The BRCK is a ruggedized router built with mobility in mind and especially built with the African context in mind. It is a self-powered; cloud enabled WiFi hotspot router with built in fail-overs. With its 3G capability, you can get connected in over 140 countries and broadcast a WiFi signal to over 20 people on one BRCK. To say the least, the BRCK packs a real punch. But here’s what cool about the BRCK mentality, it is not good enough until it really works. And this is not just speak, as a UX designer, it really a philosophy the whole team embraces. As such, the team set out to put the BRCK through the toughest, most extreme test of any product I can think of.
Travel through 7 African countries by road and put the BRCK through comprehensive UX testing on all possible functionality challenges with a view of truly learning about the strengths and weaknesses of the BRCK and more importantly, how it could be improved so it works better for people, especially those at the edge of the grid.
THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY
I could write 10 different posts and they would not describe this incredible experience. I suppose the best way to capture some of the moments and experiences is to check out the BRCK blog or our open explorer posts (open explorer lets your friends follow not only follow your experience posts via text and rich media, but trace your journey on a real time map with its geo-location capability. I would recommend it for your next adventure).
For this post, I would like to share some of the key findings on the UX of the BRCK. I have thought long and hard on how best to present them and it is quite hard to compress findings across 7 countries in one post. While not all are presented, I think the best attempt is to summarize them into 2 clusters.
USABILITY AND EXPERIENCE FINDINGS
With various conversations in Nairobi, speaking to clients who own the BRCK and even with the tests we did on the trip, it was clear that the onboarding process presented a challenge for users. By this, I mean getting your BRCK and getting online. This is especially true when trying to get online via mobile. We did a test in Zambia with a novice user and it was clear that needed some serious rethink on the onboarding process.
When we moved away from a cell tower signal and completely out of range, we need to figure out how the BRCK informs the user when this is happening, to ensure the user is aware of what is going on and therefore elevate potential frustration. To a user, there is simply space as a continuum with instances of connectivity and lack thereof. From a design perspective, users tend to be more patient if they understand what is going on and more importantly, what they need to do about a situation. We needed to do a much better job of making this true of the BRCK.
Another important element to consider is the bundle top-up experience. With long rides, often in the middle of nowhere, we needed to top up our data bundles from scatch cards. This meant popping out the SIM from the BRCK, inserting it into a full size carrying phone, topping up the bundles and then popping it back into the BRCK and reconnecting. While on the move, this is a pretty lengthy and cumbersome process. There are a couple of experiences that would be great if we built them in.
SIM CROSSOVER EXPERIENCES
It would be incomplete not to mention the SIM change and crossover experience. In each country, we needed to buy a new SIM card, which meant registering a new SIM, Activating the SIM for 3G connectivity, buying credit, topping up the SIM and converting the credit to data. This is the single most challenging experience for users of the BRCK or any 3G enabled connectivity devise. The processes are not standardized and neither is the information. In some countries, you will find the information on how to top up, buy data bundles, data bundle options, how to check for balance and such printed on the SIM pouch or on the scratch card itself.
This makes sense right? Apparently not to everyone; there are countries like Botswana where all you get is a flower printed on the scratch card with no information whatsoever! They simply don’t account for new users! It makes it an agent dependent process which is completely stupid, especially when you are in a rush to reach the boarder before its dark!
STAYING TRUE TO THE UX FINDINGS
After this incredible experience, we immediately set out to use the UX findings. We embarked on total rethink of the BRCK onboarding and interactional workflow based on the feedback. We went from the dashboard convention which currently exists, to wireframing and prototyping a conversational workflow hypothesis, which I am happy to say works much better and should be a great improvement to the experience of getting online on a BRCK.
There are also serious efforts around the data purchase and management experience with new top up and data purchase functionality. This is seriously difficult to do since there are so many countries with different processes to account for.
For me, the chance to take a Landrover, 3 motorbikes and drive off 10,000kms across 7 countries in this beautiful continent with 5 of the finest people I know while still doing my job was simply amazing. It was bloody hard with and incredible learning curve for a city slicker like me learning how to do all sorts of things from learning how to set up a tent, start a fire to riding a motorbike for the first time. (I have since purchased my own café racer)
Truly embracing and continuing to listen and learn from users of the BRCK is not an easy process at all. It takes incredible commitment to follow through and charge ahead. If there is one thing I learnt about the BRCK philosophy, It is that they do hard things. Really hard things. It’s the BRCK DNA to follow though. After all, if it was easy, everyone would do it.