Sep 13, 2010

Ideas for Reducing Bus Accidents

I've been on a personal campaign to decrease bus accidents ever since a reckless driver crashed his bus into my car. Unfortunately, it's tough to get reforms because these bus companies can pay off the authorities or use their clout (some of these are owned by police and military officers).

It had to take the death of a celebrity to wake us up. That's good enough for me.

If government is really intent on stopping this menace, it could do the following:
  1. Revoke the permit of any bus company whose bus kills people.
  2. Revoke permits of bus operators who figure in two minor accidents (eg, scrapes, etc).
  3. Make a monthly report of number of people killed in traffic accidents, naming the bus companies involved in these mishaps.
  4. Require annual inspection of buses, including a review of permits and driver's licenses. Scratches, dents, etc in the buses should mean suspension of the company.
Note that I singled out buses here but these could also apply to other public utility vehicle operators.

Jul 19, 2010

The Streets Are The City (a Sort of Manifesto)

Dear Filipinos,

Like you, I want less stress when I go to work. I want clean streets. I want streets without danger of getting crashed by motorcycles, tricycles, jeepneys or buses, even if I'm driving defensively. I would like better streets. No more arrogant police escorts banging their hands on the side of my car to let them squeeze in and make way for an egotistic Congressman or Mayor. I want peaceful streets.

I know this is possible because it was this way when I was a kid. Thanks to President Noy's salvo against wang-wangs, lately, I no longer have been waking up to the blaring sirens of the Mayor's car at 2:00 am (when there's no need for it). I hope our government could sustain this.

Because if it does, it will then show the rest of us that our leaders could share with us the frustration of traffic and that they could respect our sleep time too. Because then if our leaders could show the example of simple road courtesy, then the drivers of the motorcycles, tricycles, jeepneys or buses would then start to show courtesy too. I think it's as simple as that.

This morning I heard a siren and was happy to find out it was an ambulance. I am hopeful for change.

May 13, 2010

Ballot Design - 2010 Elections

What is the most important vote in the 2010 elections? It's the vote for the President and Vice President, of course. But examine the ballot for the elections and you don't see this reflected on the ballot real estate. (See picture, below).

I've added colored shading to dramatize the problem. The yellow shading is about 10% of ballot space used for the President and VP lists. In contrast, the orange shade represents about 70% of ballot space devoted to the Party Lists.

Other seemingly "small" things aggravated the problem further (and some suggested solutions):

  • The font used cramped the small boxes and made the names difficult to read. Instead of a tall, thin font, Times New Roman may have been sufficient.
  • Compare the President and VP boxes to those for the Party Lists. The latter had less characters, so the boxes had more white space. This means the Party List boxes could have been smaller. The freed-up white space could then be reallocated to the President and VP boxes.
  • There's also white space after Manny Villar's name. This could have further been redistributed.
  • The oval was too small, while the pen nib used was too big. Either improve the oval or nib, or next time, give the voter three practice ovals at the top of the ballot, just for practice-shading.

A note on redistributing white space. Smartmatic may argue that alignment is important to help the software make a more accurate count. I agree but disagree.

Alignment is indeed an issue (so I agree) but it is a trivial issue in terms of building software that could accurately count the votes on a ballot. This could have been easily solved by creating appropriate markings on the ballot to tell the software to start counting here, but stop counting there (for example). In short, software should be more tolerant of user quirks.

So one important lesson here is, in creating the ballot, the focus should be on the voters and how they would use the ballots. The electronic voting system should make the ballot as foolproof as possible. It should focus on preventing users (like Erap Estrada) from making wrong moves (like failing to vote for your own Vice President). That error is more costly.

Instead, what COMELEC/Smartmatic did was create their own ideal, easy-to-print-and-scan version of their ballot and forced everyone to adjust.

Design thinking -- or the lack of it -- played an important role in the Philippine 2010 elections.

Feb 1, 2010

Improving the customer experience of tech companies the Philippines

My wife and I are going through one of the most harrowing experiences in Manila -- getting a DSL internet connection. As I write this, my wife just finished queueing up for more than one hour at the PLDT office in Megamall.

She was 10th in line when she started. There were only two people serving the long line and since each customer took an average of 20 minutes to process, I estimated she would be served only after 3.33 hours. Had it not been for some customers abandoning the queue, she would have waited this long.

The irony of this is that we chose a more expensive DSL plan (Plan 1299). Had we chosen the lowest plan (Plan 990), we wouldn't have had to wait in line. PLDT required us to pay before they installed our line. In contrast, if we chose Plan 990, PLDT would have installed the line without requiring us to pay first. It does not make sense.

For a difference of P 300.00, we were required to wait in line. Did meeting face-to-face with the customer representative add value to the experience? Nope. They didn't ask my wife any questions (everything was already captured in the application form); nor did they give any new information, not even what to expect next.

It would have been easier if PLDT required no initial payments at all and just billed us after the first month -- the same way as Plan 990. Clearly, the people who designed the process did not talk to each other. In effect they are punishing customers needlessly.

I was texting with Malou, the service agent who was handling our application. I told her, could we just change our plan to 990? Her reply was not helpful. She said that they would have to "deactivate" my plan 1299 (I thought it wasn't activated yet?) and apply for plan 990 separately, which would take up more time.

Her message was framed in such a way as to put the fault on me for being fickle in choosing a plan. I couldn't help but compare how someone from Australia would have handled this. An Australian tech service provider would have said, "Not a problem." And went on fixing it right there. And this would have taken much faster to process, compared to the two weeks waiting time giver or take 3-5 days promised by PLDT.

I would like to ask the owners, managers and employees of PLDT if they themselves are willing to put up with this kind of service quality. Many of us Pinoys think we can compete in the global tech services market. But unless our tech service providers put the customers back at the center of their processes, we will never quite make it there.

Jan 28, 2010

It's about the little things

I just downloaded a PDF file containing scanned documents -- needed to copy some information off it. The page I was reading was rotated 90 degrees to the left. I was about to start the usual series of menu clicks to rotate the page when I realized I could do a multi-touch gesture on my touchpad. So I put two fingers and twisted to the right, and the image rotated.

Being able to do that gave me lots of joy. In Pinoy, we would call it, "mababaw ang kaligayahan" (closest interpretation: "too easy to please"). But recoiling from my guilty pleasure, I realized that this is what design thinking should be about. It's the little things that matter.

When I switched to a Mac, this became a mantra for me. "It's the little things." Tortured by complicated steps and commands in Windows (apart from the fact that I had to scan for trojans and malware every night), it was the little things that made the difference in the end.

Little things like having to answer ridiculous technical questions in Windows whenever I needed to install a new program (in Mac, you mostly just drag and drop a new app into the Applications folder); needing an Uninstall program to remove an application I no longer needed (in Mac, you just drag the offending application into the waste basket); and being bugged by pesky pop-up screens asking you to confirm this or that action.

I realized later that these little things added up to a painful experience I was not even aware I was going through! I was so used to being a forgiving Windows user (being Filipino added to this resilience) that I only felt the difference when I started using the Mac.

It was only then that I realized the care that went into designing the hardware and operating system of the Mac. The Mac seemed difficult to use at the start of my switch, but that was just my Windows-soaked persona struggling to compete against a much better way of doing things. Guess which side won out in the end?

It's a little thing, being able to rotate an image on my screen using a gesture that is closer to reality than clicking a series of menus. It is "mababaw ang kaligayahan". But it's the little things like these that will be difficult to explain to others until they experience it for themselves.

Design thinking, like all great art, has a way of not calling attention to itself. Like a great and unassuming artist, the design thinker works hard to evoke a certain emotion and then steps back to get out of the way to let the users enjoy.

Jan 25, 2010

Blenz Cafe Experience

I'm at Blenz Cafe, second floor of SM Megamall. This cafe is thoughtfully designed to encourage nomadic (aka "mobile") workers and entrepreneurs. Since it's in Megamall, wifi is free. But Blenz also offers its own free wifi service, whose password is printed on the receipt.

Blenz has plenty of electric outlets located near the tables, so no jostling for tables like in Starbucks. The sockets are also universal -- they can accept any type of plugs. Lighting and music is subdued, for a relaxed atmosphere that's great for non-sensitive meetings. The coffee and tea here is also good.

The design of the cafe itself makes things more efficient. Since the wifi password is printed on the receipt, the cashier simply encircles it. No need to spell it out and make mistakes. The electric outlets are obvious. You don't have to hunt for them (and cause traffic) and no need to ask the staff. There's nothing else to do in terms of customer experience when the basic structure itself already works.

Try it out, next time you wish to meet with clients, or just need to check email and you're running out of battery charge.