Creating the Right Time for Emerging Technology

Creating the Right Time for Emerging Technology

It seems like all companies today are trying to find a way to incorporate augmented reality, voice, machine learning, or IoT into every technology product. Promises of systems and applications that can improve customer engagement, boost business optimizations, and provide Geordi La Forge-like VISORS vision are being peddled like the actual cure for blindness (I think someone actually might be doing that). While all these technologies hold enormous intrinsic potential, without the right vision and strategy they will ultimately serve as a hindrance long before they improve the engagements at your company.

We’ll cover why it’s important for you to take pause and think about why you are considering such new tools and how to be critical of getting the timing and implementation right for your project.

So, When is the Right Time?

The easy answer: when you can find a way to give your users utility. Period.

The hard answer: it’s a nascent technology and you won’t know without first taking a deeper dive into your team’s readiness to adopt, and more importantly the specific use cases driving the development need at your company.

Today’s applications of such technologies have largely revolved around marketing and one-off cases — it’s the best way to create a use case for what might be perceived as an otherwise crazy and impractical new technology. That’s why over the last 10 years, we’ve seen AI on Jeopardy, people of all ages catching Pokemon on the streets, and Alexa skills to turn your house into George Jettson’s abode. While entertaining and easily understood, these are crowd-pleasing displays of what nascent technology can do — in the chart above, AR, VR, and Voice still existing between ‘Frenzy’ and ‘Maturing.’ This means that as use cases are pioneered it’s critically important to think creatively and thoughtfully of how these tools can bring utility to the users they hope to provide with long-term impact.

Solve a Problem

When it comes to the AR, Voice, or traditional mobile applications (only 10-plus years ago an emerging technology) we help develop for our clients, it’s critical to start with the one question: “What is it I aim to solve at my company?” This question must be asked devoid of any assumed technology, process, or solution — it’s easy to pigeonhole yourself to what you think you should be outputting (I need an App. My field workers need AR). It’s not uncommon for us at Shockoe to turn prospects away from technology and instead have them reflect on their existing systems and processes before diving into building out “solutions.” By taking this introspective approach, our clients are given a (sometimes rare) chance look at the broader picture with the purpose of evaluating and surfacing whether they are indeed solving for a problem, or instead, buying into the latest flavor of emerging technology with no real business gain.

Ideation and Use Cases

Walk through the trade show of any conference and you’ll hear product after product built on AR, VR, OCR, or Voice with the promise of being the catch-all solution to any challenge your company has ever faced. It’s easy to be coerced — a single case study can stand out and demonstrate industry parallels that make it seem like a no-brainer.

This is when you should take a moment to think of the broader picture. Ideation and establishing clear use cases for your specific company needs is a mandatory second step. Stakeholders, compliance directors, financial and managerial key players should sit together in a room to answer and ultimately pose the one driving question behind your use case. In short: what is it your team jointly hopes to resolve, improve, or eliminate? There must be strategic alignment (not tactical!) between VPs, Managers, Supervisors, and field workers. Period. It’s only once you have firmly posed this question that you can start thinking critically as to how you answer it:

  • How might we reduce the cost of on-going training without sacrificing quality?
  • How might we boost medical trial adherence with less frequent check-ups?
  • How might we reduce the stress of prolonged and complex medical procedures and have happier patients?

It’s only at this junction that you can consider new technology. Use this as an opportunity to tap every stakeholder, identify every blocker, and come up with a joint plan to resolve your business challenge.

Prove it or Fail Fast

Design Sprints are an ideal way to test your ‘crazy’ ideas quickly and meaningfully. If you haven’t read it yet, pick up a copy of Sprint by Jake Knapp.

Rather than having countless inconclusive roundtable discussions with varying internal stakeholders, take the prototype and put it in front of the eyes that will ultimately be using your technology idea. It may seem like an obvious task, but too often ideas are produced and tested among the creators and company stakeholders alone.

Build a prototype in Figma, Sketch, Powerpoint — fake the nuance and details but get the experience to feel as real as possible. This might mean crude Unity models, slapped together Alexa skills, or dynamic powerpoint slides that mimic the real thing. Regardless of how, provide an experience that can let your test subjects to give you candid feedback that can make, break, or guide your project through the next stages.

If done properly, this stage can become the springboard for identifying key conversions, behaviors, or KPI’s that will continue to shape and improve your built technology. In short, find a way of proving out the ROI or the desired behavior that will drive the proof and efficacy of your MVP or full-scale project.

Measure, Measure, and Don’t Forget to Measure

Should your testing demonstrate users that are open to embracing your proposed emerging technology tools, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re over the finish line. Stay vigilant and stay critical for ways to prove your investment and future iterations. Set key metrics to determine adoption, usage, and to pivot your strategy in the face of attrition. The testing done with individual users is not a catchall solution, but merely a litmus test of your target audience. Take advantage of analytic tools, hardware and application alike — these are the data points that will drive ongoing development, small or large.

If you’re not sure of how to set this up, I invite you to think back to that one critical question: What is is your team is hoping to resolve? Keep your analytics simple and if you do nothing else, ensure your data give you a clear answer that one key question.

Emerging Technology is Not Always the Answer

We’ve turned clients away from an idea when it was simply the wrong fit. As you venture along the process above, you’ll be thankful you failed in a one week sprint rather than 6 months after sinking countless resource hours into an unadopted product.

Whether it’s AR, VR, Voice, or otherwise, there are many technologies that users simply may or very well may not be ready to welcome into their lives. Be honest about your end-user, be methodic about your exploration and discovery, and then and only then will you be ready to bring the latest technology to your company.

Jaime De La Ree

Jaime De La Ree

Jaime De La Ree is the acting business development lead at Shockoe with five years of experience in mobile technology consulting. Before joining Shockoe, Jaime worked in supply chain distribution management and later as a non-profit technology partner. When he’s not helping Shockoe build partnerships, Jaime spends his time with his wife and son, and in the remaining time is an avid carpenter, photographer, and astronomer.

The Design System: The Hero Your Brand Needs

The Design System: The Hero Your Brand Needs

The Case for Design Systems

 

Maybe you want to build a design system. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you have no idea what one is. Regardless of where you’re at on the scale, you need one.

Does your life depend on it? Well, no probably not. But does the success of your product or brand depend on it? Yes, it does!

 

What exactly is a Design System? 

 

How do we solve the world’s problems with one? Well, it may not save the world, but a design system will certainly save the day for your users, designers, developers, and anyone else interacting with your product. Simply put, a design system is a set of standards, or guidelines, on how things are to be implemented.

You may have heard of things like Brand Standards, or Style Guides, or Component Libraries, or even Pattern Libraries. In many ways, these things are all very similar, but a Design System is something larger, more all-encompassing, and may contain any or all of these.

A Design System is a roadmap for a brand, a company, a product, or perhaps all three if the situation calls for it. It outlines best practices and standards for everything from brand personality, to voice and tone, to visual specs.

The biggest benefit of having a Design System is consistency. Confusion plummets, and efficiency skyrockets when elements are repeated, predictable, and reliable. When designing for scale, consistency is crucial.

 

Multiple Teams

 

Working from a Design System means collaboration that makes sense. No longer does redundant communication need to eat away time. When multiple teams are coming together to work on a project, or maybe several projects in tandem, there are often numerous email chains that crop up.

“Do you have the current logo assets?” “What size is an H3 on Desktop?” “How often can we use contractions in a single paragraph?”
Often an answer requires digging through assets, or—in unfortunate but not uncommon circumstances—a wild guess.

A living, breathing Design System ends this nonsense by standing as a pillar of truth and consistency. It closes the loop of endlessly sifting through folders, and it means there’s no need to reinvent the wheel (and have it look slightly different every time).

 

Initiating New Team Members

 

When new members are brought in to a team, the task of bringing them up to speed can seem daunting. With a Design System, it doesn’t have to be. Having guidelines already established helps reduce the fear of mistakes. Instead of wondering if they’re doing things correctly, or whether or not “the ways things have always been done” is the way things should always be done, they have a point of reference to rely on.

A Design System makes it clear when to follow established methods and when to get creative.

 

Faster and More Efficient Implementation

 

A Design System makes the repetitive simple, and in turn, frees up bandwidth to focus on other issues. Simply put, make one input form and be done. Move on! Your brand and your business should be unique, but not every button and component in your product needs to be.

 

Getting Started

 

Right then, Design Systems are great; we all agree. Now, where in the world do we start?

 

Know Thy Audience

 

The first question to ask is “How far do you want to go?” Not all Design Systems are created equal, and that’s perfectly okay. Before jumping into the trenches of documentation, establish who this document is for.

Is it a visual guide to streamline workflow for your designers and developers? Are you hoping to encompass an entire brand or just a product? Do these standards apply company-wide, or only to specific teams?

Establishing these criteria from the start means content included will be limited to solely that which is relevant while taking into account topics that might otherwise be overlooked.

Holy Grail Design System Mantra: Include what’s necessary, forget the rest.

 

Set a Foundation, Then Start Building

 

It’s natural to want to jump right in with outlining specifications for colors and typography and logos and all that jazz. After all, these things are likely already established, so it seems like the perfect place to get started.

Before setting sail on this epic journey, though, we need to make the decisions all others will stem out of. This includes specifying things like core company ideals, values, and objectives. Having these from the beginning unifies the entire process because rather than asking, “Is this the best solution?” at every step, we can instead ask, “Does this solution achieve our core objectives?”.

Rather than trying to reach this vague, undefined level of perfection, decisions are kept focused and direct.

 

Dive Deep, But Know When to Stop

 

If you’re the type of person who finds the thought of being locked in a disorganized room, armed with a label maker therapeutic (I’m one of them), then you might be tempted to include every possible ounce of documentation in your Design System. I’m here to tell you to resist that urge.

Think back to the group of people who this is intended for. Do they really need to know the exact spacing values for every minute detail, or will a standard grid system work just as effectively? By making things as straightforward and consistent as possible, you increase the odds of your Design System being correctly implemented across the board.

Guidelines should be specific enough to keep everyone on the same path, but it shouldn’t be so burdened with details that it dictates their every step.

 

Let’s Wrap Things Up, Shall We?

 

Here at Shockoe, our Design system is named “Monster”, and that’s a pretty accurate description. Creating a Design System can sometimes feel like taming a wild beast, but I guarantee it will be worth it. Your designers will love you, your developers will thank you, your content writers will want to shake your hand, and above all, your customers will praise the rising level of quality within your products.

 

Hannah Kauffman

Hannah Kauffman

UX/UI Designer

Hannah is a UX/UI Designer with a passion for all things creative and a penchant for the whimsical. If she’s not at her desk designing the next rad app, she’s probably off painting, or drawing, or drafting her third novel! Fueled by an overactive imagination and copious amounts of tea, her goal is simple: elevating the human experience through tech.

A Summer of Interning: What we Learned @ Shockoe

A Summer of Interning: What we Learned @ Shockoe

Our Shockoe family is comprised of people with different skills, talents, and backgrounds — we know it’s what allows us to grow and learn as a team. It’s for this reason that our internship program took on a different shape this year. Thanks to the prep work and persuasive initiatives of our very own Mason Brown, Shockoe put together a comprehensive program focused on leveraging our culture of mentorship and growth, not just for the interns, but for our team as well.

Jackie, Matt, and Cameron joined the Shockoe team in May and shared their invaluable contributions to design, strategy, and development. We were fortunate enough to call them part of the Shockoe team, albeit for the short period before they headed back to their studies. We asked that all three share their thoughts and experiences of being an intern — one thing is for certain: we will miss having them around!

Jackie

Finishing my first year as an Experience Design student, I was eager to find a summer internship where I could expand my UX/UI knowledge and gain real client experience; I was super stoked to join Shockoe’s Intern Program. As a Design Intern, my time was split between working with the design team on client projects and the remaining time with my fellow interns on what called “The Intern Project.”

There were many cool firsts for me while working on the Intern Project. It was my first time working with a developer to move a design past the prototype stage. I had to learn the best way to communicate and quickly problem-solve to align with a developer’s process. This was also my first experience with QA testing. I helped evaluate the app for both functionality bugs and inconsistency with the UI. Additionally, this project was the first time I designed using the agile methodology. It was awesome to see how in such a short amount of time we were able to implement a whole process including discovery, design, and development.

Being part of the design team was as fulfilling as it was educational. Everyone was willing to answer any question and quickly welcomed me as a member of the team. I loved the all-hands weekly design meetings where we shared projects and received feedback and advice discussing new tools or resources to better execute our job. I also had an amazing mentor, Sam Carbonell, who helped me define goals for the summer and met with me regularly to help steer my time here at Shockoe. I am so grateful for this mentorship and am happy to say I met all my goals!

Working at Shockoe for the summer has made me more confident in my design skills and I know I walk away with a new breath of knowledge. Thank you, Mason, Sam, Paulina, and Edwin.

Cameron

I came into my internship the same way many others do. I had no idea what to really expect out of the experience, and I was afraid of underperforming in front of my new found co-workers. Shockoe had a prearranged system set up in order to ease me into their environment, masterfully uncovering their processes to me as time went on so that I would not be overloaded with information. Shockoe allowed me to get a first-hand experience into their continuous integration system with technologies like Jira, Bitbucket, and their own accredited App Tracker, as well as work with some of the teams on real applications testing for faults. Before I got here my knowledge of app development came from Native Android, and instead of having me continue with this, they challenged me to branch out and learn the React Native framework.

By learning React Native, I also got experience working with redux, as well as using Firebase for cloud data storage. I utilized these newly established tools in my favorite part of the internship, the Summer Intern Project. This project granted me real experience working with Jackie and Matt, the designer and strategist interns respectively, to develop a high-functioning app by the end of the summer. I got to learn a lot about their processes and the obstacles of their role to both communicate and integrate their ideas into what I then had to develop. The app vision was handled by our amazing internship coordinator, Mason Brown, and our product managers Rebecca and Misty made sure the project timeline and direction stayed on track.

Getting up and bugging senior developers can be a daunting task at some firms, but here at Shockoe, the developers are very understanding and open to help. Whether you are asking to learn more information about a subject, or just have debugging advice they really want to see you grow. I believe that this stems from the amazing culture established at Shockoe.

Shockoe’s emphasis on culture meant they provided many activities outside of work to get co-workers involved. Lunch and Learns were always a great experience since they gave us the chance to sit down with peers for a free lunch and to listen in on a topic from another coworker. Whether that be hearing about the Mystery of the Stolen Bicycle or a lesson on how to self-defense, an amazing experience was always guaranteed to ensue. I was also a member of the Shockoe indoor soccer team (or Shockoe Futbol Club, SFC) which gave me something to do outside of the office and a better chance to get to know my colleagues while playing a game of soccer. Last but not least, by the summer’s end the office held a summer party solely for the team and family member to enjoy a BBQ, corn hole, Jenga, a live DJ, and so much more!

I cannot thank Shockoe enough for the invaluable experience they were able to provide for me. I can leave Shockoe feeling much more confident in my own skills in an industry where you always feel out of place. Thank you, Mason, Paulina, Edwin, Andrew, and the rest of the Shockoe team for hosting this amazing internship program!

Matt

As an Experience Design student, most of my class projects wrap up after concept presentation and prototype walkthroughs. So I was excited for the opportunity to learn how designs and wireframes turn into functioning products, and I don’t think there’s a better company in Richmond to learn that process than Shockoe.

I learned from a variety of opportunities throughout my 9 weeks here. For the Feed Racer intern project, my role was to be the project owner. I worked with Jackie and Cameron to design, develop, and bring our ideas to life. I learned to write user stories, which break down and translate user behaviors into individual features and functionality. One of our biggest challenges was time, specifically not enough of it! I wish we could’ve had 2 more weeks. So we focused on the MVP, and laid out the plans to iterate, and improve. Prioritizing features and fixes was the greatest learning for me because ultimately those are the moments and decisions that make or break success!

One of my other favorite projects and built skillset this summer was focusing on Usability Testing. It was my responsibility to field surveys, screen respondents, and schedule a day of participant interviews. I helped coordinate and participated in the interviews and synthesizing of notes and findings. It was a cool experience to see how people’s thought processes lead them to behave and interact with screens so differently.

Overall, Shockoe was a great place to intern, and the direction and support we received from the Shockoe team was amazing. A big thank you to Mason, Rebecca, Misty, Paulina, and Edwin!

Onwards and Upwards

On behalf of the entire team, thank you Cameron, Matt and Jackie for your hard work, your warm and engaging spirits, and for embracing the culture we proudly call Shockoe — we wish you all the best with your ongoing studies and thank you for helping our team grow and learn from your truly valuable contributions.

Keep an eye out for our next blog post where we will showcase their summer project app aimed at helping local food banks with collection drives and encouraging giving through a fun competitive interface.

Adjustments to Your Bank’s UX Strategy

Adjustments to Your Bank’s UX Strategy

Among the sea of social media apps, news apps, and photo book-making apps I use – I have three kids! –  is my mobile banking app. I bank at a “traditional” or “retail” bank, meaning it has branches, versus an online-only bank. That being said, I never go to a branch. Anything I need to do I can do using my mobile banking app: check my transactions, transfer money between accounts, or deposit a check. Believe it or not, these things that users have come to expect out of their mobile banking experience, I have had to figure out rather the hard way with my current mobile banking app. The user experience of my bank’s app has never been truly intuitive, though it has gone through multiple iterations. Banking apps should not make it difficult for customers to complete basic tasks. By continuously putting user experience first and applying the following adjustments to your UX Strategy, your bank is guaranteed to drive revenue through customer loyalty. 

 

The first time I used Venmo, an app designed solely for people to be able to electronically send money, I immediately noticed the intuitiveness of the app. A few months after I started using Venmo, my bank came out with an identical feature. I could send money to friends or family no matter who they banked with. That’s as much as I know about it because the idea of using my bank’s clunky app for a task I found myself doing frequently seemed overwhelming, so I stuck with Venmo.

 

As more FinTech companies continue to disrupt, develop and innovate mobile banking applications, it will occur at the expense of lost market share for traditional banking institutions.The rising FinTech sector is making it easier making it easier for their customers to do more with their money.

 

At Shockoe we have advised our financial industry partners to consider two adjustments to their UX strategy as a result of this changing environment:

 

Implementing machine learning.

 

I, like many others, have predictable spending habits. I shop at the same places, I pay my mortgage, and I head to the grocery store at the same time. To keep an eye on my spending, I log into my banking app quite regularly.

 

The reason I point out these things is that this is all data that the banks can use to help make me a “stickier” client. I get random ads sometimes when I log into my account, but they don’t happen as I take an action, nor are they personalized to me.

 

Banks are leaving a great opportunity to interact with their customers on the table. They could ask questions about unusual spending to improve security and more importantly learn about shifting habits. e.g. “It looks like you made a purchase at Wegman’s last weekend, was that you?”, the app learns that this is now part of my purchase history and the algorithm changes. Similarly, new products could be touted as client data captures what looks like a night out: “Looks like you left the kids at home and recently went to the movies! Did you pay your babysitter with our easy system to send money electronically to people?”

 

There should always be a way to turn these kinds of alerts off, but banks know so much about their users, and using machine learning capabilities is one way they can use that data to try to engage more with their clients.

 

Making banking apps more social. 

 

A big part of Venmo’s popularity comes down to the fact that they’ve tapped into the special sauce of why social media is so popular/addictive. You can interact with people, keep up with their latest transactions and see why they’re sending or receiving money for. Obviously, security is n essential consideration in banking, but for people that are willing to share, this is another outlet for banks to engage their audience, encourage product use, and compete in an increasingly competitive FinTech industry.

 

Do people want to be able to brag about their savings account interest rate? What else are people comfortable with being able to show off in regards to their banking relationship? We work with our clients to run user group feedback sessions to find the answers to things like this. User feedback should be an essential consideration in designing an engaging user experience that extends beyond logging in and checking on account statements.

 

Banking apps should no longer think of themselves as a one dimension account statement viewing portal. FinTech will eventually edge them out of services such as peer to peer payments (venmo), machine learning (mint), and potentially edge them out of being a provider at all in lucrative services. I am a project manager at Shockoe and I’ve worked with two large banking clients as part of my tenure here, and these thoughts are coming from meetings with them and our approach helping them stay engaged with their user base and attract more users through their mobile app solutions. What’s cool is our clients know we work together to create mobile applications that people use, love, and remember, and that sometimes the problems are even solved by the project management team.

Rule Your Space!

Let me answer the first question first. Yes, your business does need a mobile strategy.

Does this mean developing an “app”?

Not necessarily.

App development can be expensive ~ $10K and up per app is not unusual. “Native” apps (apps that run directly on a mobile device and can run without a live network connection) typically cost cost more than a so called “web” app, which is often just a web-site designed to look good on a smaller screen. While native apps are much loved by users for their excellent performance and polished “look and feel,” sometimes the less expensive web app might be a better choice. As with any good business decision, making the right decision requires a thoughtful analysis of your target user group, your business goals, your budget, and the extent to which mobile technologies compliment your existing legacy systems and the data they contain. In the finally analysis, the decision to invest in mobile technology is a business decision and not a technology one, and all the rigors of good business apply.

Uh oh.

Business rigor sounds, um, corporate. Bureaucratic. Stifling. What if I am an entrepreneur with a great idea for an app? Do I still need to get mixed up in all that blah, blah, blah?

Yes. You do.

Your app is not your business ~ your app is a business enabler. It is just one componant in a business ecosystem that you must rule. Just getting the app developed is only one part, albeit a key one, of your overall go-to-market business strategy. Creating the value people are willing to pay for is the superior goal, and that means being everywhere in your app’s “space” ~ blogging, podcasting, network marketing, affiliate marketing and all the rest.

Rule your space! If you don’t, your app will join the crowd of millions bobbing in a sea of app flotsam, waiting to be found. Good luck with that. You will have invested, but the returns will be meager.

So where do you start? I am old school in a new world order ~ I still believe in taking the time to develop a business plan, starting with your financial model. Model several different mobile monetization strategies ~ there are at least five that I know of. If your model, however tweaked, does not “Show You the Money,” then move on.

Need help with a business plan? All kinds of help exists, often for free. I steer folks to their local Chamber of Commerce or government Small Business Development Center. It is common for those organizations to offer business planning classes and even free business planning software. The written results don’t have to be an 800 lb tome, but the “back of the napkin” biz plan is a romantic myth. You get out what you put in, and you should at least have a one page executive summary of your business plan written out so that developers like us can “get it” with a five minute read.

OK ~ enough preaching for one day. We at Shockoe stand ready to help you, however you may need it, with services ranging from business planning to mobile development to backend integration. Whatever your mobile strategy is, get out there and rule!

Kiosk Bloodshed: What Mobile Can Learn From the Cyclops of the 1990's

If you were around then, you remember seeing them. Lonely kiosks, gathering dust, cast aside in the corner of a hotel lobby or government office, their one dead eye staring out dark and lifeless. The once mighty cyclops of the computing world, what IBM believed would be THE way the public gained access to electronic goods and services — rendered a corpse — and a grim reminder of what fate will befall your mobile app should you fail to heed the lessons of the lonely kiosk debacle of the 90’s .

What kills technology based initiatives? Two things: A failure to deliver value, and failures in usability. Kiosks that have survived into the present day deliver superb value and are superbly easy to use, and we use them all them time. The airline ticketing kiosk. Redbox. The ATM. But what about those goofy “info only” kiosks that gave us a map to a restaurant that closed six months ago? Or those whose UI made us want to smash them with a baseball bat like in the famous fax machine scene from “Office Space”? Cue “Still” by Geto Boys. Those kiosks died a just death, and rightly so.

History repeats itself, as they say, and so today we see mobile apps that make all the same mistakes of the 90’s. But this too shall pass, and those apps will too. In 20 years we will will look back and it will all make sense. Apps that survive, nay, thrive, will be those that deliver value consistently, reliably, and easily, and that are compelling and “insanely” easy to pick up and use. Thriving apps will enable those line of business services that are in the critical path of a company’s strategy, essential to its customers, designed for ease-of-use, and built to last.

The question is:: Will your mobile app be one of them?