Making the mobile app simple, easy and fun

What can I say, I love trying out new apps, and I especially enjoy trying out new love location-based service (LBS) apps – except it is, when they get it completely and horribly wrong.

There’s little doubt that in the coming years location based services and augmented reality will shape the way we interact with our surroundings, search for products, and share information, and apparently a lot of other people think the same, which is why you tend to hear more and more these days about what’s hopping in LBS on your everyday tech blogs and in even more traditional media, i.e. the WSJ.

But this post isn’t about how great LBS is, it’s about how horrible some people make LBS. Forget Key Success Factors, let’s talk about Key Failure Factors or KFF’s.

What I mean by this is that mobile devices function in such a way that you have a need and then you use that device to fulfill that need. In the example of a photo, you see something cool, you snap that photo, and that need is fulfilled.

A few applications do an excellent job of fulfilling these needs, these applications are simple, they’re intuitive, and sometimes they can even even boas to be fun, and are growing at the rate of the plague in medieval europe. Unfortunately there’s only a handful of these at best, and the rest of the so-called LBS apps fall short of usability, they are in fact – painful – to use.

One such monstrosity is Whrrl, when started by Amazon veterans in ’07 was a forward thinking product indeed, but one that succumbed to what can only be explained as horrible execution. Why? Well it doesn’t make sense. It’s convoluted, it’s complex, it utilizes it’s own jargon that any new user has to learn, and best (or worst) of all, it has – get this – tutorials. Yes, tutorials.

Any phone application, or for that matter website that needs a “tutorial” is inherently flawed. Imagine – a google tutorial. You don’t need one because it’s just that simple to use. Remember web directories. They were fun to navigate weren’t they? And so now they’re done.

The user needs to “get” what’s going on from the moment they load the app / land on the page, if that user doesn’t “get” it within the first 15 seconds, chances or a repeat use / visit are slim to none. So ask yourselves objectively, if I were your regular tom dick or harry, how would I see this app. Would I get it?

If not, there may still be room to save the concept so fear not, here are a few simple ways to ensure that neither you, nor your product winds up as a jargon filled monstrosity understood only by the people who created it. :EXAMPLE:

The most important is. KISS – keep it simple, stupid, and the second is use design thinking, get everyone involved in the initial stages, but ensure there’s a goal and objective. Nothing worse than 40 cooks in the kitchen, and remember, the product should be understood by the technologically speaking lowest common denominator. In my case – my parents. If they get it. We’re good.

Don’t Skimp on Design

Don’t Skimp on Design

Design should never compromise functionality, nor should functionality ever compromise design

Design is something that startups tend to miss, forget about, or pay little attention to. This is especially true for those with an engineering background.

Engineers tend to think that as long as it’s functional, and works right, it will appeal to the masses. These engineers forget that the majority of the population are not engineers. They’re everyday folk, and if your product targets the masses, one of the best pieces of advice we can offer is – DON’T SKIMP ON THE DESIGN.

Remember the Volvo’s from the ’80s and ’90s? Great cars on the inside, but ugly, real ugly. Then comes Ford, buys the car division, redesigns the body and sales go through the roof, the cars, are now not only safe but cool.


Knowing your customer – the key to successful design

More often than not you will see features and ideas developed and implemented int0 products that serve no purpose whatsoever, they may be nifty little things such as a fingerprint scan to bypass the password on your mobile app, of they may be a peripheral port on an some electronics that serves absolutely no purpose other than being there. Why do we put them in? To make the product cooler? To make it future ready? For 5 years down the line? Most of the time, all these extra features are useless, and here’s why.

Let’s look at it this way.

  1. What real purpose do these extra features serve? And
  1. How do your customers, or how will your customers engage your product and/or service.

Often times when designing your product or service you’ll want to add in additional “doo-babs” because they’re cool, or will make your product stand out from the competition, or will allow for the eventual possibility of expansion five years down the line. But in reality, will any of this provide an added benefit or is it just some kitsch that cost you time and money to develop? And how do you know if a feature is necessary, well this second part comes down to knowing your customer.

Who is your customer, how does your customer engage the product or service – what is the value that your product or service offers your customer.

Let’s look at the mobile fingerprint concept which recently came up in conversation at an entrepreneurship meeting that I attended here in Barcelona. Sure, it’s a nifty little feature that substitutes the login/password combo of a mobile application, but what does it add in terms of functionality. Not much. But what does it take away in terms of time & resources?

Implementing a traditional login/password combo takes about 5 minutes worth of work, fingerprint recognition, in all likelihood a bit more – in fact probably a lot more.

The time that it took the programmer to develop the fingerprint recognition would have been better spent working on a core function of the software or making sure that the software is bug free, and if that had already been completed then time to market would have been decreased. Lower time to market, the quicker your company starts earning ducats.

Just because a feature may seem “cool”, it’s not necessarily a key component. Will something like a fingerprint password scan make the customer use your product over your competitions? Personal privacy issues aside, probably not.

What will make them use it over the other is the value it offers. Software developers often go beyond themselves and develop really cool but really useless technologies – i.e. aforementioned fingerprint login. But logins and fingerprints aside, they’ll often develop feature heavy applications where the end user will simply want a stripper down version. Meaning, the end user will typically not engage a phone for more than 15 seconds – aside from a flight, a bus ride, or a few hops on the metro. They want their info, they get their info, and they exit the application.Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. A good example of a stripped down version of a software is 37 signals – all they provide are the basics, and leave the hoopla out of it.

By developing 50,000 features into that application that are for the most part an unnecessary expenditure, you’re wasting money, resources, and time, but more importantly you’re not thinking how the customer will use your product.

At the end of the day successful design is not about “cool” but about “functionality” and that applies to anything from mobile applications, to chairs, and cars – and once that functionality is in there, well then you can add in the cool.

VIDEO Series: Innovation Design Process and Teambuilding


This video series comes from the leader in innovation consulting & design, IDEO. And if you don’t know who IDEO is, it’s all the more reason for you to watch, not only to see these guys in acion, but learn the process behind innovation design and apply some of the best practices to your own products and services.

However, there is another lesson in these videos which is not only about the design process, it’s the mix of individuals that IDEO hires, you’ll see that they aren’t all “designers” by trade, but come from a wealth of backgrounds.

Why is this? Well, I suppose you’ll just have to watch, total run time is about 21 mins.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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