Posts Tagged ‘ux’


Africa road trip: Day one and two

by Joe Dollar-Smirnov

roadtrip in kenya

Day 1 

Smooth 8 hour flight with some surprisingly palatable morsels served up. They were, in reality, probably, disgusting! – augmented simply with the knowledge that I am soon to be humbled by an altogether less convenient way of life where food does not come from a magic box of tricks all warm and delicious, brought to you on a platter by a shiny person whose mission it is to leave you smiling.

While I’m waiting on the runway for my bus to take me to arrivals I get my wrists slapped by security for taking photos. Tourist moment. 

Taxi driver tells me that everyone has at least 2 phones in Kenya because the coverage isn’t great. Safaricom works in places Airtel doesn’t and vice-versa. Of course because he is a business man it is essential for him to have two phones anyway. 

Maximum security hotel because its next to the Israeli embassy. Lovely room. Hot shower. Sleep. Lala salama. 

Day 2 

Monkey Sunshine Green Tea. What is not to like about that? The coffee is awesome as well.

5 phones, check the charge and try to get on to the wifi network in the hotel to ensure the app is loaded up and ready. The hotel claims to have the fastest internet connection in Nairobi. Does not work at all in my room.

Move to main restaurant area to get 1.2Mbps down and 1.08Mbps up as of writing according to 

Met my first contact, a photo journalist and Haller person known for her work with NGOs in developing countries who promptly briefed me on what to expect before introducing me to her driver and 2 other chaps, the local minister for agriculture and a freelance journalist for the New York Times, who would be assisting me on my initial few days of research about 160km north of Nairobi, Karatina – the opposite direction to my 3rd destination, Mombasa.

One of those car journeys ensued – one where I was gawping out the window for the most part, where hours breezed by without a thought. 4 hours later and several stop offs in street side towns we arrived armed with our Safaricom sim cards and credit ready for an evening of preparation for (this) tuesday morning. Our first session in a makeshift usability lab somewhere off the beaten track. 


Africa road trip: Day Zero

by Joe Dollar-Smirnov

Haller Trip Kit List


This coming Tuesday Red Badger and Haller will be meeting in Africa to begin their 2 week research trip in Kenya.

In a collaboration between Pearlfisher, Red Badger and Haller, a web app has been created to supplement and augment Haller’s already thriving farmer education program based at their farming training centre in Mombasa. We’ll be going out to present it to the farmers and witness first hand how it is received and get their feedback on the work we have done so far.

Week One

We will be focussing on speaking to established farmers of coffee and tea plantations. By holding focus group sessions and creative workshops with the farmers we hope to gain an understanding of their day to day challenges of running an agricultural business, how they learn and pass on knowledge and understand the level of technology and web access they have at their disposal. We have already carried out comprehensive research around the specifics of mobile usage in Kenya, popular phones and likely data packages, however, we anticipate finer detail to emerge while we are on the ground. We’ll follow up the sessions with a presentation and demo of the app followed by some recorded usability testing and post use questions to feed into basic quantitative analysis of the prototype.

Week Two

Travelling from Nairobi to Mombasa to spend time at the farmer training centre will allow us to speak to the villagers who benefit the most from the Haller training initiatives. By spending time with the locals, listening and observing them carrying out day to day tasks we aim to get a broader sense of why the app is important and how we can ensure it serves those users properly. We’ll also run some creative workshops to get some direct cultural input in to the visual design of the app. We’ll be bringing with us all the iconography to present at the training centre and to open up for critique and discussion.

Kit List

  • The prototype (thanks to all the hardwork from Sari, MichelJoe, Albert and Pearlfisher)
  • Testing plan, script and questionnaire
  • Mobile phones (including most popular phones in Kenya)
  • Laptop
  • Separate web cam to record app usage
  • Microphone and camera for usability feedback interviews
  • Paper and Pens

More updates to come.


Oculus Rift, Facebook and Presence in UX

by Joe Dollar-Smirnov

A Link Trainer, a type of flight simulator produced between the early 1930s and early 1950s, in Oak Ridge, in September of 1945. (Ed Westcott/DOE)

A Link Trainer, a type of flight simulator produced between the early 1930s and early 1950s, in Oak Ridge, in September of 1945. (Ed Westcott/DOE)


I awoke this morning to see my news feed filling up with articles on Facebook’s latest $2billion acquisition of Oculus Rift.

Forms of Virtual Reality have been around for nearly 100 years already with early examples dating back to flight training simulators for pilots in the first world war. The commercial resurgence in popularity of this obscure medium is thanks, mainly, to the famous Oculus Rift Kickstarter project that sought initial funding of just $250,000. Virtual reality became a reality for bedroom developers and early adopter consumers alike.

Why it’s great for Virtual Reality?

Whatever your feelings are around the announcement (and of Facebook) the scale of investment made will mean the the people at Oculus Rift can get their heads down and focus on R&D without worrying about where their next round of funding is coming from.

This should mean technological advancement that will benefit everyone.

Often, technological advancement in this area is led by academia, government, aerospace and defense industries and until now the kind of people who could spend $2bn on the Research and Development of Virtual Reality were normally associated with large government organisations. For example, Obamas proposed DARPA budget for 2015 is a total of $2.9bn of which $334m dedicated to ICT related activities including various VR projects.

Compare that to the cash injection for the team at Oculus Rift ($400m) and we can start to see that, if allowed to experiment, they can use this as an opportunity to push the medium further than ever before and start looking at ways to make it accessible and useful across a wide variety of applications. Not just gaming and entertainment.

Opportunities in Virtual Reality for UX and visual designers?

As designers we need to understand the challenges of designing for Virtual Reality. Physical, Psychological and cognitive considerations will change the way designers solve problems and evaluate work.

There is no doubt that some of the original Oculus Rift champions will feel alienated by a move that sees it swallowed up by a social networking site but I think (and hope) we will see some very interesting and fairly rapid developments in this area now that are not centred around gaming. With a few companies starting to compete for market dominance including Valve and Sonys Project Morpheus awesome gaming applications are inevitable, however, Facebook is in a position to take advantage of their place as a global platform to explore and develop uses for Virtual Reality that are mainly seen in government or university research labs that reach beyond the social network.


Stop, Collaborate and Listen

by Joe Dollar-Smirnov



Collaboration is at the heart of innovation.

Newtons law, Einsteins general theory of relativity, the lightbulb and the kitchen sink are all examples of great things that have come out of some sort of collaboration. The benefits of collaboration are clear, yet the actual practice is often underestimated and difficult to get going. Here are 5 top tips for ensuring collaboration flourishes.


1/ Humble pie

Everybody’s opinion is valid. Allow people to feel comfortable in the environment to speak up if they feel they can add to an idea and collaborate. Great ideas come from all levels of the organisation from intern to CEO.


2/ Peer to peer

Treat everyone with the same level of respect.


3/ Brainstorm

Get your ideas out. Vocalise, share, sketch, write and build. Play. Be quick, the more ideas you get out of your brain the sooner you’ll start to see real value and inspiration. Ideas will feed new ideas.


4/ Constructive critique

Don’t be rude. The only people who have an excuse to get defensive in a critique are the people who have not had much practice. If you’re an old hand then be the one to accept criticism on the chin and move on. Learn.


5/ Dispose of ideas (your own ones!)

If an idea isn’t really working don’t dwell on it. Throw it away. Repeat.


Farmer training UX research

by Joe Dollar-Smirnov

Image of Haller Farmer Training in action


As Cain mentioned in this blog post we are collaborating with Pearlfisher on an app that we hope will bring some very relevant and useful content to those living in rural Africa.

The charity behind the project, Haller, use proven methods to train local farmers and villagers at their demonstration farm (shamba) in Mombassa. This gives locals the power to build essential, sustainable sources of food, medicinal plants and sanitation facilities for themselves and their communities. It is this transfer of knowledge that we aim to emulate through the app. Making this available online for those people who are unable to be physically present for training is a huge challenge.

Physical and environmental limitations present problems we are not used to working with from our cosy office in east London. To fully understand the tech available to our target users, or lack thereof, research is underway in parallel with the development of prototypes we can test when we visit next month.

Watch this space and we’ll share our findings on why this demographic group are leading the way in areas of technology that have not gained traction (yet?) in the ‘Western World’ and how we intend to run the research and usability testing on the ground.


Haller – Releasing potential on the web

by Cain Ullah


I’m very excited about a project that we are currently working on for The Haller Foundation and want to take this opportunity to talk about the amazing work they do and what we are doing to help.

The Haller Foundation

The Haller Foundation was setup to continue the work of the environmentalist, Dr. Rene Haller. Its fundraising branch is run out the UK with all funds focussed on its efforts in Africa, mostly in the rural areas of the Kisuani district. Haller’s focus is on helping farmers to realise the potential of the land beneath their feet by training them in life-skills, ultimately leading them to build better self-sufficient and sustainable lives. Their programmes include education, water, farmer training, health, alternative energy, nano-enterprise and the Bustani Urban Garden, an education centre that shows people how to use rural farming techniques in small urban spaces.

To meet the volunteers who make this happen and to see what they are achieving is a wonderful thing. We’ll be going out to Kenya to see it first hand in the next couple of months, something we are incredibly excited about.

What are we doing?

Alongside Haller, we are working very closely with Pearlfisher, a London and New York based design agency (Jonathan Ford, founding partner of Pearlfisher is a trustee of The Haller Foundation) to build a mobile web site that will support the activities of Haller in Africa. There is a surprising amount of mobile devices in Kenya, which as a country has a great deal of disruptive digital innovation (Research by RIA shows that over 60% of Kenyans use mobile phones as a method of payment). With so many mobile devices in the hands of Kenyans, in both urban and rural areas it makes perfect sense to utilise the potential of mobile to create a web application that works across multiple devices to put the power of Haller’s content into the hands of the people.

The Haller Foundation, Pearlfisher and Red Badger are working together to produce an application that provides real value that helps Haller to distribute digital content to as many people as possible. Taking key learnings from the existing Haller programmes, the project objective is to increase the reach of the Haller techniques and bring even more economic security to poor, small-holder farmers. With Pearlfisher building the vision and content strategy,  Red Badger are providing the user experience, visual design and development of the application.

AndroidDesign1    AndroidDesign2

How are we doing it?

Being a charity that is run mostly by volunteers, the investment available to hire a consultancy to build a web application is limited. So we had to be creative and look at ways in which we could afford, as a small tech consultancy, to free up resources to be able to run this pro-bono project. Using a mixture of senior resources we have also supplemented the team with part-time junior resources that are still at University. An opportunity arose with this project to use it to develop junior resources, preparing them with key skills once they graduate. Haller are fully supportive of us using junior resources on the project and are relaxed on delivery timelines. So as well as building an application for a great cause, we are also using the project to develop young developers, providing them with new opportunities for a career.

Next steps…

There is lots of work to do. We are making great progress with the first version of the app. We’ll also be going to Kenya to see the Haller operation first hand, to meet the farmers and to do some usability testing on the application. We’ll use the feedback from the testing and feed it in to the next iterations of the application.

We’ll be blogging on the progress of the app dev (with the Uni students talking about what they are learning), of the visit to Kenya and everything else to do with the progress of this project. 

The whole team is genuinely excited to be part of a project that could provide benefit to so many. Working with The Haller Foundation is truly inspiring. Perhaps we’ll use this project as a platform for doing similar pro-bono projects for other charities and developing young talent in the process. Watch this space…


Return of Swiss Typography – Metro

by Sari Griffiths

It’s been a month already (where has my month gone?) since  I attended a workshop for Windows Phone Design Clinic on Thursday 10 May at Soho, London, organised by Microsoft and Nokia.

Can’t believe it’s Microsoft

I was 10 mins late coming in and as I walked in, I was greeted by a presentation showing classic Swiss Typography. This the kind of stuff I learned about at art school and the kind of stuff I’ve got a quite a few books about at home. Examples include beautiful urban transport signs from around the world and the famous grid system.

Here are some posters by Josef Müller-Brockmann – typical Swiss Typography.

The audience was about half developers and half designers, so I’m not sure how the developer folks took to this presentation, but my honest first opinion was: this is a lovely design – can’t believe it’s Microsoft. (Sorry!)

I have seen their Metro design templates prior to the workshop, so I knew it was pretty ambitious. But hearing from Dave Crawford first-hand how it came about and what it was all about, it really hit home. This was really happening and it was very well thought through.

When iPhone changed the smart phone market, it was revolutionary. But its iOS design relied heavily on real life metaphors of buttoned machines. I suppose this was to  provide some clues to how a crazy device with no buttons works.

That’s a while ago. These days, users are happily swiping and pinching their devices away – they know how these button-less things work now. It is the perfect time to rethink interfaces for touch devices.

It was surprising that it came from Microsoft.

Let’s face it, they were not really known for good graphic design (Some old fun: Microsoft repackage iPod video). Their brand was more of ‘you can do anything as long as you know what you’re doing’ and it’s about performance, not the look’.  Whereas Apple was more about ‘user experience’ and ‘our way is the right way’.

Lately, I think there is a shift in this positioning. Apple is still criticised for not making iOS open enough etc, but as long as their user experience is concerned, it’s anything goes. They are not doing much about their slipping standards of user experience and slick graphics, that they were once famous for.

Android provides an alternative to iOS, but it is an alternative. The interaction models aren’t very different. It basically has a few more physical buttons than the iPhone. Having said that, it is a jolly good alternative with lots more freedom for developers.

And now with Metro, Microsoft is providing a new approach, rethinking the interaction model for touch screen devices.

Two points stand out for me.

1. Panorama interaction: the edge of screen isn’t the edge of screen.

The screen they call ‘panorama’ is a wide page with a few columns. You have to swipe to see it all, but it’s pretty intuitive to use. It really brings the horizontal direction into play, not just vertical.

2. Back means back.

Metro doesn’t encourage apps to have a ‘home’ button. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but if you can get away with it, it’s better for it not to be there. Having this principle really challenges you to think about interaction and user experience, and not to default on the standard website model that you see a lot on iOS.

Respect your device

In one of Dave’s slides, he told us to respect a few rules. “Respect your device” was the most memorable one.

There were a few comments from the audience about some clients asking for the apps across mobile devices to be identical because they want consistency. Between iOS and Android, their similarity allows these apps to seem pretty identical, but not in Metro.

I thought the question for this situation will be “what ‘consistency’ means in this context?” It is unlikely that someone is holding two devices side by side, using the apps and saying “oh, they’re not the same”. It’s more likely the user feels they are the same. If your back button didn’t go back as you expected it to do, you feel it’s wrong, even if that’s what happens with other devices. Consistency can only come from how well the app operates on the particular device you’re using.

Having worked on an app for iOS and Android, for both to have the same feel, I know that they can’t be identical either. There are subtle differences due to the existence of the back and menu buttons, forcing architecture to be different. However their visual styles could be very similar, giving the illusion that they are identical.

Okay, I admit that recreating an iOS app for Metro requires a much harder rethink than doing the same for Android. Several speakers at the workshop recommended going back to the drawing board rather than trying to translate. And actually, your app could work much better in Metro than in iOS as a result of it by digging deep into the concept of the app and the brand.

So would I use it?

Yes is the simple answer.

I am a long-term iPhone user but I really wanted to try this out. It’s great having someone challenging the way we interact with devices. It’s a beautiful system to use and look at. I’ve asked for my company phone to be a Windows Phone 7.

I am also looking forward to doing some work on Metro. Although it’s really well thought through, it is not an easy task to design for one. You still need a good design to make it work. But it’s really exciting to see where it’s heading UX-wise. Now, what I’m not so sure about, is what it’s like for devs…?

For further reading about designing for Metro:



UX for every one – UX developers are here.

by Sari Griffiths

I always had a problem with the term ‘User Experience (UX)’ being used to describe a particular discipline – not that I don’t agree with the fact that’s what they are predominantly concerned with. I just don’t like that it seems to imply that other disciplines are NOT about user experience.

I am a graphic designer, and it is definitely (should be) about user experience. But that’s probably very obvious – so I didn’t complain.

And there are developers.

I recently read an excellent blog about the UX developer by Leisa. She makes a point that some front end developers are so in tune with the idea of user experience, they can be called UX developers for their contributions. 

I cannot agree more. But I also agree with one of the comments the article has – “UX dev is just a good front end dev”. Because of front end development’s closeness to users, in the same way as the visual design and site architecture, it has to take user experience into consideration to do a great job.

What about the back end devs?

You might think, well, it’s not important that they understand UX – after all they are not creating direct touch points to user journeys. 

I am lucky enough to have worked with some back end devs (i.e. Stuart and David) with strong UX understanding, and oh my, it REALLY makes a difference.

There would be no ‘you can’t do that because it’s not built / structured / stored in the right way’, because they understand the importance and WHY you’re asking certain things to happen. They would be coming up with alternatives to achieve your goal, or find the way around it. They could suggest you a new way of doing things which you thought technically not possible (or plainly not thought of), because they understand the user journey and user experience principle. It’s the same in any disciplines – you can solve problems so much better / quicker when you know WHY something needs to happen rather than just WHAT needs to happen.

So my conclusion is – UX devs definitely exist and it includes ALL devs. If in doubt, try working with one. It’s so good, you don’t want to work without them ever again. :-)