The Birth of User Experience in India
As most companies became aware of the emerging UX market in India, in 1999, several companies like Cognizant, Honeywell, Oracle, Phillips, Siemens, and so on, had already begun establishing their operations in India. With the potential these multinational companies offered, Indian software companies like Infosys and MindTree Consulting Ltd. took the opportunity to globally integrate their offerings as well.
Soon after 2000, several user experience and research-oriented companies like Design For Use, Human Factors International, Kern Communications Pvt. Ltd., and Onward Research began to realize their missions to engage users and satisfy user needs.
User experience began in India with just a few people who were excited about the idea of user experience design. The creativity this practice brought to India engaged engineers as well as designers, who began focusing and specializing in vertical markets. Today, there are almost 5000 designers and analysts working in the Indian UX industry who are providing business value to customers.
Our Primary Focus: The Delivery of Services That Drive Revenues
With respect to the varied product domains that exist, several Indian UX companies have found that the financial domain seems to bring in the most revenue. “The market is an important factor that influences the inflow of business in the industry. Soon after the dot-com crash, our clients have found the essence of user experience in the financial domain that seems to be widely taking advantage of our expertise,” says Sarit Arora, Project Director at Human Factors International. “In fact, Indian banks like ICICI have now begun to consider user experience design after they have recognized that the financial domain seems to be integrating such services. But the Indian consumers don’t seem to demand user friendly technology as compared to the global market.” Companies like Intuit thrive on the value the financial domain provides, as they primarily concentrate on the delivery of user-centered design to their customers.
On the other hand, the retail market also seems to be adopting UX services. “The space for user experience in the retail business is growing rapidly, with Indian clients discovering the need to observe users in their natural environment. The benefits are substantially received once our clients have seen the end result of research,” says Parameswaran Venkataraman, CEO of a startup firm called Onward Research.
Most companies provide merely a part of the whole gamut of UX services to their clients. Few companies practice an entire usability lifecycle, as the focus of clients is mostly on heuristic evaluations and usability testing.
The Need for User Experience
With several companies beginning their UX design practices, the need for UX professionals in India has begun to grow tremendously. As the market realizes the need for user experience, clients expect to receive valuable business solutions that enable return on investment.
Prior to the year 2000, users in India were unaware of the benefits that user experience brought. In India, people were fascinated by the thought of complexity rather than simplicity. “The more complex and varied the features included, the more I would try and figure out how to use it,” says Michael, an ICICI Bank user. Looking ahead, this mindset is definitely changing and creating demand for user experience.
For example, compare the personal banking and the corporate banking pages of the ICICI Bank in India, shown in Figures 1 and 2, and the American bank Wells Fargo, shown in Figures 3 and 4. Apart from any inherent usability problems, the lack of consistency between the pages of ICICI Bank can make users cringe.
Let’s look at another example that shows the inherent scope for usability in India. In this market, the Indian Railway System has huge potential for improved user experience. Comparing the Web sites of railway systems in Europe and India gives us a clear idea of this potential.
You can see that the Web site of the European railway system, shown in Figure 5, is clearly a step ahead of the Indian Railway System with respect to booking functionality. On the Indian Railway Web site, shown in Figure 6, users need to move through a series of pages and a registration process to find out the cost and the schedule for a particular train trip. This user experience is hugely important in India, as more than 60% of Indians prefer to travel by train rather than by air. In fact, there are cities in India you can’t get to by plane! The usability of the Indian Railway site is so poor, users are compelled to book their tickets at the counter rather than online.
Another problem crops up when clients demand UX services, but don’t have the time or the budget to invest in the initial user research that would help them develop an understanding of users before providing design recommendations. The practice of contextual inquiry seems to be the most underrated tool we could potentially use to understand users. “Most companies today lack the understanding of a core usability practice. The need is to understand users. This is what should be given most importance,” says Deepa Bachu, a usability practitioner from Intuit.
Current Client Demand
Companies that run their UX operations in India have observed that clients demand three things:
- value to business—Clients expect UX designers and analysts to provide value to their businesses rather than a process that will lead to solutions. They need solutions up front that can profit their businesses.
- domain knowledge—It is crucial to have domain knowledge before entering a long-term engagement. Every potential client expects a designer to have both a vertical and a horizontal portfolio.
- usability labs—Potential and existing clients expect UX companies to conduct usability testing and assessments for them on projects that have good budgets. While 20% of existing companies have usability labs, most of the other 80% are planning to build one in order to compete. Alternatively, they might outsource usability testing to a third party for unbiased results.
Is Usability Testing Always the Best Approach?
Clients often demand that UX professionals conduct usability testing to discover any usability-related issues in their products or services. As the money such projects bring in is alluring to the companies that provide these services, they sometimes forget to evaluate the essential value of these services to businesses. Sometimes usability testing is not the right service to provide. “Companies must focus on providing value to business. Testing is not always the right solution. Sometimes, my client requests testing when a Web site can get rid of usability-related problems with the help of a quick evaluation. Here is where an honest relationship of trust and expertise in consultancy lies. If we do not push for a relationship, services will only lead to a give-and-take model, which will harm the growth of business procurement,” says Nishant Jain, CEO of Design For Use.
Space for Niche Markets
As is common in global practice, IT companies in India find ways of achieving the process-oriented delivery of UX services that are integrated into the software-development lifecycle. On the other hand, companies that solely provide usability services are moving toward a specialized segment of the market that helps them with client consultancy. The top services in hot demand include
- heuristic evaluation
- information architecture
- ethnographic studies
- visual design
Companies today are yearning to find a space for themselves in the market. They begin their evolution by creating a unique selling proposition (USP) for their company. “My company solely concentrates on research that brings light to end user needs. While most companies provide a gamut of services, I have chosen to concentrate on this niche segment of user experience, as it provides an edge over other companies. Observing users in their natural environment is the best form of understanding users, and my clients have understood the value of it,” says Parameswaran.