Danny Keane - Product Designer
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Designing for a global mobile network

Follow the process of how I built an in-house design team, whilst designing and shipping an app for a global mobile network that enables traveling business users to communicate without the roaming costs, which contributed to raising a staggering $118m in funding

Introduction

Introduction

Truphone is a global mobile network that operates internationally. It's core product is its state of the art globally connected network that offers customers a unique prepaid mobile experience with no roaming fees no matter where they are in the world.

The core product is distributed through tariffs mainly tailored to business users, allowing them to store multiple phone numbers on one Truphone sim card, whilst being local in up to 8 international countries.

The challenge was to design a native application that would enable business users to make/receive calls and text messages via the Truphone service. The application would act as a replacement for the pre-installed contact list that comes standard on iOS and Android.  

I was hired as the lead designer back in 2013 for this project and worked directly with the core engineering team, major product stakeholders. During my time here I was also responsible for building an in house design team and culture within the company.

Starting from ground zero

Starting from ground zero

When I joined Truphone, this project was completely brand new. I had been hired at the time where the discussions for how things were going to pan out had only just begun. 

This was an exciting time as it meant that we were all starting from a completely blank slate. I quickly settled into my role and began to kickstart the work on my projected roadmap for the next 12 months. We agreed that for our first launch, we should focus on iOS first since this had the largest market share. Other devices would eventualy follow.

I began by conducting research on the extensive list of business clients that were currently using the service in order to find out what their requirements were. 

The goal of this initiative was to help better connect the customers to the companies core infrastructure by building applications that provided business users with a contact book on steroids. 

Learning how the customers opperate

Learning how the customers opperate

Through the extensive user research I quickly found that much like any busy person, time and efficiency was everything. We couldn't afford to create an application that beat around the bush. It needed to be powerful, contextual and get the job done well.

It needed to be able to withstand a high volume of caller ID's and offer smart ways to make calls to the most frequent users whilst being able to manage calls from multiple phone numbers assigned to a users account.

We needed to also ensure that if a user made a call or text via the native call/messaging application that it was also logged and recorded within our application to ensure that no information was lost. 

Catering for an eager global audience

Catering for an eager global audience

Launching a product to an eager global market isn't easy. Truphone had already amassed a large number of globally operating business users using its service. This meant that we needed to set off on the right foot.

There had been a lot of noise from sales teams touting the possibilities of this product to their customers, which got customers really excited. It was almost as if we were about to jump into a sea of hungry pirañas, they were eager to get ahold of this product.

With this being the case we needed to take into consideration things like localization and other restrictions that may occur when launching to different markets, not everyone maybe able to use the features we initially ship with. This played a big role in deciding where time should be spent in the early stages. I worked closely with the product stakeholders to help formulate an initial game plan.

Outlining the design principles

Outlining the design principles

In order to help align our design efforts with business goals as well as creating a coherent message throughout the product we took time to outlined our design principles.

Simple and relevant — Our users have very little time to waste, and/or contribute. The product and its interface should be intuitive, direct and easy to use.

Provide value — Every element, feature and interaction should provide value to the user and should aid in their ability to complete a task.

Enforce trust — As we are dealing with personal information, the product must give a sense of trust and security. Colors, typography, messaging, element and animation all need to be applicable. This is a product for professionals.

Crafting the user flow: On-boarding

Crafting the user flow: On-boarding

Visualize a cage of lions at feeding time as soon as they see the zoo keeper with meat in their hands.

This analogy was very close to what we were dealing with. The issue was that these users had never used an application from Truphone before so on-boarding these users for the first time was highly important.

When it came to users technical ability the spectrum was fairly broad. This further solidified that our on-boarding process needed to be efficient in educating and guiding users through our features.

Wireframes

Wireframes

Once userflows were done, I moved onto the wireframes of our main screens clearly detailing the interactions and touch points on how each element would work.

There were many different iterations of these screens as I tried to think of as many possibilities as possible. It was unrealistic to think that we could cater for every solution but taking the time to explore allowed me to narrow down a clear direction for what would be relevant to our goals as a product. 

Designing components

Designing components

Expanding out of the constraints of the application and thinking of features as groups of powerful components helped develop a series of highly functional elements that enhanced the user experience dramatically.

Taking this approach allowed us to create multiple uses for each component based off of the devices touch gestures. 

Developing a good relationship with engineering teams

Developing a good relationship with engineering teams

With the component sets starting to take shape, the application was starting to come alive. In order to get engineers on the same page I put together a series of spec sheets that outlined all of the most important parts of our design. Element sizing, colors, font sizing, and interactive properties.

This ensured that they were able to hit the ground running and could focus on getting real world data pumped into our design so that we were able to test and ironing out any inconsistencies as we progressed further.

Meaningful Motion

On the surface the application could seem fairly simple. It's just a highly functional contact list after all. 

Going back to our design principles it was important that we created a product of relevance, that didn't delay actions or cloud decision making. With these points noted I began to explore how we could begin to introduce the use of meaningful motion in order to create an engaging experience. 

Sometimes designers prioritize these things a little too highly over solving an actual problem.  In this case however, we had provided ways to solve our problems and these treatments were used to enhance an experience. I think it's important that the user receives feedback (and an application give feedback) wherever possible. This can help reassure the user that things are happening. 

Shipping the product

Shipping the product

After weeks of internal testing and segmented public beta builds with select customers groups, we were finally ready to release the application to our larger audience.

In true tech fashion our aim was to ship as quickly as we could. The initial business focus was on get the iOS application into the hands of our users first since, that was the largest market share. From here we would be able to get a good understanding for how well the product would do. 

Testimonial

Testimonial

"When Danny joined us at Truphone, it really created a step-change in quality in our digital products. He immediately fitted in really well with our existing team, and gently brought his influence to all of our web and mobile products.

Danny is very considered in his approach, and can always explain his intentions and design vision in great detail.

He was also able to engage with the business level requirements from our product team; he turned his hand easily to business and consumer focussed interfaces, creating designs that would appeal to our target market, and was essential in identifying other talented designers that we could recruit into our team."

Adam Linford
Head of Labs and Mobile Applications at Truphone
Source

Conclusion

Creating a product for a global audience is hard — We faced many constraints especially when we launched in Asian markets. These required various changes to the way certain features were originally designed, but it was fun and interesting to see and experience. 

Fostering a good relationship between design and engineering teams is important — It was a valuable experience to have worked with such a large engineering team, there were times where we both relied heavily on one another. It was important to always remain clear and transparent with reasonings for our decisions.

Taking the time to teach and learn form one another was probably the most valuable thing of all. At the end of the day, a fundamental part of being a great designer is being able to understand what the current problems are