iHub UXlab By Mark Kamau / October 18, 2012
What is the iHub User Experience Lab and why does it matter to you?
Kenya is an innovation hub – a common assertion on many forums. Products such as M-Pesa and Ushahidi have firmly put the country on the global tech map. But we need to start developing products that truly meet the needs of the population, and that are truly scalable, if we are to make these assertions a reality beyond the M-Pesa /Ushahidi buzz.
Despite the worthy level of programming capacity in the region, many of the mobile applications and web platforms are still created with a top down approach. A programmer enthusiastic about an idea writes beautiful code that hypothetically makes sense – but that has zero data on the user they are targeting with this product.
- Hundreds of man-hours later, a frustrated, under-rested and over-caffeinated programmer with a product that only they truly appreciate, folds.
- Matters are made worse that there was no user-interface designer in the first place to better advice on how the product could work better and intuitively for the end user.
- To compound the problem, there is no affordable designer to do the user interface design. Sounds familiar?
This is why the iHub UX Lab is here. There is a lot of attention that is given to products from a developer’s perpective. Most apps and products are engineer driven rather than user driven. This is what needs to change so that much more attention is given to understanding users whose needs then dictate the technology rather than vice versa.
Something to think about: how many Kenyan apps are on your smart phone? The answer is probably none or nearly none. Why? Simple. Most don’t address a need that is important enough to you. If the developer found out what is most important to you and proposed a technology that solves it, you would most likely consider using it. This process is what user experience is all about. Finding out what the most pressing problem is, the solution that is most appropriate and optimizing the delivery of this solution. It is, simply put, doing what you have been doing, but doing it smarter!
The iHub UX Lab
We are building a state of the art user-experience lab, which basically means as a start up or business, you will be able to test your product and adapt valuable feedback from your target market so that in the end, you are truly building it for them and addressing their needs. If you are solving a problem they have and in a way that makes sense for them, uptake chances improve tremendously.
Why is User Experience important to you?
As a startup or established organization, you set out to develop a product as a solution to a challenge(s). It is targeted for a certain segment of the market or population. It is critical to understand this market. Unfortunately, we often don’t find time or resources to do this with serious implications.
User experience research and testing involves finding out from this population exactly what their challenge is and how best you can help address this challenge. It then helps you determine where and how to concentrate your effort to ensure you hit the bulls eye with your target market.
Often you do not have in house bandwidth or knowhow to conduct this research and testing of the product once the product is developed. With the iHub UX Lab here, we are able to help you do this work and test your products with users. We then give you recommendations for improvements before releasing the product to the market for best impact.
If the product is already in the market, we are able to engage users to find out what needs to change or how you can keep improving the product for bigger impact. This way, you can focus on what you are good at.
Beyond that, we are prepared to develop convenient training programs that equip you with the basics of how to think and approach your product design/development process from a user centric perspective. This way, the whole team operates with a user centric radar, giving the product a much better chance in the market.
There are no other full service user experience design labs in sub Saharan Africa. In this sense, it is a privilege and unique opportunity for companies in this region.
Once done, the lab will be fully equipped – with a proper testing room equipped with cameras and eye tracking technology on one side an observation room with monitors to see what the user is doing on the other side.
It s being built out to be a space with modern technology but with an African touch where designers/creatives will be able to create and crunch out ideas in a space specially built for them.
What have we done so far?
- We have built 70% of the lab and are working to complete the build out. We are also working on finding support to equip the lab.
- Already organized for the first world class UX training with Thoughtworks flying in UX expertise from London to give a training from 29th to 2nd November.
- We have already started UX research and testing for the community. We are building more partnerships with global design thinking and user experience expert organizations and individuals for your benefit
For more on how to get the UX training on the 29th to 2nd November, contact Mark Kamau, the iHub UX Lab lead (mark[@]ihub.co.ke)
Reagan Sirengo at 20:44:04PM Friday, October 19, 2012
The organisation first needs to have the mantra of user centred design.
Before you implement a UX lab, you need to recognise that there are lots of potential pitfalls to avoid. Some of the more common ones include:
1) Assuming that everyone in the organisation values a good user experience as much as you do
2) ‘Stepping on the toes’ of other groups and not being sensitive to their priorities
3) Introducing a new methodology on top of an existing methodology
4) Transforming internal staff into user experience specialists without training
5) Bringing in a consulting company without knowledge transfer
My four recommendations for a new UX lab will be:
1) Embed UX work in the development cycles (this often requires adapting to multiple dev processes used across different teams). Learn, use, and promote “agile” methods. I’ve often that once I understand the people around me it’s much easier to embed UX into the development cycle. For instance talk to a developer, see how you can work with them, and what type of thinking they need from you. Once you’re a player in the team you then have a bit more room to promote and prove the worth of UX.
2) Foster executive stakeholders that are strong advocates. The higher in the organization the better. With access to funding. Respected (even if not loved) within the organization.
3) Train designers with usability evaluation skills first (rather than focusing on user researchers and usability specialists without augmenting the design capacity of the organization). Also, visual design is critical to most products these days; don’t overlook this when hiring designers.
4) Invest in user testing tools. As someone who works with start-ups and SMBs, finding low-cost, high-impact tools is an absolute necessity. Fortunately, the usability world has been blessed by dozens of new tools over the last couple of years. The web/ apps don’t live on a desk anymore. The reality is that we now need to test our work on multiple devices our users own, instead of just few desktop browsers. We need to open a device lab to help the local web developer community test their work on the ever-growing range of mobile devices. I believe in testing on real devices. Software emulators and simulators can be useful, but in the end they can only do that; simulate the experience . To make testing on real devices possible for everybody, we need open device labs.
However, understanding these business goals is not enough to ensure success. You also need to understand the organisational barriers and opportunities to introducing usability, user-centred design and broader UX activities, as well as the cultural myths and values held within your organisation. By understanding these, your team will better understand how to work within the context of organisation, and also with others on your team. Such barriers have the potential to prevent or undermine the adoption of your UX design activities. Think of it as an existing or planned circumstance that may get in the way of your ability to carry out UX activities. Such as:
1) Inadequate communication between developers and users
2) Clients not understanding usability or UX and therefore not wanting to pay or embrace for it
3) Different groups within your organisation “owning” the user experience
4) Not enough skills in usability and UX design
5) Most of the projects are too small to incorporate explicit UX design
6) Overloading the UX specialist(s) with too many projects to support
7) Having projects which are located across the organisation and are hard for the specialists to reach
8) Demystifying UX standardization so that the practice is not difficult to sell
It is not until you understand your organisation at this level that you can start to craft a UX lab that will really work. It is essential to recognise what they are so you can determine how best to introduce and foster a user-centred culture and a UX team.
It is always important to remember how to evangelize the IA and UX practice. I have found that lately our community (we) have been focusing on Enterprise IA or IA/UX for major projects, but, what about small projects? What about small-to-medium businesses that are just learning what IA/UX means? Or don’t have an idea of what IA/UX is? While I feel that large corporations need to be the driving force and know about it, we still have to educate small-to-medium businesses about IA/UX methodologies and the ROI of implementing them. Like Often times, it’s more about the person than the process. We need to document our Wins, then Publicize RuthlesslyReply
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