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The Cairo User Experience: Walking

If Cairo was an app, how would you rate your user experience? In the first part of this series, taking the unique perspective of user experience in Cairo, Basil Fateen takes us on a walk through the city; that is, if you can get anywhere.

People complain about many things in Cairo - the noise, the pollution, the lack of order, the constant sense that within 30 minutes things can go completely haywire and we’re back to standing in front of our houses with big sticks waiting for thousands of escaped convicts to come and kill us. You know; that sort of stuff. I don’t have a problem with any of that, though. I yearn for the simple things in life. However, the simple things in life, in Cairo, are not so simple. As a product consultant with 10 years' experience and the founder of HireHunt, I know a bit about user experience (UX). Scratch that, I’m dangerously obsessed with UX. The reason for that is, through experience I have come to appreciate that if you don’t fix the basic experience someone has interacting with your app/website/product, there is no amount of marketing or branding that can fix it. You will end up spending a lot to bring in thousands of people only for them to hate your product and never, ever come back.

I want to make it clear that I’m not coming from a place of criticism. Rather, I see great potential once we address these UX issues that can be fixed if we break the problem down into small bits. If they do get fixed, it can drastically affect the quality of life of everyone who lives here and those who visit. Actually, especially those who visit. E7na fe seteen dahya, e7na welaad kalb. El seya7a aham delwa2ty. Therefore, in this series, we will be approaching each part of the problem with the same UX breakdown as we do for tech products to figure out the main friction points so that we can remove them in order to retain visitors, turn them into advocates, and one day enjoy the Cairo UX we all dream of. 

Cairo User Experience #1: Walking

The Ideal User Experience:

  1. Put one foot in front of the other.
  2. Move forward.
  3. Reach your destination.

The Cairo User Experience:

Walking; it seems pretty straightforward. But, nothing in Cairo ever is. There’s nothing quite like taking a nice walk; add someone you enjoy spending time with, and it goes from nice to amazing. Even the brisk solo march to the market and back can be a nice mental reset. Cairo is a magical place with beautiful scenery, architecture, history all around, and all the other elements in place for the perfect walk. If it weren’t for:

Things in your way
Get on the sidewalk; big koshk in the way. Step off the sidewalk, go around the koshk, then get back on the sidewalk. Cars parked up on the sidewalk. Step off the sidewalk; get back on the sidewalk. Big pile of sand; step off the sidewalk and go around the sand. Another koshk. Fuck the sidewalk.

UX Lesson: If you develop a feature, make sure that feature is not interrupted by anything from start to finish. That’s why pop-up ads kill UX. Don’t interrupt the main UX otherwise users will leave.

Things that will hurt you 
Definitely not feeling warm inside about sidewalks in general at this point, but I feel I’m not quite ready for the road just yet. I’ve definitely had it with this sidewalk, but the other sidewalk is there. “This one might be different,” I tell myself and go for the rebound. Once I get on the other side I glance wearily ahead; no obstacles. The path is clear all the way to my destination. I’m golden. Fifteen seconds later I let out a high-pitched wail as my ankle twists unnaturally due to a severely uneven part of the sidewalk. Well played, sidewalk. The trap worked. The fact that it’s nighttime and there are few streetlights here didn’t help, but the main culprit was the piece of shit sidewalk, so I try to direct my hate towards it mainly. I start pogo-ing onwards on one leg until I bounce onto a balla3a and it caves in, almost taking me down into the depths of hell. Luckily, it didn’t completely collapse and I get to find out what my beautiful baby daughter will be like next year. But the point is: fuck all sidewalks. 

UX Lesson: If you develop a feature, make sure that feature works and provide the maintenance over time to keep it working, otherwise users will leave.

Things that might kill you
Once you’ve ended your relationship with the sidewalk you’re pretty much shoved into the rough embrace of the road. It’s at this point that you realise you have just joined a gamified obstacle course - and you are now one of the obstacles. This is a land where cars, taxis, buses, microbuses and toktoks are kings - and you’re trespassing, peasant.

I step off the sidewalk and immediately I’m almost decapitated by a passing garbage truck with a big piece of sharp metal coming out from the back. Yeah, that just happened. I take a deep breath and compose myself. “It was almost the end, there, because you couldn’t just go to sleep without walking to the market for a bit of halloumi cheese,” I scold myself. Tragic on so many levels. As I’m coming back to appreciate being alive, a toktok is driving in the reverse direction down the road, music blaring, eight different legs sticking out from both sides in all possible directions. I hobble back and let the eight-year-old driver and the orgy in the backseat safely pass.

UX Lesson: Rules and familiarity allow users to feel comfortable using your product because they know what to expect each time; they have peace of mind and therefore associate that with your brand. If things can go wonky each time and suddenly the design is different or a feature behaves unexpectedly, this is shitty UX. Users will leave, dammit.

I am now sliding sideways as close as possible to the row of parked cars to avoid getting killed on the road or mentally disturbed on the sidewalk. This continues until I am on the opposite side of the market. I wait until the road is empty and start to cross, only to hear a microbus rev its engines and speed up in my direction. I can see bloody murder in the driver’s eyes even from where I am, so I ignore my ankle pain and run across the street. My speed catches the attention of about seven street dogs who come out from behind a parked car, block my path to the market, and start barking, growling, and snapping their teeth at me hysterically. I try to explain to them that I mean no harm, that I’m but a simple software developer who wants some halloumi, but they’re having none of it. I have been deemed a threat and it’s too late. I turn and hobble with my wonky ankle back across the street and walk home. Nefsy etsadet ya welaad el kalb.

Things that will scar you forever
If the only harm inflicted upon you while walking were only physical, that wouldn’t be so bad. The body heals - except for decapitation, that does not heal. It’s only when you come across a crazy homeless person who starts shouting obscenities at you because you’re eating an apple (hence, ‘crazy’); or when you’re with a girl and you pass a bunch of young shabab who just exited a Sobky film and certain words are said and your ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in and your blood turns to battery acid when you should have just been enjoying your life' or when you see a little street girl who’s your daughter's age digging through the garbage for food and you see the joy on her tiny face when she pulls out a half-eaten sandwich despite potentially having cat poo all over it and your heart develops a tiny crack... that stuff doesn’t heal.

UX Lesson: Take care of all your users so they don’t negatively affect other users. Or the ones who can leave, will leave.  

Good UX removes points of friction for the user. Cairo UX adds all possible points of friction including actual physical friction. UX is one of the main things we thought about when we created HireHunt, a talent platform that aims to turn the usually terrible recruitment experience into a fun, game-like adventure where the right people can be found and hired by the right teams, and everyone can live happily every after building amazing things with people they like. Sounds good?

*Full disclosure: I am currently the 3rd tallest man in my family. Also, I'm the founder of HireHunt