Square Cash

Screen Shot 2013 10 20 at 16 11 07

I’m fascinated by Square’s new service, Square Cash, that allows you to send someone cash simply by sending them an e-mail and cc’ing Square’s service. Walt Mossberg’s review of the service has been doing the rounds and has most of the details you need to know. Basically, Square doesn’t really act as a money middleman in the way that PayPal does, they act as a transaction messenger, instructing each bank to pay or receive the cash.

From a service design perspective I find this a really interesting example for a number of reasons. Firstly, it tackles a market that is poorly served. PayPal has legendarily poor and hostile customer service but has a near monopoly in the market of small transactions. Amazon and Google both have their competing services, but you need to have an account with these too. While Square does require to enter your banking information once (obviously, you need to receive the funds at some point), it’s not much of an effort. Plus—and this isn’t to be underestimated—Square seem to be pleasant people.

Secondly, the service attempts to remove as many of the barriers to usage as possible and piggybacks on a existing and familiar service and paradigm. Most of us are used to the idea of sending money or a cheque in the mail (well, you’re used to it in the USA—we’ve been doing electronic transfers for free in the rest of the world for ages) and e-mail is a near universal tool for anyone with access to a computer or a mobile phone, the latter of which gives Square Cash real potential to expand.

Finally, the story of the service is well explained, partly because of the two previous points and partly because Square have an appreciation for the power of communicating well. Square is Apple to PayPal’s Microsoft in the aesthetics department.

Square really, really need to expand beyond the USA and Canada if they really want to grow. PayPal is active worldwide and this first mover advantage means they can continue to offer a crappy service and hold people’s money hostage as they see fit. Financial regulations around the world differ enormously and this often prevents financial services expanding, but there is a real opportunity to de-clutter and simplify this industry. Banks should have done this years ago, but they are still struggling to make decent online banking websites, so we can probably forget about them.

The slightly puzzling part of this is how and why they are offering the service for free. I can see that Square can use it as a way to expand their market and try and break PayPal’s dominance, which only exists because everyone else uses PayPal, despite its awfulness. I can also see that their might be relatively minimal costs, as Square don’t actually process the transactions. On the other hand, it must cost them something and I would really like to see this take off and not suffer from them not being able to find a revenue model for it. I’m sure Square have thought about all of this, so it will be interesting to see how they continue.

Service Design, The Force and Yoda


While I am down under in Melbourne later in August for UX Australia I’m going to be giving a different talk and hosting a discussion at RMIT’s DESIS Lab in the RMIT Design Hub for Service Design Melbourne.

My talks is titled May The Force Be With You – Service Design for invisible connections and has a great URL. The UX Australia talk and workshop are very much a practical guide to designing for multi-channel experiences, but May The Force Be With You – Service Design for invisible connections is much more of a philosophical look (with some examples) of how we (designers, organisations, humans) tend to spend a long time looking at things and not much time looking at the connections between the things. My argument is that the invisible connections actually form a much larger part of our experiences than the things themselves.

Yoda sums it up well in his description of The Force in The Empire Strikes Back:

“Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”

The point is, of course, that Luke is so focused on his ambitions and getting his ship out of the swamp that he’s unable to feel the Force between the ship and the land, so he can’t get the ship out of the swamp. Organisations create organisational charts and process diagrams often representing time, context, and connections with innocuous arrows and lines. The focus is on the boxes – who is responsible for what – but the connections are essential to the experiences people have with those organisations, within and without. The problem is that, like Luke with The Force, the arrows and connecting lines are so ubiquitous in diagrams that they seem invisible and are often overlooked.

If you are down that way, do come along. Here are the details:

Date: 29 August 2013 – 6:00pm

Location: Multipurpose room – level 1, RMIT Design Hub
Victoria St, corner of Swanston St
Melbourne, VIC 3001

See map: Google Maps

Mural.ly – super duper collaborative walls

Anyone who has worked with me in the last few years will know my propensity to use a lot of Post-It notes. It’s a design cliché, I know, but true. I just find it really hard to think when I look at something in a big Word doc or, worse, Excel. My eyes glaze over and my brain switches off when I view Excel docs.

The crossover from physical to digital has always been a bit of a chore though. How to go from a wall of Post-It notes to something that can be digitally shared? The general approach is to photograph the wall and/or transcribe it all into some kind of template. I know there are sticky-note apps out there, but I haven’t really gotten into them. I still feel the need for a wall too. I know others use a projector for this, so that could be an option in the future. My dream process would be:

  1. Put a load of Post-It notes on the wall.
  2. Take a photo.
  3. Have some software automagically recognise the notes and layout and text and put it into a digitally manipulatable form.

If anyone does know of anything that already does this, please let me know! (Post-It not scribbles seem too crinkly for Evernote’s OCR, just in case you’re wondering).

On the digital side, this post from Lauren Currie about mural.ly hooked my interest. It’s basically a shareable whiteboard/moodboard/anythingboard. Okay, so there are few tools that already do similar things, but this is particularly easy to use and it hooks into other services well.

I thought I would have a go at seeing how easily I could crank out a simple service design blueprint with some images. In about 5-10 minutes I got this (which should be embedded, if not, try this link). It’s not going to win any design awards, but it was really quick. The nicest thing was being able to Google for images within the app and just pull them into the board. For quick storyboard mock-ups of concepts, this would be ideal. You can also turn them into presentation, Prezi style, without the annoying Flash crap.

Soon I’ll never have to leave my office at all and I can let the cobwebs grow on my shoulders.

Tile and Internet of Things Services

I have a re-occurring conversation with my MA Design students, especially those specialising in products. It goes something like this:

Student: “I’m working on a new product/gadget/object.”

Me: “Great, but you know you’re actually building a service?”

Student: “No, no, I’m not interested in designing services. I want to design products.”

Me: “But you say your product is going to connect to a smartphone/the Internet/other objects, yes?”

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “Then you’re building a service ecosystem.”

10 Months Later

Student: “Andy, can I have a chat with you about service design? I’ve realised I need to think about the website and app and service that makes my product/gadget/object actually worthwhile.”

And there it is.

Like 10,355 other people, I just pre-ordered, and thus backed, Tile “the world’s largest lost and found”. This means that they have already raised $551,492 of their $20,000 goal with 12 days left to go. In other words, they have been 2757% backed. (This is either a Good Thing for them or an impending nightmare reminiscent of the Elevation Docks delivery times. I suspect the manufacture of the Tiles is easier to ramp up than the milled aluminium and anodised casing of the Elevation Docks, though. So, fingers crossed.)

Obviously, plenty of people have been exploring nearfield communications for some time, but it’s always been a little bit clunky and a little bit too dependent on having a phone with some kind of NFC reader. There are a few interesting aspects of Tile:

  • Assuming it works as described, it is pretty much independent. It works with Bluetooth 4.0, great for most iPhones, but not so great for Android according to the FAQ, so we’re still in that phone-model-dependent mode, but my guess is that Bluetooth will have quicker take up than RFID readers in mobile devices.

  • The find-my-item and/or make-it-ring functions are what you would expect. What is smart is the crowd/cloud-sourced searching for an item if it goes missing. Other people’s smartphones with the app will discretely search for and report the location of a missing tile. I’m not sure how or if this is going to work in background app mode, nor if hundreds of tiles are going to be located at the bottom of dumpsters and rivers as a result, but it’s a smart idea. It’s also a little scary, since I’m sure folks like the NSA love the idea of us leaving even more data breadcrumbs for them to vacuum up.

  • It’s designed to be disposable. Although they say they’re send you recycling envelope when you get a new one (and they’ll automatically remind you to order), I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s not terribly sustainability conscious. On the other hand, it has enabled them to make the Tile waterproof, thinner and lighter. It also means you always get the latest versions each year.

Tile  Item List

Of course, the things themselves are relatively dumb without the app and the back-end Web infrastructure to make them smart and this is where the service design comes in. It is also why I think the last point above of them being replaced each year also makes some sense. It is not just a product-service system, but really product-as-service or maybe even service-as-product. If they came up with some kind of subscription model where you get new Tiles each year automatically (perhaps deactivating your old ones, once activated or even being able to transfer details over like restoring an iPhone), you have a complete service system.

Conversely, if the app and Web services suck, it won’t matter how great the technology of the Tiles themselves is, they will just end up as expensive key fobs.

Tile  Lifestyle  Keys

I wish Mike Farley and Nick Evans the best of luck with fulfilling this first huge batch of orders. Not least because I want my ones, but mainly because it will be interesting to see what happens when a critical mass of these kinds of things hit the market for everyday use.

ALA Article on Service Design Beyond the Screen

As usual I’m behind the curve, but this time I’m behind myself, which is weird. I don’t think I’ll psychoanalyse that too much more. I am really pleased that my article Designing for Services Beyond the Screen was published this week on A List Apart. I’ve been away and blissfully offline all week, so I missed all the Twitter flurry about it, but I’m glad it resonated with the audience it was aimed at, which isn’t particularly service designers, but those working on Web and other digital projects.

I’m really, really pleased that I got a great illustration of connecting silos from Kevin Cornell. I interviewed Kevin for my column at Desktop Magazine a few years back and I love his work. While writing for ALA is enough of a drawcard in itself, I have to admit that getting an illustration from Kevin was secretly the real sweetener. Anyway, he owed me one, right?

Lastly, I say my article, but I owe a great debt to the most excellent editing by Sara Wachter-Boettcher and my book co-authors, Ben and Lavrans. Following up on my previous post about storytelling for designers and storytelling being an iterative design process, the ALA piece was a good example of that in action.

Sara and I used the private beta of Editorially to work on the piece together and it went through several revisions, including cutting out all the material and title that I originally planned for the article. I’ll not go too much into what got cut out, because maybe it will become another article, but I think it’s worth sharing that sometimes this happens. The writing often just goes in its own direction and, like working with the grain of a piece of wood, if you fight it, it will end up a mess. Sara’s strong editing really kept me facing in the right direction and sanded it into a decent piece.

Service Design: From Insight to Implementation is here!

Service design 175x263

I’m extremely happy to announce that our book, Service Design: From Insight to Implementation, was officially published today.

I wrote a welcome post about it over on the book’s home at Rosenfeld Media. If you feel like tweeting or blogging about it, that would be great. What really helps is a quick review on Amazon.com too – even just a short shout out and rating works wonders.

I’m really looking forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback!

A Golden Rule for Interactions and Life

Most of us have experienced a relationship in which the other person constantly assails you with their problems, yet when the tables are turned, their response is cursory before turning the conversation back to themselves. These relationships soon end or we put up with them because the other person is our mother.

I tweeted yesterday about judging the One Show Interactive Awards and, while I’m not going to comment on any individual entry, there is a tendency of advertising agencies to make a video with big production values, put it online with some social media gimmicks and call it interactive. This is not an interactive relationship. It’s someone shouting, “Like me! Like me! Like me!” They frequently violate a Golden Rule1 that I’ve had for interactivity for many years that I also tweeted:

The effort required to experience something should be less than or equal to the payoff of the experience.

I learned this very early on in the stone-age days of “multimedia” authoring. Back when we were creating interactive experiences that needed to fit on floppy disks or CD-ROMs, CD-ROM drives had transfer speeds of 150-300KB/s. This meant you had to make some choices or divide up the content into smaller beats. If it takes three minutes for an interactive to load, you better be sure I’m going to play with it for at least that amount of time, preferably more. We quickly learned how annoying “skip intros” were. Not that this prevented them from being re-born in every new medium.

Despite faster technology, nothing has really changed. What happens with broadband and CPU speeds is largely the same as what happens with rubbish bins, hard-drives and roads. You just fill up the available space. If you buy more of them to deal with it, you just fill those up too, making cleaning up even more of a pain. Nothing beats dealing with restrictions by using less resources in the first place.

Unfortunately, with greater bandwidth available, agencies fall back on their traditional model. Make a cool video and then deliver it big, because now they can. Instead they could use the extra bandwidth and CPU speed to make the delivery of a smaller payload quicker and make the most of the Golden Rule payoff equation. That one-minute’s worth of fun interactivity has a better experiential value ratio when it is delivered in five seconds compared to it taking three minutes to come down the pipe.

The rule of, “If you see a UI walkthrough, they blew it” generally chimes with the Golden Rule, but not always. Some things do need explaining and that is okay as long as they are actually complicated and we are going to use them a lot. Most interfaces are not worth the effort of learning for the things we want or, worse, have to achieve with them. Those kinds of tasks are often short-lived. It’s annoying to have to hunt for a tool palette or preference in Microsoft’s crazy Word interface just to turn off some auto-styling crap. On the other hand, we spend a long time learning to drive a car and having someone explain it to us, because there are many variables at play when we drive, we will drive for the rest of our lives and prefer not to kill people in the process. (Dear American and Australian readers: learn to drive a stick shift – it will make you a better driver).

For many people, this is why learning maths in school feels pointless. The effort versus daily usage seems disproportionate. Programmers often appear to be the antithesis of the Golden Rule, because they give the impression of enjoying the process of learning something very complex or writing a script to achieve a task that can be done with a few mouse clicks (I’m looking at you Dr Drang and Brett Terpstra). But the rule still holds, because either the process of working something out has a long-lasting skill payoff or the script that took a while to write replaces many multiple uses of the mouse-based version.

The Golden Rule works well when thinking about service experiences too. Many services involve highly asymmetric relationships. You can usually buy something or create a contract very simply online or over the phone in a matter of minutes, for example. This side is in the service provider’s favour. Yet when something goes wrong or you want to quit your contract, you have to wait on hold for ages for customer service or, if you live in Germany, contact the company in writing. On paper. Via snail mail. Then the response time is in the order of weeks, not minutes.

You can be fined on the spot for not having a train ticket, but it might take months to receive compensation if your train is cancelled. These all feel unfair because they are unfair and, like the “friend” whose worry dumping is a one-way street, you soon feel bitter and want to get out of that relationship as quickly as possible. Companies like Amazon and Zappos put a lot of effort and money into redressing this imbalance with great success.

If you go to McDonald’s the meal experience is low-grade, but delivered quickly. If your Big Mac takes a long time to arrive, there’s no point in going to McDonald’s. Conversely, it feels fine to wait for half and hour for your food in a good restaurant, because you know the risotto is being freshly made to order. The payoff is slowly savouring the meal, ideally with a fine glass of wine and great conversation.

The Golden Rule works for most media. It’s why we do the first or 99th page test on books, why films (usually French) are frustrating when nothing seems to have happened and suddenly the credits roll.

Well-written TV series exploit the Golden Rule too. Within the space of an episode we get the story payoff for that episode, but we also teased with the promise of the next piece of drama in the larger story arc. A dangling plot line requires some effort from us to imagine what might happen next, but it is only just irritating enough to leave us wanting the next episode so we can scratch that itch.

The effort versus experience equation is why making it easy to pay for music downloads trumps the effort of downloading it illegally for most people. It’s certainly why I buy much more music than I ever used to.

The rule works for games very well too. The best games are those whose rules are easy to learn, but the gameplay is engaging for hours. As Steven Johnson points out in, Everything Bad is Good for You2, videogame designers stopped writing long instruction manuals and creating “training levels” some time ago. Instead, players are dropped directly into progressively more difficult action. Part of the pleasure of the game is finding out just what the gameplay is. In this scenario, the experience payoff is intimately bound together with the experience of gaining it.

And life? Humans are highly attuned to this kind of balance in relationships, whether work or personal. Like most animals, we instinctively make calculations about expending energy versus rewards returned, whether social or nutritional.

In our modern lives it is why a six-hour commute for a one-hour meeting is so irritating and why meetings are generally so toxic. It is why dysfunctional relationships take so much out of us and why people who are generous and open, reducing the barriers of interaction with them, are a pleasure to be around. It is why bank bailouts for people getting million dollar bonuses seem so unfair and why voting apathy is so prevalent.

The Golden Rule is really about getting the balance right at the “border between boredom and anxiety”, what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi famously explored in his research on flow3. It is the challenge of interactivity, games, TV shows, films, music, services, food, education, sex, relationships, society and life.

  1. It probably needs a more original name than The Golden Rule, like Polaine’s Ratio of Effort vs. Experience, but it seems cocky writing that on my blog. There is absolutely no reason why you should not quote it as that though. 

  2. Amazon affiliate links. If you use them, thank you. 

  3. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond boredom and anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers (also an affiliate link).