The definitive guide to value creation

In my youth I dabbled with dark arts. I thought experimenting wouldn't hurt, so I tried a little, but little became a lot. My addiction took up all my spare time and heavily impacted my social life. I became alienated by friends and had a hard time talking to people close to me.That's how I spent six years studying economics.

Creating value is tossed around these days as the way for startups and freelancers to contribute to the marketplace. So why is no one talking about what that really means, or how to do it? The short answer is because they don't know. The long answer is that the ones that do know think it's so obvious they don't the need to explain it.

What is value, and how do we get it

I'll just touch upon the economics of Value first, but don't worry, it'll be short and painless: All value is derived from trade. That's what value IS.

The idea works like this; if I have a ton of gold, but no one wants it, it is worth nothing. Literally nothing. Because I can't get anything for it. If someone would give me a loaf of bread for it, it'd be worth a loaf of bread.

Thank god we have money (an abstract form of value, think of it as shares in the work you've done) so we don't need to slog around with all that stuff all the time.

The interesting thing about this idea is that it implies that everyone gets richer all the time. You wouldn't trade for something you didn't want would you? We all trade what we think is worthy, which makes us better off. So in every trade there are two winners. Not one. Everyone is better off. If they aren't, the trade has been forced or is certainly the last trade between them.

How do startups and freelancers get value? They trade with their customers (and everyone you trade with is a customer). If the customers are better off after the trade they are likely to keep being customers.

Seems abstract? Let's get all practical with examples.

How to Create Value

The question of how to create value is now a lot easier to answer; we need to create stuff to trade. By stuff I mean anything that people are willing to trade for. It can be a product, or a service, but whatever we create we must have a clear definition of what it is before we trade. Otherwise customers might get impossible expectations or simple refuse the trade.

But the main point here is create. We must be constantly creating to add value, and to show our customers what we can create.

Defining a product

A product is anything that can stand alone is a product. A book, a play, and a website are all products.

Defining a service

A service is anything that can not stand alone, anything that only exists while you do it. Cleaning, making a website, and acting in a play are all services. Seem of them create products, others just create value either by saving the customer time or lending them expertise.

The good sale and the bad sale.

Good salesmen focus on adding value to their customers, which is why they often have good relationships with their customers.

Poor salesmen are just trying to sell whatever is the flavor of the week, which is why poor salesmen often have high spikes in sales but rarely recurring customers.

Summary

The only way to create value is to trade something. Making your product or your service easier to understand by defining, simply, what the customer gets is a great way to increase your trade.

Creating stuff is the only to add value. So never stop creating.

Designing in-app purchases that work

With the rise of mobile, more and more people are looking at in-app purchases to monetize their products and services. But, as usual, there are design aspects to think about. I this article I intend to explain two of the most important things to think about when designing for in-app purchases: Relevance, and Access.

In-app purchases are really nothing new. It's just the name for how to buy extras in apps. We've been buying extras for decades already: "cheaper rims with the car", "buy two jumbo sized bags of spam for the price of one!" and the list goes on.

What is different this time around is that these extras are virtual. You're more or less buying the use of a few more lines of code. This makes the value proposition for the customer very different from the real world extras we're used to. Which makes relevance and access more important than they would be for fuzzy dice.

Relevance

Relevance is the most important aspect for an in-app purchase. If the extra on sale isn't relevant, why would you care? But if the fuzzy dice at the car dealership are exactly what your wardrobe needs, perfect!

Take Punch Quest for example. Punch quest is one of the most popular games to hit the AppStore in late 2012. But despite having millions of downloads and tons of active players, Punch Quest didn't make much money. It's was a free app, and great game, but the in-app purchases lacked relevance.

The extras you could buy for Punch Quest were... Odd. They either didn't have impact on gameplay, being visual gimmicks, or they did but had strange, nondescript, names. I even bought some to support the developer, and I still have no idea how what I bought impacts the game. Without relevance, your in-app purchase is doomed to fail.

Compare that to Analytiks, my favorite iOS web statistics app. While popular, it's nowhere near as popular as Punch Quest. Yet it's much more successful. The in-app purchases in Analytiks are very relevant. Analytiks shows you a screen for every site in your google analytics account. Just swipe for the next site. But it's limited to 8 sites. After 8 sites instead you find a screen offering another access to neither 8 sites for a small sum. Brilliant. Instant purchase when needed. If you don't want to pay extra, you still have full control of which 8 sites are shown.

Access

The other important aspect for in-app purchases is access, which loosely translates to "ease of use". Ever found a business that seemed to not want to take your money? They had poor access.

Punch Quest has in-app purchases, but they are not a part of the actual game. You can play for hours without having any idea there is anything to buy in the app. Worse, when you navigate through the menu structure it's still hard to find.

The customer first needs to want upgrades for the game, most of which are quite hard to understand if you haven't played extensively. Then the customer has to run out of coins collected in the game with which to buy upgrades. Then, finally, they need to find a small call to action hidden in the navigation bar. Not very accessible even for advanced users. Terrible for casual players looking for an advantage in the game.

Analytiks does it right. In the main app, after your sites, you are presented with the upgrade where the content ends. The screen is uncluttered and has only one message and call to action, the cta is clearly labeled with the price. Making it a simple few clicks to make the purchase, there is no lack of information, not ambiguity, about the product that makes the customer want to think it over.

 

Summary

If people are already using your product or service. Chances are they might be open to extras or upgrades.But by making them relevant to the use case, and making them accessible for the user, they become useful extensions to the app. Which are much more likely to sell.

  • Relevant:
  • expands the product
  • solves specific problems
  • not removing artificial limitations in the product
  • Access:
  • clear and understandable purchase information
  • presented well for the use case
  • not a "bolted on" design or user flow

How to design rules that work

Rules are ever present in our daily lives. We follow social rules, company rules, and laws. We create organizations by making sets of rules, we create deals and contracts all defined by rules. But very few people learn how to create rules. Most rules, don't work. As a former game designer, I've studied rules academically and tried and tested rules by the thousands. This is what I've learnt so far about creating rules that work.

Rules always create side effects

All rules are limitations on an individuals actions (a rule says you can't design text a certain way). But since people are surprisingly intelligent, they always find ways around rules (the rule creates a counter culture and suddenly hipster typographical posters abound!). We smile at this behaviour in kids, always looking for ways to get around bedtimes, but we fail to see that every human does this. It's so ingrained in the human condition it even has a name in both game design and economics: emergent behaviour.

Emergent behaviour means the behaviour that arrives as an unforeseen consequence to a situation. Cheating at games is an emergent behaviour. Rebellion is an extreme emergent behaviour.

Rules always - without exception - create these unforeseen behaviours because rules are *fractal*. Meaning that rules can never cover every single situation or twist in the language. There will always be new situations the rule should apply to.

- Did you brush your teeth? - Yes. - Did you brush them with the toothbrush? - Yes. - Did you put toothpaste on the toothbrush? - Yes. - Before you brushed your teeth? - No...

When I create rules I try to take emergent behaviour into account, where and how is it likely to happen?, How will the rule affect situations that are slightly different from the normal situation? How often does your management or project manager take emergent behaviour into account when creating rules? If the answer is never, the rules are probably not working.

Family rules

The softest touch works, while hard rules fail

Surprisingly, the rules that do work aren't the simple and direct ones. In fact the simpler and more direct the rule is, the more emergent behaviour it creates.

Let me explain how by giving an example. If you set a rule for yourself that you must turn left at every intersection you'll soon find yourself in conflict with the rule. You might quite quickly arrive at the workaround that the rule doesn't say how many times to turn left, and from then on you'll be turning left several times to turn right. I bet you're thinking of other rules you're breaking in this way?

But if the rule says you can only turn left at intersections it is much more open to interpretation, and oddly individuals are more inclined to follow it. Maybe I'll turn right somewhere that's not an intersection? Or maybe taking a route around the block will be interesting? The more open version of the rule makes the rule more interesting and less annoying.

What's happening is that activating individuals minds, asking people to judge for themselves, is making them more inclined to work with the system instead of around it. Asking individuals to just follow a rule is more likely to make them bored, frustrated,  and opposed to the rule. No matter how normal and simple the rule might seem.

This is why companies like to talk about corporate culture. A culture is simple a set of rules that are not defined, instead the individuals in a culture make it up or pass it along as they go. Culture is a very soft set of social rules, and a great way to lead a group of people in the same direction. It is also very hard to create, because it is soft and made up by the individuals in the culture. And as soon as someone puts pen to paper, the culture is dead. The air of cooperation will be replaced by bored people following the rules.

(Creating cultures is also a part of designing games, and deconstructing culture is essential to economics, so I'll probably revisit culture in a later post.)

Rules limit what people think

The absolutely worst part of a rule is when it's followed. Beware of people following hard rules, it never amounts to any good.

If a hard rule is enforced, or socially frowned upon to break, it swiftly becomes a dogma. A rule that is set so hard in individuals minds that they can not break it. Not only are they unable to break the rule, they might even be unable to think about breaking the rule.

We see this happening at all times, all around us. Ever wonder why senior citizens are more often against change? It's because they have lived with an unquestioned rule for so long, it has become impossible for them to see a world without the rule. The same thing happen with middle managers, unable to alter a rule themselves, and unable to see the effects of them, they stay with rules long after the intended purpose has become irrelevant.

The really worrying part comes from cognitive psychology. Studies seem to indicate that living with the same thoughts for to long actually create rigid structures in your physical brain. Yes, I'm serious. The brain is a huge network of neurons, always making new connections. But living with the same connections, thoughts, for long enough might physically inhibit new connections being made. That's right, hard rules might actually be shutting down small parts of our brains!

No wonder change comes so slowly right? (For more on the subject, google "Neuro plasticity")

rules

Creating rules that work

From my years in games and economics I've learned a lot of ways not to make rules. But at times we need them, no matter how hard they may be to create. If we're aware of the pitfalls and careful, we can create rules that work.

Here's a list of rules that I follow when creating rules (rule-ception?):

  • Communicate the outcome of your rule, not the limitations (the rule itself).
  • Think up situations that might warp the rules, and take it to extremes.
  • Think about how the rule will affect things when it's purpose is no longer relevant.
  • Remember that rules are used by at least two groups of people: individuals, and groups.
  • Never punish rule breaking. If you must punish, punish for outcomes.
  • Try to be vague. Trust people to interpret rules intelligently.

What makes a product good

Sit up straight, I'm about to explain the secret sauce behind exceptional products. There is a difference between products that perform poorly and products that perform well that is hard to put your finger on. Designers have been struggling to tell you about it for years. But it turns out it's not the answer that is the problem, it's the question. The question is: Is it enjoyable? It's the difference between functional and great.

For a long time now the tech industry has been struggling with paradigms. Is your product technology driven or design driven? Are your most important people engineers or designers? The pendulum swings every five years or so.

Google is a company driven by engineers, they solve problems. Apple is a company driven by designers, they make experiences. Which company makes the better product? Android or iPhone? For years, journalists and salesmen have been asking the wrong questions, and coming to all the wrong conclusions.

Customers buy products for their features. But they keep them for the experience.

No one doubts that features are important. Every retail box is crammed with specs and every review seems to compare products on feature lists. But features are not what makes customers buy. When you buy a kitchen knife, you probably just grab a cheap one to get the job done, right? But the next time you buy one, you'll be more likely to invest in quality because it feels better to use, the old one became dull quickly or chipped. Your enjoyment of the product starts to make an impact in your purchase.

What is that enjoyment worth? If your first knife cost $5, would you buy a better one for $50?

Android phones were crappy when Android was first released. Mostly because Android was crap. Google spent millions making sure Android had every feature that the iPhone had. Every function was matched. Every look that could be copied was copied. Samsung even went so far as to make extremely similar phones and UI-skins. But oddly, the consumers were not using Android phones like they did iPhones. App sales were low, internet usage was non-existant.

Only then did the engineers at Google realize that the secret sauce in the iPhone wasn't so much features, but the experience. Still they couldn't put their finger on what they lacked. They had to hire a new manager, a designer, to tell them what to do. Now Android is becoming enjoyable to use, app sales are skyrocketing and internet usage is on the rise. People are using their Android phones for the first times.

Enjoyment is hard to bottle. It can't be checked off on a scrum board or a todo list. It's the sum of all the parts. And even worse, it costs money. You can't just finish a feature, you have to iterate on all the parts until they fit together. (To read more about enjoyment or fun, visit my blog on Gamification: Adding the Fun.)

The sooner we start asking the right question the better. What if startups focused on making their features enjoyable instead of just functional? It'd cost more, but their churn would be less and they would get more interest.

Right now the market is focusing on design. Designers are in high regard and design is the measuring stick of the tech industry. But because most companies and organisations still don't understand this crucial piece of secret sauce, designers will become another checklist on the project management chart. Is it designed? Yes. Tick the box.

If the question had been: is it enjoyable? The answer would have been different. The product would end up different and the market reaction would as well. Next time you read a review, don't look at the feature list or the score. Find the sentence where the author says if he/she liked it or not.

It's time to make sure we start asking the right questions and stop looking at features or design as checkboxes.

This list of questions can help you start:

  1. Does the feature work?
  2. Does it work every time and in every circumstance?
  3. Is it enjoyable?
  4. Is it enjoyable even when you're in a hurry?

If the answer to any of the questions is no, you need to start over.

Like Steve Jobs so eloquently put it "Design is how it works". Sadly, he didn't stick around to explain how anyone could check for that emotion.

Ask the question: Is it enjoyable?

ux review of chrome for iOS

Google services have been a long time coming for iOS users. While most people's immediate response to that is to say "of course, they have android" I think it's weird for google to neglect 400 million customers of their services just because they want to promote another mobile platform. Android already has a majority market share after all.

Oddly enough, Chrome became the first really native iOS app by google. Odd because Apple is severely restricting apps that compete with iOS native functionality, and the browser could be said to be more important for iOS than the actual phone app...

Chrome launched with a slew of welcome mobile optimizations for a browser that apple has since copied to their own app, safari. Syncing not only accounts, but history, tabs and even sessions didn't exist on iOS before chrome. But for all it's glory, such as less browser chrome and actually useful tabs, Chrome also has a number of weaknesses.

Tab refresh

When I switch between tabs in chrome, something goes terribly wrong. For all the fast loading and fast tab switching goes straight out the window as I am forced to wait for a page refresh. This might sound like it makes sense as first, most pages need to be refreshed before I can see any new content after all? But I often switch between apps, while reading, looking something up or for any other reason. The several clicks and wait that safari makes me do to access my other tab is bad enough. Forcing me to wait for a full refresh, and especially on a mobile network, just breaks the experience. Why would I keep waiting? F this. I'll be on Facebook.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels the same way, but I haven't gotten any word from google on whether they are working on this or not.

The dark UI

Google has always had a light, cheerful, design aesthetic. It might not fit everyone but its google. With recent android generations they've stepped back from this to offer a darkes, softer, design. Chrome fits perfectly into this. Except of course, that its on iOS where nothing is dark.

Not only does the app look like android rather than google, but it doesn't fit into its environment at all. It's I'd just a plain bad design decision. With the reasons why painfully obvious.

Summery

Just a few days ago Google released new, native, apps for gmail and YouTube on iOS. Both of these apps show a lot of promise, especially for design. So I'm hopeful that google will get around to fixing these issues with chrome soon.

Though I still wonder why google feels its services are worth more to customers on android? Int google all about the services? Why deny iOS users google now? I'm a google ecosystem user since 2007, nothing so far has made me change my mind. I'm also an apple device user since years back. Apple allows me to use google services, why won't google?

Why touch works

The reason touch works is often cited, it's because it's "intuitive". But there is little talk about what makes touch devices more intuitive. We're supposed to just believe that the finger is better. But discussing with my partner Sara this morning, I think I've understood why.

The mouse

As a tech savvy person it's easy to forget all the knowledge we take for granted for using our devices. I uncovered one this I had been taking for granted, short commands. A someone who spends most of his waking time in front of a computer I started memorizing short commands and gestures many years ago. But most people don't. For most people, short commands just don't feel all that necessary. Using the mouse to point and click the bold button is simple enough. To me, it's a huge waste of time.

The touch device

On touch devices however, this problem isn't there. Either you touch the bold icon, or you don't. The only short commands that are available are gestures which, while not always intuitive, always tend to work the same way. There are only about three gestures to learn on iOS for example. This is annoying to me, because my normal power-user habits need to change. But for the market at large, it's the same interaction but finally without a mouse to get in the way.

Intuitive

The touch panel is intuitive because what you see is what you get. But what we, the power users, tend to forget that it's more intuitive than we believe. Because all the hidden extras that we use on older devices just aren't there.

Touch devices are leveling the playing field. And that's why we feel we still need our old devices to get real work done.

The mobile revolution at sime

The first day of SIME, the European tech/startup conference, was a vivid circus of great speakers with great production values. This time in Stockholm. Sime is a special sort of conference because it is focused on marketing entrepreneurship and creating a forum for entrepreneurs and investors. While similar conferences might slog through technical details while zombie hordes of coffee ingesting listeners try to stay awake, SIME is more about showmanship. Almost every session is 20 minutes or less, even for the big players, and our host, Ola Ahlvarsson, is always on stage pushing things along.

The first day was a back to back parade of speakers from the tech business, talking about where we are and where we're going as a business. The message was unanimous: > The customer is already mobile. Where is your business? - Facebook, Microsoft, Google, etc

It's an important lesson that really can't be repeated enough. I Sweden, around 40 percent of all Internet connections are through a mobile network. Some are computers but most are other sorts of devices. Around the world there is s landslide increase in mobile use, smartphones are almost half the world market of phones, there are over 100 million tablets sold, and everyone is expecting information to be ubiquitous. But companies are holding out.

Companies everywhere are waiting for others to lead, they hope to see hard numbers on why they should move to mobile before they take the plunge. There are of course a lot of really bad agencies out there, simply not able to deliver responsive web, but for the most part statistics are holding us back.

While the large players show us statistics on mobile usage. Companies have become affected by tracking blindness and can't act before the users are mobile on their sites. The problem of course, is a classic chicken and egg problem. If the site doesn't work on mobile, customers will just use other sites, and since the companies can't see mobile usage increasing they won't rebuild their sites.

SIME is all focused on pushing the message of where tech is to everyone, making sure that the users, developers and companies are all looking in the same direction. And I hope that this years focus on mobile hit the spot. Because I really don't want to be tied to my laptop.

Tracking, the flawed belief in statistics

Tracking is the basis for everything online these days. We track what content gets the most clicks to make sure we create better content. We track the ads we run to make sure our ads are targeted to the right people and that they convert well. We use tracking in all aspects of our lives to make better decisions and take the right action. But it's not working, is it. No matter how long you stare at those numbers they don't give you a golden bullet. So what's wrong with this theory? Everything.

While tracking makes our decisions gradually better, tracking does not make any new connections. Do you think RedBull is tracking any direct ROI on sponsoring Felix Baumgartner's record breaking sky dive from the edge of space? No. But I think few people would argue that they didn't get more than their share of media coverage. Very few marketing schemes get that kind of eye-ball-action, but the important thing is that tracking would never lead you to invest in such a venture.

Neither would tracking lead you to think that a generous return policy could generate profits. Yet every single report tell us that it does.

In the 50's a young designer made a nondescript electronics company a house hold name by creating memorable and user friendly designs for their products. The company was Braun, and the designer was Dieter Rams. Rams, who've since been credited as an inspiration for designers behind cars and even Apple, didn't do it by tracking.

There is nothing wrong with tracking. In fact, without tracking it's extremely hard to reach a goal, once it's set. But tracking is quite probably holding you back. If tracking is the basis for your strategy, you're probably not seeing the full market. That light at the end of the tunnel might turn out to be a train.

Strategy is taking the broad view of a business and aiming your organization. Tactics are how we get there. Tactics make great use of tracking and statistics. Strategy does not. Depending on strategy will keep you constantly running to catch up with the world, because the numbers can only really show you what used to happen. And only in a very specific situation at that. It's harder to argue without numbers. Which is why most people eventually stop trying. Next time you are in a meeting and someone offers a contrary view of a situation you might want to think about it a few minutes. Don't throw out your innovation because of the result of a skewed question asked by bored data miners.

Sharing locally has been solved, Chirp review

"Hey could you email me that picture you just took?"

While sharing online has taken the web by storm and has since become old news. Sharing digital information locally has always been a hassle away from out computers and high speed internet connections. Not any more.

Chirp

 

Say hello to Chirp

Chirp is the little mobile app that let's you share anything that has an URL or can be uploaded and given an url locally. All you need is the app. It's free. It's tiny, takes seconds to download and starts instantly and you're set. No, you don't need an account (though you can get one) no you don't need to connect it with facebook. You just start it. And now you're receiving anything being shared.

How does it share? This is the other brilliant part of this app. It sends the URL (everything is shared through their servers so an internet connection is needed, albeit not a fast one) through a short sound clip.

That's right, you hear a short blip-blop message as if R2-D2 really needs to pee, and there's the photo on your screen. It's cute. But i's also really smart. Since it shares through sound you can share messages with someone over the phone. I myself got a picture from the host of a Podcast I listen to. He just told me to open Chirp and I got to see what he was talking about.

Business model suggestion

Since I hate to see great services like this go away, usually because it's hard to figure out a business model. I thought I'd share a suggestion. Chirp, you listening? Great. Here's one way to monetize.

Providing the app for without an account is absolutely crucial to grow. If users need to jump through any hurdles at all Chirp will become another Bump. But without the first-mover-on-new-platform-hype. Keep it simple to share.

Instead charge for feature where a cost is tangible for the user: Access and Storage.

Access

Later access to the files. Keep the latest 3-5 shared things be available. Let the users purchase access to the rest. One advantage to this is that it's obvious to users. There's an understandable cost benefit. It's also just on the front end which makes it easy to implement (until you've got an open API).

Storage

In short: Huge. Ass. Files. Trying to share a 500MB HD movie clip? "Sorry this file is so large you need to pay 99 cents to cover the bandwidth costs". No problem.

Summing up

Chirp is awesome. Go get it.

And please Chirp, add support for all platforms. Open up an API and let developers go crazy with the free service. I'd love to Chirp stuff to my Mac or my friends PC / Android.

Why great customer service is the best marketing

Customer service is often a necessary evil. Something companies must do to wheel out stats from when there's a PR crisis. But usually it's costly and no one really wants to do it. Bad Customer Service

Ye Old Way

I'm starting to think all PR education begins with the creed "keep the customer as far away from the company as possible" since most companies I contact have elaborate systems in place to "streamline" the communication out of existence.

Enter a new marketplace: The social web. Suddenly recommendations are worth double their weight in gold, but companies are still struggling keeping up. They start Facebook pages with no idea of what to do there. They start Twitter accounts that only tells tweeps to call customer service.

The new way

But then there are the other companies. Companies that have embraced the tribal culture online and depend upon customer interaction for their business. They are no less motivated by profit than the other sort of company, but their strategy makes them a very different sort of animal.

Yesterday I downloaded an app to my iPhone. The app was supposed to show me my Google Analytics numbers quickly and beautifully. I was thrilled I finally found an app that looked like I might use it. But it didn't work. I couldn't log in.

I immediately browsed over to the company's site and looked for any information of the problem. When I couldn't find any I emailed them a question, expecting to never hear from them again.

Within ten minutes I had a response.

Someone from the company read my message and sent me a quick response. Short, to the point. Solving my problem. Apparently the guys and gals at Google had changed the API and while the app had been updated the new version wasn't in the AppStore just yet.

They even offered to buy me coffee while I waited:

Sorry about that. It sucks. We can buy you a coffee while waiting for the new version ( we'll PayPal you the money for Starbucks if you want).

Since it was late at night in Sweden I declined. But I was also a surprised and happy customer, not only had they solved my problem (or at least, explained what the problem was and had fixed it), but they had given me relevant information, a schedule, and a coffee!

When was the last time a bank or a telephone company did that?

The result

Because of this short communication, not only am I inclined to tell people about my experience. I'm also more inclined to recommend the product. The cost of this interaction for the company is negligible but the worth of a happy customer advocating the product is huge.

The take away

Invest in communication. Realize that all interactions with the customers are chances to turn them from faceless consumers to happy ambassadors of your company. Keep them close. Keep them communicating with you. The costs might be high, but compared to losing those customers to the competitor this should be a no-brainer. If you're in a huge corporation, try finding customers who became ambassadors and use them as arguments that the model does work.

And also, download Analytiks right now. It's awesome. And Blatt Labs does a great job.

 

Analytiks

 

Why telecom companies are so far behind the times

To people in the tech industry, telecom operators seem helplessly behind the times. To most people however, telecom companies are their only real connection to tech. So why are they so far behind?

Telecom companies still don't sell most computers on the market. But they do sell the internet connections, the smartphones that are increasingly like computers, the minutes and text messages we plow through every day to communicate.

I used to work for one of the largest telecom companies in Sweden. I started my carrier there with the hope I would help them transition from the "minutes/texts" model to the content distribution model. Because eventually, all the services a telecom company offers today will be software only. Based on open internet technology. How do I know? Because it already happened. Delivering content could've been a profit model that outlasted the current model by decades. Then the iPhone launched.

At the telecom company I worked for there was no uproar. In fact, I remember walking around in stunned surprise because of the lack of reaction. They didn't get it. Or got it but didn't let it show. Needless to say, the iPhone took the content market out of our hands. The App Store was now the de facto content distribution system. Then Apple launched iMessages.

I came in at work wild eyed and excited. Apple's iMessages work by sending text messages through their notification system. Telecom operators usually charge per text message iMessages are not distinguishable from other notifications making them impossible to count and impossible to stop. Even if the telecom operators would like to stop iMessages they can't. Not without breaking the notifications on the iPhone, making millions of customers complain and even worse; the CEO's mail would stop working on the golf course. Now I knew there was only one way out, telecom operators would have to step back, and start charging for network bandwidth. A lot like the internet connections pre-broadband. But that isn't happening.

Telecom operators take in most of their profits from text messages. The rest from voice and contracts etc. They generally take in very little profit from charging for data. On the other hand most of a telecom operators costs, except building the network, come from counting and billing for minutes and texts. It's a hard and advanced process. Billing for data traffic is very easy. The future is clear, telecom operators will sell data plans and earn their profits form that. So why are telecom operators all over the world still bundling minutes and trying to block Skype?

I looked for answers at my company. I talked to everyone around me, no one cared very much. After weeks of this I started to realize that the middle managers didn't care but the executives understood. But were stalling. For what? The same reason the music industry doesn't embrace digital distribution.; the income model will change so drastically that the market will become instantly competitive and changing again. This is frightening.

Every manager and executive in the telecom industry today have basically made it their policy to stall for change. Until the market has evolved so far that they can not hold it back any longer telecom operators will continue to wish for the music industries dream: Not in my lifetime.

This is what they hope for. That the change will come after they quit. That the drop in profits during a turbulent shift will not be on their resume. That the scandal of firing hundreds of employees to pivot a large company does not land their name in the press.

This is why telecom operators are holding back progress, and trying to stifle products that run through their network. This, almost insane, way of doing business is helped by the fact that telecom operators are large enough to nudge law makers in their direction.

The next time you wonder why the network isn't faster, why video calls are still no where to be seen and why your iPhone doesn't do something amazing. Know that this is why. There are no technological hurdles to overcome. There is no law making it harder than it needs to be.

There is just a bunch of scared old men who have become scared of the inevitable. Who fear change.

How the Apple iTV will work

Most journalists now believe Apple will be releasing a TV this year. Speculating over Apple's plans is close to impossible, but if we look closely at what Apple have been releasing over the last few years I think we can predict what an Apple iTV would be like. There are a lot of problems. All of which would be solved by taking the problems out of the TV set and instead making it a much more connected device.

Go to market problem

When asked what he thought about set top boxes a few years ago Steve Jobs famously replied that there was no good go to market strategy.

The TV market is very different from Apple's usual markets in that consumers tend to buy new TVs close to 10 years apart. While Apple prefers to update their products every year.

"What is remarkable is how Apple can use iOS devices as wireless set top boxes for the Apple iTV."

The Apple iTV though, won't need to be updated every year. I believe Apple will release basically a huge monitor with some inputs and a decoding chip. The chip will easily be able to push 1080p or maybe even higher quality video in crisp quality. But in itself that is not remarkable. What is remarkable is how Apple can use iOS devices as wireless set top boxes for the Apple iTV.

User interface

Apple has always been famous for their interfaces. From the mouse to the click-wheel to the touch screen, Apple has always tried to create intuitive and immersive user interfaces. For the Apple iTV they have just released a UI that seems perfect for a TV set. Siri.

Using natural language to control your TV could be spectacular. Of course they'll probably throw in an Apple remote just to make everyone comfortable. But I will bet we will all be telling our TVs to turn on and off in the near future. And all iOS devices would also control the iTV, of course.

Content

Think of all your content from your Mac, your iOS device and your iTunes account seamlessly streamed through iCloud. The Apple iTV hardly even needs any local storage.

Some exclusive deals with production companies are sure to come. But if we look in the Apple media library they already have a really good offering. What they lack is real time programming. Most real time broadcasting is already available for iOS devices however. Which brings us to apps.

Apps

The Apple iTV doesn't need apps. Don't get me wrong, I want apps. But here's the magic sauce in my prediction. Apple won't make the iTV a stand alone device. The market doesn't update their TVs often enough for that. Instead the iTV will be an insanely great screen on which to project your content. From iOS devices. From iCloud. From Mac. Where you find AirPlay, you'll be able to push content to your iTV.

Real Racing2 Party Play

Want to play a game? Use your iPad or iPhone for controls and they'll sync the games graphics onto your iTV screen.

Want to see a movie? Start it on any device and just click AirPlay to show it on your iTV.

Want to listen to music? You get the point.

This might sound underwhelming. Apple's announcements often seem so at first glance. But then you realize what a profound change in the way you use technology it offers. Think about having a monitor at home that can play all your digital content. No matter what it is. Playing a game on your Mac? Watching a movie on your iPad? How about doing both side by side. Since the devices steam it to the iTV, it can handle anything you throw at it. Why not let your kids play games while you watch the news? Someone walks in with some photos to show? Put them up there with everything else.

"The best thing about it is that it doesn't need updates."

The best thing about it is that it doesn't need updates. Siri will get smarter through iCloud. More and more content will be available through iTunes. And every time you buy a new phone or tablet the iTV get's a major bump in features and power.

All wireless. All simple. A perfect Apple strategy. Or is it?

A UX review of Clear, todo list manager of the future

Meet Clear, the todolist manager that does everything right.

Clear for iPhone from Realmac Software on Vimeo.

Intuitive interface

Clear has no interface. It just uses swipes pinches and touches in a list the same as you would on an image. While there is no such thing as intuitive, this is as close as I've ever seen.

But the best part about clear is it's use of color and sounds.

Use of color for information

Colors are used in the lists to show priority. The more saturated the color, the more important the task. Now the tasks are already in a list, so one could argue that adding colors to it is redundant. But this is not true. Any human scanning a list will see each item as equally important. Most of us tend to try and put the most important thing at the top of the list but every time we look at the list we still browse more than one item.

Making the list colored gives a subtle hint that you don't need to look at other tasks. This is the one.

It also gives the user a reason to order the list properly. While the app never tell the user they have to, just creating a rule that says the top is higher priority will make users want to use the rule. Think of it like a hidden keyboard shortcut. Once you learn it, if it's a valuable shortcut, you stick with it.

Sounds that make it fun

Audio feedback has been used to great effect in games for decades. Which is why I've always found it odd that it's had such little attention in software tool design. Until now.

Clear has a sound effect for every function.

New item? Pop.

Clear app: adding tasks

Finished item? Ping!

Clear app: completing tasks

Delete item? Swoosh

Clear app: deleting tasks

But I really mean sound effect. These aren't just midi notes annoyingly stacked to make an awful racket.  These are effects that sound great by themselves and stack neatly. What do I mean by stack? If you complete several tasks in a row, you don't just get an annoying amount of pings. You'd hate that. Instead you get a rising scale of pings that together seem to form a rising crescendo. Which incidentally is exactly like the normal sound design to gaining point in video games (remember picking up coins in Mario?)

UPDATE: The awesome sound design was done by Josh Mobley.

Getting out of the way

The reason the design of Clear is so impressive is that, while the UI reinforces the users positive emotions of using a todo list, it get's out of the way to let the users focus on thinking about tasks.

There's simply nothing else to think about. And you won't get those soothing sounds of completion if you don't complete some tasks.

Summary, or: is it awesome?

Clear is the best interface for getting things done I've seen so far. On any platform. It's also responsive like few apps on iOS.

It does gamification right by letting the user learn it's features intuitively and reinforcing the actual use of the product instead of showering them in useless badges.

Sadly however, it also really doesn't have a use. At least not for a todo-list power user such as myself. Enter a 100 tasks into Clear and you'll be looking at an infinite list with no overview. There's no search, there are no smart lists. But these features would not improve the product. In fact, I think including more features could destroy the product.

If you use lists often but don't have 1000 tasks in them. This app will make you smile on your way.

If you use really long lists, this app will be nice to play with but not useable.

Should you buy it? YES. If only to support good design.

 

 

As usual, the Verge has the best video first look:

An example of interactive UI design, the future of web design

HTML5 is a name we give the next level of web technology, it's just simpler to remember. All the web is built using HTML, CSS and Javascript and with HTML5 new and better ways of using these languages are being made available everywhere.

The revolution started with the iPhone.

With the launch of their breakthrough device they didn't intend for developers to be making Apps. Apple instead believed that developers would make web apps using HTML5 and save the web app as an icon of their phone. Surprisingly open by Apple's standards the strategy soon changed to native apps because web apps simply didn't feel quick enough.

Web technology is getting better

However, as HTML5 becomes a standard on PCs everywhere web apps are approaching the same sophistication as native applications. The hardest step now is for developers to take the plunge and create these great new interfaces and not get stuck in the old way of thinking and just pushing out another blog.

One of my favorite designers, Dustin Curtis, is leading the way with this new UI element on his site; the Kudos button.

It looks great. It's fun to use and it's a really simple way to add some life to a site. It doesn't work on touch interfaces for obvious reasons. Sadly Dustin hasn't made the code available yet, but most programmers could probably copy the concept. It's that easy. We just have to make sure we starting thinking less about static web and more about user interaction.

UX trend predictions of 2012 B:

Whenever likeminded creative people try to innovate trends emerge. Ideas give birth to ideas. As ideas keep combining in the heads of creative people everywhere some ideas become more sticky than others. I’ll document some of the trends in user experience design I predict will become the norm in 2012. You can find my first post on the subject here. Another example from a 2011 app is the amazing full screen representation in Wren.

Wren app for Mac

 

White space apps

When I first saw Wren I was amazed. It was focused and minimalist. Therefore I was shocked to see the full-screen button in the top right corner of the app, "Wouldn't that completely wreck the experience" was my knee-jerk reaction. Then I tried it and another trend was obvious, apps that scale without bloating their feature sets, or White space apps.

Why are White space apps different? Mobile.

The mobile revolution has some interaction and UI designers scratching their heads or pulling their hair trying to fit all the usual information. The current computing paradigm has relied on massive amounts of text and information tags for a long long time. Even programs that have really tried to rid themselves of rarely used functions or unnecessary amounts of help information have sometimes been stuck in contextual help hell due to the modus operandi of desktop interface design.

No more. Mobile has rid us of all these things. And some designers are provocative enough to realize that less really is more and simply scale their apps without adding more information or complexity.

Is this good or bad?

Only time will tell. But the dominance of mobile design today tells us a lot about what people like. I think it is less about the iPhone being a must-have product and a lot more about really smart and beautiful apps that are just complex piles of engineering on other platforms.

Simple is better. And using white space to focus the users attention on a sparingly chosen set of functions beautifully designed makes this clear. I believe these minimal products will in the future continue to trump the feature behemoths of yesteryear.

Due for iPad

Don't translate your catch phrase

From time to time I see big brands betting heavily on a phrase or a named function. The Windows Start button, the Facebook Like button etc. But time and time again I see these same big brands translating the phrase... Somewhere, some person at these companies missed a fundamental part of branding: don't change names all the time!

It doesn't matter if these phrases are verbs such as in the "Like" button. It's a part of your brand. If you translate your brand, you're starting a new brand.

Awesome button

 

(image via Techcrunch

UX trend predictions of 2012 A:

Whenever likeminded creative people try to innovate trends emerge. Ideas give birth to ideas. As ideas keep combining in the heads of creative people everywhere some ideas become more sticky than others. I'll document some of the trends in user experience design I predict will become the norm in 2012. An example trend from previous years is the scroll down to refresh design. Created by Loren Brichter for his famous Tweetie iphone app it has since become the standard for refreshing feeds and lists in apps everywhere.

Example from mobile webKit build

Related function Panels

You've seen them already. Open your Facebook app and look at the button in the top left corner. Tapping the button or swiping the interface from left to right opens the menu:

Facebook iPhone app

Facebook iPhone app menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This background panel is always there. Neatly integrated in iOS navigation panel.

The iOS navigation panel? At the top of all iOS apps with many views is a bar that usually has two buttons on it. This bar is called the navigation bar in the iOS SDK and intended to be used like this:

  • the left side button steps you back in the app. Just like the back button in your browser.
  • the right side button steps you forward. Showing the next step or function in the app.
Related function panels will become a trend become complex apps need menus, and no one wants to start the app in a menu. Instead starting the app smack in the middle of activity giving the user an option of accessing the menu by "stepping back".

Why is this different from a menu

But the reason I call the panels related function and not menu panels is that when a menu is that as soon as we have this paradigm, panels on either side that are "behind" our current view in chronological order. We can show the user all sorts of related information and functions, regardless of the apps functions.
Take for instance Path 2.0, a beautiful example of UI design. It too uses the left side menu, but to the right it shows your friends list. In the Facebook app this right side button opens sorting options and not a panel at all. This doesn't matter. As long as the paradigm is in place, panels will start showing up with the most important related functions in apps of all sorts.

Is this good or bad

The design works great in the Facebook app, in the Gmail app and in Path 2.0. But if it will work when lots of apps join the trend? We can't know beforehand.
The design is solid from a perception and usability perspective. It also looks great. So I'm hoping to see some innovative use of it shortly!
Gmail appGmail app

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Path 2.0 appPath 2.0 app

Defining A Principle of Quality that works

Quality was what set the good craftsmen apart form the bad ones. It was why some brands became more revered than others. The illusive idea is why Apple sells so well, why some artists are better than others. But what the hell is quality? Does it change from artist to artist? Does it mean something different for cars than for software? No. I don't think so. I think there's a common feature for all types of good quality.

Using Cognitive Psychology to reveal quality

In academic circles scholars of cognitive psychology  have been debating and hacking the human perception for a very long time. One of my favorite tidbits of knowledge from my student days is that negatives are worth twice as much as positives. That means if I give you $100 and then take it back, you'll feel as if you've lost more money than you felt you gained in at first. Put another way: if you spend $50 and earn $100 dollars you'll feel you made about even. Losing something is negative, and is therefore twice as important to you perception.

This gives us valuable clue to Quality. Let's see how far that can bring us.

If negative values, and negative experiences, create stronger reactions in users we should look at minimizing these as much as possible. If we get close to no negative values we'll have a  really solid product experience regardless of the products positive values.

For example, if you create an app where every action gives clear feedback it will feel great. Even if the UX design isn't all that great from the start.

Getting the values right

But wait, let's back up a bit. What is a negative value? And what is a positive value? We're talking about products here! What is a negative in a web app?

Happily, another branch of cognitive psychology has dealt with what value is. This is the theory: there is no "real" value. Only subjective, or perceived,  value. That is to say: water to a man dying of thirst has a lot of value, while water to a man at a cocktail bar in NY is worth very little. This sounds really basic right? But if all value is relative to experience that also means that we determine reasonable prices from prices around us. We distinguish beauty not by their own beauty but by how much less beautiful the other people around us are. Dan Ariely has some great examples of this in his book Predictably Irrational.

The good part starts 12 minutes in.

So all value is interpreted relative to similar experiences by each individual. How does that help us? That means every experience is valued compared to other, similar, experiences.

So?

Well if people experience negative values much stronger than positive ones, we need to focus harder on making our apps perform at least as well as other apps the users are using instead of trying to one-up our competitors. This will make out UX more positive than focusing on making the positive experiences better. Most Human Computer Interaction studies are actually based on this. They're often studies to define how consistency works. And consistency is exactly what I'm talking about here. But not internal consistency, while that to is extremely important, but experience consistance for the user. No matter what that use might look like, spanning over machines, apps, platforms and use cases.

Summing up

A principle of quality, a rule of thumb that works for all products and services, is not making something really well. It's minimizing the negative impact of shortcomings.

So how do we use this principle?

  • Don't show the user experiences that aren't finished. Release early release often as much as you want, but don't release half baked.
  • Polish one feature instead of making two features.
  • Make sure other apps aren't making your experience feel broken by creating an experience gap that will feel negative for example the pull-down-to-refresh UI of iPhone apps.
  • Look at the platform. Look at the most popular uses. Look at the environment it will be used in. Then try to be consistent.
  • Make your marketing consistant with your experience, or you might end up making your product feel worse than it is

The perfect example of not understanding quality is the Nokia N97, enjoy!

Another great example of achieving quality, not by adding features, but by managing your negatives is the iPhone and iPad operating system. Just compare these transition effects from iOS to the Android counter parts: