Posts Tagged ‘ux’

New Market Analysis: It all boils down to Interpretation

This isn’t a new diagram for anyone familiar with my writing. Its a diagram I’ve been using to explain where my work fits into the innovation development process since I first saw it on Luke Wroblewski’s blog back in 2006. However, I’ve just been struck forcibly by the realization that there’s a very important piece of this process that’s missing. And that is Interpretation.

What do I mean by Interpretation? 

Lets start by taking a look at the ever popular user centered design process, simplified in linear form, although we all know there are numerous feedback loops and iterations constantly happening in real time.

The understanding we seek in order to conceptualize and design emerges from the immersion in the new operating environment we wish to enter. This where we go and meet people and talk to them and watch and listen and learn. Its when we get back and analyse our findings that our aim is to synthesize them in the form of actionable insights that can drive the design and development of a new product, service or business model. The space between Insights and Design is when and where we conceive the ideas we wish to develop into workable constructs. Its a given that the process isn’t as linear as diagrammed and ideas and concepts occur much earlier but what is critical, and this is what I realized today, is in how we interpret our findings from the field.

This is the bit I’ve circled in red.

This is where our assumptions, especially those we don’t recognize, and our presumptions, are most likely to let us down. Two people, present in the same user observation study, meeting and listening to the same people, can interpret the raw data in very different ways. So much of this has to do with our preconceived ideas of the target audience not to mention especially important when you’re looking at such a study in a culture and society very different from your own, that its no wonder specialists in the field of design ethnography or user research keep emphasizing the need to able to step outside of yourself in order to observe and understand someone else.

While this is naturally important in all kinds of human interaction, it becomes far more crucial in the context of a professional user research project.

That’s why there are any number of case studies and examples of products and services that fail to match people’s needs or meet expectations *even* after extensive and expensive exploratory user research studies.

Did we manage to interpret our findings correctly? Did we understand what someone was saying in the context of their own culture and mindset and society? Or did we interpret their words and actions from the perspective of our own frame of reference?

I’ll end this with a simple example that comes to mind as I write this. A couple of years ago I was in the field for a small solar power manufacturer who could not comprehend why the very sensible decision of being able to save oodles of money on kerosene by investing in an affordable solar lamp was not being made by his intended target audience. Why were they not purchasing this product even though it made so much sense to do so?

In fact, it turned out, the real question was, did it make sense to the potential customer in the context of their own cash flow, income stream and household management?

Design for the next billion 2012: What’s missing?

An upcoming project’s requirements led to the realization that there is a huge gap in design for the next billion (and more). The subsequent domino effect has left a lack in tools, methods, frameworks and thus, disciplines themselves, from the perspective of addressing the challenge of serving the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) population segment. Here I will simply attempt to capture the questions raised in these four areas I’ve noticed:

1. Tools for the BoP Market

It all started yesterday when I was looking for a means to manage customer relationships with lower income customers in rural Kenya. Where were the CRM tools that could be effectively, affordably and easily used by a social enterprise or business whose primary target audience were the BoP? Examples of Customer Relationship Management apps proffered to me in response to this question in Twitter led to a series of design constraints coming to light as I attempted to explain why such and such or that and the other would not do for the operating environment in which it must work. It made me realize how few tools (if any at all) existed for the BoP market, that companies could utilize in order to build relationships and loyalty with their customers and offer them a well design user experience.

Why was there this gap when there was a plethora of such tools and applications for even the smallest startup to use in the developed world? Furthermore, given the years of investment by a vast variety of firms, large and small, attempting to improve the quality of life for the BoP yet still only partially succeeding in reaching out to these new customers and creating markets and demand, wouldn’t there be a crying need for appropriate technology and cutting edge marketing and communication tools to help improve the success rate?

This thought led to the consideration that in order for such relevant and appropriate tools to be created, there needed to be appropriate and relevant methods for design and development in the first place.

2. Design methods for the BoP

So when Victor Lombardi posed a question to me during a recent skype conversation:

How do you visualize the long term experience of the BoP customer?

I realized I hadn’t thought about it in quite that way before, and as Victor said, he’d not seen anything on this either. Whereas, these concepts and methods had emerged in response to the way increasingly sophisticated companies were engaging with their customer base. My attempts to grapple with this question uncovered such concepts as Customer Experience (and thus, customer experience design), User Experience and its design, and whole slew of information waiting out there among young and new design disciplines.

While their roots are in technology and the internet, their philosophy can be summed up as a holistic human centered strategy for sustainable customer engagement.

How different is it for those of us seeking to engage with the underserved and overlooked lower income customer base in the developing world? And due to the lack of market development and available information, was it not more critical that each actor focusing on the BoP market consider every single element of their business strategy rigorously in order to establish and maintain their enterprise sustainably? There are no specialized firms nor fragmentation of disciplines for BoP oriented enterprises, they must be the jack of all trades from inventor of new products and services and business models to figuring out how to reach these demanding customers who live in challenging environments.

Yet, all the conversations on “Design for the next billion/other 90%/social impact/poverty alleviation/BoP” revolves around the long established methods and approaches from traditional product design, development and engineering. There is a gap here that must be seriously considered if the tools and apps for reaching these customers, as mentioned in the first point above, are ever to be successfully developed for our use.

3. Frameworks for the BoP Market

And so, we need new frames of reference and ways of grasping the operating environment in order to create strategies and thus action points for this wholly different and new frontier market opportunity. Where is the Customer Experience lifecycle as it applies to a BoP customer, to go back to Victor’s original question? And critically, can the existing frameworks and disciplines deal with the challenge of bridging the socio economic and infrastructural chasm as well as the attendant underlying assumptions? Obviously not, since those are the tools and methods and frames of reference which we’ve all been struggling to apply with little degree of success in the BoP context.

Or, as I said to Victor in response to his question, how can we assume that the long term experience of the BoP customer will follow the same path as that diagrammed or framed for the ToP customers?

After all, when the fundamental mission of a social enterprise is to alleviate poverty or improve quality of life, then the ideal long term outcome for a BoP customer is that he or she moves up and out of the equation. That is, the idea is not that they come back for the “BoP” focused product or service meant for the economically challenged but that their life has improved to the extent that their upward mobility implies more expensive product or a different value proposition all together.

This is diametrically opposite the fundamental assumption in conventional frameworks where the goal is to create customer loyalty and long term engagement. On the other hand, one could create great user experiences and loyalty that leads to word of mouth referrals and advocacy even as the successful customer upgrades to the next level.

4. Design disciplines oriented for BoP customer context and needs

This is an open ended question. Is it enough that the existing fields of design, particularly the nascent and emerging ones – like UX strategy for example – simply be focused on the challenges and constraints of the BoP customers environment, infrastructure and cash flow, or, is it that there is a space for an entirely new design discipline that holistically covers all elements of the user experience – whether a product like a cookstove or a user interface for a mobile app or service – and takes all these fundamental differences between the BoP customer and the first world one into account?

For the tools, the methods and frameworks themselves might need to be redesigned in order to be successfully applied for this customer base. From Brandon Schauer’s writing:

UX managers are in a rare position where they can see both the business needs and user needs, and can find where they align to produce revenues from positive relationships, not from goading, entrapment, or annoyances.

Perhaps what is required is a new way to frame the problem solving approach, say for example, UX for the BoP and not simply use the term design as it is currently meant in the narrowest sense.

The increasing importance of user experience for cyber cafes

Cake Plaza, near Prestige, Ngong Road, Nairobi June 2011

This idyllic garden paradise is our favourite hangout and interestingly enough, our cyber cafe, in the literal sense of the words, since it provides free wifi along with your coffee and butter cream cake. Given our recent single minded obsession with internet access and cyber cafes, it was only natural to fall into a conversation with Cake Plaza’s personable young manager, Ken about his wifi set up and his observations. Ironically (or naturally) this short exchange gave us much food for thought.

In summary, the free wifi is part of Cake Plaza’s marketing budget and it was installed exactly one year ago. In this time, Ken has noticed more people using their phones to browse – they have to request the password for wifi access but he’s also noticed an increase in people coming in with laptops – his thinking is that people enjoy the sense of space and privacy offered by sitting at one of the tables over the conventional cramped cyber experience. In fact, there are groups from out of town who’ve taken up the private room by the week as a temporary work space, paying 1000 Ksh (approx US$ 10) a day for the privilege of reserving it for their use.

Individuals tend to come in the evenings after work, may or maynot have their own mobile broadband modem but it seemed as though after the work day was over, this was where they relaxed with personal browsing for an hour or two before heading home for their dinners. He does have a policy of switching off the internet access for those customers whom the waitrons notice don’t order anything from the menu.

It was this last part that clicked with Muchiri, who, by the way, has the past experience of setting up a successful cyber and selling it as a going concern.  The fact that wifi usage is dependant on purchase implied a business model. While Cake Plaza is an excellent bakery (the owner is an experienced Korean chef) in its own right and not in the cyber business per se, it did have a policy (and password) for its excellent free wifi.

This meant that for many of the evening browsers  making the trade off  between spending a 100 Ksh on a cup of coffee for 60 minutes of browsing may often be a preferable choice to spending just 60Ksh in the local cyber. That is, it was the experience that was drawing the wifi seeking traffic – we can attest to that because we did it often enough ourselves, usually spending far more than we would have at a cyber for the equivalent amount of time.

This reflects back to what I wrote about Robert’s concept of a spacious business center in downtown Mombasa offering comfort and convenience to transient CNF agents and highly mobile urban professionals. As the industry has matured, Muchiri said, it was not about “The Internet” anymore but the customer experience.  Indeed, there may not be cybers in the traditional sense eventually but instead there’ll be business centers, work spaces, hot spots and coffee shops etc – just the way they are found in Singapore or San Francisco.  And if so, then this evolution has already begun here in Nairobi, Kenya.