Friday, 27 June 2014


Hi ya'll,

For some time now I have been contemplating where I should give my 2 cents on the Human Centered Design (HCD) vs User Centered Design (UCD) vs Customer Centered Design (CCD) debate. It is a tricky and sticky situation to be in when you are talking to someone and say; hey so do you guys do UCD? and this I feel it sometimes a trick question because if you say yes then there are other questions like: why not HCD or CCD?

Well, to the best of my understanding HCD refers to putting the "human" in the center of your design decisions. This means not only the user but includes all the stakeholders that are involved in product design. It is prudent to state that user does not always mean it is a human being as some systems are designed as input for other systems and so forth.

UCD on the other hand is something that has made the rounds and many still think that it is the holy grail. Well they are right as long as their project requirements dictate that i.e. I am doing some exploratory design work and the user is the only focus of my design as this will not be sold at this point in time. For this use case UCD fits the bill. Another thing with UCD is that it does not necessarily mean that only the user is taken into account, but as the User Experiences' objective is to create intuitive designs, UCD leaves more confusion than understanding.

CCD, I believe is just another marketing term being used by product management designs with the hope of acquiring new customers. But under all that fuss there is some rationale to this concept. Firstly, the customer might really know what their clients want (i.e. a user research enterprise approaching a user experience enterprise for some design work). Secondly, if the customer is large enough that they have created a lock-in effect with already bad pre-existing User experience (UX) i.e. SAP's previous user interface then a UX consulting enterprise can listen to the customer. This is mainly because it makes no sense to have a module with excellent UX and the rest of the product has crap UX (yes, yes, yes I know, this is possible if you are doing piece meal upgrades but I am an advocate for do it right the first time). Third and lastly, the customer is paying and if your says pitch for UX and user research doesn't fly with them. Give them what they want because in the end you are running a business. However I am totally against this personally.

"... people don't know what they want until you show it to them"
                                                                                                                          - Steve Jobs

This quote is both true but does not discount user research. 

"The reason why we are user experience professionals is because we are able to understand what users really need and what they need by understand their task flows and intended goals and objectives."
                                                                                              - Gabriel Tuhafeni NHINDA
These are my opinions on this subject, but in conclusion, just know what you want to achieve and customize the design process as you need. There is no way to apply a text book methodology in a real world situation. But the one thing you need to understand it that you are not designing for your self but for others!



Monday, 23 June 2014

Africa and innovation

Hi ya'll,

To start-off I would like to mention that the contents of this post are purely based on my opinions and do not represent any organisations that I might be working with at the moment.

So now LEGO!

A few years back I read an article of a young and aspiring engineer that created his own automobile out of scrap parts. Another such occurrence was reported in one of Namibia's northern regions were a young man had invented a helicopter from recycled materials. One more example is based on a young boy that created batteries and a lighting system that he then sold to his neighbors. One common denominator among this young people is that they all had no formal engineering training. This brings me to thinking that as much as an engineering education is needed, many self taught mechanics still open garages all over Africa, where I am from they refer to them as Bush Mechanics. Truth be told, I sometimes have some of those that I trust more than the "official mechanics" because their knowledge is trial and error.

In any case this post is not about the engineering education, but rather on how impressed I am with these individuals innovative-ness. They say the best innovators are those that solve problems that they face everyday. This got me thinking, in most African countries (based on talks I had with other African students), we tend to be consumers and for some reason we seem to wait for some magical being to come and help us solve our own problems. There has been a cultivated culture of dependence of international aid, when in reality if we simple had proper management we could most of the disasters that occur in our countries without the need for international help. I am in no uncertain terms saying that we do not need help, but it is never a good thing to always be expecting help, when will be stand on our own feet. geographically speaking we have countries that can produce more food on the current lands that they are utilizing for farming at the present time, but due to the lack of willingness to adapt to sustainable farming practices that both insure higher yields and a sustainable eco-friendly system, people are stuck with their traditional farming methods. The major thing that comes from traditional farming operations based on existing knowledge passed down from our forefathers is that we know when to expects bad weather and if we integrate this knowledge with more updated farming methods we could find innovative way of solving everyday issues such as hunger.

Another thing that I do not understand the international trade that most African countries practice. I wonder what percentage of imports and exports go to and come from other African countries. There is a high probability those figures are much lower than you would expect. The reason being that  we do not like to support each other feel the need to trust those that are most furthest from us as opposed to those that are just next door.

In the spirit of innovation, we need to learn how to use those materials around us to try and solve our problems or issues or things that irritate us the most within our environments.

My next post will be about indigenous farming knowledge and how we can leverage it to better our communities.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Update: Master Thesis


I am not sure if I blogged about this but I am a Master of Science in Business Informatics at the University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany. I needed to start this post off by stating that because it is relevant what comes next. Anyway I will get on with it as I am strapped for time these days.

For some time now I have been writing my thesis in the lovely city of Leipzig within a software company. Specifically in their User Experience department. Here I am researching the potential of "The potential Mobile-First approach for the design of user interfaces: the case of predictive analytics applications"; that is the official tittle of my thesis. The basic idea is to have an exploratory look if the mobile first approach as was proposed by Luke W. in his November 2, 2009 article, actually could be used to design and eventually develop business applications. The current status of affair has it that companies just downsize their current desktop applications and claim that they have a working mobile application of mobile version of their application. If we are playing semantics they are not wrong because the application does appear on the mobile device, but the question is: can users, use that "mobile", application efficiently and effectively? It is with this in mind that I have taken it upon myself to investigate if it is possible to design an application in this manner [Mobile First]. I have already done some paper prototyping based on requirements I gathered through interviews and literature review, and just completed some expert testing; Heuristic Evaluation with the twist of Contextual Heuristic Evaluation of those design decisions (which just means that I introduced the evaluators to the context, personas, and tasks to be evaluated; giving them contextual information within which the "application" is to be used in). I am just finishing up the data analysis and recording it into my thesis and then re-designing the paper prototype for Version 8 of it. Then last but not least I will have to tie everything together and have it read by some friends to make sure it is legible. Opuwo!

I have been here for about 7 months now and it has been a road filled with big wins and small setbacks, but finally the end is near. Yesterday I decided to write my supervisor and e-mail to schedule a thesis defense date, I thought I would get a reply by next Monday the 23rd of June. That was not to be, this morning during my usual morning ritual - wake-up, stretch, shower, check mail, breakfast, leave - I got an e-mail that confirms my thesis defense date. I don't know if I should be happy because finally I am completing a journey that I started 2 years ago, but now it seems just like yesterday. Or sad, that this student life is coming to an end; all those discounts will be no more O_o.

Either way, I have come this far, and I can't wait to be able to put Msc. before my name. This is all well and now I am faced with the question of what is next? well I mean the presentation date is on the 28th of July and I have to hand in my thesis by the 21st of July. This means that I can leave Germany for home on the 30th of July.

Question: Do I leave forever or just go home for 2-3 months and come back here to work?

Ohh well, I can't think about that now as I have some writing to do, I still have to write about 30 pages worth of high quality scientific literature. I am so stoked to present my sweat of 7 months.

Will keep ya'll updated as I progress.


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Leipzig: City of contrasts

For those of you that do not know by now, I have moved from the lovely town of Mannheim to the city of Leipzig. Notice how I deliberately make a distinction between town and city? well that is because there are fundamental differences between Mannheim and Leipzig. One such difference is the sheer size in square kilometers. Mannheim spots an area of about 144.9 sq KM compared to of 296.7 sq KM Leipzig. Another noticeable difference is the population size of Leipzig being more than half a million whereas the population of Mannheim is about three tenths of a million: that is a difference of about 200 thousand people.

This post is however not about the differences between Leipzig and Mannheim. It is about Leipzig the city of many contrasts. Leipzig is home to one of the most famous battle grounds of the late Napoleon war; which is known as the "Battle of Nations". It was also one of the hardest hit cities in world war II with the total distraction of the cities infrastructure and populace. After the war ended in the late 1940's the allied forces slit Germany into two parts West and East; Leipzig fell into the Eastern part. It made a name for itself as a place for industry and arts. However the devastation in the wake of the post war clean-up meant that there were many abandoned buildings in the country side and many people fled for safety and most notoriously the Jewish families that lived within the vicinity of Leipzig.

After the fall of the #Berlin wall in the early 90's, there was a de-flux of people moving to the former western part of Germany. I once saw a picture of a woman holding a cucumber and the caption was "Heidi und ihre erste banane" which translates to "Heidi and her first banana" but she was holding a cucumber, but due to the fact that the east was so cut off from the rest of the world people did not know what they didn't have i.e. the difference between a banana and a cucumber.

That is but a brief synopsis of the history of Leipzig. What continues to intrigue me is the contrast in architecture. In my opinion you can tell a lot about the real state of affairs in a place by looking at the architectural state of the buildings. This is mainly due to the fact that each building is built in its own time and surrounded by some mitigating circumstances unique to it. You will often find some baroque style buildings with rococo style architecture in Leipzig. But that is not what is most fascinating about the contrasts in Leipzig. To best explain these contrasts I need to tell a story of one fine Sunday (Well, it was fine since the weather was God awful and I was in a bit of a slump and felt like I wanted to drop all else and just go home), but anyhow this is how it went. On a Sunday a few months back I was feeling rather homesick after almost 2 years away from family and Namibian culture, I spent the entire day indoors watching documentaries about world cultures and similarities. Okay, fine this is a common occurrence, that I sit at home and watch independent documentaries about subjects that interest me at that point in time. back to the that specific Sunday, I was home the entire day and decided the pity party was over, but the only way I would get over this slump was to get some fresh air, but guess what; there were some Columbus clouds looming and I felt even worse since I couldn't go far.

Me being me I decided I was going to take a safest route I knew possible, (follow the tram line that way if it does start to rain there would be definite shelter at a tram stop :D ). As I walked down this really long street I can to notice out my pure homesickness how I was likening trees to those from home, and i eventually ended up looking at the buildings. Needless to say I discovered so much about Leipzig on this one day. It felt like the further away I got from the city center the more dilapidated buildings one could find in a consecutive row and then surprisingly a very neat looking block of apartments a midst the rundown buildings from post world war two periods. As if that was not interesting enough, I came to the end of this road after about an hour of aimlessly walking around. So I took a really small exit street that had a sign stating that it leads to one of the more exciting excursion spots in Leipzig; the Cospudener Lake. On my way there I passed by many little gardens, all decked out with pretty flowers and fruit trees, well mostly cherry trees anyway. A 20 minute walk later I was in a rather fancy looking neighborhood, with its gated community feel. This was a place with so many Villas you wouldn't believe and down the road about a 5 - 10 minute drive were buildings that have seen better days, and most probably also people that are on the lower side of the economic scale. From this experience my view of Germany and Germans in general has changed. I think we all have our prejudices and assumptions about a people. But clearly there isn't much difference between most African countries I have been to and Germany after all in the sense that the poor are really poor and the rich are really rich. Mind you I saw some pretty high walls and you know what they say about high walls around houses.

In the images below you can see the architectural differences that one can find in the Zschochersche Stra├če in the Plagwitz neighborhood an up and coming hip place to live, it dawns some of the fastest growing software start-ups and other SMEs, Spreadshirt is located here for instance. The old warehouses make a good working place for open office setups and high ceilings.

Architectural differences

Throwback days

Lonely bench along the river

The rails to ...

There any many different contrasts in Leipzig, those in the architecture, the way people perceive life, and of course the all European re-occurring adage: Finding oneself. But these are topics for another blog post.