From a Daily Chore to the Daily Driver

Jana wanted explore how their mCent Browser might be improved so that its use and its user engagement can grow in emerging markets like India. The project was a balance of in-your-face business needs with get-out-of-the-way consumer wants.

Product design sprint, prototyping
Two designers

What is Jana and what's their product?

Jana is the largest provider of free internet in emerging markets. Through Jana’s mCent Browser, the next billion smartphone users are coming online without incurring data charges. from Jana | About

And how it works is simple: when people use the mCent browser, certain actions would get them rewarded with points that can be used to redeem for rupees and datapacks. In return, ads would occasionally be shown in-browser by Jana. You can read more about it from this article.

What’s the problem?

At the present, the mCent users earn rupees to use towards datapacks by downloading a certain amount of data from within browser (whether that be through simply pulling content from the web or downloading actual files). Each day, users are rewarded just once for hitting that required amount. Because of this, Jana found that there’s a consistent amount of daily mCent users, but the only actions these users are taking are to open up the browser, leave a video playing to quickly earn the allotted rupees for the day, and then immediately stop using the browser until 24 hours has passed. Since Jana is an advertisement company, this drop-off in engagement means that they’re paying out without being able to reliably and sustainably take in ad revenue.

Sketch 1 Sketch 2 Sketch 3

So, we ran a product design sprint

Jana had spent some time internally thinking of ways to solve their problem and came to thoughtbot because they were interested in getting an outside perspective. We worked with the project manager for the mCent browser and one of Jana’s user researchers. They didn’t share with us beforehand much of the solution-specific explorations they’ve tried; rather, the aim of our time working together was for independent ideation. Our goals for the sprint were to discover possible solutions on how the browser and the rewards system might be made to be more appealing to prolong its usage throughout the day, and to create a prototype for testing on-location and in-person by Jana’s team and users in India.

Typically at thoughtbot, our design sprints run over a week’s time, in which we spend understanding the problem, brainstorming and deciding together what form our potential solution will take, and validating it. However, because this project with Jana was more creative and freeform in nature, we carried our sprint across two weeks—which worked out well especially after factoring in the geological differences, timezones, and general logistics required for testing on the other side of the planet. During the first week, two thoughtbotters (myself included) and the two members from Jana’s team furiously shared knowledge, asked questions, and scribbled on a lot of walls and Post-It’s. It was immensely beneficial for everyone to be together, since Jana’s team brought with them so much insight and contexts about their market, their users, etc. It also gave everyone a chance to share any ideas or other input they had in mind related to this exercise. In the second week, I and my fellow thoughtbot designer got to work on creating the prototype and the key objectives to test and questions to ask.

Our thinking

Utility and self-discovery was a big part of how we hoped to maintain and grow engagement: we wanted people to just use our browser as they normally would, but occasionally be surprised to find that—Hey! Some of these interactions gives points, and these points can be redeemed for free data! Maybe after surfing through your daily rotation of blogs for the first time using our browser, you notice that the points are racking up. By providing encouragements for regular usage, mCent might become more integral in their users’ day-to-day phone and internet habits.

And the self-discovery aspect works the other way around too. Thinking back to Jana’s problem where users would abandon he mCent browser once they’ve hit their required amount of data download for the day, it was beneficial to the business too that the points-earning interactions aren’t necessarily always obvious or a one-and-done type of thing.

Maybe I’ll keep using this browser since it’s fast, does everything I need it to, AND I can get free stuff! A quote that I hope someone using mCent has thought once

We also thought about the times and reasons why people would pull their phones out on a whim, and why they might be opening up any browser:

To try and leverage those moments so that mCent could become the preferred browser, we decided on the idea of giving "Boosts" should a user take certain actions related to the above purposes. For example, if someone sets mCent up as the default browser on their Android phone, the next time the browser opens, they’d start off with a Boost activated. Getting a Boost means that for the next x-amount of minutes, you would earn double the points as you otherwise would normally. Rather than immediately rewarding people with points for setting mCent as the default (in this example), it instead becomes an encouragement to browse on mCent for a bit longer—might as well earn 2x the points for checking new feeds, watching music videos, refreshing Reddit, and the other things we do anyway. As a user’s bank of points and the resulting amount of free data grows, hopefully they’d be more invested in using the browser going forward.

Creating our prototype

Some of our considerations around the interface were:

Jana screens
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  1. App homescreen:

    We found that many users in the target market had a different mental model and concept of what a browser is compared to audiences we're more familiar with. People aren’t frequently jumping straight to web destinations by entering addresses; instead, it was more thought of that the browser was the internet. To fit this model, our home screen starts you off with hopefully the most relevant things you look at your phone for: current weather, your top sites, and any news or social media updates.

  2. Floating UI elements:

    I think all good browsers should get out of the way of the content as much as possible, while keeping controls easy to understand and use when needed. With the addition of the points counter and occasional advertisements to the standard array of browser UI elements, we could potentially be taking up a lot of screen space. By keeping everything grouped and letting the page you’re on take up the full screen, we hoped to minimize the visual overload.

  3. Advertisements:

    It’s inevitable; mCent is a ad-funded browser after all and they’ll have to be visible somewhere from time to time. If we have to show them, let’s show them neatly and in a consistent place.

  4. Adding animation:

    As we know, while clickable prototypes are great for rapid testing and are simple to set up, there are still times when the jump from one static screen to another throws testers off. For us, these jumps could mean that testers could miss the whole reward system interactions, resulting in us failing to test our core thinking around engagement altogether. To mitigate this issue, we inserted special transition screens with animations created in AfterEffects for things like the rolling points counter.


So what happened?

Results were positive! We sent over our prototype as well as some testing objectives and user interview questions to Jana's team on the ground, where they were then able to meet with a wide-range of people. The animations within the prototype helped testers understand how they could earn points, and many gave encouraging feedback around the UI and rewards system. Looping back to the explorations Jana had previously done internally, they also found it reassuring that some of our ideas had touched on theirs. Based on our work together, Jana was able to see more ways in which their mCent browser could evolve. It was a short but sweet project and I enjoyed the opportunity and challenges of designing for a different audience.

When I was at thoughtbot, often times, potential clients came to us and asked about the design sprint—what types of projects would a sprint be good for? How can running a sprint help my specific case? My answer has been that a sprint can be adapted and perfect for any project and, with Jana, the purpose of our sprint was to simply explore and uncover new paths forward that the mCent browser could take. Having the flexibility and freedom to be able to focus on just the design without needing to factor in development was a breath of fresh air, and I look forward to more ideation projects such as this.