TechCrunch’s Anthony Ha – Taken from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLSPCqUuRM4

Related links for further linking:

  1. http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/30/electric-objects-funding/
  2. http://techcrunch.com/2014/07/08/electric-objects-launches-kickstarter-campaign-to-build-displays-for-digital-art/
  3. http://www.theverge.com/2014/7/8/5880371/electric-objects-digital-picture-frame
  4. http://thenextweb.com/creativity/2014/07/09/electronic-objects-eo1-frame-brings-internet-wall-near/
  5. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/electricobjects/electric-objects-a-computer-made-for-art

 

Ben Essen and The Quantified Self

The other day I heard a few people use the term “quantified self”. Through Wikipedia I learned that the quantified self stands for “a movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person’s daily life in terms of inputs, states, and performance.” In other words, this is all about quantifying peoples’ lives and behaviours, thus being able to learn more about people and their different activities and needs.

Ben Essen, a London-based Creative Strategy Director, recently talked about the quantified self at this year’s SXSW in Austin. His talk was titled “Know Thyself. Self Actualization By Numbers” and these are the main things that I learnt from Ben’s presentation:

  1. Essen’s Hierarchy of Quantified Self – Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Ben Essen has come up with his own “Essen’s Hierarchy of Quantified Self” (see Fig. 1 below). Ben’s hierarchy starts with “goal-progress” (e.g setting daily goals with apps such as Fitbit and Wello) and ends with the “Quantified Society” where everything is informed by our personal data. I like how Ben’s ‘pyramid’ moves from “insight” to “enhancement”, thus highlighting the changing role of personal data as one moves up along the hierarchy.
  2. Context-driven measurementMelon is a great example with regard to quantifying personal data within a specific context. For instance, with Melon you can track how focused you are when you’re working on your laptop compared to when you’re meditating (see Fig. 2 below). Ben refers to this as “lifestyle context”, which implies that your personal data are likely to vary dependent on your mood or the activity that you are doing. Another good example is Nest which home products are designed to learn from user behaviour. I’ve written a few posts on wearable devices and wearable trends to look out for.
  3. “The Human API” – Ben ultimately envisages a ‘Human API’ which encapsulates all your personal data, irrespective of the underlying data source (e.g. email, browse history, search, etc. – see Fig. 3 below). I’ve been trying to visualise an API of all my personal data (e.g. “went to a Danny Brown gig last month, purchased “The Mindful Leadership” on his Kindle and checked in with his Oyster in north London this morning”) and how a brand or other 3rd party would tap into this data set. This concept provides both opportunities (e.g. fully personalised experiences) as well as risks (e.g what happens if my Human API falls into the wrong hands?).
  4. Connecting data sets and devices – I strongly believe that the next frontier in digital development is the connection of different devices and the connection of a user’s various data sets. The possibilities are endless, but I reckon it will take a while to properly connect personal devices and data, thus creating a ‘personal platform API’ similar to the “Human API”, as mentioned by Ben in his talk at SXSW.
  5. Data shouldn’t replace our intuition – I personally prefer using the term “data informed” over the more common “data driven” since I feel that there are some strong limitations to a purely data-driven approach (I’ve blogged about these constraints previously). In his talk, Ben stressed the importance of understanding and interpreting personal data and using data as a source for decision making. However, Ben was keen to stress that “self-tracking must feed our intuition. Not replace it.”

Main learning point: Ben Essen has got a lot of interesting and thought-provoking insights around the topic of the “quantified self”. We are moving steadily in the direction of a society where a lot our behaviours, mood states and activities can or have already been quantified. The idea of a quantified self and a “Human API” will in my opinion truly materialise once we all get smarter about how we connect different devices and data sets. In the meantime, I suggest looking into some of Ben’s observations and reservations around self-tracking and have a think about about how we can move up “Essen’s Hierarchy of Quantified Self”.

Fig. 1 – Essen’s Hierarchy of Quantified Self (taken from: http://www.slideshare.net/benessen/knowthyself-sxsw-benessen) Essen's hierarchy if qs Fig. 2 – Melon Kickstarter video (taken from: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/806146824/melon-a-headband-and-mobile-app-to-measure-your-fo)

Fig. 3 – The Human Api by Ben Essen (taken from: http://www.slideshare.net/benessen/knowthyself-sxsw-benessen) The Human API

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.slideshare.net/benessen/knowthyself-sxsw-benessen
  2. http://www.wired.com/insights/2013/11/the-human-api-dont-forget-the-people-for-the-program/
  3. http://gigaom.com/2013/06/17/startup-human-api-wants-to-bring-quantified-self-data-into-the-mainstream/
  4. http://blog.programmableweb.com/2013/07/02/the-quantified-self-growing-interest-in-apis-to-manage-personal-data/
  5. http://quantifiedself.com/2011/09/robin-barooah-i-am-broken-or-i-can-learn/
  6. http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240212466/Google-bets-on-internet-of-things-with-Nest-acquistion
  7. http://quantifiedself.com/2012/12/get-your-mood-on-part-1/
  8. http://www.digitalmcgyver.com/personal/gadgets/moves-app-great-for-life-logging-worthless-for-quantified-self/
  9. http://www.slideshare.net/mark_pdx/mark-leavitt-using-data-to-hack-my-habits-and-whip-up-my-willpower-show-and-tell-for-qs-europe-may-2013

Wearable trends to look out for in 2014

I remain fascinated by everything that’s happening in the wearable technology space. I wrote about this space earlier, looking at companies such as Jawbone and Airstrip. With the annual Consumer Electronics Show (‘CES’) just behind us, I thought it would be good to look at some wearable trends to keep an eye on in 2014:

  1. Gaming – The Oculus Rift is the first product that comes to mind when I think about wearable innovations in the gaming space. Rumoured to launch in Summer this year, the Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset which can be used for 3D gaming. This headset is all about ‘immersive technology’, which means that users can interact with games, being able to move your head in whichever way you’d like – just like in normal life (see Fig. 1 below).
  2. Fitness – Products such as Fitbit and Nike’s Fuelband are already quite mainstream. One doesn’t have to be a clairvoyant to predict that this trend of using wearable technology to measure fitness levels and daily activity is going to continue in 2014. Smartwatches such as Pebble (see Fig. 2 below) are definitely going to reinforce this trend.
  3. Audio & Photo – It might sound a bit spooky – and I’m unsure of some of the legal consequences involved – but soon we could all be recording audio or taking pictures without other people even being aware. Small wearable devices such as Kapture and Narrative (see Fig. 3 below) help users to record audio or take pictures respectively on the go. Most of these devices already integrate fully with smartphones so that for example all the pictures that you take whilst you’re running are automatically organised or stored on your phone.

Main learning point: Wearable technology will no doubt continue to develop further in 2014. It will be interesting to see how the various wearable devices out there will integrate with each other (think the “internet of things”) and what new use cases will materialise (think areas such as healthcare, time management and finance).

Fig. 1 – Testing the Oculus Rift developer kit (taken from: http://www.youtube.com/user/testedcom)

Fig. 2 – Review of the Pebble Smartwatch by Engadget (taken from: http://www.youtube.com/user/engadget)

Fig. 3 – Narrative Clip promo clip (taken from: http://vimeo.com/getnarrative)

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonevangelho/2014/01/10/rumor-oculus-rift-will-launch-summer-2014-for-less-than-499/
  2. http://ces.cnet.com/8301-35304_1-57617005/wearable-tech-at-ces-2014-many-many-small-steps/
  3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-25744336
  4. http://www.oculusvr.com/rift/
  5. https://getpebble.com/
  6. https://kaptureaudio.com/
  7. http://getnarrative.com/

Rapid prototyping – Storyboarding, paper prototyping and digital mockups

In a the online Human-Computer Interaction course that I did recently, I learned quite a bit about “rapid prototyping”. As the name suggests rapid prototyping is all about mocking up ideas quickly, to get user feedback fast.

In the lecture on this topic, Scott Klemmer – an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science & Engineering at UC San Diego – started off by explaining that degree of prototype fidelity is likely to evolve over time (see Fig. 1 below). One might start with a simple drawing on a piece of paper and eventually create a full-fledged clickable prototype. The goal, however, remains the same: to get quick feedback on an idea or concept. Prototyping is a great way to create and to compare alternatives. The idea is not to create pixel perfect designs but instead to rapidly create a number of designs that one can quickly evaluate and compare.

In the lecture, Scott outlined the following prototyping techniques to get quick feedback:

  1. Storyboarding – The main purpose of storyboarding, as Scott pointed out, is to focus on the task that the user interface (‘UI’) is going to support. The temptation is often to jump into sketching a user interface straight away, but there’s a lot of value in taking a step a back to concentrate first on what the UI will help the user to accomplish. Ultimately, one can look at storyboards as a communication tool that will help to convey flow and ideas. Scott provided a good outline of both the objectives and benefits of storyboarding, which I’ve copied in Fig. 2 below.
  2. Paper prototyping  Paper prototyping is a quick and easy way to figure out the UI at an early stage. One can use paper prototypes to quickly test multiple prototypes simultaneously, even getting the users involved in modifying these prototypes. Scott also provided some practical tips and tricks with regard to doing paper prototypes (see Fig. 3 below).
  3. Digital mockups – Naturally, with digital mockups the fidelity is likely to be a lot higher compared to storyboards or paper prototypes. However, this also means that creating digital mockups can be much more time consuming. I’ve got good experiences with observing users play with clickable prototypes or letting them complete specific tasks through the mockup, but this approach often requires a lot more planning and resource compared to other rapid prototyping techniques mentioned above.

Main learning point: I guess the main thing I learned from people like Scott Klemmer and Bill Buxton (see Fig. 4 below) is that with rapid prototyping the level of fidelity hardly matters. If anything, prototypes can serve as great communication and learning tools. Whether the goal is to quickly compare a number of alternatives or to get feedback on a particular idea, prototypes can really help in fleshing something out and getting rapid (user) feedback.

Fig. 1 – The level of prototype fidelity is likely to evolve over time (taken from http://tisquirrel.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/prototyping-storyboarding-paper-prototyping/)

Time - fidelity

Fig. 2 – Objectives and benefits of storyboarding (by Scott Klemmer)

Things that storyboards can help to convey:

Setting

  • Who are the people involved?
  • What is the user environment?
  • What is the task(s) being accomplished?

Sequence

  • What steps are involved?
  • What leads to someone using the app?
  • What task is being illustrated?

Satisfaction

  • What motivates people to use this system?
  • What does it enable people to accomplish?
  • What need does the system fill?

Benefits of storyboarding:

  • Holistic focus, concentrating on user tasks
  • Avoids commitment to a particular user interface (no buttons yet)
  • Helps to get all the stakeholders on the same page in terms of the goal

Fig. 3 – Some tips and tricks in relation to paper prototyping (by Scott Klemmer)

  • Keep all your materials in one place
  • Work quickly and make reusable components (e.g. buttons)
  • If something is too difficult to simulate, just describe the interaction verbally
  • Backgrounds can provide valuable context to the user
  • Don’t be afraid to mix and match software and hardware

Fig. 4 Bill Buxton on sketching experiences (at the Institute of Design Strategy Conference, May 2008)

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://ccrma.stanford.edu/courses/250a/lectures/IDSketchbok.pdf
  2. http://www.designinginteractions.com/interviews/BillVerplank
  3. http://www.uxbooth.com/articles/paper-prototyping/
  4. http://www.paperprototyping.com/
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_prototyping
  6. http://www.slideshare.net/toddwarfel
  7. http://hci.stanford.edu/courses/cs247/2012/readings/WhatDoPrototypesPrototype.pdf
  8. http://hci.stanford.edu/publications/bds/10-Schrage.pdf
  9. http://prototyping-research.tumblr.com/post/35663689596/technique-video-prototypes
  10. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.35.2279&rep=rep1&type=pdf

How to find out find out about user needs and problems?

I wanted to learn more about Human-Computer Interaction and so I decided to do an online course by Scott Klemmer, an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science and Computer Science & Engineering at UC San Diego, and a Visiting Associate Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University. Human-Computer Interaction (‘HCI’) is all about the study, design and planning of interaction between humans and computers.

The first main topic that Scott delved into was ‘need finding’; how do you find out about user needs? Where do you get good design ideas? Which user needs do you concentrate on when developing a new (digital) product?

As part of the online course, I learned about tools that can help in both finding and crystallising user needs. These are main things that I picked up from Scott Klemmer’s lecture on need finding:

  1. Participant observation – Like at Stanford’s Institute of Design, Klemmer stressed the importance of empathising with users by simply observing their actual behaviours. He talked about “deep hanging out” – a term originally coined by Bronislaw Malinowski who used participant observation as a way to develop ‘tacit knowledge’ about the people he observed and their behaviours. In his lecture, Klemmer mentioned a a few things that one could potentially get out of participant observation, which I’ve listed in Fig. 1 below. The overarching objective here is to design products that weave themselves into the fabric of people’s everyday lives.
  2. Apprenticeship – It was interesting to hear Scott views on learning about user needs through acting as an apprentice –  shadowing an ‘expert’ and picking up on all kinds of informal skills and knowledge in the process. As an apprentice, you can be on the lookout for the workarounds that people use and errors that they come encounter. All these observations could be opportunities for a product redesign.
  3. Interviews – Interviewing users is a great way to find out about user needs and problems. Scott stressed the importance of avoiding leading questions and other types of questions which could direct the user in a certain direction (see Fig. 2 below). Instead, Scott urges listening, being curious and asking open-ended questions. I thought Scott made a great point when he suggested asking users about their own lives, their own goals since “that’s what they’re experts in.”
  4. Activity Analysis and Design Goals – I guess the key thing I learned from this lecture was the value of creating “design goals”. In a way, design goals bridge the gap between user observations and the ultimate design. What should a design establish? What matters in a design? Scott introduced the “Activity Analysis” as a good tool to list all the problems, needs, issues collated from observing users. Following such an activity analysis, one can work towards product-specific outcomes (see Fig. 3 below). Scott also pointed out that Activity Analyses are probably best geared towards designing workflows or repeated activities.

Main learning point: In addition to all the practical suggestions and techniques that one can apply in relation to need finding, Scott Klemmer highlighted something else which acted as a good reminder: one designs artefacts, not tasks. His lecture acted as a good reminder of the importance of designing (a) with the user constantly in mind and (b) for a multitude of activities.

Fig. 1 – Things to get out of participant observation (by Scott Klemmer)
  • What do people now?
  • What values and goals do people have?
  • How are these activities embedded in a larger ecology?
  • What are the similarities and differences across people?
  • … and any other types of context, like the time of day

Fig. 2 – Types of questions to avoid (by Scott Klemmer)

  • Leading questions – For example: Do you think this is a good idea?
  • Hypothetical questions – For example: What would you do/like/want if/when […}?
  • Questions around frequency – For example: How often do you do exercise?
  • How much users like things on an absolute scale – For example: Rate how much you like to do exercise
  • Binary questions (yes/no) – For example: Do you like exercising?

Fig. 3 – Potential outcomes of an activity analysis (by Scott Klemmer)

  • What are the steps of the design process?
  • What are the design artefacts?
  • What are the design goals – how will we measure design success?
  • What are the design pain points?

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://class.coursera.org/hci-004/lecture/88
  2. http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/isd/cognitive-task-analysis.html
  3. http://professorg.weebly.com/2/post/2013/02/malinowski-participatory-observation-as-a-scientific-method.html
  4. http://searchsoftwarequality.techtarget.com/answer/Requirements-elicitation-Workshops-vs-apprentice-style-analysis
  5. http://www.parc.com/about/people/2781/mike-kuniavsky.html
  6. http://www.orangecone.com/
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contextual_design
  8. http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2007/09/10/20-alternate-ways-to-focus-on-users/
  9. http://www.ideo.com/work/method-cards/
  10. http://ux.stackexchange.com/questions/13674/how-to-discover-what-users-need-and-not-what-they-want

Lessons learnt from Marc Andreesen: making your own cake and eating it

It’s always interesting to read Marc Andreesen’s thoughts on things. As a co-founder of browser firm Netscape and investor in Internet success stories like Zynga, Twitter, LinkedIn and Groupon I find that Andreesen tends to have a good overall perspective on things, being familiar with the world of startups as well as with that of established companies like Hewlett Packard (where Andreesen is a Board Member).

For instance, when Andreesen writes about Why Software Is Eating The World I pay attention and take note. If Andreesen then builds on this ‘eating’ theme  by comparing building startups to Baking a Cake in 3 Minutes I really want to understand where he’s coming from.   :

  1. Software companies are taking over the world – Andreesen’s main point is that we are in the middle of a big technological and economic shift in which software companies are getting ready to take over large parts of the economy. He believes that “all of the technology required to transform through software finally works and can be delivered at a global scale.”
  2. Any good examples then? Andreesen cites well known examples such as Amazon, Netflix, Google, Zynga, Flickr, Skype and Spotify to strengthen his argument. The two common denominators between these success stories are (1) that they are all software based and (2) that they all have used their software to overtake their more traditional competitors and transform their sectors in the process.

That’s clear then: software companies are here to stay and will continue using their technologies to play an instrumental part in society and commerce. In a Y Combinator Startup School event at Stanford University, Andreesen then spoke on his lessons learnt from starting up Netscape (and how you can bake your cake too quickly):

  1. Hyper-growth – Andreesen highlights the risks of true hyper-growth, based on his experiences at Netscape: “The problem with with true hyper-growth… It’s the problem like baking a cake in three minutes. You’re in the kitchen and you have sugar, flour, egg on the ceiling. What the hell are you doing?” His main point being that a sudden flux of new employees (particularly when they all come from a specific company) can be really disruptive to an existing company culture.
  2. Management training – Management training is another thing which Andreesen thinks is important for fast-growing startups. “Many times, engineers are promoted to managers, but they have never been trained. Someone has to teach them how to do it” he feels.
  3. User centric – When Andreesen was asked how Netscape had managed to pull ahead of its competitors, he explained how he always prioritised his users. “When Netscape started there was no web analytics. Essentially all our feedback came from emails from people. Whenever push came to shove I’d always be on the side of the user,” he says.
  4. Don’t let your cake explode! I guess Andreesen startup and cake analogy all centres on his experience that startups can grow too quickly and not necessarily in the right direction or in an appropriate manner.
Main learning point: people like Marc Andreesen have been there and done it. Its’ interesting to hear their thoughts on current industry trends and to get an honest view of their lessons learnt. With Andreesen having been on both sides of the fence, founding a startup as well as investing in them, he knows what to do and what not do when baking a cake.