Tag Archives: product

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The Best Customer Acquisition Techniques You Need to Start Testing

customer-acquisition-9

Customer acquisition is all about convincing people to buy your products or service. That’s it. But it’s more complicated than you might think. You have to understand your customers’ buyers journeys and how they make the decision to buy (or to not buy). You might have heard that old adage about how much less expensive it is to retain customers than to acquire them. In fact, it’s about five times less expensive. That statistic sounds powerful, but it leaves an important element out of the equation. To retain customers, you first must acquire them. If you already have 10 million…

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The Best Customer Acquisition Techniques You Need to Start Testing

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3 Best Ways to Increase Conversions Through Influencer Content

The power of a word of mouth is incredible and it should never be underestimated. People refer other users’ recommendations way too often to neglect them. That is where the power of influencer content comes into play. Due to the massive reach and engagement, the opinion of a thought leader helps build brand awareness and increase conversion rates for your brand. The outcome however will depend on how well you formulate your influencer marketing. Working with the niche influencers is not only a good way to promote your product, but also to create quality content. Focus on long-term benefits, and…

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3 Best Ways to Increase Conversions Through Influencer Content

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Making Market Forces Work for You: A Q&A With Product Positioning Pro April Dunford

There are only a few instances when I wish I could travel back in time. One is when I’m reading the kid’s menu. One is when I stumble upon Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure on TBS. And one is after I’ve launched a new product or campaign.

You and I may share that last one.

Though we typically know the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted, it’s the pesky unknowns us marketers wrestle with before a new product launch that keep us up at night. Things like: Is the product’s name right? Is the copy clear, but boring? Clever, but convoluted? Is the value as obvious as it should be?

Beyond messaging, most often, it comes down to whether your product’s positioning is right from the start; whether you set the product up in the right conditions and market category in the first place.

We all know the market is more saturated than ever. But what if, instead of fighting it, we used that momentum to our advantage?

April Dunford is the Founder of Rocket Launch Marketing, the former VP of Marketing for a series of high-growth startups and previous executive at big-wig companies like IBM and Nortel. She’s also a speaker, author and in-demand consultant specializing in product positioning. Advising companies on go-to-market strategy and messaging, she ensures they’re going after the right category and communicating their offering in a way that grabs prospects’ attention and makes its value crystal clear.

Basically, April knows her stuff. And she’ll be bringing her smarts to the CTAConf stage in August! But we have the patience of a toddler waiting for an iPad to charge, so we peppered her with some burning questions in anticipation of her talk. She was the top-rated speaker at last year’s conference, so we know this year’s gonna be good. You can enjoy a little time traveling to 2017 via the clip below:


Check out our Q&A with April below and keep your eyes peeled for the exclusive-to-everyone-who-reads-this-post discount code to see her in person.

First thing’s first: What exactly is product positioning and how does it differ from brand positioning?

April: You might say “Positioning” has its own positioning problem! It’s such a misunderstood concept. For some folks it’s mainly a messaging exercise, while others associate it very closely with branding. But positioning is much, much broader than either of those things.

Product positioning describes the specific market you intend to win and why you are uniquely qualified to win it. It’s the underpinning of your go-to-market strategy and impacts everything from marketing to sales, to customer success and the product itself.

What’s the first thing a client asks when you sit down with them?

April: Most CEOs don’t know it’s a product positioning problem they have. They know their customers have a hard time understanding what their product is all about and why they should care. That confusion results in long sales cycles, low close rates and poor marketing campaign performance.

A lot of the work I do is centered around teaching folks how to create context for their products by focusing on making value obvious to customers. Positioning as a concept isn’t new but, until now, we’ve all been pretty terrible at actually doing the work it requires. I teach companies a process for finding and delivering the best position for their products.

What’s the most common mistake you’ve seen businesses make with their go-to-market strategy?

April: Hands down, the most common mistake I see is companies trying to market to a set of customers that is much too broad. The reasoning is that, by going after a massive market, it will be easier to claim a small piece of it.

In reality, the opposite is true. Broad targeting puts your offering in direct competition with established market leaders that can both out-market and out-sell you. Beyond that, it leads to diluted messaging that waters down your best features and differentiators.

The easier—and far more effective thing to do—is target a smaller slice of customers who are highly suited to your product’s key features and the distinct value they can deliver.

Customers who most acutely feel the pain you address will be the most excited about your solution to that pain. They’ll pay you more, close faster and love your product so much they’ll end up marketing it for you. (Editor’s note: AKA the Holy Grail of marketing.)

Once you’ve established yourself with these highly suitable customers, you can build on your strengths and start to expand your targets to larger markets.

Can you tell us about the most challenging product positioning case you’ve worked on?

April: At IBM, I led the launch of a family of products that demanded an entirely new market category built from scratch. We had to convince customers, experts and analysts that certain market forces existed and would inevitably redraw the lines around existing market categories. On top of that, I had to convince them that IBM was the only company capable of drawing those lines.

There was also a catch: The products we had in that family weren’t particularly innovative on their own, at least not at the beginning. So the story itself hinged on convincing people that all of this revolutionary change was going to be sparked by the innovative combination of some pretty ho-hum products.

We managed to pull it off through sheer guts, a sprinkling of good luck and the deep marketing talent of my team at the time. But mainly, guts.

Your upcoming talk at CTAConf is about how to turn “marketing headwinds into tailwinds.” What do you mean by that?

April: In any market category, you’ll encounter extremely powerful forces that can either work for you or against you.

We often position our products in markets with strong competitors who are already perceived as leaders. Like swimming upstream, or fighting headwinds, we have to work extra hard to win in that environment.

Luckily, most products can be positioned in many different markets that offer greater chances of success. We just have to find ones where that inherent force is pushing us forward, like a tailwind, instead of pushing back on us.

In my talk, I’m going to outline exactly how you can use existing market forces to your advantage and grow revenue faster.

Want to hear this talk at CTAConf 2018? Get 10% off all Early Bird tickets ($80 off for General Attendees) by using the code “AprilCTAConf2018” at checkout.

What should marketers consider, before anything else, when launching a new product?

April: The success of a launch depends on how well you understand three things:

  1. The problem your product solves and the competition it faces.
  2. The true value your product delivers for customers.
  3. Which types of customers care the most about that value and, most importantly, why?

If you’ve got these down, you’ll know exactly who you need to reach, the channels you need to use to reach those people and the value proposition you need to communicate.

What should marketers be doing differently now in terms of product positioning vs. five years ago?

April: We should start doing it! Most companies don’t deliberately position their product. They assume a default positioning based on how they first thought about it.

For example, say you’ve built a new email client. But after you got it into the market, you got some feedback, added or removed features and continued to iterate on it. Now you may have a solution that’s best positioned as a “group chat” or “social network” or “team collaboration tool” instead of focusing on email capabilities.

The market frame of reference you choose will completely change the way customers perceive your product and their expectations around pricing, features, support and your competitors.

Because the markets are more crowded, more competitive and shifting faster than they ever have before, we can’t get away with ignoring product positioning if we want our products to be successful.

Get every actionable detail of April’s positioning framework and go-to-market guide in her upcoming talk at Call to Action Conference, this August 27-29. Use the code “AprilCTAConf2018” at checkout for 10% off single, group and customer rates (that’s on top of the Early Bird discount, ending May 31st)! Want more reasons to go? Click here for a bunch of ‘em.

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Making Market Forces Work for You: A Q&A With Product Positioning Pro April Dunford

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Building Mobile Apps Using React Native And WordPress




Building Mobile Apps Using React Native And WordPress

Muhammad Muhsin



As web developers, you might have thought that mobile app development calls for a fresh learning curve with another programming language. Perhaps Java and Swift need to be added to your skill set to hit the ground running with both iOS and Android, and that might bog you down.

But this article has you in for a surprise! We will look at building an e-commerce application for iOS and Android using the WooCommerce platform as our backend. This would be an ideal starting point for anyone willing to get into native cross-platform development.

A Brief History Of Cross-Platform Development

It’s 2011, and we see the beginning of hybrid mobile app development. Frameworks like Apache Cordova, PhoneGap, and Ionic Framework slowly emerge. Everything looks good, and web developers are eagerly coding away mobile apps with their existing knowledge.

However, mobile apps still looked like mobile versions of websites. No native designs like Android’s material design or iOS’s flat look. Navigation worked similar to the web and transitions were not buttery smooth. Users were not satisfied with apps built using the hybrid approach and dreamt of the native experience.

Fast forward to March 2015, and React Native appears on the scene. Developers are able to build truly native cross-platform applications using React, a favorite JavaScript library for many developers. They are now easily able to learn a small library on top of what they know with JavaScript. With this knowledge, developers are now targeting the web, iOS and Android.

Furthermore, changes done to the code during development are loaded onto the testing devices almost instantly! This used to take several minutes when we had native development through other approaches. Developers are able to enjoy the instant feedback they used to love with web development.

React developers are more than happy to be able to use existing patterns they have followed into a new platform altogether. In fact, they are targeting two more platforms with what they already know very well.

This is all good for front-end development. But what choices do we have for back-end technology? Do we still have to learn a new language or framework?

The WordPress REST API

In late 2016, WordPress released the much awaited REST API to its core, and opened the doors for solutions with decoupled backends.

So, if you already have a WordPress and WooCommerce website and wish to retain exactly the same offerings and user profiles across your website and native app, this article is for you!

Assumptions Made In This Article

I will walk you through using your WordPress skill to build a mobile app with a WooCommerce store using React Native. The article assumes:

  • You are familiar with the different WordPress APIs, at least at a beginner level.
  • You are familiar with the basics of React.
  • You have a WordPress development server ready. I use Ubuntu with Apache.
  • You have an Android or an iOS device to test with Expo.

What We Will Build In This Tutorial

The project we are going to build through this article is a fashion store app. The app will have the following functionalities:

  • Shop page listing all products,
  • Single product page with details of the selected item,
  • ‘Add to cart’ feature,
  • ‘Show items in cart’ feature,
  • ‘Remove item from cart’ feature.

This article aims to inspire you to use this project as a starting point to build complex mobile apps using React Native.

Note: For the full application, you can visit my project on Github and clone it.

Getting Started With Our Project

We will begin building the app as per the official React Native documentation. Having installed Node on your development environment, open up the command prompt and type in the following command to install the Create React Native App globally.

npm install -g create-react-native-app

Next, we can create our project

create-react-native-app react-native-woocommerce-store

This will create a new React Native project which we can test with Expo.

Next, we will need to install the Expo app on our mobile device which we want to test. It is available for both iOS and Android.

On having installed the Expo app, we can run npm start on our development machine.

cd react-native-woocommerce-store

npm start


Starting a React Native project through the command line via Expo. (Large preview)

After that, you can scan the QR code through the Expo app or enter the given URL in the app’s search bar. This will run the basic ‘Hello World’ app in the mobile. We can now edit App.js to make instant changes to the app running on the phone.

Alternatively, you can run the app on an emulator. But for brevity and accuracy, we will cover running it on an actual device.

Next, let’s install all the required packages for the app using this command:

npm install -s axios react-native-htmlview react-navigation react-redux redux redux-thunk

Setting Up A WordPress Site

Since this article is about creating a React Native app, we will not go into details about creating a WordPress site. Please refer to this article on how to install WordPress on Ubuntu. As WooCommerce REST API requires HTTPS, please make sure it is set up using Let’s Encrypt. Please refer to this article for a how-to guide.

We are not creating a WordPress installation on localhost since we will be running the app on a mobile device, and also since HTTPS is needed.

Once WordPress and HTTPS are successfully set up, we can install the WooCommerce plugin on the site.


Installing the WooCommerce plugin to our WordPress installation. (Large preview)

After installing and activating the plugin, continue with the WooCommerce store setup by following the wizard. After the wizard is complete, click on ‘Return to dashboard.’

You will be greeted by another prompt.


Adding example products to WooCommerce. (Large preview)

Click on ‘Let’s go‘ to ‘Add example products’. This will save us the time to create our own products to display in the app.

Constants File

To load our store’s products from the WooCommerce REST API, we need the relevant keys in place inside our app. For this purpose, we can have a constans.js file.

First create a folder called ‘src’ and create subfolders inside as follows:


Create the file ‘Constants.js’ within the constans folder. (Large preview)

Now, let’s generate the keys for WooCommerce. In the WordPress dashboard, navigate to WooCommerce → Settings → API → Keys/Apps and click on ‘Add Key.’

Next create a Read Only key with name React Native. Copy over the Consumer Key and Consumer Secret to the constants.js file as follows:

const Constants = 
   URL: 
wc: 'https://woocommerce-store.on-its-way.com/wp-json/wc/v2/'
   ,
   Keys: 
ConsumerKey: 'CONSUMER_KEY_HERE',
ConsumerSecret: 'CONSUMER_SECRET_HERE'
   
}
export default Constants;

Starting With React Navigation

React Navigation is a community solution to navigating between the different screens and is a standalone library. It allows developers to set up the screens of the React Native app with just a few lines of code.

There are different navigation methods within React Navigation:

  • Stack,
  • Switch,
  • Tabs,
  • Drawer,
  • and more.

For our Application we will use a combination of StackNavigation and DrawerNavigation to navigate between the different screens. StackNavigation is similar to how browser history works on the web. We are using this since it provides an interface for the header and the header navigation icons. It has push and pop similar to stacks in data structures. Push means we add a new screen to the top of the Navigation Stack. Pop removes a screen from the stack.

The code shows that the StackNavigation, in fact, houses the DrawerNavigation within itself. It also takes properties for the header style and header buttons. We are placing the navigation drawer button to the left and the shopping cart button to the right. The drawer button switches the drawer on and off whereas the cart button takes the user to the shopping cart screen.

const StackNavigation = StackNavigator(
 DrawerNavigation:  screen: DrawerNavigation 
}, 
   headerMode: 'float',
   navigationOptions: ( navigation, screenProps ) => (
     headerStyle:  backgroundColor: '#4C3E54' ,
     headerTintColor: 'white',
     headerLeft: drawerButton(navigation),
     headerRight: cartButton(navigation, screenProps)
   })
 });

const drawerButton = (navigation) => (
 <Text
   style= padding: 15, color: 'white' }
   onPress=() => 
     if (navigation.state.index === 0) 
       navigation.navigate('DrawerOpen')
      else 
       navigation.navigate('DrawerClose')
     
   }
   }> (
 <Text style= padding: 15, color: 'white' }
   onPress=() =>  navigation.navigate('CartPage') }
 >
   <EvilIcons name="cart" size=30 />
   screenProps.cartCount
 </Text>
);

DrawerNavigation on the other hands provides for the side drawer which will allow us to navigate between Home, Shop, and Cart. The DrawerNavigator lists the different screens that the user can visit, namely Home page, Products page, Product page, and Cart page. It also has a property which will take the Drawer container: the sliding menu which opens up when clicking the hamburger menu.

const DrawerNavigation = DrawerNavigator(
 Home: 
   screen: HomePage,
   navigationOptions: 
     title: "RN WC Store"
   
 },
 Products: 
   screen: Products,
   navigationOptions: 
     title: "Shop"
   
 },
 Product: 
   screen: Product,
   navigationOptions: ( navigation ) => (
     title: navigation.state.params.product.name
   ),
 },
 CartPage: 
   screen: CartPage,
   navigationOptions: 
     title: "Cart"
   
 }
}, 
   contentComponent: DrawerContainer
 );

#


Left: The Home page (homepage.js). Right: The open drawer (DrawerContainer.js).

Injecting The Redux Store To App.js

Since we are using Redux in this app, we have to inject the store into our app. We do this with the help of the Provider component.

const store = configureStore();

class App extends React.Component 
 render() 
   return (
     <Provider store=store>    
       <ConnectedApp />    
     </Provider>    
   )
 }
}

We will then have a ConnectedApp component so that we can have the cart count in the header.

class CA extends React.Component 
 render() 
   const cart = 
     cartCount: this.props.cart.length
   
   return (
     <StackNavigation screenProps=cart />
   );
 }
}

function mapStateToProps(state) 
 return 
   cart: state.cart
 ;
}

const ConnectedApp = connect(mapStateToProps, null)(CA);

Redux Store, Actions, And Reducers

In Redux, we have three different parts:

  1. Store
    Holds the whole state of your entire application. The only way to change state is to dispatch an action to it.
  2. Actions
    A plain object that represents an intention to change the state.
  3. Reducers
    A function that accepts a state and an action type and returns a new state.

These three components of Redux help us achieve a predictable state for the entire app. For simplicity, we will look at how the products are fetched and saved in the Redux store.

First of all, let’s look at the code for creating the store:

let middleware = [thunk];

export default function configureStore() 
    return createStore(
        RootReducer,
        applyMiddleware(...middleware)
    );

Next, the products action is responsible for fetching the products from the remote website.

export function getProducts() 
   return (dispatch) => 
       const url = `$Constants.URL.wcproducts?per_page=100&consumer_key=$Constants.Keys.ConsumerKey&consumer_secret=$Constants.Keys.ConsumerSecret`
      
       return axios.get(url).then(response => 
           dispatch(
               type: types.GET_PRODUCTS_SUCCESS,
               products: response.data
           
       )}).catch(err => 
           console.log(err.error);
       )
   };
}

The products reducer is responsible for returning the payload of data and whether it needs to be modified.

export default function (state = InitialState.products, action) 
    switch (action.type) 
        case types.GET_PRODUCTS_SUCCESS:
            return action.products;
        default:
            return state;
    
}

Displaying The WooCommerce Shop

The products.js file is our Shop page. It basically displays the list of products from WooCommerce.

class ProductsList extends Component 

 componentDidMount() 
   this.props.ProductAction.getProducts(); 
 

 _keyExtractor = (item, index) => item.id;

 render() 
   const  navigate  = this.props.navigation;
   const Items = (
     <FlatList contentContainerStyle=styles.list numColumns=2
       data=this.props.products  
       keyExtractor=this._keyExtractor
       renderItem=
         ( item ) => (
           <TouchableHighlight style= width: '50%' } onPress=() => navigate("Product",  product: item )} underlayColor="white">
             <View style=styles.view >
               <Image style=styles.image source= uri: item.images[0].src } />
               <Text style=styles.text>item.name</Text>
             </View>
           </TouchableHighlight>
         )
       }
     />
   );
   return (
     <ScrollView>
       this.props.products.length ? Items :
         <View style= alignItems: 'center', justifyContent: 'center' }>
           <Image style=styles.loader source=LoadingAnimation />
         </View>
       }
     </ScrollView>
   );
 }
}

this.props.ProductAction.getProducts() and this.props.products are possible because of mapStateToProps and mapDispatchToProps.


Products listing screen. (Large preview)

mapStateToProps and mapDispatchToProps

State is the Redux store and Dispatch is the actions we fire. Both of these will be exposed as props in the component.

function mapStateToProps(state) 
 return 
   products: state.products
 ;
}
function mapDispatchToProps(dispatch) 
 return 
   ProductAction: bindActionCreators(ProductAction, dispatch)
 ;
}
export default connect(mapStateToProps, mapDispatchToProps)(ProductsList);

Styles

In React, Native styles are generally defined on the same page. It’s similar to CSS, but we use camelCase properties instead of hyphenated properties.

const styles = StyleSheet.create(
 list: 
   flexDirection: 'column'
 ,
 view: 
   padding: 10
 ,
 loader: 
   width: 200,
   height: 200,
   alignItems: 'center',
   justifyContent: 'center',
 ,
 image: 
   width: 150,
   height: 150
 ,
 text: 
   textAlign: 'center',
   fontSize: 20,
   padding: 5
 
});

Single Product Page

This page contains details of a selected product. It shows the user the name, price, and description of the product. It also has the ‘Add to cart’ function.


Single product page. (Large preview)

Cart Page

This screen shows the list of items in the cart. The action has the functions getCart, addToCart, and removeFromCart. The reducer handles the actions likewise. Identification of actions is done through actionTypes — constants which describe the action that are stored in a separate file.

export const GET_PRODUCTS_SUCCESS = 'GET_PRODUCTS_SUCCESS'
export const GET_PRODUCTS_FAILED = 'GET_PRODUCTS_FAILED';

export const GET_CART_SUCCESS = 'GET_CART_SUCCESS';
export const ADD_TO_CART_SUCCESS = 'ADD_TO_CART_SUCCESS';
export const REMOVE_FROM_CART_SUCCESS = 'REMOVE_FROM_CART_SUCCESS';

This is the code for the CartPage component:

class CartPage extends React.Component 

 componentDidMount() 
   this.props.CartAction.getCart();
 

 _keyExtractor = (item, index) => item.id;

 removeItem(item) 
   this.props.CartAction.removeFromCart(item);
 

 render() 
   const  cart  = this.props;
   console.log('render cart', cart)

   if (cart && cart.length > 0) {
     const Items = <FlatList contentContainerStyle=styles.list
       data=cart
       keyExtractor=this._keyExtractor
       renderItem=( item ) =>
         <View style=styles.lineItem >
           <Image style=styles.image source= uri: item.image } />
           <Text style=styles.text>item.name</Text>
           <Text style=styles.text>item.quantity</Text>
           <TouchableOpacity style= marginLeft: 'auto' } onPress=() => this.removeItem(item)><Entypo name="cross" size=30 /></TouchableOpacity>
         </View>
       }
     />;
     return (
       <View style=styles.container>
         Items
       </View>
     )
   } else {
     return (
       <View style=styles.container>
         <Text>Cart is empty!</Text>
       </View>
     )
   }
 }
}

As you can see, we are using a FlatList to iterate through the cart items. It takes in an array and creates a list of items to be displayed on the screen.


#


Left: The cart page when it has items in it. Right: The cart page when it is empty.

Conclusion

You can configure information about the app such as name and icon in the app.json file. The app can be published after npm installing exp.

To sum up:

  • We now have a decent e-commerce application with React Native;
  • Expo can be used to run the project on a smartphone;
  • Existing backend technologies such as WordPress can be used;
  • Redux can be used for managing the state of the entire app;
  • Web developers, especially React developers can leverage this knowledge to build bigger apps.

For the full application, you can visit my project on Github and clone it. Feel free to fork it and improve it further. As an exercise, you can continue building more features into the project such as:

  • Checkout page,
  • Authentication,
  • Storing the cart data in AsyncStorage so that closing the app does not clear the cart.
Smashing Editorial
(da, lf, ra, yk, il)


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Building Mobile Apps Using React Native And WordPress

Designing For The Tactile Experience




Designing For The Tactile Experience

The focus of digital technology in the last few decades has neglected human hands and bodies to a large extent. Our thoughts and feelings are strongly connected to the gestures, postures, and actions we perform. I aim to push you — as a designer — to think outside of the zone of screens.

I’d also like to ask you to start thinking critically about current technologies; touch and motor skills need to be taken into consideration when designing your very next product. Allow me to explain why.

Less Haptic Stimuli, Less Experience

According to Finnish neurophysiologist Matti Bergström, quoted in a lecture of Sofia Svanteson:

“The density of nerve endings in our fingertips is enormous. Their discrimination is almost as good as that of our eyes. If we don’t use our fingers during childhood or youth, we become “fingerblind,” this rich network of nerves is impoverished — which represents a huge loss to the brain and thwarts the individual’s development as a whole. Such damage may be likened to blindness itself. Perhaps worse, while a blind person may simply not be able to find this or that object, the fingerblind cannot understand its inner meaning and value”.

Hold, Push, Swipe, Tap

If you end up as a typical white-collar worker, you’ll probably spend a significant part of your day looking at your screen, without any possibility of physically touching the things you work with. How much time do you spend on your computer at work? How much time do you spend on your phone afterwards. What about during your spare time: What do you do during those hours? Hold, push, swipe, tap.

The word “touch” is in the word “touchscreen,” but tapping and swiping a cold flat piece of matter basically neglects the sense of touch. You are capable of experiencing only a fraction of what your sense of touch allows you to during the long hours of manipulation with touchscreens.

What actions do you physically perform with your body? Perhaps you are not a very active person. What posture are you usually in? What kind of impact can sitting over the screen of a mobile phone or computer all day have on a person? Pablo Briñol, Richard E. Petty and Benjamin Wagner claim in their research article that your body posture can shape your mind.

“… We argue that any postures associated with confidence (e.g., pushing one’s chest out) should magnify the effect of anything that is currently available in people’s minds relative to postures associated with doubt (e.g., slouching forward with one’s back curved).”

As the theory of embodied cognition states, your body affects your behavior.

Tactile Feedback

Many tangible things are disappearing from our surroundings and reappearing in digital form. They are improved upon and enriched with new functions that would not be possible in the material world. A few examples are maps, calendars, notebooks and pens, printed photos, music players, calculators and compasses. However, with the loss of their material form comes also the loss of the sensations and experiences that only physical interaction with objects can give us. The “… disembodied brain could not experience the world in the same ways that we do, because our experience of the world is intimately tied to the ways in which we act in it,” writes Paul Dourish in his book Where the Action Is.


Man holding an open book


Fingers are able to sense the progress of a book (Image: on Unsplash) (View large version)

Different Activities, Different Movements

Consider some actions we perform in the physical world:

I pay for a ticket. I pull my wallet out of my bag. I open it and take out banknotes. While holding the notes in one hand, I draw some coins with my other hand. I give the money to the salesperson.

I confess love. I sit or stand opposite to the person. I look into their eyes. I blush. I say, “You know, I love you.” I am kissed.

I look for a recipe. I choose a cookbook from the shelf. I take the book. I flip a few pages, forwards, backwards. I find a recipe.

Whereas in the world of screens:

I pay for a ticket. I fill text fields. I hit a button.

I confess love. I fill a text field. I hit a button.

I look for a recipe. I fill a text field. I hit a button.


Man with rings on his fingers holding paper notes and cigarette


(Image: Jeremy Paige on Unsplash) (View large version)

The environment surrounding us, the activities we perform and the things we come into contact with help us to perceive situations more intensely and meaningful. Phenomenologists such as Husserl, Schutz, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty have already explored the relationship between embodied action and meaning. “For them, the source of meaning (and meaningfulness) is not a collection of abstract, idealized entities; instead, it is to be found in the world in which we act, and which acts upon us. This world is already filled with meaning. Its meaning is to be found in the way in which it reveals itself to us as being available for our actions. It is only through those actions, and the possibility for actions that the world affords us, that we can come to find the world, in both its physical and social manifestations, meaningful.” Another quote from above-mentioned book by Paul Dourish.

Because so many different activities are being carried out in the same manner in the digital world, their value is becoming less clear. I believe that haptic sense has something to do, for instance, with the perception of paying by “real” or by virtual currency — that feeling of something tangible in your hand that you are giving to someone else, compared to just tapping a flat surface to confirm that the number on the screen will be deducted from your account.

Try a simple task. Suppose you want to remember something. Write it down and see how it affects your brain. Professor Anne Mangen, who studies the impact of digital technologies on reading and writing, has shown that writing helps your brain process information and remember it much better. Physical sensorimotor activities create a stronger connection to performed tasks. That’s probably one of the reasons why paper planners are seeing a rise in sales. Sales of paper books are also rising. Giving a digital book as a gift is much less impressive than giving its paper equivalent. This points to an interesting phenomenon. Physical presents just “feel” much better. There is a trend of returning to “tangible music”, which caused an increase in vinyl sales. But are those returns to “old forms” enough? Or can we act also from the current opportunities?

Designing For Touch

How can we create more material experiences in design? What are some tangible solutions, solutions that solve problems through our senses, through our contact with the physical, material world, solutions that let us act in our surrounding as much as possible without using our smartphones or any other flat screens? There are many possible ways to get back to the physical experience.

1. Interact With Digital Technology in a More Human Way.

Make digital information tangible. Interact with it by hand gestures and movements in the material world.

One of the most famous pioneering projects with that aim was SixthSense. Back in 2009, it linked digital devices and our interactions with the physical world. This kind of wearable technology consisted of a camera, a projector hanging on the user’s neck, and color markers stuck to their fingers. The user could dial a phone number using projected keys on their palm, while the camera would record their finger movements. They could read newspapers showing live video news, or draw a circle on their wrist to check the time. The whole principle was to project visuals into the world surrounding the user. With current technology, however, that principle has transformed. The outside world is no longer altered by some projection. The only altered thing is our vision. It’s enhanced by a new layer of augmented reality (AR), by special kinds of glasses, and there is a completely new reality created in virtual reality (VR) headsets.


Finger dialing number on a palm with projected numbers


Using a palm to dial a phone number. (Image: pranavmistry.com) (View large version)

A more modern example is Magic Leap, a secretive project that connects virtual reality and the “real” world in a mixed reality. You can see objects in your surroundings that are not part of your reality — for example, jellyfish flying in your room. This device is exceptional because it also enables hand tracking. You are able to shoot robots falling from your ceiling, holding a real plastic gun in your hand, meanwhile controlling the interface with hand gestures. This is big progress from mostly sequential activities, which screen interfaces enable the user to do. We are getting there.


Two open palms hold a tiny elephant


Magic Leap connects ‘real’ and virtual. (Image: magic-leap.reality.newsView large version)

Mixed, VR and AR projects could be the future. The good thing is that these technologies are built with a huge emphasis on human behavior, psychology, physics laws and ergonomics. The experience is lived, not just observed on a screen. They are not tearing you away from the natural (or virtual) environment and sticking you in a chair to stare into a flat square. You get involved in the action, immersed in doing things and feeling emotions. All of these technologies bring you experiences. Whether they’re real or not, you will remember them as things that happened to you.

Another advantage is that they make your body move — for example, by replacing your physical screens with virtual ones. They allow you to do your work practically everywhere, possibly on the move as well. Whether you are 3D painting with a virtual brush, throwing squares (a VR game) or organizing your desktop, you are using your fingers, your hands, your wrists and whole body movements. Technology is finally adapting to you.

2. Involve More Sensory Experiences In Your Design.

If sight sensors are already occupied by some functionality, don’t add more visual stimuli. Better to include some haptics, hearing or even olfactory stimuli — thus, creating so-called multi-sensorial design. As noted in their book Product Experience, Hendrik N. J. Schifferstein and Paul Hekkert state, “By now, many different studies have suggested that the greater the number of sensory modalities that are stimulated at any one time, the richer our experiences will be.”

Let’s discuss the topic of virtual reality further. Even though it doesn’t feel like virtual could satisfy the need for material or tangible experience, VR is a perfect example of connecting several senses together, not only sight and hearing, but also touch.

There are a couple of different ways to bring touch into VR:

  • The classic primitive controllers
    They give you the sense of being present, just like holding a mouse, i.e. it’s one object but has a single point of interaction. Well, it actually has two controllers that are controlled by two hands. Still, the full potential of your hands and ten fingers is not being used in this case.

Girl with VR head-mounted display and controllers in her hands and girl holding wire


Classic VR controllers. (Image credit) (View large version)

  • Haptic gloves
    These enable you to feel objects from VR in your hands. The sensors translate touch sensations into vibrations that enable you to perceive the shape of an apple or to experience rain. You can even feel the release of a virtual arrow. Obviously, all of these sensations are not the same as real ones in their fidelity. But as a whole virtual reality, they pose a question: What does it mean to be real? What makes for a real touch experience — a real touched object made of realistic, tangible material or a real feeling transmitted by neurons to your brain? Is it enough to fool your brain, without even using your hands? This is maybe the moment when we can ask, Are we just brains or whole bodies?

Set of images of man with haptic VR gloves


Haptic VR controllers still look a bit utopian. (Image: dextarobotics.com) (View large version)

  • Combining haptic gloves with material objects
    Various games layer VR over a physical playground. One of them is The Void. As a player, you wear a vest with 22 haptic patches that vibrate and shake you at the right times. The idea is that you are playing the game in VR but all of your surroundings are tangible, so instead of seeing four empty walls, you see a large territory around you. A big stone would be perceived as a mountain, and a normal door could be transformed into a magic one. But opening the magic one would feel real because, in the end, it is. All such little gimmicks with sight, touch, hearing and even smell involve more sensory experience and make VR even more immersive.

Man touching big rock with shining symbol


The Void game (Image: thevoid.com) (View large version)

3. When Designing For The Screen, Think About How the Task Could Be Performed In The Physical World Instead.

How would people act in their most “natural” way?

Time tracking is not always pleasant, maybe because you feel like a robot from constantly checking the time or opening and closing your time-tracking app. ZEI is a great example of tangible design. The developers found a way to get robots to do our job in the background so that we can act more like humans. This time-tracking device is an octahedron (eight sides). Each face is assigned one activity, so you can easily track time spent on different projects just by flipping it. It presents a very natural way to switch from task to task and to turn your attention from one thing to another.


Hand reaching for ZEI tracking device


ZEI moves screen tasks to tangible reality. (Image: timeular.com) (View large version)

When you’re designing a product, think of how users would perform without it. How do people track their work? Maybe they tend to take notes. How did people used to complete tasks in the past? Did we stand up from our chair and stretch a bit? What if every accomplished task were to be followed by a small exercise or at least standing up, to support users’ health? Many ridiculous ideas will probably appear in that kind of process, but you can get much closer to designing products for humans with such a human approach.

4. Transfer Your Digital Product To Tangible Experiences.

If you already have a product, program or app designed for the screen, think of whether there is some possibility to convert it to the physical world.

Computers made it possible to compose music by using various musical instruments that exist only in the digital world. But the dynamics of physical contact with the instrument cannot be replaced by using a computer mouse. Physically pushing keys on a piano or hitting drums with drumsticks, fast or softly, using mostly just your fingers and wrists, or blasting drums with your forearms and whole arms — these are experiences that seem to be non-transferable to computer programs.

Ableton, the well-known producer of software for music production, decided to create its own hardware, Ableton Push. The second edition of Ableton Push “puts everything you need to make music in one place — at your fingertips.” Push is basically a table with pads and controls that enable you to play drums or pitched instruments on one device. It offers a range of ways to play and manipulate samples, allowing you to capture ideas quickly. No technology stands in the way, and you can physically interact with music once again.


Man touching Ableton Push device


Ableton Push (Image: ableton.com) (View large version)

5. Think the Other Way Around: How Can You Upgrade Things That Already Exist With Some Digital Experience?

Classic toys, board games, paper books and notebooks, musical instruments — all of these have served us for decades and are beautiful, efficient and playful. However, many of them are disappearing because they are no longer attractive enough and are unable to compete with the digital experience. Sustain them. Upgrade them with some digital value and experience.

Playing with wooden toys is one of the best experiences for children. Their material and shape develop children’s building capacity and hand muscles. Their simplicity stimulates children’s imagination and creativity. We should not give up these benefits for a flat screen. Studio deFORM’s project KOSKI, a building block game, “connects the physical world and the digital gaming world together.” Physical, wooden toy blocks are mirrored in an iPad app and enhanced with imaginative worlds, characters and stories on the screen. The player physically alters the projected world on screen by manipulating the blocks in the real time.

While we can argue about whether this game develops a child’s imagination, I find it to be a good alternative to current tablet games.


Tablet mirroring kids playing game KOSKI, enhanced with imaginative plants, figures and waterfall


KOSKI (Image: koskigame.com) (View large version)

We’re already used to old-fashioned things. There’s no need to teach users new design patterns or ways of communication with hi-tech novelties. Everyone knows how to use a paper notebook. But often when I want to write with a pen on paper, I have to think twice about it. I know that, in the end, it will have to be rewritten in some digital form so that it can be easily shared and stored. This issue was tackled by Wacom with its notebook digitizer. Its solution was the SmartPad, which converts handwriting into digital files. It also offers the possibility to combine pages of notes and to edit them.

Even existing material can take on new qualities when enriched by the digital experience. Mixing together unexpected things can create very non-traditional objects. Consider FabricKeyboard, made by MIT Media Lab’s Responsive Environments Lab. As Meg Miller explains:

“This fabric made from textile sensors allows you to play the keys like one would on a normal keyboard, or you can create the sounds by manipulating the fabric itself — by pressing, pulling, twisting and even by waving your hands above the material. The e-fabric responds to touch, pressure, stretch, proximity and electric field.”


Man's hands stretching FabricKeyboard


FabricKeyboard (Image: Irmandy Wicaksono on MIT Media Lab) (View large version)

Finally, let’s consider one more reason why we should think carefully before letting traditional objects vanish away. They’ve been created from years of experience. They’ve evolved into their current form, one that fits their purpose very well. Think of how usable, convenient and pleasurable many printed books are. The rules of layout and typography from this established medium have been transferred very quickly to ebooks and web design, which are struggling to meet the standards of their physical counterparts. Think also of the non-transferable qualities: the tactile sense of progress, their collectibility, the sensuous aspects.

Some old-school materials are worth keeping, and their development should continue even in the digital era.

Tangible Future

As Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati write in their book Pervasive Information Architecture:

“We are swinging like a pendulum. Fifty years ago we were rooted in material world. When you wanted to know something, you asked some person or read a book. Then desktop computers became our interface of choice to access information, and now we are swinging back to the real world, but we are bringing computers along. Information is becoming pervasive.”

One way to bring qualities of the real world to our daily used technologies is to learn from material things. Another way is to suss out the attributes we are missing in our interaction with screens. Let your senses lead you, and think about a solution that can replace a current discomfort. The classic human-centered approach still works. However, as advanced technologies improve and extend into multiple areas of our lives, we need to think more carefully about what it means to be human. Our bodies and senses are definitely a part of it.

Smashing Editorial
(cc, ra, al, yk, il)


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