November 4, 2013

Want to Feel Badass? A Design Teardown of Music App Mindie.

Last night me and Mindie were fooling around in bed. It was fun and delightfully surprising. Mindie isn't like the others. She continues to inspire me with her creativity, passion, and beauty.

I met Mindie only few weeks ago. It was love at first sight -- we instantly connected. She makes me smile, laugh, and feel good about myself despite her young age.

Who is Mindie? Mindie is an app.

Mindie turns life into a music video. Simply select a song, record a six second video, and let Mindie do its magic. But is there room for another video-sharing app? Instagram, Vine, Cinegram, and many others, already consume our daily habits and home screen real-estate.

The app lacks many obvious features like user profiles, following, category browsing, push notifications, or invite mechanisms. Despite this, its community of music-loving videographers help spread the word, growing 15 percent week-over-week and consuming an average of 60 videos per daily active user since its soft launch just three weeks ago.

Mindie's early growth metrics isn't a happy mistake or driven by unsustainable growth tactics. It's just good product design. By mixing two pieces of media together, it creates something entirely new and compelling.

At 2012's Business of Software Conference, Kathy Sierra posits that users don't care about your company or product. It's about how it makes them feel.

"[Don't focus] on what the user thinks of you. It’s about what the user is able to do, and to be able to become badass[...]  People aren’t using the app because they like the app or they like you.  They’re doing it because they like themselves. What are you doing to enable more of that.  And whatever anybody says everyone wants this.  So this is one of the most powerful experiences that we can give people."

Ultimately, people desire experiences that make them feel badass. Many of today's most successful products are badass enablers, motivating people to share photos on Instagram ("Look at my artistic creativity!"), reply to emails with a Giphy animated GIF ("I'm hilarious - AMIRIGHT?"), and order on-demand black car service through Uber ("Yeah, I'm a baller."). These apps empower users and make them feel badass.

Mindie is no different. Its co-founder, Grégoire Henrion, eloquently described its magical, badass endowing powers in a recent interview: "Music is a catalyst for creativity. It’s very complicated to shoot an interesting video, but if you put music on an awful video, it will make it interesting."

Users naturally want to share their interesting creations. Mindie doesn't need to use shady dark patterns to fool users into sharing. They do because they want to and when you give users something to share that makes them look good, they will continue to spread the word and return to the app for more.

Constraints increase engagement and badassery

Making users feel badass often requires a reduction of control. We're not all badass photographers, comedians, or film makers but by removing functionality, the product reduces - and sometimes eliminates -- pitfalls of shittyness(tm), guiding the user to create something compelling.

Imagine you are instructed to draw something with box of crayons and a blank sheet of paper. You might ponder, "What should I draw? Which colors do I use? How will this presented?" The limitless options and lack of context can be overwhelming.

When I was a child, I drew comic strips using templates, tracing cartoon characters to form my own unique creation. The characters' diverse expressions joy, surprise, and sadness inspired my story, instigating creativity and enabling me to create something better than if given a blank sheet of paper. Proudly, I posted my comics on the refrigerator with glee, seeking validation from my parents. Confines were my friend.

Mindie isn't all that different from the confines of my childhood comic book kit. The music frames the video, inspiring the creation.  Selected songs are limited to pre-selected looping snippets -- users aren't burdened to select a specific part of the music. And similar to Vine, Mindie limits users to six seconds of video, shot in quick-cuts by pressing on the screen.

While these limitations may seem counterproductive to inventiveness, they are in fact enablers. Constrained media breeds creativity and is one of the leading factors in Twitter, Vine, Dribbble, and others' success. By restricting what users can do, Mindie reduces cognitive overhead in making choices. Users don't need to decide how long of a video to take. There's only six seconds. Users don't need to painstakingly scrub through music to select "the perfect" hook.

Mindie does this. These confines reduce friction and establish boundaries to inspire imagination.

The Aha! moment

User retention is a challenge for any business but especially for consumer mobile apps. According to a study by a mobile analytics firm, 22% percent of mobile apps in Q3 of 2012 were downloaded and used just once and just over half lost the user after their fifth visit. Further data suggests people are using more applications but engaging with them less frequently.

In a market of fickle consumers and endless free apps, it's never been more important to hook users quickly. Mindie immediately jumps first time users into consumption mode, presenting the best creations in a feed similar to Frontback or Vine's curated picks of creative, inspiring videos. The moment one views their first Mindie, they get it. But what is "it"?

Mindie's "aha! moment" is driven by the nostalgic power of music.  In an instant, music resurfaces past memories and emotions. Dr. Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University studied the effects of music-induced nostalgia, playing popular songs and providing lyrics to participants. Those exposed to the music were more likely to report that they felt "loved" and that "life is worth living" than a control group.  Dr. Routledge posits that, "Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function.  It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives."

Another study by Adrian Vingerhoets, professor at Tilburg University, reports similar findings. "What we found was that [nostalgic music elicited] feelings of social connectedness with others. It helps to recover or repair when you are lonely. It makes you feel better." But even more surprising was its physiological effect. Participants not only reported more positive feelings, they actually felt warmer. Mindie leverages this nostalgic influence to bring users to the "aha! moment" immediately.

Most products fail to deliver an "aha! moment" before users leave, never to return.  Those that do manage to help users see the light, often do so after several repeat visits, re-engaging users through email alerts, push notifications, and other external triggers. But, even better, the few products that can deliver an "Aha! moment" immediately, increase the chances the user will return a second, third, or 100th time.

Music re-engages users

Every action we take is triggered by something. Be it a vending machine offering a tasty beverage, a growling stomach asking to be fed, or gorgeous sunset prompting to be captured in a photo. This stimulus influences our behavior. Fortunate for Mindie, triggers to use the product are everywhere.

Music is all around us -- in the car, at the club, on TV, and in cafes. For the active Mindie user, this constant stimuli creates evergreen inspiration to create. Once a strong association is formed with the product, everyday ambient music becomes a trigger to create and capture memories in a unique, expressive way.

By building an experience centered around music using a device people carry at all times, Mindie stands a chance to leverage this ubiquitous trigger to re-engage users.

What can consumer product designers learn from Mindie?

  • Users don't care about you or your product. They care about themselves so use this to your advantage. People want to feel badass and products that achieve this encourage users to share with friends and return for more.
  • Constraints are your friend. Limitations can reduce cognitive overhead in decision making, guide user creation, and inspire creativity.
  • Products that deliver an "aha! moment" quickly are more memorable and increase the chances users will return -- an especially difficult challenge in the competitive, freemium mobile market.
  • Identify triggers that bring users back to your product. Those that leverage everyday stimuli have the ability to transform these occurrences into re-engagement.
  • You never know if your app will fly or die until you see how users respond and use the product. Launching early without standard social features enables the team to test their core hypothesis quickly and iterate on the product using actual user behavior.

Although early, Mindie's off to a good start. Now excuse me while I go be a badass.

More Writing by Ryan