Between Paddock and Pit The Shoe Stopper

As first-time visitors to the Buddh International Circuit, we stood in awe of the sheer dimensions of the complex. Long before we even reached the entrance gate we were greeted by the sound of tires burning rubber on a warm October morning. Adding to the special atmosphere was the fact that we were guests – that grand treatment for being the mobile app partners of the Vento Cup.

Gasha escorted us to the team’s paddock – ha, that was a new word for us!

“There are the cars and on that side is the pit lane. You can see the action along the straight leading to the start-finish line. And there’s a giant screen up there for seeing the rest of the action. Now I’m going to leave you guys to explore on your own. Don’t you get into any trouble!” Gasha warned me with a mischievous smile.

“Oh! Don’t worry, I won’t run on the pit lane!”

At the paddock, the race cars posed like rock stars, sporting sponsor tattoos, shiny glasses and modified accessories. As we admired the cars, a large horn began blaring warning sounds. A few bikers were riding into the pit lane. As soon as the bikes entered their team’s paddock, the noise stopped.

The 'rockstars'
The ‘rockstars’

We stepped on the pit lane to cross over to the fence – a single wired wall beyond which was the race track. Standing at the fence and looking straight ahead, a speeding racer becomes a mere blur, with the vibrating air being the only evidence of his* existence.

“Excuse me, Ma’am” cried a lean heavily tanned man, jogging towards me. His head was tightly gripped by a red cap and headphones, his white shirt read ‘Marshal’.

“I’m sorry, but no slippers allowed. It’s against the rules.”

I stepped back and apologised. He jogged away, blowing his whistle while I stood at the edge of the paddock, and watched at a distance. A little while later he walked up to me and said, “I am extremely sorry, Ma’am, but those are the rules. I just cannot let you cross. Maybe we can arrange for some boots for you.”

I was surprised and humbled, if not a little embarrassed by his generous offer to help me (strangely the phrase pleasant user experience came to my mind).

I managed to arrange a pair of shoes on my own to make it to the fence – yes, I waited for the warning sounds to stop before crossing – so that I could watch the racers speed away barely a few feet from me.

That shot of adrenaline down my throat, I came back to the paddock. The Marshall caught me returning the boots to its barefoot owner and we all shared a hearty laugh.

The Vento Cup was scheduled to start at 11:30 am and we were asked to move to the lounge upstairs so that the cars could be taken out. The drivers, covered from head to toe in fireproof overalls, gloves, shoes and headgear were fastening their seat-belts as we moved away. A short while later, we were leaning against the railing as the modified Volkswagen Ventos began grunting out of the paddock below us.

Getting Ready
Getting Ready

They went around the track for a formation lap and lined up at the starting grid. The five lights in front of the grid illuminated and went out to signal that the race was on. The cars shot out of sight within seconds – but the sound didn’t go very far away from us. A minute later the sound grew louder and the race leader entered our line of sight. With cars moving fast – apparently the average speed around the track was 133 kmph – it was hard to keep track of who was who. What was clear was that there was a sizable lead, growing bigger with every lap, between the first and the second car.

The horns of the pit lane began blaring again. A car came in – it’s rear wing hanging precariously by one bolt. The pit crew quickly removed the wing and he drove off.

It was in the fifth lap that we identified the Ideafarms car – our car – unfortunately quite far back in the standings, but fighting hard with two other cars.

As the chequered flag was waved, the podium finishers crossed one at a time; the midfield finished much closer. Our car came seventh (hey, at least it wasn’t last!)

With the Vento Cup championship having drawn to a close, we stayed back to watch the Asia Road Racing Championship, with some fierce looking bikers leaning scarily close to the track on the kerbs. More than one biker skidded off. While their bikes were quickly removed by the ever vigilant marshalls, the bikers hitched a ride on rather slow moving scooters back to the pit lane!

During one of the races, one biker suffered a massive accident and lay motionless on the track for an extended period of time. Spectators on both sides of the track ran in the direction of the biker, while red flags were frantically being waved. An Ambulance raced to the biker. It was then that I noticed a large gate along the fence to let the Ambulance take a shortcut through the pits to the medical building behind the paddocks. The Marshal, with whom I had interacted earlier, turned into a traffic policeman whistling out clear instructions for the quick movement of the Ambulance.

Amidst all the adrenaline and exciting sounds around the track, this incident was a rude reminder of the perils of motorsport and it’s not all fun and games on the track.

Early in the evening we decided to leave, and leaned over the railing for one last look at the speeding daredevils performing wheelies and standing up on their bikes while crossing the line at full speed.

Two sounds of a whistle directed our attention to the pit lane below. The Marshall waved at us. We waved back and burst out laughing as he pointed towards his boots and nodded his head in what seemed like a question!

On our way out, we peeked into the paddock where the the cars were getting a thorough checkup and greasing and thanked Gasha for a very memorable day.

We left the circuit in good spirits, wondering when we would return – perhaps not anytime soon. But when we do, and quite likely for next season’s Vento Cup finalé, I’ll make sure I have shoes of my own.

Time to park
Time to park

* While the field this year was all male, last year’s Vento Cup featured two female drivers competing against the men.

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

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!”

if-blogpost

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:
unsubscribe_mail_blog
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:
mail_from_maria

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

smartapp_healthwatch_01

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!”