Total and Marginal Experience

Understanding Economics for Design
I have always been a strong proponent of the fact that designers need to constantly keep an eye on other disciplines of study. It contributes to the holistic learnings for the designer. So, it disappoints me when the students in a lot of design schools today do not read. I have made reading compulsory in the classes I am teaching this semester. One of the things I always enjoy reading about is Economics.

I recently have enrolled in this class on Public Policy, and Economics is one of the core courses in this. I have always been interested in Economics, and have often considered learning more about it. This became even more evident, when I found myself constantly referencing different aspects of Economics while discussing how human behaviour has changed over the years in India, since the liberalisation of the 1990s. Whether it be education, transport, healthcare, retail or entertainment, our lives in India was never the same after the then PV Narasimha Rao government open up the doors to more foreign investments in the country.

The more I read about the circumstances in which things happened and the decisions that were take to ‘save’ the country, the more intrigued I get about it. I get into a series of nostalgia, trying to recollect the India from my school days from 1991 onwards.

On Rational Behaviour and Design
At the core of economics is the notion of rationality and that all decisions made by the end beneficiary is based on perfectly sensical rational behaviour. One of the key notions we face, is how do we design for rational behaviour?

Policies are created to make people act with rational behaviour, which is the act that they do in their best personal self interest. This brings us to the notion of subjectivity, that we rely so much heavily on in design.

When we think of design, we want our users (customers) to go with this rational behaviour. We often mention that the users should feel completely natural in performing an action.

There are few fundamental aspects of economics that are important for designers to understand.

The concept of utility is amongst the most important of them all.

In economics, utility is a measure of preferences over some set of goods and services. The concept is an important underpinning of rational choice theory in economics and game theory, because it represents satisfaction experienced by the consumer of a good. A good is something that satisfies human wants.

This is further divided into two kinds. Total utility and Marginal Utility.

Total utility is the total satisfaction received from consuming a given total quantity of a good or service, while marginal utility is the satisfaction gained from consuming another quantity of a good or service. Sometimes, economists like to subdivide utility into individual units that they call utils.

Total and Marginal Utility
Fig courtesy : economicsconcepts.com

As you can note, as we increase the consumption, the Total Utility (TU) increases and our Marginal Capacity decreases.

This understanding of utility can be an important thing when thinking about experiences as well. What is the just the amount of experience you could provide to the users could be termed as the total experiences. What if the user did that extra task that convinced them to do one thing more. This is the marginal experience that he/she has gained by doing that extra task.

When these extra tasks end up becoming higher in number, we lose out on the total experience gained in the first place and the marginal experience is not that substantial to add any value to the earlier felt experiences.

Many times in the desire to do more, we end up adding a lot of features to product interfaces. This is a classic example of us trying to give more to the user than he has an appetite for.

The advent of 4G and telecom wars

Every-time there is a disruption in the telecom market, there is a flurry of wars that come out of it. It happened when Reliance had its CDMA phones, it happened when Tata-Docomo was launched and there will be now when Reliance JIO is launched. These are healthy wars from the end customer point of view.

Telecommunications in India is a good case study. It gives many interesting insights about consumer behaviour, about how markets are driven and how companies bring their strategies to execute to win.

Telecom IndiaA few months ago, I was in Bihar, where Reliance Jio was already launched as a part of their pilot study (or early market capture if you want to call it). The new markets to be captured are there. (Bihar, UP and Bengal are amongst the most populous states in India). I was pleasantly surprised to see that people had these amazing phones with good configuration and decent design. I was further surprised to find many of my friends catching up on serials on Colors, Sony etc, on their JIO connection phones without buffering. Now this is a location in Bihar, that had good 3G and now has 4G. Not many places around the country has the same. So when Reliance mentions that they are looking to make 4G accessible to at least 90% of areas in the country, it is definitely worth taking notice.

There is a whole new generation of users who are going straight onto mobiles without ever having used a laptop/desktop and also now on 4G directly. This is an interesting thing in the context of designing and developing solutions for this market. New rules would have to be written for this interesting demographic.

There are different plans launched for the consumers, and I think the Rs 499 one is a good price bracket to capture the masses. The unlimited usage at night is a good offering. Mobile data has always been the more expensive thing, left for the elite few. For this audience that I am talking about, the notions of small recharges, 100MB data over a slow 2G connections have been normal. So 4G and this really attractive pricing changes all of that. The behemoth that Reliance is, it can take this step to not (or low) charge customers upto December, till they get their critical mass of audience.

In a way this is also a signal to other service providers to get in the game and play. Some service providers have already announced the reduction of the rates of their existing plans. I am sure the likes of Airtel and Vodafone and Idea have been following the developments on the 4G front with keen eyes. We wait to see what comes of it. Airtel has been trying to get the maximum of this 4G game for some time, with advertisements specifically focusing on 4G and the free distribution of  (or upgrade to) 4G sims.

While Reliance could have done this to play to the masses, it is important to see how the experience is. Quality will suffer and the challenge is to see whether the technology and telecommunications network is able to live up that expectations. Loyalty of customers to a certain brand, was nullified with the ability to port the number to other network. As a result the only way that remains is the customer experience and value added services that come along with it. I am hoping that the end customers will benefit immensely from this.

On the equipment front, Reliance had done this game changer move with bundling up with Nokia and other phones for their CDMA technology service. Currently it is doing the same with LYF phones and its range of affordable yet good smart phones. The vision is that the phones will become a top selling phone, for there will be no other way to get JIO.  Which also really brings to the point worth pondering over. Just how much extra do we end up paying for our Phones presently!

Today Innovation happens in an Ecosystem and not in isolation. JIO is also relying heavily on VoLTE as a key offering through the JIO eco-system. Eventually the plan could be to build this Eco-system.

These are all interesting times for the designers and innovators. We will be forced to come up with new rules and ways of working to ensure that the products and services that are designed for this audience who perhaps do not care about loyalty, and is still highly experience driven.

Design is not ‘cosmetic’ work

Good things come with a price. Good Design is one of them. How well do you know what good design is? Do you even understand what Design is ?  These are some questions that keep me up a lot these days. An integral part of my work these days is Design Evangelism through workshops at corporates and colleges.

The good part of things, as it stands today is that owing to the popularity of ‘design learning centres’, there are a lot of ‘designers’. The bad part is that there are very few ‘good designers’. The worst part is that there are a lot of people out there who hire people who are not designers and get them to do design work, for their understanding on design itself skewed and limited.

There are lot who still view Design as an add on-thing. Something that comes later. Historically, the goal of design as an act was to make things look beautiful. This means that the impact of design stopped at the Visceral level. More often than not, this ‘beautification’ would come at the end of projects. In software engineering parlance, Visual Design or the final appearance is a Last-in-First-Out (LIFO) thing. Designers add the visual (cosmetic) component to the designs only after the development has been done.

It is important to let clients know that there is a lot that goes on to make things look (simple and) beautiful. Unfortunately there are many who don’t believe so still. Recently, I got this email from a client, whom I have been chasing to do some balance payment. They shamelessly put it as, we will not pay because the logo design you did was just ‘cosmetic’ work. They go on to further say that for these small change requests we have, on the designs you delivered for the android application screens; we will not pay anything. That is also ‘cosmetic’ work, and we are not in a position to pay. And that we will continue to ask for changes.

In my previous avatar of not being able to say no to clients, and being the good-exploited-designer, I would go ahead and agree and do the work. This time I did not. I reminded about the balance payment and refused to do the work till past payments was cleared.

There are numerous designers out there who do not refuse what the client wants, or question the clients and later complain of being exploited by clients.

Design has moved beyond just the aesthetics. It has even reached the boardroom! It’s time clients accepted that fact. It’s time designers speak more about this.

The client often does not know the terms of engagement with the designers. Is it the designer’s task to inform the client about what design is and what the deliverables would be like? Now this is important because often we as designers ourselves are not sure of what our deliverables are.

Once, I had to convince a client that as a consultant to their product, one of my deliverables would be a critique ‘document’. The client was of course shocked to hear this, because they were expecting fancy screens. It is important to let the client know that even this is work, for we spend the time and energy in doing the exercises. There are many instances where I have delivered only paper prototypes as a part of the final deliverables too. Sometimes they are just wireframes that explain the entire product.

Design is NOT just cosmetic work.

There are ample resources out there to tell you that there are so many more components to design. The sooner you understand this, the better are your chances of a high success to the designer.

If you are a designer in the true sense, either by virtue of training, I sincerely request you to spend some time of yours in purely Design evangelism activities and letting the people know the difference between a the role of a designer and a software operator. Until that happens, we would be forced to pay high amount to people just trained in softwares and assuming they know design well.

#design #startups #teamwork

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The post will form the crux of Chapter 3, from upcoming book ‘Make-it-look beautiful’.
Notes from my teaching and consulting work in Design over the past 12 years.

You can read the previous chapter Do me a favor, kill the term UI/UX .

Do me a favor. Kill the term UI/UX!

As an advisor to many startups, I get to speak to a lot of entrepreneurs, product managers, developers and hiring managers. One thing that remains consistent is that they face a lot of challenges in getting the ‘right’ designer on board. This of course is after they have decided that they do need one and that the designer or the creative guy is also an integral part of the team and equally responsible for the success of the product.

Getting this ‘fit’, is challenging because the designer has to understand the product well and often be forced to think from the business perspective, and for the product manager it is challenging because with design being a subjective thing, the designers’ bias always come into the picture.

To make matters worse, product owners are often asking for something that is confusing. You cannot ask for UI/UX person and have the same expectations from them? They are two different breed of people and come with different skill sets.

Every time you use the term UI/UX, a pretty bird dies somewhere!

This is a serious problem, and one that is doing a lot of damage to the product and design industry both.  We have to understand why we got into using this term and where we messed it up. In my opinion, there are multiple factors to this. One is a clear case of a problem of supply and demand. With the dearth of good UX designers, people often have no choice but end up taking a UI person. If you have studied design, you would know that they are different. Second is the fact that you do not have a clear understanding of whether you need a UI or a UX person. Third is that a lot of the job descriptions for design positions are written by people who have no or little background in Design.

When you put up a requirement stating that you are seeking UI/UX guy, you are literally saying that you are okay with hiring either a UI person OR a UX person for the same set of requirements that you may have. This is NOT right. This is further not right because you have underestimated the potential of engaging a good UX person and more likely assumed that the designer (UI person) could come to make that interface of yours look beautiful.  I understand that you are in a crisis and need to hire the person soon, to get the designs out. But you should be aware on what to expect, when you hire a particular profile.

Expectations from a good UI designer ?
He ends up studying a lot of the design Trends, rules and theories behind good Interface design, become good at softwares and tools. Dribbble and Pinterest are perhaps his best friends.

Expectations from a good UX designer ?
He ends up studying a lot of design from different aspects. You get to understand market trends on innovation, data, business and the disruptions happening in the industry. He understands design process well. He speaks from the user’s point of view all the time.

It’s evident that these are clearly two different set of skills and profiles of people that we are dealing with.

If you still don’t believe me, take a look at the numerous job postings out there. Majority of them seek a ‘UI/UX’ person.

As a designer I get a clear understanding about the culture of the company or the people I will be interacting with, just by looking at this job posting. It reflects a lack of clarity in the product owner’s vision and engaging with people.

We need to bring a corrective measure to this. 

Let’s start by doing me a favour. Kill this term UIslashUX aka UI/UX. I cringe with frustration, every time someone uses that term. If you need a UI person, ask for one. If you need a UX person, be prepared to engage them in matters beyond the UI and give them that space, resources, time and budget to fulfil that need. As product owners, you need to have this clarity. It would ensure that your engagement with the designers would be a much better experience.

In my opinion, as product managers, your goal should be to get a UX guy. Someone who is proficient with the different things under the UX umbrella and is really rock solid good at either one or two disciplines within UX.

Be clear in your requirements and your expectations when you are hiring the designer. For many product owners the realisation that you need a designer on board comes early in the process and they engage the designer at the right time. It is often seen that for the ones that realise early, they are seeking the User Experience Designers . For the ones that realise late, they end up hiring more User Interface designers.

How do you know whether a person is a UI person or a UX Person? Here are some pointers. 

  • UI person talks in interfaces. UX person talks in experiences.
  • UI person talks more about the layout and trends on interfaces. UX person talks about the overall experience from product sales and marketing to product usage to customer support.
  • UI person will talk more about the tools. UX person will talk more about the processes and design rationales.
  • UI person is more screens and Visual Design driven. UX person is more system and strategy driven.

A word of advice to a lot of junior designers is to move up to being more of a UX Designer and not be limited to only a UI Designer. I started my career as a UI person. We were called User Interface Designers then. Except the once in a while call with the Business Analysts who would sit onsite and assume to know everything about a product, there was hardly any insight into the business side of the project. Even talking to the developers used to happen only once in a while. Over the years where I evolved into a User Experience person, I enjoy my conversations with the developers on a regular basis as well as the challenges that the business is facing. Often, I am discussing with the marketing team on how the USP of the product, which has a great UX needs to be highlighted and marketed well.

We are evolving into a product-driven industry, constantly trying to create amazing products. Design plays a substantial role in the creation of these products.  As companies adopt the Agile and the Lean way of working, the need for collaboration amongst the three, viz the Designer, Developer and the Product Owner (Manager) is the way forward. UX needs to be emphasised as a company culture element. Something that is fundamentally evident in everything you do.

Finding the right designer for your product is tough. Seek and you shall find. Just make sure you ask the right question.

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This post was first published on Linked In.
This post is Chapter 2 of a series of posts on Product Management, UX and Design, from Make it Look Beautiful. A compilation of essays and tips from my years of Design Consulting practice and teaching at Design schools and Management schools.

Here is the Chapter 1.

The Designer’s Angst

We have built this product, and are looking for a UX designer who can ‘Make it Look Beautiful’.

This would be the content of I do not know how many mails I have received in the past from Product Owners, Entrepreneurs, Cool Startup Guys, Project (Product) Managers at large companies, etc. I have had no problems with that, except when it started getting repetitive and, as a result frustrating at times. More often than not, I would reply back with the question whether you are looking for a Visual designer or a UX Designer. The reply would always be UX Designer, but in reality, I knew that they wanted a purely Visual Designer. Needless to say, I would often end up refusing to work with that client because more often than not the UX suggestions would be discarded.

Screenshot 2015-05-14 18.50.10

Over the past few years, I ended up teaching at an Exec MBA program, mentoring students taking courses in design both online and offline, taking workshops at corporates and speaking about Design at various conferences and events. My interactions with lots of Product Leaders, Product Owners, Product Managers and people who want to start their own Product Companies gave some very interesting insights. From being clueless about UX to the classic misunderstanding that UX is UI, to not understanding the value of research, to being driven by beautiful things! I also attended numerous startup events, spoke to numerous investors, visited a couple of accelerators to understand where the problem is.

I come to the conclusion, that in India (and to some extent perhaps around the world), we face a huge supply-demand gap. There are few (good) designers, and the demand has suddenly risen; for design is cool and the buzz word in the industry today. The role of the designer in the industry itself has changed over the years. However, the notion of what constitutes a good UX is still missing widely.

It is for sure that almost every Product Leader now at least knows that design is ‘important’ and should not be ignored. But not everyone is sure about when to invest in it and how to go about it. These are perhaps the greatest challenge that a Product Leader faces.

For some this engagement with a designer comes from the inception, while some get them too late. How do these things impact the team? With the introduction of new processes that teams follows, how does the Designer with a penchant for the waterfall way of working adapt and fit into it.

With the plethora of resources available, picking up the skills and knowledge is not that difficult. So why does the UX designer still demand a high value?

Make it Look Beautiful! is a handbook for Product Leaders and Designers to collaborate better to create amazing products. Over the course of the different chapters in this book, I would write about my discussions on various aspects of design, product management, innovation and research.

Rejoice. NID Ahmedabad as an institute of National Importance.

Design education in India just went one step higher in terms of more acceptance from the society and the people in the government. The realisation of the importance and role of design in the development of the society is important.  So, in my opinion, the recent passing of the NID bill in the Rajya Sabha, to declare NID as a institute of National Importance is a landmark thing. NID being the oldest design institute in India, had to get this. Today as I write this, there is more hope for design in India than ever before. This is driven not just from the perspective of education, but also the industry relations.

  • The bill will also enable the NID to undertake sponsored and funded research as well as consultancy projects.
  • It will enable the NID to conduct research and training in all disciplines related to design.
  • It would allow the NID to confer honorary degrees, diploma, certificates and awards and other academic distinctions and titles in disciplines relating to design.
  • The institute will now be able to award degrees to its students.
  • Also be able to open PhD Programs in Design. This was earlier being offered only by IITGuwahati, IIT Bombay and more recently Srishti school of Design (through Manipal University)

Image courtesy: Times of India, epaper.

 

NID Bill
NID Bill

I hope that the NID rewards the degree of Bachelor of Design, (BDes) the same that is being given to students at the IIT Guwahati, NIFT and other deemed universities undergraduate programs.  Ever since I got that BDes degree from the IIT Guwahati in 2005, I have wanted to see more people in my tribe. Though I have never faced any problem in my professional career, it was a bit difficult to explain the BDes degree to many, especially in areas of the country, where only BTech or MBBS or MBA are the degrees that they have heard of.

What we need now is a regulatory body to approve and look at the developments of Design Institutes in India. Technical, Management, Dental, Medical, Architecture education all has its regulatory body, but Design so far does not have one. Considering the amount of requirement that we have, I thing we are highly short on the number of design schools here. However care has to be taken to ensure that it does not go the engineering / management way of just increasing the numbers, compromising on quality. It was hoped that the India Design Council, would have that role of being the regulatory body, but its not been the case so far.

The Vision first series of discussions with the earlier government on the role of Design in the country and Visioning Design Innovation Centres to come up in the country. This does not directly translate to the setting up of more design colleges. Centres of excellence in Design, can be set up in numerous of the existing engineering and management colleges as well. A lot of the new IITs being set up have been involved in this process. I know of this happening atleast at the Disruptive Design course at IIT Gandhinagar and Department of Design at IIT Hyderabad.  The setting up of the DLabs by Indian School of Business, and its project of taking Design Workshops at Engineering colleges in India is commendable.

With the new government settling in, , in his post (an open letter to the new Prime Minister Modi) also writes about the possibility of a setting up of a ministry of Design in India.

  • The expectations are mounting and so are the problems. I want to draw your attention to do something dramatic, as is expected of you. Please create a new ministry: Ministry of Design.
  • The Ministry of Design can be the agent of change that you want to see. And you can count on the design community to join you in this cause.

These are all good signs for the progress of Design and Design education in India. The days ahead are challenging, because we need more professionals to get involved. It is good to see more professionals willing to come to Design colleges and spend time with the students. But the time is right to also make being in the design education field also a good career choice for designers.

Transcultural Design – Masters program

Since January this year, I have been in-charge of running a 2 years Masters program in Transcultural Design in India. This is a short article on what the program is about and how one can get admission to it.

Transcultural Design – A unique opportunity for Design Graduates

In the current context of globalization, understanding other cultures and other value systems is a major asset for every designer. Lecole de Design Nantes Atlantique offers a unique two years Masters program in Transcultural Design at its Asia Campuses in India and China. It offers a tremendous opportunity for design students from all over the world to discover and comprehend the Indian and Chinese cultures. This master program encourages the exploration and acceptance of different cultures within an applied, interdisciplinary context. It aims at providing young design students an opportunity to broaden their horizons and develop their design skills in a cultural and creative environment.

Design graduates of any discipline are encouraged to apply. The students spend their 2 years enrolled in the program and have the option of spending time on the China campus in Shanghai too as an exchange student.

The program is a professional masters program with the participation of the industry design experts and supervised by an international staff.  The teaching is based on a participatory approach and the course is delivered in modules. The modules are structured into workshops and seminars to encourage student participation.

The programs bring together students from different fields of design and undergraduate curriculums (product, spatial, interaction or graphic design). Central to the programs are a strong international dimension, the acquisition of project management skills and a cross-disciplinary, professional approach to design.

 

The skills gained during the 2-year master’s programs are based on the ability to:

– use design in an innovative strategy for the general management of the company: design of products, services, scenarios, both material as well as virtual, thus contributing to the quality of brand image, the integration of lifestyle evolutions and topical research on environmental issues

– encourage collaborative work between different design specialties around the design project, integrating the contributions of each discipline (social sciences, ergonomics, marketing, technology, economics and aesthetics), to take into account the constraints of manufacturing, distribution and commercialization and to manage the collaboration between the various internal or external departments involved in the project

– follow the development of a product or service, from design to realization, and to communicate effectively within the company or agency, as well as with customers, limited partners and suppliers.

The students’ learn to apply the schools’ design methods to the local cultural context, and exploring in depth the design challenges posed by the transcultural experience.

This program is run in partnership with the University of Shanghai, and with Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, India.

All the master’s programs offered by the École de design Nantes Atlantique lead to the master’s level degree certified by the Ministry of Higher Education. Officially certified since 2002 and confirmed with honors in 2011, the degree from L’École de design remains today the only postgraduate degree in design to obtain this coveted certification, the highest possible recognition of a degree in France in this field.

The Social Media Fatigue – Life in the Information Economy

We live in interesting times. Did you know that many people now access their Facebook profile the first thing in the morning and It is difficult to communicate with some people, because they are not social media savvy.

In an interesting info-graphic of a recently published research titled “How Social Media is Ruining Our Minds“, it was observed that, over the course of the last ten years the average attention span has dropped from 12 minutes to a staggeringly short 5 seconds. That’s right! Just 5 seconds! People around the world spend close to 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month, and there handling over 1.6 billion search queries per day on Twitter and 250 million tweets per day (Oct 2011). Those are huge numbers!

In such times, there ought to be better strategies for Social Media engagement for individuals as well as business. Almost as prevalent as blind social media evangelism is the level of fatigue and ennui around it.

Driving social Media or being driven by it ?
Driving social Media or being driven by it ?

Understanding the Why

Information as the building block for Social Media Platforms

In my opinion, one of the key influencers of the Social media phenomenon is around the word Information. In an article first published in 1995, advances in computers and data networks inspire visions of a future “information economy’‘ in which everyone will have access to gigabytes of all kinds of information anywhere and anytime. Ten years from now we may find the economic institutions of the information economy a similarly unremarkable part of our day-to-day life. (The Information Economy: How much will two bits be worth in the digital marketplace? – Hal R. Varian, 1995).

I would like to believe that the Social Media is a direct consequence of this information economy and its main drivers are the terms Informational Activity and the Information Industry. Information could be of different kinds. They could be functional, instructional / actionable, recreational, motivational, confidential, philosophical, knowledgeable etc. Each of this information created could be either short lived or meant to last for a certain amount of time. It could be a valuable one or a useless one. It could be global or it could be local. It could be a created bit or it could be shared bit.

In the times of the Social Media and Social Networks, this information is getting created at a rate faster than ever before. Emails, Tweets, Social network updates, are best when they are consumed fresh and the rise of technological platforms that ensure a 24X7, seamless experience, we end up consuming more than we can handle. Social Networks and Social Media platforms are the facilitators of this information dissemination and promoter for information exchange.

In the times of Social Media, we are the champions of creating Information. From amateurs to professionals across all age groups are creating this information. Practically anyone with an access to the technology has the power at his fingertips to create the information, which could then be shared and consumed at a much larger platform in this globalized world.

However we should understand that every-information that we consume, takes some of our energy. It is this excessive consumption of energy that brings in the fatigue.

Nobel laureate economist Herbert A. Simon puts it nicely, “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. Technology for producing and distributing information is useless without some way to locate, filter, organize and summarize it.”

On one side you have excessive information being created and on the other hand, there is only a certain amount that the brain can process and consume. This is resulting in Social Media Fatigue.

What is it resulting in?

You are being watched. Every thing from whom you follow to what you read to what movie you saw to whom who hanged out with. It has taken over our lives.  This takeover of the life by the Social Media Networks is something that needs some pondering over. The times we live in often reminds me of the note in the George Orwell’s classic 1984, Big Brother is watching you. Social Media and Networks are the new Big Brother.

In a research done by Retrevo, for over 1000 participants, they found that close to 42% of the respondents accessed Facebook the first thing in the morning. The Retrevo Gadgetology study also shows that 48% of those polled say they update Facebook or Twitter during the night or as soon as they wake up. And 19% of people under the age of 25 say they update Facebook or Twitter anytime they happen to wake up during the night; 11% over the age of 25 say they do the same thing. (March 2010)

Social Media and Social Network Sites on its face value seem like just a new set of cool tools for involving people for consumption of information, but the impact of that is beyond that.

For example young people are using social network sites for:

  • Keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances;
  • Developing new contacts often with friends of friends, or people with shared interests
  • Sharing content, engaging in self expression & exploring identity
  • Hanging out and consuming content including commercial and user-generated content
  • Accessing information and informal learning
  • Participating in informal groups, and formal youth engagement opportunities;

We have become adept at Multi tasking and become masters of the usage across platforms. The impact is felt on the mind on our Social status, the personal self, the position in the society, and also on our productivity.  Our conversations are in 140 characters or less and videos that are often under 10 minutes are used as a tool to pass on judgments easily. We have become more opinionated and have developed a knack for raising our voices over anything we feel is not right. We keep waiting for a basic notification of an information bit we created getting acknowledged.

All these are leading to the fundamental change in the way we view and consume information. Because the information has to be processed at such a higher rate, it is but natural that fatigue sets in early.

Addressing the Social Media fatigue problem

With the overload of information all around, it is so easy to be disillusioned, frustrated, feel lost. It becomes necessary to identify a way address it.
“We all know very well that activity within social networking can lead to distractions. With one click, we can find ourselves hopelessly lost in a labyrinth of fascinating experiences that have nothing to do with our initial focus. Serendipity is part of the splendor of social media, but it is something that necessitates discipline to learn, entertain and be entertained, while also staying the course. In the end, we exchange time and privacy for exposure and attention.

The reality is that the cost of social networking is great and without checks and balances, engagement can cost us more capital than we have to spend. The net result is then social and emotional bankruptcy. And, the most difficult part of this unfortunate state is that it is at first difficult to recognize and far more exacting to overcome.

 – Brian Solis, principal at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm in The Human Cost of Social Connectivity

It is important for both businesses and individuals to understand this. Here are a few tips on how this could be addressed.

1.The veracity of Information in consumption

At times we do feel overboard with the entire information flood around us. Not everything we see and read is trustworthy, reliable, and even true. The key is to get to the truth of the information. This filtering out of information based on what is needed versus what is just useless mass would enable to get to actual information that matters most. It would also enable in building the trust with the consumer and the creator of the information too, which would further allow to have better engagements.

 2. Rethink the Social Media Strategy when it comes to sharing

Like they say, an overdose of everything is bad. For businesses and individuals this mean that they need to see the Social media technologies as a tool that enables them to relate more to the user but not overdoing it. The novelty of social media can wear off soon (as is evident by the numerous ones that did not take off), leaving all those fans and followers wondering about the unexpected dip in activity.

 3. Get SMART in your engagement

Fight social media fatigue by getting a S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) plan in place. This means that we know the reasons why we are on a Social Network, understand what we want to get out of it, be realistic in our assumptions and devote only a certain amount of time to it. Scheduling the time for the Social Media engagement also works wonders.

4. Understand the Value add and do not get burdened

Every Social Network or Social Media Technology is created to bring in some value add. We need to understand what it is. Whether twitter can be an avenue for our daily news, or Facebook is a better source for getting accolades on photographs that Flickr. The answer lies in understanding what value add what social networks provide. Always remember what you are on the Social Media platform for. Do not start out to do things that are potentially beyond the intended usage of the Social Media platform, which results in feeling burdened about it.

5. Understand user’s online behavior

Understand the key profiles like influencers, motivators, consumers, creators etc. in your network. Tools like Klout measure the online influence of their users and content and provides with a score. This measure of influence is primarily seen as the ability to drive others to action.

6. Do not be a master of all

With the constant rise of social networks, and peer pressure, we often give in to the temptation of being omnipresent across social medias. This is not only bad for privacy issues, but also brings in the tiredness resulting from the obligation of being active everywhere. Choose the SM platforms and tools that really benefit who you are and who you’re connected with. Do not just sign up for the latest thing without some understanding of what you’re signing up for.

In conclusion

It is evident that we cannot do away with Social networks and Social Media Technology, for once a particular technology has penetrated a significant portion of the market, it may be very difficult to dislodge it. While a lot of us will agree that social media has added much to our lives, let’s just not forget that it is NOT life itself. Our online behaviors have changed and so have our notion of relationships and commitments.

Platforms will come and go, and the impact that these Social Media platforms will have is going to be a lot more than what it is. A few Social Media platforms are already doing that, and constantly finding ways to engage the user to have a more lasting impact.

The need of the hour is to understand the human potential in being able to cope up with this. This is important for both the businesses as well as the individual.

 (This is a re-print of the article that appeared in the Issue 3 of the Social Technology Quarterly magazine, published by Kuliza Technologies Limited. )

The designer's challenge to Social CRMs

Everyday I log onto twitter, I read about someone complaining about a problem they are facing with a particular service that they use. In almost realtime, a lot of others who face similar problem simply re-tweet the initial tweet about the complain. What this could result to is a negative publicity of the service, to the extent of a fear of losing a customer. In almost no time, there are the representatives from the company in context, replying to the tweets and assuring of a quick turnaround to the customer’s concerns. If that is not enough there are social channels that people reach out to, these days when they do not get a response.

That’s the new age customer relationship management and goes by the term Social CRMs. A lot of debate goes on the legitimacy of the phrase Social CRM. On one side of the argument, there are the believers who think that this is just another fancy term, riding the Social Wave, and on the other side of the argument you have people who swear by anything social and believe it to be of an immense value add. I for one do think that SCRM is here to stay, and it can only promise to grow with more and more businesses adopting social media technologies.

I deal with design and through this article I wish to seek out the challenges that designers face and should consider when designing for Social CRMs. It may be noted that these are just an indicative list and not a definitive one.  With changes happening almost everyday (Facebook introduced the Timeline as I write this), the challenges can only increase.

In the earlier days of the traditional CRMs, the engagement with the customer happened around three domains, ie.
a. Sales, b. Marketing and c. Service and Support.

With the rise of usage of social media platforms being used for things beyond just the customer engagement, promotions and post purchase support, the notion of the Social CRMs goes higher than the above mentioned three domains. Amongst all of this change, the main change is in the role of the customers.

What has also changed is the increase in the data load of the systems. One is not just tracking and keeping a note of customer feedback and questions and relationships, but more data in an efficient and process-centric way.

The ultimate goal of the traditional CRM was to have a customer get back to buy more stuff from the same outlet or retail. The goal of the SRCM also primarily remains the same, though the parameters and the channels have increased.

As Paul Greenberg writes, ‘Social CRM is a philosophy & a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, workflow, processes & social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted & transparent business environment. It’s the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.’

Social CRMs is more like a design strategy exercise that is often supported by various tools and technologies and the strategy is based around customer engagement, interactions and experiences. So apart from the traditional goals of marketing and customer query answering and increase in sales, a SCRM  is also looked upon as a source for peer-to-peer customer support, idea management, market research, product launches, advertising channels, promotions and brand reputation management.

The customers today are better informed and have a lot more channels to vent out. So the value addition that SCRM must bring about and influence at a larger scale is important. This in my opinion is a design problem and the solution should be done through a proper design and not by force. We are not talking about just going overboard with the social media technologies, as there is always the danger of over-selling.

In this context, I seek to outline some of the challenges that the designer faces .

1. The complexity of dealing with offline and online world at the same time.
More and more people are spending more time online. With the advent of cloud computing and usage of the cloud to manage large systems, the user is connected 24X7. Our lifestyles are being monitored all time and as a result we tend to expect more of the service at all times.

2. Understanding the users.
This has been a designer’s classic problem space, but with every passing year, the users seems to get more sophisticated. There are more social technologies that are being adopted every year than the previous ones.  One of the biggest  goals of the designer needs to be keep things simple in this complex world too. In the present context, the users (customers) define the processes and also define the hours in which they seek the customer service and engagement.

3. The notion of identity.
In the earlier days of the CRMs, there was more personal relationships with the person that would often have a face to face meeting. In the days of the Social CRMs, often people  tend to have a different persona that they present online and in the offline world. So the key is to ensure the seamless integration of both the worlds.

4. Share it to engage in it.
A lot of the things happen realtime and as a result of the identity point, one is often in the risk of sharing too much. For a designer this is challenging as the issues of privacy and trust become important to take care of. Often the user fails to understand the legal implications of being involved in a Social CRM and often it could lead to situations of brand reputation being at stake, to public defamation. It is the duty of the designer to engage the users in a way so as to avoid the situations mentioned.

5. Customers are your channel of advocacy
Decisions on buying and becoming loyal to a brand are highly influenced these days by peers and the discussions that happen across the different channels. It is not about “sell & forget” any more. The relationship with the individual goes beyond that. The design should be flexible to enable the cycle of purchase, enjoyment, advocacy, bonding. This could only lead to a valuable customer for life.

6. Multiple channels
Unlike the earlier days where the CRM relied on one channel, these days the Social CRMs often rely on multiple channels. The customers define the dynamism of each of these channels and as a result keeps the brands on their feet. It is not uncommon to hear of a change in brand loyalty often these days due to not being able to cater on one or more of the channels.  In the ideal world, one would expect the same customer experience, no matter what channel one is looking at, be it the social media technologies one or the traditional face to face interactions.

7. Changing platforms and the issue of scalability
With technology penetrating more and more into our lives, reaching out to the right representatives at any point of time, from anywhere is happening and it is not limited to only a particular device. Mobiles, tablets and of course the laptops and hi-tech systems have made life complex. Dealing with issues of web portability and being able to provide the same wow user experience across platforms is the key.

8. Making sense of the chaos
The main challenge for the businesses is to translate the pillars of Social CRM  i.e. the fans, likes, shares, re-share into sales. All these pillars of the SCRM leads to a lot of data being generated. Making sense of all of it is important and only then can the SCRM be of value immense value add for them. For the customers, this also holds importance, since their decisions are opinionated on the past experience of the others. The key here is thus to translate it into a data-driven-high-user-experience design,  such that it can be beneficial for both the designer and the business. Tools such as information visualizations and analytics can be of immense to the designers too here.

9. Understanding the limitations of Technology.
There has been a lot of debates around whether designers should understand technology or not. In my opinion they must. I am not talking about making them do the code work, but at-least have a good understanding of how technology and the frameworks that they are designing for function.

10. Business process integrations
Whatever said and done, the Social CRMs are primarily aimed at driving sales growth and improving customer service. For the designer to understand this, means that they need to get a better understanding of the way the Business works. This can especially be important for those businesses adopting Social Media technologies for the first time.

The goals for the businesses should be to ensure that Social CRMs can be used in a strategic manner and through countless experiments on the customer side as well as the business side.  It is not only important to look into the low hanging fruits and reward the customer as a one off thing, but to look into a SCRM as a means of engaging with the customer for a longer period of time, or perhaps for the entire life. It is only then that can one think of a change that would be more transformational and would result in the way the business adopts the SCRM and as a result gain the trust of the customer.

Businesses need to realize that Social CRM is not merely a channel to push the different discounts and deals to either all or elite group of customers. It’s not only about incentivizing the whole customer engagement models. It’s about providing an experience that goes stays with the customer through the different stages i.e. promotion to engagement to transaction to prophecy to return for engagement.

In conclusion.
One has to remember that what we are talking about it nothing new, but an evolution of the traditional CRMs. In order to be a person who can be good at the whole notion of Social CRMs, you have to have an understanding of philosophy, social dynamics, cultural aspects, the technology platform. In my opinion, a designer is the only person who comes close to having some sort of understanding of the above fields and as a result face the immense challenge. The designer who are trained to think form the human/user/customer perspective are a lot that would be the best suited. Though no one can deny the fact that this is a lot to ask from one person. But hang in there dear designers. You are a valued lot.