Empathy & UX

Seth Godin writing on Empathy:

The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.

Dismissing actions we don't admire merely because we don't care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn't help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.

Empathy doesn't involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, "why did they do what they did?"

Cannot stress about how important it is to ask these questions when you are doing your user research. I have always asked random, unrelated questions that has paid of in the end because it allows me to know where the user is coming form. What type of gadgets they use and what type of apps and software they use in their daily lives has an impact on how they are using a particular system.

Its called "User Centered Analysis" for a reason.

Documenting UX

A lot of companies today implement an agile process and the remaining ones like to call themselves agile. A few years back any designer (UX/IX) would pull out their hair because turning around design details wasn’t easy given the amount of time a sprint would end. Years go by and processes have evolved. Processes like LeanUX and staggered sprints or design and R&D sprints in parallel have more or less solved this issue. However these processes have reduced the amount of documentation.

We have user research data, but never used it to create personas. We have analytics data but never exported them out of their software/databases. There are a list of scenarios or stories that are important or have a higher priority, but they never made it to the official todo list or backlog. All, I see is wireframes, trolls of em. Some of them make sense like login screens and forgot passwords; the others I have no idea. Today wireframes have become one of the most important means of documentation. I even see scanned sketches, photographed whiteboards and clickable wireframes. One change in the use case or workflow, and you are back to square one.

It does capture details; however, chances are when I see someone else’s wires, I may not like a solution. How do you support your solution? 

And I have made them all; mistakes. The fact that the requirements or priorities are in my head and not anywhere else does not do good for me to convince someone why these things need to be done the way I intend to. 

Over the last couple of months I started maintaining a combination of few documents that has helped me transition stuff and propose design easily. Here is a short run down of these documents and processes: 

We all do our bit by venturing out and talking to users. We capture notes and lot of em. When you do so, try to capture them as quotes. There are two important advantages in doing so. One, Its faster to write them while you are interviewing/talking to them and Two, it preserves the context. 

"I have to apply the same filter every fucking time I visit this page" 

“See I like this pages concept in OneNote. This way I can just have multiple notebooks and go and write down in pages within them..."

One of the important thing is to digitize these notes. It could be in a notepad or Evernote; I found excel helpful (yeah!). I was able to create buckets/categories and then write the quotes in these specific buckets. Also, when I digitized these notes; I was able to add attributes to them; like screen resolution, position, firm, interview date, system usage, type of user, etc. These become important when I really wanted to narrow down to specific kind of users.  Apart from that I color codeed these quotes - for example. Red for negative, Blue for positive and Greens for opportunities; this gave me an idea on the state of the existing software.  

I haven’t created any personas (and I might not for the time being) for my work. But when I was working on a specific problem, I was able to filter down to a handful of target users in my excel sheet then parsing through notebooks of research data. Once I have narrowed it down to a bunch of users, it is easier for me to identify patterns in their quotes (colors added value). Those attributes that you add now allows you to see how much is in common between these users.

After looking at my excel, I note down tasks/use cases/stories. I maintain a list in a todo list. Apple reminders does the job for me. Nothing fancy. This allows me to scope out, prioritize stuff. Anything that is high priority gets a date and bubbles up, rest of them just remain at the bottom. Simple.

Analytics - If you have it, great. This comes in use when you really want to see what users are doing with existing systems. How are they using it. Export them and keep them handy. Don’t rely on your system that you did log in and get data. Historic data is fine. Patterns are not going to change overnight. Export them because you can quickly pivot data. That is important to figure out supporting numbers for your uses cases. 

This accompanying my wireframes/sketches is a good combination. I try to ensure my wireframes are also not too elaborate. Stick to the specific workflow or use case and thats good enough. 

Trying to Keeping it Simple and Stupid. So far it has worked for me. Maybe over the next few months or a year I will know if it was effective enough.

Please leave your comments and suggestions or any of the processes you personally follow or send an email to get in touch.

 

Moment Lens - The saga behind buying one.

I have been toying around the idea of getting one of those snap on lenses for my iPhone for a while now. I use my phone for photography a lot and you can see my snaps on Instagram and some of them on Flickr. 

One of the things I have always missed while clicking on iPhone is that extra bit of zoom. The digital zoom absolutely destroys the picture and you don't not want to use that. I did some research and came across a few snap on zoom lenses for the iPhone, of which Moment Lens and Olloclip. Both of these are great products. While Olloclip is endorsed by a few photographers I know; Austin Mann is one of them.  

So, before I put any money in them, I wanted to see if I could try these out. A friend lend me his Olloclip lens and the performance was good.

The Olloclip is a 4-in-1 system that has 4 lenses - a fisheye, wide angle, 10x macro and a 15x macro. Olloclip is like a snap on lens that you clip it on your iPhone and remove it when you don't want them. The two lenses that are fish eye and wide angle; you flip them and they become macro lenses. The same way you would reverse a lens on any DSLR camera to make it a macro lens. These are great lenses, however I'm not a big fan of the fish eye, and the iPhones current lens is wide enough to take great pictures (there is always panorama mode). I was intrigued with macro, but somehow I wasn't impressed with what I clicked.

I tried the Moment lens as well and I was impressed with its performance.  With moment lens it's a different story. To use these lenses you have to glue its sense holder on to your phone around the camera (they are well designed and don't look ugly) which allows the moment lens to snap on, much like those DSLR cameras and that's where the quality and sharpness is amazing. So if you are not serious about these lenses, or you like the aesthetics of your phone; you probably should not be investing in moment lenses. 

Both these products are really great, however the Moment Lens impressed me the most. It takes a while for you to get used to attaching that lens to your phone but once you get the knack of it its easy. Every product has a learning curve, this one its not that long.

No doubt the product is great. But you need to have the same experience when you are selling one. 

I was going on a vacation in about 5 days time and I wanted to make sure I got the lens before Friday evening. For the time being the express shipping option was disabled on their site since they were working with the shipping guys to make sure everything is in place.  

I sent a mail to the team at Moment Lens in Seattle and I got a reply in about 20 minutes with a solution. The team at Moment Lens came back to me saying I could place my order and then call them on a number with my order number and they would ship it to me using FedEx and they would charge me the shipping cost. Not a problem. I was all set to place my order, however my gut feeling was no. So, I borrow my friends lens for my upcoming vacation and place the order once I'm back. 

I place my order for my lens on April 10. Immediately I get a confirmation mail with my order number and an invoice. Since I wasn't in a hurry now I was ok with their 10 day shipping option. Three days later I get an email that my order has been shipped and something in that email confirmation caught my eye. 

Your Order has been shipped via HongKong POST.
Tracking #XXXXXXXXXXXXX
Click HERE to track your shipment.

Why is my lens being shipped by HongKong POST and where the heck is this coming from? Not that it surprised me that the lens was manufactured and assembled in China (of course), but what surprised me was it was also being shipped from there and not from Seattle. In any case as long as it gets shipped and delivered to me in 10 days I was ok.

When I tried to track my shipment, all it said was "Destination - United States of America". I waited for a week and mailed the team at Moment Lens and sure enough within a few hours I got an email apologizing for the delay and finally the status on shipment had changed. Now it said:

Destination - United States of America
The item (XXXXXXXXXXXX) left Hong Kong for its destination on 20-Apr-2015

That was great, finally it was shipped after 10 days of me placing this order. I wait.  I wait for another week and yet again Is end another email to the team at Moment Lens on April 27 talking to them about my frustration and the fact that it was supposed to be shipped in 10 days. And there it was in a hours time I had a response with an apology and this time with a link to USPS where I could track the progress of my shipment now that it was shipped to the United States.

I'm not sure if I should consider this to be helpful or not. However this was the status on April 27 and it remains to be the same status on May 1. If you have a great product, make sure you give a great service. At this point in time I'm looking for options on Moment Lens website to see how do I go about canceling my order. 

And the worst; after talking to Moment Lens about my frustration I get an email form them:

There is a certain threshold when even the most patient person would loose it. When this post makes it way to twitter and other social network sites; I won't be surprised to receive an explanation on the delay or the fact that it does take such a looooooong time to ship something out. It doesn't matter; my experience buying this product wasn't great and it does not motivate me at all to go ahead and use it and enjoy my post buying experience.

Banner Blindness

An update to my previous post on Google Ads, here is an interesting article from Nielsen Norman Group. 

The most prominent result from the new eyetracking studies is not actually new. We simply confirmed for the umpteenth time that banner blindness is real. Users almost never look at anything that looks like an advertisement, whether or not it's actually an ad.

The trouble with eye tracking is that it only tracks where your direct line of vision is. Human eyes are equipped with peripheral vision as well and that is where the trouble lies. Although the user is focused on reading what is important, he/she is completely aware of their surroundings. No wonder you would see banner ads that are "gif-fy" with saturated colors or text on them.

How about Graphic Recording for documentation?

As a Product Designer, wireframes, sketches act as a medium where I can think, explore, validate on a problem space. Be it a wire framing tool or just paper and pen, it works and I'm almost certain a lot of designers do. But the trouble is not there. That's a great approach; however the problem lies when it comes to documenting this. In the last few years, the amount of documentation that I find for existing products or my own design is almost nil. I see wireframes; big fat wireframes. The bigger the system, the more. 

I don't see a summary, or a workflow of the problem that someone is trying to solve. Wireframe is not a great tool to deliver that message; forget about a workflow. 

According to Will Evans

A picture is worth a thousand words; an interface is worth a thousand pictures; a theory is worth a thousand interfaces.

Earlier this month I got to attend LeanUX conference in Brooklyn. One of the best things at the conference was the Graphics Recording by Dean Meyers (@deanmeistr). His job although very creative was extremely important - record all the talks in a graphical way. Brilliant. I did not have to take down notes. All I had to do was once the talk was over and during a break walk over to the wall and snap a picture.

I came back to work with a solution to my cumbersome documenting issues. I quickly scribbled down workflows and summarized them in a graphical way. It was awesome. It was one of the best way to communicate the idea as to what exactly I'm trying to solve. I shared it with my team, bingo they got it right away. 

I shared it with someone else with no context to my project to bring them on board; they came back with 100 questions.

What went wrong? I thought I had nailed it. I thought it was simple and intuitive. Everyone understand the diagrams I came up with. I shared the LeanUX conference graphic recordings with my colleagues, and I realized, that a narration was also important. It was easier for me and my team to understand these diagrams because we have a great context around it.

So to solve that issue, what I did was come up with a story line - one liners (and explanation when I had to explain a concept) with bit sized graphics. This was perfect it explained the workflow bit by bit and then zoomed out to show the big picture. Something like what Prezi does and thats exactly what I did. 

If you have the patience to draw and scan, Prezi has been an excellent tool.

The Rapidly Disappearing Business of Design

Robert Fabricant writing for Wired:

Adaptive Path, a bay area pioneer in User Experience Design (UX), recently exited the business, finding greener pastures as the in-house design agency for Capital One. Smart Design, a pioneer in design entrepreneurship through its groundbreaking work with OXO in the ’90s, recently closed its SF office.
Consolidation is nothing new for creative industries like advertising, which is dominated by a few large holding companies. But for the first time, in 2014 we saw Fortune 500 companies—primarily big banks and IT firms—grabbing the biggest share of the design talent pool.

This was bound to happen. Design is now becoming one of the important part of the so cold SDLC. A lot of credit goes to the rise of smart phones and gadgets. The Hardware era that we all though died is back and with a new gadget coming out every day, main stream smartphones, tablets and maybe (smart) watches releasing every year; design has become an integral part. 
There are so many choices from different vendor for every single gadget you can think of and today the consumer has become conscious about ease of use, integrating with their workflows and how a new piece of technology will fit their digital eco-system. User Experience is at its core.

IDEO took the lead in embracing a broader application of design “thinking” that is divorced from the shiny outputs of websites, consumer products or digital gadgetry. Working closely with A.G. Lafley of P&G, IDEO legitimized this broader notion of human centered design (HCD) as a powerful (and scalable) approach to innovation in large organizations.

Who can forget the simple ergonomics of the first Apple mouse by Jim Yurchenco.

TED-like product launches have become a right of passage for executive like Jeff Bezos and Satya Nadella, with Wall Street responding appropriately. Inevitably, big corporations began to see UX as a critical corporate asset, not something to outsource to a third party design firm, who could end up working for your competitors the following year.

Thinking design is not part of a small team in an organization or something that you outsource it. Design should be an integral part of the organiation and should involve every single employee.

I saw this first-hand working on the UX strategy for GE from 2012-14 with Greg Petroff that led to the build out of a 70-person design team at GE’s software HQ. Fidelity has made a similar investment in design, building out a team of more than 200 including a major outpost in Jersey City to attract New York talent. Building an effective internal design culture to attract and retain creative talent is hard work. So a number of organizations have acquired entire firms as a short cut to corporate design capacity. In addition to the acquisition of AP by CapOne, the last few years have seen Facebook acquire HotStudio and Accenture acquire Fjord, a leading service design firm.
This corporate scale-up is not purely a US phenomenon. Rumor has it that Barclays is now the biggest employer of design talent in London, and Singtel has built out a massive floor for its design team in Singapore. But no one has been more aggressive in building design into their core capabilities than IBM, which is on track to grow their design team to 1,000 people, making them by most measures the largest design firm in the world.

I need not speak much about the Lotus Notes. But take a look at some of their new products, espeically the ones in partnership with Apple. These products are simple and have great design.

In-sourcing could have its upside: design firms have always struggled to capture the true ROI work from the outside, so hopefully corporate partners can do a better job from the inside. You better believe that they will have to, given the scale of investment at places like GE, IBM and CapOne. Budget planning cycles can be brutal in corporate America if you don’t come armed with hard numbers.

I remember my initial days as a UX designer and one of the most commonly asked questions was ROI. Design can be measured when one is given enough time. ROI numbers will speak for themselves, but its a slow proces - design evolves. 

More importantly, design is increasingly critical to addressing issues that sit outside a single corporate mandate or organizational footprint. In 2013 Clinton Global Initiative dedicated its annual meeting to showcase the role of design in social impact and international development. In the pages of Wired, Melinda Gates famously picked human-centered design as the single biggest driver of social change in the last few decades. If this seems surprising to you, then you might want to check out this illuminating report from the World Bank that profiles projects in which “The Bank” invested in human-centered design to improve the appeal and usage of mobile money services for the BOP. What can you say when the World Bank is tapping more outside design talent than Citibank?

As I said earlier, design evolves and everyday there will be a new challenge.  I see more design firms join corporates and established design firm like Frog and IDEO get into products where they can leverage years of design experience to their advantage. 

Why is an Eco-System important for User Experience?

Every couple of years I end up upgrading my phone (this year its the Apple’s iPhone 6). Often is the case that I have upgraded my phone in the store and for some god forsaken reason the store representatives would open the box and turn on the phone and set it up for me.

With an Android phone you have to be extremely careful with these store representatives.  They go through the setup wizard for you where many of the carrier services are enabled, which you have no idea about them.

This part of the upgrade I don’t like.  It just infuriates me.   Being a product designer, I like going through the complete experience - Opening the box to going through every detail until the battery warns me at the 20% mark. This is definitely a couple of hours.  Mind you these details are nothing but the same setup as my previous phone, but an upgrade would mean a chance to clean up my phone.  Remove the apps that I don’t want and set up, re-arrange the ones that “I think” I will use regularly.

This year was no different except for 3 details.

  1. I ordered my phone online and it was delivered to my doorstep on a Saturday morning for me to go over every single detail in peace.   
  2. It so happened that both me and my wife were up for an upgrade - so this time not one but two phones were being set up, at almost the same time.
  3. The most important detail - I spent about 3 hours setting up my phone before I retired; compared to my wife who was up and running in about 20 odd minutes. 

What the...!?

The reason I spend a long time setting up my phone is because I am going through all possible detail that I can lay my fingertip/thumb on.  This allows me to see if any defaults have changed, since with almost every upgrade comes a new OS (these days).  I check if there has been any major changes in the design patterns or any new entires in Settings.  Yes I do restore my phone from iCloud, so my data is there; intact with the “Others” section completely gone; however I still have to go and log into every single app that I use on my phone.  Many apps have integrated Facebook/Twitter login - so once I have logged into these applications in my settings, most of my apps are up and running (but not many).  Now with competition building up I have to enter my password about 5 - 6 times at least before all my apps are running.  

The iPhone comes with a bunch of apps however some of them I seldom use.  Some of the apps that I have replaced:

  1. iCloud; this does the restore as well; well I can’t really replace this but I do use other cloud services for a lot of other things.
  2. Mailbox has replaced my default mail - requires Dropbox login. 
  3. After a very long time I have gotten back to using my native Calendar app; however until then I had been using Fantastical Calendar.  The sad part is I did restore my data from iCloud and this does restore my calendars that I’m using on my Mac; however I have to login to each online account (Gmail, Work) to set up my other calendars.  
  4. Evernote; One Note and now Vesper replaces my notes application.  All of these requires a login.
  5. Wunderlist for reminders app - It requires me to login (although I have been thinking of moving back to the native Reminders app)
  6. Spotify & Pandora for music - requires login.
  7. Dropbox (for documents) & OneDrive (for pictures & videos) - requires login.  Although once I have logged into Dropbox, Mailbox just works.  But OneDrive does require login.
  8. YouTube - Well I have to use at least one Google service, which then logs me into every single google service.  
  9. Overcast replaces my podcast application - requires login.
  10. I use Manual for iPhone to replace my camera, however this does not require a login.  Its one of the best application that is seamlessly integrated with the photos app.  However, VSCO cam requires me to login.

Apart from this there are also a list of other applications requires me to login or at least use the Facebook/Twitter integration.  This is again about 5-6 application that require a separate login.  There are also many other apps that do require me to login, however I leave it until I have to use it.  Because by now I am completely exhausted going back and forth between 1Password and individual apps, copy-pasting my password.  Thank you “Touch ID”.

There it does take a few hours to set up my digital eco-system and ensure everything is in sync and harmony and I can enjoy my services and have information at my fingertips (almost every time).

In stark contrast, my wife is a true Apple Eco-system user.  All she does is enters her iCloud password when she is setting up her phone.  After the initial restore, she enters password for Gmail (that sets up her Google account) and Facebook and she is ready to use her phone.  

It took her 3 passwords (at most).

She has more apps compared to me, however most of the services she uses are integrated with Facebook or Google. She does not go through the ordeal of setting up different cloud services to do different things.  

This is when I realized - there aren’t many users like me.  However there is a huge population of users just like my wife.

Which eco-system is good?

There is a reason why I did not say which eco-system today is the best.  When talking about Eco-systems, three of them come to my mind: Apple, Google and Microsoft. 

Microsoft has a good enough eco-system if you are using a Microsoft Windows phone, but considering their market share, I would concentrate on the remaining two eco-systems that I have used; Apple and Google.

When Tim Cook was interviewed by Charlie Rose, there was a reason why Tim Cook mentioned Google as their arch-rival leaving out Samsung completely (Samsung’s last 3 quarters tells us a decent enough story). 

Google dominates almost every Hardware out there including Apple products.  Google’s Android is a smartphone OS, however that trend is changing and almost everything that connects to the internet and has an interaction runs a fork of Android - TV’s, Watches, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, Home appliances specially after Google acquired Nest. 

Apple on the other hand continues to distant itself from Android.  A few years back, people said Android would crush iOS and that profits, apps, revenue and consumer would all go to Android.  Well there are more and more apps today that are iOS first and very soon moving towards iOS only.

Apple has been slow in catching up with features to match Android and there is a reason for this.  All these years they have been concentrating on building that eco-system. The more features Apple introduces fits in seamlessly with their eco-system.  Touch ID is a great example; I already have started hating my iPad Air. One of the ways an eco-system progresses is when developers can sell software and make money.  Without an ecosystem, the platform stops evolving rapidly - we learnt this from the Mac/PC war and now its very evident from the apps that we see on iPhone compared to Android.  The problem with Android isn’t market share, heck they have 80% of the market share; however Android first or Android only is still not a thing and is by far from being a reality.  Fragmentation takes a toll on Android today.  It used to be that anyone could fork Android and built their own stuff, however Google off late is making Android more exciting by putting stuff on Android; new features, new design, new interaction paradigm to take care of non-smartphone devices to name a few. They are now more serious about building that eco-system then ever.

Lets talk about mobile payment. Apple pay is years ahead of Google in every regard.  Sure Google was the first that came out with mobile payments, but it never took off.  I don’t remember anyone telling me or explaining me their experience with Google wallet, but with Apple Pay, I hear a story almost every day and its about a month old today. The potential of Apple Pay is mind-boggling. With Touch ID integrated, I can already imagine withdrawing cash (if required) from ATM’s or using it on Subways on my daily commute. 

NFC came to Android phones about 3 years back, but I haven’t seen a practical use case yet. Samsung implemented a feature where you could tap your phone with HomeSync and it would connect HomeSync with the same WiFi network.  Well HomeSync never took off and the ones that were out there, no one knew you could tap to connect WiFi.  Most users just took the traditional route of entering their WiFi passwords after connecting their phones to the device.

Android has everything that iOS has to offer; maybe even more; however the user experience isn’t.  

With iBeacons apple created a whole new market. Now the moment I am close to a Starbucks or near a movie theatre I get relevant app short cuts on my lock screen.  I won’t say its 100% accurate, but it works 9 out of 10 times.  The one odd time, I would want to use a different app, but its pretty accurate with the options. So instead of relying on my GPS and WiFi that drain battery, iBecons shows me intelligent shortcuts on my lock screen. Bluetooth LE, iBeacon, NFC - these short range technologies integrated in devices and ecosystem allow us to connect with the nearby world. 

Wearables - weather you like it or not; the next 5 years you would have an array of wearable options to choose from.  The smartphone war is definitely bringing new platforms to the market which will impact Apple’s and Google’s evolution.  Right now they use smartphone as a medium, very soon they would be their own standalone system which will certainly have its own space in the much larger Ecosystem that these companies are building. 

Ecosystem is not only about how devices are integrated with each other or how well they communicate with each other.  Personal preferences and how users interact with their devices is also part of it.  This could be data that you exchange or the data that you consume using these devices.  Google already knows who you are and to a certain extent they have a pretty good idea what your preferences are. How these personal preferences blend into the ecosystem is important.  Introducing a new gadget or discarding a gadget from this ecosystem should not affect me as a the user.  In fact this would basically give Google and Apple a very good idea of what new devices to introduce and what older devices to discard.

What level of fidelity you want to prototype?

Following up on my article I wrote some time back, "Wireframing is NOT Prototyping" - a common question that got asked was, well if its not prototyping, what is it and what level of fidelity one should expect?

I have read books and blogs and a lot of them and everyone has one theory which has worked for them.  And the more I read the more I realize fidelity of prototype completely depends on your audience. 

If your company follows an agile model or does not, one of the most common ways to track deliverables is to create an MVP (minimal viable product).  And one of the best ways to create this MVP is by prototyping this experience.  This brings back to our question again - What exactly is prototyping?  I ran a Google search and this is the definition that shows up:

pro·to·type
ˈprōtəˌtīp/
noun
1.   a first, typical or preliminary model of something, especially a machine, from which other forms are developed or copied.
verb
1.  make a prototype of (a product).

So in software terms, prototype is a rough/comparative/almost/close/near/relative something of an experience that allows you to simulate what it is like to use the product or service in question.  This something is the answer to my next question - how much fidelity one should expect?  Similar to wireframes, prototypes should be cheap and one should spend as little effort as possible which is one way to decide on how much fidelity you need.

One of the most important aspects of creating a prototype is to answer some basic questions:

  1. What is it that you want to know/learn from this prototype?
  2. How much time do you have at your hand (let me guess - extremely short)?
  3. And one of the most important - Who is the audience interacting with the prototype?

Why is your audience important here?  Knowing your audience will allow you to create the smallest possible prototype that will yield you maximum feedback.  So if you are tasked to create a prototype to communicate to a group of developers, chances are you are good with just paper and pencil, since they have the ability to focus on the task you are trying to get feedback on and ignore the other parts of the products that remain unaffected.  For example, it wouldn’t bother them if you don't show a detailed global navigation if you are trying to demonstrate shopping cart interactions. 

When the stakes are high, you get in to extreme details.

I was listening to John Gruber's "The Talk Show" after the iPhone 6 launch and he mentioned that when Apple decided to make two big screen phones, they made prototype for every 1/10 inch from 4 inches to 6 inches.  The result, 10 million iPhone 6 and 6+ sales in 3 days. 

Why I continue to use Apple’s Calendar app

Calendar on my iPhone is one of the most used app.  It’s one of the first app that I open in the morning to make sure how boring sometimes ridiculous my day looks like and to ensure my weekends have whitespace.

Using calendar can be frustrating at times; especially looking at those pale translucent multiple calendar view all day long. On an average you tend to have more than 2 calendars.  I have 6(?) - Work, Gmail, My Mac, Facebook, Facebook Birthdays & US Holidays.  

I did not know until this point that I had Facebook calendar(s) added to this list until today.
Why 2 calendars?

Apart from calendar I also use the reminders app, with and without reminder tagged to specific date, time and sometimes location - something calendar would do but wouldn’t do.  

Over the last few days I have been asking/looking around about different calendar/productivity apps everyone has been using.  And after some snooping around I came up with a list of 4 apps to look for:

Peek - suggested to me by a number of colleagues 

Timeful - This has been the buzz of the town for the last couple of weeks with almost every tech blog talking about it.  

Acompli - I was happy to be a beta tester for Acompli and it was a great app.  Now with the finished version in the market, I decided to give it a try especially when all productivity apps are integrated into one - something like Microsoft Outlook.  

Daily Routine - honestly I liked the screenshots and their app icon on the app store.

I used each app for two weeks before deciding if I want to move over to the next app and see if I can replace using Apple’s default calendar app.

Peek

Peek Calendar by Square Mountain is designed to make your calendar experience more enjoyable.  I believe if an application needs a tutorial to learn how to use it, its not a great user experience.  Besides the point; Peek has an amazing minimalist design which I like, makes me focus on today’s task and most of the task are on swipe, press & hold and tap.  

Peek was easy to get started with.  On my first launch it offers me to import my existing calendars and I was all set.  Any changes made to my calendar from anywhere, be it web or desktop, reflected on peek instantly.  

Peek is definitely not built for power users, so if you are someone who uses multiple calendars, peek isn’t for you.  Adding a new appointment was a different and fun experience but that fun quickly vanishes away when you realize the amount of time it takes to add a new appointment.  I was using my web & desktop to add events rather then using peek.  

The main interface is designed to behave like an accordion, you tape a day and it shows the appointments for that day as a list. This way it provides only the necessary information without any overwhelming data, however, the ability to just ‘peek’ at your calendar and look at any free slots is gone.  

Even after using it for 2 weeks, it was difficult for me to remember what happened when I swiped from left to right and from right to left. 

It’s an app if you are the one with a few calendar and an appointment a day or week. 

Daily Routine

Reading the description and some of the blogs; Daily Routine is designed to help organize your life, and is packed full of useful features to help you do this.  

I could not take it anymore after using this app for a couple of hours.  The UI was a disaster.  Its too overwhelming and the fact that there is not much automation drives me crazy.  Every single thing you want to do is a manual entry.  Also the lack of developer support and the fact that this app hasn't been updated for a long time; its a total mess.  Spending 2 weeks was not an option.

Acompli

When I read/heard about Acompli I was curious to use this application and I signed up for their beta app.  Very soon, I got an email to download the beta app and test this out.  One of the main reasons why users still end up using the default mail app or in my case multiple email apps is because of the lack of a unified email client.  What Acompli did was to take it 2 notches up.  A unified inbox for all your email and add to it, calendar and cloud file integration (or whatever it is called).

Acompli set out to make a better mobile email experience for business professional - well I wasn’t interested in the mail application for now (I am happy using Mailbox), but if the calendar app was any good, I had no problem switching to Acompli.  

One of the first things that I noticed was the striking resemblance to Apple’s Calendar app.  Also, because Acompli was so focused on solving issues with Email, the calendar (in)app felt it was a rush to get it out there.  I set up my Gmail and iCloud app and I could only get my Gmail appointments.  Even after using Acompli for about a week and a half my iClound appointments still haven’t made it.  

I have my reasons for not using Google Calendar for everything.

One of the biggest frustration about the calendar app was the lack of animations.  When you swipe left or right to go to previous or next day respectively, the only thing changing is the round highlight on the date.  If you have an empty calendar (remember my Mac Calendar did not sync), it would take a good 10 seconds before you realize the days are indeed changing.  The blue oval on the bottom right corner also does not ring a bell that its a short cut to go back to today unless you hit it.  Again lack of animation, you don’t realize you are back to today.  

Timeful

I like timeful.  The pre-defined to-dos and habits that show up in the beginning feels good, but they soon become frustrating since they keep appearing on your calendar on the top.  

The UI is more or less similar to the native app, and the best part was it also picked up the calendar colors of my native app.  Now if this was planned or a total coincidence I don’t know.  But I did not have to learn the colors associated my calendars again.  

The month view with intensity of appointments is my favorite view.  This is the view I take a look at when I launch Timeful the first time in the day.  It gives me a good idea, how my day looks like.

The more I used Timeful, I realize I have stopped scheduling my todo’s and habits.  After about a week I got rid of them completely because it was making my calendar too cluttered.  I later figured out an easy way to get rid of them is to reduce the suggestion frequency to low in the settings.

One of the other things that I did like in Timeful was the ability to set your work hours and sleep hours in the settings.  However it does not add any visual affordance to my calendar rather it just uses this setting to schedule your habits.  

All in all, Timeful is a great app, however the one thing I miss was the lack of a week view that I used extensively on the native app.  The reason why this week view is so important for me is because I can quickly look up on what day and what hour of the week I am free.  I realized I was swiping way more compared to the native app.

Tempo Calendar

Setting up Temp was a pain — Facebook worked out perfectly fine, however LinkedIn, Twitter, Gmail would just error out. After a while and reinstalling the application, it worked.

I don’t understand why do I need to connect to these services.

It synced with my native calendar app and maintained all my defaults including calendar colors. Perfect.

The most impressive was the way it synced reminders with the app. Timeful tried doing this to a certain extent, but the idea of using multiple to do (reminders) lists was not an option. Tempo got it right. Also it does not show me my reminders all over the place, they start showing up based on time and location — very impressive.

I like the timeline view and the fact that there is a teeny row on the top to show my location and temperature — which I got bored with very soon (2 days) and annoyed because at times it would just take half of my screen showing me an image that I am not interested in.

One of the features that I liked was it shows me the organizer’s name and a picture (if available) on the calendar event. But since it was MY calendar, most of the events are organized by me. So ends up my name shows up 90% on my calendar in very noticeable fonts and for some odd reason the app kept showing my profile picture as the bald eagle.

Makes sense to show me my participants if I am the organizer — smaller fonts and the first two with an ‘…’ is good enough — Turns out this happens with my Exchange Calendar.

One more interesting thing that I noticed was the use of icons. Now Tempo does this extremely well especially while adding an event. However many organizations including mine use names for conference rooms and like many other organizations we use different city names. So I started seeing a small little plane icon on almost all my corporate calendar appointments.

That brings me to adding an event. This was one of the best features of Tempo. It allows you to add an event in your natural language — for example I was able to add an event “Lunch next Friday with Jane” and it was able to add the correct icon, the correct date (picked up the default time as 12 pm) and linked the contact from my organization contacts — very impressive. The bummer part, it took Gmail as my default calendar, and I would say this again, I have my reason not to use Google Calendar.

Once again, too many options, too many choices of view. And the fact that I had to jump to the menu every single time to change the view is bothersome, unless there is a shortcut or gesture to access other views, I am sorry they were not discoverable in the 2 weeks I have been using this app.

After using almost 5 apps, I realized the native app does the trick on a lot of things that none of the apps does. Timeful came pretty close but the lack of a couple of features and the intrusive habits and todo made me go back to the native app.