Monday, June 28, 2010

A Product Managers Guide to Designing an iPhone App

One of the biggest questions facing my clients is "What should we mobilize?". The nuts and bolts of HOW to mobilize are actually a lot simpler than figuring out WHAT to mobilize. The mobile environment creates both an opportunity and a challenge for the Product Owner - we now need to get reacquainted with our end-users, learn their behaviors in the mobile context, and what's important to them on-the-go. The opportunity is in discovering a new facet of your target customer and discovering a new way to connect with them and fill a need. (If you don't fill the customer need....... someone else will).

The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule of Mobile application design: your mobile customers WANT TO FIND and DON'T WANT TO BROWSE. You want to create that eureka moment for your end-user as soon as the app loads, without requiring a lot of end-user interaction to get them there. Here's one of my favorite examples:

QVC is a large direct to consumer retailer with mainly a television based business. But they translated their TV sales approach into a highly functional and product rich online e-Commerce site. The website has a wealth of navigation options for refining the browsing experience and arriving at exactly the product you are looking for. Navigation is organized by product category, brand, type, etc... When translating the website experience to the mobile context they stepped away from navigation and just present the most relevant products based on -
  • what's on air now
  • items other customers have indicated as "top rated",
  • the special value of the day.
A very simple, uncluttered, page design presents the most current information most prominently with a secondary focus on searching for something more specific. QVC is an example of a company that "gets it". As tempting as it might be to display a traditional homepage with a window into the tens of thousands of products available to purchase they successfully translated the TV equivalent of "what's on sale now" to the mobile app experience. And if you want to watch TV from your mobile device... you can do that too.

Use Existing Analytics to Drive Mobile App Approach

Anticipate the end-users need, use existing website analytics info to drive this. If you have a desktop browser based site, then chances are you already have some great insight into what your visitors find most useful on the site. Use existing website analytics to determine what also might be most useful in the mobile context. Not only what features are useful but also what OS and browsers are your visitors coming from.

Make it Useful, Useable, and Delightful

It needs to be relevant and fill a need now be easy and fun to use. The example I think of is Shazam.
  • It answers that question "What song is that" in the moment (useful).
  • Simple to use(useable).
  • And who doesn't love watching that icon spin before spitting out the song you are listening to? And how DOES it work? How DOES it know what song I am listening to? (delightful).
There are a lot of ways to skin a cat but to make your app sticky it has to be fun to use, in addition to filling an immediate need. As described in the book Tapworthy most people use their mobile apps when they:
  • are micro-tasking,
  • want to know what's near me now,
  • or are bored.
Keeping these simple ideas in mind when designing your app will help give your app and your brand the contextual relevance needed to make it sticky.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Creating a Culture of Innovation: 3 Lessons on Innovation from Pixar

CNBC aired a great biography recently on the story of Pixar. I was expecting the typical rags to riches story but instead, this was a story of building a culture of innovation. I learned how a few people with a passion for their craft and the confidence and willingness to push the limits of technology can not only, win the infusion of $10 million in investor dollars (from Mr. Steve Jobs) , but also win the hearts of millions of Americans -young and old - by blazing new trails while doing what they LOVE. Now, we can't all be blessed to have careers that bring pure joy to the young and young at heart, but we can take a lesson in how to foster innovation and push people to use their talent to the fullest. So what did Pixar do that we can apply? Here's what I learned:

Create a space that encourages unplanned collaboration
Even if you are bound by the limits of traditional cube-farm style office space, there can be ways to create a more open feel. Place team tables in central places. Centrally located white boards and easels are great ways to signify that this is a space where thoughts can be developed. Give the space a feeling of having a place to "squat" when the need arises instead of relying on planned meetings and pre-arranged meeting space. Keeping open collaborative space provides the canvas for impromptu idea generation and problem solving.

Treat individual office space as an empty canvas
If you've seen any stories in the news about the Zappos company culture, you'll understand this. Zappos allows employs to decorate cubicles and offices with as much style and individual flair required to inspire them. Just the fact that employees have that freedom to personalize their space is empowering to the employee. That feeling of empowerment and individuality helps create a culture where people feel safe to be themselves. When the guard is down that's when some of the best unedited ideas start flowing.

Embed frequent candid, critical feedback loops as part of your product development process
Pixar does this by having daily meetings where editing teams meet to present the movie segment they worked on to peers. The peers give candid and critical feedback. It's not sugar coated. But in an environment where people feel safe, they don't take feedback personal. This free flowing feedback early and often can help turn something that is good into something great quickly.

Innovation is not just a buzz word but is something that good companies truly work at. Apple as the poster child for innovation. Companies that see everyday things differently and create a culture where people are empowered, feel safe, and have the freedom to be themselves are the ones the others are trying to catch up to.

What does your company do to support idea generation, creative thinking, and innovation?