Why Clunky Is OK: The Building Blocks of Adoption

As most of you reading this blog know, more people in the world own mobile phones than computers, and this becomes more and more true every day. They...

Allison Mooney
Allison Mooney on December 11, 2008.

As most of you reading this blog know, more people in the world own mobile phones than computers, and this becomes more and more true every day. They are becoming absolutely critical for everyday life, in developing countries especially, as phones bring new found freedom and possibilities.

This is especially true with it comes to banking and finance, and we’re seeing a lot of innovation in this sector. For instance, a new pilot study in Mumbai by a start up called Eko and the Centurion Bank of Punjab offers a simple saving account that can all be managed through a cellphone. The solution enables money transfers and balance checks by dialing a string of characters e.g., *543*190123456789*100*1133740274# would send 100 rupees to someone.

Um, this sounds ridiculously complicated, right? Well, according to Jan Chipchase, people may be more up to the challenge than we’d expect (emphasis ours).

Service design is challenging but a number of factors stand in Eko’s favour – the service leverages a known behaviour (dialing a long phone number) on a ubiquitously available technology (mobile phones) and only uses the most basic features of that technology (USSD/SMS). It also leverages a neighbourhood network of service representatives to sign up and assist (new) customers, which in turn supports what we term proximate usage – where it’s not necessary to know how to do everything yourself if there’s someone nearby who can take care of it for you.

So maybe its not so complicated after all. So long as it’s accessible by everyone and it works, who cares if it’s clunky? There seem to be just three fundamentals when it comes to new technology adoption:

  1. Discovery: Is there an easy and reliable way for people to learn about it? (Does their network use it? Can their teenager explain it them?)
  2. Utility: Does it enable them to do something they need or want to do? (Is it useful in any way? Even if it’s use is pure entertainment, it needs to accomplish something.)
  3. Motivation:  How badly do they need or want to do this? (If its complicated, is it worth investing the time to learn? The more complicated it is, the more vital it needs to be….)

We’re so focused on “user experience” and design here that perhaps we get ahead of ourselves and miss these fundamentals. Just think about Twitter, which has spread like wildfire despite crashing all the time. Meanwhile, some of the slickest software won’t take off for reasons seemingly unknown. In the end, we always come back to the basics. Chipchase sums this up well by quoting Neal Stephenson:

In the beginning was the command line. When the search engine is the primary interface and you start to go beyond the basics we’ve gone full circle.