Been making noise over there!

TheMobileAcademy-Logo+TaglineLack of posts since July as I have been busy developing The Mobile Academy programme for UCL Advances and Mobile Monday London.  I write on the launch day – big surprise, awake at 4.30 am!   The programme has sold out and there is already a substantial waiting list. (Read more about the brand creation)

The programme is a 36 hour masterclass in how to make it in mobile, delivered by industry experts (many from the Mobile Monday London community) across design, technology and business.  It is a great fit with Product Doctor in that it is going to provide very practical information, with hands on sessions ,where participants are shown a number of tools that they can start using immediately.

Host Logos UpdatedTHE MOBILE ACADEMY embraces approaches and ideas inspired by:


  • experiment & problem solving
  • form follows function
  • unity of design & technological innovation
  • streamlined, simple elegance




You can follow progress on Twitter @Moblacad and also check out the News page.

The Mobile Academy is hosted by Mobile Monday London and UCL.

UCL Logo

Mobile Monday 10cm wide hi res

Inclusive & Accessible Design



Here are some main insights from a blogpost that Katrina, my Product Doctor colleague, wrote for Mobile Monday London, based on an event that they held in June.

Inclusive Design – The User IS You

Inclusive Design (ID) and Accessibility, and the design principles around these issues, are not confined to a ‘special group’ of people. The notion of good usability is essential to the design of successful mobile products – if not all products – not only for those with a particular capability loss, but for everyone.

The British Standards Institute (2005) defines ID as, ‘The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.’  There are 62 million potentially disabled users in the UK – that this is actually the population of the UK, because whether you are permanently or temporarily disabled with a broken wrist, there is a high probability that eventually you will be affected by accessibility, so it is not just about your users, it is actually about all of us.

Worth reading Henny Swan’s blogpost for agnostic guidelines for developers which contains the presentation she gave.   Following Henny’s presentation, we were treated to a dynamic and interactive discussion – just as we’ve come to expect from a MoMo event!

The panel, chaired by Robin Spinks of the RNIB (Principal Manager, Digital Accessibility), was joined by:

* Damon Rose (Ouch! Podcast producer & BBC News journalist)
* Suzette Keith (Usability and Accessibility Researcher & Visiting academic at Middlesex University). Suzette declared herself, firstly, as “…the representative old person…” at the event and although she didn’t have a smartphone “…I am not alone. I did some work with Hackney Silver Surfers…and out of 12 people one person had a Blackberry, she used it as a phone.”
* Samantha Fletcher (Trustee of the Dyslexia Association of Bromley, Bexley, Greenwich and Lewisham). Samantha also sits on the British Dyslexia Association’s new technology committee. She has quite severe dyslexia, mild dyspraxia and mild A.D.D.
* Former journalist Paul Carter (Co-Director of markthree media). Paul, who was born without arms and legs, joined the panel to talk around people with dexterity issues and mobility problems.

Which? Most helpful Apps  

Asked which apps the panel members found most helpful, it was a clean sweep for apps that were considered most practical and took some of the stress out of everyday tasks:
* For Paul, the move towards contactless and mobile payments, and Hailo (black cab app) – he described as ‘life-changing’ for people with dexterity issues;
* Robin also likes Hailo and apps that are good for the visually impaired (VI): Ultra Magnifier, dictation apps, train times and the Next Bus app;
* Suzette – A standout app for older people is the Transport for London Journey Planner. This also helps reduce the cost of travel for those users not yet old enough to qualify for a free pass;
* Damon – “Blind people have the best technology!” – likes the light detector app on his iPhone;
* High praise from Samantha for – ‘amazing’, the calendar app –‘brilliant for recording everything’. She thinks that, for Dyslexic users, Google beats a dictionary app as the latter requires correct spelling whereas “With Google you can put any rubbish in and somehow it always knows what you’re trying to say.” Google Maps are also a favourite, although, as Samantha pointed out “One of the downsides is if you want to turn the map so you’re looking at it as you’re standing, it will rotate with the phone.”
Yet, I’d suggest that this particular feature is annoying to a much wider populace (me for one) who isn’t particularly good (read: rubbish!) at navigating. Which is why, as Paul described, it makes sense to remember that “Anything that makes anyone’s life easier is going to make life even easier for someone like me.”

Essential Tips – 4 things to remember when developing Accessible apps

Then asked for advice for developers to help them create more Accessible apps, the panel offered some excellent tips:

1. User Testing – There is NO substitute
When it comes to making apps more Accessible, Damon Rose advised “Testing with real life users who have a range of impairments is really the biggest source of guidance.” On the issue of all-encompassing standards for developers to deliver Accessible applications, Suzette Keith said that given the rapid speed of development in the mobile space, it would take a while for Accessibility guidelines to catch up. So “In the meantime, doing your own user trials is going to be your best route for discovering what really needs to be done and tailoring to your particular application… The more that you talk to people and the more you get feedback from individual users and from other developers, you’ll actually begin to build up your knowledge and your confidence in terms of delivering some of this until such a point where you just deliver it without even thinking about it.”
Robin Spinks’ recommendation to developers is to seek out feedback from users. He urged them to “Encourage people to tell you about how Accessible is your app. There are lots of people out there who would love to do that and, quite frankly, buy your app if it’s easier to use.”
The case for user testing was also echoed by Henny Swan “There is no substitute for testing with users across the board but I think in mobile we are at the point where we really need to get it right now, otherwise we are going to be going back and correcting our mistakes in the next few years, just as we did on desktop and we don’t want to go down that route anymore.”

2. “Switch on the device Accessibility settings…”
It may sound obvious but “If you’re designing something and think, how is it going to work, you’ll get a sense quickly when you turn on the functionality as to whether or not it’s going to work. You can do it long before you come to user testing” (Robin Spinks).

3. Apply the K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid) philosophy

(i) Irritating features
Samantha pointed out that people with dyslexia and those with fine motor skills difficulties are not fans of lots of small buttons placed very close together. They are also put off by continuously having to set new passwords which demand to be cap sensitive, 8 letters long and incorporate a character “You think now I’ve gotta remember a new password! I can’t tell you how many apps I’ve binned… PayPal is fantastic because you can have a pin, a 4 digit number instead of a password.” For Paul “Not being able to tab between fields – incredibly irritating. And not being able to get the effing keyboard out of the way. It’s half the screen. Stop it!”

(ii) Do not discriminate between users
As Suzette advocated “In designing the apps, we want to think about people who are in the population, [disabled users] are not a special group… they have particular diverse needs. But actually, you know… what’s clean and simple is always good… The best interfaces you all use are probably also the cleanest and the simplest interface.”
Honestly, does it come as any surprise that the pet peeves identified by the panelists are also issues experienced by many a smartphone user? Once again, this points heavily to the importance of user testing across the board: test products with the very young, the old, those with disabilities and – well, just about everyone else in between!

4. Make it meaningful
Who doesn’t want apps that helps enhance a person’s life? Suzette gave an eye-opening example of an 82-year-old lady who could not get her head around how to use a computer and couldn’t see the value of using one. However “When she was introduced to Skype on the iPad, it was a completely different story. It was immediately obvious it was about her being able to talk to her granddaughter in Australia and about her being able to use something that had very, very few controls and she knew she couldn’t break it. Giving people a simple route that’s meaningful and touches their lives is a really important thing to think about.”

Customisation + Customisation = Accessibilty²

Samantha and Robin agreed that customisable apps were both helpful in terms of improving accessibility and, aside from any disability or need, surely a desirable feature for any app. Damon suggested that giving users a choice over which accessibility features to enable would also go some way to managing how developers, in lieu of any all-encompassing standards, build in greater Accessibility to their products. Robin proposed that customisation may also answer the question of how developers build in something that works for as many people as possible but has minimal cost implications “A device that can have as many different options… For example, being able to connect to a Braille display, or a Bluetooth keyboard, or a switch… It’s about all of that functionality actually being included and… the care being taken in the design and development stage to make that happen.”

Accessible products Make Good Business Sense

1. Expand your market, expand your sales:
(i) Apple and Accessibility
It’s also worth remembering that the the disability market is a very big market. It’s likely, as Damon suggests, that the more Accessible a product, the more people will buy it. Look at Apple. “In terms of consumer electronics they are the company who are pushing that harder across their product range” (Damon Rose).
(ii) Accessible products are moving into the mainstream
Another reason for why large companies like Apple are looking to create more Accessible products is, according to Damon, due to the rise in visibility of people with disabilities “They’re buying things online… becoming more embraced by commerce. In the US, the big store, Best Buy, was holding Accessibility dates and giving the entire store out to promoting Accessibility within devices they have in the store… That’s bringing the market out. It’s making it more visible.”
Robin confirmed this growing trend, recounting how “Even just to go back two years ago; we were running events, showing people how to use an iPhone… Fast forward two years to 2012, Apple are now chasing us, looking for us to run things in their store. The stuff about it being a specialist environment, it’s really moving into the mainstream. App developers are ringing us up saying can you help us to test apps, can you put us in touch with people with disabilities and other organisations that can test the apps to make them really, really easy to use.”

2. The Business Case for Inclusive Design and putting the user first.
Again, look at Apple “…who build in broader functionality and accessibility features at the design stage… There are others, for example, Panasonic have released their entire 2012 range of televisions which actually talk. It’s not an added feature; it’s something that’s been built into the specification” (Damon Rose). The excellent Inclusive Design Toolkit2 nicely talks through the commercial benefits of listening to users early on in the design process:
Every decision made during the design cycle can affect design inclusion and user satisfaction. Failure to correctly understand the users can result in products that exclude people unnecessarily and leave many more frustrated, leading to downstream problems, such as increased customer support requirements that can ultimately reduce commercial success. Conversely, successful implementation of inclusive design can result in a product that is functional, usable, desirable, and ultimately profitable.
(, 2011)

3. Enable your staff to do their job
The reduction in disability benefits means we are more likely to see people with diverse capabilities and needs entering the workforce. It therefore makes sense for companies to ensure that their software, mobile apps and devices are Accessible.

Paul Carter

Legislation Matters
In the UK, there is no specific legislation regarding Accessibility for mobile, whereas in the US, mobile handsets must, by law, be Accessible. Paul Carter added that as cost is a real obstacle, regulation is necessary to push further development in this area. He reminded us that:  “…We suffered for many years in terms of physical access to buildings, being told it can’t happen because it’s too expensive. It was only when that came into legislation that that actually changed.”
Alongside legislation, Robin encouraged organisations that represent groups of disabled users to mobilise and build alliances with international communities that can put forward the case for Accessibility. “It also means when you come to try and talk to Google, actually they want to entertain you. They want to take on board your concerns.”

Discovering the best apps for Accessibility
While AppleVis came up as a key source for VI Apple users, the panelists agreed that the primary means of discovery is by word of mouth. Paul explained that “There’s lots of communities in the disability world. If something is recommended, then it takes off pretty quickly. Most people hear about it.”
Also useful to know, when it comes to marketing your app, Robin talked about harnessing the power of Twitter “One thing that’s happening a lot in the VI sector is if an app becomes Accessible, then actually word spreads extremely fast around Twitter… There’s also a podcast called Access Talk. Robin summed up the discussion by saying that “Share is the keyword in terms of knowledge and updates and experiences.”
On a side note, Damon mentioned that he wouldn’t have bought his light detector app if it had been offered in the RNIB store rather than through iTunes. Am not sure if this is just a question of branding but Damon’s comment could suggest that apps created for a specific capability loss should nevertheless be made available on all the regular distributional channels.
Samantha confirmed that a large number of people in the dyslexic community use iTunes “…and they got very annoyed when apps weren’t available in that and they had to buy them directly off a website. It was confusing.”  The moral of the story? Check with your users! Ask them where they expect and prefer to find their apps made available. Again, this is good practice for all, whoever we’re designing for.

Product Doctor Diagnoses – OTA 2012

Alex Craxton visits the Product Doctor Surgery

Here’s the report from this year’s Product Doctor Drop in Surgery at OTA 2012.

Another interesting range of products; from making a good old phone call, through to tracking housekeeping budget, m-health to enhanced status posting and finishing with around the world travel.

From what I saw in the surgeries, a few trends were certainly coming through:

  • incorporation of scanning technology
  • the continued growth of products to support social networking status posting
  • m-health becoming a reality
  • increased adoption of value added mobile services by the corporate market
  • revenue models from businesses rather than individual spend

Diagnosis hinged around some familiar threads –

Tom Hume drops in to talk shop

1). End User Validation– making sure that user insights are gathered at concept phase and continued user testing continues. The point, as always, is that this is not just usability testing, but testing that the overall concept you have.  Identifying user need and desire, supporting revenue models and product feature set all need to be validated before you go and build your product.

2). Ensure it is a Genuine End User – friends, family, established business contacts and friendly existing customers do not count – they don’t want to upset you.  Remember also, that you are not representative of an entire segment – building something on your own needs is not validation.

Please see “DIY User Engagement” for more guidance.

Paul Moutray gets medical

3). Revenue Modelling – Really think hard about where the pots of money are; this year there was more talk about collecting and providing customer information to brands and generating sales leads for brands.  In this climate and market, a product really has to be amazing for an end user to want to pay for it.

4). Know your competition – make sure you understand who is vying for your customer money or attention.  Think hard about what you think you are selling and question whether it is already being provided today.

5). Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Technology brings many new opportunities and there are some very clever developers out there, but please check out the commercial bases before you give up your job and start building a new product.

There are a couple of other points that struck me this year. I thought about how useful it could be for my patients to hear each others session. Some have experience in areas that others have not and that “share” could have been helpful.  Tying this together with some feedback last year that this felt more like “product therapy”, I am wondering about running group surgeries next year…

Nail your Launch Strategy at an early stage!

Last week I mentored 13 start ups in 2 days at Start Up Weekend Education London (#swel) and at Ignite100, where Katrina and I ran a Product Doctor Drop In Surgery for the teams in Newcastle.  One of the consistent themes was that teams were not thinking about their Launch Strategy early enough. If you read the below, you will see how important it is to do so and how it needs to be considered during the Product Development phase rather than aftewards.

Diagnosis: Your product feels like all things to all people
This can be a dangerous position as it is difficult to focus in a way that enables you to understand who your end users are. This distance between the product and its end users is likely to result in feature overload, lack of clarity in the product description, product positioning and launch plan which will ultimately limit your success.

Feature overload increases your time to market. The more features, the longer the product development time, the longer the testing time is and the longer the fix period. It also adds time to future development time as regression testing takes longer.

Lack of clarity in the product description, product positioning and launch plan may not “speak” to end users in their language as you don’t know what language they speak. If they don’t feel targeted it will be more difficult to get them interested in your product.

Then the million dollar question: “How are you going to drive traffic to your site?” If you don’t know who you are targeting, how can you possibly work out how to drive traffic?  Of course everyone talks about the industry press and blogs – but will this reach your target group?

Be really good in one area first. Consider organising your product roadmap around product launches to different sectors / areas, each backed up with a tailored feature set.

Work closely with your end user target segment to not only establish the feature set but also develop ideas for product positioning and launch tactics.

For your initial launch, select an industry sector / area that you have some connection to already. Either you have worked within it, or you already have contacts who you can get close to, giving you access to end users to engage in the ways described above throughout the development process.

You can show your product feature list to users (worded in user-friendly language of course) and have them put the features in order of desirability. Ask them not to rate any features that they are not interested in.  You should see some consensus forming quickly as long as you have defined your target segment well. You can also get them to indicate where the features are a hygiene factor (they just must be there) vs something that feels it is different to the competition. Note that it is not who you think your competition is, but who your users think your competition is.

Cross tab this feature list against a scale of how easy / difficult the product is to deliver (Scrum processes involving points to show this is advised). Cross tab this further with some benchmarking and make sure that the sector / area you choose does not already have a popular solution. Ensure that you work with end users to establish where any competitors are strong and weak. Establish your product feature set and positioning around these insights.

For more tips on “DIY User Engagement”, see my previous blogpost.

DIY User Engagement

Me, Katrina Damianou and one of our patients: Ketan Majmudar at the Product Doctor Surgery, OTA 2011. Photo courtesy of the fabulous Paul Clarke -

This year at Over the Air in Bletchley Park, Katrina and I set up a Product Doctor Drop in Surgery offering 25 minute complimentary sessions. On a scorching couple of days, we set up outside and were happy to have a continual stream of patients, including the wonderful @Documentally and @Bookmeister.

Listening carefully, as we always preach, we are considering next year calling it “Product Therapy” as the sessions seemed to have a cathartic effect!

Rather than blogging a long post, here are the contents and the full paper is available for download below.

  1. It is never too early (or too late) to engage end users
  2. What do you show users?
  3. How to find your end users
  4. Can you have the conversation with end users?
  5. How to begin the conversation
  6. Write a test script
  7. “I can’t explain what my product does”
  8. Showing a prototype
  9. Testing for usability
  10. Keep checking back with users as you develop and improve each new feature
  11. Build and test your product before developing your brand
  12. Be honest with yourself as to why you are developing the App
I hope you find this useful and as always, please do get in touch or leave comments below.

Just had an appointment with the Product Doctor

@Documentally aka Christian Payne aka Our Man Inside – our first happy customer at Over The Air Conference!  Key insight here was to consider who your users / addressable market think you are and what you do,  not who you think you are. His comments on Posterous are:

“…Massive thanks to @Jewl and @Katzstar for giving me therapy. The things I didn’t know about what it is I do & how I could do it better…”

Dr Katrina listens for signs of life!


“Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend about his new B2B product which was in the process of being prototyped.  The words that tripped out were “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”.

The product was being centred around insights gathered by the CEO through general conversations with potential end users.  My concerns with this were:

  • The potential end users were not budget holders and therefore could not eventually make the decision to purchase the new product.  So in this case, research around the benefits of the product should be also carried out with budget holders – seeing if there is a case to make their organisation more efficient / productive / profitable as a result of adopting this product.
  • The potential end users had genuine pain points that needed solutions, but the prototype was a number of months down the line and no one had been back to those potential end users to see if the solution being developed was addressing their need. As I always say, you don’t need to wait for a prototype to continue your dialogue with users. You can talk about what they would want the product do to and why – build up the bank of “user stories” (Scrum reference) and get those prioritised before you begin your build.
  • The CEO may well not be the best person to talk to end users. Classically CEOs are strong characters; leaders who are passionate about their product.  An end user may well not be comfortable to say “no” to a person like this!  It takes certain personality traits and practice to be good at gathering user insight.

The very talented developer was building up the prototype from sketchy top line requirements written by the CEO. He was injecting a large dose of filling in the many blanks with clever code that enabled the product to do all sorts of things that had never been done before.  But was this functionality that the user wanted and the budget holders would agree to buy? Nobody knew.

Diving in to the feasibility (technical capability), working up the viability (scalability) and then establishing desirability (the user need) is the trap.  This is how many companies end up with a product that may technically work well but does hit the sweet spot with users.  They then often then find that they are continually customising the product for individual clients, which is not cost effective and not scalable.  Another classic result of this approach is feature overload – features built in to a product that are never used – again resulting in wasted resource.  This model needs to be reversed and you need to start first with desirability.

Point made?!

Creating learning opportunities for young people through user centred design

I was invited to speak about Designing Products & Propositions for the Youth Market by Luke Mitchell of Reach Students at “Youth Marketing Stategy 2011”.

There was an interesting mix of speakers covering the youth market from a number of different perspectives; ranging from insights, marketing and creative agencies, community management and viral marketing to universities and graduate recruiters. This was a great place to share my insights about the youth market and to encourage all these players in the youth space to create learning opportunities for young people through their projects.

Here is the presentation that I gave. It gives many examples of how I have engaged young people in the design of youth products and the value that created for the producers.

Here are some further highlights from the day:

Understanding Youth Tribes – a new way to look at youth segmentation
This visual was created by a teenage boy who was asked to describe his local neighbourhood.  This was shown by Neil Taylor & Joe Beck from Channel 4.  This insight inspired their UK Tribes research on youth segmentation, insights and motivations and is definitely worth a read.
Here are the main tribes that they went on to identify through further interviews with young people.

Educational Institutions

Brunel University showed how social media can be used in educational institutions.  They had run focus groups to get some initial insights.  Great opportunity here for one of my pleas… run co-design sessions with students and the project team.  Start by sharing the intended business objectives and benefits. Move on to exploring and identifying the user benefits with the students and then to brainstorming user stories (Scrum reference) as you go.  “As a user I would like to ….. so that …”  Then co-design the user experience of products, systems and processes together.

For me, traditional “focus groups” are often not focussed enough.

  • The participants feel like the fish being watched in the bowl so are often not natural in their behaviour.  Smash down those viewing gallery windows and get the client in the room!
  • Participants feel that the researcher is wanting a particular answer and the session will often become a “guess the right answer” game.
  • Before going to research, the researcher / client will usually have done quite a lot of work designing the proposition based on assumed user needs – so save time and get in with the user early on to test any assumptions from the start.
  • Often clients will take the output of a focus group and months later, they may return and test out their solutions.  No! Keep going back – preferably every 2 weeks, within a scrum structure, and get users to sign off what has been developed as you go. Again, this will save time, money and effort.

Helen Pennack, Head of Marketing & Communications,  University of Leicester is an award-winning marketer who has been developing a portal and integrated social media marketing plan to both attract potential students and provide support to existing students at Leicester University.  She heavily engaged end users in the design and the community management of the portal. Another one that is worth a look and another way to help young people develop their real life skills and CV build as they go.

Not going to Uni!

Spencer Mehlman of provided a particularly refreshing and pragmatic alternative view to graduating and not finding a job.  Here is the leading paragraph from their website which says it all: “…So you’re thinking about not going to uni. Congratulations! You’ve just proved that you’re not afraid to think differently. Contrary to what the masses may say, university isn’t the only path to success. From apprenticeships to debt-free learning, there are literally thousands of other opportunities out there…”

Do Students Matter in Youth Marketing?

Ben Marks and Melanie Cohen of Opinion Panel gave some good reasons to engage students:

1. It is a population that’s large enough to matter

2. They are enthusiastic early adopters who take products viral

3. Student trends have always lead the way

4. Today’s students are tomorrow’s wealthy citizens and opinion leaders

Opinion Panel run online real-time moderated focus groups. The benefits of this method are that groups can be run with users from different locations and that many insights come from the conversation between users rather than those between moderator and respondent.  Trick here is to make sure that this is an appropriate method for the key questions that you have.  A good researcher will gain a huge amount of insight by looking in to the respondents’ eyes – some questions will always need to be face to face.

James Eder from gave a very engaging talk on how they have the largest student subscriber base in the UK for research through their special discounts and offers incentives. They work with many brands to solicit student opinion.  Again, this is online.

And for a great finish…

Get Tom Scott to speak at your event – I cannot think of anyone that could help your event finish on such a big high. Google him for examples of his viral successes. Importantly, he encourages us to try lots of different approaches, not to settle on one. This way we have more chance of succeeding.

All in all this was a good conference and I hope that Luke does another one!  As with all conferences, not all the sessions were useful for everyone as it was quite diverse around the sector, but there certainly are possibilities for them all to create real life learning experiences for young people and I hope that they do.

Please start with the User Need!

Last week I went to App Circus in London, sponsored by Nuance (@AlexCraxton was there) and BlueVia (@jamesparton and @bookmeister), to hear developers pitch their Apps for the chance to win a slot to be nominated for the 2012 Mobile Premier Awards at Mobile World Congress 2012.

I have seen many Apps pitched and it always bemuses me quite how many do not start with or even include proof of the user need; be that the pain point that they are addressing and / or a way to significantly improve the user experience of something that they already do.

The winner of this round was Masabi – “The ticket machine in your pocket” where “…UK rail travellers can now check train times and book tickets from almost any mobile phone – no complex sign-up required…”  I have seen the effervescent Ben Whitaker (@Benmasabi – Founder), present this product before and he is enjoying some well deserved success as the product is now live with many rail operators in a number of different countries.  Masabi addresses a real user need, vastly improving the user experience of buying train tickets, who no longer need to stand in line, and in turn providing brownie points to the rail operators that have signed up.  Listen to Ben and how he starts with the user need, and how lively this crowd was (after a few beers as the marvellous @Jorabin pointed out to me!)

Conclusion is to make sure that you are addressing a real user need as you develop your clever Apps.  If you are going to pitch your App, start with your user insights. If you don’t have user insights, go get them!  You can read more in an earlier post on this blog: Advice for Developers from my Product Doctor Drop In Surgery, OTA 2010.

Product Doctor has a number of innovative formats to help bring user insights to your business, product, conference or event.  Please feel free to contact me for more information.