User Research – Product and Service Innovation: An interview with Aleksi Aaltonen, Chief Social Scientist and Chairman of the Board, Moves app
The aim of User Research – Product and Service Innovation series of interviews is to act as a source of inspiration and information about the role of user research. We have just started working on the series of interviews and if you would like to be interviewed please do not hesitate to contact Richard Linington.
Hi Aleksi could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am an entrepreneur and management scholar with twenty years’ experience in digital innovation. Back in the mid-1990s, I started doing multimedia presentations with two other Moves co-founders, Sampo Karjalainen and Aapo Kyrölä. Then I moved to Internet and mobile services, and now we are focusing on a new category of apps. I also completed a PhD in Management at the London School of Economics and I have one foot in the ‘academic world’. I find it extremely rewarding if sometimes exhausting to develop and study digital innovations at the same time.
Can you briefly describe the Moves app?
Moves is a new kind of activity tracker. The idea is that all you need to do is to carry your phone in a pocket or bag. The app automatically records and visualizes your daily activities so that you can take control of your habits more easily. There is no need to start and stop the app, and you don’t have to buy an expensive gadget.
Moves is designed to appeal to those of us who are not necessarily fitness freaks but would like get bit more physical exercise in their everyday life.
Could you provide an overview of the design process you used to progress from identifying and defining the opportunity through to the development and testing of the Moves app?
The problem of innovation is often that you try to help people create new behaviour. Since that behaviour does not yet exist, it is impossible to study directly. Overall, we have adapted the lean startup methodology for our company. When developing the original Moves concept, we learned through a number of iterative experiments which gradually strengthened our vision about Moves. A successful launch in January confirmed that there is a genuine market need for Moves.
What role has user research played in the development of the Moves app and which user research methods did you and your team use?
User research has played an extremely important role in the development of Moves. The most important thing is to have specific questions you want to answer. Then you can choose the right method. We have used paper prototypes, online surveys, laboratory walkthroughs, diary studies, guerrilla studies, crowd sourced studies, quantitative A/B and traditional acceptance tests.
Did you face any particular challenges when carrying out the user research?
Yes, we have faced two important if somewhat obvious challenges in our user research. First, sometimes there simply is no way to answer the question. No suitable method may exist or it may be too expensive to carry out. In such cases, there may be no other option than trusting your intuition. Secondly, the results of a study always reflect to some degree the method itself. It is sometimes difficult to tell if the findings inform you about an issue you want to understand or merely reflect the methodology.
An important aspect we have learned has also been that the process of planning, executing and analysis is extremely valuable. We have outsourced parts of the process and used contractors to help carry out the research, but I think we made the right decision by not simply buying turn-key user research.
Since launching I imagine that you have collected a significant amount of data about the user experience. How is this being used to enhance the Moves app?
If the automatic activity recognition makes a mistake, the user can correct it manually. We use the corrections to teach our algorithms to become more accurate. Also, we get feedback both to our customer support email and in social media. This gives us the overall ‘pulse’ of what the users think about Moves and how they would like to see it develop.
Aleksi, perhaps we could end on something about the next steps for the Moves app?
We are currently working on two major projects: API and Android version. The idea of API is to allow other developers to enhance the user experiences by creating new things on top of Moves. Our Android version was previewed at Google I/O developer conference and will be launched this summer (see http://moves-app.com/androidpreview). Also, we are working to improve the activity and place recognition in the app as well as bringing new core features such as a calorie counter to Moves.
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