Category Archives: reviews

  1. Reviewing Maily: A mail app for children to handpaint and send mails

    To all those who complain about the death of snail mail, there is yet another virtual product to swing in (or out) kids early.

    Maily is an iPad app for children and tweens to legally use email riding on a parent’s account. The app has been designed to be readied by the parent for young children to use. As a parent I could add mail addresses into the fixed contact list. The child cannot add a contact of their own.

    The mail itself is done on an artboard with tools to write, draw or shoot. It has graphic templates, crayons and the camera, of course. The navigation between these tools are a bit cumbersome with multiple levels shown as individual docks over the artboard. The photo addition is exciting and the tool is cool. It allows scaling and rotation of the picture taken from the gallery or shot.

    The overall experience is simple and children love it. However I will reconsider the parent dashboard and a few icons that the kid needs to get used to. They are fast learners, aren’t they?

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  2. Let the Games Begin! The glare and the clash of Olympic impressions

    The Olympics are supposed be a carnival, I know – ‘Triumph of Human Spirit’ and what have you. And truly, the spirit and the excitement have been high and contagious this time round. The carnival carousel has been turning smooth and well-oiled thus far.

    So I make a side trip to their official website – www.london2012.com. First off, you have that London 2012 logo, which reminds you of a falling rocks warning (and mildly reminiscent of Thing, the stone-clad superhero from the Fantastic Four). The web design tries to carry this visual metaphor of the angular forms into it. Visually, It’s colorful and carnival-ish, bright and gay (gay as in celebratory) but the forms look so sharp you could cut your eye-fingers just looking at them. So you wonder about this overt celebration of masculinity – what happened to grace, rhythm and elegance, those reportedly feminine qualities!? The whole experience seems driven by testosterone without any estrogen to bring about a balance.

    The carnival

    Anyway, the carnival goes on – and it’s more akin to a village Markt – the page literally Teeming with stuff. If there is a sense of organization, it seems to lose out in the breathless cacophony of a hundred things screaming for attention. For a bit of respite, scroll down the page – where things get a bit calmer and white space finds a hesitant voice.

    The site, by its own admission, tries to cater to all – the ‘normal’, the visually impaired, the dyslexics and the non-English speakers. ‘For all Humanity’, cries out the Olympic spirit. But you can’t escape the feeling that these noble and worthwhile sentiments have found only a partial translation in terms of sites structure, page organization and elemental focus.

    Style sheet for dyslexics

    Right at the top, an icon call’s itself the ‘dyslexic style sheet’ and when you switch to it, all those loud-mouthed colors quieten down into a muted beige palette. This brings the text and links into sharper contrast – fair enough – but dyslexic friendly? I am not so sure. I get the feeling that dyslexics are perhaps better served by increasing the font size, increasing the character tracking and making everything else more subdued. But that too would be a compromise – they would probability find a less crowded, more organized page with higher figure-ground contrast more fit to their needs.

    The tool

    And lastly, those much celebrated international sports symbols come to the rescue of non-English speaking audiences – like the way finders they are supposed to be. Although, what exactly these non-English speakers lose out in experience by not knowing the language, only they can tell in their native tongues. Not to crib too much, but here too the colors are high-strung. I am sure those who designed the site carefully chose to place bright pinks and active blues next to each other and gleefully watched their cockfight. They are obviously intended to jar and clash in their high chromatic screams. May be the designers thought it’s an apt metaphor for the competitive spirit of the Olympics. But I don’t have to like it, and I don’t.

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  3. Augmented Reality: The Future of eCommerce

    While we are revisiting the great big world of building online stores in India the west has moved on. User experiences are getting closer to visual tactility and aiding users to examine there wares better. Look at this video below. I am going to try this very soon and post another video.

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  4. A treat retreat: Understanding Social

    I reluctantly registered for a two day conference in support of Akshaya Patra and Anant called Social India. There were significant talks by experts in social media marketing from India and North America. For me, as an entrepreneur and a user experience designer, there were lessons to learn. What did I know?

    Social media is a strong influential channel that can be leveraged by brands and businesses to work in tandem with traditional media. Enterprises should include them in the larger communication or marketing strategy to strengthen it. In India businesses have woken up to this fact recently and are working with digital agencies to create a strategy.

    Most of these social media agencies have evolved from traditional web marketing or customer relationship management. So there is very little or no creative leadership to put together contextually correct, multi channel, strong campaigns that impact. I personally do not believe that silos of facebook contests make for a social media campaign and most of the solutions were that. The quality of destination content could be better with decoupages that involve photographs, videos and critical user contributions. Most brand case studies were counting heads as metrics.

    The North American agencies were more evolved. I was impressed with the case study for Knorr Sidekicks presented by Eric Weaver of Ant’s Eye View. Salty is a salt shaker character who tugged at the heart strings of women who put dinner on the family table and he had them ‘following’ him. Take a look at this television commercial introducing Salty.

    There were similar insights and case studies of Shashank Nigam from Simpliflying, an agency that focusses on social consumer connect for airline businesses, on Spicejet introducing Bombardier viral video. I should also mention Jim Long, a photojournalist at NBC and his insights into a new publishing paradigm. His talk was over Skype from New York. Fabulous!

    The spirit and energy of independent publishers, bloggers and other participants engaged me. Particularly Prasant and his Lighthouse Insights. I cannot forget Kiruba, a TEDx representative in India. He is from Pondicherry and works out of Chennai. Kiruba is an energetic compère with a penchant for interacting with people. Good to connect.

    Unlike a design conference, there was humility, participation, camaraderie and free exchange of ideas. I am ditching those black tee chic design junkets and sticking to honest ones like this. The closure with Sean Moffitt of Wikibrand fame was apt. This was a valuable weekend of new connections, lessons and possibilities.

    Apparatus is now armed to create informed extensions of user experience design that weaves itself well with the social media world. We will create cohesive products and communication that engages to acquire new users or retain them.

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  5. Discovery lost: What ails (most) Indian ecommerce startups?

    Apparatus team have been working on a few online store projects. Most of these are at a prelaunch stage and that makes it easy for user experience design teams to partake in product definition and extend further into product design.

    However there are a few who have been in business and need a substantial design overhaul. These ecommerce properties ail from a few maladies that needs attention.

    Discovery that matches user intent leads to conversion
    Users who approach online stores come with a definite intent to find a suitable product. The user experience should be designed for users with specific needs and users who want to explore and discover. The design should set a strong context for them to arrive at a product or move about and find.

    Fixes versus refurbishment
    These stores are ongoing businesses backed by investor firms. They cannot suspend operations for an overhaul. We understand this. But the management typically sees the solution as a series of small fixes that will lead to betterment. It will not. The synthesis of web analytics and user research should lead to larger incremental phases of change that can better the brand experience in a short period of time. Bite the bullet!

    Knowing the domain does not make you a UX expert
    It is a great additive that can be learned. Good design is about creating cohesive, compelling and usable experiences through framework, structure and content. It involves information design, graphic design and meticulous production. You need help. Hire us!

    Curated content emotes and converts
    Do the thing that offline stores do as ‘we suggest’. Do collections that are thematic and write about them. Do collections that go well together and publish them as trends or what people like. Help users choose if they are exploring through supportive house-styled images of products and well written textual content. Add on contextual user generated content and create digestible nuggets of content to consume. And lead all these to appropriate stock keep units.

    To know more about these write to me. If you want to get this done call Apparatus. Have a good day!

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  6. Apple and I: A long love affair

    In early eighties small town India, like my hometown, had not seen computers. The closest that you came to one was when you booked a railway ticket and it was across the glass in the booth. It was most often operated by bored mid-size government workers in synthetic bush shirts, buttoned down till the vest and a handkerchief dipped in talc around their neck. Or by women nibbling fried snacks from their cold press molded stainless steel ‘eversilver’ tiffin boxes next to perennially plastic covered keyboards.

     

     

    I have to describe these machines to you. They were behemoth grey boxes with a pixel screen, slightly larger than a Tamil pocket crime novel encased in an oversized dull monitor. The CPU looked like a part of a menacing Russian tank and the monitor was made of discarded plastic buckets. The keyboard had their tab keys jammed often and the lady operator was screaming for help in a fit, kicking her snacks of her table while the cursor did a wild tra-la-la jig across form fields on that minuscule window. And I was waiting with my filled form. Always.

    I never understood how they can make us more productive.

    A little later when my father bought an AppleIIc for a publisher friend of his from Singapore (the farthest idea of a foreign land for a Tamil boy) I was amazed that computers can look good. My dad had meticulously unpacked and assembled it with great care. The machine, if I can call it, looked like million suns of gypsies’ ice a la Marquez.

    Call it love at first sight. Apple it was – hook, line and sinker. I was a convert, a self-confessed fanboy and hopelessly smitten for life.

    At college they taught me BASIC on an Apple. I met a Macintosh at a design school. Not that we were allowed to use it freely. We used to set type in Aldus Pagemaker, take prints and paste it on our artworks with rubber cement. That was quite a promotion from hot metal where we have to set type laterally inverted or phototypesetting where we pretended to solve a thermodynamics problem on a blue screen and got a small piece of photo paper with type exposed on it. We loved and grew on Macs.

    Then came the candy colored eMac at home, a Powerbook G4, an early iPod, more Macbooks, an iPhone and a strong affinity for a brand that thought of people who used their product more than the machine itself. An affinity to the creator of this brand – Steve Jobs.

    More on Mac and me soon.

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  7. My notes on Google+: Warring countries or walled gardens

    While I was busy with my tablets and Facebook’s ‘awesome’ announcements (that was not so awesome) there is a new property in the social media landscape. And this addition is Google+. While the world thinks it is too late, Mark Zuckerburg sounds worried. What is in it for me?

    I am in. I recently got an apparently precious Google+ invite and I am in. I have made a few circles and am in a few. I have been visiting a rather vacant stream of mine in this newest social media network known to mankind. I see nothing novel or compelling enough to stay on. Not yet.

    The new web is about consuming content. There are services like Qwiki and apps on iPad that are geared to make this consumption memorable. In this paradigm Google+ cannot take me to an empty stream while I am filling my circles over days. They can integrate their own ‘What do you love’ to start me off, probably.

    The first thing that I hated about Google+ is that I have to build my entire social landscape back. It took me over four years to populate, cull, further trim and create the optimal friends set on Facebook or my follow fellows in Twitter. Not to mention all connected services on web, mobile and tablet. Now if I have to do that all over again, as a user, I need a better incentive than drag and drop into circles.

    Google+ also wants to do things different (read ‘not like Facebook’) and so they have my updates in a square on the right. Not a circle on the left. Lame! And +1 is the perfect example of a dumb idea made to look like an epiphany through relentless reccurrence. There are more such peeves.

    I was happy that Mark’s product, through FBConnect, was expanding walls and unifying the social space. Now I can use products and services across the web with my Facebook credentials. So was Google. Now the walled gardens have expanded into large warring sovereign states. I am stuck with one foot in my feed and other in circles. Eric Schmidt thinks this is a happy situation and as a user I do not. He better listen to me.

    I am not planning to get into Picasa or point my Hipstamatic to Google+.

    As of now, from recent statistics, it looks like there more men, more engineers and developers, more Americans (and the far second are Indians) and very few Europeans on Google+. I wonder if Google+ will have a plan and a clear strategy to add and retain – engaging and emotive all at once. Or will it join this list of failed parties. Things can change and I hope it finds a niche even if it is like Ravelry.

    Dear Google+: I am in. Find a trick to keep me in.

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  8. Middle Earth and Higher Ground: Peter Jackson and his ways of telling stories

    I have been a fan of Peter Jackson and his movies. If King Kong enthralled me The Lord of the Rings series enveloped me with a sense of fantastic grandeur. His attention to detail and storytelling is stellar. I found a prerelease clip of The Hobbit production design and am sharing that here with you.

    You can read more about Peter Jackson here.

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  9. London to Abu Dhabi: The poetry of flight – Seven hours told in three minutes

    I shot a series of stills from my window on a Etihad flight EY12 from London to Abu Dhabi. This is a compilation of these stills as a home video. I love the meditative theatrical scape, like a lyrical narrative. Below is a color corrected shorter version. Music: Anouar Brahem’s Astrakan Café.

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  10. Good Infographic: Intelligent timelines intrigue me

    I have been working on a succinct communicative timeline to talk about Apparatus’ history. This is yet another information graphic over a chronological linearity done well. This rendition of timeline is a good mix of design and writing skills. If you do see any novel version of a timeline on the net, share it here. End of Computers
    Via: OnlineComputerScienceDegree.com

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