DoodleADay – The Origin Story

Sitting in front of a screen ogling simple visuals made by designers from across the seas, I could feel a certain frustration creeping in on me. Having been away for a while from anything remotely resembling a sheet of paper, something had to be done about it.

‘Quick, give me a word – what’s the first thing that comes to your mind’, I asked my colleague.

‘Spectacles’, replied a very amused Eeshta.

I grabbed the nearest scrap of paper and a marker, my fingers unsure of themselves. A few seconds later, I stuck the sorry looking doodle on the wall beside me – a reminder of how far I had fallen behind.

The next day, an unsuspecting intern got the same request from me.

‘Egg!’, said Vaani.

Up went a cracked egg on the wall.

Inspired by an activity given by Justin Ferrell to the participants of the Design Thinking workshop (fast-forward to 9 minutes into the video for the challenge), the challenge to myself spread to Eeshta and Vaani. A doodle a day, it was, then. 10 seconds to draw a random word given by someone else.

Two days later, we asked Sahil – the resident artist – who had been supplying us with words, to join in. ‘No! No! You’re taking too long – no making a masterpeice out of it! Take the pen away from him!’

With the wall of post-its growing bigger, we got the techies, even finance and HR into drawing a doodle. ‘Ha! I’ve done it in three!’ Nikhil said proudly, as he held up a neat three petaled flower.

Where it will go – I cannot say for sure, but its fun and definitely that’s not going to be bad at all!

The Doodle Wall
The Doodle Wall

The Intern Diaries

First day at Ideafarms

Walking in, I am greeted by a drum roll: bright-eyed and bushy-tailed fellow intern Eeshta’s welcome to the new kid. I like it already.

First off, I am walked through the ground rules by the lovely HR director, Anuja, revealing some telling facts about the atmosphere of the company I had just joined. Number 4, no yelling or speaking in a rude voice; Number 2, no calling anyone “sir” or “ma’am”; first names would suffice. Number 7 was the most interesting, however, specifically delineating that everyone was approachable, and that one could go up to any other employee at the company to ask questions and request information. Already, 25 minutes in, Ideafarms is blowing my expectations of rigid, overly structured, hierarchical experience out of the water.

Next, I am immediately thrust into helping with a pitch for a new app, quickly going over the idea and seeing firsthand how Ideafarms brainstorms. Despite the good humour and familiarity pervading the atmosphere, employees know when to get serious and are impressively quick and efficient when there is a task at hand. I watched the team put together a competent, well-organized presentation, even offering some input which they used while talking about the app. I observed the bosses’ feedback with great interest straight after the pitch – they astutely highlighted the main issues in an even, businesslike manner and helped guide the team towards making a better product.

Lunchtime, though, was the highlight of the day. It is a time for everyone to get together around the lunch table, where no work is allowed, allowing for absorbing discussions about politics, current events, and our favourite TV shows to spring up. On the first day alone I gleaned more about the current state of the city than I had from newspapers in the past week, with everyone contributing information and experiences. Thankfully there were no Game of Thrones spoilers! It was great to see how well everyone got along, and I am already excited for the homemade cake, Nirati, one of the other interns, has promised to bring tomorrow.

Going home at the end of the day, accompanied by a leaving drum roll from the one and only Eeshta, there is only one thought in my head: I think I’m going to like it here.

Shaina doodling away!
Shaina doodling away!

written by Shaina Verma.

Happy New Sweet Sixteen!

As is now common knowledge across the world (that we know of), Ideafarms makes it a point to greet everyone during the New Year. This time though, we goofed up – big time.

No, we didn’t sleep it off.

No, we didn’t forget about it either.
It’s not that we didn’t have the resources or the time.
And yet, we didn’t make one.

But the Tenacious Teenagers that we are, we didn’t want to pass this opportunity to welcome sweet sixteen! So we chose to phone a friend. Well, actually, more than one friend!

With the Living Greeting Project, our friends shared their best memories for the world to see; each memory adding to the virtual family wall for sharing further as a personal greeting card. After a few photographs and a dash of sharing and an accidentally added chemical D over here, we were screaming out aloud, “It’s Alive!”

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Won’t you hop on over to our lab and meet the collective creation? Say hello to all the awesome people who helped fix our goof up and nurture the Greeting. Add your own name by sharing your memories. And most importantly, be sure to wish your loved ones a Happy New Year!

Oh, and by the way (almost did it again, didn’t we!)
Here’s wishing you a very happy, prosperous and sweet 2016!

Unsubscribe is also UX

“I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it connects. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You’ve got mail. I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beating of my own heart. I have mail. From you.”
– Kathleen Kelly in You’ve got Mail (1998)

In 1998, email was romantic. In 2015, it’s a nightmare.

Promotional emails, updates and news from the hundreds of services we sign up for, lurk and grow in our inboxes like cancerous cells. They’re there. We nuke them on a daily basis. But miss one day, and the emails pile up. Trying to keep those mails away from my inbox seems to be a losing battle. One way to prevent the virtual clutter is unsubscribing to emails.

Overshadowed by glossy sophisticated graphics, the poor unsubscribe link is perhaps given the least respect in email marketing – an afterthought, almost never incorporated in layouts and invariably in some corner as an un-styled plain text. The actual process of unsubscribing doesn’t make for a pretty experience either. So this post is dedicated to the all important unsubscribe link, in as many different shapes and behaviours as I encountered in the wild.

The single click

The single click unsubscribe is perhaps the easiest way for a user to exit. A link to undo the un-subscription is usually provided with the confirmation message. For most cases this is sufficient, but also a lost opportunity. A few marketers try to get creative with the copy of the message to nudge users to re-subscribe. By adding humour (example: charity:water) or a tinge of guilt (examples: Groupon and HubSpot), at the very least, these services make sure that they stand out among the email class.

The big data junkie

Lately, it appears that services are using emails to create user accounts – without the consent of subscribers. So when I hit unsubscribe on some of the emails I signed up for, I was asked to log in to my account (which I never created) and set my preferences! Here are a couple of real-life scenarios I faced while unsubscribing:
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It may seem exaggerated (it isn’t) – especially if you imagine having to perform all these actions on an unresponsive website on a phone. Sure, I remember which services I unsubscribed from, but only because I will know never to return.

The ultimate user experience

This email from Maria Popova says it all:
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In one single mail, Maria has not only ensured that some load is shed from her email server, but also remained at the top of my mind for eternity. The ultimate unsubscribe which has unburdened my inbox, without making me feel guilty and at the same time made me want to praise her to the roof and beyond.

What about you? Does your service fall under any of these categories? Do you have any unsubscribe scenarios of your own? Let us know in comments.

Mobile technology for Disease Surveillance

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In a previous post, we highlighted the importance of data, and the inherent flaw in collecting data through paper forms. We also suggested that technology can improve the integrity and timeliness of data.

Real world application – tackling Dengue

The past couple of months have seen a rise in the number of dengue cases in Delhi. Given the sheer size of a city like Delhi, disseminating civic agencies to every nook and corner, in equal measure, is neither feasible nor useful.

The most affected localities would take a higher priority and need a higher number of resources. Identifying such areas through traditional data gathering tools will result in data which is likely to be too late.

What is required in such a scenario is a tool through which accurate data can be captured and analysed in near real time.

Mapping diseases in real time
Mapping diseases in real time

Imagine if diseases were reported as soon as they were diagnosed, and each diagnosis could be displayed as a pin on a map. The more the number of cases, the higher the number of pins. A locality with a high concentration of pins will draw attention immediately, thus making it easy to identify where resources need to be deployed urgently.

Enter HealthWatch.

HealthWatch is a disease surveillance platform for capturing real-time data about the spread of diseases and visualization of the data captured.

With domain expertise provided by St. Stephen’s hospital, HealthWatch was designed to replace the existing system of data gathering used in the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme.

The HealthWatch platform (pilot in Delhi-NCR) consists of 2 parts:

a smart phone app
a map-based analytics dashboard

Doctors can use the App to report diseases as they diagnose them. Each disease and associated symptoms are mapped to the doctor’s location. Data obtained through the App is aggregated and presented in real-time on a map for healthcare professionals to identify vulnerable areas and take appropriate measures to manage the spread of diseases.

Read more about the HealthWatch platform here.

Ladies’ Oracle – now also for iPhone!

Fans of The Ladies’ Oracle, rejoice!
Our popular game Ladies’ Oracle is now available on the App Store!

Ladies' Oracle

“The gentleman that I am so glad to see, does he think of me?”
“Are the praises (that are bestowed on me) sincere?”

Spin the wheel of fortune to get answers to these, and many more questions that pop in your mind.

Originally written by the prophet Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, in the 16th century, The Ladies’ Oracle divines answers to questions inquisitive women through the ages have asked about life and love.

Adapted to preserve the authenticity of the original book, The Ladies’ Oracle is a sure winner at slumber parties.

Download the iPhone app here.

The form of data

Lost in transit
Image Source: Evaluation Toolkit for Magnet School Programs

The classroom
As part of a high school statistics project, our teacher gave us a form to collect data about customer automobile preferences. We had to analyse the data collected, and present it as a report.

While some were honest enough to actually go and get the forms filled, there were quite a few students who were getting dummy data filled by other classmates.

A few years later
I was walking near a market when a lady holding a bunch of papers asked me if I could spare a few minutes to answer questions about potato chips. She filled the fields of the survey form with my answers at great speed — a great time-saving skill, no doubt.

However, when one of my answers seemed unfavourable, she said ‘Oh no! I can’t record that.’ And then, she changed my answer!

* * *

Statistics form the core of almost every article we read. But behind numbers like 83.7% and 4.8 million, there is data collected by field staff.

While statistical reports talk of error margins, how reliable is the data on which they are based? It is hard to tell. Can we improve their quality? Definitely.

One of the projects we have had the opportunity to work on in the recent past, addresses this very issue.

Before we jump to the solution, here’s a look at the problem in a little detail.
Data typically goes through several stages before becoming a meaningful number — capture, display, interaction and analysis.

Data Chain
The typical data chain

Data capture, more often than not, involves paper forms. And paper forms have several inherent problems.

The first is the time lag between when the data is captured, and when it is available for analysis. The second problem is that of data integrity. Forms filled in manually are susceptible to errors during data capture, as well as during data transfer, as illustrated in the two real scenarios mentioned earlier. The third, and perhaps the most critical problem, is that of data authenticity. Paper forms can very easily be used to generate false information.

Raw aggregated data – typically tabulated – is not user friendly. It requires filtering in order to be useful for decision and policy making.

All this seems a lot like a game of Chinese Whispers. By the time the data can actually be analysed, it may lose its value.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could skip a few steps? As it happens, that is how technology can help. This was the subject on which our CEO, Mr. Sunil Malhotra recently spoke about at the 124A Bilateral Training Programme of International Centre for Information Systems and Audit (organised by Comptroller and Auditor General of India). While interacting with the delegates of FBSA, Republic of Iraq, during the session on Disease Surveillance and the Role of Technology, Mr. Malhotra emphasized the need to shorten the data collection timeline, as well as ensure integrity of data, through the use of mobile technology.

Here’s an excerpt from the companion presentation, explaining the common challenges involved in data collection, as well as how mobile technology can help solve them.

Stay tuned for the next post, detailing our own working solution!

The what and why of web design

Desktops, laptops, tablets, televisions, mobile phones, phablets and now even watches. There are more internet enabled devices in the market today, than ever before. And a gag these days is:

So you want to be a web designer? This is what you will be dealing with:

The viewport landscape
Image Source: Gareth Williams

From 300 pixels to a whopping 2000 pixels — that’s the range over which web content can be viewed today. Making sure all users get an optimum experience on their devices is by far the biggest challenge designers and developers face. And if there is one buzzword that has been floating around to combat this challenge, it is ‘Responsive Web Design’.

A single site that magically adjusts to whatever device screen is used to hit it.

Responsive frameworks. Media Queries. JavaScript Hacks.

Ever since Ethan Marcotte first coined the term Responsive Web Design in his now very famous article, a plethora of tools have sprung up, to make the process of creating a responsive website less painful.

But do we really understand what is responsive design, and why we are talking about it? All too often web designers & developers have tended to look at a responsive website as a chore, or worse — an afterthought. Define a few break-points and apply a few readily available tools to make sure everything looks okay.

The fundamental purpose of a website has always been about communication and interaction. But somewhere along the way, reusable code has killed the craft of true designers. This is not to say that reusable code is bad. What matters is that content is accessible, and interfaces are usable. That is what web design has always been about.

In his article A Dao of Web Design*, John Allsopp wrote:

Make pages which are accessible, regardless of the browser, platform or screen that your reader chooses or must use to access your pages. This means pages which are legible regardless of screen resolution or size, or number of colors (and remember too that pages may be printed, or read aloud by reading software, or read using braille browsers). This means pages which adapt to the needs of a reader, whose eyesight is less than perfect, and who wishes to read pages with a very large font size.

To call ourselves designers, it is imperative to internalize the why, and what of web design, before diving into the how aspect of it. To address this within our organisation, we organised a workshop with a live case study on the meaning of ‘Responsive Web Design’.

It was an interesting session, with lots of insights being shared. And we like to share our discussion with you. So here’s the accompanying presentation for our workshop. We hope you find as much value in it, as we did.


* A Dao of Web Design is a must read for all web designers. If web design was a religion, this article would probably qualify as a scripture.

Beyond the baker’s dozen

It’s that time of the year again — when we celebrate the completion of another year. A time to evaluate the year that was, and to look forward to the future.

Last year can be summed up simply as a couple of projects, and several challenges — perhaps more than we have faced in the past. But in hindsight, it is fair to say we have learnt more than ever from these tough times.

As our Founder & CEO writes in his very heartwarming message, thanking all those who have been part of the journey thus far:

We started up under worse conditions… We’ve still not run out of passion or belief. And we never will.

We’ve put the past behind us, and we know in our hearts that there are bright times ahead for us. With HealthWatch — a location-based platform for disease surveillance, which we developed last year — we’re certainly headed in the right direction.

And so we set the table, to celebrate our thirteenth birthday — on a Friday. Is it a sign? Perhaps. And we consider that lucky.

We’ve completed the baker’s dozen. Bakers arrange their loaves on a tray in a hexagonal pattern in batches of thirteen, arranged in a 4-5-4 formation (here’s an example). This is done so that the maximum number of loaves can be baked in one batch — corners are avoided because loaves don’t get cooked evenly on the corners. (Next time you enter a bakery, take a moment to appreciate their efficiency.)

Speaking of bakers, here’s what our cake looked like:

Happy Birthday to us!
Happy Birthday to us!

Our first dozen is complete. And we’re well on course for the next batch of thirteen.
And on that note, we dug into our cake. Year number fourteen, here we come!

Don’t forget to read the entire story of Ideafarms here: “Happy Birthday Ideafarms. Stay Kewl!”

12 reasons why we are happy in 2014!

This is not one of those existential Thought Catalog kind of post. Its just a quick 12 points summary of why we were happily grinning like monkeys on 17 April 2014.

Reason 1 – Ideafarms came into being in 2002.

Reason 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11 … we continued rocking and doing kickass work.

Reason 12 – WE TURNED 12 THIS year!! And yes just like any discerning on-the-brink teenager, we enter our adolescent years kicking, screaming and very unaware of what the future has in store for us (well not quite. We’re smarter than that 😉 ). If the year so far is anything to go by, we are already on our way to having a lot of fun. This year we got the opportunity to make our very first game on Android, in affiliation with a upcoming movie called Yeh Hai Bakrapur. The game is called “Kaun Banega PM?” and you can read about it here. More on that in another post and lets bring back the focus to more mundane things like a party etc. :-D. Have a look at how we had a small celebration at work to usher in the big Thirteen in Fourteen.

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Well there was cake of course. And it was del-i-cious!

 

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Here’s our enthusiastic HR waiting to greet the founders.
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Greeted in the Indian Traditional way.
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And accepting the blessings
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Hungry tortured citizens of Ideafarms

 

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Good wishes came forth once the cake was finished!!

This was just the trailer of the celebration that is in store, a big party is under wraps and you are already invited! Watch this space for more action!!