Julia Shalet explains about user research at the Mobile Academy

Last night, I attended another great class at the Mobile Academy. Julia Shalet, Course Director at the Mobile Academy, talked about how one can do user research (and do it well).

Julia started by stressing the importance of choosing the right research method to suit the corroboration of one’s assumptions. She talked about the difference between quantitative and qualitative research methods. This was followed by live sample group discussion which Julia ran.

I’ve seen Julia run these live sessions before, and she’s great at bringing things to life by actually running sample focus groups or short one to one interviews in front of an audience. Based on this live demonstration, people asked questions like “why did you give the rewards first” or mentioned that they liked how Julia started the focus group with an icebreaker. Julia then talked about good practice for running these kinds of group sessions (see Fig. 1 below).

Julia then ran a live usability test with one attendee. Again, it was great to see Julia do a one to one usability session there and then. It was interesting to hear Julia talk about asking user expectations about a specific task before asking them to do the actual task (see Fig. 2 below). She also talked about aiming to have at least 5 users in the same target segment when doing an usability test.

The next topic that Julia covered was the “Net Promoter Score” (‘NPS’). Julia started off by asking attendees to give an anonymous score of how likely they would be to recommend the Mobile Academy course to a friend. She then explained about advocacy and explained the difference between advocacy and being satisfied; satisfied customers are less likely to spread the word about a product or service. Julia outlined how to calculate an NPS score (see Fig. 3 below). An NPS score can be good way to set context (benchmark) and provide businesses with a tangible customer-based measure to strive for.

Julia finished the class by talking about “Tips for Creating Successful Surveys” (see Fig. 4 below). She gave the class a bunch of practical pointers on how to best do surveys. People then asked her questions like “Do you give people a reward?” or “Would you share survey results with respondents?”.

Main learning point: Really liked the practical nature of Julia’s session on user research. It’s make user research sound very complicated and onerous, but Julia succeeded in providing the Mobile Academy class with a lot of practical suggestions and tools to apply.

Fig. 1 – Good practice for group discussions:

  • Create the right environment
  • Don’t mid up target groups in the same session
  • Rewards up front, neutrality and set out what will happen
  • Use introductions to break down barriers
  • Get them talking by engaging all members of the group
  • Active listening: repeat and summarise
  • Never answer a question – bat it other respondents
  • Record, listen back and review for bias

Fig. 2 – Usability: Good Practice

  • Intro: rewards up front, neutrality, set out what will happen & scenario
  • Natural habitat is best
  • Don’t do anything until I ask you to
  • If you find some something difficult it needs improving, it’s not you
  • Watch them and record it
  • What are you testing? List user flows? Function?
  • Structure the questions accordingly
  • If the user has difficulties, record a fail, then prompt
  • Works well in pairs
  • Invite developers to table

Fig. 3 – Calculating NPS – Taken from:


 Fig. 4 – Tips for Creating Successful Surveys

  • Design it back to the front
  • Less is definitely more
  • Avoid leading questions
  • Avoid making assumptions
  • No jargon / plain English
  • No double barreled questions
  • Think carefully about anonymity
  • Always test out with friends first

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Site review: Thread

Thread looks like the perfect site for fashionable men or those who perhaps want to become a bit more fashionable. It was founded by serial entrepreneur Kieran O’Neill who explained to GQ at the end of last year what Thread is all about: “what’s special is that you have access to the exact same stylists that celebrities or wealthy individuals have access to.”

Kieran then went on to explain that Thread wants users to build a long term relationship with their stylists. I decided to have a go for myself and see what I can to do improve my style:

  1. How did this site come to my attention? - A friend of my mine, who I know to be very fashionable, mentioned Thread to me.
  2. My quick summary of the site (before using it) – A style guide for men who want to find out about fashion & apparel online which (1) fits their personal style and (2) takes away the need to search in multiple places online.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – Thread’s homepage states in bold letters: “Dress well without trying”. It then explains – in less bold letters – that one of Thread’s stylists can help you find clothes you’ll love, “all online and completely free”.
  4. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (1)? – First, I got asked the standard stuff like my gender, age and date of birth. Things got more interesting when I was asked to select a style that I was aiming for (see Fig. 1 below). Knowing that I could select as many styles as I wanted, I selected 5 different styles which I felt came closest to the look that I’m aiming for. The only downside was that when I wanted to go back and add a few more styles, I realised that there wasn’t a “back” button.
  5. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (2)? – I then had to give an indication of how much I usually spend on each item. Perhaps it’s just me, but I felt a tad confused by the term “usually”, especially since I sometimes a spend quite a lot of money on clothing (relatively speaking) and other times next to nothing. For example, I’m an addict for sneakers so my collection contains Nike Air Force 1s that weren’t that cheap as well as Converse All Stars which were very cheap in comparison. It might have been better to have been able to use budget ranges rather than a set price point when answering this question.
  6. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (3)? - The next step, selecting the brands that I wear, felt easy and intuitive (see Fig. 3 below). I picked a few brands and added a brand that wasn’t on the list. I was then asked to upload some photos of myself (see Fig. 4 below). Perhaps I had missed it when I first arrived on the site, but for me this was the first point where I started to understand where all the previous steps were taking me; enabling a dedicated stylist to provide me with recommendations tailored to my style and brand preferences. It wasn’t clear, however, from the explanatory text what would happen if I didn’t upload a picture of myself. Would the stylist recommendations be less good? Would the whole process come to a halt? It might be an idea to have an explanatory text which appears when a user hovers over the “Skip” button. The actual photo upload process from Facebook was very straightforward.
  7. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (4)? - Even though I had pressed “Done” after uploading my photos, I was nevertheless presented with another step: “What do you usually wear to work? Select by clicking on the pictures, and hit “Next Step” when done” (see Fig. 5 below). Perhaps others may well consider my next suggestion superfluous, but how about adding that one can select as many styles as they like? Not only would this be consistent with the copy used for previous steps but it would also work well with the scenario whereby men dress smart 4 days per week, apart from on ‘Casual Fridays’.
  8. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (5)? - Next, I was asked about the trouser fit that I prefer. To be honest, by this point I was starting to get a little bit restless. Nonetheless, I clicked on the trouser styles that I tend to wear most often (see Fig. 6 below). I then expected to be asked about the type of shirt fit I preferred. Instead, I was asked about the types of shoes that I prefer. I selected sandals/flip-flops and sneakers/trainers (see Fig. 7 below), followed by specific colours that I preferred (see Fig. 8 below).
  9. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (6)? - I felt I was getting close to the end when I was asked whether I was “open to trying more daring fashion styles?”. What!? Perhaps I was just getting a bit tired at this stage, but I was like: “are you telling me that my current fashion style isn’t daring enough!?” and “what does daring mean?” (I know guys for whom wearing a slim fit shirt takes them way out of their comfort zones but I also know guys who wear pink clothes like it’s nobody’s business – their interpretations of “daring” are likely to vary). I then realised that I was being a bit facetious, since a good stylist would be able to interpret what “daring” constitutes for each individual user, based on their input as part of the previous steps. Outcome: I dropped my initial thoughts, as they didn’t make sense!
  10. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (7)? - After I’d indicated which styles and products I’d never wear (see Fig. 10 below), I was then asked some check box questions which aimed to give Thread and its stylists a bit more context about me. Answering questions on the amount of style help I felt I needed and my reason for using Thread actually felt quite helpful (see Fig. 11 below). What I found most helpful when it came to selecting my sizes (see Fig. 12 below) was the ability to leave a comment on any specific requirements. For example, I left a comment in the text field to say that when I buy shirts, I sometimes buy them in size “small” and other times in size “medium”, depending on the make of the shirt (I assumed that the stylist would be able to work out that I’ve got funny shoulders from the pics that I uploaded earlier).
  11. Getting started, what’s the sign-up process like (8)? - I found the brief description of “How Thread works” (see Fig. 13 below) very helpful. Part of me was wondering whether some of the info in this description could have been peppered throughout the different onboarding steps. Doing so could in my opinion have helped to provide the user with a clear picture of the end goal. By this stage I was ready to get some good fashion advice and it was great that I could indicate to my stylist what I was looking for in my first outfit (see Fig. 14 below). Et voila, I was then presented with my personal stylist, Sophie Gaten (see Fig. 15 below).
  12. How easy to use was the site? – The signup process mostly felt easy and intuitive. As noted above, I felt that there were few points within the signup process where additional explanatory text could have been beneficial. Also, I believe it would be good if the site would provide with more opportunities to mention specific clothing requirements or issues. For example, I liked a recent F&F fashion campaign by social media agency We Are Social which allowed users to pose more specific styling enquiries or requirements.
  13. How did I feel while exploring the site? – Not sure if one can truly refer to the onboarding process as “exploring”, I guess that will come once I’ve received some specific recommendations from Sophie, my personal stylist. Having gone through all the steps of the signup process, I have some suggestions for potential improvements that Thread could consider in order to keep users fully engaged throughout the process (see Fig. 16 below).
  14. How does this app compare to similar sites? – As intuitive as I found Thread, I really struggled with a similar app in CoolGuy; I clicked on the icons for “My Closet” and “Outfits” but struggled to grasp what was expected of me or what the app was about. My first impression of Trunk Club, which promises similar things to Thread, was that this site wasn’t geared to people like me. Purely based on the imagery used, I got the sense that people wearing baggy Carhartt trousers and colourful sneakers, might not be well served by Trunk Club’s personal stylists. It would be good to see what the user experience on similar apps for women (e.g. My Shape Stylist and Blynk) is like.
  15. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Overall, I was very happy with the signup process, even though it did feel lengthy at times. The proof is in the pudding, so I’m looking forward to Thread’s actual recommendations!

Fig. 1 – Signing up for Thread: Screenshot of “What kind of style are you aiming for? Select as many as you like”

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Fig. 2 – Signing up for Thread: Screenshot of “How much do you usually spend? Select the amount you usually spend on each item”

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Fig. 3 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “What brands do you wear – Select as many as you like”

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Fig. 4 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Upload photos of you”


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Fig. 5 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “What do you usually wear to work?”

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Fig. 6 - Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Which trouser fits do you prefer?”

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Fig. 7 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Are there any of these shoe types you prefer?”

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Fig. 8 – Signing up for Thread: screenshot of “Which colours can your stylist include in their recommendations?”


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Fig. 9 – Signing up for Thread: “How open are you to trying more daring fashion styles?”

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Fig. 10 – Signing up for Thread: “Are there any of these styles you’d never consider wearing?”

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Fig. 11 – Signing up for Thread – Screenshot of “Tell us a couple things about yourself”

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Fig. 12 – Signing up for thread – Screenshot of “Select your sizes”

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Fig. 13 – Signing up for Thread  - Screenshot of “How Thread Works”

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Fig. 14 – Signing up for Thread – Screenshot of “Tell your stylist what you’re looking for your in your first outfits”

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Fig. 15 – Signing up for Thread – Screenshot of my personal stylist

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Fig. 16 – Suggested improvements in relation to Thread’s signup

  • Ability for users to save their signup information and be able to come back to it later – There were quite a few steps to go through, which made me think that it would be good for users to feel comfortable abandoning the process halfway through, knowing that they can always come back to and edit their info.
  • Style summary at the end – I like having my style profile captured as part of my account info on Thread. However, it would be great if users could be presented with their profiles at the end of the signup process, prior to ‘submitting’ one’s profile. This way users will have the opportunity to edit any info before sending it over to Thread and their dedicated stylist.
  • Progress bar – Given the number of steps involved in the signup process, I’d suggest introducing a progress bar which gives users a sense of where they are in the process. During the signup process I felt at times  that I wasn’t sure when this process was ever going to end. It would be good if I could see a visual representation of the remaining steps and understand the consequences of skipping a step.

Related links for further learning:

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Posted by on November 18, 2014 in Digital Content, Startups, Technology


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How TransferWise is changing the way in which we transfer money

TransferWise is one of those companies where you can just sniff groundbreaking success. TransferWise is a London-based peer-to-peer money transfer service which was started in January 2011. Earlier this week, the company was in the news because of rumoured discussions with well known Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, which could result in a valuation of nearly $1bn.

Transferwise is looking to disrupt the current status quo in banking land whereby premium (hidden) fees are charged when transferring money abroad. TransferWise was created to solve a problem that its Estonian co-founders Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Käärmann had experienced personally.

As Estonians working between their native country and the UK, they felt the “pain of international money transfer” due to bank charges on the amounts they needed to convert from euros to pounds and vice versa. With TransferWise, Taavet and Kristo are looking to remove the often felt frustration around transferring money abroad by significantly reducing the fees that one has to pay when transferring money. Banks charge up to 5% in (hidden) fees whereas TransferWise users pay 0.5%.

I’ve only just started using TransferWise myself, so I’ve start to look into how TransferWise works more closely:

  1. Peer-to-peer – When looking at the steps involved in transferring money through TransferWise (see Fig. 1 below), the component that helps in keeping Transferwise’s rates low is the fact that one’s outgoing money transfer is matched with people sending money in the opposite direction. This is different to how traditional banks tend to route payments abroad. Instead of transferring the sender’s money directly to the recipient, it is redirected to the recipient of an equivalent transfer going in the opposite direction. Likewise, the recipient of the transfer receives a payment not from the sender initiating the transfer, but from the sender of the equivalent transfer. This process avoids costly currency conversion and transfers crossing borders (see Fig. 2 below).
  2. Word of mouth – Given that Transferwise is peer-to-peer, growing its user base is critical to its success. TransferWise has a friend referral programme which incentivises users to invite their friends to TransferWise (see Fig. 3 below). I’m curious to find out more about how effective this programme has been in spreading the word and growing TransferWise’s user community. Currently, referrers are rewarded with cash incentives; it will be interesting to see whether TransferWise will – in the true spirit of gamification – motivate with the use of data instead of or as well as money. Businesses like Dropbox, Fab and Evernote have all created very successful referral programmes, using a number of gamification mechanics. I can imagine TransferWise have a solid group of customer advocates, who’ve derived tangible value from using its services. I wonder if these user champions are utilized by TransferWise in some sort of capacity, whether they have a formal customer advocate programme, engaging these users into campaigns or product improvements.
  3. What do users say? – Just to get a sense of how successful TransferWise is in delivering on its mission and its differentiators, I had a quick look at some of the user reviews on TransferWise’s page on Trustpilot. A quick scan of some of the comments on there shows a lot of happy customers. If there is a negative point, it’s the lack of speed with which the money transfers are completed. Some users feel that TransferWise is slower at transferring money than some of the other money transfer services but they seem to offset this against the money they save in transfer fees.

Main learning point: TransferWise is one of those businesses that is truly exciting. Firstly, their whole mission is about shaking up an industry by introducing a new way of doing things. Secondly, they are delivering tangible value (i.e. less money spent on money transfer fees) to their customers. I’ll definitely continue to use their services and I’ll keep a close eye on how they grow their user base over the coming years.

Fig. 1 – How does TransferWise work? Explained in 4 key steps – Taken from:

  1. Get started – Enter how much you’re transferring and where to. You can send to your own account abroad or another person or business.
  2. Upload money – Pay TransferWise in your local currency. Use your debit card, just like shopping online, or make a normal bank transfer.
  3. Conversion – TransferWise converts your money at the mid-market rate and matches you with people sending in the other direction.
  4. Money sent – The converted money is sent to the target bank account. Everyone gets notified by email, so you always know where the money is.

Fig. 2 – Comparing the usual concept of money transfer vs the peer-to-peer concept of money transfer – Taken from: and created by Shaviraghu – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Peer to peerFig. 3 – Screenshots of Transferwise’s online referral functionality

Invite friends 1

Invite friends 2

Fig. 4 – Some excerpts from user reviews on TransferWise’s TrustPilot page – Taken from:

  1. “Transferwise was very easy and emailed me every step of the way to tell me where my money was. As I’d never used a service like this, I called customer service several times and they were very helpful and assuring. It’s not as fast as a wire transfer between banks, but if you don’t need the money straight away, it’s worth it. The conversion rates are way better than what your bank will offer you, and you can avoid any international currency fees banks add on top of that. Would recommend to friends in the future.” “Kelly” on 13 November ’14
  2. “If you used a main UK bank the minimum charge is around £25 and can take a while to complete, the exchange rate is usually fairly poor too. No such problems with Transferwise, small charge of £4.98 to send £1,000 and got €1,270.92 (1,277.3 less fee). We should all be using TransferWise.”  “John Clive Williams” on 13 November ’14
  3. “I hate hidden fees. Transferwise is even faster than they claim. And they did everything they promised. Perfect.” “Mark” on 13 November ’14
  4. “I was trying to send money using my debit card and I received a misleading e-mail stating that I should contact my bank and transfer the money to Transferwise’s bank account. I didn’t want to do that so I tried again with my debit card and it worked. But the transfer was made twice… Lucky it was a small amount.” “Catherine” on 12 November ’14
  5. “over the moon with TransferWise, the ease of transferring my money, the rates offered and the fantastic minimum charge is the best around. Saved a lot of money with this service. Thank you” “Gerard” on 12 November ’14
  6. “Not quite as fast as the competing “more commercial” services, but the best rates we have ever achieved by some way.” “Simon” on 13 November ’14

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EDITD and applying big data analytics to the fashion industry

Since I went to a talk about visual search of fashion products, I’ve been keen to find out more about how the fashion industry uses big data analytics to make product decisions. I then came across EDITD, which is a real-time fashion analytics company based in London. Given my passion for both fashion and data, I thought I’d have a closer look into what EDITD do:

  1. EDITD’s mission – EDITD’s overall mission is to “help the world’s apparel retailers, brands, and suppliers deliver the right products at the right price and the right time”. Given the fast pace nature of the fashion industry decisions about product planning and the right amount of stock are absolutely critical. Julia Fowler, co-founder of EDITD, gives a good example when she explains that “today, an EDITD user can simply run a query on cardigans, for example, and receive results in under a second. More than 50 million SKU (Stock Keeping Units, MA) are tracked by the system.” I came across another good example in EDITD’s UK lingerie market retail calendar which aggregated data on new arrivals, discounts and sellouts can help merchandisers planning timing and location of their stock (see Fig. 1 below). It also helps navigate promotional activity and discounting.
  2. EDITD’s product – It was interesting to see what kind of features are included in EDITD’s product offering (see Fig. 2). I read in article in Fortune that EDITD’s dataset includes 53 billion data points on the fashion industry dating back more than 4 years. The Fortune article also mentioned that EDITD’s data covers more than 1,000 retailers across the globe. The way in which EDITD aggregates all this data through its different features (see Fig. 2) is where the main value of using EDITD’s services comes into play.
  3. Tangible benefits – Earlier this year, fashion retailer Asos said that using EDITD led to a 37% revenue increase in the last quarter of 2013. This was due to the data insights provided by EDITD which helped structure Asos’ pricing competitively. Geoff Watts, EDITD’s CEO, told The Guardian that the main value for Asos from using EDITD came from using their insights to make informed buying decisions grounded in data. “Retail on a basic level is all about buying the right things, so getting that right and making sure you’re selling the right product at the right price is really what dictates your success,” Watts said. Maria Hollins, Asos’ retail director, echoed this and stressed the importance of Asos making the right decisions faster than their competitors.“At ASOS, being first for fashion means being always competitive and having just the right assortment,” she said. “We’re using Editd every day to help us make critical buying and trading decisions”. If anything, EDITD saves retailers and brands from having to do so-called “comp shopping”, having to spend time going to competitor sites and stores to buy their products and compare prices. Instead, through EDITD, people can see at a glance what the competitive price points are (see Fig. 4 below).

Main learning point: I can see why brands and retailers are keen to use EDIT’s data tools and insights on a daily basis. The data on fashion and apparel has been aggregated and presented in such way that it accommodates fast decision making. I was particularly impressed with what I’ve seen of EDITD’s front-end dashboard and the way in which its purpose built product tracker provides real-time market visibility.

Fig. 1 – EDITD’s UK lingerie market retail calendar – Taken from:


 Fig. 2 - EDITD’s main product features – Taken from:

  • Market Analytics – EDITD offers a product tracker built specifically for the fashion and apparel industry. The tool provides real-time market visibility, analysis of new stock and discount activity, entry and exit prices and number of options in stock which enables retailers to benchmark their performance against each brand or retailer, providing insights into market positioning.
  • Retail Reporting – EDITD offers daily and week reports on what’s selling the fastest and the latest trends in new arrivals.
  • Visual Merchandising – EDITD has an archive of newsletters, blogs and webpages with real-time updates for brands and retailers across the whole market, worldwide. The idea is that every communication with customers is captured, to help users find discount cycles, product trends and themes, and understand their retail cadence.
  • Trend Dashboard – EDITD’s real-time tracking monitors trend progress, and historic data shows performance and trajectory. This data is all captured in EDITD’s Trend Dashboard (see Fig. 3 below).
  • Runway & Street – If you want to get a better sense of emerging trends straight from runway shows or the ‘streets’, EDITD provides visual reports on new fashion and apparel trends to look out for.
  • Social Monitor – EDITD has a Social Monitor which combines the knowledge of over 800,000 thought-leaders, key influencers and fashion experts providing an instant source of inspiration and insight into the hottest trends and opinions.

Fig. 3 - Screenshot of EDITD’s Trend Dashboard – Taken from:

EDITD trend-dashboard-1

Fig. 4 - Screenshot of EDITD’s front-end providing competitive insights – Taken from:


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Posted by on November 13, 2014 in Data, Measuring, Product Management, Startups


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Find similar fashion through Cortexica visual search

Last week, I went to a great talk by Alex Semenzato, who works as a Business Development Manager at Cortexica and is founder of FashTech. In his talk, Alex explained about the visual technology as developed by Cortexica. He discussed this technology in the context of fashion products, making the case for how visual search can really change the way we find out about fashion products and trends.

Especially given that fashion is such a visual product, it was very interesting to hear about how visual search can drive product discovery. Because of its visual nature, I can imagine that it’s much easier to explain what you’re looking for through images than through text.This is what I learned from Alex Semenzato’s talk:

  1. Find similar – The main proposition behind using Cortexica’s findSimilar™ software is that “you can shop any look just by taking a picture”. Users can take a picture on their mobiles of a design pattern or look that they like and use the visual search functionality on the client app to find either the exact item, or the most similar option(s) within the retailer’s database. One big caveat though: the quality of your visual search results is very dependent on the products available in the database of the retailer whose app you’re using. For instance, when I did a visual search through the Zalando app, the most relevant results that the app returned didn’t get  close to the look that I was searching for (see Fig. 1 below). In comparison, the results that the Macy’s app returned already felt more relevant (see Fig. 1 below).
  2. Matching – Alex explained that the matching between user’s pictures against fingerprints in the retailer database takes into account things such as colour pattern, texture and – eventually – shape. The technical challenge is to really get this mix right when doing the matching against available items in a retailer’s database. For example, the search technology needs to understand the different textures that a fabric like denim can have. It will be interesting to see how Cortexica’s competitors such as Snap FashionChic Engine and ASAP54 compare in this respect.
  3. Big data - In his presentation, Alex talked about potential B2C opportunities around Cortexica’s visual search capability. “Big data” was the first thing that he mentioned. Sometimes it feels like I can’t go to a presentation without at least one person mentioning the words “big data”, but it being able to measure makes a lot of sense in the context of visual search and fashion. One could use the analytics around products searched for (and bought) to gauge demand and to aid with product on-boarding. However, as a member in the audience rightly pointed out; the value of past data can be quite limited in the world of fashion, where it’s all about today’s trends. Alex talked about using the data generated from visual searches also in relation to merchandising solutions, associating similar items with the main product that one wants to promote.
  4. Things to watch out for – With the previous point about data opportunities come questions around data protection and data ownership. I would like to find out more about visual search and aspects like data usage and ownership. Think about questions such as “can I just use the data generated from ‘street style images’?” and “will the retailer own the images that I took and any associated data?” which I’d love to get answers on. Also, I wondered – after having had a play with the functionality – how to get the user experience around visual search right, especially if users don’t discover the type of product or look that they were looking for. For example, how do you keep users engaged if their retailer or publisher app doesn’t return the desired results?

Main learning point: I really enjoyed Alex Semenzato’s talk about the visual search capability as developed by Cortexica. It seems like a very logical and intuitive way to discover new products and I can see the visual aspect working particularly well in relation to fashion products. Given that this is a relatively new technology, there are few things which still need to pan out: the use of data and the overarching discovery experience for the user. Cortexica has definitely created and interesting piece of technology which can benefit both consumers and retailers alike.

Fig. 1 – Using Cortexica “Find Similar” visual search through the Zalando app

The image that I searched on:



The “most relevant” results that I got back on Zalando’s app:



The “most relevant” results that I got back on Macy’s app:



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Posted by on November 10, 2014 in Data, Digital Content, Startups, Technology


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Book review: “Designing Multi-Device Experiences”

This article was first published in July ’14 on

We live in a world where the number of connected devices is growing on a daily basis at an immense rate, with people constantly switching between these devices (PCs, smartphones, tablets, TVs and more). The question arises how we can design optimally for a device to be used together with other devices.

Michal Levin – a Senior User Experience Designer at Google – has created a framework which aims to capture the interconnections between different devices. Levin calls this framework an “ecosystem of multi-connected devices’.  The underlying goal behind this framework is to enable designers and product creators to “understand the different relationships between connected devices, as well as how individuals relate to them”. As a result, companies can create natural and fluid multi-device experiences for their users. Levin has written about the fundamentals of this ecosystem in her book Designing Multi-Device Experiences.

How does one build such an ecosystem of connected devices? What does a “multi-device experience” entail? A key ingredient is Michal Levin’s “3Cs Framework”. The 3Cs are “Consistent”, “Continuous” and “Complementary” design approaches:

The Consistent Design Approach – Consistent design happens when the same experience and content offering is ported across devices. Despite the inherent degree of consistency between devices,  adjustments will nevertheless still need to be made to adjust to different devices’ characteristics. Elements such as content offering and navigation can remain consistent across all devices whilst functional and visual optimisations can be made per individual device.

For example, Trulia – an online real estate mobile app for home buyers, sellers, renters, and real estate professionals – offers the following core elements as part of a consistent experience across all devices:

  • Content offering – The entire set of Trulia’s property listings is available on all devices.
  • Search bar – The search bar is consistently placed at the top of the app, irrespective of the device.
  • Property details box – This is offered across all devices, and provides more details about the property in focus.

Trulia has optimised a number of things per individual device type. For example, in the smartphone – which has the smallest display out of all devices – the Trulia app focuses on the product’s essence only: a map view of available properties with a price distribution layer. Everything else is displayed upon interaction (see Fig. 1 below).

The Continuous design approach – With the continuous design approach, the multi-device experience flows from one device to the next. Michal Levin describes this approach as “a user flow that runs along a set of contexts, during which devices “pass the baton” to one another until the user reaches her information goal or completes the desired activity”. There are two ways in which this continuous user flow can be broken down: a single activity flow and a sequenced activity flow.

With a single activity flow, activities such as reading a book or writing a document can be carried out throughout different contexts (e.g. at  work, in bed or at an airport). The end goal remains unchanged; finish reading a book or writing a document. A good example of a single activity flow is the Amazon Kindle. The Amazon Kindle Ecosystem (see Fig. 2 below) enables users to have a seamless reading experience across multiple Kindle devices and Kindle apps.

In the sequenced activities flow, the user typically goes through a number of different activities to complete her end goal. These steps can be done in different locations, at different times and with different devices being available and/or most convenient for each activity. The fact that each step can be of a very specific nature or have a different duration, has an impact on the way we design for this continuous experience. A good example is Eventbrite, a product focused on organising and attending events. With Eventbrite, the typical user workflow consists of multiple steps and tasks:

  • Register for an event – The user typically gets an event invite over email or through browsing. Typically, for the user to decide on registering for the event, she will want to read the event details (e.g. timings, location, etc.) after which she can complete the sign-up form.
  • Attend the event – The user workflow related to attending an event tends to comprise a number of subtasks such as getting to the event and checking in at the event venue. Eventbrite’s mobile app accommodates for these tasks through features such as providing directions to the venue and offering a scannable barcode for a quick check in.

The Complementary design approach involves collaboration among multiple devices operating together as a connected group. Whereas the consistent and continuous design approaches center around a single device, the complementary approach is all about user interaction with at least two devices – usually simultaneously – at any given moment. There are two types of device relationships that can help achieve a complementary approach: collaboration and control.

  • Collaboration – Different devices, each with its own distinct role, work together collaboratively to construct the whole user experience.
  • Control – The user’s primary experience takes place with a particular device, while other devices control aspects of that experience, usually remotely.

Additionally, devices can play different roles in the complementary experience. Devices can either be an integral part of the experience (‘must have’) or can be added to deepen the user’s experience (‘nice to have’). The book mentions the racing video game Real Racing 2 as an example of ‘must have collaboration’ between devices (see Fig. 3 below). Players of this game can use their smartphones to play the game on a tablet in front of them. Xbox Smartglass is an example of a product where collaboration and control meet (see Fig. 4 below). A smartphone or tablet can transform into a second-screen companion to the Xbox Smartglass by automatically serving up extended-experience TV shows, movies, music, sports and games (nice to have ‘collaboration’). On the other hand, the smartphone, tablet, and PC can all control the living room Xbox experience (must have ‘control’).

The remainder of Designing Multi-Device Experiences explores how to best measure the multi-device experience, tracking usage across all devices and understanding how users navigate through the product flow. The book ends with a chapter on potential challenges with respect to creating a multi-device ecosystem, identifying both challenges and potential ways to address them. Michal Levin has written a very insightful and practical book, which should provide a lot of food for thought for anyone involved in designing or building a user flow which involves multiple devices.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of Trulia’s mobile app – Taken from:



Fig. 2 - Sample Amazon Kindle’s Ecosystem – Taken from:


Fig. 3 – Sample Real Racing 2 Multiplayer – Taken from:


Fig. 4 – Sample Xbox Smartglass – Taken from:




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Priya Prakash explains about Design Principles at Mobile Academy

As part of the Mobile Academy curriculum, I recently attended a class by Priya Prakash on “design principles”. Priya is a very experienced designer and has founded Design for Change, a London-based urban experience design studio.

Priya started off the session by explaining that design principles describe the experience of core values of a product or a service. Design principles help in making decisions on your product. She referred to a great definition of design principles by Luke Wroblewski (see Fig. 1 below). The important part of Luke’s definition is that all decisions can be measured against design principles.

“Design is what you decide not to do” was one of the key points that Priya raised in this class. It’s all about doing less and simplifying things.  She talked about Spotify and Google Glass as good examples in this respect:

  1. Content first – Focus on the content, and remove any unnecessary user interface elements.
  2. Get familiar – Even though there is a clear distinction between a “lean forward” mode (Spotify desktop app) and “lean back” mode (Spotify mobile app), there’s a unified design language which has been executed consistently, irrespective of the device that you access Spotify from.
  3. Don’t get in the way - Google Glass is designed to be there when you need it and to be out of the way when you don’t. The goal is to offer engaging functionality that supplements the user’s life without taking away from it.
  4. Keep it relevant – Deliver information at the right place and time for each Google Glass user.

Priya then talked about motion user interface design principles:

  1. Personality – For example, the Pitchfork app has a magazine like feel. It’s about understanding what the content is and translating this into appropriate behaviours.
  2. Responsive – Priya talked about the Clear app as being very responsive, explaining how this app gracefully expands or contracts.
  3. Context - Motion should give context to the content on screen by detailing the physical state of those assets and the environment they reside in.
  4. Emotive – This principle is all about evoking a positive emotional response. This kind of response can be triggered by wide range of user interface elements, for example  smooth transition or a nice animation. Yelp‘s app is a good example in this regard.
  5. Orientation – Motion should help ease the user through the experience.  The “orientation” principle means that motion should establish the “physical space” of the app by the way objects come on and off the screen or into focus. The key is to get the flow of actions right, guiding the user on her journey and make sure she doesn’t feel lost or confused. Mobile apps like Yelp and Evernote do this pretty well in my opinion.
  6. Restraint – Keep it simple! Similar to the abovementioned “orientation” principle, it’s important not to bombard the user wity too much animation or confuse them with too many interactions to choose from. This is one of the reasons why I’m so a big fan of single purpose apps; I like the simplicity that they offer and the level of design restraint that they tend to apply.

Main learning point: I learned a lot from Priya Prakash’s class on design principles, particularly with respect to motion user interface design principles. Design principles can provide valuable guidance for the design of any software product or service and should therefore not be taken lightly. Thanks to Priya for a great class!

Fig. 1 – Definition of design principles by Luke Wroblewski – Taken from:

“Design principles are the guiding light for any software application. They define and communicate the key characteristics of the product to a wide variety of stakeholders including clients, colleagues, and team members.”

“Design principles articulate the fundamental goals that all decisions can be measured against and thereby keep the the pieces of a project moving toward an integrated whole.”

Fig. 2 – What makes a good design principle? – Taken from Priya’s lecture at the Mobile Academy on 14 October ’14:

  • Specific enough to help make a choice
  • Focuses the team – avoid being broad
  • Measurable against user need or product/business goal

Related links for further learning: 


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