A few months ago an opportunity presented itself through which I discovered something beyond my own comfort zone (a new world). This was a great experience as it gave me a chance to understand my prospective app users. As a startup founder, this experience was priceless. In this post, I will talk about,
- My background and the type of people I interact with on a daily basis
- The opportunity
- My analysis of interacting with the people in this new world
- How I applied what I discovered to my app design
Hence let’s start this post with a little bit about my background.
p.s. please be patient while reading this post, you may have to read a few paragraphs before the punch line.
As I have mentioned in my earlier posts, my educational background is all very computer science heavy. My undergraduate degree was an honors degree in Computer Science. I managed to publish my undergraduate research at an international IEEE conference on Neural Networks. My postgraduate was a masters by research from the University of New South Wales. I managed to publish 2 research papers at IEEE conferences on Computer Vision and Robotics. The people I spend time with i.e. friends or family, all have university degrees and work for top organisations.
Through my background, I hope you can visualise the sort of culture and environment, I have spent my life in. The world of people with high performing university students, education is all I really knew. I had no idea, that there’s a completely new world out there which I am unaware off and in which I am not that smart. That was until, this opportunity…
I have had a few different opportunities this year but I am just going to talk about one of them. Someone I know from my gym is a manager at a flower company and for mothers day they were short-staffed. So he asked me whether or not I could help out? He had asked me once before and while I agreed to it, I couldn’t due to an emergency. Hence this time, as a good friend, I said sure why not? It was about spending 8 hours on the weekend where all I had to do was help arranging flowers. That was it! I had to pickup flowers from one location, walk with them to another location and then place them there. I saw this as an opportunity to get my mind off my startup. Otherwise, I know I would be at home, looking at analytics data, making a new project plan or learning some new API.
Anyway I did show up for my shift at 5am in the morning and I started working. As I interacted with my new colleagues, based on their reactions I realised something…
Not smart? WOW, No way!!!
I am very inquisitive by nature and I generally ask a lot of questions. At times people find it quite annoying but look if there’s a task or a problem, I can’t just be “trigger happy” and instantly come up with a solution. It’s important to know all aspects of the problem so I can fully understand and formulate a problem description. This is how I approach things and people around me (friends, past work colleagues) are all on a similar wavelength. However for my colleagues from the 2 day flower arranging gig, I was the “dumb guy”. Yes that’s how they saw me.
It was a very different environment to what I am used to. The people and the work itself was very new to me. My inquisitiveness was seen as lack of paying attention or a lack of common sense? For the first 2 hours, it wasn’t easy for me to adjust to how instructions were given. I was given an incredibly vague set of instructions that I was just supposed to decipher e.g. “This person would point North and tell me, you can put the flowers there?” I responded, “where there? Towards North, there’s empty corner on the left, a straight corridor, 2 right turns and a storage room at the end of the corridor. So where do you want me to place the flowers?” The response was “mate, these are the most fu&*@#g questions I have had to answer today”.
This was paid work but I had no idea how much was I getting paid per hour. This too is something my flower arranging gig colleagues wondered, “how clueless is this guy?” The thing was, I honestly didn’t care about the money. I knew it wasn’t going to anywhere near what I earn as a software developer. So I couldn’t care less.
The people of this world
Naturally, I felt a rush of anger at my colleague’s response. However I soon realised that, I am in their world. This is a very different environment and I am the new guy here. I have no authority here, I must adapt to survive. So I chose not ask questions and just problem solve by deciphering the vague instructions. Then, I tried to know more about my colleagues.
In my world, people are expected to have a university degree, a high paying job at a top company. They love what they do. A job is something you feel very passionately about. It’s about performing better at jobs and moving up the corporate ladder whereby you earn more money. You generally don’t start a family until, you can buy a house, a car etc i.e. in early to mid 30s.
In the world of my colleagues from my flower arranging gig, things were a bit different. It’s perfectly fine to not have university education or completely ok have children before buying a house. A job is just a job, it pays the bills (I know this could apply to any kind of job). A lot of the people I met here had children in their early 20s! There’s no such thing as, I need to climb up the corporate ladder before I can do something. Overall, they seemed happy with their lives, sure they had a few complaints but nothing major. Lastly, the most important factor of all, THERE’S LITTLE OR NO CURIOSITY to go off the established path. That’s when it hit me and I thought about Instagram…
p.s. please note that this is not my generalisation based on just one experience, it’s based on a few experiences in the last 6 months. However, this is by no means a conclusive study backed by facts but just my opinion!
The success of Instagram is no secret, it’s something that just works. One of the things that Instagram has done well is to create an intuitive UI. It’s direct and on-point, the call to action is incredibly obvious. It’s just instant gratification and you don’t need to focus too much or pay a lot of attention to accomplish something. I believe it would work great for anyone and especially for those who have little or no curiosity. Now, let’s look at little data to backup my claims,
According to this link, only 37% of the population in the USA has a college degree.
This article from 2011 by Julie Lancaster claims only 6.7% of the worlds 7 billion population have some university/college degree.
According to this article, as of 2016 of the 25 million people living here, the number of people with a degree was close to only 3 million.
The point, I am trying to make is, the people with university degrees and all that I spend most of my time with are a tiny fraction of the worlds population. A lot of the others maybe in jobs like my colleagues from my flower arranging gig. Therefore in this day and age for a product to succeed, at the very least it should appeal to those people. This is actually my long and somewhat drawn-out of way of saying, the app UI needs to be more intuitive.
Applying what I learned
After my flower arranging gig, I tried to apply some of what I learned in how I design my app UI. Hence, for the new apps that I make, I make sure that the first thing users see is how to accomplish the app’s main feature. e.g. Here’s a screenshot from my new app, Captain’s Personal Log
As soon as you open the app, the first thing you see is how to make your note. I feel it’s direct and on point.
Anyway, I hope you found something informative in this post. I believe it’s good to venture out of your comfort zone, every once in a while and learn something new.
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