The Hotel App

Imagine catching a red-eye flight to your destination. Accompanying you on this trip is your spouse & your kids – a 5-year-old one and a toddler. You have flown from Dallas to San Francisco on the eve of a long weekend. While your flight is making the descent, you make a mental check of all things you need to do as soon as you land. And you pray that all things work out seamlessly – getting the luggage, renting car and reaching hotel safe and sound.

What if the hotel you were heading to, did all the heavy lifting of all your activities, informed you at regular intervals and delighted you in an unexpected way? All things you need, bundled in a secure hotel app. The hotel app not just helps you with hotel comforts but understands you as a person.

The hotel app is your digital concierge – ready to answer any questions you probably felt odd to ask the front desk – e.g. where I can get the power extension for my extra electronic devices? The hotel app recommends places to eat, shop & entertain. It keeps your paper receipts archived in the app. The app is the digital incarnation of the ever-reliant Alfred, who not just is a butler to Bruce Wayne but knows Bruce thoroughly as a person.

This digital app, Alfred precisely does that – it understands your needs as a traveler, anticipates your needs, nudges you to make better choices and makes your hotel stay enjoyable.

The futuristic hotel awaits you.

The Travel App

Travel may not be on everybody’s mind right now. That was not the case last year when everyone was either en route or already relaxed at their dream destination at this time of the year.

“I want my customers to ‘dream’ about my hotel property” was the design brief given to me by a client. It was odd and challenging at the same time. How can someone influence travelers and make them dream? Unless you are Christopher Nolan! The realms of “inception” are best suited to fiction. However, there could be a way to make a traveler aspire about destinations, thereby leading to make one dream.

I started off by interviewing users for the travel app – individuals who have been planning their annual vacation, backpackers, hikers, roadtrippers, etc. Through them, I discovered what things these travelers do to their homework – what apps they use, what sites they browse, whom do they talk to, how do they zero down to a single location, etc.

The MVP (minimal viable product) of the travel app was to design an iPad app. The grand scale vision was to design an ecosystem – a platform with end-to-end touchpoints integrated with every step of a traveler journey – right from a coffee table book to invoke interest, to a website & digital apps to sustain excitement and notifications to guide the traveler what to do, what to expect before embarking on travel.

The iPad app that I sketched was one of the most exciting projects for me. In addition to sketching, I used paper cutouts to show how the app pages would look like. In addition to the iPad app, I also designed the hotel experience iPhone app (I will share that in my next post).

When the app is launched, messages like these (full page images with good lettering design) will kindle the user interest. These messages will do the “inception” – they stay on the screen long enough to transition to the next page automatically.

A first-time user will be guided through steps that will help the traveler to zero in on a location, on the basis of questions. A returning user can skip these steps and land up directly on the recommendations page. The recommendations page is built upon users’ browsing history, likes / dislikes and social interactions.

All the interests “pinned” by the user will be presented on the pinboard. The app will curate the “day-travels” and let the user choose anything that matches one’s interest. The user can also customize no. of days and the activities corresponding to the destination will change.

The user can browse detailed information of day-trips. The app will create a travel plan based on the user’s selection and topical data (e.g. “if it rains that day, the best places to visit are….”).

Every destination is presented as a form of a story that suits the traveler’s persona. If the traveler finds anything appealing, that trip is pinned to the pinboard.

Curated content engages the user about the place by introducing the user about the history, the culture, people, etc. Notice how the destination is told through movies & books. The movie trailers & the books kindle the interest in the minds of the traveler. Long vertical page scrolls and the magazine format of the content builds curiosity about the destination.

The idea is to keep the traveler engaged and not to hard-sell the destination hotels at this point. Once the user has decided to pick up a destination (after deliberation), then present the choice of hotels.

It is a wise call for now too. Take all time you need to bookmark the places you want to go next year. We may not travel now, but then the time to pack your bags will be on the horizon soon.

Here we go…..again!

We now live in a world where the iPhone has no home button, the iPad has a pencil & NASA has started sending back the astronauts from the US soil. To cut a long story short, it is time to revive the blog after a gap of 5 years :).

Starting this month, I will post new examples of paper prototypes. Stay tuned!

The Marathon Drive

“The miles is the goal” says Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in the movie “Up In The Air”. He is talking about the frequent flier miles he aggregates on living life out of a suitcase, as he travels across the states in air. When I say “the miles is the goal”, I am on the ground and I refer it to the miles I accumulate for my monthly runs :).

I owe it to my elder brother Yogesh, who inspired me to take up running as a sport. I was never a runner, per se. The two sports that I played in my school days were tennis and soccer. And it does involve running, lots of it. These sports took up a back seat when the academics came into forefront, reducing the once passionate sports to once-in-a-blue-moon events.

I took up running after I bid goodbye to the Midwest weather and landed up in a cheerful spring in Texas. Running was completely new to me. I started off by walking, and then to brisk jog – discovering that my shoes, my sheen and heels were not in the right shape to get me running.  The greatest challenge for the first two weeks was to run a distance of 0.25 miles (0.4 kilometer).

Last year, I went on a month-long trip to Pune (India), my home town. One day, on an early morning run, I was stopped by a very old man. I had seen him run the previous day. He asked me if I was training for the international marathon (held in Pune every December). I said I was not. He said “You should try. I am hoping to better to my record for 10K race. My age is 73”.

Last month, I ran the half marathon distance (13.1 miles = 21 kilometers) in 2 hours 1 minutes 33 seconds. Series of long and short runs helped me to achieve this milestone.

Every month, my target is complete 100 miles. Depending upon the time I have, my travel and weather outside, I plan runs and reach the goal. I am often asked by my family members when will I be able to complete a marathon. I don’t know. It took me a year to complete the half marathon distance. Perhaps, soon.

Two books have helped me understand different aspects of running. The book “Born to Run” by  Christopher McDougall is a non-technical, non step-by-step guide and yet an informative read about human origins of running to the latest ultra-marathon species called Tarahumara Indians. “Running with the mind of meditation” by Sakyong Mipham offers another compelling view of running practiced in conjunction with meditation.

Nike+ app is a good way to record your running activities. Its fairly accurate, comes on Android and iOS devices. I would love to connect with fellow runners. If you are using Nike+ app, can add me to your friends list.

Based on the app usage, I have created a concept for a running app. I am sure it will undergo iterations, I am presenting the first draft.

Running App Concept - Page1

Running App Concept – Page1

Running App Concept - Page2

Running App Concept – Page2

 

The Time Warriors

Your mobile phone is your savior. It tells you the time (and now you have a Watch to do that :D), it helps you plan your day and schedule your meetings for weeks in advance. Mash up this with cool tools that take away the pains from joining conference calls (the conference call app) and you will glide through your calendar effortlessly.

The ‘Up in the air’ personas expect more from their mobile / apps – they are on the road, have their calendars already planned days in advance and have to carefully accommodate the last-minute calls or meetings. Their productivity is defined by the time wisely used, and by the time wisely planned.

Here is a concept in the making – an app which gives anyone who wants to manage their work day efficiently. Right from the daily overview, to the weeks of business-as-usual, to the grinding monthly travels. The app syncs with your inbox and calendars on the device + in the cloud, reads your travel schedules and gives a unique view of your time.

Whether you are a CxO or a busy parent, this app will help the time warriors – on the road or off it.

The Time Warriors - Page1

The Time Warriors – Page1

The Time Warriors - Page2

The Time Warriors – Page2

The UX Kanban

In some organizations, the user experience (UX) team is seen as a problem child. It has merits, brilliant minds and capable hands. But, it has its own ways of working.

In a typical services company, the UX team works in a horizontal mode – providing consultancy to every business unit. In product companies, the UX team may be divided according to the product portfolios. Regardless of size and nature of business, one thing is common that managing the UX team takes a toll on the CxOs of the organization. The pressures of billability, team members’ utilization and investment of tools are the commonplace problems. Of course, there is no panacea (the cure-all medicine) to these problems.

Many tools, methodologies have been attempted to “civilize” the team. One of them is Kanban.

Kanban literally means ‘signpost’, a just-in-time production system designed by Taiichi Ohno at Toyota. Kanban is a system to control the logistical chain from a production point of view, and is not an inventory control system.

In simple words, Kanban means to produce only when there is a demand. It helps organizations to be leaner, productive and have faster turnarounds. There is ample material available on the net to read and watch videos on Kanban system.

I took the Kanban approach and applied to the typical UX team scenarios. The first sketch shows a Kanban dashboard of projects in UX portfolio. It has visual cues and legends that helps the UX managers / leads to focus on what is important from delivery and sales point-of-view.

The overall view

The overall view

The second sketch depicts the Kanban system from the team and tools perspective – how many designers we need to hire, what tools we need to purchase.

The team and tools view

The team and tools view

The third sketch shows the Kanban cards the UX team members would receive as work queues. They will get a precise description of what needs to be delivered, how and when.

The UX delivery view

The UX delivery view

If you tie these three sketches together, it could lead you to a system of UX team management – a web tool or an iPad app (if you visualize). Who does not want some structure to the maverick team :)?

Audiobooks

If you have read the Tolkien classic ‘The Hobbit’, chances are that you have seen the Hobbit movies too. Would you head to an audiobook that narrates the book? If you do, would you buy a book from an audiobook company?

The digital publishing industry is made up of e-books and audiobooks. They complement, not compete with the traditional books. Audiobooks offer different kind of experience – you can hear the books on the walk, on the drive, while cooking or any other activities that do not ‘demand’ attention.

I recently reviewed an audiobook application and bought an audiobook. The app experience was underwhelming and I was amazed to see the difference of treatments to the Android app vis-a-vis the iPhone app. So, here is my design concept that will give an enhanced experience of an audiobook app.

Audiobook Mindmap

Audiobook Mindmap

Audiobook Concept Page 1

Audiobook Concept Page 1

Audiobook Concept Page 2

Audiobook Concept Page 2

The Conference Calls

How does your average work day look like – are you engaged in office calls / conference calls? Twice, thrice to the max? As your responsibilities increase, you daytime is divided mostly in the calls. You don’t keep a count of the calls, you just join them.

The app that I am presenting is in the works, it will be launched soon. The app will help the user to join calls over voice and Wi-Fi calling.

This app takes away the pains of joining the conference calls – once it is installed on your mobile it scans the inboxes, collates the calendar invites and keeps a sequence of conference calls ready to join. It prompts you before the call, dials in 10 digit toll free / call numbers, pin codes automatically (dials intelligently the country codes as per your phone number). It gives you an advance information about upcoming calls.

If you want to patch in someone, it gives you a dialer / recent calls / favorites list to call and allows you to merge the calls. Its coming on iPhone, Android and Apple Watch.

iPhone App - Page 1

iPhone App – Page 1

iPhone App - Page 2

iPhone App – Page 2

iPhone App - Page 3

iPhone App – Page 3

Android App - Page 1

Android App – Page 1

Android App - Page 2

Android App – Page 2

Android App - Page 3

Android App – Page 3

Android App - Page 4

Android App – Page 4

Apple Watch App

Apple Watch App

 

The Electric Generation

We are indebted to the scientific society of the 1900s who invented technologies we take for granted.

One of the inventors happens to be Nikola Tesla. Elon Musk is redefining the electric cars through his venture Tesla Motors. Major automobile manufacturers have taken their steps building electric cars – Nissan, Chevrolet, Toyota. Those who are genuinely interested in understanding the electric car history can read about Better Place (started by Shai Agassi, now closed) and watch the documentary “Revenge of the Electric Car” on Netflix.

While the electric cars’ evolution is on, it has not stopped the automobile world to leverage their technology to the most ubiquitous form of transportation in most countries – the bike. One of the companies that is manufacturing an electric bike in US happens to be Mahindra, naming its electric bike as “GenZe”. If you happen to be in Bay Area or Los Angeles, chances are that you might have seen that bike on the road.

I designed a mobile app concept for GenZe. The users of the mobile app are students, pizza delivery guys. The idea of the app was simple – know the bike’s essential parameters before turning the engine on. 100+ parameters of the bike are up in the cloud. There are sensors on the bike that give crucial data about the bike’s mechanics, electrical, tire pressure, etc.

The iOS and Android app offer the similar experience, with one exception. Android phones have a desktop widget of the App – no need to launch the app. There is also a micro-website that gives detailed analysis of bike’s usage.

GenZe iPhone app

GenZe iPhone app

GenZe iPhone app

GenZe iPhone app

GenZe Android app

GenZe Android app

GenZe Micro Website

GenZe Micro Website

The travel bug

Raise your hand if you love to travel :). Both for work and pleasure.

Being a designer has taken me to new places like US, UK, Malaysia and India. I love to travel.

Its easy to travel in India, my native country. The modes of transport are easy to understand and arrange. Same is the case with UK – great country for public transit. Malaysia is good too. It is in US where I struggled with – by using public transit. The fault was entirely mine.

I was in California after a good gap of 7 years. I should have started driving the car in US by now. It was my second visit to the country, longer than the previous one. The right-to-left wheel transition was a bit baffling to me, initially. I tried driving once and then gave up the thought. I relied on friends to tag along in their cars on weekend outings and sometimes choosing the VTA trains to roam around.

Weekend agenda was simple – explore new places. The downside of using the public transit was time – a simple journey from San Jose (CA) to Gilroy (CA) is a 40 min drive. A public transit journey (combining train and bus) taken around 2 hrs.

Back then, we did not have smartphones. The iPhone was 1yr old. Google was touted to release its first Android device. There was no blazing internet on the phone that we have now. No question of maps on phone.  It was July 2008.

On one of the weekend trips back to home, I missed a bus. Me and my friend waited for the next bus to come, which did not arrive as per schedule. The printed bus time-table at the stop told a grim story of weekend bus gaps. There were relatively less number of buses plying on the roads on weekends.

I thought, we are in the one of the most advanced places on earth, i.e. California. How come we do not have any service / tool / application that helps me travel with public transport? Mobile apps were just beginning to appear on devices. What I was thinking as a concept was a mashup of public transit data, mobile phone capabilities and real time information.

In 2009, I sketched a concept – a public transit app that any tourist, or any city dweller can use to travel. The app is called ‘Ghumiyo’ – a slang in Hindi language, which translated means “travel”. Notice the template I used 🙂 – The Nexus One and the HTC Sense skin used as the Android launcher. 

Here is the app I designed:

Ghumiyo_1

Ghumiyo_1

Ghumiyo_2

Ghumiyo_2

Ghumiyo_3

Ghumiyo_3

Ghumiyo_4

Ghumiyo_4

Ghumiyo_5

Ghumiyo_5

Fast forward to today – I now live in Texas and I drive a car :).