kalahari.net's newly appointed head of product and design, Rian van der Merwe, an eBay veteran in user experience design, previously based in San Francisco, has brought his experience to create the company's new web design philosophy called User-Centred Design. In this role, he manages the team responsible for the strategy, design, and implementation of the front-end user experience.
"The company has experienced dramatic growth and its visitors are becoming increasingly web-savvy. Our shift in methodology was prompted by our desire to offer shoppers the ultimate online shopping experience. User-Centred Design is gaining traction globally because it has proven that it makes websites easier to use, which of course makes customers happy. Simply put, we're optimising our service around the needs and goals of shoppers, instead of forcing them to change their behaviour to accommodate us," says van der Merwe.
User-Centred Design is a systematic design process that goes beyond the creation of pretty visuals to deliver real customer and business benefits. "Initial changes to the design include new navigation, cleaner pages and a renewed focus on implementing the site based on web industry standards, which has many benefits such as faster page loading.
"The user experience field in South Africa is still very much in its infancy, but we're finally starting to see more product managers and designers focused on this area. I'm excited about the talented Product and Design team we're building at the company and I'd love to see more designers join in the conversation that the local user experience community is having on Twitter, at local meetups, etc. We need to spread these ideas so that more local companies can start incorporating user experience design methods into their everyday work.
"User experience is a pivotal element in the mix and shouldn't be ignored. Monitoring the user experience is an ongoing task and ultimately results in improved customer activity and retention," he concludes.
The ongoing process will ultimately result in a new look design, the first itineration of which is now live on the website, www.kalahari.net
Van der Merwe has an undergraduate degree in engineering, a Masters in Information Science from Stellenbosch University and a PhD in Internet Marketing from Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia. His next six years were spent in Silicon Valley: first at market research firm Survey.com, followed by four and a half years in eBay's User Experience Design group. His last position at eBay was as senior manager of product strategy.
He then joined start-up, Yola.com in San Francisco, as a senior product manager, where he was responsible for the product vision, strategy, design, and development of a variety of areas of the user experience. He moved back to South Africa and, in December 2010, joined kalahari.net to head up the product team.
He blogs and tweets regularly, is a member of BayCHI (The Bay Area Computer-Human Interaction Association), the Silicon Valley association for user experience professionals and a regular speaker at local events such as GeekDinners and Huddlemind courses.