Too many features spoil the app.
In the world of app development it’s easy for inexperienced makers to throw as much functionality as they can at an app because they are not sure what people will like. The result is users like some bits and not others, and overall don’t like the app enough to continue using it.
Confusing features distract users from the part they find valuable. They struggle to learn the app and never get comfortable with it.
They may not even be sure what its trying to do for them. Probably because the app isn’t even sure itself.
Mindful of this, and of their experience of using and building apps at Mindapples, the Moodbug team focused its design process on one key goal:
To find the one killer feature that would deliver the most value to users.
Here’s what they did:
1. They Allowed Time and Space for Creativity
Our minds get creative by switching between different modes of thought – bursts of analytical intensity, then being silly with ideas, then doing nothing. This builds the mental conditions for creative ideas and opportunities, and our most ingenious solutions to problems. However, constraints on creativity, like linear task lists, externally imposed time restrictions, and lack of opportunity for free-form team interaction can squash the air out of the creative process, leaving minds dulled and ineffective.
So the team held back from committing themselves to one idea for as long as possible and entered development only after lengthy reflection and exploration. Even when it was clear that they were ‘behind’ the progress of their peers, they held on to give more time and space to understand the problem, get a really clear idea of what people would like and why and come up with a killer feature.
Like Moodbug, the original Mindapples campaign was built around one killer feature – sharing the ‘5-a-day’ for your mind. However it still took 3 years to deploy this feature effectively. Even the simplest features take time to get right. So by focussing on the smallest possible feature set, and taking time to get it right, you ensure that what you build is both usable and effective. You also avoid wasting time building ineffective and unwanted features.
2. They Talked to Techies from Other Sectors
Part of the inspiration for Moodbug’s new concept came from the world of online dating apps.
While discussing how the commercial world would approach mood-sharing, the team jokingly suggested an app that connected you to people who were in the same mood so you could go on a date with someone as happy or as miserable as you are. From this silly concept came the idea of socialising moods around a ‘mood map’, checking in to share where you’re at and then seeing where your friends are in relation to you.
The creative process also thrives on diversity and non-linear connections. So exposing yourself to knowledge and insight from people outside of your normal sphere of work can stimulate new ideas and spark radical approaches to problems. Without this input its easy to get stuck into linear modes of thinking and find yourself stuck doing things the same way as everyone else. For Mindapples this meant talking to people who were not part of the healthcare world, and ultimately bringing in Dan Kolodziej, previously the founder of a dating app himself, to produce the Moodbug app.
3. They Talked to Commercial Experts
The team actively sought out opinions of people who have sold apps for lots of money. Not because they were wanting to do the same but because these people had spent a lot of time with their users figuring out what they wanted before successfully delivering it. Since they knew their users would be paying for their product, the incentive to pay attention to their needs and behaviours was much higher than attending to the needs of their funders or partners.
Talking to experts created a lens through which to examine the team’s most worthwhile ideas from a commercial angle and ask the question “will someone pay money for this?”
On the back of this the team adopted the assumption that end users would be paying for the app, even though they had no ultimate intention of charging for it. This sharpened their design process and ensured that whatever the outcome of Moodbug’s development, it would become a more user-focused app.
4. They Understood the Market
They realised two things about mood apps: 1, there are no mood apps that have been hugely successful and; 2, most mood apps involve a dialogue with yourself rather than talking to other people.
Going further, by looking at the wider digital market the team was able to identify market trends in mood sharing products e.g. bit.ly feelings, Facebook emotional graph, next generation advertising. These trends helped them understand what bigger players had identified as either what users were saying they wanted or what they were open to adopting.
The team also compared the experience of playing mobile games with using mood apps. They discovered that when compared to games mood apps had a much lower level of delight and enjoyment. Games were marketed as fun things to do, especially with friends while mood apps, though healthier, were not. This helped the team understand the subversive, transformative power of enjoyment: rather than trying first and foremost to make mood sharing useful, they focused instead on making it fun.
By understanding the market the team are now making a mood app that is designed to be both social and delightful to use. This is unusual among healthcare apps.
5. They Took More Time to Understand How People Are Thinking, Living and Behaving
While talking to people about their needs can be useful, the team knew that to develop a product that young people would want to use they had to get out of the building and understand how they live. That way they could understand whether an idea would fit in with their mindset, behaviour and lifestyle choices.
So, to test their assumptions, the team pitched the Moodbug concept to groups of young people. Their role was not to generate ideas, but to tell the team whether the ideas they proposed sucked. Young people repeatedly expressed in one form or another that they weren’t that interested in tracking their mood, forcing the team to reconsider their approach.
The team also found out what apps young people had on their phones, how they used them and which ones they used every day. They discovered that iPhone users downloaded a lot of new apps, while android users downloaded less. They found that the groups they talked to mainly used apps that either delivered reading content or let them communicate with friends. In essence, they saw their phone as a tool for communicating with their friends, not as a tool for self-management.
The outcome of this process was clear. The team needed to use their observations on what was missing in the market as the basis for innovating a mood app that was consistent with what young people already used their phones for. This led to the decision to make an app that helps people talk to their friends about their moods.
Originally Moodbug was conceived of as an app that helped individuals track how their moods changed with their everyday actions.
However, after discovering that young people weren’t motivated by tracking their mood on their phone, but were motivated by talking to their friends, and after developing the assumption that mood apps fail because they aren’t social, the team pivoted the direction of their idea and turned it into something more simple and social that takes the concept of your mood state and uses it as the basis for talking to your friends.
Moodbug differentiates itself from other mood apps by being a tool for talking to other people rather than to yourself.
This is its killer feature.
It does this in a way that makes the experience sociable, enjoyable and delightful, so you want to continue using it. It includes friendship maps and a gift system that enables you to do something for someone else who is feeling miserable or happy. So as you share the ups and downs of your life, you get fun things back from your friends rather than the app itself. The app simply facilitates the conversation – and in doing this it de-stigmatises talking about your mood.
So Moodbug isn’t about managing problems. But it is about creating something enjoyable that also happens to be good for us, and inviting friends to join in. This approach is more akin to a commercial mindset rather than a social sector one. In the charitable world enjoyment is often omitted in favour of more solution focused functionality. However people are much more likely to take action if they enjoy the experience. The enjoyment factor gives Moodbug the potential to be a powerful tool for social change.
The Development Challenge
Having spent the time crystallising MoodBug’s value and establishing its killer feature the next question was “what’s the simplest way to build it?”
The team has modelled its contact integration on that used by Whatsapp and is modelling its mood sharing, friendship maps and gift system on those enjoyed in other apps that young people already use.
Interestingly the team has refrained from testing the app yet, deciding that its delight factor can’t be tested without it looking good. They’ve also decided, on the basis of iPhone user habits, to build for iOS only and to target early adopters on that platform, rather than spreading development time more thinly across more platforms.
Moodbug’s development process has been different to the other Labs products but it is strongly founded on listening to and observing young people’s thinking and ap behaviour, blending diverse opinions and influences together and then trusting in the team’s judgement and decision making to create something people would love to use.
We’re looking forward to seeing it launch and then comparing it to the other Lab products.