Andrew Harder

Experience Strategy and Design Research

May 17, 2013

The heart wants what the heart wants

The 1.6 million people who live in the Gaza Strip live in isolation. Both Israel and Egypt tightly control their border crossing: for instance, only 800 people a day can cross into Egypt and all men between 16 and 40 require special clearance. It’s not just the people who are restricted. All physical materials must be checked and approved before it enters Gaza.

These restrictions on movement of people and things has led to a thriving economy that is literally underground. Gazans and Egyptians have dug tunnels underneath the Gaza-Egypt border and use them to get materials into the Gaza without customs or approvals.

Source: National Geographic

People smuggle in weapons and drugs, but also mundane essentials like clothes, cement and car parts. If you give people an opportunity for commerce they will take it.

Source: New York Times

The New York Times filed a delightful story about a Gazan tunnel operator smuggling in four-hour-old KFC to his customers. The fries will be soggy and the menu limited, but it’s an experience that briefly lets them break their isolation with each mouthful.

This phenomenon really tickles me. In the dramatic situation of closed border crossings and illegal and dangerous tunnelling, the Colonel’s face appears and promises that familiar salty and fatty mouthful. The tunnels make us ponder grand concepts like freedom, liberation, safety, transitions and desire. But even in these politically fraught tunnels, everyday life and dreams goes on.

In this most exotic of situations, amongst everything else, people still want fried chicken. We shouldn’t forget that life is experienced mouthful-by-mouthful.

 

May 8, 2013

Windows 8.1 is not New Coke. The story is deeper.

News sites are frothing with speculation about Windows 8.1 design changes reflecting a U-turn from the striking design direction Microsoft launched with Metro.

I’ve used Windows 8 on a few devices. On the Surface, it’s a lush and natural experience that made me feel a little regret for buying a MacBook Air. On my non-touch desktop PC, it felt stilted and artificial. But regardless Microsoft made a big bet with bringing Metro to its desktop OS and they made a very fine product. To go a bit further – Microsoft made history with the Surface. They made the first credible touch-screen laptops. Apple are taking incremental steps towards making MacOS touch-compatible, including aligning touch gestures for scrolling and the new applications list hiding under F4. But Microsoft got there first, and they got there with a great product.

So this idea that the FT is peddling that reinstating the Start button is comparable to New Coke is ridiculous. If Microsoft remove the new Start screen altogether and retreated from supporting touch screens, then we’d be seeing a corporate back-track of a similar scale. Yes, the Start button is sorely missed on a mouse-led interface, but this is merely a simplification too far not something that strikes at the heart of the Metro design intent. Ridiculous comparisons like this show how many journalists don’t really understand technology. The same can be said for many innovation commentators, but anyways.

Hiding away at the end of an article by The Register is a far more succinct summary of the challenges facing Windows. From the consumer point of view the Windows Phone app ecosystem is still anaemic, and from the developer point of view there aren’t enough users of Windows Phone to justify development. The core promise of unifying Microsoft platforms around the Metro interface is that programs could be coded for the new Windows Start screen and also run on Windows Phone. Microsoft haven’t delivered this yet in Windows 8 / Windows Phone 8.

If Microsoft can unify the desktop and phone ecosystems, then overnight Windows Phone would have 100million users. It would quickly become the biggest market for software applications. It could make a lot of developers a lot of money, and drive a lot of sales of handsets.

Illustrative picture
May 2, 2013

Facebook Home and Android: Being eaten by your houseguests?

The Facebook Phone was one of those rumours that wouldn’t die. Even though Mark Zuckerberg said flat out that the idea wouldn’t make sense, the rumour mill kept grinding away. And now, nearly a year his denial we see that Facebook have pursued the opportunity in the way that does make sense for a software company. Delivering a software experience and partnering with hardware companies. This is Facebook Home.

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 11.10.53

For me, Facebook Home is the most ambitious and intriguing mobile experience since the launch of Windows Phone 7 in 2010. I spent a few years at Nokia designing mobile  experiences and reviewing competitors, so when I look at Facebook I’m interested in two basic questions that I will address in posts over the next week:

1. Is Facebook Home a good Homescreen experience?

2. Is Facebook Home a good Facebook experience?

Of course, the problem with setting questions for your critique like I have is that it can blind you to new, unexpected but important qualities of the experience. Sometimes these new design decisions only reveal themselves over time and in unexpected ways. For instance, I really like the Windows Phone backstepping model and it took me months to even realise it could behave differently to Android. But in Facebook Home, there was an unexpected decision that lept out at me straight away – Facebook blocked me from installing it.

Facebook  Home isn’t available on Google’s reference Android device, the Nexus. Home is only usable on six devices, three from HTC and three from Samsung. This is strange, because the mission of the Nexus devices is to provide a stock vanilla implementation of Android that would provide developers and (the few) users a device that was free of restrictions from operators and manufacturers. Nexus is meant to be the high-point of openness online, available to everything and everyone. Facebook Home is the first Android experience I’ve wanted on my Nexus that I couldn’t get.

My argument is that Facebook made a conscious, strategic decision to exclude Facebook Home from the Nexus devices.

There are any number of technical, product or marketing reasons that they could have made this decision. Nexus devices have a tiny market share, so it is fair enough to dedicate engineering resources to the wildly popular Samsung Galaxy range. But is this a question of feasibility?  I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the Android stack, and from having worked making phone operating systems nothing would surprise me about what is or is not possible. But I just can’t believe that technical factors forced Facebook to limit the initial release to only some flavours of Android. For one, a friend pointed me towards some online instructions and it couldn’t have been much easier to install Facebook Home myself. The restriction only applies through Google Play, not on the device.

Faced with this unexpected decision, the most I can hope for now is to come up with the right question. And the first question I’m going to try out is

3. How does Facebook Home illustrate the strategic tension between Facebook and Google?

Let’s view Facebook and Google as competing online advertising firms – so despite all their other activities, we see them as corporations that make money by serving page impressions with ads on them. In this view, Google fund Android to grow the whole mobile internet market because that serves their advertising interests better. So long as Google ads continue to dominate the ad market then what is good for the internet is good for Google.

Well, it is until the most important online service on Android starts putting bold grabs on prime Android real-estate. Facebook have taken their most addictive content – your friends’ updates and messages – and put it directly on the most prominent place in the phone – the home screen. If Facebook Home succeeds, then users could happily stay in Facebook’s walled garden for more and more of their phone usage. And today we saw Facebook’s financial results claiming a big increase in mobile advertising revenue.

In this view, the decision to exclude Facebook Home from Nexus (at least for now) could still be a tactical move, based on the limited advertising audience that Nexus would support in comparison with the benefits of aligning more strongly with Samsung for revenue and HTC for deeper partnership. But I maintain the costs to Facebook to launch Home on Nexus would have been minimal. This decision should be read as a strategic snub, a deliberately unsent party invitation.

What does this feel like from Android’s perspective? Do they care about Facebook Home as much as they care about any third-party applications, or about Samsung’s wild reskinning of Android. Or is this something more serious? Is this like HP when they saw their Chinese suppliers launching their own brands and beginning to demolish their PC business? Is Google creating a market only to see others grab attention and revenue? Has Google tried to colonise a new world only to be outclassed by local merchants?

 

April 25, 2013

How can we serve you? The Value-Orientation model of Emerging Market consumers

In their search for new revenue and new users, growing businesses look to emerging markets because they now represent fantastic opportunities for growth.

Not only have Indian and Chinese GDP growth rates handily outpaced western rates for over 20 years now, this enormous increase in prosperity has lifted millions of people out of poverty and towards the middle class. Infrastructure is also improving, whether it is transport, broadcasting or internet.

As the most recent wave of digital startups reach their saturation points in Western markets, they will follow in the footsteps of consumer product brands towards emerging markets. Look at this map of Spotify’s global availability:

Availability of Spotify worldwide. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Availability of Spotify worldwide. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The big, familiar Western markets are nearly gone. Making their service turn a profit in China or India could make Spotify’s current balance sheet unrecognisable.

But for every company that successfully moves their offering to emerging markets, many fail. Emerging market consumers sometimes seem to defy logic sometimes, and offer more contradictions than certainties.  India has hundreds of millions of desperately poor citizens, yet it also have more millionaires than the USA. China’s GDP per head is a fraction of the UK’s, yet it is also the second-largest market for luxury brands, after only Japan. How can we hope to make sense of this market? Well, first if we want to target “India”, the first question must be “Which India?”

A model to help understand the diversity of emerging market consumers

We need tools to help us pull emerging market consumers apart, so we can plan and target our products and experiences better. To make relevant products, we must understand our users’ expectations and desires. Through her work, Rama Bijapurkar introduced me to the Value-Orientation model of market demand, which she based on work by the Indian National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER).

Value Orientations model, taken from Bijapurkar after NCAER

Value Orientations model, taken from Bijapurkar after NCAER

The model breaks the market into five “consuming classes”, which have very different expectations and desires for their purchases. The circle size reflects the total proportion of this consumer class in India.

In characteristically blunt style, they name the poorest group Destitute. The live hand-to-mouth and have not yet entered consumption per se. This group attracts the attention of development agencies. I don’t mention them further in this blog post because this framework doesn’t cast much useful light on them. In terms of insight however, this group receives a lot of attention from the IT for Development (ICT4D) community and initiatives like openIDEO.

Aspirants reflect people who earn enough that they can begin consumption as we understand it, that is buying some products and services rather than making everything themselves. According to Bijapurkar, this group fuelled a lot of growth for FMCG brands in the 90s through product innovations like small packs of tea, detergent, shampoo. They remain occasional consumers; they might shampoo their hair on special occasions but use soap for everyday.

With more money we find Climbers, one of the largest groups of consumers according to the NCAER. While this group have relatively more money, their desires still comfortably outweigh their ability to buy. This turns them into “benefit seekers” who acknowledge their limited amount of money but nonetheless want to get the greatest benefit into their lives. Bijapurkar has a wonderful example of this.

Nirma was a brand of detergent launched in the mid-eighties that was one third the price of Surf. It offered “adequate quality at affordable prices” and to customers who did not want to pay more than they were prepared to pay for a [cheaper] laundry soap, a detergent powder at that same price point was benefit maximisation – even if the detergent had 65% soda ash, was harsh on hands and may have ruined clothes in the longer term. The consumers’ answer was that they used  stick to stir the bucket of detergent so that their hands were protected.

Into the Indian middle-class we find Consuming Class, people who are comfortable with consumption and carefully weigh the costs and benefits of their products.  While the Climber might be delighted to realise the benefit of white clothes through laundry powder at all, for the Consuming Class the idea of using a powder that could ruin your hands and clothes might be a ridiculous idea because they are willing to spend more if they get better value for money.

For the final class, rather fantastically titled Rich, Bijapurkar suggests that instead of “value for money” we can understand the Rich as offering “money for value.” That is, they have so much money that they could buy anything they wanted, and when you can have anything it can become tiresome to find something worth having. These consumers could be anywhere in the world, they just happen to be in India. An anecdote from my own life: once I somehow got an upgrade all the way to Qantas First Class, seat 1K. I was overwhelmed by the luxury: real espresso coffee; my seat got turned into a bed with a lambswool comforter underneath my sheet; a seven-course meal; and so on. When we arrived at Heathrow I was second out the plane after the lucky occupier of seat 1A. As we walked up the gangway, she rang a friend and gave a verdict. “It was OK, but it’s no British Airways First Class.” This woman had spent perhaps £4000 on her return flight, and had walked out the door slightly disappointed.

Applying the Value-Orientation model to product making

So what does this mean for those of us who want to make beautiful, relevant and successful products? The Value-Orientation model is useful for product strategy because it can directly link to market strategy outcomes – who we are targetting and how we are going to make money from them – into product decisions like feature sets, perceptions of power vs simplicity and branding. Let’s now think about how to use these classes and expectations in technology products. One of the industries that has blazed a path ahead in emerging markets is mobile phones, so here I will quickly illustrate these categories using mobile phones. I will pick two classes to illustrate the variety of value mindsets: luxury and popular, mass-market products.To substitute for any real understanding of the marketing or product drivers for these phones, I’m just going to use their advertising as shown on their current websites.How well do these ads align with Bijapurkar’s Value-Orientation framework?

This ad from Vertu perfectly illustrates an appeal of “money for value” for the Rich. The promise of this phone is clear: give us ten grand, and nothing will ever feel the same. We will change your life. Bijapurkar may as well have written this ad.

Vertu

At the lower end, let’s consider two phones: Nokia 105 currently on sale in India for Rs 1249, about US$23 or £15, and the Micromax X104 currently on sale for about Rs 1100. The phones are very similar not just in price point: they have colour screens of 1.4″ or 1.7″ ITU-style input and no touch. They are cheap phones to be sold in very large numbers.

If we look at the ads for them, the Nokia 105 is “good-looking, long-lasting”. In order of listing, its other benefits are that it has a long battery life, it’s durable, it can help you with education and it comes with games.

Nokia 105

The Micromax X104 has a more open tag line of “Big things come in small packages”. The other benefits in order are a music player, digital camera, a long battery life, expandable SD card memory, Dual-SIM and Bluetooth connectivity.

Micromax X104

Let’s not pretend that these phones are functionally equivalent. The X104 has been on the market longer and likely started at a higher price point and has moved down now as Micromax make their last revenue on the device. But they are currently on the market for about the same price, so if we were an Aspirant or a Climber we would be considering one of these phones. Which one would we prefer?

The slogan of the 105, “good-looking, long-lasting” feels very modest. In particular, “long-lasting” makes me think of hot water boilers and tractor tyres. It promises a durable phone, which addresses a hygiene factor concern. But if a Climber wants white clothes and doesn’t mind some drawbacks, this isn’t likely to be a significant driver.

The slogan of the Micromax “Big things come in small packages” hints that it is capable of many great things, that it isn’t held back by its humble appearance. The copy lists real-life benefits in a practically breathless tone: “Let your heart beat to the music,” “Capture all your favourite moments,” “Never spend a dull moment again.”

To my eyes at least, the Nokia 105 is presented as a refined, simple choice. The Micromax 104 feels more technical and exaggerated, but also more excited and more powerful. The Nokia is probably more environmentally friendly, may have a better warranty, may have better signal. But the Micromax ad spits out an endless list of lifestyle benefits it will provide to you, and because of this it is much more aligned with Bijapurkar’s analysis of what low-income consumers in India want. The Micromax promises to get your laundry whiter-than-white, even if you need to use a stick to do the washing.

In conclusion

As a rich white westerner who worked with a lot of other rich white westerners, I have had to learn how to appreciate that other people bring different expectations about what they want for their money. I chose examples from both luxury and discount product categories to try to de-familiarise our assumptions about value. Value can be only things that change your life, or it can be being able to claim that you are able of doing something at all. There is a lot more to value than value for money. 

March 6, 2013

everything they won’t teach you on your hci course

This afternoon, I’m speaking to the current students of the UCL Interaction Centre’s HCI course. I did this Masters in 2005/06 so I’m looking forward to returning as a greyer, wrinklier version of myself to share the lessons I’ve learned since I did the course.

The main meal in my talk is a reduced version of Critique, Don’t Complain, a talk that has stayed interesting much longer than I expected.

But to warm their palates, I give them my personal reflection on what they teach you on an HCI course, through the lens of my experience working in agencies and big companies.

What they won’t teach you on your HCI course (that might be useful if you work at a multinational electronics company) 

Everyone has to be a product person – Businesses succeed if they make good products that people use and want to use. You will be more valued if you focus on what the product needs, not what techniques you can apply

An experience only exists if it ships – Concepting and visioning is important. But nobody can use a vision.

Research has no inherent value. It can only help make better decisions – Build your research to answer business questions. Find the important decisions and make your research relevant to them.

Anyone can do UX.- In a company that makes things, everyone feels ownership of the UX.  Your job is to do UX better and prove it

Nobody reads research reports  – Really.

What they do teach you on your HCI course (that might be useful if you work at a multinational electronics company) 

Why you should use a technique – This is the most valuable thing that I got out of my HCI education: the critical reflection on the strengths and limitations of different research and design techniques. As anyone who’s ever read a UX blog will know, people can spend a lot of time talking about whether Personas (say) are good or bad. University is your chance to critically understand these techniques and form your own opinion.

Possibilities always exceed reality – For me at least, I was really struck by the endless parade of research papers, research approaches and design opportunities when I was at university. At the time, I felt frustrated because I imagined that at work someone would direct me and give me guidance. This is true, but only if you’re content to stay in very junior roles. Being surrounded by options and opportunities is part of creative work. So is the tension that it can cause. Embrace it.

Most design tools are no more complicated than they seem – Personas are personas, scenarios are scenarios. The real skill in design tools is not what they are, but when and how to apply them. University can give you a wide range of experience designing in different domains. Make the most of it. I don’t think I will ever again get a chance to design a robotic parrot companion for the elderly. And yes, I did learn from it.

Nobody really reads research reports – Well, I learnt this at least. For my final project, I spent three months doing ethnography in London Underground and wrote it up in a 100 page report. The entire feedback I got from my examiner? “Good, but a bit boring. Distinction”

What advice would you give to students on your old university course?

Regardez moi (1962)
February 16, 2013

Regardez moi!

Malick Sidibè is a Malian photographer. He captured the explosion of youth culture in the capital, Bamako, in the 1960s.

Dansez le Twist! (1965)

Dansez le Twist! (1965)

From an interview with Sidibè in the Guardian “The arrival of the twist, the cha cha cha and rock’n’roll in Mali in the late 1950s, and ­independence from France in 1960, proved a heady cocktail. Bamako’s nights got hot. The boys formed clubs to impress the girls: the Sputniks, the Wild Cats, the Black Socks. ‘We were entering a new era, and people wanted to dance,’ Sidibé says. ‘Music freed us. Suddenly, young men could get close to young women, hold them in their hands. Before, it was not allowed. And everyone wanted to be photographed dancing up close. They had to see it!’ ”

Nuit de Noël, 1963

Nuit de Noël (1963) 


Regardez moi (1962)

Regardez moi (1962)

Dansez le Twist avec Ray Charles (1969)

 More work from Malick Sidibè available online at artnet and CAACart

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