Apr 25, 2010

User behavior and product design

I use a Yahoo! mail account for my personal emails and I have subscriptions to many group emails. Over the past few months, my mailbox has been overflowing with many unread emails as I tend to scroll through the list and read only the most important ones at the beginning of my day. I have unsubscribed from many group lists to keep the incoming information under control. However there are some groups in which I might get a few important messages occasionally which I do not want to miss out. So I decided to create a few filters and organize my inbox.

This is exactly THE time in the lifecycle of product-user interaction when one starts to think about filters in a mail product - when there is a bunch of unread mails and the user feels that it is getting unmanageable and wants to get organized; not when the time he/she creates a new mail account and immediately starts to create filters.

Coming back to my problem, I located the "Filter emails like this" and created a filter. So far, so good. But to my utter disbelief, I couldn't see the "run filter" or similar such option. I wondered if this feature was hidden somewhere that it wasn't evident to me. After googling for a bit, I found out that such a feature doesn't exist in Yahoo! mail. Disappointed with the lack of this feature, I dropped the effort of organizing my inbox.

This experience triggered a thought process of how one should go about integrating user behavior into the product design. Before designing a product's feature or even a minor functionality, ask yourself these questions -
1. When will my user explore this specific functionality?
2. What are the circumstances under which this particular feature will be used?
3. What is the motivation factor that will enable the user to try out this feature?

Evaluate the physical circumstances (place of usage), the psychological state of the users (positive or negative frame of mind) and the expected outcome (not only from a product point of view but also from the user's intended action).

More to follow on this topic.

Apr 4, 2010

Books and more

Commute using public transport has paved a way for me to catch up on reading much more often than what it used to be. The last 3 books I have read in the past two months belong to different genres. Subroto Bagchi has given a very nice summary of Entrepreneurship 101 in his book "The high performance entrepreneur". Starting from whether you are ready to take the entrepreneur path until the IPO, this book provides a breadth of coverage related to various aspects of building your firm from ground up. Easy to read along with personal examples of building Mindtree, he takes you through the different stages of building a firm, from defining your business strategy to nurturing an organization culture to creating your brand.

Having attended Ms.Manjushree Abhinav's creative writing workshop a few weeks ago, I picked up her first novel "A grasshopper's pilgrimage". The plot of this novel can be classified under spiritual fiction and also semi-autobiographical. The protogonist, Gopika is in search of her life's meaning and ends up in Thiruvannaamalai. Her  encounters with different people who are in such similar search forms the rest of the story. Although the novel began on an interesting note, somewhere down the line I felt it lost its steam. Maybe, I wasn't able to relate with a character like Gopika.

I do not like to interact with people who are always cynical about everything in their lives. I encounter such people often and at best, I try to avoid striking a conversation with such people. It's definitely not worth the time or energy. It's worse when such people end up in meeting rooms or conference calls at work. If ever I encounter such people again, I plan to recommend them this interesting book "Six thinking hats" by Edward Debono. This book talks about the six different hats one could wear while trying to solve a problem or take a decision as a group. Structured thinking is very essential especially in this knowledge based economy. Ideas are crucial and cannot be dismissed just because your boss or boss's boss thinks its a bad idea. Can one do a positive assessment before criticizing an idea? Can one just talk about facts and data without passing their own judgment? Can one just express their emotions and feelings without the need to justify? Each of these questions has an associated hat and the order in which you wear each of the six hats is significant. This is definitely a very interesting approach to group thinking process. 

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