Pat Dryburgh

Pat Dryburgh

Thank you to everyone who attended the first ever Indonesian product design livestream hosted by Viral Foundry. It was an honour to share with you the lessons I’ve learned about improving products through user testing. I hope each of you took something away that you’ll be able to apply to your own craft.

I do apologize for my lack of visual slides. In the past, I’ve found slides to be a hindrance to my style of presentation. However, some of the feedback I received from Kenny following the presentation indicated that I wasn’t fully considerate of the language barriers between us. Seeing the beautiful slide deck put together by Dany drove home just how foolish I was to not have my own. Won’t be making that mistake again.

As promised during the presentation, I want to share with you some notes and links from my talk. If you were an attendee and see that I’ve missed something, please hit me up on Twitter and let me know.

Books

Articles

Tools


I hope I was able to convey just how great of an impact employing user testing can have on both the usability and viability of your product. My thanks to Kenny and the whole Viral Foundry team for hosting the event.

  1. Not really a “book”, but this site is so jam-packed with useful information about running a design sprint, I had to include it. In fact, this guide helped me understand what improvements needed to be made following my first design sprint

A few months ago, my friend Kenny and I started chatting about how we can take the lessons we’ve learned building products over the years and share them with people in developing countries. Kenny had recently made the move to Indonesia where his company, Viral Foundry, has built a small team of designers and developers to work with startup founders, existing businesses, private equity funds, VCs and local government agencies to build new companies. I — of course — have been working with the team at Ensibuuko building a platform for micro-financing institutions in sub-Saharan Africa.

One of Kenny’s ideas was to host a livestream event for people interested in learning how to design products. After emailing ideas back and forth for a few weeks, we finally settled on the topic of how user testing can improve a product. It’s a process I’ve found to be absolutely critical to the product design and development cycle and I’ve been eager to share what I’ve been learning about it with designers who may yet to include it in their own toolkits.

On Wednesday, May 24 at 4pm EAT (UTC +3)/8pm WIB (UTC +7) I will be giving a presentation on how user testing can help you design better products. I’ll go over various options for performing user tests, how user tests can help you pitch your work to stakeholders, and how user tests can help your team move from shipping anything to shipping the right things.

I’ll be joined by Indonesian UX designer and illustrator Dany Rizky who will share how to bring your product to life through the use of illustration.

Product Design Indonesia
The photo of me in this promotional piece does not accurately reflect my current beard length

The livestream will be free for anyone to join and will (hopefully) include a Q&A session. Check out the Facebook event page for further details and to find the link to the livestream on the day of the event.

Since arriving in Kampala, I’ve been looking to connect with others in the region who are using design to solve complex problems. For a while, the only evidence I’d found of such a community existing was a Facebook page for a group whose last post was announcing an event back in January. Not very promising.

I started looking up resources and suggestions for running user tests in Uganda and found an article by Jacqui Watson of Praekelt.org sharing the lessons she learned performing user tests in Kabale, Uganda. Praekelt.org doesn’t have an office in Uganda so there’s no opportunity to meet with them, but it was encouraging to see other teams practicing human-centred design in Uganda.

After a bit more searching, I came across an organization called Design Without Borders which appeared to operate exclusively in Uganda. Reading through their case studies, I was floored by the work they were doing. I sent an email in the hopes of connecting with someone there and when I received a response, was pleasantly surprised to be invited to the grand opening of their new office in a new co-working space called Design Hub Kampala.

The following Saturday, my partner, a colleague, and I found ourselves wandering through a beautifully renovated warehouse which now houses eight design-focused companies. The space was filled with glass walls, modern wooden desks, and presentations of work from each tenant.

Design Hub Kampala
I have to admit, I'm jealous of this space

I spoke briefly with one of Design Without Borders’ design trainees who shared her story of joining the organization with a background in interior design and being trained in human-centred design. To learn of an organization in Kampala so focused on training a new generation of local designers was inspiring.

Design Without Borders

Design Hub Kampala appears to be an amazing addition to the community of Kampala. My hope is that in the short time I have left in Uganda I can make some connections with people in the space and begin the process of growing Ensibuuko’s design team.

While designing and developing a new product, your team is making a number of assumptions about the people who will use the product, their skill level and understanding of how technology works, and how they conceptualize the task they need to accomplish. The number of assumptions made is multiplied by the cultural differences between yourself, your team, and the end user.

Over the past couple of months, the development team at Ensibuuko has been working on a complete rewrite of the platform they’ve created to help microfinancing organizations in Africa bring a higher level of accountability and security to their record keeping. The goals of this project are to improve the stability, performance, and usability of the product.

To address the performance and usability of the product, our team has embarked on implementing user testing as a means of validating our assumptions and ensuring that the feedback loop between making a decision and validating it is as short as possible.

As we begin to implement this process in our organization, it’s important to consider some of the differences between my experience in North America and the realities of designing and testing products in Africa.

If you build it, they might not be able to come

When I first proposed the idea of testing our nascent product with users, the first assumption I made was thinking we could invite 5–6 participants to visit our office. This is how we ran user tests at Brewhouse and is the method recommended by most practitioners of design sprints.

A benefit of performing the tests in your office is setting up an observation room for your team members. This allows the test facilitator to focus on providing clear instruction and guidance to the participant, while observers can take notes and keep track of how long each task takes using a tool like The Rainbow Spreadsheet.

One of my colleagues wisely suggested offering the people we hoped to invite some money to help with the cost of transportation. With our new allowance in hand, we started calling customers we hoped could help us test the new product.

What we found was that while the cost of transportation was certainly an issue, the crux of the matter was people simply couldn’t afford the time it would take to travel to our office and back.

Our solution: if they can’t come to us, we’ll go to them.

Use the technology the user is most familiar with

Inherent in a user’s ability to use your product is their familiarity with the device with which they interact. Most people who have a computer in Uganda have Windows PCs because that’s what they can afford. I knew tossing a Macbook in front of our users would not only be intimidating, it could also have been offensive.

Another key difference between these two platforms is the keyboard. The average typing speed of the people I’ve observed is approximately ¼ the speed of my Canadian compatriots. Putting an unfamiliar keyboard layout in front of someone can dramatically reduce their typing speed even further. It was important that we try to maximize the familiarity with the input device as much as possible.

Even then, having a similar keyboard might not be enough. Our first test participant, who normally uses a USB keyboard and mouse hooked up to a tower PC, struggled to avoid touching the Windows laptop’s trackpad while typing. Since we were testing product in his office, we were able to circumvent this by connecting his own keyboard and mouse.

It’s also important to note here that most people I’ve observed using computers in Uganda use the pointer to click from field to field. This isn’t always the case, but is definitely a consideration to keep in mind when designing form fields. Fields should be obvious and large enough to make it easy to click from one to the next.

Record locally ‘cause you can’t trust the cloud

There are many options for recording each test session. While working in North America, I’ve found Lookback to be extremely simple to use and generally very reliable.

One of the downsides to not testing with my Mac is the lack of a native Windows app for recording and uploading videos to Lookback. The Lookback app for Mac records the videos locally and then uploads them in the background. On countless occasions the upload has been disrupted due to an interruption in the network connection. Each time, the upload continued as soon as the connection was reestablished.

Lookback suggests using their Chrome extension and self-test links to record tests on a PC. While this is a reasonable approach, the videos must be uploaded immediately. Otherwise, you’ll lose them. I learned this the hard way.

In Uganda, Internet connections are generally unreliable. So much so that Ensibuuko has established a relationship with Airtel allowing them to provide customers with a dedicated APN (Access Point Name). The APN connects the customer’s computer directly to the Ensibuuko server at Airtel. While this provides a more reliable connection, it also limits the connection to the single server. This means the client device can’t connect to other servers such as Lookback’s.

Our solution to this was to tether our client’s device to my iPhone which has a 4G connection through MTN. While this allowed us to perform the test, the connection was still far too slow for the upload to finish in a reasonable time. The instructions provided by Lookback state that uploads will resume if a connection is lost. Evidently, this does not include lost connections caused by putting the device to sleep.

Unfortunately, we lost one of the two user tests we performed yesterday. Next time, we will record the test locally using the Windows 10 screen recording tool. While we will certainly miss many of Lookback’s features such as syncing the screen recording with a video of the user captured through the webcam, it will ensure we never lose another recording again.

Be Prepared

All of this has caused me to remember the motto I learned as a young Boy Scout: Be Prepared. From having fake profiles prepared ahead of time to ensuring Webpack was running to having a backup recording solution saving our test sessions on the local machine, there are so many ways in which our user tests could have been performed better. Thankfully, we’ll have plenty of time to further improve our process over the next few months of the project.

It’s been just over a week since Andrea and I landed in Uganda. My mind is still processing the innumerable observations I’ve made and thoughts I’ve had since arriving in our new temporary home. At this rate, I expect it will take a lifetime to fully comprehend everything I’ve witnessed just one week in.

During an unexpected layover in Brussels, Belgium, we visited Grand Place and enjoyed some fine Belgian chocolate (sadly, no waffles). The next day, we finally found ourselves flying over the Mediterranean Sea and the Northern countries of Africa. Upon landing, a sea of signs—set in Arial—directed us to the customs counters. A few minutes later, we were officially on Ugandan soil.

Standing amongst a throng of drivers was Tonny, holding a sign with “Pat” scrawled in blue pen over his head. Tonny drove us from the airport in Entebbe to our apartment in the Kololo district of Kampala, stopping at the local KFC for our first meal in Uganda. Not exactly authentic African cuisine, but it was just what our hungry bellies needed.

The next day, Tonny brought me and Andrea to Kamwokya Market, a strip of small shops offering local produce and groceries like matooke, posho, beans, and more. We passed on the meat this time around (though the men manning the meat shops did trick me into giving them an inappropriate hand signal), but explored behind the main row of shops where, under dim lights and sketchy scaffolding, we purchased some of the best produce I’ve ever eaten.

We brought the food home and cooked our first somewhat-authentic meal: posho and beans. Posho is a porridge-like substance that becomes somewhat firm and is eaten by hand along with a “sauce” made up of either beans or meat and veggies. It was absolutely delicious.

On Sunday, Tonny brought his girlfriend to our place to show Andrea how to cook matooke. The four of us shared dinner and stories. Later, Tonny’s girlfriend offered us a tray of eggs. They were also very delicious.

Monday was my first day at the Ensibuuko office. Before heading in to meet the team, Corey and Jamal—two Canadian developers who arrived a couple of months before me—took me out for breakfast to update me on the status of the project and to give me a lay of the land. The team, though junior in experience, are full of vigour and drive and are starting to gain some momentum on the rewrite of the product.

On Wednesday, I joined several members of the team to celebrate the birthday of one of our developers, Fredrick. We had a great time sharing drinks and laughs as Fredrick wore the ceremonial sombrero (yes, it was a Mexican restaurant).

Fredrick & Corey
Fredrick & Corey

The rest of the week was spent familiarizing myself with the product, getting the dev environment set up on my computer, and introducing the team to product briefs. Harriet, a computer science grad hired as a documenter prior to my arrival, has been unofficially promoted to Product Manager in Training and has been doing a fantastic job.

On Saturday, Tonny took me and Andrea to Kabaka’s Lake. We walked around the lake and found ourselves in an area far more poverty stricken than the district of Kololo. The lake itself seemed to divide two completely different worlds; fancy apartment buildings and hotels on one side and tiny shacks and free-roaming livestock on the other.

We walked from the lake to Mengo Hospital where Andrea is now volunteering. The things we saw along the way had a tremendous impact on me. The level of poverty was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, yet perhaps even more striking was the fact that not a single person we interacted with that day asked for our help. Instead, we were met with friendly smiles and handshakes. And of course, several people commented on my beard.

At this point, I’m still processing the things we saw that day. To walk through an area like that is a privilege I don’t take lightly. At times, it was all I could do to hold back tears. My heart breaks for the people who live in that environment every day, from the toddler who grasped Andrea’s hand in wonder to the men and women who have lived this way their entire lives. I am so grateful that the work I am doing with Ensibuuko has the potential to at least begin the process of helping people living in poverty begin to find financial security.

This week marked a major milestone in my life: for the first time ever, I left the continent of North America.

I’ve long had an interest in travelling and spent a good chunk of the last decade flying and driving all over my home continent. From Burns Lake, BC to Atlanta, GA and many places in between, each city brought exciting new experiences and memories I’ll not soon forget.

As great as each of these trips has been, ultimately the foundations of North American cities share more in common than they differ. Consistently paved roads, clear and legible wayfinding, generally solid infrastructure, and — well — safe drinking water.

None of which can be said of the city where my partner and I are currently staying. While paved roads exist most are dirt, street signs are often non-existent, electricity turns off for seemingly no rhyme or reason,1 and the water is best served post-boiling.

This city, for those who missed the news on Twitter, is Kampala, Uganda.


Home to ~1.5MM people, Kampala is the largest city in a country of over 37MM. For a bit of perspective, the population density of Vancouver — Canada’s most dense city — is 5,492/km2 while Kampala’s clocks in at 7,928/km2.

Of course population density isn’t the only difference between these two cities. However, when you also consider the state of each city’s infrastructure, cultural differences, and overall quality of life, it becomes clear that we aren’t comparing oranges with oranges.

Not to mention the rest of Uganda, both urban and rural.

All of this is simply to point out one simple truth: Uganda is unlike any country I’ve ever been. And as a designer that both excites and scares the shit out of me.


A couple of months ago, my friend and colleague Boris Mann introduced me to Ed Levinson. Ed is an angel investor who has has been traveling to Uganda every January since 2011 to run umpiring training camps for Kampala’s little league teams.2

Through this experience, Ed “[became] interested in the educational and entrepreneurial aspects of international development” which led to a relationship with Ugandan founders David & Gerald. Their startup, Ensibuuko, provides cloud-based banking software solutions to microfinance institutions.

These institutions — Savings and Credit Cooperatives and Village Savings and Loans Associations — serve sub-Saharan Africa’s 500 million unbanked individuals. Unlike a bank, which in Africa provides its services at rates unaffordable by many people, these microfinance institutions aim to provide people the ability to save and borrow money when doing so with a bank is cost prohibitive.

Like many other aspects of Ugandan life, these institutions lack the infrastructure commonly found in North American financial institutions. Ensibuuko aims to provide that infrastructure and to do so in a way that is native to Ugandan culture.


As a product designer, it is my job to uncover the jobs for which a customer will “hire” a product. Through a discovery process that involves user interviews and discussions around business models and strategy, I try to help founders and product managers understand what their customers need and design solutions to bring that value to the customer. Perhaps I am a bit naive, but I believe a significant portion of our collective understanding comes from a familiarity with North American culture — people, for the most part, work roughly 40 hours a week and are looking for ways to save time and get more done, faster.

Now two days into my time here in Kampala, I realize none of that familiarity applies.

And so, it will be my job to figure out how to apply best practices of product design to the problems Ensibuuko aims to solve. My hope is that the processes and methodologies I’ve learned over the last decade will help. User research, design sprints, job stories, prototyping, and user testing are the tools I intend to use to discover how to design a product for the Ugandan people. I’m sure I’ll have some missteps. Perhaps I will find it difficult to translate processes and skills I cultivated in North America to an African context. My goal is to write and share the lessons I learn along the way for those who will surely follow in my footsteps.

  1. Of course there are reasons, I’ve simply yet to discover them. 

  2. When I graduated from elementary school, we were asked what about our career aspirations which were to be announced during the ceremony. My choice was “Major League Umpire”. 

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