SC Moatti shares the 3 rules of Mobile App design

Jul 25

SC Moatti shares the 3 rules of Mobile App design

In this podcast series we ask experienced Appreneurs for one success story and one fail.

In this episode, SC who is the best selling author of “Mobilized” shares some design wins and fails based on 3 rules of fullfilling the needs of Body, Heart and Mind.

Here are 3 rules:

  1. The best mobile products are physically and functionally beautiful. (Body)
  2. The best mobile products focus on what matters to us. (Heart)
  3. The best mobile products learn as we use them. (Mind)
Mobilized Book

Here is a quick TL;DR:

  • What Uber, theSkimm and WhatsApp do really well.
  • Where AirBnB could improve because its typically been task-oriented but is missing opportunities for serendipity.
  • How “bots” are in the “uncanny valley” where people are unsure how to relate to them if they are almost convincingly human but still not when it really matters.
  • How SC is now doing investments both in and out of the mobile space and how you can get in touch.

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David Jones: Hi. It’s David from StreetHawk and I’m with SC Moatti. SC Moatti is the Author of the number one best-seller which is called “Mobilized.” And I saw SC speak a few months ago and I really liked the way she actually presented the talk. She was speaking about the three rules of actually getting users engaged in your product. And that was from a perspective of mind, spirit and body. And I guess what we’ll do let SC talk about that during the course of this interview. Hi. How are you, SC?

SC Moatti: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here, David.

David : Did you intend to talk about that mind, spirit and body at any stage or do you want to cover that quickly upfront?

SC: Absolutely. One thing that I learn in the 12 years that it took me to research that book is that mobile products are extensions of ourselves. And so, when we think of the best mobile product, we need to think of our best self.

David : Gotcha.

SC: And then, I use the mind, body, spirit teamwork to describe what that is.

David : Right, right.

SC: And I call that the “mobile formula.”

David : I see. So basically, anybody who’s developing an app needs to speak to those kind of there’s levels of a person’s experience.

SC: Absolutely, yes.

David : Is that ultimately–is the book structured that way as well too?

SC: It is. I have three chapters. The three core chapters of the book that are about these three rules. And then I also have a chapter that explains the mobile revolution as businesses have experienced it over the last few years. And then I have another chapter that talks about the future of the mobile revolution.

David : Ah, OK. So this book, it says it’s the number one best-seller. How’s it been working for you? Is it mostly downloads or has it been physical books? How do sales come these days?

SC: It’s actually a surprisingly great combination of both. I thought people who will read the book will be mostly interested in the digital version. But I’ve been surprised to see how many hardcovers we sold. And more interestingly, I’ve been surprised to see how many people are asking me like, “Hey, can you autograph my book?” And there’s value in paper. And it’s interesting because as I’ve gotten to write this book, I’ve also been reading a lot more books. And I found myself that I’m also more attracted to the physical format than the digital.

David : Oh, it’s interesting. So I think what happens, at least for me, is that if I read something in electronic format, I really like it. Then I tend to souvenir it in paper form. It becomes something I actually want to sort of tangibly see and touch.

SC: Exactly. And if it’s something I want to remember, the physical format tends to work really well for me as well, whereas the digital format is more for kind of consumption than for memorization, I would say.

David : Yeah, and then your book is a good-looking book too. So I guess that kind of comes back and speaks to the mind, spirit and body thing. And it seems that body aspect wants to actually touch something beautiful, whether that’s a book or whether that’s an app. There’s a correlation there, isn’t it?

SC: I totally agree. And it’s interesting because that body rule which is all about beauty, as you say, and beauty in a great depth, not just the pretty picture, is actually the first rule that I talk about. It’s also the chapter that took me the most time to get and to write, I would say.  And it’s interesting because I give a lot of comments on it and say, “Oh wow, your role is to put beauty first.” And like, well, beauty rules the world. This is one of the big, big drivers of anything that we’re doing in this planet.

David : Yeah, yeah. And who would you say is doing the most beautiful sort of apps today?

SC: I know really love a few apps. I love Uber obviously. Uber is sort of an easy answer because it was started as a mobile company. It’s sort of a mobile-first company. I think that some apps do a fantastic job. I’ll share a couple, in the post-Uber era. I’ll talk about I think WhatsApp is doing a fantastic job. But I also think an app like theSkimm which is a news service that just released a fantastic app, do a great job. And then in sort of the older world, like kind of the pre-mobile, I would say that some of the services that I like the most are some of the banking services. Surprisingly, I think they do a fantastic job.

David : Wow. That’s interesting. [LAUGHTER]

SC: I think that some of these apps, I never go to my bank anymore and that’s so convenient. I also think that Facebook obviously, I used to work there so I’m a little biased that, does a fantastic job. And then an app like Airbnb, I think, is also really interesting and beautiful, although it has a bit of room for improvements.

David : Right. So you’re saying that they’re still working very much on their mobile experience. And that’s probably been covered maybe a little bit slowed down by their success on their desktop experience or maybe a little bit too influenced by the desktop experience?

SC: I would say that Airbnb is a mobile service that is one of the pioneers of mobile, and it’s beautiful. So on that first rule of body and beauty, it ranks really, really high. But then on the second rule that I talk about in my book which is the spirit rule, which is all about meaning and personalization, it still has a lot to grow. Because when I think about the possibilities of travel and personalization and end-to-end experience, travel used to require so much planning, and with a service like Airbnb, can be completely serendipitous. However, Airbnb today, I don’t think is as serendipitous as it could be.

David : So it’s very task-oriented.

SC: It’s super task oriented. And it still feels like you have to plan your trip as opposed to you’re just coming to a special destination and a number of wonderful places that are super local, with special hosts are recommended to you.

David : Yeah, that’s interesting because what’s triggering in the back of my mind is the hip thing of the last few months which is bot. And there’s been many people saying, “OK. Apps are going to go way.” And then other people, particularly there’s a fantastic post from a guy who was, I think, it’s the WeChat UX guy. And he said, “You know, apps won’t go away. Bad apps are going to go away, or bots aren’t going replace apps. Better apps are going to replace apps.” And he went on to speak about various UX things, but also really around the fact that bots are very—they’re very good for functional tasks. And I guess there’s not really a lot of beauty in a bot conversation. [LAUGHTER] Released over an experience than yet. So it’s very functional, but it doesn’t actually give you that kind of serendipitous element yet. And it doesn’t give you the beauty aspect of it.

SC: I agree. It’s almost like I completely realize that guy’s thesis. To me, bots are in what people call this “uncanny valley.” And let me explain for some of the listeners, if you see a robot that really looks very mechanical, like a robot from the 1950s, you don’t feel threatened by it. So it’s sort of far from you. But then if you see a robot that’s one of the very sophisticated ones that almost looks like a human, if it doesn’t look exactly like a human, for example if it doesn’t blink or if it doesn’t have like a little bit of hesitation in their voice sometimes, then it feels very awkward. And it is right in that “uncanny valley.” And I think those bots are exactly. They are just a little too rational to be humans.

David : Alright. That’s interesting. So we actually feel more comfortable when we kind of pigeonhole this is a robot and this is a human, but some are in between is actually disconcerting to our sort of state of mind at the moment.

SC: Exactly, yeah.

David : OK. So that’s great. So let’s run through some wins and fails that you’ve seen along the way. As you’ve said, you’ve had 12 years’ experience working in this particular area. In terms of the arch of things, you were there for seeing things prior to the iPhone.

SC: That’s right.

David : [LAUGHTER] Were you working with Nokia-based, the Symbian-based things back in the day or?

SC: That’s right.

David : Wow.

SC: I started a service that was doing augmented reality.

David : [LAUGHTER] How long ago?

SC: Symbian devices. Just like six – seven years ago?

David : Wow.

SC: And we became really big.

David : Really?

SC: The service was helping you find things in your environments and get information about them just by pointing at them, so really like kind of a Pokémon Go for the real life.

David : Right.

SC: It was very successful obviously on a generation just before the iPhone on Nokia smartphones.

David : Right.

SC: So what I see right now, we were talking earlier about Airbnb, I think I would say definitely Airbnb is a win even though it still has lots to go. One of the things that I love most about Airbnb is their wish list feature. And there’s an anecdote that I share, and we talked about when we met, which is Airbnb used to indicate wish list items with a star. And a star, going back to our earlier conversation, feels really, really rational. So if I’m here at the right time and the place is available and it’s at the right place, and everything works out there, I might book this place. And it changed that star to a heart, which is a lot more of an emotional connection, like “Oh, I’d love to go there someday,” is what a heart says. And the number of places that people added to their wish list increased by 30% just because of that emotional connection of the heart.

David : Right. [LAUGHTER] Things change.

SC: I think that’s an amazing story. It’s a great win, right? And it shows the power of mobile as a device that’s an extension of ourselves. We see that very much as an extension of the human body and our environment.

David : Do you know if Twitter has that same response? I’ve always been a bit sort of, do I really heart this or do I just like this, or you know? [LAUGHTER] A tweet is something hardly you really want to get to fall in love with. But the metaphor’s there, right?

SC: Absolutely. So I don’t have the actual numbers for Twitter. And I’d love to get them, if one of your listeners has them. But I would assume the same, because I know that they move from a star to a heart as well not too long ago.

David : Yeah. And it’s interesting now. I think when you follow somebody and want to know locations, they use star there. So it’s not like I’m falling in love with somebody that I’m following. I’m just starring for them for a little bit of extra attention. [LAUGHTER]

SC: Right.

David : Like spend a bit of time trying to figure out that relationship. OK, so what you’re saying there is that the app was fine. They were doing everything OK, but just that really subtle usability change that’s sort of tapped into the human emotion side. Is that spirit or is that body in that situation?

SC: [LAUGHTER] I will say this is body because it’s related to beauty and that emotional connection of when something’s beautiful we have that [GASP], you know, that reaction. The spirit is going to be a lot more around personalization. So we can take the example of Tinder, for example, with personalization. Tinder, I think is a great example of a service that’s been able to use information about us in a very, very personalized way. So it will match you with people who are nearby, who share your interests, you have friends in common, and it will completely replicate the human experience of meeting somebody in a bar. You see them, you find that they look good, just like when you see on Tinder a picture and say, “I like that picture,” and then you don’t know much about them. Maybe you’ll get their name because somebody will yell their name in the bar or maybe you’ll guess their age which is about the amount of information that you see on Tinder. So it very much mimics the experience of meeting someone new, which is a very human experience. And it does that in a very personalized way because it’s all about serendipity, right? Close to you with interesting commons, friends in common. And that is more what I call “personalization.” It’s taking information about you to give you an experience that you might not even be able to give yourself.

David : Gotcha. Yes, it’s sort of, it’s teased out of your behavior as opposed to what you explicitly state.

SC: That’s right.

David : And so are we getting into the mind level of that stage? I mean, that seems that we’re still kind of dealing with the subconscious thing. What’s an example of something that’s like at the mind level?

SC: So the mind is all about learning. And learning, you have to think left brain and right brain, and there are two ways that we learn. There’s a very scientific and methodical way of practice makes perfect, like we do with most of our hobbies. We have to practice every day and then we get better at it. So the best mobile products, they also learn every day from their users, and then they get better at it. A great example of that is WhatsApp, right? WhatsApp has these little checkmarks that they show you when the message has been delivered. And then the check marks change color when the message has been read. And the reason these checkmarks are there and the reason they change color is because the WhatsApp team learned incrementally that these are the signals that you and I want to hear most when we exchange messages.

David : Gotcha.

SC: Now, there’s another, a lot more that I call “artistic or disruptive way” that we learn, which is I practice martial arts for a long time, and when I practice martial arts, at some point practicing every day, I felt that I was at a plateau. But if I kept pushing through, all of a sudden, I would reach a new level. And I think that’s an experience that’s familiar to most people who practice any hobby for some length of time. I think that on mobile, it’s exactly the same. So if we take the example of WhatsApp again, WhatsApp recently introduced encrypted messages, so that when you send a message to someone, it’s a secure communication. It’s not an incremental learning, it’s just the realization that if you encrypt messages, then you better respect the privacy of your users. And then you also open up a whole new market which is the enterprise market.

David : Yes.

SC: Most of the IT organizations require that messages be encrypted.

David : Yes.

SC: So that, I would say, is like a disruptive way to learn and exercise that mind rule of learning.

David : Yeah, that’s not a bit being sort of super explicit. That’s just the feature appears and there’s not to be some sort of hint about it. But ultimately, the understanding sort of unfolds in front of you.

SC: Exactly.

David : It’s interesting. I was talking to a guy who’s the data scientist at Spotify. And he said that their best users, their top-tier users, the most engaged people, actually treated the application like an operating system. That they would try and figure out the various kind of features and figure out how to use it and potentially how to gain it to their needs. And they said that they used to watch what those people did so they actually understood how to sort of make that easier for other people. So it was similar sort of thing that people are learning along the way and then potentially showing you the app developer what you should be doing.

David : That’s really interesting. Yes, I love this approach. It really is what is required to become a master at anything. You have to peel the onion to the nth layer and then rebuild it back together so that you can share your knowledge or your mastery of something with other people.

SC: Yeah, right. OK, sorry, just before we jump on the fail. I just wanted to drill in, you mentioned about this news aggregation app which you think is quite beautiful, which I’m jumping back down to body again, but can you tell me a little bit about what’s the win there? What have they done that’s incredible? I’d be interested to learn that.

David : Yes, so the service is called theSkimm. And the first thing I like is that they have, if I follow these three rules, it’s very beautiful in the sense that it’s very minimalist. Nothing is wasted. It’s a very efficient news service. Why it’s efficient? Because in less than five minutes a day, you can basically read the top news in a style that’s also very casual, very friendly, very engaging and drives your emotions up. So that’s sort of the beautiful part.

SC: Right.

David : Then the spirit part, personalization and meaning. One thing that this service does really, really well is it has a subscription that allows you to get news that only you care about. So for example, if you want to hear about an upcoming concert or if you want to hear about a specific sports that you’re passionate about, you can customize the type of news that you receive from them and only get these news that you care about. And that’s the spirit role around personalization. It’s also location based, so it knows where you are, sends you local news. And then the last thing being the mind rule, it’s only been out for a couple of months. But I’ve already seen some improvements gradually in the navigation, in the readability. And so it’s very clear that the team behind it is constantly looking at what people want to see when they use the service and trying to satisfy their users. So there’s a strong learning component there.

David : Gotcha. Very good. Alright, so let’s move on to the fail. [LAUGHTER] We like to talk about one win and one fail. And I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of those. I know I’ve had plenty of those. Tell us what you got.

SC: Yeah. You know, I like to talk about Google Glass as an example of a failure.

David : Right.

SC: And Google Glass, I’m going to run it through the rules like this mobile formula. And first thing is it wasn’t a really beautiful pair of glasses. It looked a little bit “ET.” And it didn’t feel super-efficient. It was actually a little complex to operate, one click, two clicks on the side, left of that. So it was a little complicated, not very efficient. Then on the spirit rule, that meaning and personalization, it was not perceived like Google Glass kept the interests of users at heart, was it recording when it said it was recording? Was it not recording when it said it was not recording? It wasn’t very clear.

David : Right, except for the person, is that for the person wearing or for the people on the other side? Because certainly on the other side, clearly, you had no clue.

SC: Both. And what it did is it basically triggered, “OK. Why is Google recording all that information? Is this for my benefit? Is it for people who are around me? Or is it for themselves?” And it came down to Google started doing it for themselves. It feels a little bit like Big Brother is watching me, and what for? I don’t see the benefit.

David : Yeah.

SC: And so it really failed on that rule. And then on the mind rule, unfortunately, it didn’t have enough time, I think, to really learn from its users because it got shut down so drastically. It was banned in some countries. It was banned in many bars and many public places. And so it didn’t have really an opportunity to experiment and learn. Now, the company that Google is trying to relaunch Google Glass for the benefit of some enterprise use cases, like in hospitals and medical applications. And so we’ll see what comes out of that. But yeah, unfortunately, I think that’s an example of a mobile product that didn’t quite work out.

David : And it definitely falls into that uncanny valley you were talking about as well too. It’s sort of like the relationship between me and a glass hole, as they use to call them, is that I’m in an uncertain place in regards to what’s going on there.

SC: Absolutely.

David : Yeah, that’s really interesting. A lot of time, people don’t actually understand what the emotion is they’re experiencing when something’s not quite coming together for them. In that case, it’s sort of, well, it’s a bit creepy. But when you’re using another application that could be, it just feels a little bit dysfunctional or it’s sort of built or toggled more to how I think I would like to experience it.

SC: It’s really awkward. Yeah, absolutely.

David : Is there kind of like a really big, I know a big customer might be a potential—sorry, a big app might be a potential customer for you. But is there some app that’s out there in the media space or in the news space or in the telco space that you feel as though is a good example of how it’s sort of they’ve tried hard, but they got it wrong, maybe a retailer or something like that?

SC: I would have to think of an example. I will say that I think coming up with something great on retail on mobile is a challenge because a lot of the retailers that I spoke with basically will say, “Oh, we want to compete with Amazon and do mobile commerce or sell via our app.” And I think that it’s really, really hard to compete with Amazon head-to-head on that. Where I see success in retail is around leveraging loyalty and engagement of existing customers to personalize their service.

David : Yeah. It’s a big—we make this mistake definitely in the early days of trying to deliver catalog apps for retail, particularly in fashion. It’s like you just can’t be functional about that kind of material. It’s got to actually really touch that beauty aspect.

SC: That’s right. And then, you know, a lot of brands are just getting their feet wet with mobile. So they will have released that application. I think this is really more like the product of the early in the cycle as opposed to failing.

David : Yes.

SC: Because there’s definitely here a learning curve with mobile.

David : Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, we see, you know, wrapping around our end-customer base, that loyalty is a really recurring sector that sort of uses mobile. And it’s obvious when you spill it out, it’s obvious. But really, loyalty, you can just do so much there in terms of improving the user’s experience because it’s contextual and it’s based on where the users’ stage at. It’s in the purchasing life cycle or in the loyalty life cycle, and stuff like that. So it just makes perfect sense to be on mobile, sort of the thing where you can actually do some creative stuff.

SC: Mm-hmm.

David : Yeah. Well, let’s see. I keep on going to call you Sophie. [LAUGHTER] So the correct name is Sophie Charlotte?

SC: That’s right.

David : You know, probably terribly pronounced but that’s probably why SC is the best way to go, yeah?

SC: [LAUGHTER] That was really nicely pronounced. But for most people, it’s a mouthful and that’s why I go by it.

David : [LAUGHTER] Well, what’s up next for you, Sophie Charlotte? Are you doing another book or you’re just riding this one? Or what’s the story there?

SC: Well, this one came out in the spring of this year. So it’s quite recent and I’m still doing a lot of talking and book tour around it. What’s new for me is that I have now joined an investment firm. We do early stage venture capital investment. And so a lot of people who have been reading my book have been asking me like, “Hey, could you support my project?” And now I’m in a position where if they have a compelling idea or rather a compelling business idea, I would love to hear from them. And the best way for them to contact me is via my website which is

David : OK. That’s great. Actually, that’s interesting. So my general take is that apps that’s based from investment—let’s say investment in apps, if somebody comes with a  one-off app at this stage, that’s not really getting funded as much these days. Do you disagree with that or it’s just something that I heard around?

SC: I would say I invest across the board much as in mobile apps. I invest in infrastructure, in different industries, in verticals, and enterprise, and consumer. And so pretty much every industry right now or every company that I talk with wants to become mobile-first. So I would say wait with an app or with a service that is taking mobile-first. It doesn’t matter really. It has to be a compelling business to invest with growth prospects.

David : OK. Fantastic. Alright, SC, I really appreciate your time. And I appreciate the wisdom too. It’s great to have somebody that’s had so much experience that’s built a structure around it. I think that structure of being able to come back and say, “Look at any particular experience and say, “Well, what does that do for the mind? What does it do for the spirit? And what does it do for the body?” is just a great way of actually doing a sanity check on any application. So thank you so much.

SC: Well, thank you for having me, David. It was really fun.

David : Yeah, thank you. Take care and have a great evening.

SC: Take care. Bye-bye.

David : Bye.

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