With Akvo FLOW we aim to improve the cumbersome process of manual data collection by giving our users a tool that not only improves data accuracy, but also simplifies the way data is collected. But making things simple is not easy.

One of the challenges many engineering teams face is keeping their product simple. You want to build a tool that is easy to use, but also does complex things the user needs.  Many end up with an over-complicated system. On the other hand, keeping things simple does not necessarily imply building a tool with minimum functionality. The KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid – principle is a design rule which says that complicated systems perform the best when having a simple design.  

So the question then is, how to achieve simplicity? In his book, The Laws of Simplicity, designer John Maeda shares 10 laws on how to balance simplicity and complexity. One of these rules states: The way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction [1]. Removing what is extra and does not provide value while keeping what is vital is a way to get one step closer to a good and simple product.

The Akvo FLOW app is a data collection tool. You open the app, select your survey and submit the data. That sounds simple and straightforward. Yet you can collect data offline; review your submitted forms; see data points on the map; save answers and continue with the data collection later; synchronize; add photos, videos, barcodes and even capture geographic shapes. The Akvo FLOW app is not so simple anymore. It is a complex tool.

In order to balance simplicity and complexity we decided to take another step towards KISS and improve the design of the Akvo FLOW app and simplify the workflow using Maeda’s rule of thoughtful reduction. What have we changed?

Faster workflow. Fewer steps to data entry. Previously, when you wanted to start your data collection exercise, there were many steps from starting the Akvo FLOW app to reaching your first question group. After opening the app you had to select the user, then select your survey, followed by selecting a form and finally you reached your first set of questions. We have reduced these steps to one step when collecting data for non-monitoring surveys and to two steps for monitoring surveys.

FLOW remembers. Every time you re-opened the app on your device, you had to select your user and the survey. Many times, you simply wanted to continue working on the same survey, but the app did not remember that. So we decided to give FLOW a better memory: once you open the FLOW app it brings you to the survey you last worked on and the last user is automatically selected.

Clean design and new side menu. Following the thoughtful reduction rule, we decided to remove some repeating icons, which did not provide any extra value. Moreover, to reduce items on your screen we created a new side menu. Every time you want to change the active user, collect data for a new survey and access settings, you can find them all in the side menu.

Below you can find an explanatory video that briefly introduces the new Akvo FLOW app. More details on how the new app works are in the Akvo FLOW documentation, as well.

The new FLOW app will be released at the end of October. With each release we’ll do our best to improve Akvo FLOW, always aiming to balance complex features with a simple design – no matter how challenging simple can be.

[1] J.Maeda, 2006. The Laws of Simplicity, Cambridge: The MIT Press.  

Jana Gombitova is a junior product manager and is based in Amsterdam. You can follow her @janagombitova.