UX Design: Text & Talk, The App for Millionaires

True Story
About a year after this product was released, it had the highest adoption rate of any single product Aircell has ever made at $10,000 per license. Around that time Bill Gates was flying on a jet and was told about this app. THAT BILL GATES, my friends. Guess what platform we didn't make the app for? Windows Phone. So he used it on someone else's phone and after so doing, said, "I want this in Windows Phones. Figure it out." Windows Phone devs were deployed to Gogo to Make It So. True Story.

The Business Problem
By 2012 Aircell, the business aviation arm of Gogo, had long since solved the problem of  in-flight phone calls with devices that lived inside a jet. In fact, those came long before wi-fi was available. But people who fly in these jets really don't want to use these devices to make calls, and they want to be able to send SMS messages to people on the ground.

The People Problem

  • Do you know who thinks they know how to design an app? EVERYONE.
  • Inexperienced mobile app developers who didn't understand SIP (do you?) and needed near-constant handholding.
  •  A surprisingly high percentage of people who fly commercial don't know that private jets are really different, so they downloaded the app and decided it didn't work.

The Approach
I started at Gogo as a consultant in June of 2012 and listened to the sprint team for a few days. They talked about all the things they were concerned about -- device security, custom interactions, which operating system we should build toward, and most importantly, WHERE ARE THE WIREFRAMES WE CAN'T DO ANYTHING WITHOUT THE WIREFRAMES WE'LL ONLY KNOW WHAT TO DO ONCE WE HAVE THEM.

And I thought, HOLD ON. You need me to wireframe out a phone call? 

So I said something like, "the phone call is over 100 years old and the text message, 20 years old. Smartphones with touch screens, almost ten years old. One thing you don't do as a UX Designer is mess with things like that. And sure. That isn't the best way to build an app with "sizzle," but that isn't my job. My job here was to build an app that works the way people expect it to."

So we used the way the devices currently work and made something that looked just different enough for a person to recognize they aren't in their phone's native functionality.

Piloted in early 2013 and released in May of that year, to this day the app doesn't score under 90 percent on the SUS and is the most rapidly adopted product the business aviation division has ever released. Below are a few sketches, mostly of the Android version since the OS we chose was relevant to the look and feel of the app. For the iPhone, I reviewed the functionality of the native device with the team before each feature was built.

What I learned

Do not mess with the designs of Alexander Graham Bell or those who created a killer app like texting because someone tells you a thing needs to be "sexy." Have a sexy phone call or a send a sext if you want that.  Make something that works and advocate tirelessly for that.