User testing: counter app

After spending a lot of time on deciding which project to work on, I picked the smartphone counter app. This project has a good incremental development over a couple of initial weeks.

I had to do some fine-tuning before going ahead with testing:
1. Designing wireframes for the complete flow, with detailed in-between screens that make navigation possible.
2. Arranging for a smartphone mockup- Thanks to Mathura for lending me a cardboard prototype!
3. Finding people who preferably have NOT been user testers to other projects: This was not crucial, but I thought it will be interesting to test it with a new tester than someone who knows the drill.

It was worth noticing how people loved the cardboard iphone and the idea of ‘paper screens’ that need to be traversed manually. Some even asked for Illustrator file so that they could make one for themselves on the laser cutter. As a designer I found it a strong opportunity to get things going with a cheerful start. I asked used to perform following tasks for testing:

  1. Add a new activity named ‘Coffee’ to the counter app.
  2. You just had a nice, refreshing coffee. Go to the app, and add one to the count.
  3. You set the goal long back, now you have it under control and you never reach the maximum limit of 10 cups a week. So go to the app and remove Coffee from your activities.


New Mockup 3


New Mockup 5


Here are some important findings from the 5 users:

  1. “It is too much effort for something that I might not want to pursue that hard.” Current design attempts making most of the smartphone features such as sharing and showing performance etc. It might make the app much lightweight and simpler, if it has minimal actionable points. The three tabs on the bottom seemed confusing to some users.
  2. Some users reported that ‘undo’ did not appear as ‘minus one’, and they spent a few seconds in determining how to correct an erroneous up count. Perhaps using big ‘+’ and ‘-‘ buttons would solve this problem.
  3. ‘Count up from 0 to 10’ was not very clear information ordering. Almost all the users found the ‘Add new activity screen’ a little overwhelming. (They either mentioned it directly, or exclaimed their reactions such as ‘whoa! what are these fields!’) . A few said they would like to keep adding coffees initially without any target for a few weeks, so as to get an idea first, on how much coffee do they really consume as of now. They didn’t know an exact or even a rough number. This had a strong connection with the physical counting object with wooden block and metal knob: a device that counts and does nothing else.
  4. Deleting ‘Coffee’ from counter menu was a little tedious. Users eventually figured it out, but they had to navigate through a few screens first to reach delete operation. I am not sure if that’s good design or not though. Keeping all user activities live for as long as possible and ‘not letting users empty their contents from the app’ seem to be deliberate design decisions in smartphone apps. For example, Facebook app demands quite some navigation for the user to reach to ‘Sign Out’ option. On the other hand they always try to make it more and more easier for the user to Sign In to facebook app, such as setting a 4-digit quick password.

These were some neutral/ good points:

  1. Mostly the users liked the idea of having all the activities together on the home page.
  2. In all the tests, users accurately inferred outcomes of clicking on a given button. Though their actions it was clear that they could figure out meanings of the items they see on the screen in a given context (exceptions: some users could not figure out the three tabs in the bottom.)
  3. Because the wireframes were black and white and did not include any images, it was not really clear that the selected image would appear in the background while inside an activity. Almost all of the users selected the ‘add image’ camera icon while creating the Coffee activity, which was a great sign. However, they never asked where the selected image would be displayed.

Seat-back experience for ordering food

The assignment was to design an experience for ordering food. The passenger should be able to order following on a seat-back panel at arm’s reach:

Soda (4 types), juice (2 types), coffee, tea water
(and ice/no ice, can/no can, coffee w or wo milkv(whole or skim), sugar,)
Sandwich (3 types)
Salad (2 types)
Dressing (4 types), mayo/mustard
Snacks (4 types of chips) or nuts or fruit
Dessert: cookies, yogurt (3 flavors)

And also:
Identify quantity
Place their order: 3 payment options or cash
Cancel their order
Change order
Or signal not to be bothered.

We categorized the menu based on subsequent choices a user would make while placing their order. We used post-it notes to create the flow diagrams:


The max size is almost same as 15″ MacBook, so I used Apple Keynote to create the mockup screens and this vide:

The top menu has four categories which further show subcategories in the secondary bar. Add-ons such as sauces, dressings, ice, milk, sugar etc. are context-specific and appear only when a particular dish/ beverage is selected.

The user can order multiple items together, cancel the entire order, and even try new dishes without having to go through the whole process.

Counter: App Prototype

Balsamiq is a fun way to make quick smartphone app prototypes and I enjoyed sketching in the notebook and simultaneously rendering the prototype screens on Balsamiq.


I considered following points while translating the earlier assignment into a smartphone app:

  1. The physical device had a tactile feedback that made it a unique and beautiful. The smartphone should deliver similar sense of acknowledgement.
  2. The smartphone app can take advantage of what could not be (and should not be) achieved by a simple physical object: Connectivity, tracking and perhaps memorizing user’s behavior.

Following are the sketches of digital version:
The first row shows a landing screen with Add New action screens next to it. User can write a title (and select one from the list of already used titles, as they start typing), select whether to count Up or Down, assign start and stop points, and attach a background image.

The second row shows the list of ongoing activities and a specific entry from that list (Coffee). Third row and the last screen show further explorations within the activity, divided into three categories: Settings (edit, delete), Performance (count up/ down, undo, see performance graph- this is default view within a selected activity), and Share(share your performance on social media such as facebook, twitter, instagram, google+ etc.). Smartphone would vibrate to provide a quick haptic feedback when user counts up or down- this retains the impact of acknowledging every single step the user takes towards achieving their target.

New Mockup 1

I used a couple of amazing iPhone mockups and iOS elements vectors from here and here, to generate lifelike visuals of the prototype:




This week we prototyped a physical object that can sit on a desk that allows a user to count up or down. The target audience is someone who wants to keep a numeric tally and have a physical reminder of their progress to display for themselves and others on their desk. A few examples discussed in the class were a guy keeping a count of how much coffee he drinks every week, and a PR employee eagerly counting the days until her next vacation. The exercise was fun and it involved a good thought process and applications of the latest readings.

I started with a mindmap, jotted down anything that came to my mind around this activity, and looked at all the wild possibilities that this product can offer:


I decided to take a step back and stick to counting up and down only, becasue

  1. Introducing too many smart features for a seemingly dumb activity, just because IoT can, might backfire. achieving usability by sacrificing delight could be a dangerous tradeoff.
  2. The user we are looking at are possibly surrounded by a huge number of gadgets already. Introducing another one should be a careful decision.
  3. The device should look inviting and feel satisfying when operated. I think this is the key to this exercise.

Much inspired by Dieter Ram’s design principles, I made this prototype:


The prototype offers a knob and a display. The knob affords clockwise and counterclockwise turning, which steps the count up and down respectively by 1. It is a knob with fixed snap-to points. This offers a tactile feedback when the count goes up or down.

The display is derived from cube clock that I recently saw and interacted with at MoMA design store.

moma cube clock

Falling in love with an everyday object: Bose earphones

I don’t remember ever buying earphones or headphones as I am not really a big fan of any particular genre of music— until recently I used to listen to music only when I exercised. Earlier I had Apple EarPods with a nice, designed-in-california-by-apple case to protect them from usual wear and tear. The quality of sound was excellent, however, I could never use the EarPods as they always fell out when running. Winding the earphones up into the case was a also a nightmare— I remember watching a youtube video on how to put the EarPods back into the case when I tried putting them back the first time.


And one day my life changed! I received Bose earphones as a thanksgiving gift in November ’15, and this product has absolutely transformed the way I think of music and personal space. Interestingly, this product offers only the usual set of features that a typical set of earphones or headphones offer these days; but it does every single thing just perfectly well. The sound quality is exceptionally rich. There are physical button controls to play, pause, go to next/ last track, and change volume. The same housing also includes a mic. Also, there’s a carrying case that looks robust yet beautiful, and it lets you just wind up and put in the earphones without any strict rules or learning curve to it.

bose e253feb7445d-470x500


I often listen to music while exercising and running on the track by Hudson waterfront in Newport with a magnificent backdrop of Manhattan skyline. The features that I thus love the most are the clamp and in-ear tips. the clamp takes care of the cable length so the earbuds don’t fall out when running. The soft tips just snap and stay and I can comfortably move around. It involves only little efforts to put on the earphones which might seem a task at first, but in practice I somehow find it satisfying when the curved protrusions ‘snap’ perfectly inside the pinna. What I find amazing is the fact that interaction isn’t limited to using hands alone (grip/ fingertips/ pinch etc.), but is also shaped by the significant roles played by other body parts (Ears in this example). After November 2015 I have exercised more regularly and merrily, and I find it really fascinating to see how a neatly designed product has influenced my behavior, rather than the behavior making me buy a product.


Frustrating interface: Makerbot Replicator 2

Surprisingly, it was difficult to find out an object that I really hate. I’ll be able to describe in depth why I like a particular product (or design), but thinking of a personal product on the other extreme of the spectrum was a challenge. My understanding is we subconsciously tend to discard the designs that we don’t appreciate, and forget them over time. That applies to personal devices, but there is plenty of scope for improvement when it comes to interactions in public places (or scenarios where one doesn’t directly have control over selecting/ bettering the design). I often use the Makerbot 3D printers on 4th floot, Tisch, and sometimes it gets really frustrating to operate it.


The replicator 2 series printer has a backlit LED display and soft-touch rubber button pad for navigation and controls, which in my opinion are unnecessary add-ons. I think the whole interface could have been a much simpler affair with LED indicators and simple push-buttons.


The buttons offer a soft-touch which is difficult to perceive as there’s no immediate feedback. Even after using it over last few months I find it tricky to understand if the button was pressed successfully or not. The backlit screen imitates the boolean, on/off style signals traditionally offered by LED indicators to show progress bars. The screen certainly has more potential than this. The next frustrating feature is the attempt of personifying the computer inside- the screen displays messages such as “I am starting up”, “Wait while I heat my extruder” etc. The use of first person makes it an interesting and perhaps delightful feature for the first time users, but as one starts using it regularly the interface seems more like a dumb AI. Especially in the world where we have compelling NLP applications that fluently talk back to humans, this interface appears somewhat disappointing.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 6.16.47 PM

On the other hand, Makerbot has successfully replaced this display and navigation system in the next series (5th generation printers) where they have a dial and LCD screen with more compelling visuals. Maybe the replicator 2 interface is frustrating, but it still acts as a step in an evolving interface design that has taken Makerbot from a startup to a prominent brand in manufacturing  3D printers.