Ray Besiga A Personal Website

Designing for least astonishment

Papa Shabani's Beatbox Dancer

Only recently, I came across a Wikipedia page talking about "The Principle of Least Astonishment". I was quite intrigued as to what it alluded and so decided to explore the tenets of it. We shall hence forth refer to it as POLA. POLA applies to user interface and software design, from the ergonomics standpoint i.e. the law or rule of freaking out your users the least.

A lot of the time, we are faced with systems and software that that does not match a user's expectations or mentality, despite having seemingly skilled designers and engineers following the 12-factor app rules. This problem arises from a failure to design around a user.

To combat this problem, not only in the design of software but also solutions to social challenges, we have seen the rise of Human Centered Design in developing user experiences. With a user at the center of the design process, focus shifts away from user interfaces to the rhetorical situation of the information medium in development. This is the process we use to build and improve Akabbo, our localized crowdfunding platform.

We used the three elements of the rhetorical situation, Audience, Purpose and Context, to guide us. Our audience at the moment is largely Ugandan and is only getting started with online crowdfunding as a concept. Based off early user feedback, we have had to break down interfaces and borrow heavily from similar applications to which users are familiar, rather than the natural expected behavior from knowing the inner workings of the application. Since we already new the purpose of the application, our next main focus was the context. Context was a tough one as a crowd funding platform can mean different things to different people. To put it simply, context is subjective. We however decided to narrow it down to a peer to peer fundraising platform for a Ugandan audience. On locking this in, our system started to evolve to meet the need of our users.

Good design is as little design as possible - Dieter Rams

Besides generic functions, we had to add features such as offline fundraising. A number of users wanted to meet up with campaign creators and give them cash directly as adoption of credit/debit cards is still low. This meant that we had to capture these contributions as per creators' demands. These contributions now add previously unseen momentum to campaigns. Thanks, in a great part, to focusing around the user.

Are you focusing on users in the development of your applications? Care to share your experiences?

Technology and The Sharing Economy

Raymond Besiga speaking at TEDx Kampala

On January 9, 2015, I was honored to speak in the changemakers session at TEDx Kampala, under a theme titled "Owning Our Destiny". As broad and cheesy a theme as they come, but it had me pondering the question of what I could possibly talk about as a technologist and change enthusiast. Something to elicit interest, fill with curiosity, suggest opportunity, and possibly trigger action long after the talk was done. Ultimately, it came down to social networks, technology, and new-age economics. All the things a twee almost-millennial could care about. And thus the title, "Technology and the sharing economy".

I do not have all the information regarding how the sharing economy started but I believe that it had something to do with the global financial crisis, the rise of the millennials as a consumer demographic and an altruistic albeit late shift from the "this is mine" to "what is mine is yours, for a fee" economy. During the economic downturn, there was a need to minimize expenditure, optimize personal costs and create new income. The ubiquity of social networks allowed for people to trust strangers if only due to the shared hardship. Tools such as Craigslist and E-Bay were a boon to peer-to-peer transactions. Why buy a saxophone, or a tuxedo when you can rent one from a stranger online? Fantastic, right?

Amazing Carpool

These experiences, however, are largely western. That does not mean that the sharing economy is lost on us here in Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa. Our history suggests that we have always had a sharing culture. It is happening on a small scale each day and with the right technology in place, the volume can grow. Case in point is a shared experience I had with my colleague, Moses Mugisha, CTO at our company Sparkplug, while on a road trip in Bushenyi District, Western Uganda. The farmers in this area do not have enough income to buy a tractor each to till their pieces of farmland. When we asked how they got about it, they intimated that it all came down to community. They formed a trust in which all the farmers contributed to a fund. Once they had accumulated enough, they time-shared a rented tractor over the course of a week for a not-so-great sum.

You are forgiven for your happiness and your successes only if you generously consent to share them - Albert Camus

It was this experience that gave us the idea for our latest product, Akabbo. Launched in November 2014, Akabbo, which derives it's name from the Luganda word for a collection basket, is a localized crowdfunding platform that allows users to create campaigns and pool funds effortlessly using the far-reaching mobile money wallets. We created Akabbo to provide a venue for individuals and organizations to actualize their dreams and ideas through a shared fundraising model on a national scale. We are currently working to add international online payments processing for wider reach. You can explore the different campaigns on Akabbo here.


I digress but I will leave you with this: The economy of the future is people-powered and will be driven by peer-to-peer transactions. If opportunity knocks, open the door. If it does not knock, build a door.

The entirety of the TEDx Kampala talk is now available:

Starkey Hearing Foundation Gala Weekend

With Tani and Bill

About 4 weeks ago, our beloved client, Starkey Hearing Foundation, invited the directors of Sparkplug to their Annual Gala. The gala is a weekend long event during which they celebrate their partnerships, ambitions, and achievements but most of all, show appreciation for the past year. It was an amazing evening of moving speeches and riveting performances, and overwhelming support for the gift of hearing by raising more than $8.7 million to reconnect families and communities around the world.

For a foundation the size of Starkey, it is very well run, with an amazing team of people who care about what they do and whom they serve. They seek to deliver the gift of hearing to those who need it most. With operations in over 45 countries worldwide, they wish to fulfill their ultimate mission that is, "So The World May Hear".

I first met Bill and Tani Austin, the co-founders, while volunteering at one of their missions here in Kampala back in 2012. I liked what they did and thought to take note the next time they were in Uganda. We met again in 2013, thanks to the venerable Richard Brown, and thus begun our journey to jumpstart their International Patient Database system. It is for this reason that I, together with my colleague Moses Mugisha, were invited to join celebration of this and the many other achievements that the Starkey Hearing Foundation achieved this past year.

I wish to share photos of some of my favorite moments from the gala, as well as talk a little bit about some of the interesting people I met there.

Starkey Gala Honorees I got to be in the same auditorium and share and evening with these amazing people. Care to guess the names of some of the people in this photo?

Founders' Circle Luncheon Founders' Circle Luncheon was really informative, and fulfilling as we got to see the product of our work on display, and meet Starkey partners from the different countries around the world. And I got to chat with the former president of Malawi, H.E. Dr. Joyce Banda!

Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe Meeting Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, a TIME 100 honoree, was one of the highlights for me as she represents the power of empathy and hope in any community. With her organization, Sewing Hope, she presides over Saint Monica's Vocational School in Gulu, Uganda and invites formerly abducted and ostracized girls, who return with LRA rebels' children, and imparts vocational skills such as tailoring so that they may gain independence. Working together with the Forest Whitaker Foundation and Pros for Africa, she has been able to have great impact on this section of her community. Keep up the great work Sister Nyirumbe.

Rami and Mazen The work that Abraham Rami Elhanan and Mazen Faraj are doing with Parents Circle - Families Forum to bring about peace in the Gaza strip cannot go ignored. Glad they got awarded for their efforts. I hope and pray for peace in Gaza.

Dikembe Mutombo Dikembe Mutombo is way taller than you! And he does a lot of great work with his foundation!

Miss Minnesota Miss Minnesota is a pre-med student. Her future is bright. She's gonna save lives.

Amazing Glitter Elephant This amazing glitter elephant. I'm an elephant clan boy so the obsession is warranted!

Ride or Die Dude And this!

Anyhow, the main reason I wrote this post was to show appreciation for our client, the Starkey Hearing Foundation, and highlight the importance of partnership. Choosing the right partners goes a long way in achieving impact for any cause you set out to achieve. Are you choosing the right partners?